“But you don’t have to understand,” she pleaded.
“You mean—?” he asked.
“I mean that I was always fond of Aline, anyhow.”
“Nonsense!” And he was conscious, with vexation, that he had undeniably flushed.
“I mean, then, I am a woman, and I understand. Everything is as near what it should be as is possible while Patricia is seeing so much of—we will call it the artistic temperament.” Mrs. Pendomer shrugged. “But if I went on in that line you would believe I was jealous. And heaven knows I am not the least bit so—with the unavoidable qualification that, being a woman, I can’t help rising superior to common-sense.”
He said, “You mean Jack Charteris—? But what on earth has he to do with these letters?”
“I don’t mean any proper names at all. I simply mean you are not to undo my work. It would only signify trouble and dissatisfaction and giving up all this”—she waved her hand lightly toward the lawns of Matocton,—“and it would mean our giving you up, for, you know, you haven’t any money of your own, Rudolph. Ah, Rudolph, we can’t give you up! We need you to lead our Lichfield germans, and to tell us naughty little stories, and keep us amused. So please be sensible, Rudolph.”
“Permit me to point out I firmly believe that silence is the perfectest herald of joy,” observed Colonel Musgrave. “Only I do not understand why you should have dragged John Charteris’s name into this ludicrous affair——”
“You really do not understand——?”
But Colonel Musgrave’s handsome face declared very plainly that he did not.
“Well,” Mrs. Pendomer reflected, “I dare say it is best, upon the whole, you shouldn’t. And now you must excuse me, for I am leaving for the Ullwethers’ to-day, and I shan’t ever be invited to Matocton again, and I must tell my maid to pack up. She is a little fool and it will break her heart to be leaving Pilkins. All human beings are tediously alike. But, allowing ample time for her to dispose of my best lingerie and of her unavoidable lamentations, I ought to make the six-forty-five. I have noticed that one usually does—somehow,” said Mrs. Pendomer, and seemed to smack of allegories.
And yet it may have been because she knew—as who knew better?—something of that mischief’s nature which was now afoot.
The colonel burned the malefic letters that afternoon. Indeed, the episode set him to ransacking the desk in which Patricia had found them—a desk which, as you have heard, was heaped with the miscellaneous correspondence of the colonel’s father dating back a half-century and more. Much curious matter the colonel discovered there, for “Wild Will” Musgrave’s had been a full-blooded career. And over one packet of letters, in particular, the colonel sat for a long while with an unwontedly troubled face.