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,"