“She would not have cared for me,” he said, with a shrug. “I was not exactly the sort of fool she cared for. What she really cared for was a young fool who could dance with her in this silly new-fangled gliding style, and send her flowers and sweet-meats, and make love to her glibly—and a petticoated fool who would envy her fine feathers,—and, at last, a knavish fool who would barter his title for her money. She preferred fools, you see, but she would never have cared for a middle-aged penniless fool like me. And so,” he ended, with a vicious outburst of mendacity, “I never told her, and she married a title and lived unhappily in gilded splendor ever afterwards.”
“You should have told her, Olaf,” Miss Stapylton persisted; and then she asked, in a voice that came very near being inaudible: “Is it too late to tell her now, Olaf?”
The stupid man opened his lips a little, and stood staring at her with hungry eyes, wondering if it were really possible that she did not hear the pounding of his heart; and then his teeth clicked, and he gave a despondent gesture.
“Yes,” he said, wearily, “it is too late now.”
Thereupon Miss Stapylton tossed her head. “Oh, very well!” said she; “only, for my part, I think you acted very foolishly, and I don’t see that you have the least right to complain. I quite fail to see how you could have expected her to marry you—or, in fact, how you can expect any woman to marry you,—if you won’t, at least, go to the trouble of asking her to do so!”
Then Miss Stapylton went into the house, and slammed the door after her.
Nor was that the worst of it. For when Rudolph Musgrave followed her—as he presently did, in a state of considerable amaze,—his sister informed him that Miss Stapylton had retired to her room with an unaccountable headache.
And there she remained for the rest of the evening. It was an unusually long evening.
Yet, somehow, in spite of its notable length—affording, as it did, an excellent opportunity for undisturbed work,—Colonel Musgrave found, with a pricking conscience, that he made astonishingly slight progress in an exhaustive monograph upon the fragmentary Orderly Book of an obscure captain in a long-forgotten regiment, which if it had not actually served in the Revolution, had at least been demonstrably granted money “for services,” and so entitled hundreds of aspirants to become the Sons (or Daughters) of various international disagreements.
Nor did he see her at breakfast—nor at dinner.
A curious little heartache accompanied Colonel Musgrave on his way home that afternoon. He had not seen Patricia Stapylton for twenty-four hours, and he was just beginning to comprehend what life would be like without her. He did not find the prospect exhilarating.