"Oh, then you suspected it." Mr. Smith smiled pleasantly, but without embarrassment. "It doesn't matter, of course, only—well, I had hoped it wasn't too conspicuous."

"Oh, but you couldn't expect to hide a thing like that, Mr. Smith," retorted Miss Maggie, with what was very evidently intended for an arch smile. "I heard it everywhere—everywhere."

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"The mischief you did!" frowned Mr. Smith, looking slightly annoyed. "Well, I suppose I couldn't expect to keep a thing like that entirely in the dark. Still, I don't believe the parties themselves—quite understood. Of course, Pennock and Gaylord knew that they were kept effectually away, but I don't believe they realized just how systematically it was done. Of course, Gray understood from the first."

"Poor Mr. Gray! I—I can't help being sorry for him."

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"SORRY for him!"

"Certainly; and I should think YOU might give him a little sympathy," rejoined Miss Maggie spiritedly. "You KNOW how much he cared for Mellicent."

Mr. Smith sat suddenly erect in his chair.

"Cared for her! Sympathy! Why, what in the world are you talking about? Wasn't I doing the best I could for them all the time? Of COURSE, it kept HIM away from her, too, just as it did Pennock and Gaylord; but HE understood. Besides, he HAD her part of the time. I let him in whenever it was possible."

"Let him in!" Miss Maggie was sitting erect now. "Whatever in the world are YOU talking about? Do you mean to say you were doing this FOR Mr. Gray, all the time?"

"Why, of course! Whom else should I do it for? You didn't suppose it was for Pennock or Gaylord, did you? Nor for—" He stopped short and stared at Miss Maggie in growing amazement and dismay. "You didn't—you DIDN'T think—I was doing that—for MYSELF?"

"Well, of course, I—I—" Miss Maggie was laughing and blushing painfully, but there was a new light in her eyes. "Well, anyway, everybody said you were!" she defended herself stoutly.

"Oh, good Heavens!" Mr. Smith leaped to his feet and thrust his hands into his pockets, as he took a nervous turn about the room. "For myself, indeed! as if, in my position, I'd—How perfectly absurd!" He wheeled and faced her irritably. "And you believed that? Why, I'm not a marrying man. I don't like—I never saw the woman yet that I—" With his eyes on Miss Maggie's flushed, half-averted face, he stopped again abruptly. "Well, I'll be—" Even under his breath he did not finish his sentence; but, with a new, quite different expression on his face, he resumed his nervous pacing of the room, throwing now and then a quick glance at Miss Maggie's still averted face.

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"It WAS absurd, of course, wasn't it?" Miss Maggie stirred and spoke lightly, with the obvious intention of putting matters back into usual conditions again. "But, come, tell me, just what did you do, and how? I'm so interested—indeed, I am!"

"Eh? What?" Mr. Smith spoke as if he was thinking of something else entirely. "Oh—THAT." Mr. Smith sat down, but he did not go on speaking at once. His eyes frowningly regarded the stove.

"You said—you kept Pennock and Gaylord away," Miss Maggie hopefully reminded him.

"Er—yes. Oh, I—it was really very simple—I just monopolized

Mellicent myself, when I couldn't let Donald have her. That's all. I

saw very soon that she couldn't cope with her mother alone. And