“I am sorry,” answered Barbara, “that it should have been talked about so much. Mr. Brewster did ask me to marry him, but I never accepted. In fact, it was only his persistence that made me consider the matter at all. I did think about it. I confess that I rather liked him. But it was not long before I found him out.”
“What do you mean?” And there was a flash in Peggy’s eyes. “What has he done?”
“To my certain knowledge he has spent more than four hundred thousand dollars since last September. That is something, is it not?” Miss Drew said, in her slow, cool voice, and even Peggy’s loyalty admitted some justification in the criticism.
“Generosity has ceased to be a virtue, then?” she asked coldly.
“Generosity!” exclaimed Barbara, sharply. “It’s sheer idiocy. Haven’t you heard the things people are saying? They are calling him a fool, and in the clubs they are betting that he will be a pauper within a year.”
“Yet they charitably help him to spend his money. And I have noticed that even worldly mammas find him eligible.” The comment was not without its caustic side.
“That was months ago, my dear,” protested Barbara, calmly. “When he spoke to me—he told me it would be impossible for him to marry within a year. And don’t you see that a year may make him an abject beggar?”
“Naturally anything is preferable to a beggar,” came in Peggy’s clear, soft voice.
Barbara hesitated only a moment.
“Well, you must admit, Miss Gray, that it shows a shameful lack of character. How could any girl be happy with a man like that? And, after all, one must look out for one’s own fate.”
“Undoubtedly,” replied Peggy, but many thoughts were dashing through her brain.
“Shall we turn back to the cottage?” she said, after an awkward silence.
“You certainly don’t approve of Mr. Brewster’s conduct?” Barbara did not like to be placed in the wrong, and felt that she must endeavor to justify herself. “He is the most reckless of spend-thrifts, we know, and he probably indulges in even less respectable excitement.”
Peggy was not tall, but she carried her head at this moment as though she were in the habit of looking down on the world.
“Aren’t you going a little too far, Miss Drew?” she asked placidly.
“It is not only New York that laughs at his Quixotic transactions,” Barbara persisted. “Mr. Hampton, our guest from Chicago, says the stories are worse out there than they are in the east.”
“It is a pity that Monty’s illness should have made him so weak,” said Peggy quietly, as they turned in through the great iron gates, and Barbara was not slow to see the point.
THE NEW TENDERFOOT