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MRS. DE MILLE ENTERTAINS
Miss Drew's cotillion was not graced by the presence of Montgomery Brewster. It is true he received an eleventh-hour invitation and a very cold and difficult little note of apology, but he maintained heroically the air of disdain that had succeeded the first sharp pangs of disappointment. Colonel Drew, in whose good graces Monty had firmly established himself, was not quite guiltless of usurping the role of dictator in the effort to patch up a truce. A few nights before the cotillion, when Barbara told him that Herbert Alling was to lead, he explosively expressed surprise. "Why not Monty Brewster, Babs?" he demanded.
"Mr. Brewster is not coming," she responded calmly.
"Going to be out of town?"
"I'm sure I do not know," stiffly.
"He has not been asked, father." Miss Drew was not in good humor.
"Not asked?" said the Colonel in amazement. "It's ridiculous, Babs, send him an invitation at once."
"This is my dance, father, and I don't want to ask Mr. Brewster."
The Colonel sank back in his chair and struggled to overcome his anger. He knew that Barbara had inherited his willfulness, and had long since discovered that it was best to treat her with tact.
"I thought you and he were —" but the Colonel's supply of tact was exhausted.
"We were" — in a moment of absent mindedness. "But it's all over," said Barbara.
"Why, child, there wouldn't have been a cotillion if it hadn't been for — " but the Colonel remembered his promise to Monty and checked himself just in time. "I — I mean there will not be any party, if Montgomery Brewster is not asked. That is all I care to say on the subject," and he stamped out of the room.
Barbara wept copiously after her father had gone, but she realized that his will was law and that Monty must be invited. "I will send an invitation," she said to herself, "but if Mr. Brewster comes after he has read it, I shall be surprised."
Montgomery, however, did not receive the note in the spirit in which it had been sent. He only saw in it a ray of hope that Barbara was relenting and was jubilant at the prospect of a reconciliation. The next Sunday he sought an interview with Miss Drew, but she received him with icy reserve. If he had thought to punish her by staying away, it was evident that she felt equally responsible for a great deal of misery on his part. Both had been more or less unhappy, and, both were resentfully obstinate. Brewster felt hurt and insulted, while she felt that he had imposed upon her disgracefully. He was now ready to cry quits and it surprised him to find her obdurate. If he had expected to dictate the terms of peace he was woefully disappointed when she treated his advances with cool contempt.
"Barbara, you know I care very much for you," he was pleading, fairly on the road to submission. "I am sure you are not quite indifferent to me. This foolish misunderstanding must really be as disagreeable to you as it is to me."
"Indeed," she replied, lifting her brows disdainfully. "You are assuming a good deal, Mr. Brewster."
"I am merely recalling the fact that you once told me you cared. You would not promise anything, I know, but it meant much that you cared. A little difference could not have changed your feeling completely."
"When you are ready to treat me with respect I may listen to your petition," she said, rising haughtily.
"My petition?" He did not like the word and his tact quite deserted him. "It's as much yours as mine. Don't throw the burden of responsibility on me, Miss Drew."
"Have I suggested going back to the old relations? You will pardon me if I remind you of the fact that you came to-day on your own initiative and certainly without my solicitation."
"Now, look here, Barbara — " he began, dimly realizing that it was going to be hard, very hard, to bring her to reason.
"I am very sorry, Mr. Brewster, but you will have to excuse me. I am going out."
"I regret exceedingly that I should have disturbed you to-day, Miss Drew," he said swallowing his pride. "Perhaps I may have the pleasure of seeing you again."
As he was leaving the house, deep anger in his soul, he encountered the Colonel. There was something about Monty's greeting, cordial as it was, that gave the older man a hint as to the situation.
"Won't you stop for dinner, Monty?" he asked, in the hope that his suspicion was groundless.
"Thank you, Colonel, not to-night," and he was off before the Colonel could hold him.
Barbara was tearfully angry when her father came into the room, but as he began to remonstrate with her the tears disappeared and left her at white heat.
"Frankly, father, you don't understand matters," she said with slow emphasis; "I wish you to know now that if Montgomery Brewster calls again, I shall not see him."
"If that is your point of view, Barbara, I wish you to know mine." The Colonel rose and stood over her, everything forgotten but the rage that went so deep that it left the surface calm. Throwing aside his promise to Brewster, he told Barbara with dramatic simplicity the story of the rescue of the bank. "You see," he added, "if it had not been for that open-hearted boy we would now be ruined. Instead of giving cotillions, you might be giving music lessons. Montgomery Brewster will always be welcome in this house and you will see that my wishes are respected. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," Barbara answered in a still voice. "As your friend I shall try to be civil to him."
The Colonel was not satisfied with so cold-blooded an acquiescence, but he wisely retired from the field. He left the girl silent and crushed, but with a gleam in her eyes that was not altogether to be concealed. The story had touched her more deeply than she would willingly confess. It was something to know that Monty Brewster could do a thing like that, and would do it for her. The exultant smile which it brought to her lips could only be made to disappear by reminding herself sharply of his recent arrogance. Her anger, she found, was a plant which needed careful cultivation.
It was in a somewhat chastened mood that she started a few days later for a dinner at the DeMille's. As she entered in her sweeping golden gown the sight of Monty Brewster at the other end of the room gave her a flutter at the heart. But it was an agitation that was very carefully concealed. Brewster was certainly unconscious of it. To him the position of guest was like a disguise and he was pleased at the prospect of letting himself go under the mask without responsibility. But it took on a different color when the butler handed him a card which signified that he was to take Miss Drew in to dinner. Hastily seeking out the hostess he endeavored to convey to her the impossibility of the situation.
"I hope you won't misunderstand me," he said. "But is it too late to change my place at the table?"
"It isn't conventional, I know, Monty. Society's chief aim is to separate engaged couples at dinner," said Mrs. Dan with a laugh. "It would be positively compromising if a man and his wife sat together."
Dinner was announced before Monty could utter another word, and as she led him over to Barbara she said, "Behold a generous hostess who gives up the best man in the crowd so that he and someone else may have a happy time. I leave it to you, Barbara, if that isn't the test of friendship."
For a moment the two riveted their eyes on the floor. Then the humor of the situation came to Monty,
"I did not know that we were supposed to do Gibson tableaux to-night," he said drily as he proffered his arm.
"I don't understand," and Barbara's curiosity overcame her determination not to speak.
"Don't you remember the picture of the man who was called upon to take his late fiancée out to dinner?"
The awful silence with which this remark was received put an end to further efforts at humor.
The dinner was probably the most painful experience in their lives. Barbara had come to it softened and ready to meet him half way. The right kind of humility in Monty would have found her plastic. But she had very definite and rigid ideas of his duty in the premises. And Monty was too simple minded to seem to suffer, and much too flippant to understand. It was plain to each that the other did not expect to talk, but they both realized that they owed a duty to appearances and to their hostess. Through two courses, at least, there was dead silence between them. It seemed as though every eye in the room were on them and every mind were speculating: At last, in sheer desperation, Barbara turned to him with the first smile he had seen on her face in days. There was no smile in her eyes, however, and Monty understood.
"We might at least give out the impression that we are friends," she said quietly.
"More easily said than done," he responded gloomily.
"They are all looking at us and wondering."
"I don't blame them."
"We owe something to Mrs. Dan, I think."
Barbara uttered some inanity whenever she caught anyone looking in their direction, but Brewster seemed not to hear. At length he cut short some remark of hers about the weather.
"What nonsense this is, Barbara," he said. "With anyone else I would chuck the whole game, but with you it is different. I don't know what I have done, but I am sorry. I hope you'll forgive me."
"Your assurance is amusing, to say the least."
"But I am sure. I know this quarrel is something we'll laugh over. You keep forgetting that we are going to be married someday."
A new light came into Barbara's eyes. "You forget that my consent may be necessary," she said.
"You will be perfectly willing when the time comes. I am still in the fight and eventually you will come to my way of thinking."
"Oh! I see it now," said Barbara, and her blood was up. "You mean to force me to it. What you did for father — "
Brewster glowered at her, thinking that he had misunderstood. "What do you mean?" he said.
"He has told me all about that wretched bank business. But poor father thought you quite disinterested. He did not see the little game behind your melodrama. He would have torn up your check on the instant if he had suspected you were trying to buy his daughter."
"Does your father believe that?" asked Brewster.
"No, but I see it all now. His persistence and yours — you were not slow to grasp the opportunity he offered."
"Stop, Miss Drew," Monty commanded. His voice had changed and she had never before seen that look in his eyes. "You need have no fear that I will trouble you again."