Emilie Loring’s second serial story, “The Best is Yet to Be,” was published in 1917, five years before her first novel. It has not been seen since.
Let’s change that.
“What brute has hurt you?”
The girl with head bowed on the back of the park seat sat erect with a start. Her body had been shaking with sobs but, at the sound of the hoarse, rough voice, it grew rigid and still with fear.
“Don’t look so frightened. I won’t hurt you. I was merely sympathizing. I’ve had something of a jolt myself.”
There was an attempt at mocking lightness in the tone but the speaker’s expression belied it. Hope Damon thought she had never seen such gray whiteness on a human face as on that of the tall man before her. He was young, but some great shock had aged him. He was evidently in deep trouble. It made her own heart-ache, caused by the jealous nagging of her sister-in-law, seem insignificant and petty. He still stared at her, though unseeingly. She wondered if she could help him.
“I—” she began, then rose to her feet, uncertainly. After all, the Good Samaritan had been a man; she was a girl and this was New York and the twentieth century. She turned to go.
“Wait a moment!” The man’s voice was clearer now and the gray eyes, black with intensity, searched her face eagerly. “I’m Anthony Vance!”
The girl echoed the name in puzzled wonder. Only that very morning, her brother Jim, who was the physician of Vance’s guardian, had laughingly told her some of the comments made by his peppery patient on the preparations for his ward’s wedding. The papers for the last month had been featuring pictorially and biographically, the bride and groom. They had given estimates of the wealth which would become “Young Van’s” on his wedding day.
His wedding day! Why, it was today! She looked at him again. He was grim and white and as the clock in the church tower above the trees chimed twelve, she saw his eyes narrow and the muscles of his jaw tighten. This was the very hour. What could have happened? She had heard nothing but good of him. In fact, one of the most picturesquely rhetorical of the daily journals had referred to him as a modern Sir Galahad. She would be safe with him. She laid a comforting hand on his arm:
“Never mind my little troubles,” she said, “perhaps I can help you.”
Her face, framed in wavy, almost blue-black hair, with eyes which held the velvety softness of black pansies, was beautiful, but, with the light of unselfish ardor illuminating it, it seemed a little more than human to Anthony Vance. A wild idea took shape–his heart and brain went throbbing mad. A light of exulting malice glittered in his eyes.
He looked about. They were alone in a secluded part of the park. He had left his car outside and had wandered into a side path to try to formulate his thoughts. He motioned to the girl to be seated.
“You can help if you will listen to what I have to tell you.” Without waiting for an answer, he seated himself beside her.
“Now that you know who I am you may also know that I was to have been married to-day at noon. Three years ago my uncle, Mark Vance, died, leaving me the bulk of his fortune on condition that I married before my twenty-fifth birthday. I shall be twenty-five tomorrow. If I do not marry before then his estate goes to his sister’s son, Wilfred Logan. Just why my uncle made such a freak will is a mystery, for he never trusted Logan though he made a comfortable provision for him. Well, I made up my mind that if I saw the right girl I would marry, otherwise Wilfred was welcome to the money. I had some of my own and brains enough to get a living from my profession, the law. I came to believe that I knew the right girl. She said that she loved me and would marry me the day before I was twenty-five. Last night I overheard her planning with Logan. It seems that they have been lovers all the time she was engaged to me. She did not intend to marry me. Her engagement to me was a scheme to keep me unsuspecting till it was too late for me to marry, then the money would go to Logan. A sudden illness was to prevent her appearance at the church in time for the ceremony. I was to be kept in the dark until then.
“Their scheme didn’t work! I found out and I’ve been driving about all night and morning cancelling arrangements.” He sprang to his feet as though unable longer to control his feelings. “Logan sneered when I confronted them. They think they’ve done for me! I don’t care about the money, but I loathe their treachery. Not a cent will go to them if I can help it.” His hoarse voice broke. He turned away.
Hope laid her hand upon his arm. Her dark eyes were very tender as she looked up at him and said softly: “I wish that I might help you!”
“You can! Marry me!” The words burst out with the force of an explosive. The girl sprang to her feet. Had the shock driven the man mad?
He caught her as she started away and pulled her back. “Tell me why you were crying,” he said authoritatively. “Life isn’t all joy-ride for you, I take it.”
“I? Why I haven’t any real trouble,” the words poured forth in eager explanation. “I live with my brother, who is a physician. He has one little boy and a wife who resents what he does for me. I want to leave them and support myself, but, every time I suggest it, Jim looks hurt and Bobsy seems to love me so, that I wait. This morning, Elsie was a little more bitter and hateful than usual, so instead of flaring back, as I usually do–I’m afraid that I have an impossible temper,” with a short laugh–“I came out here and cried out the tears which have been accumulating for a month, that’s all. You see it is nothing very tragic. Some day soon, Jim will get my point of view and I shall become self-supporting and have a little home of my own.”
“Then why not marry me?” He held up his hand peremptorily as she opened her lips to speak. “I’ve lived a decent life. I never had the slightest interest in any girl or woman save Cecile Talmadge. If you will marry me this noon, I will settle one hundred thousand dollars on you and depart for foreign shores immediately after the ceremony. If you take my name legally, I get my uncle’s estate, and Logan can work for the girl who says she loves him. You may go your own way, absolutely.”
A confusion of emotions shook the girl. Amazement first, then the sympathetic indignation for Vance; contempt for the woman who could deal the man who loved her such a blow; scorn of Logan. Then came the thought of self. She was twenty. She had never had even a sentimental interest in a man. Her brother Jim knew of Vance and had spoken in terms of strongest admiration of the way in which he had lived with the prospect of an immense inheritance. She wouldn’t take a hundred thousand dollars, but a little money would enable her to carry out plans she had made for independence. She loathed living with Elsie. Should she do it? Her fighting instinct bristled. How she would like to aid Vance to get even with the two who had wrecked his happiness. She stole a glance at his face. It was less drawn and the color was coming back into it. His gray eyes met her:
“Well?” he asked imperatively. “Well?”
Hope fenced for time. “But you don’t know anything about me,” she protested.
His face darkened. “I thought that I knew all about one girl. That she was all beauty and truth and honor. I find that she is all deceit. You are not in love with anyone, are you?” curtly.
She shook her head vigorously. The gloom in his eyes made her heart ache and she strove to lift the shadow. There was a spice of mischief in her smile as she answered his question.
“No and never expect to be. My name is Hope Damon. As I told you, I live with my brother. He–“
“Will you marry me? Will you?” he interrupted roughly.
She looked into his haggard face, then at the flowering world about her. Trees were softly shaking out the young green of their leaves, shrubs were bursting into bloom; the air was sweet with the fragrance of blossoms and musical with the call of mating birds. Why should there be unhappiness in this glorious world, the girl wondered.
“Will you marry me?” the imperious voice demanded.
She looked at the white face, at the eyes which seemed to dominate her with their passionate questioning. Her head poised defiantly; the color flamed to her forehead, then receded, leaving her quite white.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes. I will marry you.”
“Now? It must be at once.” His voice was compelling.
She nodded dumbly. At this epoch making moment she was suddenly conscious of her clothes. She looked down at her white shoes, her short white skirt, at her sheer, simple blouse. She had flung on a sport coat of white corduroy and had crushed a soft hat on her head when she made her impetuous dash from the house.
“My car is here. We hall have to get a license. Come! I promise you shall not regret this, if I can help it.” He held out his hand.
Hope placed hers in it. His eyes, troubled as they were, gave her confidence. “I trust you,” she said softly. She looked with uncertainty at her costume. “Shall I go like this?” she asked doubtfully.
“You must. We’ll give Fate no chance to smash this compact.”
He strode ahead and with pounding heart and a brain which shouted frenzied warnings, she followed. Silently he helped her into the long, low racer With hat drawn low he crouched over the wheel. The streets were densely packed. Traffic of all sorts and kinds blocked their way. The girl could see Vance’s jaws set with annoyance when they were held up. He kept as much as possible to streets devoted to business. She knew that already the postponed wedding was a choice morsel on the public’s tongue.
By the time they reached City Hall, numbness had stolen over Hope like a spell, and when the registrar asked her questions she answered in an expressionless monotone. The clerk looked at her sharply, then at the white face of the man beside her.
As they entered the car again Vance spoke to the girl for the first time. “I am taking you to the house of Dr. Harley, the clergyman who was to have performed the marriage service today. He was a great friend of my mother I intend that there shall be nothing clandestine about this for your sake. I do’t dare have you let your brother know for fear he might make you change your mind. Perhaps I’m a selfish brute, but this contract goes through!”
On the way to their destination Vance stopped at a florist’s, entered, and in a moment came out with a fragrant mass of long-stemmed beautiful pink roses.
“I couldn’t let you be married without a flower, even if I taboo relatives,” he explained with an attempt at a smile. Hope buried her face in the blossoms. The numb feeling had passed and her heart beat in her throat, her breath came in quick gasps. When Vance brought the car to a stop in front of a house, she shrank far back into the corner of her seat for a moment, then rallied her courage and stepped out beside him.
It was a radiant day. The sun sparkled on the glass marquise under which they stood. It transformed the brass mountings on the door into tiny flames of light. A maid appeared and in response to Vance’s question smiled broadly and sympathetically. There could be but one explanation of the roses.
“Yes, sir. He’s at home, sir. Who shall I say?”
She ushered them into a reception room and hurried off. Hope turned her back to the room and stared blankly out into the street. She was fighting for self control. The maid summoned Vance. He looked toward the girl at the window, hesitated, then left the room. For a moment it seemed to Hope that she must rush from the house and run–run–run till she was beyond his reach. She started impulsively, then stopped.
“I promised,” she whispered under her breath; “he mustn’t think that every girl is a liar.”
She stared out of the window again. It seemed as though she had been waiting hours when Vance returned. As he entered the room she saw a taxi sweep up to the front door. A large, portly man, with a keen, kind face, alighted from it and hurried up the steps. She was wondering just what this new arrival signified when Vance spoke.
“Miss Damon, this is Dr. Harley. He has known me always. he can swear that I am the man I claim to be.”
Hope caught her breath. It had never occurred to her to doubt what he had told her. Suppose–but the clergyman was holding out his hand.
“I’ve known Anthony Vance since he was a baby, Miss Damon, but, much as I care for him, I beg you to think carefully of what you are doing.”
“What’s this? What’s this, Tony?” asked a voice behind them, and the man whom Hope had seen leave the taxi was in the room. “Man alive, Harley, but you ought to have an escalator at those front steps of yours! Make your parish give you one! High stoops are out of date! Hopelessly out of fashion,” he fussed on as he wiped his forehead with an immaculate handkerchief behind which he studied the girl with keen, appraising eyes. “Tony, tell me more now. I only got bits over the phone.”
Vance turned to Hope. “Miss Damon, this is Mr. Gilman, the executor of my uncle’s estate and my guardian until–tomorrow.”
He took her hand cordially in his. “Tony’s a fine lad, but I beg you to think carefully of what you are doing, Miss Damon.”
The clergyman’s very words. “It sounds like a chorus,” thought Hope, almost hysterically.
“I have thought, Mr. Gilman, and I have quite determined to marry him,” she said very gravely.
The sweet dignity of her tone and bearing caused a hurried readjustment of values in the minds of Harley and Gilman. They had been quite convinced that the girl was an adventuress, and, in the few moments’ conversation they had together over the telephone, had agreed to adopt a tone of interest for her, thereby lulling her antagonism and saving the boy from the consequences of his impulsive, mad folly. Now they exchanged glances. Vance intercepted the look and gave a short, mirthless laugh.
“Don’t interfere, sir,” he said, shaking his head at Gilman. “Miss Damon has said that she will marry me. You know what that means to me. I shall never love any woman again,” in a voice rough with emotion, “but I can help Miss Damon and she can help me smash the horrible scheme of Logan and–he choked with anger.
To be continued next Sunday…