“You won’t answer my questions,” Betty complained. “Why should I answer yours?”
“There are plenty of nice young fellows in your own crowd,” Gower went on, still poking mechanically at the fire. “Why pick on young MacRae?”
“You’re evading, daddy,” Betty murmured. “Why shouldn’t I pick on Jack MacRae if I like him—if he likes me? That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“Does he?” Gower asked pointblank.
“Yes,” Betty admitted in a reluctant whisper. “He does—but—why don’t you tell me, daddy, what I’m up against, as you would say? What did you ever do to old Donald MacRae that his son should have a feeling that is stronger than love?”
“You think he loves you?”
“I know it,” Betty murmured.
“And you?” Gower’s deep voice seemed harsh.
Betty threw out her hands in an impatient gesture.
“Must I shout it out loud?” she cried.
“You always were different from most girls, in some things,” Gower observed reflectively. “Iron under your softness. I never knew you to stop trying to get anything you really wanted, not while there was a chance to get it. Still—don’t you think it would be as well for you to stop wanting young MacRae—since he doesn’t want you bad enough to try to get you? Eh?”
He still kept his face studiously averted. His tone was kind, full of a peculiar tenderness that he kept for Betty alone.
She rose and perched herself on the arm of his chair, caught and drew his head against her, forced him to look up into eyes preternaturally bright.
“You don’t seem to understand,” she said. “It isn’t that Jack doesn’t want me badly enough. He could have me, and I think he knows that too. But there is something, something that drives him the other way. He loves me. I know he does. And still he has spells of hating all us Gowers—especially you. I know he wouldn’t do that without reason.”
“Doesn’t he tell you the reason?”
Betty shook her head.
“Would I be asking you, daddy?”
“I can’t tell you, either,” Gower rumbled deep in his throat.
“Is it something that can’t be mended?” Betty put her face down against his, and he felt the tears wet on her cheek. “Think, daddy. I’m beginning to be terribly unhappy.”
“That seems to be a family failing,” Gower muttered. “I can’t mend it, Betty. I don’t know what young MacRae knows or what he feels, but I can guess. I’d make it worse if I meddled. Should I go to this hot-headed young fool and say, ’Come on, let’s shake hands, and you marry my daughter’?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Betty flashed. “I’m not asking you to do anything.”
“I couldn’t do anything in this case if I wanted to,” Gower declared. “As a matter of fact, I think I’d put young MacRae out of my head, if I were you. I wouldn’t pick him for a husband, anyway.”
Betty rose to her feet.