“Comrade Peter,” she said, and there was a little catch in her throat, and Peter, looking at her, saw that her eyes were cast down.
“I know I’m not very much to love,” he pleaded. “I’m poor and obscure—I’m not good looking—”
“Oh, it isn’t that!” she cried, “Oh, no, no! Why should I think about such things? You are a comrade!”
Peter had known, of course, just how she would take this line of talk. “Nobody has ever loved me,” he said, sadly. “Nobody cares anything about you, when you are poor, and have nothing to offer—”
“I tell you, that isn’t it!” she insisted. “Please don’t think that! You are a hero. You have sacrificed for the cause, and you are going on and become a leader.”
“I hope so,” said Peter, modestly. “But then, what is it, Comrade Jennie? Why don’t you care for me?”
She looked up at him, and their eyes met, and with a little sob in her voice she answered, “I’m not well, Comrade Peter. I’m of no use; it would be wicked for me to marry.”
Somewhere back in the depths of Peter, where his inner self was crouching, it was as if a sudden douche of ice-cold water were let down on him. “Marry!” Who had said anything about marrying? Peter’s reaction fitted the stock-phrase of the comic papers: “This is so sudden!”
But Peter was too clever to reveal such dismay. He humored little Jennie, saying, “We don’t have to marry right away. I could wait, if only I knew that you cared for me; and some day, when you get well—”
She shook her head sadly. “I’m afraid I’ll never get really well. And besides, neither of us have any money, Comrade Peter.”
Ah, there it was! Money, always money! This “free love” was nothing but a dream.
“I could get a job,” said Peter—just like any other tame and conventional wooer.
“But you couldn’t earn enough for two of us,” protested the girl; and suddenly she sprang up. “Oh, Comrade Peter, let’s not fall in love with each other! Let’s not make ourselves unhappy, let’s work for the cause! Promise me that you will!”
Peter promised; but of course he had no remotest intention of keeping the promise. He was not only a detective, he was a man—and in both capacities he wanted Comrade Jennie. He had all the rest of the day, and over the addressing of envelopes which he undertook with her, he would now and then steal love-glances; and Jennie knew now what these looks meant, and the faint flush would creep over her cheeks and down into her neck and throat. She was really very pretty when she was falling in love, and Peter found his new job the most delightful one of his lifetime. He watched carefully, and noted the signs, and was sure he was making no mistake; before Sadie came back at supper-time he had his arms about Comrade Jennie, and was pressing kisses upon the lovely white throat; and Comrade Jennie was sobbing softly, and her pleading with him to stop had grown faint and unconvincing.