But she came to him, with a wonderful gesture of compassion, and caught his great, shapely hands in hers.
“I—I knew you cared,” she breathed. “I have always known you cared. I would have been an idiot if I hadn’t. But, oh, Olaf, I didn’t know you cared so much. You frighten me, Olaf,” she pleaded, and raised a tearful face to his. “I am very fond of you, Olaf dear. Oh, don’t think I am not fond of you.” And the girl paused for a breathless moment. “I think I might have married you, Olaf,” she said, half-wistfully, “if—if it hadn’t been for one thing.”
Rudolph Musgrave smiled now, though he found it a difficult business. “Yes,” he assented, gravely, “I know, dear. If it were not for the other man—that lucky devil! Yes, he is a very, very lucky devil, child, and he constitutes rather a big ‘if,’ doesn’t he?”
Miss Stapylton, too, smiled a little. “No,” said she, “that isn’t quite the reason. The real reason is, as I told you yesterday, that I quite fail to see how you can expect any woman to marry you, you jay-bird, if you won’t go to the trouble of asking her to do so.”
And, this time, Miss Stapylton did not go into the house.
When they went in to supper, they had planned to tell Miss Agatha of their earth-staggering secret at once. But the colonel comprehended, at the first glimpse of his sister, that the opportunity would be ill-chosen.
The meal was an awkward half-hour. Miss Agatha, from the head of the table, did very little talking, save occasionally to evince views of life that were both lachrymose and pugnacious. And the lovers talked with desperate cheerfulness, so that there might be no outbreak so long as Pilkins—preeminently ceremonious among butlers, and as yet inclined to scoff at the notion that the Musgraves of Matocton were not divinely entrusted to his guardianship,—was in the room.
Coming so close upon the heels of his high hour, this contretemps of Agatha’s having one of her “attacks,” seemed more to Rudolph Musgrave than a man need rationally bear with equanimity. Perhaps it was a trifle stiffly that he said he did not care for any raspberries.
His sister burst into tears.
“That’s all the thanks I get. I slave my life out, and what thanks do I get for it? I never have any pleasure, I never put my foot out of the house except to go to market,—and what thanks do I get for it? That’s what I want you to tell me with the first raspberries of the season. That’s what I want! Oh, I don’t wonder you can’t look me in the eye. And I wish I was dead! that’s what I wish!”
Colonel Musgrave did not turn at once toward Patricia, when his sister had stumbled, weeping, from the dining-room.
“I—I am so sorry, Olaf,” said a remote and tiny voice.
Then he touched her hand with his finger-tips, ever so lightly. “You must not worry about it, dear. I daresay I was unpardonably brusque. And Agatha’s health is not good, so that she is a trifle irritable at times. Why, good Lord, we have these little set-to’s ever so often, and never give them a thought afterwards. That is one of the many things the future Mrs. Musgrave will have to get accustomed to, eh? Or does that appalling prospect frighten you too much?”