A Strayed Allegiance

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

"Will you go to the Cove with me this afternoon?"

It was Marian Lesley who asked the question.

Esterbrook Elliott unpinned with a masterful touch the delicate cluster of Noisette rosebuds she wore at her throat and transferred them to his buttonhole as he answered courteously: "Certainly. My time, as you know, is entirely at your disposal."

They were standing in the garden under the creamy bloom of drooping acacia trees. One long plume of blossoms touched lightly the soft, golden-brown coils of the girl's hair and cast a wavering shadow over the beautiful, flower-like face beneath it.

Esterbrook Elliott, standing before her, thought proudly that he had never seen a woman who might compare with her. In every detail she satisfied his critical, fastidious taste. There was not a discordant touch about her.

Esterbrook Elliott had always loved Marian Lesley—or thought he had. They had grown up together from childhood. He was an only son and she an only daughter. It had always been an understood thing between the two families that the boy and girl should marry. But Marian's father had decreed that no positive pledge should pass between them until Marian was twenty-one.

Esterbrook accepted his mapped-out destiny and selected bride with the conviction that he was an exceptionally lucky fellow. Out of all the women in the world Marian was the very one whom he would have chosen as mistress of his fine, old home. She had been his boyhood's ideal. He believed that he loved her sincerely, but he was not too much in love to be blind to the worldly advantages of his marriage with his cousin.

His father had died two years previously, leaving him wealthy and independent. Marian had lost her mother in childhood; her father died when she was eighteen. Since then she had lived alone with her aunt. Her life was quiet and lonely. Esterbrook's companionship was all that brightened it, but it was enough. Marian lavished on him all the rich, womanly love of her heart. On her twenty-first birthday they were formally betrothed. They were to be married in the following autumn.

No shadow had drifted across the heaven of her happiness. She believed herself secure in her lover's unfaltering devotion. True, at times she thought his manner lacked a lover's passionate ardour. He was always attentive and courteous. She had only to utter a wish to find that it had been anticipated; he spent every spare minute at her side.

Yet sometimes she half wished he would betray more lover-like impatience and intensity. Were all lovers as calm and undemonstrative?

She reproached herself for this incipient disloyalty as often as it vexingly intruded its unwelcome presence across her inner consciousness. Surely Esterbrook was fond and devoted enough to satisfy the most exacting demands of affection. Marian herself was somewhat undemonstrative and reserved. Passing acquaintances called her cold and proud. Only the privileged few knew the rich depths of womanly tenderness in her nature.

Esterbrook thought that he fully appreciated her. As he had walked homeward the night of their betrothal, he had reviewed with unconscious criticism his mental catalogue of Marian's graces and good qualities, admitting, with supreme satisfaction, that there was not one thing about her that he could wish changed.

This afternoon, under the acacias, they had been planning about their wedding. There was no one to consult but themselves.

They were to be married early in September and then go abroad. Esterbrook mapped out the details of their bridal tour with careful thoughtfulness. They would visit all the old-world places that Marian wished to see. Afterwards they would come back home. He discussed certain changes he wished to make in the old Elliott mansion to fit it for a young and beautiful mistress.

He did most of the planning. Marian was content to listen in happy silence. Afterwards she had proposed this walk to the Cove.

"What particular object of charity have you found at the Cove now?" asked Esterbrook, with lazy interest, as they walked along.

"Mrs. Barrett's little Bessie is very ill with fever," answered Marian. Then, catching his anxious look, she hastened to add, "It is nothing infectious—some kind of a slow, sapping variety. There is no danger, Esterbrook."

"I was not afraid for myself," he replied quietly. "My alarm was for you. You are too precious to me, Marian, for me to permit you to risk health and life, if it were dangerous. What a Lady Bountiful you are to those people at the Cove. When we are married you must take me in hand and teach me your creed of charity. I'm afraid I've lived a rather selfish life. You will change all that, dear. You will make a good man of me."

"You are that now, Esterbrook," she said softly. "If you were not, I could not love you."

"It is a negative sort of goodness, I fear. I have never been tried or tempted severely. Perhaps I should fail under the test."

"I am sure you would not," answered Marian proudly.

Esterbrook laughed; her faith in him was pleasant. He had no thought but that he would prove worthy of it.

The Cove, so-called, was a little fishing hamlet situated on the low, sandy shore of a small bay. The houses, clustered in one spot, seemed like nothing so much as larger shells washed up by the sea, so grey and bleached were they from long exposure to sea winds and spray.

Dozens of ragged children were playing about them, mingled with several disreputable yellow curs that yapped noisily at the strangers.

Down on the sandy strip of beach below the houses groups of men were lounging about. The mackerel, season had not yet set in; the spring herring netting was past. It was holiday time among the sea folks. They were enjoying it to the full, a happy, ragged colony, careless of what the morrows might bring forth.

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