“No,” says she, more nervous than ever, and shaky, too, but decided. “No! Oh, no! It’s all my fault. I wanted you to like me; I wanted you to like me very much. But not this way. I’m— I’m—so sorry. Please forgive me.”
She walked on then, fast, and toward the grove, and he followed, slashing at the weeds with his cane, and acting a good deal as if he’d like to pick up his playthings and go home. When they was out of sight I set up and winked, large and comprehensive, at the scenery. It looked to me like I was going to collect Jonadab’s quarter.
That night as I passed the lilac bushes by the gate, somebody steps out and grabs my arm. I jumped, looked up, and there, glaring down at me out of the clouds, was friend Jones from Providence, R. I.
“Wingate,” he whispers, fierce, “who is the man? And where is he?”
“Easy,” I begs. “Easy on that arm. I might want to use it again. What man?”
“That man you wrote me about. I’ve come down here to interview him. Confound him! Who is he?”
“Oh, it’s all right now,” says I. “There was an old rooster from New York who was acting too skittish to suit me, but I guess it’s all off. His being a millionaire and a stock-jobber was what scart me fust along. He’s a hundred years old or so; name of Van Wedderburn.”
“What?” he says, pinching my arm till I could all but feel his thumb and finger meet. “What? Stop joking. I’m not funny to-night.”
“It’s no joke,” says I, trying to put my arm together again. “Van Wedderburn is his name. ’Course you’ve heard of him. Why! there he is now.”
Sure enough, there was Van, standing like a statue of misery on the front porch of the main hotel, the light from the winder shining full on him. Jonesy stared and stared.
“Is that the man?” he says, choking up. “Was he sweet on Mabel?”
“Sweeter’n a molasses stopper,” says I. “But he’s going away in a day or so. You don’t need to worry.”
He commenced to laugh, and I thought he’d never stop.
“What’s the joke?” I asks, after a year or so of this foolishness. “Let me in, won’t you? Thought you wa’n’t funny to-night.”
He stopped long enough to ask one more question. “Tell me, for the Lord’s sake!” says he. “Did she know who he was?”
“Sartin,” says I. “So did every other woman round the place. You’d think so if—”
He walked off then, laughing himself into a fit. “Good night, old man,” he says, between spasms. “See you later. No, I don’t think I shall worry much.”
If he hadn’t been so big I cal’lated I’d have risked a kick. A man hates to be made a fool of and not know why.
A whole lot of the boarders had gone on the evening train, and at our house Van Wedderburn was the only one left. He and Mabel and me was the full crew at the breakfast-table the follering morning. The fruit season was a quiet one. I done all the talking there was; every time the broker and the housekeeper looked at each other they turned red.