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CHAPTER XXVIII

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

Even if we hadn't known, we'd have guessed there was something in
the air. There was an air of subdued excitement during the rest
hour in the spring-house, and a good bit of whispering and
laughing, in groups which would break up with faces as long as
the moral law the moment they saw my eye on them.

They were planning a mutiny, as you may say, and I guess no
sailors on a pirate ship were more afraid of the captain's fist
than they were of Mr. Pierce's disapproval. He'd been smart
enough to see that most of them, having bullied other people all
their lives, liked the novelty of being bullied themselves. And
now they were getting a new thrill by having a revolt. They were
terribly worked up.

Miss Patty stayed after the others had gone, sitting in front of
the empty fireplace in the same chair Mr. Pierce
usually took, and keeping her back to me. When I'd finished
folding the steamer rugs and putting them away, I went around and
stood in front of her.

"Your eyes are red," I remarked.

"I've got a cold." She was very haughty.

"Your nose isn't red," I insisted. "And, anyhow, you say you
never have a cold."

"I wish you would let me alone, Minnie." She turned her back to
me. "I dare say I may have a cold if I wish."

"Do you know what they are saying here?" I demanded. "Do you
know that Miss Cobb has found out in some way or other who Mr.
von Inwald is? And that the four o'clock gossip edition says
your father has given his consent and that you can go and buy a
diadem or whatever you are going to wear, right off?"

"Well," she said, in a choked voice, with her back to me, "what
of it? Didn't you and Mr. Pierce both do your best to bring it
about?"

"Our what?" I couldn't believe my ears.

"You made father well. He's so p--pleasant he'll do anything
except leave this awful place!"

"Well, of all the ungrateful people--" I began, and then Mr.
Pierce came in. He had a curious way of stopping when he saw
her, as if she just took the wind out of his sails, so to speak,
and then of whipping off his hat, if anything with sails can wear
a hat, and going up to her with his heart in his eyes. He always
went straight to her and stopped suddenly about two feet away,
trying to think of something ordinary to say. Because the
extraordinary thing he wanted to say was always on the end of his
tongue.

But this day he didn't light up when he saw her. He went through
all the other motions, but his mouth was set in a straight line,
and when he came close to her and looked down his eyes were hard.

It's been my experience of men that the younger they are the
harder they take things and the more uncompromising they are. It
takes a good many years and some pretty hard knocks to make
people tolerant.

"I was looking for you," he said to her. "The bishop has just
told me. There are no obstacles now."

"None," she said, looking up at him with wretchedness in her
eyes, if he had only seen. "I am very happy."

"She was just saying," I said bitterly, "how grateful she was to
both of us."

"I don't understand."

"It is not hard to understand," she said, smiling. I wanted to
slap her. "Father was unreasonable because he was ill. You have
made him well. I can never thank you enough."

But she rather overdid the joy part of it, and he leaned over and
looked in her face.

"I think I'm stupid," he said. "I know I'm unhappy. But isn't
that what I was to do--to make them well if I could?"

"How could anybody know--" she began angrily, and then stopped.
"You have done even more," she said sweetly. "You've turned them
into cherubims and seraphims. Butter wouldn't melt in their
mouths. Ugh! How I hate amiability raised to the NTH power!"

He smiled. I think it was getting through his thick man's skull
that she wasn't so happy as she should have been, and he was
thrilled through and through.

"My amiability must be the reason you dislike me!" he suggested.
They had both forgotten me.

"Do I dislike you?" she asked, raising her eyebrows. "I never
really thought about it, but I'm sure I don't." She didn't look
at him, she looked at me. She knew I knew she lied.

His smile faded.

"Well," he said, "speaking of disliking amiability, you don't
hate yourself, I'm sure."

"You are wrong," she retorted, "I loathe myself." And she walked
to the window. He took a step or two after her.

"Why do it at all?" he asked in a low tone. "You don't love
him--you can't. And if it isn't love--" He remembered me
suddenly and stopped.

"Please go on," she said sweetly from the window. "Do not mind
Minnie. She is my conscience, anyhow. She is always scolding
me; you might both scold in chorus."

"I wouldn't presume to scold."

"Then give me a little advice and look superior and righteous.
I'm accustomed to that also."

"As long as you are in this mood, I can't give you anything but a
very good day," he said angrily, and went toward the door.
But when he had almost reached it he turned.

"I will say this," he said, "you have known for three days that
Mr. Thoburn was going to have a supper to-night, and you didn't
let us know. You must have known his purpose."

I guess I was as surprised as she was. I'd never suspected she
knew.

She looked at him over her shoulder.

"Why shouldn't he have a supper?" she demanded angrily. "I'm
starving--we're all starving for decent food. I'm kept here
against my will. Why shouldn't I have one respectable meal? You
with your wretched stewed fruits and whole-wheat breads! Ugh!"

"I'm sorry. Thoburn's idea, of course, is to make the guests
discontented, so they will leave."

"Oh!" she said. She hadn't thought of that, and she flushed.
"At least," she said, "you must give me credit for not trying to
spoil Dick and Dolly's chance here."

"We are going to allow the party to go on," he said, still stiff
and uncompromising. It would have been better if he'd accepted
her bit of apology.

"How kind of you! I dare say he would have it, anyhow." She was
sarcastic again.

"Probably. And you--will go?"

"Certainly."

"Even when the result--"

"Oh, don't preach!" she said, putting her hands to her ears. "If
you and Minnie want to preach, why don't you preach at each
other? Minnie talks `love, love, love.' And you preach health
and morality. You drive me crazy between you."

"Suppose," he said with a gleam in his eyes, "suppose I preach
`love, love, love!'"

She put her fingers in her ears again. "Say it to Minnie," she
cried, and turned her back to him.

"Very well," he said. "Minnie, Miss Jennings refuses to listen,
and there are some things I must say. Once again I am going to
register a protest against her throwing herself away in a
loveless marriage. I--I feel strongly on the subject, Minnie."

She half turned, as if to interrupt. Then she thought better of
it and kept her fingers in her ears, her face flushed. But he
had learned what he hoped--that she could hear him.

"You ask me why I feel so strongly, Minnie, and you are
right to ask. Under ordinary circumstances, Minnie, any remark
of mine on the subject would be ridiculous impertinence."

He stopped and eyed her back, but she did not move.

"It is impertinence under any circumstances, but consider the
provocation. I see a young, beautiful and sensitive girl,
marrying, frankly without love, a man whom I know to be unworthy,
and you ask me to stand aside and allow it to happen!"

"Are you still preaching?" she asked coldly over her shoulder.
"It must be a long sermon."

And then, knowing he had only a moment more, his voice changed
and became deep and earnest. His hands, that were clutching a
chair-back, took a stronger hold, so that the ends of the nails
were white.

"You see, Minnie," he said, turning a little pale, "I--I love
Miss Jennings myself. You have known it a long time, for you
love her, too. It has come to the point that I measure the day
by the hours when I can see her. She doesn't care for me;
sometimes I think she hates me." He paused here, but Miss Patty
didn't move. "I haven't anything to offer a woman except a
clean life and the kind of love that a woman could be proud of.
I have no title--"

Miss Patty suddenly took her fingers out of her ears and turned
around. She was flushed and shaken, but she looked past him
without blinking an eyelash to me.

"Dear me," she said, "the sermon must have been exciting, Minnie!

You are quite trembly!"

And with that she picked up her muff and went out, with not a
glance at him.

He looked at me.

"Well," he said, "THAT'S over. She's angry, Minnie, and
she'll never forgive me."

"Stuff!" I snapped, "I notice she waited to hear it all, and no
real woman ever hated a man for saying he loved her,"





Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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