Sunday, October 14, 2007



Valentine Corliss walked up Corliss Street the hottest afternoon
of that hot August, a year ago, wearing a suit of white serge
which attracted a little attention from those observers who were
able to observe anything except the heat. The coat was shaped
delicately; it outlined the wearer, and, fitting him as women's
clothes fit women, suggested an effeminacy not an attribute of
the tall Corliss. The effeminacy belonged all to the tailor, an
artist plying far from Corliss Street, for the coat would have
encountered a hundred of its fellows at Trouville or Ostende this
very day. Corliss Street is the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, the
Park Lane, the Fifth Avenue, of Capitol City, that smoky
illuminant of our great central levels, but although it esteems
itself an established cosmopolitan thoroughfare, it is still
provincial enough to be watchful; and even in its torrid languor
took some note of the alien garment.
Mr. Corliss, treading for the first time in seventeen years
the pavements of this namesake of his grandfather, mildly repaid
its interest in himself. The street, once the most peaceful in
the world, he thought, had changed. It was still long and
straight, still shaded by trees so noble that they were betrothed,
here and there, high over the wide white roadway, the
shimmering tunnels thus contrived shot with gold and blue; but
its pristine complete restfulness was departed: gasoline had
arrived, and a pedestrian, even this August day of heat, must
glance two ways before crossing.
Architectural transformations, as vital, staggered the
returned native. In his boyhood that posthumously libelled
sovereign lady, Anne, had terribly prevailed among the dwellings
on this highway; now, however, there was little left of the
jig-saw's hare-brained ministrations; but the growing pains of
the adolescent city had wrought some madness here. There had
been a revolution which was a riot; and, plainly incited by a new
outbreak of the colonies, the Goth, the Tudor, and the Tuscan had
harried the upper reaches to a turmoil attaining its climax in a
howl or two from the Spanish Moor.
Yet it was a pleasant street in spite of its improvements;
in spite, too, of a long, gray smoke-plume crossing the summer
sky and dropping an occasional atomy of coal upon Mr. Corliss's
white coat. The green continuous masses of tree-foliage, lawn,
and shrubbery were splendidly asserted; there was a faint
wholesome odour from the fine block pavement of the roadway,
white, save where the snailish water-wagon laid its long strips
of steaming brown. Locusts, serenaders of the heat, invisible
among the branches, rasped their interminable cadences, competing
bitterly with the monotonous chattering of lawn-mowers propelled
by glistening black men over the level swards beneath. And
though porch and terrace were left to vacant wicker chairs and
swinging-seats, and to flowers and plants in jars and green
boxes, and the people sat unseen--and, it might be guessed,
unclad for exhibition, in the dimmer recesses of their
houses--nevertheless, a summery girl under an alluring parasol
now and then prettily trod the sidewalks, and did not altogether
suppress an ample consciousness of the white pedestrian's stalwart
grace; nor was his quick glance too distressingly modest to
be aware of these faint but attractive perturbations.
A few of the oldest houses remained as he remembered them,
and there were two or three relics of mansard and cupola days;
but the herd of cast-iron deer that once guarded these lawns,
standing sentinel to all true gentry: Whither were they fled?
In his boyhood, one specimen betokened a family of position and
affluence; two, one on each side of the front walk, spoke of a
noble opulence; two and a fountain were overwhelming. He
wondered in what obscure thickets that once proud herd now
grazed; and then he smiled, as through a leafy opening of
shrubbery he caught a glimpse of a last survivor, still loyally
alert, the haughty head thrown back in everlasting challenge and
one foreleg lifted, standing in a vast and shadowy backyard with
a clothesline fastened to its antlers.
Mr. Corliss remembered that backyard very well: it was an old
battlefield whereon he had conquered; and he wondered if "the
Lindley boys" still lived there, and if Richard Lindley would
hate him now as implacably as then.
A hundred yards farther on, he paused before a house more
familiar to him than any other, and gave it a moment's whimsical
attention, without emotion.
It was a shabby old brick structure, and it stood among the
gayest, the most flamboyant dwellings of all Corliss Street
like a bewildered tramp surrounded by carnival maskers. It held
place full in the course of the fury for demolition and
rebuilding, but remained unaltered--even unrepaired, one might
have thought--since the early seventies, when it was built.
There was a sagging cornice, and the nauseous brown which the
walls had years ago been painted was sooted to a repellent dinge,
so cracked and peeled that the haggard red bricks were exposed,
like a beggar through the holes in his coat. It was one of those
houses which are large without being commodious; its very tall,
very narrow windows, with their attenuated, rusty inside
shutters, boasting to the passerby of high ceilings but betraying
the miserly floor spaces. At each side of the front door was a
high and cramped bay-window, one of them insanely culminating in
a little six-sided tower of slate, and both of them girdled above
the basement windows by a narrow porch, which ran across the
front of the house and gave access to the shallow vestibule.
However, a pleasant circumstance modified the gloom of this
edifice and assured it a remnant of reserve and dignity in its
ill-considered old age: it stood back a fine hundred feet from
the highway, and was shielded in part by a friendly group of
maple trees and one glorious elm, hoary, robust, and majestic, a
veteran of the days when this was forest ground.
Mr. Corliss concluded his momentary pause by walking up the
broken cement path, which was hard beset by plantain-weed and the
long grass of the ill-kept lawn. Ascending the steps, he was
assailed by an odour as of vehement bananas, a diffusion from
some painful little chairs standing in the long, high, dim,
rather sorrowful hall disclosed beyond the open double doors.
They were stiff little chairs of an inconsequent, mongrel
pattern; armless, with perforated wooden seats; legs tortured by
the lathe to a semblance of buttons strung on a rod; and they had
that day received a streaky coat of a gilding preparation which
exhaled the olfactory vehemence mentioned. Their present station
was temporary, their purpose, as obviously, to dry; and they were
doing some incidental gilding on their own account, leaving blots
and splashes and sporadic little round footprints on the hardwood
The old-fashioned brass bell-handle upon the caller's right
drooped from its socket in a dead fag, but after comprehensive
manipulation on the part of the young man, and equal complaint on
its own, it was constrained to permit a dim tinkle remotely.
Somewhere in the interior a woman's voice, not young, sang a
repeated fragment of "Lead, Kindly Light," to the accompaniment
of a flapping dust-cloth, sounds which ceased upon a second
successful encounter with the bell. Ensued a silence, probably
to be interpreted as a period of whispered consultation out of
range; a younger voice called softly and urgently, "Laura!" and a
dark-eyed, dark-haired girl of something over twenty made her
appearance to Mr. Corliss.
At sight of her he instantly restored a thin gold card-case
to the pocket whence he was in the act of removing it. She
looked at him with only grave, impersonal inquiry; no
appreciative invoice of him was to be detected in her quiet eyes,
which may have surprised him, possibly the more because he was
aware there was plenty of appreciation in his own kindling
glance. She was very white and black, this lady. Tall, trim,
clear, she looked cool in spite of the black winter skirt she
wore, an effect helped somewhat, perhaps, by the crisp freshness
of her white waist, with its masculine collar and slim black tie,
and undoubtedly by the even and lustreless light ivory of her
skin, against which the strong black eyebrows and undulated
black hair were lined with attractive precision; but, most of
all, that coolness was the emanation of her undisturbed and
tranquil eyes. They were not phlegmatic: a continuing spark
glowed far within them, not ardently, but steadily and
inscrutably, like the fixed stars in winter.
Mr. Valentine Corliss, of Paris and Naples, removed his
white-ribboned straw hat and bowed as no one had ever bowed in
that doorway. This most vivid salutation--accomplished by adding
something to a rather quick inclination of the body from the
hips, with the back and neck held straight expressed deference
without affecting or inviting cordiality. It was an elaborate
little formality of a kind fancifully called "foreign," and
evidently habitual to the performer.
It produced no outward effect upon the recipient. Such
self-control is unusual.
"Is Mr. Madison at home? My name is Valentine Corliss."
"He is at home." She indicated an open doorway upon her
right. "Will you wait in there?"
"Thank you," said Mr. Corliss, passing within. "I shall
be----" He left the sentence unfinished, for he was already
alone, and at liberty to reflect upon the extraordinary
coolness of this cool young woman.
The room, with its closed blinds, was soothingly dark after
the riotous sun without, a grateful obscurity which was one of
two attractions discovered in it by Mr. Corliss while he waited.
It was a depressing little chamber, disproportionately high,
uncheered by seven chairs (each of a different family, but all
belonging to the same knobby species, and all upholstered a
repellent blue), a scratched "inlaid table," likewise knobby, and
a dangerous looking small sofa--turbulent furniture, warmly
harmonious, however, in a common challenge to the visitor to take
comfort in any of it. A once-gilt gas chandelier hung from the
distant ceiling, with three globes of frosted glass, but
undeniable evidence that five were intended; and two of the three
had been severely bitten. There was a hostile little coal-grate,
making a mouth under a mantel of imitation black marble, behind
an old blue-satin fire-screen upon which red cat-tails and an owl
over a pond had been roughly embroidered in high relief, this owl
motive being the inspiration of innumerable other owls reflected
in innumerable other ponds in the formerly silver moonlight with
which the walls were papered. Corliss thought he remembered
that in his boyhood, when it was known as "the parlour" (though
he guessed that the Madison family called it "the reception
room," now) this was the place where his aunt received callers
who, she justifiably hoped, would not linger. Altogether, it
struck him that it might be a good test-room for an alienist: no
incipient lunacy would remain incipient here.
There was one incongruity which surprised him--a wicker
waste-paper basket, so nonsensically out of place in this arid
cell, where not the wildest hare-brain could picture any one
coming to read or write, that he bestowed upon it a particular,
frowning attention, and so discovered the second attractive
possession of the room. A fresh and lovely pink rose, just
opening full from the bud, lay in the bottom of the basket.
There was a rustling somewhere in the house and a murmur,
above which a boy's voice became audible in emphatic but
undistinguishable complaint. A whispering followed, and a woman
exclaimed protestingly, "Cora!" And then a startlingly pretty
girl came carelessly into the room through the open door.
She was humming "Quand I' Amour Meurt" in a gay
preoccupation, and evidently sought something upon the table in
the centre of the room, for she continued her progress toward it
several steps before realizing the presence of a visitor. She
was a year or so younger than the girl who had admitted him,
fairer and obviously more plastic, more expressive, more
perishable, a great deal more insistently feminine; though it was
to be seen that they were sisters. This one had eyes almost as
dark as the other's, but these were not cool; they were sweet,
unrestful, and seeking; brilliant with a vivacious hunger: and
not Diana but huntresses more ardent have such eyes. Her hair
was much lighter than her sister's; it was the colour of dry
corn-silk in the sun; and she was the shorter by a head, rounder
everywhere and not so slender; but no dumpling: she was
exquisitely made. There was a softness about her: something of
velvet, nothing of mush. She diffused with her entrance a
radiance of gayety and of gentleness; sunlight ran with her. She
seemed the incarnation of a caressing smile.
She was point-device. Her close, white skirt hung from a
plainly embroidered white waist to a silken instep; and from the
crown of her charming head to the tall heels of her graceful
white suede slippers, heels of a sweeter curve than the waist
of a violin, she was as modern and lovely as this dingy old house
was belated and hideous.
Mr. Valentine Corliss spared the fraction of a second for
another glance at the rose in the waste-basket.
The girl saw him before she reached the table, gave a little
gasp of surprise, and halted with one hand carried prettily to
her breast.
"Oh!" she said impulsively; "I BEG your pardon. I didn't
know there was---- I was looking for a book I thought I----"
She stopped, whelmed with a breath-taking shyness, her eyes,
after one quick but condensed encounter with those of Mr.
Corliss, falling beneath exquisite lashes. Her voice was one to
stir all men: it needs not many words for a supremely beautiful
"speaking-voice" to be recognized for what it is; and this girl's
was like herself, hauntingly lovely. The intelligent young man
immediately realized that no one who heard it could ever forget
"I see," she faltered, turning to leave the room; "it isn't
here--the book."
"There's something else of yours here," said Corliss.
"Is there?" She paused, hesitating at the door, looking at
him over her shoulder uncertainly.
"You dropped this rose." He lifted the rose from the
waste-basket and repeated the bow he had made at the front door.
This time it was not altogether wasted.
"Yes. You lost it. It belongs to you."
"Yes--it does. How curious!" she said slowly. "How curious
it happened to be THERE!" She stepped to take it from him,
her eyes upon his in charming astonishment. "And how odd
that----" She stopped; then said quickly:
"How did you know it was MY rose?"
"Any one would know!"
Her expression of surprise was instantaneously merged in a
flash of honest pleasure and admiration, such as only an artist
may feel in the presence of a little masterpiece by a
Happily, anticlimax was spared them by the arrival of the
person for whom the visitor had asked at the door, and the young
man retained the rose in his hand.
Mr. Madison, a shapeless hillock with a large, harassed, red
face, evidently suffered from the heat: his gray hair was rumpled
back from a damp forehead; the sleeves of his black alpaca coat
were pulled up to the elbow above his uncuffed white
shirtsleeves; and he carried in one mottled hand the ruins of a
palm-leaf fan, in the other a balled wet handkerchief which
released an aroma of camphor upon the banana-burdened air. He
bore evidences of inadequate adjustment after a disturbed siesta,
but, exercising a mechanical cordiality, preceded himself into
the room by a genial half-cough and a hearty, "Well-well-well,"
as if wishing to indicate a spirit of polite, even excited,
"I expected you might be turning up, after your letter," he
said, shaking hands. "Well, well, well! I remember you as a
boy. Wouldn't have known you, of course; but I expect you'll
find the town about as much changed as you are."
With a father's blindness to all that is really vital, he
concluded his greeting inconsequently: "Oh, this is my little
girl Cora."
"Run along, little girl," said the fat father.
His little girl's radiant glance at the alert visitor
imparted her thorough comprehension of all the old man's
absurdities, which had reached their climax in her dismissal.
Her parting look, falling from Corliss's face to the waste-basket
at his feet, just touched the rose in his hand as she passed
through the door.
Cora paused in the hall at a point about twenty feet from the
door, a girlish stratagem frequently of surprising advantage to
the practitioner; but the two men had begun to speak of the
weather. Suffering a momentary disappointment, she went on,
stepping silently, and passed through a door at the end of the
hall into a large and barren looking dining-room, stiffly and
skimpily furnished, but well-lighted, owing to the fact that one
end of it had been transformed into a narrow "conservatory," a
glass alcove now tenanted by two dried palms and a number of
vacant jars and earthen crocks.
Here her sister sat by an open window, repairing masculine
underwear; and a handsome, shabby, dirty boy of about thirteen
sprawled on the floor of the "conservatory" unloosing upon its
innocent, cracked, old black and white tiles a ghastly family of
snakes, owls, and visaged crescent moons, in orange, green, and
other loathsome chalks. As Cora entered from the hall, a
woman of fifty came in at a door opposite, and, a dust-cloth
retained under her left arm, an unsheathed weapon ready for
emergency, leaned sociably against the door-casing and continued
to polish a tablespoon with a bit of powdered chamois-skin. She
was tall and slightly bent; and, like the flat, old, silver spoon
in her hand, seemed to have been worn thin by use; yet it was
plain that the three young people in the room "got their looks"
from her. Her eyes, if tired, were tolerant and fond; and her
voice held its youth and something of the music of Cora's.
"What is he like?" She addressed the daughter by the window.
"Why don't you ask Coralie?" suggested the sprawling artist,
relaxing his hideous labour. He pronounced his sister's name
with intense bitterness. He called it "Cora-LEE," with an
implication far from subtle that his sister had at some time thus
Gallicized herself, presumably for masculine favour; and he was
pleased to receive tribute to his satire in a flash of dislike
from her lovely eyes.
"I ask Laura because it was Laura who went to the door, "Mrs.
Madison answered. "I do not ask Cora because Cora hasn't
seen him. Do I satisfy you, Hedrick?"
"`Cora hasn't seen him!'" the boy hooted mockingly. "She
hasn't? She was peeking out of the library shutters when he came
up the front walk, and she wouldn't let me go to the door; she
told Laura to go, but first she took the library waste-basket and
laid one o' them roses----"
"THOSE roses," said Cora sharply. "He WILL hang
around the neighbours' stables. I think you ought to do
something about it, mother."
"THEM roses!" repeated Hedrick fiercely. "One o' them
roses Dick Lindley sent her this morning. Laid it in the
waste-basket and sneaked it into the reception room for an excuse
to go galloping in and----"
"`Galloping'?" said Mrs. Madison gravely.
"It was a pretty bum excuse," continued the unaffected youth,
"but you bet your life you'll never beat our Cora-LEE when
there's a person in pants on the premises! It's sickening." He
rose, and performed something like a toe-dance, a supposed
imitation of his sister's mincing approach to the visitor. "Oh,
dear, I am such a little sweety! Here I am all alone just
reeking with Browning-and-Tennyson and thinking to myself about
such lovely things, and
walking around looking for my nice, pretty rose. Where can it
be? Oh heavens, Mister, are YOU here? Oh my, I never, never
thought that there was a MAN here! How you frighten me! See
what a shy little thing I am? You DO SEE, DON'T you, old
sweeticums? Ta, ta, here's papa. Remember me by that rose,
'cause it's just like me. Me and it's twins, you see,
cutie-sugar!" The diabolical boy then concluded with a reversion
to the severity of his own manner: "If she was MY daughter
I'd whip her!"
His indignation was left in the air, for the three ladies had
instinctively united against him, treacherously including his
private feud in the sex-war of the ages: Cora jumped lightly
upon the table and sat whistling and polishing the nails of one
hand upon the palm of another; Laura continued to sew without
looking up, and Mrs. Madison, conquering a tendency to laugh,
preserved a serene countenance and said ruminatively:
"They were all rather queer, the Corlisses."
Hedrick stared incredulously, baffled; but men must expect
these things, and this was no doubt a helpful item in his
"I wonder if he wants to sell the house, said Mrs. Madison.
"I wish he would. Anything that would make father get out of
it!" Cora exclaimed. "I hope Mr. Corliss will burn it if he
doesn't sell it."
"He might want to live here himself."
"He!" Cora emitted a derisive outcry.
Her mother gave her a quick, odd look, in which there was a
real alarm. "What is he like, Cora?"
"Awfully foreign and distinguished!"
This brought Hedrick to confront her with a leap as of some
wild animal under a lash. He landed close to her; his face
"Princely, I should call him," said Cora, her enthusiasm
undaunted. "Distinctly princely!"
"Princely," moaned Hedrick. "Pe-rin-sley!"
"Hedrick!" Mrs. Madison reproved him automatically. "In what
way is he `foreign,' Cora?"
"Oh, every way." Cora let her glance rest dreamily upon the
goaded boy. "He has a splendid head set upon a magnificent
"TORSO!" Hedrick whispered hoarsely.
"Tall, a glorious figure--like a young guardsman's." Madness
was gathering in her brother's eyes; and observing it with
quiet pleasure, she added: "One sees immediately he has the
grand manner, the bel air."
Hedrick exploded. "`BEL AIR'!" he screamed, and began to
jump up and down, tossing his arms frantically, and gasping with
emotion. "Oh, bel air! Oh, blah! `Henry Esmond!' Been readin'
`Henry Esmond!' Oh, you be-yoo-tiful Cora-Beatrix-a-LEE!
Magganifisent torso! GullO-rious figgi-your! Bel air! Oh,
slush! Oh, luv-a-ly slush!" He cast himself convulsively upon
the floor, full length. "Luv-a-ly, LUV-a-ly slush!"
"He is thirty, I should say," continued Cora, thoughtfully.
"Yes--about thirty. A strong, keen face, rather tanned. He's
between fair and dark----"
Hedrick raised himself to the attitude of the "Dying Gaul."
"And with `hair slightly silvered at the temples!' AIN'T his
hair slightly silvered at the temples?" he cried imploringly.
"Oh, sister, in pity's name let his hair be slightly silvered at
the temples? Only three grains of corn, your Grace; my children
are starving!"
He collapsed again, laid his face upon his extended arms, and
"He has rather wonderful eyes," said Cora. "They seem to
look right through you."
"Slush, slush, luv-a-ly slush," came in muffled tones from
the floor.
"And he wears his clothes so well--so differently! You feel
at once that he's not a person, but a personage."
Hedrick sat up, his eyes closed, his features contorted as
with agony, and chanted, impromptu:
"Slush, slush, luv-a-ly, slush!
Le'ss all go a-swimmin' in a dollar's worth o' mush.
Slush in the morning, slush at night,
If I don't get my slush I'm bound to get tight!"
"Hedrick!" said his mother.
"Altogether I should say that Mr. Valentine Corliss looks as
if he lived up to his name," Cora went on tranquilly. "Valentine
Corliss of Corliss Street--I think I rather like the sound of
that name." She let her beautiful voice linger upon it,
caressingly. "Valentine Corliss."
Hedrick opened his eyes, allowed his countenance to resume
its ordinary proportions, and spoke another name slowly and with
honeyed thoughtfulness:
"Ray Vilas."
This was the shot that told. Cora sprang down from the table
with an exclamation.
Hedrick, subduing elation, added gently, in a mournful
"POOR old Dick Lindley!"
His efforts to sting his sister were completely successful at
last: Cora was visibly agitated, and appealed hotly to her
mother. "Am I to bear this kind of thing all my life? Aren't
you EVER going to punish his insolence?"
"Hedrick, Hedrick!" said Mrs. Madison sadly.
Cora turned to the girl by the window with a pathetic
gesture. "Laura----" she said, and hesitated.
Laura Madison looked up into her sister's troubled eyes.
"I feel so morbid," said Cora, flushing a little and glancing
away. "I wish----" She stopped.
The silent Laura set aside her work, rose and went out of the
room. Her cheeks, too, had reddened faintly, a circumstance
sharply noted by the terrible boy. He sat where he was, asprawl,
propped by his arms behind him, watching with acute concentration
the injured departure of Cora, following her sister. At the
door, Cora, without pausing, threw him a look over her
shoulder: a full-eyed shot of frankest hatred.
A few moments later, magnificent chords sounded through the
house. The piano was old, but tuned to the middle of the note,
and the keys were swept by a master hand. The wires were not
hammered; they were touched knowingly as by the player's own
fingers, and so they sang--and from out among the chords there
stole an errant melody. This was not "piano-playing" and not a
pianist's triumphant nimbleness--it was music. Art is the
language of a heart that knows how to speak, and a heart that
knew how was speaking here. What it told was something
immeasurably wistful, something that might have welled up in the
breast of a young girl standing at twilight in an April orchard.
It was the inexpressible made into sound, an improvisation by a
master player.
"You hear what she's up to?" said Hedrick, turning his head
at last. But his mother had departed.
He again extended himself flat upon the floor, face downward,
this time as a necessary preliminary to rising after a manner of
his own invention. Mysteriously he became higher in the middle,
his body slowly forming first a round and then a pointed
arch, with forehead, knees, and elbows touching the floor. A
brilliantly executed manoeuvre closed his Gothic period, set him
upright and upon his feet; then, without ostentation, he proceeded
to the kitchen, where he found his mother polishing a
He challenged her with a damnatory gesture in the direction
of the music. "You hear what Cora's up to? "
Mrs. Madison's expression was disturbed; she gave her son a
look almost of appeal, and said, gently:
"I believe there's nothing precisely criminal in her getting
Laura to play for her. Laura's playing always soothes her when
she feels out of sorts--and--you weren't very considerate of her,
Hedrick. You upset her."
"Mentioning Ray Vilas, you mean?" he demanded.
"You weren't kind."
"She deserves it. Look at her! YOU know why she's got
Laura at the piano now."
"It's--it's because you worried her," his mother faltered
evasively. "Besides, it is very hot, and Cora isn't as strong as
she looks. She said she felt morbid and----"
"Morbid? Blah!" interrupted the direct boy. "She's started
after this Corliss man just like she did for Vilas. If I was
Dick Lindley I wouldn't stand for Cora's----"
"Hedrick!" His mother checked his outburst pleadingly.
"Cora has so much harder time than the other girls; they're all
so much better off. They seem to get everything they want, just
by asking: nice clothes and jewellery--and automobiles. That
seems to make a great difference nowadays; they all seem to have
automobiles. We're so dreadfully poor, and Cora has to struggle
so for what good times she----"
"Her?" the boy jibed bitterly. "I don't see her doing any
particular struggling." He waved his hand in a wide gesture.
"She takes it ALL!"
"There, there!" the mother said, and, as if feeling the need
of placating this harsh judge, continued gently: "Cora isn't
strong, Hedrick, and she does have a hard time. Almost every one
of the other girls in her set is at the seashore or somewhere
having a gay summer. You don't realize, but it's mortifying to
have to be the only one to stay at home, with everybody knowing
it's because your father can't afford to send her. And this
house is so hopeless," Mrs. Madison went on, extending her
plea hopefully; "it's impossible to make it attractive, but Cora
keeps trying and trying: she was all morning on her knees gilding
those chairs for the music-room, poor child, and----"
"`Music-room'!" sneered the boy. "Gilt chairs! All
show-off! That's all she ever thinks about. It's all there is
to Cora, just show-off, so she'll get a string o' fellows chasin'
after her. She's started for this Corliss just exactly the way
she did for Ray Vilas!"
"Just look at her!" he cried vehemently. "Don't you know
she's tryin' to make this Corliss think it's HER playin' the
piano right now?"
"Oh, no----"
"Didn't she do that with Ray Vilas?" he demanded quickly.
"Wasn't that exactly what she did the first time he ever came
here--got Laura to play and made him think it was HER?
Didn't she?"
"Oh--just in fun." Mrs. Madison's tone lacked conviction;
she turned, a little confusedly, from the glaring boy and fumbled
among the silver on the kitchen table. "Besides--she told him
afterward that it was Laura."
"He walked in on her one day when she was battin' away at the
piano herself with her back to the door. Then she pretended it
had been a joke, and he was so far gone by that time he didn't
care. He's crazy, anyway," added the youth, casually. "Who is
this Corliss?"
"He owns this house. His family were early settlers and used
to be very prominent, but they're all dead except this one. His
mother was a widow; she went abroad to live and took him with her
when he was about your age, and I don't think he's ever been back
"Did he use to live in this house?"
"No; an aunt of his did. She left it to him when she died,
two years ago. Your father was agent for her."
"You think this Corliss wants to sell it?"
"It's been for sale all the time he's owned it. That's why
we moved here; it made the rent low."
"Is he rich?"
"They used to have money, but maybe it's all spent. It
seemed to me he might want to raise money on the house, because I
don't see any other reason that could bring him back here. He's
already mortgaged it pretty heavily, your father told me. I
don't----" Mrs. Madison paused abruptly, her eyes widening at a
dismaying thought. "Oh, I do hope your father will know better
than to ask him to stay to dinner!"
Hedrick's expression became cryptic. "Father won't ask him,"
he said. "But I'll bet you a thousand dollars he stays!"
The mother followed her son's thought and did not seek to
elicit verbal explanation of the certainty which justified so
large a venture. "Oh, I hope not," she said. "Sarah's
threatening to leave, anyway; and she gets so cross if there's
extra cooking on wash-days."
"Well, Sarah'll have to get cross," said the boy grimly; "and
_I_'ll have to plug out and go for a quart of brick ice-cream
and carry it home in all this heat; and Laura and you'll have to
stand over the stove with Sarah; and father'll have to change his
shirt; and we'll all have to toil and moil and sweat and suffer
while Cora-lee sits out on the front porch and talks
toodle-do-dums to her new duke. And then she'll have YOU go
out and kid him along while----"
"Yes, you will!--while she gets herself all dressed and
powdered up again. After that, she'll do her share of the work:
she'll strain her poor back carryin' Dick Lindley's flowers down
the back stairs and stickin' 'em in a vase over a hole in the
tablecloth that Laura hasn't had time to sew up. You wait and
The gloomy realism of this prophecy was not without effect
upon the seer's mother. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed, protestingly.
"We really can't manage it. I'm sure Cora won't want to ask
"You'll see!"
"No; I'm sure she wouldn't think of it, but if she does I'll
tell her we can't. We really can't, to-day."
Her son looked pityingly upon her. "She ought to be MY
daughter," he said, the sinister implication all too
plain;--"just about five minutes!"
With that, he effectively closed the interview and left her.
He returned to his abandoned art labours in the
"conservatory," and meditatively perpetrated monstrosities upon
the tiles for the next half-hour, at the end of which he
concealed his box of chalks, with an anxiety possibly not
unwarranted, beneath the sideboard; and made his way toward the
front door, first glancing, unseen, into the kitchen where
his mother still pursued the silver. He walked through the hall
on tiptoe, taking care to step upon the much stained and worn
strip of "Turkish" carpet, and not upon the more resonant wooden
floor. The music had ceased long since.
The open doorway was like a brilliantly painted picture hung
upon the darkness of the hall, though its human centre of
interest was no startling bit of work, consisting of Mr. Madison
pottering aimlessly about the sun-flooded, unkempt lawn, fanning
himself, and now and then stooping to pull up one of the
thousands of plantain-weeds that beset the grass. With him the
little spy had no concern; but from a part of the porch out of
sight from the hall came Cora's exquisite voice and the light and
pleasant baritone of the visitor. Hedrick flattened himself in a
corner just inside the door.
"I should break any engagement whatsoever if I had one," Mr.
Corliss was saying with what the eavesdropper considered an
offensively "foreign" accent and an equally unjustifiable
gallantry; "but of course I haven't: I am so utterly a stranger
here. Your mother is immensely hospitable to wish you to ask me,
and I'll be only too glad to stay. Perhaps after dinner
you'll be very, very kind and play again? Of course you know how
remarkable such----"
"Oh, just improvising," Cora tossed off, carelessly, with a
deprecatory ripple of laughter. "It's purely with the mood, you
see. I can't make myself do things. No; I fancy I shall not
play again today."
There was a moment's silence.
"Shan't I fasten that in your buttonhole for you," said Cora.
"You see how patiently I've been awaiting the offer!"
There was another little silence; and the listener was able
to construct a picture (possibly in part from an active memory)
of Cora's delicate hands uplifted to the gentleman's lapel and
Cora's eyes for a moment likewise uplifted.
"Yes, one has moods," she said, dreamily. "I am ALL
moods. I think you are too, Mr. Corliss. You LOOK moody.
Aren't you?"
A horrible grin might have been seen to disfigure the shadow
in the corner just within the doorway.
It was cooler outdoors, after dinner, in the dusk of that
evening; nevertheless three members of the Madison family denied
themselves the breeze, and, as by a tacitly recognized and
habitual house-rule, so disposed themselves as to afford the most
agreeable isolation for the younger daughter and the guest, who
occupied wicker chairs upon the porch. The mother and father sat
beneath a hot, gas droplight in the small "library"; Mrs. Madison
with an evening newspaper, her husband with "King Solomon's
Mines"; and Laura, after crisply declining an urgent request from
Hedrick to play, had disappeared upstairs. The inimical lad
alone was inspired for the ungrateful role of duenna.
He sat upon the topmost of the porch steps with the air of
being permanently implanted; leaning forward, elbows on knees,
cheeks on palms, in a treacherous affectation of profound
reverie; and his back (all of him that was plainly visible in
the hall light) tauntingly close to a delicate foot which
would, God wot! willingly have launched him into the darkness
beyond. It was his dreadful pleasure to understand wholly the
itching of that shapely silk and satin foot.
The gas-light from the hall laid a broad orange path to the
steps--Cora and her companion sat just beyond it, his whiteness
gray, and she a pale ethereality in the shadow. She wore an
evening gown that revealed a vague lilac through white, and
shimmered upon her like a vapour. She was very quiet; and there
was a wan sweetness about her, an exhalation of wistfulness.
Cora, in the evening, was more like a rose than ever. She was
fragrant in the dusk. The spell she cast was an Undine's: it was
not to be thought so exquisite a thing as she could last. And
who may know how she managed to say what she did in the silence
and darkness? For it was said--without words, without touch,
even without a look--as plainly as if she had spoken or written
the message: "If I am a rose, I am one to be worn and borne
away. Are you the man?"
With the fall of night, the street they faced had become
still, save for an infrequent squawk of irritation on the
part of one of the passing automobiles, gadding for the most part
silently, like fireflies. But after a time a strolling trio of
negroes came singing along the sidewalk.
"In the evening, by the moonlight, you could hear
those banjos ringing;
In the evening, by the moonlight, you could hear
those darkies singing.
How the ole folks would injoy it; they would sit
all night an' lis-sun,
As we sang I-I-N the evening BY-Y-Y the
"Ah, THAT takes me back!" exclaimed Corliss. "That's as
it used to be. I might be a boy again."
"And I suppose this old house has many memories for you?"
said Cora, softly.
"Not very many. My, old-maid aunt didn't like me overmuch, I
believe; and I wasn't here often. My mother and I lived far down
the street. A big apartment-house stands there now, I noticed as
I was walking out here this afternoon--the `Verema,' it is
called, absurdly enough!"
"Ray Vilas lives there," volunteered Hedrick, not altering
his position.
"Vilas?" said the visitor politely, with a casual
recollection that the name had been once or twice emphasized
by the youth at dinner. "I don't remember Vilas among the old
names here."
"It wasn't, I guess," said Hedrick. "Ray Vilas has only been
here about two years. He came from Kentucky."
"A great friend of yours, I suppose."
"He ain't a boy," said Hedrick, and returned to silence
without further explanation.
"How cool and kind the stars are to-night," said Cora, very
She leaned forward from her chair, extending a white arm
along the iron railing of the porch; bending toward Corliss, and
speaking toward him and away from Hedrick in as low a voice as
possible, probably entertaining a reasonable hope of not being
"I love things that are cool and kind," she said. I love
things that are cool and strong. I love iron." She moved her
arm caressingly upon the railing. "I love its cool, smooth
touch. Any strong life must have iron in it. I like iron in
She leaned a very little closer to him.
"Have you iron in you, Mr. Corliss?" she asked.
At these words the frayed edge of Hedrick's broad white
collar was lifted perceptibly from his coat, as if by a
shudder passing over the back and shoulders beneath.
"If I have not," answered Corliss in a low voice, I will
"Tell me about yourself," she said.
"Dear lady," he began--and it was an effective beginning, for
a sigh of pleasure parted her lips as he spoke--"there is nothing
interesting to tell. I have spent a very commonplace life."
"I think not. You shouldn't call any life commonplace that
has escaped THIS!" The lovely voice was all the richer for
the pain that shook it now. "This monotony, this unending desert
of ashes, this death in life!"
"This town, you mean?"
"This prison, I mean! Everything. Tell me what lies outside
of it. You can."
"What makes you think I can?"
"I don't need to answer that. You understand perfectly."
Valentine Corliss drew in his breath with a sound murmurous
of delight, and for a time they did not speak.
"Yes," he said, finally, "I think I do."
"There are meetings in the desert," he went on, slowly.
"A lonely traveller finds another at a spring, sometimes."
"And sometimes they find that they speak the same language?"
His answer came, almost in a whisper:
"`Even as you and I.'"
"`Even as you and I,'" she echoed, even more faintly.
Cora breathed rapidly in the silence that followed; she had
every appearance of a woman deeply and mysteriously stirred. Her
companion watched her keenly in the dusk, and whatever the
reciprocal symptoms of emotion he may have exhibited, they were
far from tumultuous, bearing more likeness to the quiet
satisfaction of a good card-player taking what may prove to be a
decisive trick.
After a time she leaned back in her chair again, and began to
fan herself slowly.
"You have lived in the Orient, haven't you, Mr. Corliss?" she
said in an ordinary tone.
"Not lived. I've been East once or twice. I spend a greater
part of the year at Posilipo."
"Where is that?"
"On the fringe of Naples."
"Do you live in a hotel?"
"No." A slight surprise sounded in his voice. "I have a
villa there."
"Do you know what that seems to me?" Cora asked gravely,
after a pause; then answered herself, after another: "Like
magic. Like a strange, beautiful dream."
"Yes, it is beautiful," he said.
"Then tell me: What do you do there?"
"I spend a lot of time on the water in a boat."
"On sapphires and emeralds and turquoises and rubies, melted
and blown into waves."
"And you go yachting over that glory?"
"Fishing with my crew--and loafing."
"But your boat is really a yacht, isn't it?"
"Oh, it might be called anything," he laughed.
"And your sailors are Italian fishermen?"
Hedrick slew a mosquito upon his temple, smiting himself
hard. "No, they're Chinese!" he muttered hoarsely.
"They're Neapolitans," said Corliss.
"Do they wear red sashes and earrings?" asked Cora.
"One of them wears earrings and a derby hat!"
"Ah!" she protested, turning to him again. "You don't tell
me. You let me cross-question you, but you don't tell me things!
Don't you see? I want to know what LIFE is! I want to know
of strange seas, of strange people, of pain and of danger, of
great music, of curious thoughts! What are the Neapolitan women
"They fade early."
She leaned closer to him. "Before the fading have you--have
you loved--many?"
"All the pretty ones I ever saw, he answered gayly, but with
something in his tone (as there was in hers) which implied that
all the time they were really talking of things other than those
spoken. Yet here this secret subject seemed to come near the
She let him hear a genuine little snap of her teeth. I
THOUGHT you were like that!"
He laughed. "Ah, but you were sure to see it!"
"You could 'a' seen a Neapolitan woman yesterday, Cora," said
Hedrick, obligingly, "if you'd looked out the front window. She
was working a hurdy-gurdy up and down this neighbourhood all
afternoon." He turned genially to face his sister, and
added: "Ray Vilas used to say there were lots of pretty girls in
Cora sprang to her feet. "You're not smoking," she said to
Corliss hurriedly, as upon a sudden discovery. "Let me get you
some matches."
She had entered the house before he could protest, and
Hedrick, looking down the hall, was acutely aware that she dived
desperately into the library. But, however tragic the cry for
justice she uttered there, it certainly was not prolonged; and
the almost instantaneous quickness of her reappearance upon the
porch, with matches in her hand, made this one of the occasions
when her brother had to admit that in her own line Cora was a
"So thoughtless of me," she said cheerfully, resuming her
seat. She dropped the matches into Mr. Corliss's hand with a
fleeting touch of her finger-tips upon his palm. "Of course you
wanted to smoke. I can't think why I didn't realize it before.
I must have----"
A voice called from within, commanding in no, uncertain
"Hedrick! I should like to see you! Hedrick rose, and,
looking neither to the right nor, to the left, went stonily
into the house, and appeared before the powers.
"Call me?" he inquired with the air of cheerful readiness to
proceed upon any errand, no matter how difficult.
Mr. Madison countered diplomacy with gloom.
"I don't know what to do with you. Why can't you let your
sister alone?"
"Has Laura been complaining of me?"
"Oh, Hedrick!" said Mrs. Madison.
Hedrick himself felt the justice of her reproof: his
reference to Laura was poor work, he knew. He hung his head and
began to scrape the carpet with the side of his shoe.
"Well, what'd Cora say I been doing to her?"
"You know perfectly well what you've been doing," said Mr.
Madison sharply.
"Nothing at all; just sitting on the steps. What'd she
His father evidently considered it wiser not to repeat the
text of accusation. "You know what you did," he said heavily.
"Oho!" Hedrick's eyes became severe, and his sire's evasively
shifted from them.
"You keep away from the porch," said the, father, uneasily.
"You mean what I said about Ray Vilas?" asked the boy.
Both parents looked uncomfortable, and Mr. Madison, turning a
leaf in his book, gave a mediocre imitation of an austere person
resuming his reading after an impertinent interruption.
"That's what you mean," said the boy accusingly. "Ray
"Just you keep away from that porch."
"Because I happened to mention Ray Vilas?" demanded Hedrick.
"You let your sister alone."
"I got a right to know what she said, haven't I?"
There was no response, which appeared to satisfy Hedrick
perfectly. Neither parent met his glance; the mother troubled
and the father dogged, while the boy rejoiced sternly in some
occult triumph. He inflated his scant chest in pomp and hurled
at the defeated pair the well-known words:
"I wish she was MY daughter--about five minutes!"
New sounds from without--men's voices in greeting, and a
ripple of response from Cora somewhat lacking in
enthusiasm--afforded Mr. Madison unmistakable relief, and an
errand upon which to send his deadly offspring.
Hedrick, after a reconnaissance in the hall, obeyed at
leisure. Closing the library door nonchalantly behind him, he
found himself at the foot of a flight of unillumined back stairs,
where his manner underwent a swift alteration, for here was an
adventure to be gone about with ceremony. "Ventre St. Gris!" he
muttered hoarsely, and loosened the long rapier in the shabby
sheath at his side. For, with the closing of the door, he had
become a Huguenot gentleman, over forty and a little grizzled
perhaps, but modest and unassuming; wiry, alert, lightning-quick,
with a wrist of steel and a heart of gold; and he was about to
ascend the stairs of an unknown house at Blois in total darkness.
He went up, crouching, ready for anything, without a footfall,
not even causing a hideous creak; and gained the top in safety.
Here he turned into an obscure passage, and at the end of it
beheld, through an open door, a little room in which a dark-eyed
lady sat writing in a book by the light of an oil lamp.
The wary Huguenot remained in the shadow and observed her.
Laura was writing in an old ledger she had found in the
attic, blank and unused. She had rebound it herself in heavy
gray leather; and fitted it with a tiny padlock and key. She
wore the key under her dress upon a very thin silver chain round
her neck. Upon the first page of the book was written a date,
now more than a year past, the month was June--and beneath it:
"Love came to me to-day."
Nothing more was written upon that page.
Laura, at this writing, looked piquantly unfamiliar to her
brother: her eyes were moist and bright; her cheeks were flushed
and as she bent low, intently close to the book, a loosened wavy
strand of her dark hair almost touched the page. Hedrick had
never before seen her wearing an expression so "becoming" as the
eager and tremulous warmth of this; though sometimes, at the
piano, she would play in a reverie which wrought such glamour
about her that even a brother was obliged to consider her rather
handsome. She looked more than handsome now, so strangely
lovely, in fact, that his eyes watered painfully with the
protracted struggle to read a little of the writing in her book
before she discovered him.
He gave it up at last, and lounged forward blinking, with the
air of finding it sweet to do nothing.
"Whatch' writin'?" he asked in simple carelessness.
At the first sound of his movement she closed the book in a
flash; then, with a startled, protective gesture,
extended her arms over it, covering it.
"What is it, Hedrick?" she asked, breathlessly.
"What's the padlock for?"
"Nothing," she panted. "What is it you want?"
"You writin' poetry?"
Laura's eyes dilated; she looked dangerous.
"Oh, I don't care about your old book," said Hedrick, with an
amused nonchalance Talleyrand might have admired. "There's
callers, and you have to come down."
"Who sent you?"
"A man I've often noticed around the house," he replied
blightingly. "You may have seen him--I think his name's Madison.
His wife and he both sent for you."
One of Laura's hands instinctively began to arrange her hair,
but the other remained upon the book. "Who is it calling?"
"Richard Lindley and that Wade Trumble."
Laura rose, standing between her brother and the table.
"Tell mother I will come down."
Hedrick moved a little nearer, whereupon, observing his eye,
she put her right hand behind her upon the book. She was not
deceived, and boys are not only superb strategic actors
sometimes, but calamitously quick. Appearing to be unaware of
her careful defence, he leaned against the wall and crossed his
feet in an original and interesting manner.
"Of course YOU understand," he said cosily. "Cora wants
to keep this Corliss in a corner of the porch where she can coo
at him; so you and mother'll have to raise a ballyhoo for Dick
Lindley and that Wade Trumble. It'd been funny if Dick hadn't
noticed anybody was there and kissed her. What on earth does he
want to stay engaged to her for, anyway?"
"You don't know that she is engaged to Mr. Lindley, Hedrick."
"Get out!" he hooted. "What's the use talking like that to
me? A blind mackerel could see she's let poor old Lindley think
he's High Man with her these last few months; but he'll have to
hit the pike now, I reckon, 'cause this Corliss is altogether too
pe-rin-sley for Dick's class. Lee roy est mort. Vive lee roy!"
"Hedrick, won't you please run along? I want to change my
"What for? There was company for dinner and you didn't
change then."
Laura's flushed cheeks flushed deeper, and in her confusion
she answered too quickly. "I only have one evening gown. I--of
course I can't wear it every night."
"Well, then," he returned triumphantly, "what do you want to
put it on now for?"
"PLEASE run along, Hedrick," she pleaded.
"You didn't for this Corliss," he persisted sharply. You
know Dick Lindley couldn't see anybody but Cora to save his life,
and I don't suppose there's a girl on earth fool enough to dress
up for that Wade Trum----"
"Hedrick!" Laura's voice rang with a warning which he
remembered to have heard upon a few previous occasions when she
had easily proved herself physically stronger than he. "Go and
tell mother I'm coming," she said.
He began to whistle "Beulah Land" as he went, but, with the
swift closing of the door behind him, abandoned that pathetically
optimistic hymn prematurely, after the third bar.
Twenty minutes later, when Laura came out and went
downstairs, a fine straight figure in her black evening gown, the
Sieur de Marsac--that hard-bitten Huguenot, whose middle-aged
shabbiness was but the outward and deceptive seeming of the
longest head and the best sword in France--emerged cautiously
from the passageway and stood listening until her footsteps were
heard descending the front stairs. Nevertheless, the most
painstaking search of her room, a search as systematic as it was
feverish, failed to reveal where she had hidden the book.
He returned wearily to the porch.
A prophet has always been supposed to take some pleasure,
perhaps morbid, in seeing his predictions fulfilled; and it may
have been a consolation to the gloomy heart of Hedrick, sorely
injured by Laura's offensive care of her treasure, to find the
grouping upon the porch as he had foretold: Cora and Mr. Corliss
sitting a little aloof from the others, far enough to permit
their holding an indistinct and murmurous conversation of their
own. Their sequestration, even by so short a distance, gave them
an appearance of intimacy which probably accounted for the rather
absent greeting bestowed by Mr. Lindley upon the son of the
house, who met him with some favour.
This Richard Lindley was a thin, friendly looking young man
with a pleasing, old-fashioned face which suggested that if
he were minded to be portrayed it should be by the daguerreotype,
and that a high, black stock would have been more suitable to him
than his businesslike, modern neck-gear. He had fine eyes, which
seemed habitually concerned with faraway things, though when he
looked at Cora they sparkled; however, it cannot be said that the
sparkling continued at its brightest when his glance wandered (as
it not infrequently did this evening) from her lovely head to the
rose in Mr. Corliss's white coat.
Hedrick, resuming a position upon the top step between the
two groups, found the conversation of the larger annoying because
it prevented him from hearing that of the smaller. It was
carried on for the greater part by his mother and Mr. Trumble;
Laura sat silent between these two; and Lindley's mood was
obviously contemplative. Mr. Wade Trumble, twenty-six, small,
earnest, and already beginning to lose his hair, was talkative
He was one of those people who are so continuously aggressive
that they are negligible. "What's the matter here? Nobody pays
any attention to me. I'M important!" He might have had that
legend engraved on his card, it spoke from everything else
that was his: face, voice, gesture--even from his clothes,
for they also clamoured for attention without receiving it. Worn
by another man, their extravagance of shape and shade might have
advertised a self-sacrificing effort for the picturesque; but
upon Mr. Trumble they paradoxically confirmed an impression that
he was well off and close. Certainly this was the impression
confirmed in the mind of the shrewdest and most experienced
observer on that veranda. The accomplished Valentine Corliss was
quite able to share Cora's detachment satisfactorily, and be very
actively aware of other things at the same time. For instance:
Richard Lindley's preoccupation had neither escaped him nor
remained unconnected in his mind with that gentleman's somewhat
attentive notice of the present position of a certain rose.
Mr. Trumble took up Mrs. Madison's placid weather talk as if
it had been a flaunting challenge; he made it a matter of
conscience and for argument; for he was a doughty champion, it
appeared, when nothings were in question, one of those stern men
who will have accuracy in the banal, insisting upon portent in
talk meant to be slid over as mere courteous sound.
"I don't know about that, now," he said with severe emphasis.
"I don't know about that at all. I can't say I agree with you.
In fact, I do not agree with you: it was hotter in the early part
of July, year before last, than it has been at any time this
summer. Several degrees hotter--several degrees."
"I fear I must beg to differ with you," he said, catching the
poor lady again, a moment later. "I beg to differ decidedly.
Other places get a great deal more heat. Look at Egypt."
"Permit me to disagree, he interrupted her at once, when she
pathetically squirmed to another subject. "There's more than
one side to this matter. You are looking at this matter from a
totally wrong angle. . . . Let me inform you that
statistics. . . ." Mrs. Madison's gentle voice was no more than
just audible in the short intervals he permitted; a blind
listener would have thought Mr. Trumble at the telephone.
Hedrick was thankful when his mother finally gave up altogether
the display of her ignorance, inaccuracy, and general
misinformation, and Trumble talked alone. That must have been
the young man's object; certainly he had struggled for it; and so
it must have pleased him. He talked on and on and on; he
passed from one topic to another with no pause; swinging over the
gaps with a "Now you take," or, "And that reminds me," filling
many a vacancy with "So-and-so and so-and-so," and other
stencils, while casting about for material to continue.
Everything was italicized, the significant and the trivial, to
the same monotone of emphasis. Death and shoe-laces were all the
same to him.
Anything was all the same to him so long as he talked.
Hedrick's irritation was gradually dispelled; and, becoming
used to the sound, he found it lulling; relaxed his attitude and
drowsed; Mr. Lindley was obviously lost in a reverie; Mrs.
Madison, her hand shading her eyes, went over her market-list for
the morrow and otherwise set her house in order; Laura alone sat
straight in her chair; and her face was toward the vocalist, but
as she was in deep shadow her expression could not be guessed.
However, one person in that group must have listened with genuine
pleasure--else why did he talk?
It was the returned native whose departure at last rang the
curtain on the monologue. The end of the long sheltered
seclusion of Cora and her companion was a whispered word. He
spoke it first:
Cora gave a keen, quick, indrawn sigh--not of sorrow--and
sank back in her chair, as he touched her hand in farewell and
rose to go. She remained where she was, motionless and silent in
the dark, while he crossed to Mrs. Madison, and prefaced a
leave-taking unusually formal for these precincts with his
mannered bow. He shook hands with Richard Lindley, asking
"Do you still live where you did--just below here?"
"When I passed by there this afternoon, said Corliss, "it
recalled a stupendous conflict we had, once upon a time; but I
couldn't remember the cause."
"I remember the cause," said Mr. Lindley, but, stopping
rather short, omitted to state it. "At all events, it was
"Yes," said the other quietly. "You whipped me."
"Did I so?" Corliss laughed gayly. "We mustn't let it happen
Mr. Trumble joined the parting guest, making simultaneous
adieus with unmistakable elation. Mr. Trumble's dreadful
entertainment had made it a happy evening for him.
As they went down the steps together, the top of his head
just above the level of his companion's shoulder, he lifted to
Corliss a searching gaze like an actor's hopeful scrutiny of a
new acquaintance; and before they reached the street his bark
rang eagerly on the stilly night: "Now THERE is a point on
which I beg to differ with you. . . ."
Mrs. Madison gave Lindley her hand. "I think I'll go in.
Good-night, Richard. Come, Hedrick!"
Hedrick rose, groaning, and batted his eyes painfully as he
faced the hall light. "What'd you and this Corliss fight about?"
he asked, sleepily.
"Nothing," said Lindley.
"You said you remembered."
"Oh, I remember a lot of useless things."
"Well, what was it? I want to know what you fought about."
"Come, Hedrick," repeated his mother, setting a gently urgent
hand on his shoulder."
"I won't," said the boy impatiently, shaking her off and
growing suddenly very wideawake and determined. "I won't
move a step till he tells me what they fought about. Not a
"Well--it was about a `show.' We were only boys, you
know--younger than you, perhaps."
"A circus?"
"A boy-circus he and my brother got up in our yard. I wasn't
in it."
"Well, what did you fight about?"
"I thought Val Corliss wasn't quite fair to my brother.
That's all."
"No, it isn't! How wasn't he fair?"
"They sold tickets to the other boys; and I thought my
brother didn't get his share."
"This Corliss kept it all?"
"Oh, something like that," said Lindley, laughing.
"Probably I was in the wrong."
"And he licked you?"
"All over the place!"
"I wish I'd seen it," said Hedrick, not unsympathetically,
but as a sportsman. And he consented to be led away.
Laura had been standing at the top of the steps looking down
the street, where Corliss and his brisk companion had emerged
momentarily from deep shadows under the trees into the
illumination of a swinging arc-lamp at the corner. They disappeared;
and she turned, and, smiling, gave the delaying guest
her hand in good-night.
His expression, which was somewhat troubled, changed to one
of surprise as her face came into the light, for it was
transfigured. Deeply flushed, her eyes luminous, she wore that
shining look Hedrick had seen as she wrote in her secret book.
"Why, Laura!" said Lindley, wondering.
She said good-night again, and went in slowly. As she
reached the foot of the stairs, she heard him moving a chair upon
the porch, and Cora speaking sharply:
"Please don't sit close to me!" There was a sudden
shrillness in the voice of honey, and the six words were run so
rapidly together they seemed to form but one. After a moment
Cora added, with a deprecatory ripple of laughter not quite free
from the same shrillness:
"You see, Richard, it's so--it's so hot, to-night.
Half an hour later, when Lindley had gone, Cora closed the front
doors in a manner which drew an immediate cry of agony from the
room where her father was trying to sleep. She stood on tiptoe
to turn out the gas-light in the hall; but for a time the key
resisted the insufficient pressure of her finger-tips: the little
orange flame, with its black-green crescent over the armature, so
maliciously like the "eye" of a peacock feather, limned the
exquisite planes of the upturned face; modelled them with soft
and regular shadows; painted a sullen loveliness. The key turned
a little, but not enough; and she whispered to herself a
monosyllable not usually attributed to the vocabulary of a damsel
of rank. Next moment, her expression flashed in a brilliant
change, like that of a pouting child suddenly remembering that
tomorrow is Christmas. The key surrendered instantly, and she
ran gayly up the familiar stairs in the darkness.
The transom of Laura's door shone brightly; but the knob,
turning uselessly in Cora's hand, proved the door itself not so
hospitable. There was a brief rustling within the room; the bolt
snapped, and Laura opened the door.
"Why, Laura," said Cora, observing her sister with transient
curiosity, "you haven't undressed. What have you been doing?
Something's the matter with you. I know what it is," she added,
laughing, as she seated herself on the edge of the old
black-walnut bed. "You're in love with Wade Trumble!"
"He's a strong man," observed Laura. "A remarkable throat."
"Horrible little person!" said Cora, forgetting what she owed
the unfortunate Mr. Trumble for the vocal wall which had so
effectively sheltered her earlier in the evening. "He's like one
of those booming June-bugs, batting against the walls, falling
into lamp-chimneys-----'
"He doesn't get very near the light he wants," said Laura.
"Me? Yes, he would like to, the rat! But he's consoled when
he can get any one to listen to his awful chatter. He makes up
to himself among women for the way he gets sat on at the
club. But he has his use: he shows off the other men so, by
contrast. Oh, Laura!" She lifted both hands to her cheeks,
which were beautiful with a quick suffusion of high colour.
"Isn't he gorgeous!"
"Yes," said Laura gently, "I've always thought so.
"Now what's the use of that?" asked Cora peevishly, "with
ME? I didn't mean Richard Lindley. You KNOW what I
"Yes--of course--I do," Laura said.
Cora gave her a long look in which a childlike pleading
mingled with a faint, strange trouble; then this glance wandered
moodily from the face of her sister to her own slippers, which
she elevated to meet her descending line of vision.
"And you know I can't help it," she said, shifting quickly to
the role of accuser. "So what's the use of behaving like the
Pest?" She let her feet drop to the floor again, and her voice
trembled a little as she went on: "Laura, you don't know what I
had to endure from him to-night. I really don't think I can
stand it to live in the same house any longer with that frightful
little devil. He's been throwing Ray Vilas's name at me
until--oh, it was ghastly to-night! And then--then----" Her
tremulousness increased. "I haven't said anything about it all
day, but I MET him on the street downtown, this morning----"
"You met Vilas?" Laura looked startled. "Did he speak to
"`Speak to me!'" Cora's exclamation shook with a half-laugh
of hysteria. "He made an awful SCENE! He came out of the
Richfield Hotel barroom on Main Street just as I was going into
the jeweller's next door, and he stopped and bowed like a monkey,
square in front of me, and--and he took off his hat and set it on
the pavement at my feet and told me to kick it into the gutter!
Everybody stopped and stared; and I couldn't get by him. And he
said--he said I'd kicked his heart into the gutter and he didn't
want it to catch cold without a hat! And wouldn't I please be so
kind as to kick----" She choked with angry mortification. "It
was horrible! People were stopping and laughing, and a rowdy
began to make fun of Ray, and pushed him, and they got into a
scuffle, and I ran into the jeweller's and almost fainted."
"He is insane!" said Laura, aghast.
"He's nothing of the kind; he's just a brute. He does it to
make people say I'm the cause of his drinking; and everybody in
this gossipy old town DOES say it--just because I got bored
to death with his everlasting
do-you-love-me-to-day-as-well-as-yesterday style of torment, and
couldn't help liking Richard better. Yes, every old cat in town
says I ruined him, and that's what he wants them to say. It's so
unmanly! I wish he'd die! Yes, I DO wish he would! Why
doesn't he kill himself?"
"Ah, don't say that," protested Laura.
"Why not? He's threatened to enough. And I'm afraid to go
out of the house because I can't tell when I'll meet him or what
he'll do. I was almost sick in that jeweller's shop, this
morning, and so upset I came away without getting my pendant.
There's ANOTHER thing I've got to go through, I suppose!"
She pounded the yielding pillow desperately. "Oh, oh, oh! Life
isn't worth living--it seems to me sometimes as if everybody in
the world spent his time trying to think up ways to make it
harder for me! I couldn't have worn the pendant, though, even if
I'd got it," she went on, becoming thoughtful. "It's Richard's
silly old engagement ring, you know," she explained, lightly.
"I had it made up into a pendant, and heaven knows how I'm going
to get Richard to see it the right way. He was so unreasonable
"Was he cross about Mr. Corliss monopolizing you?"
"Oh, you know how he is," said Cora. "He didn't speak of it
exactly. But after you'd gone, he asked me----" She stopped
with a little gulp, an expression of keen distaste about her
"Oh, he wants me to wear my ring," she continued, with sudden
rapidity: "and how the dickens CAN I when I can't even tell
him it's been made into a pendant! He wants to speak to father;
he wants to ANNOUNCE it. He's sold out his business for what
he thinks is a good deal of money, and he wants me to marry him
next month and take some miserable little trip, I don't know
where, for a few weeks, before he invests what he's made in
another business. Oh!" she cried. "It's a HORRIBLE thing to
ask a girl to do: to settle down--just housekeeping, housekeeping,
housekeeping forever in this stupid, stupid town! It's
so unfair! Men are just possessive; they think it's loving
you to want to possess you themselves. A beautiful `love'! It's
so mean! Men!" She sprang up and threw out both arms in a
vehement gesture of revolt. "Damn 'em, I wish they'd let me
Laura's eyes had lost their quiet; they showed a glint of
tears, and she was breathing quickly. In this crisis of emotion
the two girls went to each other silently; Cora turned, and Laura
began to unfasten Cora's dress in the back.
"Poor Richard!" said Laura presently, putting into her mouth
a tiny pearl button which had detached itself at her touch.
"This was his first evening in the overflow. No wonder he was
"Pooh!" said Cora. "As if you and mamma weren't good enough
for him to talk to! He's spoiled. He's so used to being called
`the most popular man in town' and knowing that every girl on
Corliss Street wanted to marry him----" She broke off, and
exclaimed sharply: "I wish they would!
"Oh, I suppose you mean that's the reason _I_ went in for
"No, no," explained Laura hurriedly. "I only meant, stand
"Well, it was!" And Cora's abrupt laugh had the glad, free
ring fancy attaches to the merry confidences of a buccaneer in
trusted company.
Laura knelt to continue unfastening the dress; and when it
was finished she extended three of the tiny buttons in her hand.
"They're always loose on a new dress," she said. "I'll sew them
all on tight, to-morrow."
Cora smiled lovingly. "You good old thing," she said. "You
looked pretty to-night."
"That's nice!" Laura laughed, as she dropped the buttons
into a little drawer of her bureau. It was an ugly, cheap, old
bureau, its veneer loosened and peeling, the mirror small and
flawed--a piece of furniture in keeping with the room, which was
small, plain and hot, its only ornamental adjunct being a
silver-framed photograph of Mrs. Madison, with Cora, as a child
of seven or eight, upon her lap.
"You really do look ever so pretty," asserted Cora.
"I wonder if I look as well as I did the last time I heard I
was pretty," said the other. "That was at the Assembly in March.
Coming down the stairs, I heard a man from out of town say,
`That black-haired Miss Madison is a pretty girl.' And some one
with him said, `Yes; you'll think so until you meet her sister!'"
"You are an old dear!" Cora enfolded her delightedly; then,
drawing back, exclaimed: "You KNOW he's gorgeous!" And with
a feverish little ripple of laughter, caught her dress together
in the back and sped through the hall to her own room.
This was a very different affair from Laura's, much cooler
and larger; occupying half the width of the house; and a rather
expensive struggle had made it pretty and even luxurious. The
window curtains and the wall-paper were fresh, and of a quiet
blue; there was a large divan of the same colour; a light desk,
prettily equipped, occupied a corner; and between two gilt
gas-brackets, whose patent burners were shielded by fringed silk
shades, stood a cheval-glass six feet high. The door of a very
large clothes-pantry stood open, showing a fine company of
dresses, suspended from forms in an orderly manner; near by, a
rosewood cabinet exhibited a delicate collection of shoes and
slippers upon its four shelves. A dressing-table, charmingly
littered with everything, took the place of a bureau; and
upon it, in a massive silver frame, was a large photograph of Mr.
Richard Lindley. The frame was handsome, but somewhat battered:
it had seen service. However, the photograph was quite new.
There were photographs everywhere photographs framed and
unframed; photographs large and photographs small, the fresh and
the faded; tintypes, kodaks, "full lengths," "cabinets,"
groups--every kind of photograph; and among them were several of
Cora herself, one of her mother, one of Laura, and two others of
girls. All the rest were sterner. Two or three were seamed
across with cracks, hastily recalled sentences to destruction;
and here and there remained tokens of a draughtsman's
over-generous struggle to confer upon some of the smooth-shaven
faces additional manliness in the shape of sweeping moustaches,
long beards, goatees, mutton-chops, and, in the case of one gentleman
of a blond, delicate and tenor-like beauty,
neck-whiskers;--decorations in many instances so deeply and
damply pencilled that subsequent attempts at erasure had failed
of great success. Certainly, Hedrick had his own way of
relieving dull times.
Cora turned up the lights at the sides of the
cheval-glass, looked at herself earnestly, then absently, and
began to loosen her hair. Her lifted hands hesitated; she
re-arranged the slight displacement of her hair already effected;
set two chairs before the mirror, seated herself in one; pulled
up her dress, where it was slipping from her shoulder, rested an
arm upon the back of the other chair as, earlier in the evening,
she had rested it upon the iron railing of the porch, and,
leaning forward, assumed as exactly as possible the attitude in
which she had sat so long beside Valentine Corliss. She leaned
very slowly closer and yet closer to the mirror; a rich colour
spread over her; her eyes, gazing into themselves, became dreamy,
inexpressibly wistful, cloudily sweet; her breath was tumultuous.
"`Even as you and I'?" she whispered.
Then, in the final moment of this after-the-fact rehearsal,
as her face almost touched the glass, she forgot how and what she
had looked to Corliss; she forgot him; she forgot him utterly:
she leaped to her feet and kissed the mirrored lips with a sort
of passion.
"You DARLING!" she cried. Cora's christening had been
unimaginative, for the name means only, "maiden." She should
have been called Narcissa.
The rhapsody was over instantly, leaving an emotional vacuum
like a silence at the dentist's. Cora yawned, and resumed the
loosening of her hair.
When she had put on her nightgown, she went from one window
to another, closing the shutters against the coming of the
morning light to wake her. As she reached the last window, a
sudden high wind rushed among the trees outside; a white flare
leaped at her face, startling her; there was a boom and rattle as
of the brasses, cymbals, and kettle-drums of some fatal
orchestra; and almost at once it began to rain.
And with that, from the distance came a voice, singing; and
at the first sound of it, though it was far away and almost
indistinguishable, Cora started more violently than at the
lightning; she sprang to the mirror lights, put them out; threw
herself upon the bed, and huddled there in the darkness.
The wind passed; the heart of the storm was miles away; this
was only its fringe; but the rain pattered sharply upon the thick
foliage outside her windows; and the singing voice came
slowly up the street.
It was a strange voice: high-pitched and hoarse--and not
quite human, so utter was the animal abandon of it.
"I love a lassie, a bonnie, bonnie lassie," it wailed and
piped, coming nearer; and the gay little air--wrought to a
grotesque of itself by this wild, high voice in the rain--might
have been a banshee's love-song.
"I love a lassie, a bonnie, bonnie lassie.
She's as pure as the lily in the dell----"
The voice grew louder; came in front of the house; came into
the yard; came and sang just under Cora's window. There it fell
silent a moment; then was lifted in a long peal of imbecile
laughter, and sang again:
"Then slowly, slowly rase she up
And slowly she came nigh him,
And when she drew the curtain by--
`Young man I think you're dyin'.'"
Cora's door opened and closed softly, and Laura, barefooted,
stole to the bed and put an arm about the shaking form of her
"The drunken beast!" sobbed Cora. "It's to disgrace me!
That's what he wants. He'd like nothing better than headlines in
the papers: `Ray Vilas arrested at the Madison residence'!" She
choked with anger and mortification. "The neighbours----"
"They're nearly all away," whispered Laura. "You needn't
The voice stopped singing, and began to mumble incoherently;
then it rose again in a lamentable outcry:
"Oh, God of the fallen, be Thou merciful to me! Be Thou
merciful--merciful--MERCIFUL" . . .
"MERCIFUL, MERCIFUL, MERCIFUL!" it shrieked, over and
over, with increasing loudness, and to such nerve-racking effect
that Cora, gasping, beat the bedclothes frantically with her
hands at each iteration.
The transom over the door became luminous; some one had
lighted the gas in the upper hall. Both girls jumped from the
bed, ran to the door, and opened it. Their mother, wearing a red
wrapper, was standing at the head of the stairs, which Mr.
Madison, in his night-shirt and slippers, was slowly and heavily
Before he reached the front door, the voice outside ceased
its dreadful plaint with the abrupt anti-climax of a phonograph
stopped in the middle of a record. There was the sound of a
struggle and wrestling, a turmoil in the wet shrubberies,
branches cracking.
"Let me go, da----" cried the voice, drowned again at half a
word, as by a powerful hand upon a screaming mouth.
The old man opened the front door, stepped out, closing it
behind him; and the three women looked at each other wanly during
a hushed interval like that in a sleeping-car at night when the
train stops. Presently he came in again, and started up the
stairs, heavily and slowly, as he had gone down.
"Richard Lindley stopped him," he said, sighing with the
ascent, and not looking up. "He heard him as he came along the
street, and dressed as quick as he could, and ran up and got him.
Richard's taken him away."
He went to his own room, panting, mopping his damp gray hair
with his fat wrist, and looking at no one.
Cora began to cry again. It was an hour before any of this
family had recovered sufficient poise to realize, with the
shuddering gratitude of adventurers spared from the abyss, that,
under Providence, Hedrick had not wakened!
Much light shatters much loveliness; but a pretty girl who looks
pretty outdoors on a dazzling hot summer morning is prettier then
than ever. Cora knew it; of course she knew it; she knew exactly
how she looked, as she left the concrete bridge behind her at the
upper end of Corliss Street and turned into a shrub-bordered
bypath of the river park. In imagination she stood at the turn
of the path just ahead, watching her own approach: she saw
herself as a picture--the white-domed parasol, with its cheerful
pale-green lining, a background for her white hat, her corn-silk
hair, and her delicately flushed face. She saw her pale, live
arms through their thin sleeves, and the light grasp of her
gloved fingers upon the glistening stick of the parasol; she saw
the long, simple lines of her close white dress and their
graceful interchanging movements with the alternate advance of
her white shoes over the fine gravel path; she saw the dazzling
splashes of sunshine playing upon her through the
changeful branches overhead. Cora never lacked a gallery: she
sat there herself.
She refreshed the eyes of a respectable burgess of sixty, a
person so colourless that no one, after passing him, could have
remembered anything about him except that he wore glasses and
some sort of moustache; and to Cora's vision he was as near
transparent as any man could be, yet she did not miss the almost
imperceptible signs of his approval, as they met and continued on
their opposite ways. She did not glance round, nor did he pause
in his slow walk; neither was she clairvoyant; none the less, she
knew that he turned his head and looked back at her.
The path led away from the drives and more public walks of
the park, to a low hill, thoughtfully untouched by the gardener
and left to the shadowy thickets and good-smelling underbrush of
its rich native woodland. And here, by a brown bench, waited a
tall gentleman in white.
They touched hands and sat without speaking. For several
moments they continued the silence, then turned slowly and looked
at each other; then looked slowly and gravely away, as if to an
audience in front of them. They knew how to do it; but
probably a critic in the first row would have concluded that
Cora felt it even more than Valentine Corliss enjoyed it.
"I suppose this is very clandestine," she said, after a deep
breath. "I don't think I care, though."
"I hope you do," he smiled, "so that I could think your
coming means more."
"Then I'll care," she said, and looked at him again.
"You dear!" he exclaimed deliberately.
She bit her lip and looked down, but not before he had seen
the quick dilation of her ardent eyes. "I wanted to be out of
doors," she said. "I'm afraid there's one thing of yours I don't
like, Mr. Corliss."
"I'll throw it away, then. Tell me."
"Your house. I don't like living in it, very much. I'm
sorry you CAN'T throw it away."
"I'm thinking of doing that very thing," he laughed. "But
I'm glad I found the rose in that queer old waste-basket first."
"Not too much like a rose, sometimes," she said. "I think
this morning I'm a little like some of the old doors up on the
third floor: I feel rather unhinged, Mr. Corliss."
"You don't look it, Miss Madison!"
"I didn't sleep very well." She bestowed upon him a glance
which transmuted her actual explanation into, "I couldn't sleep
for thinking of you." It was perfectly definite; but the acute
gentleman laughed genially.
"Go on with you!" he said.
Her eyes sparkled, and she joined laughter with him. "But
it's true: you did keep me awake. Besides, I had a serenade."
"Serenade? I had an idea they didn't do that any more over
here. I remember the young men going about at night with an
orchestra sometimes when I was a boy, but I supposed----"
"Oh, it wasn't much like that," she interrupted, carelessly.
"I don't think that sort of thing has been done for years and
years. It wasn't an orchestra--just a man singing under my
"With a guitar?"
"No." She laughed a little. "Just singing."
"But it rained last night," said Corliss, puzzled.
"Oh, HE wouldn't mind that!"
"How stupid of me! Of course, he wouldn't.
Was it Richard Lindley?"
"I see. Yes, that was a bad guess: I'm sure Lindley's just
the same steady-going, sober, plodding old horse he was as a boy.
His picture doesn't fit a romantic frame--singing under a lady's
window in a thunderstorm! Your serenader must have been very
"He is," said Cora. "I suppose he's about twenty-three; just
a boy--and a very annoying one, too!"
Her companion looked at her narrowly. "By any chance, is he
the person your little brother seemed so fond of mentioning--Mr.
Cora gave a genuine start. "Good heavens! What makes you
think that?" she cried, but she was sufficiently disconcerted to
confirm his amused suspicion.
"So it was Mr. Vilas," he said. "He's one of the jilted, of
"Oh, `jilted'!" she exclaimed. "All the wild boys that a
girl can't make herself like aren't `jilted,' are they?"
"I believe I should say--yes," he returned. "Yes, in this
instance, just about all of them."
"Is every woman a target for you, Mr. Corliss? I suppose you
know that you have a most uncomfortable way of shooting up
the landscape." She stirred uneasily, and moved away from him to
the other end of the bench.
"I didn't miss that time," he laughed. "Don't you ever
He leaned quickly toward her and answered in a low voice:
"You can be sure I'm not going to miss anything about YOU."
It was as if his bending near her had been to rouge her. But
it cannot be said that she disliked his effect upon her; for the
deep breath she drew in audibly, through her shut teeth, was a
signal of delight; and then followed one of those fraught
silences not uncharacteristic of dialogues with Cora.
Presently, she gracefully and uselessly smoothed her hair
from the left temple with the backs of her fingers, of course
finishing the gesture prettily by tucking in a hairpin tighter
above the nape of her neck. Then, with recovered coolness, she
"Did you come all the way from Italy just to sell our old
house, Mr. Corliss?"
"Perhaps that was part of why I came," he said, gayly. "I
need a great deal of money, Miss Cora Madison."
"For your villa and your yacht?"
"No; I'm a magician, dear lady----"
"Yes," she said, almost angrily. "Of course you know it!"
"You mock me! No; I'm going to make everybody rich who will
trust me. I have a secret, and it's worth a mountain of gold.
I've put all I have into it, and will put in everything else I
can get for myself, but it's going to take a great deal more than
that. And everybody who goes into it will come out on Monte
Cristo's island."
"Then I'm sorry papa hasn't anything to put in," she said.
"But he has: his experience in business and his integrity. I
want him to be secretary of my company. Will you help me to get
him?" he laughed.
"Do you want me to?" she asked with a quick, serious glance
straight in his eyes, one which he met admirably.
"I have an extremely definite impression," he said lightly,
"that you can make anybody you know do just what you want him
"And I have another that you have still another `extremely
definite impression' that takes rank over that," she said, but
not with his lightness, for her tone was faintly rueful. "It
is that you can make ME do just what you want me to."
Mr. Valentine Corliss threw himself back on the bench and
laughed aloud. "What a girl!" he cried. Then for a fraction of
a second he set his hand over hers, an evanescent touch at which
her whole body started and visibly thrilled.
She lifted her gloved hand and looked at it with an odd
wonder; her alert emotions, always too ready, flinging their
banners to her cheeks again.
"Oh, I don't think it's soiled," he said, a speech which she
punished with a look of starry contempt. For an instant she made
him afraid that something had gone wrong with his measuring tape;
but with a slow movement she set her hand softly against her hot
cheek; and he was reassured: it was not his touching her that had
offended her, but the allusion to it.
"Thanks," he said, very softly.
She dropped her hand to her parasol, and began, musingly, to
dig little holes in the gravel of the path. "Richard Lindley is
looking for investments," she said.
"I'm glad to hear he's been so successful," returned Corliss.
"He might like a share in your gold-mine."
"Thank heaven it isn't literally a gold-mine," he exclaimed.
"There have been so many crooked ones exploited I don't believe
you could get anybody nowadays to come in on a real one. But I
think you'd make an excellent partner for an adventurer who had
discovered hidden treasure; and I'm that particular kind of
adventurer. I think I'll take you in."
"Do you?"
"How would you like to save a man from being ruined?"
"Ruined? You don't mean it literally?"
"Literally!" He laughed gayly. "If I don't `land' this I'm
gone, smashed, finished--quite ended! Don't bother, I'm going to
`land' it. And it's rather a serious compliment I'm paying you,
thinking you can help me. I'd like to see a woman--just once in
the world--who could manage a thing like this." He became
suddenly very grave. "Good God! wouldn't I be at her feet!"
Her eyes became even more eager. "You think I--I MIGHT
be a woman who could?"
"Who knows, Miss Madison? I believe----" He stopped
abruptly, then in a lowered, graver voice asked: "Doesn't it
somehow seem a little queer to you when we call each other, `Miss
Madison' and `Mr. Corliss'?"
"Yes," she answered slowly; "it does."
"Doesn't it seem to you," he went on, in the same tone, "that
we only `Miss' and `Mister' each other in fun? That though you
never saw me until yesterday, we've gone pretty far beyond mere
surfaces? That we did in our talk, last night?"
"Yes," she repeated; "it does."
He let a pause follow, and then said huskily:
"How far are we going?"
"I don't know." She was barely audible; but she turned
deliberately, and there took place an eager exchange of looks
which continued a long while. At last, and without ending this
serious encounter, she whispered:
"How far do YOU think?"
Mr. Corliss did not answer, and a peculiar phenomenon became
vaguely evident to the girl facing him: his eyes were still fixed
full upon hers, but he was not actually looking at her;
nevertheless, and with an extraordinarily acute attention, he
was unquestionably looking at something. The direct front of
pupil and iris did not waver from her; but for the time he was
not aware of her; had not even heard her question. Something in
the outer field of his vision had suddenly and completely
engrossed him; something in that nebulous and hazy background
which we see, as we say, with the white of the eye. Cora
instinctively turned and looked behind her, down the path.
There was no one in sight except a little girl and the
elderly burgess who had glanced over his shoulder at Cora as she
entered the park; and he was, in face, mien, and attire, so
thoroughly the unnoticeable, average man-on-the-street that she
did not even recall him as the looker-round of a little while
ago. He was strolling benevolently, the little girl clinging to
one of his hands, the other holding an apple; and a composite
photograph of a thousand grandfathers might have resulted in this
man's picture.
As the man and little girl came slowly up the walk toward the
couple on the bench there was a faint tinkle at Cora's feet: her
companion's scarfpin, which had fallen from his tie. He was
maladroit about picking it up, trying with thumb and forefinger
to seize the pin itself, instead of the more readily grasped
design of small pearls at the top, so that he pushed it a little
deeper into the gravel; and then occurred a tiny coincidence: the
elderly man, passing, let fall the apple from his hand, and it
rolled toward the pin just as Corliss managed to secure the
latter. For an instant, though the situation was so absolutely
commonplace, so casual, Cora had a wandering consciousness of
some mysterious tensity; a feeling like the premonition of a
crisis very near at hand. This sensation was the more curious
because nothing whatever happened. The man got his apple, joined
in the child's laughter, and went on.
"What was it you asked me?" said Corliss, lifting his head
again and restoring the pin to his tie. He gazed carelessly at
the back of the grandsire, disappearing beyond a bush at a bend
in the path.
"Who was that man?" said Cora with some curiosity.
"That old fellow? I haven't an idea. You see I've been away
from here so many years I remember almost no one. Why?"
"I don't know, unless it was because I had an idea you
were thinking of him instead of me. You didn't listen to what I
"That was because I was thinking so intensely of you," he
began instantly. "A startlingly vivid thought of you came to me
just then. Didn't I look like a man in a trance?"
"What was the thought?"
"It was a picture: I saw you standing under a great bulging
sail, and the water flying by in moonlight; oh, a moon and a
night such as you have never seen! and a big blue headland
looming up against the moon, and crowned with lemon groves and
vineyards, all sparkling with fireflies--old watch-towers and the
roofs of white villas gleaming among olive orchards on the
slopes--the sound of mandolins----"
"Ah!" she sighed, the elderly man, his grandchild, and his
apple well-forgotten.
"Do you think it was a prophecy?" he asked.
"What do YOU think?" she breathed. "That was really what
I asked you before."
"I think," he said slowly, "that I'm in danger of forgetting
that my `hidden treasure' is the most important thing in the
"In great danger?" The words were not vocal.
He moved close to her; their eyes met again, with increased
eagerness, and held fast; she was trembling, visibly; and her
lips--parted with her tumultuous breathing--were not far from
"Isn't any man in great danger," he said, "if he falls in
love with you?"
Toward four o'clock that afternoon, a very thin, fair young man
shakily heaved himself into a hammock under the trees in that
broad backyard wherein, as Valentine Corliss had yesterday
noticed, the last iron monarch of the herd, with unabated
arrogance, had entered domestic service as a clothes-prop. The
young man, who was of delicate appearance and unhumanly pale,
stretched himself at full length on his back, closed his eyes,
moaned feebly, cursed the heat in a stricken whisper. Then, as a
locust directly overhead violently shattered the silence, and
seemed like to continue the outrage forever, the shaken lounger
stopped his ears with his fingers and addressed the insect in old
A white jacketed mulatto came from the house bearing
something on a silver tray.
"Julip, Mist' Vilas?" he said sympathetically.
Ray Vilas rustily manoeuvred into a sitting position; and,
with eyes still closed, made shift to accept the julep in
both hands, drained half of it, opened his eyes, and thanked the
cup-bearer feebly, in a voice and accent reminiscent of the
melodious South.
"And I wonder," he added, "if you can tell me----"
"I'm Miz William Lindley's house-man, Joe Vaxdens," said the
mulatto, in the tone of an indulgent nurse. "You in Miz
Lindley's backyard right now, sittin' in a hammick."
"I seem to gather almost that much for myself," returned the
patient. "But I should like to know how I got here."
"Jes' come out the front door an' walk' aroun' the house an'
set down. Mist' Richard had to go downtown; tole me not to wake
you; but I heerd you splashin' in the bath an' you tole me you
din' want no breakfuss----"
"Yes, Joe, I'm aware of what's occurred since I woke," said
Vilas, and, throwing away the straws, finished the julep at one
draught. "What I want to know is how I happened to be here at
Mr. Lindley's."
"Mist' Richard brought you las' night, suh. I don' know
where he got you, but I heered a considerable thrashum
aroun', up an' down the house, an' so I come help him git you to
bed in one vem spare-rooms." Joe chuckled ingratiatingly. "Lord
name! You cert'n'y wasn't askin' fer no BED!"
He took the glass, and the young man reclined again in the
hammock, a hot blush vanquishing his pallor. "Was I--was I very
bad, Joe?"
"Oh, you was all RIGHT," Joe hastened to reassure him.
"You was jes' on'y a little bit tight."
"Did it really seem only a little?" the other asked
"Yessuh," said Joe promptly. "Nothin' at all. You jes'
wanted to rare roun' little bit. Mist' Richard took gun away
from you----"
"Oh, I tole him you wasn' goin' use it!" Joe laughed. "But
you so wile be din' know what you do. You cert'n'y was drunkes'
man _I_ see in LONG while," he said admiringly. "You pert
near had us bofe wore out 'fore you give up, an' Mist' Richard
an' me, we USE' to han'lin' drunkum man, too--use' to have
big times week-in, week-out 'ith Mist' Will--at's Mist' Richard's
brother, you know, suh, what died o' whiskey." He laughed again
in high good-humour. "You cert'n'y laid it all over any vem
ole times we had 'ith Mist' Will!"
Mr. Vilas shifted his position in the hammock uneasily; Joe's
honest intentions to be of cheer to the sufferer were not wholly
"I tole Mist' Richard," the kindly servitor continued, "it
was a mighty good thing his ma gone up Norf endurin' the hot
spell. Sence Mist' Will die she can't hardly bear to see drunkum
man aroun' the house. Mist' Richard hardly ever tech nothin'
himself no more. You goin' feel better, suh, out in the f'esh
air," he concluded, comfortingly as he moved away.
Mr. Vilas pulled himself upright for a moment. "What use in
the world do you reckon one julep is to me? "
"Mist' Richard say to give you one drink ef you ask' for it,
suh," answered Joe, looking troubled.
"Well, you've told me enough now about last night to make any
man hang himself, and I'm beginning to remember enough more----"
"Pshaw, Mist' Vilas," the coloured man interrupted,
deprecatingly, "you din' broke nothin'! You on'y had couple
glass' wine too much. You din' make no trouble at all; jes' went
right off to bed. You ought seen some vem ole times me an Mist'
Richard use to have 'ith Mist' Will----"
"I want three more juleps and I want them right away."
The troubled expression upon the coloured man's face
deepened. "Mist' Richard say jes' one, suh," he said
reluctantly. "I'm afraid----"
" Yessuh."
"I don't know," said Ray Vilas slowly, "whether or not you
ever heard that I was born and raised in Kentucky."
"Yessuh," returned Joe humbly. "I heerd so."
"Well, then," said the young man in a quiet voice, "you go
and get me three juleps. I'll settle it with Mr. Richard."
But it was with a fifth of these renovators that Lindley
found his guest occupied, an hour later, while upon a small table
nearby a sixth, untouched, awaited disposal beside an emptied
coffee-cup. Also, Mr. Vilas was smoking a cigarette with
unshadowed pleasure; his eye was bright, his expression
care-free; and he was sitting up in the hammock, swinging
cheerfully, and singing the "Marseillaise." Richard approached
through the yard, coming from the street without entering the
house; and anxiety was manifest in the glance he threw at the
green-topped glass upon the table, and in his greeting.
"Hail, gloom!" returned Mr. Vilas, cordially, and, observing
the anxious glance, he swiftly removed the untouched goblet from
the table to his own immediate possession. "Two simultaneous
juleps will enhance the higher welfare, he explained airily.
"Sir, your Mr. Varden was induced to place a somewhat larger
order with us than he protested to be your intention. Trusting
you to exonerate him from all so-and-so and that these few words,
etcetera!" He depleted the elder glass of its liquor, waved it
in the air, cried, "Health, host!" and set it upon the table. "I
believe I do not err in assuming my cup-bearer's name to be
Varden, although he himself, in his simple Americo-Africanism, is
pleased to pluralize it. Do I fret you, host?"
"Not in the least," said Richard, dropping upon a rustic
bench, and beginning to fan himself with his straw hat. "What's
the use of fretting about a boy who hasn't sense enough to fret
about himself?"
"`Boy?'" Mr. Vilas affected puzzlement. "Do I hear aright?
Sir, do you boy me? Bethink you, I am now the shell of five
mint-juleps plus, and am pot-valiant. And is this mere capacity
itself to be lightly BOYED? Again, do I not wear a man's
garment, a man's garnitures? Heed your answer; for this serge,
these flannels, and these silks are yours, and though I may not
fill them to the utmost, I do to the longmost, precisely. I am
the stature of a man; had it not been for your razor I should
wear the beard of a man; therefore I'll not be boyed. What have
you to say in defence?"
"Hadn't you better let me get Joe to bring you something to
eat?" asked Richard.
"Eat?" Mr. Vilas disposed of the suggestion with mournful
hauteur. "There! For the once I forgive you. Let the subject
never be mentioned between us again. We will tactfully turn to a
topic of interest. My memories of last evening, at first hazy
and somewhat disconcerting, now merely amuse me. Following the
pleasant Spanish custom, I went a-serenading, but was
kidnapped from beneath the precious casement by--by a zealous
arrival. Host, `zealous arrival' is not the julep in action: it
is a triumph of paraphrase."
"I wish you'd let Joe take you back to bed," said Richard.
"Always bent on thoughts of the flesh," observed the other
sadly. "Beds are for bodies, and I am become a thing of spirit.
My soul is grateful a little for your care of its casing. You
behold, I am generous: I am able to thank my successor to
Lindley's back stiffened. "Vilas!"
"Spare me your protests." The younger man waved his hand
languidly. You wish not to confer upon this subject----"
"It's a subject we'll omit," said Richard.
His companion stopped swinging, allowed the hammock to come
to rest; his air of badinage fell from him; for the moment he
seemed entirely sober; and he spoke with gentleness. "Mr.
Lindley, if you please, I am still a gentleman--at times."
"I beg your pardon," said Richard quickly.
"No need of that!" The speaker's former careless and
boisterous manner instantly resumed possession. "You must
permit me to speak of a wholly fictitious lady, a creature of my
wanton fancy, sir, whom I call Carmen. It will enable me to
relieve my burdened soul of some remarks I have long wished to
address to your excellent self."
"Oh, all right," muttered Richard, much annoyed.
"Let us imagine," continued Mr. Vilas, beginning to swing
again, "that I thought I had won this Carmen----"
Lindley uttered an exclamation, shifted his position in his
chair, and fixed a bored attention upon the passing vehicles in
the glimpse of the street afforded between the house and the
shrubberies along the side fence. The other, without appearing
to note his annoyance, went on, cheerfully:
"She was a precocious huntress: early in youth she passed
through the accumulator stage, leaving it to the crude or village
belle to rejoice in numbers and the excitement of teasing cubs in
the bear-pit. It is the nature of this imagined Carmen to play
fiercely with one imitation of love after another: a man thinks
he wins her, but it is merely that she has chosen him--for a
while. And Carmen can have what she chooses; if the man
exists who could show her that she cannot, she would follow him
through the devil's dance; but neither you nor I would be that
man, my dear sir. We assume that Carmen's eyes have been
mine--her heart is another matter--and that she has grown weary
of my somewhat Sicilian manner of looking into them, and,
following her nature and the law of periodicity which Carmens
must bow to, she seeks a cooler gaze and calls Mr. Richard
Lindley to come and take a turn at looking. Now, Mr. Richard
Lindley is straight as a die: he will not even show that he hears
the call until he is sure that I have been dismissed: therefore,
I have no quarrel with him. Also, I cannot even hate him, for in
my clearer julep vision I see that he is but an interregnum. Let
me not offend my friend: chagrin is to be his as it is mine. I
was a strong draught, he but the quieting potion our Carmen took
to settle it. We shall be brothers in woe some day. Nothing in
the universe lasts except Hell: Life is running water; Love, a
looking-glass; Death, an empty theatre! That reminds me: as you
are not listening I will sing."
He finished his drink and lifted his voice hilariously:
"The heavenly stars far above her,
The wind of the infinite sea,
Who know all her perfidy, love her,
So why call it madness in me?
Ah, why call it madness----"
He set his glass with a crash upon the table, staring over
his companion's shoulder.
"WHAT, if you please, is the royal exile who thus seeks
refuge in our hermitage?
His host had already observed the approaching visitor with
some surprise, and none too graciously. It was Valentine
Corliss: he had turned in from the street and was crossing the
lawn to join the two young men. Lindley rose, and, greeting him
with sufficient cordiality, introduced Mr. Vilas, who bestowed
upon the newcomer a very lively interest.
"You are as welcome, Mr. Corliss," said this previous guest,
earnestly, "as if these sylvan shades were mine. I hail you, not
only for your own sake, but because your presence encourages a
hope that our host may offer refreshment to the entire company."
Corliss smilingly declined to be a party to this diplomacy,
and seated himself beside Richard Lindley on the bench.
"Then I relapse!" exclaimed Mr. Vilas, throwing himself
back full-length in the hammock. "I am not replete, but content.
I shall meditate. Gentlemen, speak on!"
He waved his hand in a gracious gesture, indicating his
intention to remain silent, and lay quiet, his eyes fixed
steadfastly upon Corliss.
"I was coming to call on you," said the latter to Lindley,
"but I saw you from the street and thought you mightn't mind my
being as informal as I used to be, so many years ago."
"Of course," said Richard.
"I have a sinister purpose in coming," Mr. Corliss laughingly
went on. "I want to bore you a little first, and then make your
fortune. No doubt that's an old story to you, but I happen to be
one of the adventurers whose argosies are laden with real
cargoes. Nobody knows who has or hasn't money to invest
nowadays, and of course I've no means of knowing whether YOU
have or not--you see what a direct chap I am--but if you have, or
can lay hold of some, I can show you how to make it bring you an
immense deal more."
"Naturally," said Richard pleasantly, "I shall be glad if you
can do that."
"Then I'll come to the point. It is exceedingly simple;
that's certainly one attractive thing about it." Corliss took
some papers and unmounted photographs from his pocket, and began
to spread them open on the bench between himself and Richard.
"No doubt you know Southern Italy as well as I do."
"Oh, I don't `know' it. I've been to Naples; down to
Paestum; drove from Salerno to Sorrentoby Amalfi; but that was
years ago."
"Here's a large scale map that will refresh your memory." He
unfolded it and laid it across their knees; it was frayed with
wear along the folds, and had been heavily marked and dotted with
red and blue pencillings. "My millions are in this large
irregular section," he continued. "It's the anklebone and instep
of Italy's boot; this sizable province called Basilicata, east of
Salerno, north of Calabria. And I'll not hang fire on the point,
Lindley. What I've got there is oil."
"Olives?" asked Richard, puzzled.
"Hardly!" Corliss laughed. "Though of course one doesn't
connect petroleum with the thought of Italy, and of all Italy,
Southern Italy. But in spite of the years I've lived there, I've
discovered myself to be so essentially American and commercial
that I want to drench the surface of that antique soil with
the brown, bad-smelling crude oil that lies so deep beneath it.
Basilicata is the coming great oil-field of the world--and that's
my secret. I dare to tell it here, as I shouldn't dare in
"Shouldn't `dare'?" Richard repeated, with growing interest,
and no doubt having some vague expectation of a tale of the
Camorra. To him Naples had always seemed of all cities the most
elusive and incomprehensible, a laughing, thieving, begging,
mandolin-playing, music-and-murder haunted metropolis, about
which anything was plausible; and this impression was not unique,
as no inconsiderable proportion of Mr. Lindley's
fellow-countrymen share it, a fact thoroughly comprehended by the
returned native.
"It isn't a case of not daring on account of any bodily
danger," explained Corliss.
"No," Richard smiled reminiscently. "I don't believe that
would have much weight with you if it were. You certainly showed
no symptoms of that sort in your extreme youth. I remember you
had the name of being about the most daring and foolhardy boy in
"I grew up to be cautious enough in business, though,"
said the other, shaking his head gravely. "I haven't been able
to afford not being careful." He adjusted the map--a prefatory
gesture. "Now, I'll make this whole affair perfectly clear to
you. It's a simple matter, as are most big things. I'll begin
by telling you of Moliterno--he's been my most intimate friend in
that part of the continent for a great many years; since I went
there as a boy, in fact."
He sketched a portrait of his friend, Prince Moliterno,
bachelor chief of a historic house, the soul of honour,
"land-poor"; owning leagues and leagues of land, hills and
mountains, broken towers and ruins, in central Basilicata, a
province described as wild country and rough, off the rails and
not easy to reach. Moliterno and the narrator had gone there to
shoot; Corliss had seen "surface oil" upon the streams and pools;
he recalled the discovery of oil near his own boyhood home in
America; had talked of it to Moliterno, and both men had become
more and more interested, then excited. They decided to sink a
Corliss described picturesquely the difficulties of this
enterprise, the hardships and disappointments; how they dragged
the big tools over the mountains by mule power; how they had
kept it all secret; how he and Moliterno had done everything with
the help of peasant labourers and one experienced man, who had
"seen service in the Persian oil-fields."
He gave the business reality, colouring it with details
relevant and irrelevant, anecdotes and wayside incidents: he was
fluent, elaborate, explicit throughout. They sank five wells, he
said, "at the angles of this irregular pentagon you see here on
the map, outlined in blue. These red circles are the wells."
Four of the wells "came in tremendous," but they had managed to
get them sealed after wasting--he was "sorry to think how many
thousand barrels of oil." The fifth well was so enormous that
they had not been able to seal it at the time of the speaker's
departure for America.
"But I had a cablegram this morning," he added, "letting me
know they've managed to do it at last. Here is, the cablegram."
He handed Richard a form signed "Antonio Moliterno."
"Now, to go back to what I said about not `daring' to speak
of this in Naples," he continued, smiling. "The fear is
financial, not physical."
The knowledge of the lucky strike, he explained, must be kept
from the "Neapolitan money-sharks." A third of the land so
rich in oil already belonged to the Moliterno estates, but it was
necessary to obtain possession of the other two thirds "before
the secret leaks into Naples." So far, it was safe, the peasants
of Basilicata being "as medieval a lot as one could wish." He
related that these peasants thought that the devils hiding inside
the mountains had been stabbed by the drills, and that the oil
was devils' blood.
"You can see some of the country people hanging about,
staring at a well, in this kodak, though it's not a very good
one." He put into Richard's hand a small, blurred photograph
showing a spouting well with an indistinct crowd standing in an
irregular semicircle before it.
"Is this the Basilicatan peasant costume? asked Richard,
indicating a figure in the foreground, the only one revealed at
all definitely. "It looks more oriental. Isn't the man wearing
a fez?"
"Let me see," responded Mr. Corliss very quickly. "Perhaps I
gave you the wrong picture. Oh, no," he laughed easily, holding
the kodak closer to his eyes; "that's all right: it is a fez.
That's old Salviati, our engineer, the man I spoke of who'd
worked in Persia, you know; he's always worn a fez since
then. Got in the habit of it out there and says he'll never
give it up. Moliterno's always chaffing him about it. He's a
faithful old chap, Salviati."
"I see." Lindley looked thoughtfully at the picture, which
the other carelessly returned to his hand. "There seems to be a
lot of oil there."
"It's one of the smaller wells at that. And you can see from
the kodak that it's just `blowing'--not an eruption from being
`shot,' or the people wouldn't stand so near. Yes; there's an
ocean of oil under that whole province; but we want a lot of
money to get at it. It's mountain country; our wells will all
have to go over fifteen-hundred feet, and that's expensive. We
want to pipe the oil to Salerno, where the Standard's ships will
take it from us, and it will need a great deal for that. But
most of all we want money to get hold of the land; we must
control the whole field, and it's big!"
"How did you happen to come here to finance it?"
"I was getting to that. Moliterno himself is as honourable a
man as breathes God's air. But my experience has been that
Neapolitan capitalists are about the cleverest and slipperiest
financiers in the world. We could have financed it twenty
times over in Naples in a day, but neither Moliterno nor I
was willing to trust them. The thing is enormous, you see--a
really colossal fortune--and Italian law is full of ins and outs,
and the first man we talked to confidentially would have given us
his word to play straight, and, the instant we left him, would
have flown post-haste for Basilicata and grabbed for himself the
two thirds of the field not yet in our hands. Moliterno and I
talked it over many, many times; we thought of going to Rome for
the money, to Paris, to London, to New York; but I happened to
remember the old house here that my aunt had left me--I wanted to
sell it, to add whatever it brought to the money I've already put
in--and then it struck me I might raise the rest here as well as
anywhere else."
The other nodded. "I understand."
"I suppose you'll think me rather sentimental," Corliss went
on, with a laugh which unexpectedly betrayed a little shyness.
"I've never forgotten that I was born here--was a boy here. In
all my wanderings I've always really thought of this as home."
His voice trembled slightly and his face flushed; he smiled
deprecatingly as though in apology for these symptoms of
emotion; and at that both listeners felt (perhaps with surprise)
the man's strong attraction. There was something very engaging
about him: in the frankness of his look and in the slight tremor
in his voice; there was something appealing and yet manly in the
confession, by this thoroughgoing cosmopolite, of his real
feeling for the home-town.
"Of course I know how very few people, even among the `old
citizens,' would have any recollection whatever of me," he went
on; "but that doesn't make any difference in my sentiment for the
place and its people. That street out yonder was named for my
grandfather: there's a statue of my great uncle in the State
House yard; all my own blood: belonged here, and though I have
been a wanderer and may not be remembered--naturally am NOT
remembered--yet the name is honoured here, and I--I----" He
faltered again, then concluded with quiet earnestness: "I
thought that if my good luck was destined to bring fortunes to
others, it might as well be to my own kind--that at least I'd
offer them the chance before I offered it to any one else." He
turned and looked Richard in the face. "That's why I'm here, Mr.
The other impulsively put out his hand. "I understand," he
said heartily.
"Thank you." Corliss changed his tone for one less serious.
"You've listened very patiently and I hope you'll be rewarded for
it. Certainly you will if you decide to come in with us. May I
leave the maps and descriptions with you?"
"Yes, indeed. I'll look them over carefully and have another
talk with you about it."
"Thank heaven, THAT'S over!" exclaimed the lounger in the
hammock, who had not once removed his fascinated stare from the
expressive face of Valentine Corliss. "If you have now concluded
with dull care, allow me to put a vital question: Mr. Corliss,
do you sing?"
The gentleman addressed favoured him with a quizzical glance
from between half-closed lids, and probably checking an impulse
to remark that he happened to know that his questioner sometimes
sang, replied merely, "No."
"It is a pity."
"Nothing," returned the other, inconsequently. It just
struck me that you ought to sing the Toreador song."
Richard Lindley, placing the notes and maps in his pocket,
dropped them, and, stooping, began to gather the scattered papers
with a very red face. Corliss, however, laughed good-naturedly.
"That's most flattering," he said; "though there are other
things in `Carmen' I prefer--probably because one doesn't hear
them so eternally."
Vilas pulled himself up to a sitting position and began to
swing again. "Observe our host, Mr. Corliss," he commanded
gayly. "He is a kind old Dobbin, much beloved, but cares damn
little to hear you or me speak of music. He'd even rather
discuss your oil business than listen to us talk of women,
whereas nothing except women ever really interests YOU, my
dear sir. He's not our kind of man," he concluded, mournfully;
"not at all our kind of man!"
"I hope," Corliss suggested, "he's going to be my kind of man
in the development of these oil-fields."
"How ridic"--Mr. Vilas triumphed over the word after a slight
struggle--"ulous! I shall review that: ridiculous of you to
pretend to be interested in oil-fields. You are not that sort of
person whatever. Nothing could be clearer than that you
would never waste the time demanded by fields of oil.
Groundlings call this `the mechanical age'--a vulgar error. My
dear sir, you and I know that it is the age of Woman! Even poets
have begun to see that she is alive. Formerly we did not speak
of her at all, but of late years she has become such a scandal
that she is getting talked about. Even our dramas, which used to
be all blood, have become all flesh. I wish I were dead--but
will continue my harangue because the thought is pellucid. Women
selecting men to mate with are of only two kinds, just as there
are but two kinds of children in a toy-shop. One child sets its
fancy on one partic"--the orator paused, then continued--"on one
certain toy and will make a distressing scene if she doesn't get
it: she will have that one; she will go straight to it, clasp it
and keep it; she won't have any other. The other kind of woman
is to be understood if you will make the experiment of taking the
other kind of child to a toy-shop and telling her you will buy
her any toy in the place, but that you will buy her only one. If
you do this in the morning, she will still be in the shop when it
is closing for the night, because, though she runs to each toy in
turn with excitement and delight, she sees another over her
shoulder, and the one she has not touched is always her
choice--until she has touched it! Some get broken in the
handling. For my part, my wires are working rather rustily, but
I must obey the Stage-Manager. For my requiem I wish somebody
would ask them to play Gounod's masterpiece."
"What's that?" asked Corliss, amused.
"`The Funeral March of a Marionette!'"
"I suppose you mean that for a cheerful way of announcing
that you are a fatalist."
"Fatalism? That is only a word, declared Mr. Vilas gravely.
"If I am not a puppet then I am a god. Somehow, I do not seem to
be a god. If a god is a god, one thinks he would know it
himself. I now yield the floor. Thanking you cordially, I
believe there is a lady walking yonder who commands salutation."
He rose to his feet, bowing profoundly. Cora Madison was
passing, strolling rather briskly down the street, not in the
direction of her home. She waved her parasol with careless
gayety to the trio under the trees, and, going on, was lost to
their sight.
"Hello!" exclaimed Corliss, looking at his watch with a
start of surprise. "I have two letters to write for the evening
mail. I must be off."
At this, Ray Vilas's eyes--still fixed upon him, as they had
been throughout the visit--opened to their fullest capacity, in a
gaze of only partially alcoholic wildness.
Entirely aware of this singular glare, but not in the least
disconcerted by it, the recipient proffered his easy farewells.
"I had no idea it was so late. Good afternoon. Mr. Vilas, I
have been delighted with your diagnosis. Lindley, I'm at your
disposal when you've looked over my data. My very warm thanks
for your patience, and--addio!"
Lindley looked after him as he strode quickly away across the
green lawn, turning, at the street, in the direction Cora had
taken; and the troubled Richard felt his heart sink with vague
but miserable apprehension. There was a gasp of desperation
beside him, and the sound of Ray Vilas's lips parting and closing
with little noises of pain.
"So he knows her," said the boy, his thin body shaking.
"Look at him, damn him! See his deep chest, that conqueror's
walk, the easy, confident, male pride of him: a true-born,
natural rake--the Toreador all over!"
His agitation passed suddenly; he broke into a loud laugh,
and flung a reckless hand to his companion's shoulder.
"You good old fool," he cried. "YOU'LL never play Don
Hedrick Madison, like too many other people, had never thought
seriously about the moon; nor ever had he encouraged it to become
his familiar; and he underwent his first experience of its
incomparable betrayals one brilliant night during the last week
of that hot month. The preface to this romantic evening was
substantial and prosaic: four times during dinner was he
copiously replenished with hash, which occasioned so rich a
surfeit within him that, upon the conclusion of the meal, he
found himself in no condition to retort appropriately to a
solicitous warning from Cora to keep away from the cat. Indeed,
it was half an hour later, and he was sitting--to his own
consciousness too heavily--upon the back fence, when belated
inspiration arrived. But there is no sound where there is no ear
to hear, and no repartee, alas! when the wretch who said the
first part has gone, so that Cora remained unscathed as from his
alley solitude Hedrick hurled in the teeth of the
rising moon these bitter words:
"Oh, no; OUR cat only eats SOFT meat!"
He renewed a morbid silence, and the moon, with its customary
deliberation, swung clear of a sweeping branch of the big elm in
the front yard and shone full upon him. Nothing warned the fated
youth not to sit there; no shadow of imminent catastrophe tinted
that brightness: no angel whisper came to him, bidding him
begone--and to go in a hurry and as far as possible. No; he sat
upon the fence an inoffensive lad, and--except for still feeling
his hash somewhat, and a gradually dispersing rancour concerning
the cat--at peace. It is for such lulled mortals that the
ever-lurking Furies save their most hideous surprises.
Chin on palms, he looked idly at the moon, and the moon
inscrutably returned his stare. Plausible, bright, bland, it
gave no sign that it was at its awful work. For the bride of
night is like a card-dealer whose fingers move so swiftly through
the pack the trickery goes unseen.
This moon upon which he was placidly gazing, because he had
nothing else to do, betokened nought to Hedrick: to him it was
the moon of any other night, the old moon; certainly no moon
of his delight. Withal, it may never be gazed upon so fixedly
and so protractedly--no matter how languidly--with entire
impunity. That light breeds a bug in the brain. Who can deny
how the moon wrought this thing under the hair of unconscious
Hedrick, or doubt its responsibility for the thing that happened?
It was a very soft, small voice, silky and queer; and at
first Hedrick had little suspicion that it could be addressing
him: the most rigid self-analysis could have revealed to him no
possibility of his fitting so ignominious a description.
"Oh, little boy!"
He looked over his shoulder and saw, standing in the alley
behind him, a girl of about his own age. She was daintily
dressed and had beautiful hair which was all shining in pale
"Little boy!"
She was smiling up at him, and once more she used that
wantonly inaccurate vocative:
"Little boy!"
Hedrick grunted unencouragingly. "Who you callin' `little
For reply she began to climb the fence. It was high,
but the young lady was astonishingly agile, and not even to be
deterred by several faint wails from tearing and ripping
fabrics--casualties which appeared to be entirely beneath her
notice. Arriving at the top rather dishevelled, and with
irregular pennons here and there flung to the breeze from her
attire, she seated herself cosily beside the dumbfounded Hedrick.
She turned her face to him and smiled--and there was
something about her smile which Hedrick did not like. It
discomforted him; nothing more. In sunlight he would have had
the better chance to comprehend; but, unhappily, this was
"Kiss me, little boy!" she said.
"I won't!" exclaimed the shocked and indignant Hedrick,
edging uneasily away from her.
"Let's play," she said cheerfully.
"Play what?"
"I like chickens. Did you know I like chickens?"
The rather singular lack of connection in her remarks struck
him as a misplaced effort at humour.
"You're having lots of fun with me, aren't you?" he
She instantly moved close to him and lifted her face to his.
"Kiss me, darling little boy!" she said.
There was something more than uncommonly queer about this
stranger, an unearthliness of which he was confusedly perceptive,
but she was not without a curious kind of prettiness, and her
pale gold hair was beautiful. The doomed lad saw the moon
shining through it.
"Kiss me, darling little boy!" she repeated.
His head whirled; for the moment she seemed divine.
George Washington used profanity at the Battle of Monmouth.
Hedrick kissed her.
He instantly pushed her away with strong distaste. "There!"
he said angrily. "I hope that'll satisfy you!" He belonged to
his sex.
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!" she cried, and flung
her arms about him.
With a smothered shout of dismay he tried to push her off,
and they fell from the fence together, into the yard, at the cost
of further and almost fatal injuries to the lady's apparel.
Hedrick was first upon his feet. "Haven't you got ANY
sense?" he demanded.
She smiled unwaveringly, rose (without assistance) and
repeated: "Kiss me some more, darling little boy!"
"No, I won't! I wouldn't for a thousand dollars!"
Apparently, she did not consider this discouraging. She
began to advance endearingly, while he retreated backward. "Kiss
me some----"
"I won't, I tell you!" Hedrick kept stepping away, moving in
a desperate circle. He resorted to a brutal formula: "You make
me sick!"
"Kiss me some more, darling lit----"
"I won't!" he bellowed. "And if you say that again I'll----"
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!" She flung herself
at him, and with a yell of terror he turned and ran at top-speed.
She pursued, laughing sweetly, and calling loudly as she ran,
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy! Kiss me some more,
darling little boy!"
The stricken Hedrick knew not whither to direct his flight:
he dared not dash for the street with this imminent tattered
incubus--she was almost upon him--and he frantically made for the
kitchen door, only to swerve with a gasp of despair as his
foot touched the step, for she was at his heels, and he was
sickeningly assured she would cheerfully follow him through the
house, shouting that damning refrain for all ears. A strangling
fear took him by the throat--if Cora should come to be a
spectator of this unspeakable flight, if Cora should hear that
horrid plea for love! Then farewell peace; indeed, farewell all
joy in life forever!
Panting sobbingly, he ducked under the amorous vampire's arm
and fled on. He zigzagged desperately to and fro across the
broad, empty backyard, a small hand ever and anon managing to
clutch his shoulder, the awful petition in his ears:
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!"
Emerging from the kitchen door, Laura stood and gazed in
wonder as the two eerie figures sped by her, circled, ducked,
dodged, flew madly on. This commonplace purlieu was become the
scene of a witch-chase; the moonlight fell upon the ghastly
flitting face of the pursued, uplifted in agony, white, wet, with
fay eyes; also it illumined the unreal elf following close, a
breeze-blown fantasy in rags.
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!"
Laura uttered a sharp exclamation. "Stand still, Hedrick!"
she called. "You must!"
Hedrick made a piteous effort to increase his speed.
"It's Lolita Martin," called Laura. "She must have her way
or nothing can be done with her. Stand STILL!"
Hedrick had never heard of Lolita Martin, but the added
information concerning her was not ineffective: it operated as a
spur; and Laura joined the hunt.
"Stand still!" she cried to the wretched quarry. She's run
away. She must be taken home. Stop, Hedrick! You MUST
Hedrick had no intention of stopping, but Laura was a runner,
and, as he dodged the other, caught and held him fast. The next
instant, Lolita, laughing happily, flung her arms round his neck
from behind.
"Lemme go!" shuddered Hedrick. "Lemme go!"
"Kiss me again, darl----"
"I--woof!" He became inarticulate.
"She isn't quite right," his sister whispered hurriedly in
his ear. "She has spells when she's weak mentally. You must be
kind to her. She only wants you to----"
"`ONLY'!" he echoed hoarsely. "I won't ki----" He was
unable to finish the word.
"We must get her home," said Laura anxiously. "Will you come
with me, Lolita, dear?"
Apparently Lolita had no consciousness whatever of Laura's
presence. Instead of replying, she tightened her grasp upon
Hedrick and warmly reiterated her request.
"Shut up, you parrot!" hissed the goaded boy.
"Perhaps she'll go if you let her walk with her arms round
your neck," suggested Laura.
"If I WHAT?"
"Let's try it. We've got to get her home; her mother must be
frantic about her. Come, let's see if she'll go with us that
With convincing earnestness, Hedrick refused to make the
experiment until Laura suggested that he remain with Lolita while
she summoned assistance; then, as no alternative appeared, his
spirit broke utterly, and he consented to the trial, stipulating
with a last burst of vehemence that the progress of the
unthinkable pageant should be through the alley.
"Come, Lolita," said Laura coaxingly. "We're going for a
nice walk." At the adjective, Hedrick's burdened shoulders
were racked with a brief spasm, which recurred as his sister
added: "Your darling little boy will let you keep hold of him."
Lolita seemed content. Laughing gayly, she offered no
opposition, but, maintaining her embrace with both arms and
walking somewhat sidewise, went willingly enough; and the three
slowly crossed the yard, passed through the empty stable and out
into the alley. When they reached the cross-street at the
alley's upper end, Hedrick balked flatly.
Laura expostulated, then entreated. Hedrick refused with
sincere loathing to be seen upon the street occupying his present
position in the group. Laura assured him that there was no one
to see; he replied that the moon was bright and the evening
early; he would die, and readily, but he would not set foot in
the street. Unfortunately, he had selected an unfavourable spot
for argument: they were already within a yard or two of the
street; and a strange boy, passing, stopped and observed, and
whistled discourteously.
"Ain't he the spooner!" remarked this unknown with hideous
"I'll thank you," returned Hedrick haughtily, "to go on about
your own business."
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!" said Lolita.
The strange boy squawked, wailed, screamed with laughter,
howled the loving petition in a dozen keys of mockery, while
Hedrick writhed and Lolita clung. Enriched by a new and great
experience, the torturer trotted on, leaving viperish cachinnations
in his wake.
But the martyrdom was at an end. A woman, hurrying past,
bareheaded, was greeted by a cry of delight from Lolita, who
released Hedrick and ran to her with outstretched arms.
"We were bringing her home, Mrs. Martin," said Laura,
reassuringly. "She's all right; nothing's the matter except that
her dress got torn. We found her playing in our yard."
"I thank you a thousand times, Miss Madison," cried Lolita's
mother, and flutteringly plunged into a description of her
anxiety, her search for Lolita, and concluded with renewed
expressions of gratitude for the child's safe return, an
outpouring of thankfulness and joy wholly incomprehensible to
"Not at all," said Laura cheerfully. "Come, Hedrick. We'll
go home by the street, I think." She touched his shoulder, and
he went with her in stunned obedience. He was not able to
face the incredible thing that had happened to him: he walked in
a trance of horror.
"Poor little girl!" said Laura gently, with what seemed to
her brother an indefensibly misplaced compassion. "Usually they
have her live in an institution for people afflicted as she is,
but they brought her home for a visit last week, I believe. Of
course you didn't understand, but I think you should have been
more thoughtful. Really, you shouldn't have flirted with her."
Hedrick stopped short.
"`FLIRTED'!" His voice was beginning to show symptoms of
changing, this year; it rose to a falsetto wail, flickered and
went out.
With the departure of Lolita in safety, what had seemed
bizarre and piteous became obscured, and another aspect of the
adventure was presented to Laura. The sufferings of the arrogant
are not wholly depressing to the spectator; and of arrogance
Hedrick had ever been a master. She began to shake; a convulsion
took her, and suddenly she sat upon the curbstone without
dignity, and laughed as he had never seen her.
A horrid distrust of her rose within him: he began to
realize in what plight he stood, what terrors o'erhung.
"Look here," he said miserably, "are you--you aren't--you
don't have to go and--and TALK about this, do you?"
"No, Hedrick," she responded, rising and controlling herself
somewhat. "Not so long as you're good."
This was no reassuring answer.
"And politer to Cora," she added.
Seemingly he heard the lash of a slave-whip crack in the air.
The future grew dark.
"I know you'll try"--she said; and the unhappy lad felt that
her assurance was justified; but she had not concluded the
sentence--"darling little boy," she capped it, choking slightly.
"No other little girl ever fell in love with you, did there,
Hedrick?" she asked, and, receiving an incoherent but furious
reply, she was again overcome, so that she must lean against the
fence to recover. "It seems--so--so CURIOUS," she explained,
gasping, "that the first one--the--the only one--should be
an--a--an----" She was unable to continue.
Hedrick's distrust became painfully increased: he began to
feel that he disliked Laura.
She was still wiping her eyes and subject to recurrent
outbursts when they reached their own abode; and as he bitterly
flung himself into a chair upon the vacant front porch, he heard
her stifling an attack as she mounted the stairs to her own room.
He swung the chair about, with its back to the street, and sat
facing the wall. He saw nothing. There are profundities in the
abyss which reveal no glimpse of the sky.
Presently he heard his father coughing near by; and the sound
was hateful, because it seemed secure and unshamed. It was a
cough of moral superiority; and just then the son would have
liked to believe that his parent's boyhood had been one of
degradation as complete as his own; but no one with this
comfortable cough could ever have plumbed such depths: his
imagination refused the picture he was bitterly certain that Mr.
Madison had never kissed an idiot.
Hedrick had a dread that his father might speak to him; he
was in no condition for light conversation. But Mr. Madison was
unaware of his son's near presence, and continued upon his
purposeless way. He was smoking his one nightly cigar and enjoying
the moonlight. He drifted out toward the sidewalk
and was accosted by a passing acquaintance, a comfortable burgess
of sixty, leading a child of six or seven, by the hand.
"Out taking the air, are you, Mr. Madison? said the
pedestrian, pausing.
"Yes; just trying to cool off," returned the other. "How are
you, Pryor, anyway? I haven't seen you for a long time."
"Not since last summer," said Pryor. "I only get here once
or twice a year, to see my married daughter. I always try to
spend August with her if I can. She's still living in that
little house, over on the next street, I bought for her through
your real-estate company. I suppose you're still in the same
"Yes. Pretty slack, these days."
"I suppose so, I suppose so," responded Mr. Pryor, nodding.
"Summer, I suppose it usually is. Well, I don't know when I'll
be going out on the road again myself. Business is pretty slack
all over the country this year."
"Let's see--I've forgotten," said Madison ruminatively. "You
travel, don't you?"
"For a New York house," affirmed Mr. Pryor. He did not,
however, mention his "line." "Yes-sir," he added, merely as
a decoration, and then said briskly: "I see you have a fine
family, Mr. Madison; yes-sir, a fine family; I've passed here
several times lately and I've noticed 'em: fine family. Let's
see, you've got four, haven't you?"
"Three," said Madison. "Two girls and a boy."
"Well, sir, that's mighty nice," observed Mr. Pryor;
MIGHTY nice! I only have my one daughter, and of course me
living in New York when I'm at home, and her here, why, I don't
get to see much of her. You got both your daughters living with
you, haven't you?"
"Yes, right here at home."
"Let's see: neither of 'em's married, I believe?"
"No; not yet."
"Seems to me now," said Pryor, taking off his glasses and
wiping them, "seems to me I did hear somebody say one of 'em was
going to be married engaged, maybe."
"No," said Madison. "Not that I know of."
"Well, I suppose you'd be the first to know! Yes-sir." And
both men laughed their appreciation of this folly. "They're
mighty good-looking girls, THAT'S certain," continued Mr.
Pryor. "And one of 'em's as fine a dresser as you'll meet
this side the Rue de la Paix.
"You mean in Paris?" asked Madison, slightly surprised at
this allusion. "You've been over there, Pryor?"
"Oh, sometimes," was the response. "My business takes me
over, now and then. "I THINK it's one of your daughters I've
noticed dresses so well. Isn't one of 'em a mighty pretty girl
about twenty-one or two, with a fine head of hair sort of
lightish brown, beautiful figure, and carries a white parasol
with a green lining sometimes?"
"Yes, that's Cora, I guess."
"Pretty name, too," said Pryor approvingly. "Yes-sir. I saw
her going into a florist's, downtown, the other day, with a
fine-looking young fellow--I can't think of his name. Let's see:
my daughter was with me, and she'd heard his name--said his
family used to be big people in this town and----"
"Oh," said Madison, "young Corliss."
"Corliss!" exclaimed Mr. Pryor, with satisfaction. "That's
it, Corliss. Well, sir," he chuckled, "from the way he was
looking at your Miss Cora it struck me he seemed kind of anxious
for her name to be Corliss, too."
"Well, hardly I expect," said the other. "They just barely
know each other: he's only been here a few weeks; they haven't
had time to get much acquainted, you see."
"I suppose not," agreed Mr. Pryor, with perfect readiness.
"I suppose not. "I'll bet HE tries all he can to get
acquainted though; he looked pretty smart to me. Doesn't he come
about as often as the law allows?"
"I shouldn't be surprised," said Madison indifferently. "He
doesn't know many people about here any more, and it's lonesome
for him at the hotel. But I guess he comes to see the whole
family; I left him in the library a little while ago, talking to
my wife."
"That's the way! Get around the old folks first!" Mr. Pryor
chuckled cordially; then in a mildly inquisitive tone he said:
"Seems to be a fine, square young fellow, I expect?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Pretty name, `Cora'," said Pryor.
"What's this little girl's name?" Mr. Madison indicated the
child, who had stood with heroic patience throughout the
incomprehensible dialogue.
"Lottie, for her mother. She's a good little girl."
"She is SO! I've got a young son she ought to know,"
remarked Mr. Madison serenely, with an elderly father's total
unconsciousness of the bridgeless gap between seven and thirteen.
"He'd like to play with her. I'll call him."
"I expect we better be getting on," said Pryor. "It's near
Lottie's bedtime; we just came out for our evening walk."
"Well, he can come and shake hands with her anyway," urged
Hedrick's father. "Then they'll know each other, and they can
play some other time." He turned toward the house and called
There was no response. Behind the back of his chair Hedrick
could not be seen. He was still sitting immovable, his eyes
torpidly fixed upon the wall.
"Oh, HED-rick!" shouted his father. "Come out here! I
want you to meet a little girl! Come and see a nice little
Mr. Pryor's grandchild was denied the pleasure. At the
ghastly words "LITTLE GIRL," Hedrick dropped from his
chair flat upon the floor, crawled to the end of the porch,
wriggled through the railing, and immersed himself in deep shadow
against the side of the house.
Here he removed his shoes, noiselessly mounted to the sill of
one of the library windows, then reconnoitred through a slit in
the blinds before entering.
The gas burned low in the "drop-light"--almost too dimly to
reveal the two people upon a sofa across the room. It was a
faint murmur from one of them that caused Hedrick to pause and
peer more sharply. They were Cora and Corliss; he was bending
close to her; her face was lifting to his.
"Ah, kiss me! Kiss me!" she whispered.
Hedrick dropped from the sill, climbed through a window of
the kitchen, hurried up the back-stairs, and reached his own
apartment in time to be violently ill in seclusion.
Villages are scattered plentifully over the unstable buttresses
of Vesuvius, and the inhabitants sleep o' nights: Why not?
Quite unaware that he was much of their condition, Mr. Madison
bade his incidental gossip and the tiny Lottie good-night, and
sought his early bed. He maintained in good faith that Saturday
night was "a great night to sleep," because of the later hour for
rising; probably having also some factitious conviction that
there prevailed a hush preparative of the Sabbath. As a matter
of fact, in summer, the other members of his family always looked
uncommonly haggard at the Sunday breakfast-table. Accepting
without question his preposterous legend of additional matutinal
slumber, they postponed retiring to a late hour, and were
awakened--simultaneously with thousands of fellow-sufferers--at
about half-after five on Sunday morning, by a journalistic
uprising. Over the town, in these early hours, rampaged the
small vendors of the manifold sheets: local papers and
papers from greater cities, hawker succeeding hawker with yell
upon yell and brain-piercing shrillings in unbearable cadences.
No good burgher ever complained: the people bore it, as in winter
they bore the smoke that injured their health, ruined their
linen, spoiled their complexions, forbade all hope of beauty and
comfort in their city, and destroyed the sweetness of their homes
and of their wives. It is an incredibly patient citizenry and
exalts its persecutors.
Of the Madison family, Cora probably suffered most; and this
was the time when it was no advantage to have the front bedroom.
She had not slept until close upon dawn, and the hawkers woke her
irreparably; she could but rage upon her hot pillow. By and by,
there came a token that another anguish kept company with hers.
She had left her door open for a better circulation of the warm
and languid air, and from Hedrick's room issued an "OOF!" of
agonized disgust. Cora little suspected that the youth reeked
not of newsboys: Hedrick's miseries were introspective.
The cries from the street were interminable; each howler in
turn heard faintly in the distance, then in crescendo until he
had passed and another succeeded him, and all the while Cora
lay tossing and whispering between clenched teeth. Having ample
reason, that morning, to prefer sleep to thinking, sleep was
impossible. But she fought for it: she did not easily surrender
what she wanted; and she struggled on, with closed eyes, long
after she had heard the others go down to breakfast.
About a hundred yards from her windows, to the rear, were the
open windows of a church which fronted the next street, and stood
dos-a-dos to the dwelling of the Madisons. The Sunday-school
hour had been advanced for the hot weather, and, partly on this
account, and partly because of the summer absence of many
families, the attendants were few. But the young voices were
conducted, rather than accompanied, in pious melody by a
cornetist who worthily thought to amend, in his single person,
what lack of volume this paucity occasioned. He was a slender
young man in hot black clothes; he wore the unfacaded collar
fatally and unanimously adopted by all adam's-apple men of
morals; he was washed, fair, flat-skulled, clean-minded, and
industrious; and the only noise of any kind he ever made in the
world was on Sunday.
"Prashus joowuls, sweet joowuls, THEE jams off iz
crowowun," sang the little voices feebly. They were almost
unheard; but the young man helped them out: figuratively, he put
them out. And the cornet was heard: it was heard for blocks and
blocks; it was heard over all that part of the town--in the
vicinity of the church it was the only thing that could be heard.
In his daily walk this cornetist had no enemies: he was
kind-hearted; he would not have shot a mad dog; he gladly nursed
the sick. He sat upon the platform before the children; he
swelled, perspired and blew, and felt that it was a good blowing.
If other thoughts vapoured upon the borders of his mind, they
were of the dinner he would eat, soon after noon, at the house of
one of the frilled, white-muslin teachers. He was serene. His
eyes were not blasted; his heart was not instantly withered; his
thin, bluish hair did not fall from his head; his limbs were not
detached from his torso--yet these misfortunes had been desired
for him, with comprehension and sincerity, at the first flat blat
of his brassy horn.
It is impossible to imagine the state of mind of this young
cornetist, could he have known that he had caused the prettiest
girl in town to jump violently out of bed with what
petitions upon her lips regarding his present whereabouts and
future detention! It happened that during the course of his
Sunday walk on Corliss Street, that very afternoon, he saw
her--was hard-smitten by her beauty, and for weeks thereafter
laid unsuccessful plans to "meet" her. Her image was imprinted:
he talked about her to his boarding-house friends and office
acquaintances, his favourite description being, "the
sweetest-looking lady I ever laid eyes on."
Cora, descending to the breakfast-table rather white herself,
was not unpleasantly shocked by the haggard aspect of Hedrick,
who, with Laura and Mrs. Madison, still lingered.
"Good-morning, Cora," he said politely, and while she stared,
in suspicious surprise, he passed her a plate of toast with
ostentatious courtesy; but before she could take one of the
slices, "Wait," he said; "it's very nice toast, but I'm afraid it
isn't hot. I'll take it to the kitchen and have it warmed for
you." And he took the plate and went out, walking softly.
Cora turned to her mother, appalled. "He'll be sick!" she
Mrs. Madison shook her head and smiled sadly.
"He helped to wait on all of us: he must have been doing
something awful."
"More likely he wants permission to do something awful."
Laura looked out of the window.
"There, Cora," said Hedrick kindly, when he brought the
toast; "you'll find that nice and hot."
She regarded him steadfastly, but with modesty he avoided her
eye. "You wouldn't make such a radical change in your nature,
Hedrick," she said, with a puzzled frown, "just to get out of
going to church, would you?"
"I don't want to get out of going to church," he said. He
gulped slightly. "I like church."
And church-time found him marching decorously beside his
father, the three ladies forming a rear rank; a small company in
the very thin procession of fanning women and mopping men whose
destination was the gray stone church at the foot of Corliss
Street. The locusts railed overhead: Hedrick looked neither to
the right nor to the left.
They passed a club, of which a lower window was vacated
simultaneously with their coming into view; and a small but
ornate figure in pale gray crash hurried down the steps and
attached itself to the second row of Madisons.
"Good-morning," said Mr. Wade Trumble. "Thought I'd take a
look-in at church this morning myself."
Care of this encumbrance was usually expected of Laura and
Mrs. Madison, but to their surprise Cora offered a sprightly
rejoinder and presently dropped behind them with Mr. Trumble.
Mr. Trumble was also surprised and, as naively, pleased.
"What's happened?" he asked with cheerful frankness. "You
haven't given me a chance to talk to you for a long while."
"Haven't I?" she smiled enigmatically. "I don't think you've
tried very hard."
This was too careless; it did not quite serve, even for
Trumble. "What's up?" he asked, not without shrewdness. "Is
Richard Lindley out of town?"
"I don't know."
"I see. Perhaps it's this new chap, Corliss? Has he left?"
"What nonsense! What have they got to do with my being nice
to you?" She gave him a dangerous smile, and it wrought upon him
"Don't you ever be nice to me unless you mean it," he said
Cora looked grave and sweet; she seemed mysteriously
moved. "I never do anything I don't mean," she said in a low
voice which thrilled the little man. This was machine-work, easy
and accurate.
"Cora----" he began, breathlessly.
"There!" she exclaimed, shifting on the instant to a lively
brusqueness. "That's enough for you just NOW. We're on our
way to church!"
Trumble felt almost that she had accepted him.
"Have you got your penny for the contribution box?" she
smiled. "I suppose you really give a great deal to the church.
I hear you're richer and richer."
"I do pretty well," he returned, coolly. "You can know just
how well, if you like."
"Not on Sunday," she laughed; then went on, admiringly, "I
hear you're very dashing in your speculations."
"Then you've heard wrong, because I don't speculate," he
returned. "I'm not a gambler--except on certainties. I guess I
disappointed a friend of yours the other day because I wouldn't
back him on a thousand-to-one shot."
"Who was that?" she asked, with an expression entirely
"Corliss. He came to see me; wanted me to put real money
into an oil scheme. Too thin!"
"Why is it `too thin'?" she asked carelessly.
"Too far away, for one thing--somewhere in Italy. Anybody
who put up his cash would have to do it on Corliss's bare word
that he's struck oil."
"Well?" She turned her face to him, and a faint perturbation
was manifest in her tone. "Isn't Mr. Corliss's `bare word'
supposed to be perfectly good?"
"Oh, I suppose so, but I don't know. He isn't known here:
nobody really knows anything about him except that he was born
here. Besides, I wouldn't make an investment on my own father's
bare word, if he happened to be alive."
"Perhaps not!" Cora spoke impulsively, a sudden anger getting
the better of her, but she controlled it immediately. "Of course
I don't mean that," she laughed, sweetly. "But _I_ happen to
think Mr. Corliss's scheme a very handsome one, and I want my
friends to make their fortunes, of course. Richard Lindley and
papa are going into it."
"I'll bet they don't," said Trumble promptly. "Lindley told
me he'd looked it over and couldn't see his way to."
"He did?" Cora stiffened perceptibly and bit her lip.
Trumble began to laugh. "This is funny: you trying to talk
business! So Corliss has been telling you about it?"
"Yes, he has; and I understand it perfectly. I think there's
an enormous fortune in it, and you'd better not laugh at me: a
woman's instinct about such things is better than a man's
experience sometimes."
"You'll find neither Lindley nor your father are going to
think so," he returned skeptically.
She gave him a deep, sweet look. "But I mustn't be
disappointed in you," she said, with the suggestion of a tremor
in her voice, whatever THEY do! You'll take my advice, won't
"I'll take your advice in anything but business." He shook
his head ominously.
"And wouldn't you take my advice in business,--she asked very
slowly and significantly--"under ANY circumstances?"
"You mean," he said huskily, "if you were my wife?"
She looked away, and slightly inclined her head. "No," he
answered doggedly, "I wouldn't. You know mighty well that's
what I want you to be, and I'd give my soul for the tip of your
shoe, but business is an entirely different matter, and I----"
"WADE! she said, with wonderful and thrilling sweetness.
They had reached the church; Hedrick and his father had entered;
Mrs. Madison and Laura were waiting on the steps. Cora and
Trumble came to a stop some yards away. "Wade, I--I WANT you
to go into this."
"Can't do it," he said stubbornly. "If you ever make up your
mind to marry me, I'll spend all the money you like on YOU,
but you'll have to keep to the woman's side of the house."
"You make it pretty hard for me to be nice to you," she
returned, and the tremor now more evident in her voice was
perfectly genuine. "You positively refuse to do this--for me?"
"Yes I do. I wouldn't buy sight-unseen to please God
'lmighty, Cora Madison." He looked at her shrewdly, struck by a
sudden thought. "Did Corliss ask you to try and get me in?"
"He did not," she responded, icily. "Your refusal is final?"
"Certainly!" He struck the pavement a smart rap with his
walking-stick. "By George, I believe he DID ask you!
That spoils church for me this morning; I'll not go in. When you
quit playing games, let me know. You needn't try to work me any
more, because I won't stand for it, but if you ever get tired of
playing, come and tell me so." He uttered a bark of rueful
laughter. "Ha! I must say that gentleman has an interesting way
of combining business with pleasure!"
Under favourable circumstances the blow Cora dealt him might
have been physically more violent. "Good-morning," she laughed,
gayly. "I'm not bothering much about Mr. Corliss's oil in Italy.
I had a bet with Laura I could keep you from saying `I beg to
differ,' or talking about the weather for five minutes. She'll
have to pay me!"
Then, still laughing, she lowered her parasol, and with
superb impudence, brushed it smartly across his face; turned on
her heel, and, red with fury, joined her mother and sister, and
went into the church.
The service failed to occupy her attention: she had much in
her thoughts to distract her. Nevertheless, she bestowed some
wonderment upon the devotion with which her brother observed each
ceremonial rite. He joined in prayer with real fervour; he sang
earnestly and loudly; a great appeal sounded in his changing
voice; and during the sermon he sat with his eyes upon the
minister in a stricken fixity. All this was so remarkable that
Cora could not choose but ponder upon it, and, observing Hedrick
furtively, she caught, if not a clue itself, at least a glimpse
of one. She saw Laura's clear profile becoming subtly agitated;
then noticed a shimmer of Laura's dark eye as it wandered to
Hedrick and so swiftly away it seemed not to dare to remain.
Cora was quick: she perceived that Laura was repressing a
constant desire to laugh and that she feared to look at Hedrick
lest it overwhelm her. So Laura knew what had wrought the
miracle. Cora made up her mind to explore this secret passage.
When the service was over and the people were placidly
buzzing their way up the aisles, Cora felt herself drawn to look
across the church, and following the telepathic impulse, turned
her head to encounter the gaze of Ray Vilas. He was ascending
the opposite aisle, walking beside Richard Lindley. He looked
less pale than usual, though his thinness was so extreme it was
like emaciation; but his eyes were clear and quiet, and the look
he gave her was strangely gentle. Cora frowned and turned away
her head with an air of annoyance. They came near each
other in the convergence at the doors; but he made no effort to
address her, and, moving away through the crowd as quickly as
possible, disappeared.
Valentine Corliss was disclosed in the vestibule. He reached
her an instant in advance of Mr. Lindley, who had suffered
himself to be impeded; and Cora quickly handed the former her
parasol, lightly taking his arm. Thus the slow Richard found
himself walking beside Laura in a scattered group, its detached
portion consisting of his near-betrothed and Corliss; for
although the dexterous pair were first to leave the church, they
contrived to be passed almost at once, and, assuming the position
of trailers, lagged far behind on the homeward way.
Laura and Richard walked in the unmitigated glare of the sun;
he had taken her black umbrella and conscientiously held it
aloft, but over nobody. They walked in silence: they were quiet
people, both of them; and Richard, not "talkative" under any
circumstances, never had anything whatever to say to Laura
Madison. He had known her for many years, ever since her
childhood; seldom indeed formulating or expressing a definite
thought about her, though sometimes it was vaguely of his
consciousness that she played the piano nicely, and even
then her music had taken its place as but a colour of Cora's
background. For to him, as to every one else (including Laura),
Laura was in nothing her sister's competitor. She was a
neutral-tinted figure, taken-for-granted, obscured, and so near
being nobody at all, that, as Richard Lindley walked beside her
this morning, he glanced back at the lagging couple and uttered a
long and almost sonorous sigh, which he would have been ashamed
for anybody to hear; and then actually proceeded on his way
without the slightest realization that anybody had heard it.
She understood. And she did not disturb the trance; she did
nothing to make him observe that she was there. She walked on
with head, shoulders, and back scorching in the fierce sun, and
allowed him to continue shading the pavement before them with her
umbrella. When they reached the house she gently took the
umbrella from him and thanked him; and he mechanically raised his
They had walked more than a mile together; he had not spoken
a word, and he did not even know it.
Dinner on Sunday, the most elaborate feast of the week for the
Madisons, was always set for one o'clock in the afternoon, and
sometimes began before two, but not to-day: the escorts of both
daughters remained, and a change of costume by Cora occasioned a
long postponement. Justice demands the admission that her
reappearance in a glamour of lilac was reward for the delay;
nothing more ravishing was ever seen, she was warrantably
informed by the quicker of the two guests, in a moment's
whispered tete-a-tete across the banisters as she descended.
Another wait followed while she prettily arranged upon the table
some dozens of asters from a small garden-bed, tilled, planted,
and tended by Laura. Meanwhile, Mrs. Madison constantly turned
the other cheek to the cook. Laura assisted in the pacification;
Hedrick froze the ice-cream to an impenetrable solidity; and the
nominal head of the family sat upon the front porch with the two
young men, and wiped his wrists and rambled politically
till they were summoned to the dining-room.
Cora did the talking for the table. She was in high spirits;
no trace remained of a haggard night: there was a bloom upon
her--she was radiant. Her gayety may have had some inspiration
in her daring, for round her throat she wore a miraculously
slender chain of gold and enamel, with a pendant of minute pale
sapphires scrolled about a rather large and very white diamond.
Laura started when she saw it, and involuntarily threw a glance
almost of terror at Richard Lindley. But that melancholy and
absent-minded gentleman observed neither the glance nor the
jewel. He saw Cora's eyes, when they were vouchsafed to his
vision, and when they were not he apparently saw nothing at all.
With the general exodus from the table, Cora asked Laura to
come to the piano and play, a request which brought a snort from
Hedrick, who was taken off his guard. Catching Laura's eye, he
applied a handkerchief with renewed presence of mind, affecting
to have sneezed, and stared searchingly over it at Corliss. He
perceived that the man remained unmoved, evidently already informed
that it was Laura who was the musician. Cora must be
going it pretty fast this time: such was the form of her
brother's deduction.
When Laura opened the piano, Richard had taken a seat beside
Cora, and Corliss stood leaning in the doorway. The player lost
herself in a wandering medley, echoes from "Boheme" and
"Pagliacci"; then drifted into improvisation and played her heart
into it magnificently--a heart released to happiness. The still
air of the room filled with wonderful, golden sound: a song like
the song of a mother flying from earth to a child in the stars, a
torrential tenderness, unpent and glorying in freedom. The
flooding, triumphant chords rose, crashed--stopped with a
shattering abruptness. Laura's hands fell to her sides, then
were raised to her glowing face and concealed it for a moment.
She shivered; a quick, deep sigh heaved her breast; and she came
back to herself like a prisoner leaving a window at the warden's
She turned. Cora and Corliss had left the room. Richard was
sitting beside a vacant chair, staring helplessly at the open
If he had been vaguely conscious of Laura's playing, which is
possible, certainly he was unaware that it had ceased.
"The others have gone out to the porch," she said composedly,
and rose. "Shan't we join them?"
"What?" he returned, blankly. "I beg your pardon----"
"Let's go out on the porch with the others."
"No, I----" He got to his feet confusedly. "I was
thinking---- I believe I'd best be going home."
"Not `best,' I think," she said. "Not even better!"
"I don't see," he said, his perplexity only increased.
"Mr. Corliss would," she retorted quickly. "Come on: we'll
go and sit with them." And she compelled his obedience by
preceding him with such a confident assumption that he would
follow that he did.
The fugitive pair were not upon the porch, however; they were
discovered in the shade of a tree behind the house, seated upon a
rug, and occupied in a conversation which would not have
disturbed a sick-room. The pursuers came upon them, boldly sat
beside them; and Laura began to talk with unwonted fluency to
Corliss, but within five minutes found herself alone with
Richard Lindley upon the rug. Cora had promised to show Mr.
Corliss an "old print" in the library--so Cora said.
Lindley gave the remaining lady a desolate and faintly
reproachful look. He was kind, but he was a man; and Laura saw
that this last abandonment was being attributed in part to her.
She reddened, and, being not an angel, observed with
crispness: "Certainly. You're quite right: it's my fault!"
"What did you say?" he asked vacantly.
She looked at him rather fixedly; his own gaze had returned
to the angle of the house beyond which the other couple had just
disappeared. "I said," she answered, slowly, "I thought it
wouldn't rain this, afternoon."
His wistful eyes absently swept the serene sky which had been
cloudless for several days. "No, I suppose not," he murmured.
"Richard," she said with a little sharpness, "will you please
listen to me for a moment?"
"Oh--what?" He was like a diver coming up out of deep water.
"What did you say?" He laughed apologetically. "Wasn't I
listening? I beg your pardon. What is it, Laura?"
"Why do you let Mr. Corliss take Cora away from you like
that?" she asked gravely.
"He doesn't," the young man returned with a rueful shake of
the head. "Don't you see? It's Cora that goes."
"Why do you let her, then?"
He sighed. "I don't seem to be able to keep up with Cora,
especially when she's punishing me. I couldn't do something she
asked me to, last night----"
"Invest with Mr. Corliss?" asked Laura quickly.
"Yes. It seemed to trouble her that I couldn't. She's
convinced it's a good thing: she thinks it would make a great
fortune for us----"
"`Us'?" repeated Laura gently. "You mean for you and her?
When you're----"
"When we're married. Yes," he said thoughtfully, "that's the
way she stated it. She wanted me to put in all I have----"
"Don't do it!" said Laura decidedly.
He glanced at her with sharp inquiry. "Do you mean you would
distrust Mr. Corliss?'
"I wasn't thinking of that: I don't know whether I'd trust
him or not--I think I wouldn't; there's something veiled about
him, and I don't believe he is an easy man to know. What I
meant was that I don't believe it would really be a good thing
for you with Cora."
"It would please her, of course--thinking I deferred so much
to her judgment."
"Don't do it!" she said again, impulsively.
"I don't see how I can," he returned sorrowfully.
"It's my work for all the years since I got out of college,
and if I lost it I'd have to begin all over again. It would mean
postponing everything. Cora isn't a girl you can ask to share a
little salary, and if it were a question of years, perhaps--
perhaps Cora might not feel she could wait for me, you see."
He made this explanation with plaintive and boyish sincerity,
hesitatingly, and as if pleading a cause. And Laura, after a
long look at him, turned away, and in her eyes were actual tears
of compassion for the incredible simpleton.
"I see," she said. "Perhaps she might not."
"Of course," he went on, "she's fond of having nice things,
and she thinks this is a great chance for us to be millionaires;
and then, too, I think she may feel that it would please Mr.
Corliss and help to save him from disappointment. She seems to
have taken a great fancy to him."
Laura glanced at him, but did not speak.
"He IS attractive," continued Richard feebly. "I think
he has a great deal of what people call `magnetism': he's the
kind of man who somehow makes you want to do what he wants you
to. He seems a manly, straightforward sort, too--so far as one
can tell--and when he came to me with his scheme I was strongly
inclined to go into it. But it is too big a gamble, and I can't,
though I was sorry to disappoint him myself. He was perfectly
cheerful about it and so pleasant it made me feel small. I don't
wonder at all that Cora likes him so much. Besides, he seems to
understand her."
Laura looked very grave. "I think he does," she said slowly.
"And then he's `different,'" said Richard. "He's more a `man
of the world' than most of us here: she never saw anything just
like him before, and she's seen US all her life. She likes
change, of course. That's natural," he said gently. "Poor Vilas
says she wants a man to be different every day, and if he isn't,
then she wants a different man every day."
"You've rather taken Ray Vilas under your wing, haven't you?"
asked Laura.
"Oh, no," he answered deprecatingly. "I only try to
keep him with me so he'll stay away from downtown as much as
"Does he talk much of Cora?"
"All the time. There's no stopping him. I suppose he can't
help it, because he thinks of nothing else."
"Isn't that rather--rather queer for you?"
"`Queer'?" he repeated.
"No, I suppose not!" She laughed impatiently. "And probably
you don't think it's `queer' of you to sit here helplessly, and
let another man take your place----"
"But I don't `let' him, Laura," he protested.
"No, he just does it!"
"Well," he smiled, "you must admit my efforts to supplant him
"It won't take any effort now," she said, rising quickly.
Valentine Corliss came into their view upon the sidewalk in
front, taking his departure. Seeing that they observed him, he
lifted his hat to Laura and nodded a cordial good-day to Lindley.
Then he went on.
Just before he reached the corner of the lot, he encountered
upon the pavement a citizen of elderly and plain appearance,
strolling with a grandchild. The two men met and passed,
each upon his opposite way, without pausing and without
salutation, and neither Richard nor Laura, whose eyes were upon
the meeting, perceived that they had taken cognizance of each
other. But one had asked a question and the other had answered.
Mr. Pryor spoke in a low monotone, with a rapidity as
singular as the restrained but perceptible emphasis he put upon
one word of his question.
"I got you in the park," he said; and it is to be deduced
that "got" was argot. "You're not DOING anything here, are
"No!" answered Corliss with condensed venom, his back already
to the other. He fanned himself with his hat as he went on. Mr.
Pryor strolled up the street with imperturbable benevolence.
"Your coast is cleared," said Laura, "since you wouldn't
clear it yourself."
"Wish me luck," said Richard as he left her.
She nodded brightly.
Before he disappeared, he looked back to her again (which
profoundly surprised her) and smiled rather disconsolately,
shaking his head as in prophecy of no very encouraging reception
indoors. The manner of this glance recalled to Laura what
his mother had once said of him. "Richard is one of those sweet,
helpless men that some women adore and others despise. They fall
in love with the ones that despise them."
An ostentatious cough made her face about, being obviously
designed to that effect; and she beheld her brother in the act of
walking slowly across the yard with his back to her. He halted
upon the border of her small garden of asters, regarded it
anxiously, then spread his handkerchief upon the ground, knelt
upon it, and with thoughtful care uprooted a few weeds which were
beginning to sprout, and also such vagrant blades of grass as
encroached upon the floral territory. He had the air of a
virtuous man performing a good action which would never become
known. Plainly, he thought himself in solitude and all
It was a touching picture, pious and humble. Done into
coloured glass, the kneeling boy and the asters--submerged in
ardent sunshine--would have appropriately enriched a cathedral:
Boyhood of Saint Florus the Gardener.
Laura heartlessly turned her back, and, affecting an interest
in her sleeve, very soon experienced the sensation of being
stared at with some poignancy from behind. Unchanged in
attitude, she unravelled an imaginary thread, whereupon the cough
reached her again, shrill and loud, its insistence not lacking in
She approached him, driftingly. No sign that he was aware
came from the busied boy, though he coughed again, hollowly
now--a proof that he was an artist. "All right, Hedrick," she
said kindly. "I heard you the first time."
He looked up with utter incomprehension. "I'm afraid I've
caught cold," he said, simply. "I got a good many weeds out
before breakfast, and the ground was damp."
Hedrick was of the New School: everything direct, real, no
striving for effect, no pressure on the stroke. He did his work:
you could take it or leave it.
"You mustn't strain so, dear," returned his sister, shaking
her head. "It won't last if you do. You see this is only the
first day."
Struck to the heart by so brutal a misconception, he put all
his wrongs into one look, rose in manly dignity, picked up his
handkerchief, and left her.
Her eyes followed him, not without remorse: it was an exit
which would have moved the bass-violist of a theatre
orchestra. Sighing, she went to her own room by way of the
kitchen and the back-stairs, and, having locked her door, brought
the padlocked book from its hiding-place.
"I think I should not have played as I did, an hour ago," she
wrote. "It stirs me too greatly and I am afraid it makes me
inclined to self-pity afterward, and I must never let myself feel
THAT! If I once begin to feel sorry for myself. . . . But I
WILL not! No. You are here in the world. You exist. You
ARE! That is the great thing to know and it must be enough
for me. It is. I played to You. I played JUST LOVE to
you--all the yearning tenderness--all the supreme kindness I want
to give you. Isn't love really just glorified kindness? No,
there is something more. . . . I feel it, though I do not know
how to say it. But it was in my playing--I played it and played
it. Suddenly I felt that in my playing I had shouted it from the
housetops, that I had told the secret to all the world and
EVERYBODY knew. I stopped, and for a moment it seemed to me
that I was dying of shame. But no one understood. No one had
even listened. . . . Sometimes it seems to me that I am
like Cora, that I am very deeply her sister in some things. My
heart goes all to You--my revelation of it, my release of it, my
outlet of it is all here in these pages (except when I play as I
did to-day and as I shall not play again) and perhaps the writing
keeps me quiet. Cora scatters her own releasings: she is looking
for the You she may never find; and perhaps the penalty for scattering
is never finding. Sometimes I think the seeking has
reacted and that now she seeks only what will make her feel. I
hope she has not found it: I am afraid of this new man--not only
for your sake, dear. I felt repelled by his glance at me the
first time I saw him. I did not like it--I cannot say just why,
unless that it seemed too intimate. I am afraid of him for her,
which is a queer sort of feeling because she has alw----"
Laura's writing stopped there, for that day, interrupted by a
hurried rapping upon the door and her mother's voice calling her
with stress and urgency.
The opening of the door revealed Mrs. Madison in a state of
anxious perturbation, and admitted the sound of loud weeping and
agitated voices from below.
"Please go down," implored the mother. "You can do more with
her than I can. She and your father have been having a terrible
scene since Richard went home."
Laura hurried down to the library.
Oh, COME in, Laura!" cried her sister, as Laura appeared in
the doorway. "Don't STAND there! Come in if you want to
take part in a grand old family row!" With a furious and
tear-stained face, she was confronting her father who stood
before her in a resolute attitude and a profuse perspiration.
"Shut the door!" shouted Cora violently, adding, as Laura obeyed,
"Do you want that little Pest in here? Probably he's
eavesdropping anyway. But what difference does it make? I don't
care. Let him hear! Let anybody hear that wants to! They can
hear how I'm tortured if they like. I didn't close my eyes last
night, and now I'm being tortured. Papa!" She stamped her foot.
"Are you going to take back that insult to me?"
"`Insult'?" repeated her father, in angry astonishment.
"Pshaw," said Laura, laughing soothingly and coming to her.
"You know that's nonsense, Cora. Kind old papa
couldn't do that if he tried. Dear, you know he never insulted
anybody in his----"
"Don't touch me!" screamed Cora, repulsing her. "Listen, if
you've got to, but let me alone. He did too! He did! He
KNOWS what he said!"
"I do not!"
"He does! He does!" cried Cora. "He said that I was--I was
too much `interested' in Mr. Corliss."
"Is that an `insult'?" the father demanded sharply.
"It was the way he said it," Cora protested, sobbing. "He
meant something he didn't SAY. He did! He did! He MEANT
to insult me!"
"I did nothing of the kind," shouted the old man.
I don't know what you're talking about. I said I couldn't
understand your getting so excited about the fellow's affairs and
that you seemed to take a mighty sudden interest in him."
"Well, what if I DO?" she screamed. Haven't I a right to
be interested in what I choose? I've got to be interested in
SOMETHING, haven't I? YOU don't make life very
interesting, do you? Do you think it's interesting to spend the
summer in this horrible old house with the paper falling off the
walls and our rotten old furniture that I work my hands off
trying to make look decent and can't, and every other girl I know
at the seashore with motor-cars and motor-boats, or getting a
trip abroad and buying her clothes in Paris? What do YOU offer to
interest me?"
The unfortunate man hung his head. "I don't see what all
that has to do with it----"
She seemed to leap at him. "You DON'T? You DON'T?"
"No, I don't. And I don't see why you're so crazy to please
young Corliss about this business unless you're infatuated with
him. I had an idea--and I was pleased with it, too, because
Richard's a steady fellow--that you were just about engaged to
Richard Lindley, and----"
"Engaged!" she cried, repeating the word with bitter
contempt. "Engaged! You don't suppose I'll marry him unless I
want to, do you? I will if it suits me. I won't if it suits me
not to; understand that! I don't consider myself engaged to
anybody, and you needn't either. What on earth has that got to
do with your keeping Richard Lindley from doing what Mr. Corliss
wants him to?"
"I'm not keeping him from anything. He didn't say----"
"He did!" stormed Cora. "He said he would if you went into
it. He told me this afternoon, an hour ago."
"Now wait," said Madison. "I talked this over with Richard
two days ago----"
Cora stamped her foot again in frantic exasperation. "I'm
talking about this afternoon!"
"Two days ago," he repeated doggedly; "and we came to the
same conclusion: it won't do. He said he couldn't go into it
unless he went over there to Italy--and saw for himself just what
he was putting his money into, and Corliss had told him that it
couldn't be done; that there wasn't time, and showed him a
cablegram from his Italian partner saying the secret had leaked
out and that they'd have to form the company in Naples and sell
the stock over there if it couldn't be done here within the next
week. Corliss said he had to ask for an immediate answer, and so
Richard told him no, yesterday."
"Oh, my God!" groaned Cora. "What has that got to do with
YOUR going into it? You're not going to risk any money! I
don't ask you to SPEND anything, do I? You haven't got
it if I did. All Mr. Corliss wants is your name. Can't you give
even THAT? What importance is it?"
Well, if it isn't important, what difference does it make
whether I give it or not?"
She flung up her arms as in despairing appeal for patience.
"It IS important to him! Richard will do it if you will be
secretary of the company: he promised me. Mr. Corliss told me
your name was worth everything here: that men said downtown you
could have been rich long ago if you hadn't been so square.
Richard trusts you; he says you're the most trusted man in
"That's why I can't do it," he interrupted.
"No!" Her vehemence increased suddenly to its utmost. "No!
Don't you say that, because it's a lie. That isn't the reason
you won't do it. You won't do it because you think it would
please ME! You're afraid it might make me HAPPY!
Happy--happy--HAPPY!" She beat her breast and cast herself
headlong upon the sofa, sobbing wildly. "Don't come near me!"
she screamed at Laura, and sprang to her feet again, dishevelled
and frantic. "Oh, Christ in heaven! is there such a thing as
happiness in this beast of a world? I want to leave it. I
want to go away: I want SO to die: Why can't I? Why can't
I! Why can't I! Oh, God, why CAN'T I die? Why can't----"
Her passion culminated in a shriek: she gasped, was convulsed
from head to foot for a dreadful moment, tore at the bosom of her
dress with rigid bent fingers, swayed; then collapsed all at
once. Laura caught her, and got her upon the sofa. In the hall,
Mrs. Madison could be heard running and screaming to Hedrick to
go for the doctor. Next instant, she burst into the room with
brandy and camphor.
"I could only find these; the ammonia bottle's empty," she
panted; and the miserable father started hatless, for the
drug-store, a faint, choked wail from the stricken girl sounding
in his ears: "It's--it's my heart, mamma."
It was four blocks to the nearest pharmacy; he made what
haste he could in the great heat, but to himself he seemed double
his usual weight; and the more he tried to hurry, the less speed
appeared obtainable from his heavy legs. When he reached the
place at last, he found it crowded with noisy customers about the
"soda-fount"; and the clerks were stonily slow: they seemed to
know that they were "already in eternity." He got very
short of breath on the way home; he ceased to perspire and became
unnaturally dry; the air was aflame and the sun shot fire upon
his bare head. His feet inclined to strange disobediences: he
walked the last block waveringly. A solemn Hedrick met him at
the door.
"They've got her to bed," announced the boy. "The doctor's
up there."
"Take this ammonia up," said Madison huskily, and sat down
upon a lower step of the stairway with a jolt, closing his eyes.
"You sick, too?" asked Hedrick.
"No. Run along with that ammonia."
It seemed to Madison a long time that he sat there alone, and
he felt very dizzy. Once he tried to rise, but had to give it up
and remain sitting with his eyes shut. At last he heard Cora's
door open and close; and his wife and the doctor came slowly down
the stairs, Mrs. Madison talking in the anxious yet relieved
voice of one who leaves a sick-room wherein the physician
pronounces progress encouraging.
"And you're SURE her heart trouble isn't organic?" she
Her heart is all right," her companion assured her. "There's
nothing serious; the trouble is nervous. I think you'll find
she'll be better after a good sleep. Just keep her quiet.
Hadn't she been in a state of considerable excitement?"
"Ah! A little upset on account of opposition to a plan she'd
formed, perhaps?"
"Well--partly," assented the mother.
"I see," he returned, adding with some dryness: "I thought
it just possible."
Madison got to his feet, and stepped down from the stairs for
them to pass him. He leaned heavily against the wall.
"You think she's going to be all right, Sloane? he asked with
an effort.
"No cause to worry," returned the physician. "You can let
her stay in bed to-day if she wants to but----" He broke off,
looking keenly at Madison's face, which was the colour of
poppies. "Hello! what's up with YOU?"
"I'm all--right."
"Oh, you are?" retorted Sloane with sarcasm. "Sit down," he
commanded. "Sit right where you are--on the stairs, here," and,
having enforced the order, took a stethoscope from his
pocket. "Get him a glass of water," he said to Hedrick, who was
at his elbow.
"Doctor!" exclaimed Mrs. Madison. "HE isn't going to be
sick, is he? You don't think he's sick NOW?"
"I shouldn't call him very well," answered the physician
rather grimly, placing his stethoscope upon Madison's breast.
"Get his room ready for him." She gave him a piteous look,
struck with fear; then obeyed a gesture and ran flutteringly up
the stairs.
"I'm all right now," panted Madison, drinking the water
Hedrick brought him.
"You're not so darned all right," said Sloane coolly, as he
pocketed his stethoscope. "Come, let me help you up. We're
going to get you to bed."
There was an effort at protest, but the physician had his
way, and the two ascended the stairs slowly, Sloane's arm round
his new patient. At Cora's door, the latter paused.
"What's the matter?"
"I want," said Madison thickly--"I want--to speak to Cora."
"We'll pass that up just now," returned the other
brusquely, and led him on. Madison was almost helpless: he
murmured in a husky, uncertain voice, and suffered himself to be
put to bed. There, the doctor "worked" with him; cold
"applications" were ordered; Laura was summoned from the other
sick-bed; Hedrick sent flying with prescriptions, then to
telephone for a nurse. The two women attempted questions at
intervals, but Sloane replied with orders, and kept them busy.
"Do you--think I'm a---a pretty sick man, Sloane?" asked
Madison after a long silence, speaking with difficulty.
"Oh, you're sick, all right," the doctor conceded.
"I--I want to speak to Jennie."
His wife rushed to the bed, and knelt beside it.
"Don't you go to confessing your sins," said Doctor Sloane
crossly. "You're coming out of the woods all right, and you'll
be sorry if you tell her too, much. I'll begin a little
flirtation with you, Miss Laura, if you please." And he motioned
to her to follow him into the hall.
"Your father IS pretty sick, he told her, "and he may be
sicker before we get him into shape again. But you needn't be
worried right now; I think he's not in immediate danger." He
turned at the sound of Mrs. Madison's step, behind him, and
repeated to her what he had just said to Laura. "I hope your
husband didn't give himself away enough to be punished when we
get him on his feet again," he concluded cheerfully.
She shook her head, tried to smile through tears, and,
crossing the hall, entered Cora's room. She came back after a
moment, and, rejoining the other two at her husband's bedside,
found the sick man in a stertorous sleep. Presently the nurse
arrived, and upon the physician's pointed intimation that there
were "too many people around," Laura went to Cora's room. She
halted on the threshold in surprise. Cora was dressing.
"Mamma says the doctor says he's all right," said Cora
lightly, "and I'm feeling so much better myself I thought I'd put
on something loose and go downstairs. I think there's more air
down there."
"Papa isn't all right, dear," said Laura, staring perplexedly
at Cora's idea of "something loose," an equipment inclusive of
something particularly close. "The doctor says he is very sick."
"I don't believe it," returned Cora promptly. "Old Sloane
never did know anything. Besides, mamma told me he said
papa isn't in any danger."
"No `immediate' danger," corrected Laura. "And besides,
Doctor Sloane said you were to stay in bed until to-morrow."
"I can't help that." Cora went on with her lacing
impatiently. "I'm not going to lie and stifle in this heat when
I feel perfectly well again--not for an old idiot like Sloane!
He didn't even have sense enough to give me any medicine." She
laughed. "Lucky thing he didn't: I'd have thrown it out of the
window. Kick that slipper to me, will you, dear?"
Laura knelt and put the slipper on her sister's foot. "Cora,
dear," she said, "you're just going to put on a negligee and go
down and sit in the library, aren't you?"
"Laura!" The tone was more than impatient. "I wish I could
be let alone for five whole minutes some time in my life! Don't
you think I've stood enough for one day? I can't bear to be
questioned, questioned, questioned! What do you do it for?
Don't you see I can't stand anything more? If you can't let me
alone I do wish you'd keep out of my room.
Laura rose and went out; but as she left the door, Cora
called after her with a rueful laugh: "Laura, I know I'm a
little devil!"
Half an hour later, Laura, suffering because she had made no
reply to this peace-offering, and wishing to atone, sought Cora
downstairs and found no one. She decided that Cora must still be
in her own room; she would go to her there. But as she passed
the open front door, she saw Cora upon the sidewalk in front of
the house. She wore a new and elaborate motoring costume,
charmingly becoming, and was in the act of mounting to a seat
beside Valentine Corliss in a long, powerful-looking, white
"roadster" automobile. The engine burst into staccato thunder,
sobered down; the wheels began to move both Cora and Corliss were
laughing and there was an air of triumph about them--Cora's veil
streamed and fluttered: and in a flash they were gone.
Laura stared at the suddenly vacated space where they had
been. At a thought she started. Then she rushed upstairs to her
mother, who was sitting in the hall near her husband's door.
"Mamma," whispered Laura, flinging herself upon her knees
beside her, "when papa wanted to speak to you, was it a message
to Cora?"
"Yes, dear. He told me to tell her he was sorry he'd
made her sick, and that if he got well he'd try to do what she
asked him to."
Laura nodded cheerfully. "And he WILL get well, darling
mother," she said, as she rose. "I'll come back in a minute and
sit with you."
Her return was not so quick as she promised, for she lay a
long time weeping upon her pillow, whispering over and over:
"Oh, poor, poor papa! Oh, poor, poor Richard!"
Within a week Mr. Madison's illness was a settled institution in
the household; the presence of the nurse lost novelty, even to
Hedrick, and became a part of life; the day was measured by the
three regular visits of the doctor. To the younger members of
the family it seemed already that their father had always been
sick, and that he always would be; indeed, to Cora and Hedrick he
had become only a weak and querulous voice beyond a closed door.
Doctor Sloane was serious but reassuring, his daily announcement
being that his patient was in "no immediate danger."
Mrs. Madison did not share her children's sanguine
adaptability; and, of the three, Cora was the greatest solace to
the mother's troubled heart, though Mrs. Madison never recognized
this without a sense of injustice to Laura, for Laura now was
housewife and housekeeper--that is, she did all the work except
the cooking, and on "wash-day" she did that. But Cora's help was
to the very spirit itself, for she was sprightly in
these hours of trial: with indomitable gayety she cheered her
mother, inspiring in her a firmer confidence, and, most
stimulating of all, Cora steadfastly refused to consider her
father's condition as serious, or its outcome as doubtful.
Old Sloane exaggerated, she said; and she made fun of his
gravity, his clothes and his walk, which she mimicked till she
drew a reluctant and protesting laugh from even her mother. Mrs.
Madison was sure she "couldn't get through" this experience save
for Cora, who was indeed the light of the threatened house.
Strange perversities of this world: Cora's gayety was almost
unbearable to her brother. Not because he thought it either
unfeeling or out of place under the circumstances (an aspect he
failed to consider), but because years of warfare had so
frequently made him connect cheerfulness on her part with some
unworthily won triumph over himself that habit prevailed, and he
could not be a witness of her high spirits without a strong sense
of injury. Additionally, he was subject to a deeply implanted
suspicion of any appearance of unusual happiness in her as having
source, if not in his own defeat, then in something vaguely
"soft" and wholly distasteful. She grated upon him; he
chafed, and his sufferings reached the surface. Finally, in a
reckless moment, one evening at dinner, he broke out with a shout
and hurled a newly devised couplet concerning luv-a-ly slush at
his, sister's head. The nurse was present: Cora left the table;
and Hedrick later received a serious warning from Laura. She
suggested that it might become expedient to place him in Cora's
"Cora knows perfectly well that something peculiar happened
to you," she advised him. "And she knows that I know what it
was; and she says it isn't very sisterly of me not to tell her.
Now, Hedrick, there was no secret about it; you didn't CONFIDE
your--your trouble to me, and it would be perfectly
honourable of me to tell it. I wont{sic} unless you make me, but
if you can't be polite and keep peace with Cora--at least while
papa is sick I think it may be necessary. I believe," she
finished with imperfect gravity, "that it--it would keep things
The thoughts of a boy may be long, long thoughts, but he
cannot persistently remember to fear a threatened catastrophe.
Youth is too quickly intimate with peril. Hedrick had become
familiar with his own, had grown so accustomed to it he was
in danger of forgetting it altogether; therefore it was out of
perspective. The episode of Lolita had begun to appear as a
thing of the distant and clouded past: time is so long at
thirteen. Added to this, his late immaculate deportment had
been, as Laura suggested, a severe strain; the machinery of his
nature was out of adjustment and demanded a violent reaction
before it could get to running again at average speed. Also, it
is evident that his destruction had been planned on high, for he
was mad enough to answer flippantly:
"Tell her! Go on and tell her--_I_ give you leaf!
THAT wasn't anything anyway--just helped you get a little
idiot girl home. What is there to that? I never saw her before;
never saw her again; didn't have half as much to do with her as
you did yourself. She was a lot more YOUR friend than mine;
I didn't even know her. I guess you'll have to get something
better on me than that, before you try to boss THIS ranch,
Laura Madison!"
That night, in bed, he wondered if he had not been perhaps a
trifle rash; but the day was bright when he awoke, and no
apprehension shadowed his morning face as he appeared at the
breakfast table. On the contrary, a great weight had lifted
from him; clearly his defiance had been the proper thing; he had
shown Laura that her power over him was but imaginary.
Hypnotized by his own words to her, he believed them; and his
previous terrors became gossamer; nay, they were now merely
laughable. His own remorse and shame were wholly blotted from
memory, and he could not understand why in the world he had been
so afraid, nor why he had felt it so necessary to placate Laura.
She looked very meek this morning. THAT showed! The strong
hand was the right policy in dealing with women. He was tempted
to insane daring: the rash, unfortunate child waltzed on the lip
of the crater.
"Told Cora yet?" he asked, with scornful laughter.
"Told me what?" Cora looked quickly up from her plate.
"Oh, nothing about this Corliss," he returned scathingly.
"Don't get excited."
"Hedrick!" remonstrated his mother, out of habit.
"She never thinks of anything else these days, he retorted.
"Rides with him every evening in his pe-rin-sley hired machine,
doesn't she?'
"Really, you should be more careful about the way you handle
a spoon, Hedrick," said Cora languidly, and with at least a
foundation of fact. "It is not the proper implement for
decorating the cheeks. We all need nourishment, but it is SO
difficult when one sees a deposit of breakfast-food in the ear of
one's vis-a-vis."
Hedrick too impulsively felt of his ears and was but the
worse stung to find them immaculate and the latter half of the
indictment unjustified.
"Spoon!" he cried. "I wouldn't talk about spoons if I were
you, Cora-lee! After what I saw in the library the other night,
believe ME, you're the one of this family that better be
careful how you `handle a spoon'!"
Cora had a moment of panic. She let the cup she was lifting
drop noisily upon its saucer, and gazed whitely at the boy, her
mouth opening wide.
"Oh, no!" he went on, with a dreadful laugh. "I didn't hear
you asking this Corliss to kiss you! Oh, no!"
At this, though her mother and Laura both started, a faint,
odd relief showed itself in Cora's expression. She recovered
"You little liar!" she flashed, and, with a single quick look
at her mother, as of one too proud to appeal, left the room.
"Hedrick, Hedrick, Hedrick!" wailed Mrs. Madison. "And she
told me you drove her from the table last night too, right before
Miss Peirce!" Miss Peirce was the nurse, fortunately at this
moment in the sick-room.
"I DID hear her ask him that," he insisted, sullenly.
"Don't you believe it?"
"Certainly not!"
Burning with outrage, he also left his meal unfinished and
departed in high dignity. He passed through the kitchen,
however, on his way out of the house; but, finding an unusual
politeness to the cook nothing except its own reward, went on his
way with a bitter perception of the emptiness of the world and
other places.
"Your father managed to talk more last night," said Mrs.
Madison pathetically to Laura. "He made me understand that he
was fretting about how little we'd been able to give our
children; so few advantages; it's always troubled him terribly.
But sometimes I wonder if we've done right: we've neither of us
ever exercised any discipline. We just couldn't bear to. You
see, not having any money, or the things money could buy, to
give, I think we've instinctively tried to make up for it by
indulgence in other ways, and perhaps it's been a bad thing.
Not," she added hastily, "not that you aren't all three the best
children any mother and father ever had! HE said so. He
said the only trouble was that our children were too good for
us." She shook her head remorsefully throughout Laura's natural
reply to this; was silent a while; then, as she rose, she said
timidly, not looking at her daughter: "Of course Hedrick didn't
mean to tell an outright lie. They were just talking, and
perhaps he--perhaps he heard something that made him think what
he DID. People are so often mistaken in what they hear, even
when they're talking right to each other, and----"
"Isn't it more likely," said Laura, gravely, "that Cora was
telling some story or incident, and that Hedrick overheard that
part of it, and thought she was speaking directly to Mr.
"Of course!" cried the mother with instant and buoyant
relief; and when the three ladies convened, a little later, Cora
(unquestioned) not only confirmed this explanation, but repeated
in detail the story she had related to Mr. Corliss. Laura had
been quick.
Hedrick passed a variegated morning among comrades. He
obtained prestige as having a father like-to-die, but another boy
turned up who had learned to chew tobacco. Then Hedrick was
pronounced inferior to others in turning "cartwheels," but
succeeded in a wrestling match for an apple, which he needed.
Later, he was chased empty-handed from the rear of an ice-wagon,
but greatly admired for his retorts to the vociferous chaser: the
other boys rightly considered that what he said to the ice-man
was much more horrible than what the ice-man said to him. The
ice-man had a fair vocabulary, but it lacked pliancy; seemed
stiff and fastidious compared with the flexible Saxon in which
Hedrick sketched a family tree lacking, perhaps, some
plausibility as having produced even an ice-man, but curiously
interesting zoologically.
He came home at noon with the flush of this victory new upon
his brow. He felt equal to anything, and upon Cora's appearing
at lunch with a blithe, bright air and a new arrangement of her
hair, he opened a fresh campaign with ill-omened bravado.
"Ear-muffs in style for September, are they? he inquired in
allusion to a symmetrical and becoming undulation upon each side
of her head. "Too bad Ray Vilas can't come any more; he'd
like those, I know he would."
Cora, who was talking jauntily to her mother, went on without
heeding. She affected her enunciation at times with a slight
lisp; spoke preciously and over-exquisitely, purposely mincing
the letter R, at the same time assuming a manner of artificial
distinction and conscious elegance which never failed to produce
in her brother the last stage of exasperation. She did this now.
Charming woman, that dear Mrs. Villard, she prattled. "I met her
downtown this morning. Dear mamma, you should but have seen her
delight when she saw ME. She was but just returned from Bar
"`Baw-hawbaw'!" Poor Hedrick was successfully infuriated
immediately. "What in thunder is `Baw-hawbaw'? Mrs. Villawd!
Baw-hawbaw! Oh, maw!"
"She had no idea she should find ME in town, she said,"
Cora ran on, happily. "She came back early on account of the
children having to be sent to school. She has such adorable
children--beautiful, dimpled babes----"
"--And her dear son, Egerton Villard, he's grown to be such a
comely lad, and he has the most charming courtly manners: he
helped his mother out of her carriage with all the air of a man
of the world, and bowed to me as to a duchess. I think he might
be a great influence for good if the dear Villards would but
sometimes let him associate a little with our unfortunate
Hedrick. Egerton Villard is really distingue; he has a beautiful
head; and if he could be induced but to let Hedrick follow him
about but a little----"
"I'll beat his beautiful head off for him if he but butts in
on me but a little!" Hedrick promised earnestly. "Idiot!"
Cora turned toward him innocently. "What did you say,
"I said `Idiot'!"
"You mean Egerton Villard?"
"Both of you!"
"You think I'm an idiot, Hedrick?" Her tone was calm, merely
"Yes, I do!"
"Oh, no," she said pleasantly. "Don't you think if I were
REALLY an idiot I'd be even fonder of you than I am?"
It took his breath. In a panic he sat waiting he knew not
what; but Cora blandly resumed her interrupted remarks to her
mother, beginning a description of Mrs. Villard's dress; Laura
was talking unconcernedly to Miss Peirce; no one appeared to be
aware that anything unusual had been said. His breath came back,
and, summoning his presence of mind, he found himself able to
consider his position with some degree of assurance. Perhaps,
after all, Cora's retort had been merely a coincidence. He went
over and over it in his mind, making a pretence, meanwhile, to be
busy with his plate. "If I were REALLY an idiot." . . . It
was the "REALLY" that troubled him. But for that one word,
he could have decided that her remark was a coincidence; but
"REALLY" was ominous; had a sinister ring. "If I were
REALLY an idiot!" Suddenly the pleasant clouds that had
obscured his memory of the fatal evening were swept away as by a
monstrous Hand: it all came back to him with sickening clearness.
So is it always with the sinner with his sin and its threatened
discovery. Again, in his miserable mind, he sat beside Lolita on
the fence, with the moon shining through her hair; and he
knew--for he had often read it--that a man could be punished
his whole life through for a single moment's weakness. A man
might become rich, great, honoured, and have a large family, but
his one soft sin would follow him, hunt him out and pull him down
at last. "REALLY an idiot!" Did that relentless Comanche,
Cora, know this Thing? He shuddered. Then he fell back upon his
faith in Providence. It COOULD not be that she knew! Ah, no!
Heaven would not let the world be so bad as that! And yet it did
sometimes become negligent--he remembered the case of a baby-girl
cousin who fell into the bath-tub and was drowned. Providence
had allowed that: What assurance had he that it would not go a
step farther?
"Why, Hedrick," said Cora, turning toward him cheerfully,
"you're not really eating anything; you're only pretending to."
His heart sank with apprehension. Was it coming? "You really
must eat," she went on. "School begins so soon, you must be
strong, you know. How we shall miss you here at home during your
hours of work!"
With that, the burden fell from his shoulders, his increasing
terrors took wing. If Laura had told his ghastly secret to Cora,
the latter would not have had recourse to such weak satire as
this. Cora was not the kind of person to try a popgun on an
enemy when she had a thirteen-inch gun at her disposal; so he
reasoned; and in the gush of his relief and happiness, responded:
"You're a little too cocky lately, Cora-lee: I wish you were
MY daughter--just about five minutes!"
Cora looked upon him fondly. "What would you do to me," she
inquired with a terrible sweetness--"darling little boy?"
Hedrick's head swam. The blow was square in the face; it
jarred every bone; the world seemed to topple. His mother,
rising from her chair, choked slightly, and hurried to join the
nurse, who was already on her way upstairs. Cora sent an
affectionate laugh across the table to her stunned antagonist.
"You wouldn't beat me, would you, dear? she murmured. "I'm
almost sure you wouldn't; not if I asked you to kiss me some
All doubt was gone, the last hope fled! The worst had
arrived. A vision of the awful future flamed across his
staggered mind. The doors to the arena were flung open: the wild
beasts howled for hunger of him; the spectators waited.
Cora began lightly to sing:
. . . "Dear,
Would thou wert near
To hear me tell how fair thou art!
Since thou art gone I mourn all alone,
Oh, my Lolita----"
She broke off to explain: "It's one of those passionate little
Spanish serenades, Hedrick. I'll sing it for your boy-friends
next time they come to play in the yard. I think they'd like it.
When they know why you like it so much, I'm sure they will. Of
course you DO like it--you roguish little lover!" A spasm
rewarded this demoniacal phrase. "Darling little boy, the
serenade goes on like this:
Oh, my Lolita, come to my heart:
Oh, come beloved, love let me press thee,
While I caress thee
In one long kiss, Lolita!
Lolita come! Let me----"
Hedrick sprang to his feet with a yell of agony. "Laura
Madison, you tattle-tale," he bellowed, "I'll never forgive you
as long as I live! I'll get even with you if it takes a thousand
With that, and pausing merely to kick a rung out of a chair
which happened to be in his way, he rushed from the room.
His sisters had risen to go, and Cora flung her arms round
Laura in ecstacy. "You mean old viper!" she cried. "You could
have told me days ago! It's almost too good to be true: it's the
first time in my whole life I've felt safe from the Pest for a
Laura shook her head. "My conscience troubles me; it did
seem as if I ought to tell you--and mamma thought so, too; and I
gave him warning, but now that I have done it, it seems rather
mean and----"
"No!" exclaimed Cora. "You just gave me a chance to protect
myself for once, thank heaven!" And she picked up her skirts and
danced her way into the front hall.
"I'm afraid," said Laura, following, "I shouldn't have done
"Oh, Laura," cried the younger girl, "I am having the best
time, these days! This just caps it." She lowered her voice,
but her eyes grew even brighter. "I think I've shown a certain
gentleman a few things he didn't understand!"
"Who, dear?"
"Val," returned Cora lightly; "Valentine Corliss. I think he
knows a little more about women than he did when he first came
"You've had a difference with him?" asked Laura with eager
hopefulness. "You've broken with him?"
"Oh, Lord, no! Nothing like that." Cora leaned to her
confidentially. "He told me, once, he'd be at the feet of any
woman that could help put through an affair like his oil scheme,
and I decided I'd just show him what I could do. He'd talk about
it to me; then he'd laugh at me. That very Sunday when I got
papa to go in----"
"But he didn't," said Laura helplessly. "He only said he'd
try to----when he gets well."
"It's all the same--and it'll be a great thing for him, too,"
said Cora, gayly. "Well, that very afternoon before Val left, he
practically told me I was no good. Of course he didn't use just
those words--that isn't his way--but he laughed at me. And
haven't I shown him! I sent Richard a note that very night
saying papa had consented to be secretary of the company, and
Richard had said he'd go in if papa did that, and he couldn't
break his word----"
"I know," said Laura, sighing. "I know."
"Laura"--Cora spoke with sudden gravity--"did you ever know
anybody like me? I'm almost getting superstitious about it,
because it seems to me I ALWAYS get just what I set out to
get. I believe I could have anything in the world if I tried for
"I hope so, if you tried for something good for you," said
Laura sadly. "Cora, dear, you will--you will be a little easy on
Hedrick, won't you?"
Cora leaned against the newel and laughed till she was
Mr. Trumble's offices were heralded by a neat blazon upon the
principal door, "Wade J. Trumble, Mortgages and Loans"; and the
gentleman thus comfortably, proclaimed, emerging from that door
upon a September noontide, burlesqued a start of surprise at
sight of a figure unlocking an opposite door which exhibited the
name, "Ray Vilas," and below it, the cryptic phrase, "Probate
"Water!" murmured Mr. Trumble, affecting to faint. "You
ain't going in THERE, are you, Ray?" He followed the other
into the office, and stood leaning against a bookcase, with his
hands in his pockets, while Vilas raised the two windows, which
were obscured by a film of smoke-deposit: there was a thin coat
of fine sifted dust over everything. "Better not sit down, Ray,"
continued Trumble, warningly. "You'll spoil your clothes and you
might get a client. That word `Probate' on the door ain't going
to keep 'em out forever. You recognize the old place,
I s'pose? You must have been here at least twice since you moved
in. What's the matter? Dick Lindley hasn't missionaried you
into any idea of WORKING, has he? Oh, no, _I_ see: the
Richfield Hotel bar has closed--you've managed to drink it all at
"Have you heard how old man Madison is to-day? asked Ray,
dusting his fingers with a handkerchief.
"Somebody told me yesterday he was about the same. He's not
going to get well."
"How do you know?" Ray spoke quickly.
"Stroke too severe. People never recover----"
"Oh, yes, they do, too."
Trumble began hotly: "I beg to dif----" but checked himself,
manifesting a slight confusion. "That is, I know they don't.
Old Madison may live a while, if you call that getting well; but
he'll never be the same man he was. Doctor Sloane says it was a
bad stroke. Says it was `induced by heat prostration and
excitement.' `Excitement!'" he repeated with a sour laugh.
"Yep, I expect a man could get all the excitement he wanted in
THAT house, especially if he was her daddy. Poor old man, I
don't believe he's got five thousand dollars in the world, and
look how she dresses!"
Ray opened a compartment beneath one of the bookcases, and
found a bottle and some glasses. "Aha," he muttered, "our
janitor doesn't drink, I perceive. Join me?" Mr. Trumble
accepted, and Ray explained, cheerfully: "Richard Lindley's got
me so cowed I'm afraid to go near any of my old joints. You see,
he trails me; the scoundrel has kept me sober for whole days at a
time, and I've been mortified, having old friends see me in that
condition; so I have to sneak up here to my own office to drink
to Cora, now and then. You mustn't tell him. What's she been
doing to YOU, lately?"
The little man addressed grew red with the sharp, resentful
memory. "Oh, nothing! Just struck me in the face with her
parasol on the public street, that's all!" He gave an account of
his walk to church with Cora. "I'm through with that girl!" he
exclaimed vindictively, in conclusion. "It was the damnedest
thing you ever saw in your life: right in broad daylight, in
front of the church. And she laughed when she did it; you'd have
thought she was knocking a puppy out of her way. She can't do
that to me twice, I tell you. What the devil do you see to laugh
"You'll be around," returned his companion, refilling the
glasses, "asking for more, the first chance she gives you.
Here's her health!"
"I don't drink it!" cried Mr. Trumble angrily.
"And I'm through with her for good, I tell you! I'm not your
kind: I don't let a girl like that upset me till I can't think of
anything else, and go making such an ass of myself that the whole
town gabbles about it. Cora Madison's seen the last of me, I'll
thank you to notice. She's never been half-decent to me; cut
dances with me all last winter; kept me hanging round the
outskirts of every crowd she was in; stuck me with Laura and her
mother every time she had a chance; then has the nerve to try to
use me, so's she can make a bigger hit with a new man! You can
bet your head I'm through! She'll get paid though! Oh, she'll
get paid for it!"
"How?" laughed Ray.
It was a difficult question. "You wait and see," responded
the threatener, feebly. "Just wait and see. She's wild about
this Corliss, I tell you," he continued, with renewed vehemence.
"She's crazy about him; she's lost her head at last----"
"You mean he's going to avenge you?"
"No, I don't, though he might, if she decided to marry him."
"Do you know," said Ray slowly, glancing over his glass at
his nervous companion, "it doesn't strike me that Mr. Valentine
Corliss has much the air of a marrying man."
"He has the air to ME," observed Mr. Trumble, "of a darned
bad lot! But I have to hand it to him: he's a wizard. He's got
something besides his good looks--a man that could get Cora
Madison interested in `business'! In OIL! Cora Madison!
How do you suppose----"
His companion began to laugh again. "You don't really
suppose he talked his oil business to her, do you, Trumble?"
"He must have. Else how could she----"
"Oh, no, Cora herself never talks upon any subject but one;
she never listens to any other either."
"Then how in thunder did he----"
"If Cora asks you if you think it will rain," interrupted
Vilas, "doesn't she really seem to be asking: `Do you love me?
How much?' Suppose Mr. Corliss is an expert in the same line.
Of course he can talk about oil!"
"He strikes me," said Trumble, as just about the
slickest customer that ever hit this town. I like Richard
Lindley, and I hope he'll see his fifty thousand dollars again.
_I_ wouldn't have given Corliss thirty cents."
"Why do you think he's a crook?"
"I don't say that," returned Trumble. "All _I_ know about
him is that he's done some of the finest work to get fifty
thousand dollars put in his hands that I ever heard of. And all
anybody knows about him is that he lived here seventeen years
ago, and comes back claiming to know where there's oil in Italy.
He shows some maps and papers and gets cablegrams signed
`Moliterno.' Then he talks about selling the old Corliss house
here, where the Madisons live, and putting the money into his oil
company: he does that to sound plausible, but I have good reason
to know that house was mortgaged to its full value within a month
after his aunt left it to him. He'll not get a cent if it's
sold. That's all. And he's got Cora Madison so crazy over him
that she makes life a hell for poor old Lindley until he puts all
he's saved into the bubble. The scheme may be all right. How do
_I_ know? There's no way to tell, without going over there,
and Corliss won't let anybody do that--oh, he's got a
plausible excuse for it! But I'm sorry for Lindley: he's so
crazy about Cora, he's soft. And she's so crazy about Corliss
SHE'S soft! Well, I used to be crazy about her myself, but
I'm not soft--I'm not the Lindley kind of loon, thank heaven!"
"What kind are you, Trumble?" asked Ray, mildly.
"Not your kind either," retorted the other going to the door.
"She cut me on the street the other day; she's quit speaking to
me. If you've got any money, why don't you take it over to the
hotel and give it to Corliss? She might start speaking to
YOU again. I'm going to lunch!" He slammed the door behind
Ray Vilas, left alone, elevated his heels to the sill, and
stared out of the window a long time at a gravelled roof which
presented little of interest. He replenished his glass and his
imagination frequently, the latter being so stirred that when,
about three o'clock, he noticed the inroads he had made upon the
bottle, tears of self-pity came to his eyes. "Poor little
drunkard!" he said aloud. "Go ahead and do it. Isn't anything
YOU won't do!" And, having washed his face at a basin in a
corner, he set his hat slightly upon one side, picked up a
walking stick and departed jauntily, and, to the outward eye,
presentably sober.
Mr. Valentine Corliss would be glad to see him, the clerk at
the Richfield Hotel reported, after sending up a card, and upon
Ray's following the card, Mr. Valentine Corliss in person
confirmed the message with considerable amusement and a
cordiality in which there was some mixture of the quizzical. He
was the taller; and the robust manliness of his appearance, his
splendid health and boxer's figure offered a sharp contrast to
the superlatively lean tippler. Corliss was humorously aware of
his advantage: his greeting seemed really to say, "Hello, my
funny bug, here you are again!" though the words of his
salutation were entirely courteous; and he followed it with a
hospitable offer.
"No," said Vilas; "I won't drink with you." He spoke so
gently that the form of his refusal, usually interpreted as
truculent, escaped the other's notice. He also declined a cigar,
apologetically asking permission to light one of his own
cigarettes; then, as he sank into a velour-covered chair, apologized
again for the particular attention he was bestowing upon
the apartment, which he recognized as one of the suites de
luxe of the hotel.
"`Parlour, bedroom, and bath,'" he continued, with a
melancholy smile; "and `Lachrymae,' and `A Reading from Homer.'
Sometimes they have `The Music Lesson,' or `Winter Scene' or `A
Neapolitan Fisher Lad' instead of `Lachrymae,' but they always
have `A Reading from Homer.' When you opened the door, a moment
ago, I had a very strong impression that something extraordinary
would some time happen to me in this room."
"Well," suggested Corliss, "you refused a drink in it."
"Even more wonderful than that," said Ray, glancing about the
place curiously. "It may be a sense of something painful that
already has happened here--perhaps long ago, before your occupancy.
It has a pathos."
"Most hotel rooms have had something happen in them," said
Corliss lightly. "I believe the managers usually change the door
numbers if what happens is especially unpleasant. Probably they
change some of the rugs, also."
"I feel----" Ray paused, frowning. "I feel as if some one
had killed himself here."
"Then no doubt some of the rugs HAVE been changed."
"No doubt." The caller laughed and waved his hand in
dismissal of the topic. "Well, Mr. Corliss," he went on,
shifting to a brisker tone, "I have come to make my fortune, too.
You are Midas. Am I of sufficient importance to be touched?"
Valentine Corliss gave him sidelong an almost imperceptibly
brief glance of sharpest scrutiny--it was like the wink of a
camera shutter--but laughed in the same instant. "Which way do
you mean that?"
"You have been quick," returned the visitor, repaying that
glance with equal swiftness, "to seize upon the American idiom.
I mean: How small a contribution would you be willing to receive
toward your support!"
Corliss did not glance again at Ray; instead, he looked
interested in the smoke of his cigar. "`Contribution,'" he
repeated, with no inflection whatever. "`Toward my support.'"
"I mean, of course, how small an investment in your oil
"Oh, anything, anything," returned the promoter, with quick
amiability. "We need to sell all the stock we can."
"All the money you can get?"
"Precisely. It's really a colossal proposition, Mr. Vilas."
Corliss spoke with brisk enthusiasm. "It's a perfectly certain
enormous profit upon everything that goes in. Prince Moliterno
cables me later investigations show that the oil-field is more
than twice as large as we thought when I left Naples. He's on
the ground now, buying up what he can, secretly."
"I had an impression from Richard Lindley that the secret had
been discovered."
"Oh, yes; but only by a few, and those are trying to keep it
quiet from the others, of course."
"I see. Does your partner know of your success in raising a
large investment?"
"You mean Lindley's? Certainly." Corliss waved his hand in
light deprecation. "Of course that's something, but Moliterno
would hardly be apt to think of it as very large! You see he's
putting in about five times that much, himself, and I've already
turned over to him double it for myself. Still, it
counts--certainly; and of course it will be a great thing for
"I fear," Ray said hesitatingly, "you won't be much
interested in my drop for your bucket. I have twelve hundred
dollars in the world; and it is in the bank--I stopped there
on my way here. To be exact, I have twelve hundred and
forty-seven dollars and fifty-one cents. My dear sir, will you
allow me to purchase one thousand dollars' worth of stock? I
will keep the two hundred and forty-seven dollars and fifty-one
cents to live on--I may need an egg while waiting for you to make
me rich. Will you accept so small an investment?"
"Certainly," said Corliss, laughing. "Why not? You may as
well profit by the chance as any one. I'll send you the stock
certificates--we put them at par. I'm attending to that myself,
as our secretary, Mr. Madison, is unable to take up his duties."
Vilas took a cheque-book and a fountain-pen from his pocket.
"Oh, any time, any time," said Corliss cheerfully, observing
the new investor's movement.
"Now, I think," returned Vilas quietly. "How shall I make it
"Oh, to me, I suppose," answered Corliss indifferently.
"That will save a little trouble, and I can turn it over to
Moliterno, by cable, as I did Lindley's. I'll give you a
"You need not mind that," said Ray. "Really it is of no
"Of course the cheque itself is a receipt," remarked Corliss,
tossing it carelessly upon a desk. "You'll have some handsome
returns for that slip of paper, Mr. Vilas."
"In that blithe hope I came," said Ray airily.
"I am confident of it. I have my own ways of divination, Mr.
Corliss. I have gleams." He rose as if to go, but stood looking
thoughtfully about the apartment again. "Singular impression,"
he murmured. "Not exactly as if I'd seen it in a dream; and
yet--and yet----"
"You have symptoms of clairvoyance at times, I take it." The
conscious, smooth superiority of the dexterous man playing with
an inconsequent opponent resounded in this speech, clear as the
humming of a struck bell; and Vilas shot him a single open glance
of fire from hectic eyes. For that instant, the frailer buck
trumpeted challenge. Corliss--broad-shouldered, supple of waist,
graceful and strong--smiled down negligently; yet the very air
between the two men seemed charged with an invisible explosive.
Ray laughed quickly, as in undisturbed good nature; then,
flourishing his stick, turned toward the door.
"Oh, no, it isn't clairvoyance--no more than when I told
you that your only real interest is women. He paused, his hand
upon the door-knob. "I'm a quaint mixture, however: perhaps I
should be handled with care."
"Very good of you," laughed Corliss--"this warning. The
afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting you I think I remember
your implying that you were a mere marionette."
"A haggard harlequin!" snapped Vilas, waving his hand to a
mirror across the room. "Don't I look it?" And the phrase
fitted him with tragic accuracy. "You see? What a merry
wedding-guest I'll be! I invite you to join me on the nuptial
"Thanks. Who's getting married: when the nuptial eve?"
Ray opened the door, and, turning, rolled his eyes
fantastically. "Haven't you heard?" he cried. "When Hecate
marries John Barleycorn!" He bowed low. "Mr. Midas, adieu."
Corliss stood in the doorway and watched him walk down the
long hall to the elevator. There, Ray turned and waved his hand,
the other responding with gayety which was not assumed: Vilas
might be insane, or drunk, or both, but the signature upon his
cheque was unassailable.
Corliss closed the door and began to pace his apartment
thoughtfully. His expression manifested a peculiar phenomenon.
In company, or upon the street, or when he talked with men, the
open look and frank eyes of this stalwart young man were
disarming and his most winning assets. But now, as he paced
alone in his apartment, now that he was not upon exhibition, now
when there was no eye to behold him, and there was no reason to
dissimulate or veil a single thought or feeling, his look was
anything but open; the last trace of frankness disappeared; the
muscles at mouth and eyes shifted; lines and planes intermingled
and altered subtly; there was a moment of misty
transformation--and the face of another man emerged. It was the
face of a man uninstructed in mercy; it was a shrewd and planning
face: alert, resourceful, elaborately perceptive, and flawlessly
hard. But, beyond all, it was the face of a man perpetually on
He had the air of debating a question, his hands in his
pockets, his handsome forehead lined with a temporary indecision.
His sentry-go extended the length of his two rooms, and each time
he came back into his bedroom his glance fell consideringly upon
a steamer-trunk of the largest size, at the foot of his bed.
The trunk was partially packed as if for departure. And, indeed,
it was the question of departure which he was debating.
He was a man of varied dexterities, and he had one faculty of
high value, which had often saved him, had never betrayed him; it
was intuitive and equal to a sixth sense: he always knew when it
was time to go. An inner voice warned him; he trusted to it and
obeyed it. And it had spoken now, and there was his trunk
half-packed in answer. But he had stopped midway in his packing,
because he had never yet failed to make a clean sweep where there
was the slightest chance for one; he hated to leave a big job
before it was completely finished--and Mr. Wade Trumble had
refused to invest in the oil-fields of Basilicata.
Corliss paused beside the trunk, stood a moment immersed in
thought; then nodded once, decisively, and, turning to a
dressing-table, began to place some silver-mounted brushes and
bottles in a leather travelling-case.
There was a knock at the outer door. He frowned, set down
what he had in his hands, went to the door and opened it to find
Mr. Pryor, that plain citizen, awaiting entrance.
Corliss remained motionless in an arrested attitude, his hand
upon the knob of the opened door. His position did not alter; he
became almost unnaturally still, a rigidity which seemed to
increase. Then he looked quickly behind him, over his shoulder,
and back again, with a swift movement of the head.
"No," said Pryor, at that. "I don't want you. I just
thought I'd have two minutes' talk with you. All right?"
"All right," said Corliss quietly. "Come in." He turned
carelessly, and walked away from the door keeping between his
guest and the desk. When he reached the desk, he turned again
and leaned against it, his back to it, but in the action of
turning his hand had swept a sheet of note-paper over Ray Vilas's
cheque--a too conspicuous oblong of pale blue. Pryor had come in
and closed the door.
"I don't know," he began, regarding the other through his
glasses, with steady eyes, "that I'm going to interfere with you
at all, Corliss. I just happened to strike you--I wasn't looking
for you. I'm on vacation, visiting my married daughter that
lives here, and I don't want to mix in if I can help it."
Corliss laughed, easily. "There's nothing for you to mix in.
You couldn't if you wanted to."
"Well, I hope that's true," said Pryor, with an air of
indulgence, curiously like that of a teacher for a pupil who
promises improvement. "I do indeed. There isn't anybody I'd
like to see turn straight more than you. You're educated and
cultured, and refined, and smarter than all hell. It would be a
big thing. That's one reason I'm taking the trouble to talk to
"I told you I wasn't doing anything," said Corliss with a
petulance as oddly like that of a pupil as the other's indulgence
was like that of a tutor. "This is my own town; I own property
here, and I came here to sell it. I can prove it in
half-a-minute's telephoning. Where do you come in?"
"Easy, easy," said Pryor, soothingly. "I've just told you I
don't want to come in at all."
"Then what do you want?"
"I came to tell you just one thing: to go easy up there at
Mr. Madison's house."
Corliss laughed contemptuously. "It's MY house. I own
it. That's the property I came here to sell."
"Oh, I know," responded Pryor. "That part of it's all right.
But I've seen you several times with that young lady, and
you looked pretty thick, to me. You know you haven't got any
business doing such things, Corliss. I know your record from
Buda Pesth to Copenhagen and----"
"See here, my friend," said the younger man, angrily, "you
may be a tiptop spotter for the government when it comes to
running down some poor old lady that's bought a string of pearls
in the Rue de la Paix----"
"I've been in the service twenty-eight years," remarked Pryor,
"All right," said the other with a gesture of impatience;
"and you got me once, all right. Well, that's over, isn't it?
Have I tried anything since?"
"Not in that line," said Pryor.
"Well, what business have you with any other line?" demanded
Corliss angrily. "Who made you general supervisor of public
morals? I want to know----"
"Now, what's the use your getting excited? I'm just here to
tell you that I'm going to keep an eye on you. I don't know many
people here, and I haven't taken any particular pains to look you
up. For all I know, you're only here to sell your house, as you
say. But I know old man Madison a little, and I kind of
took a fancy to him; he's a mighty nice old man, and he's got a
nice family. He's sick and it won't do to trouble him;
but--honest, Corliss--if you don't slack off in that neighbourhood
a little, I'll have to have a talk with the young lady
A derisory light showed faintly in the younger man's eyes as
he inquired, softly: "That all, Mr. Pryor?"
"No. Don't try anything on out here. Not in ANY of your
"I don't mean to."
"That's right. Sell your house and clear out. You'll find
it healthy." He went to the door. "So far as I can see," he
observed, ruminatively, "you haven't brought any of that
Moliterno crowd you used to work with over to this side with
"I haven't seen Moliterno for two years," said Corliss,
"Well, I've said my say." Pryor gave him a last word as he
went out. "You keep away from that little girl."
"Ass!" exclaimed Corliss, as the door closed. He exhaled a
deep breath sharply, and broke into a laugh. Then he went
quickly into his bedroom and began to throw the things out of his
Hedrick Madison's eyes were not of marble; his heart was not
flint nor his skin steel plate: he was flesh and tender; he was a
vulnerable, breathing boy, with highly developed capacities for
pain which were now being taxed to their utmost. Once he had
loved to run, to leap, to disport himself in the sun, to drink
deep of the free air; he had loved life and one or two of his
fellowmen. He had borne himself buoyantly, with jaunty
self-confidence, even with some intolerance toward the weaknesses
of others, not infrequently displaying merriment over their
mischances; but his time had found him at last; the evil day had
come. Indian Summer was Indian for him, indeed: sweet death were
welcome; no charity was left in him. He leaped no more, but
walked broodingly and sought the dark places. And yet it could
not be said that times were dull for him: the luckless picket who
finds himself in an open eighty-acre field, under the eye of a
sharpshooter up a tree, would not be apt to describe the experience
as dull. And Cora never missed a shot; she
loved the work; her pleasure in it was almost as agonizing for
the target as was the accuracy of her fire.
She was ingenious: the horrible facts at her disposal were
damaging enough in all conscience: but they did not content her.
She invented a love-story, assuming that Hedrick was living it:
he was supposed to be pining for Lolita, to be fading,
day-by-day, because of enforced separation; and she contrived
this to such an effect of reality, and with such a diabolical
affectation of delicacy in referring to it, that the mere remark,
with gentle sympathy, "I think poor Hedrick is looking a little
better to-day," infallibly produced something closely resembling
a spasm. She formed the habit of never mentioning her brother in
his presence except as "poor Hedrick," a too obvious
commiseration of his pretended attachment--which met with like
success. Most dreadful of all, she invented romantic phrases and
expressions assumed to have been spoken or written by Hedrick in
reference to his unhappiness; and she repeated them so
persistently, yet always with such apparent sincerity of belief
that they were quotations from him, and not her inventions, that
the driven youth knew a fear, sometimes, that the horrid
things were actually of his own perpetration.
The most withering of these was, "Torn from her I love by the
ruthless hand of a parent. . . ." It was not completed; Cora
never got any further with it, nor was there need: a howl of fury
invariably assured her of an effect as satisfactory as could
possibly have been obtained by an effort less impressionistic.
Life became a series of easy victories for Cora, and she made
them somehow the more deadly for Hedrick by not seeming to look
at him in his affliction, nor even to be aiming his way: he never
could tell when the next shot was coming. At the table, the
ladies of his family might be deep in dress, or discussing Mr.
Madison's slowly improving condition, when Cora, with utter
irrelevance, would sigh, and, looking sadly into her coffee,
murmur, "Ah, FOND mem'ries!" or, "WHY am I haunted by the
dead past?" or, the dreadful, "Torn from her I love by the
ruthless hand of a parent. . . ."
There was compassion in Laura's eyes and in his mother's, but
Cora was irresistible, and they always ended by laughing in spite
of themselves; and though they pleaded for Hedrick in private,
their remonstrances proved strikingly ineffective. Hedrick was
the only person who had ever used the high hand with Cora:
she found repayment too congenial. In the daytime he could not
go in the front yard, but Cora's window would open and a tenderly
smiling Cora lean out to call affectionately, "Don't walk on the
grass--darling little boy!" Or, she would nod happily to him and
begin to sing:
"Oh come beloved, love let me press thee,
While I caress thee
In one long kiss, Lolita. . . . "
One terror still hung over him. If it fell--as it might at
any fatal moment--then the utmost were indeed done upon him; and
this apprehension bathed his soul in night. In his own circle of
congenial age and sex he was, by virtue of superior bitterness
and precocity of speech, a chief--a moral castigator, a satirist
of manners, a creator of stinging nicknames; and many nourished
unhealed grievances which they had little hope of satisfying
against him; those who attempted it invariably departing with
more to avenge than they had brought with them. Let these once
know what Cora knew. . . . The vision was unthinkable!
It was Cora's patent desire to release the hideous item, to
spread the scandal broadcast among his fellows--to ring it
from the school-bells, to send it winging on the hot winds of
Hades! The boys had always liked his yard and the empty stable
to play in, and the devices he now employed to divert their
activities elsewhere were worthy of a great strategist. His
energy and an abnormal ingenuity accomplished incredible things:
school had been in session several weeks and only one boy had
come within conversational distance of Cora;--him Hedrick bore
away bodily, in simulation of resistless high spirits, a
brilliant exhibition of stagecraft.
And then Cora's friend, Mrs. Villard, removed her son Egerton
from the private school he had hitherto attended, and he made his
appearance in Hedrick's class, one morning at the public school.
Hedrick's eye lighted with a savage gleam; timidly the first joy
he had known for a thousand years crept into his grim heart.
After school, Egerton expiated a part of Cora's cruelty. It was
a very small part, and the exploit no more than infinitesimally
soothing to the conqueror, but when Egerton finally got home he
was no sight for a mother.
Thus Hedrick wrought his own doom: Mrs. Villard telephoned
to Cora, and Cora went immediately to see her.
It happened to Hedrick that he was late leaving home the next
morning. His entrance into his classroom was an undeniable
sensation, and within ten minutes the teacher had lost all
control of the school. It became necessary to send for the principal.
Recess was a frantic nightmare for Hedrick, and his
homeward progress at noon a procession of such uproarious
screamers as were his equals in speed. The nethermost depths
were reached when an ignoble pigtailed person he had always
trodden upon flat-footed screamed across the fence from next
door, as he reached fancied sanctuary in his own backyard:
"Kiss me some MORE, darling little boy!"
This worm, established upon the fence opposite the
conservatory windows, and in direct view from the table in the
dining-room, shrieked the accursed request at short intervals
throughout the luncheon hour. The humour of childhood is
sometimes almost intrusive.
And now began a life for Hedrick which may be rather
painfully but truthfully likened to a prolongation of the
experiences of a rat that finds itself in the middle of a crowded
street in daylight: there is plenty of excitement but no
pleasure. He was pursued, harried, hounded from early
morning till nightfall, and even in his bed would hear shrill
shouts go down the sidewalk from the throats of juvenile
fly-by-nights: "Oh dar-ling lit-oh darling lit-oh LIT-le
boy, LIT-le boy, kiss me some MORE!" And one day he
overheard a remark which strengthened his growing conviction that
the cataclysm had affected the whole United States: it was a
teacher who spoke, explaining to another a disturbance in the
hall of the school. She said, behind her hand:
Laura had not even remotely foreseen the consequences of her
revelation, nor, indeed, did she now properly estimate their
effect upon Hedrick. She and her mother were both sorry for him,
and did what they could to alleviate his misfortunes, but there
was an inevitable remnant of amusement in their sympathy. Youth,
at war, affects stoicism but not resignation: in truth,
resignation was not much in Hedrick's line, and it would be far
from the fact to say that he was softened by his sufferings. He
brooded profoundly and his brightest thought was revenge. It was
not upon Cora that his chief bitterness turned. Cora had always
been the constant, open enemy: warfare between them was a
regular condition of life; and unconsciously, and without
"thinking it out," he recognized the naturalness of her seizing
upon the deadliest weapon against him that came to her hand.
There was nothing unexpected in that: no, the treachery, to his
mind, lay in the act of Laura, that non-combatant, who had
furnished the natural and habitual enemy with this scourge. At
all times, and with or without cause, he ever stood ready to do
anything possible for the reduction of Cora's cockiness, but now
it was for the taking-down of Laura and the repayment of her
uncalled-for and overwhelming assistance to the opposite camp
that he lay awake nights and kept his imagination hot. Laura was
a serene person, so neutral--outwardly, at least--and so little
concerned for herself in any matter he could bring to mind, that
for purposes of revenge she was a difficult proposition. And
then, in a desperate hour, he remembered her book.
Only once had he glimpsed it, but she had shown unmistakable
agitation of a mysterious sort as she wrote in it, and, upon
observing his presence, a prompt determination to prevent his
reading a word of what she had written. Therefore, it was something
peculiarly sacred and intimate. This deduction was
proved by the care she exercised in keeping the book concealed
from all eyes. A slow satisfaction began to permeate him: he
made up his mind to find that padlocked ledger.
He determined with devoted ardour that when he found it he
would make the worst possible use of it: the worst, that is, for
Laura. As for consequences to himself, he was beyond them.
There is an Irish play in which an old woman finds that she no
longer fears the sea when it has drowned the last of her sons; it
can do nothing more to her. Hedrick no longer feared anything.
The book was somewhere in Laura's room, he knew that; and
there were enough opportunities to search, though Laura had a way
of coming in unexpectedly which was embarrassing; and he suffered
from a sense of inadequacy when--on the occasion of his first new
attempt--he answered the casual inquiry as to his presence by
saying that he "had a headache." He felt there was something
indirect in the reply; but Laura was unsuspicious and showed no
disposition to be analytical. After this, he took the precaution
to bring a school-book with him and she often found the boy
seated quietly by her west window immersed in study: he said he
thought his headaches came from his eyes and that the west
light "sort of eased them a little."
The ledger remained undiscovered, although probably there has
never been a room more thoroughly and painstakingly searched,
without its floor being taken up and its walls torn down. The
most mysterious, and, at the same time, the most maddening thing
about it was the apparent simplicity of the task. He was certain
that the room contained the book: listening, barefooted, outside
the door at night, he had heard the pen scratching. The room was
as plain as a room can be, and small. There was a scantily
filled clothes-press; he had explored every cubic inch of it.
There was the small writing table with one drawer; it held only
some note-paper and a box of pen-points. There was a bureau; to
his certain knowledge it contained no secret whatever. There
were a few giltless chairs, and a white "wash-stand," a mere
basin and slab with exposed plumbing. Lastly, there was the bed,
a very large and ugly "Eastlake" contrivance; he had acquired a
close acquaintance with all of it except the interior of the huge
mattress itself, and here, he finally concluded, must of
necessity be the solution. The surface of the mattress he knew
to be unbroken; nevertheless the book was there. He had
recently stimulated his deductive powers with a narrative of
French journalistic sagacity in a similar case; and he applied
French reasoning. The ledger existed. It was somewhere in the
room. He had searched everything except the interior of the
mattress. The ledger was in that interior.
The exploration thus become necessary presented some
difficulties. Detection in the act would involve explanations
hard to invent; it would not do to say he was looking for his
knife; and he could not think of any excuse altogether free from
a flavour of insincerity. A lameness beset them all and made
them liable to suspicion; and Laura, once suspicious, might be
petty enough to destroy the book, and so put it out of his power
forever. He must await the right opportunity, and, after a
racking exercise of patience, at last he saw it coming.
Doctor Sloane had permitted his patient to come down stairs
for an increasing interval each day. Mr. Madison crept, rather
than walked, leaning upon his wife and closely attended by Miss
Peirce. He spoke with difficulty and not clearly; still, there
was a perceptible improvement, and his family were falling into
the habit of speaking of him as almost well." On that
account, Mrs. Madison urged her daughters to accept an invitation
from the mother of the once courtly Egerton Villard. It was at
breakfast that the matter was discussed.
"Of course Cora must go," Laura began, but----"
"But nothing!" interrupted Cora. "How would it look if I
went and you didn't? Everybody knows papa's almost well, and
they'd think it silly for us to give up the first real dance
since last spring on that account; yet they're just spiteful
enough, if I went and you stayed home, to call me a `girl of no
heart.' Besides, she added sweetly, "we ought to go to show Mrs.
Villard we aren't hurt because Egerton takes so little notice of
poor Hedrick."
Hedrick's lips moved silently, as in prayer.
"I'd rather not," said Laura. "I doubt if I'd have a very
good time."
"You would, too," returned her sister, decidedly. "The men
like to dance with you; you dance every bit as well as I do, and
that black lace is the most becoming dress you ever had. Nobody
ever remembers a black dress, anyway, unless it's cut very
conspicuously, and yours isn't. I can't go without you; they
love to say nasty things about me, and you're too good a
sister to give 'em this chance, you old dear." She laughed and
nodded affectionately across the table at Laura. "You've got to
"Yes, it would be nicer," said the mother. And so it was
settled. It was simultaneously settled in Hedrick's mind that
the night of the dance should mark his discovery of the ledger.
He would have some industrious hours alone with the mysterious
mattress, safe from intrusion.
Meekly he lifted his eyes from his plate. "I'm glad you're
going, sister Laura," he said in a gentle voice. "I think a
change will do you good."
"Isn't it wonderful, exclaimed Cora, appealing to the others
to observe him, "what an improvement a disappointment in love can
make in deportment?"
For once, Hedrick only smiled.
Laura had spent some thoughtful hours upon her black lace dress
with results that astonished her family: it became a
ball-gown--and a splendidly effective one. She arranged her dark
hair in a more elaborate fashion than ever before, in a close
coronal of faintly lustrous braids; she had no jewellery and
obviously needed none. Her last action but one before she left
her room was to dispose of the slender chain and key she always
wore round her neck; then her final glance at the mirror--which
fairly revealed a lovely woman--ended in a deprecatory little
"face" she made at herself. It meant: "Yes, old lady, you fancy
yourself very passable in here all by yourself, don't you? Just
wait: you'll be standing beside Cora in a moment!"
And when she did stand beside Cora, in the latter's room, a
moment later, her thought seemed warranted. Cora, radiant-eyed,
in high bloom, and exquisite from head to foot in a shimmering
white dancing-dress, a glittering crescent fastening
the silver fillet that bound her vivid hair, was a flame of
enchantment. Mrs. Madison, almost weeping with delight, led her
daughters proudly, an arm round the waist of each, into her
husband's room. Propped with pillows, he reclined in an armchair
while Miss Peirce prepared his bed, an occupation she gave over
upon this dazzling entrance, departing tactfully.
"Look at these," cried the mother; "--from our garden, Jim,
dear! Don't we feel rich, you and I?"
"And--and--Laura," said the sick man, with the slow and
imperfect enunication caused by his disease; "Laura looks
"Isn't she adorable!" Cora exclaimed warmly. "She decided to
be the portrait of a young duchess, you see, all stately
splendour--made of snow and midnight!"
"Hear! hear!" laughed Laura; but she blushed with pleasure,
and taking Cora's hand in hers lifted it to her lips.
"And do you see Cora's crescent?" demanded Mrs. Madison.
"What do you think of THAT for magnificence? She went down
town this morning with seven dollars, and came back with that and
her party gloves and a dollar in change! Isn't she a
bargainer? Even for rhinestones they are the cheapest things you
ever heard of. They look precisely like stones of the very
finest water." They did--so precisely, indeed, that if the
resemblance did not amount to actual identity, then had a
jeweller of the town been able to deceive the eye of Valentine
Corliss, which was an eye singularly learned in such matters.
"They're--both smart girls," said Madison, "both of them.
And they look--beautiful, to-night--both. Laura is--amazing!"
When they had gone, Mrs. Madison returned from the stairway,
and, kneeling beside her husband, put her arms round him gently:
she had seen the tear that was marking its irregular pathway down
his flaccid, gray cheek, and she understood.
"Don't. Don't worry, Jim," she whispered. "Those bright,
beautiful things!--aren't they treasures?"
"It's--it's Laura," he said. "Cora will be all right. She
looks out for--herself. I'm--I'm afraid for--Laura. Aren't
"No, no," she protested. "I'm not afraid for either of
them." But she was: the mother had always been afraid for Cora.
. . . . At the dance, the two girls, attended up the
stairway to the ballroom by a chattering covey of black-coats,
made a sensational entrance to a gallant fanfare of music, an
effect which may have been timed to the premonitory tuning of
instruments heard during the ascent; at all events, it was a
great success; and Cora, standing revealed under the wide gilt
archway, might have been a lithe and shining figure from the year
eighteen-hundred-and-one, about to dance at the Luxembourg. She
placed her hand upon the sleeve of Richard Lindley, and, glancing
intelligently over his shoulder into the eyes of Valentine
Corliss, glided rhythmically away.
People looked at her; they always did. Not only the
non-dancers watched her; eyes everywhere were upon her, even
though the owners gyrated, glided and dipped on distant orbits.
The other girls watched her, as a rule, with a profound, an
almost passionate curiosity; and they were prompt to speak well
of her to men, except in trustworthy intimacy, because they did
not enjoy being wrongfully thought jealous. Many of them kept
somewhat aloof from her; but none of them ever nowadays showed
"superiority" in her presence, or snubbed her: that had been
tried and proved disastrous in rebound. Cora never failed
to pay her score--and with a terrifying interest added, her
native tendency being to take two eyes for an eye and the whole
jaw for a tooth. They let her alone, though they asked and asked
among themselves the never-monotonous question: "Why do men fall
in love with girls like that?" a riddle which, solved, makes
wives condescending to their husbands.
Most of the people at this dance had known one another as
friends, or antagonists, or indifferent acquaintances, for years,
and in such an assembly there are always two worlds, that of the
women and that of the men. Each has its own vision, radically
different from that of the other; but the greatest difference is
that the men are unaware of the other world, only a few of
them--usually queer ones like Ray Vilas--vaguely perceiving that
there are two visions, while all the women understand both perfectly.
The men splash about on the surface; the women keep
their eyes open under water. Or, the life of the assembly is
like a bright tapestry: the men take it as a picture and are not
troubled to know how it is produced; but women are weavers.
There was a Beauty of far-flung renown at Mrs. Villard's
to-night: Mary Kane, a creature so made and coloured that
young men at sight of her became as water and older men were apt
to wonder regretfully why all women could not have been made like
Mary. She was a kindly soul, and never intentionally outshone
her sisters; but the perfect sumptuousness of her had sometimes
tried the amiability of Cora Madison, to whom such success
without effort and without spark seemed unfair, as well as
bovine. Miss Kane was a central figure at the dance, shining
tranquilly in a new triumph: that day her engagement had been
announced to Mr. George Wattling, a young man of no special
attainments, but desirable in his possessions and suitable to his
happiness. The pair radiated the pardonable, gay importance of
newly engaged people, and Cora, who had never before bestowed any
notice upon Mr. Wattling, now examined him with thoughtful
Finding him at her elbow in a group about a punch bowl,
between dances, she offered warm felicitations. "But I don't
suppose you care whether _I_ care for you to be happy or not,"
she added, with a little plaintive laugh;--"you've always hated
me so!"
Mr. Wattling was startled: never before had he imagined that
Cora Madison had given him a thought; but there was not only
thought, there was feeling, in this speech. She seemed to be
concealing with bravery an even deeper feeling than the one
inadvertently expressed. "Why, what on earth makes you think
that?" he exclaimed.
"Think it? I KNOW it!" She gave him a strange look,
luminous yet mysterious, a curtain withdrawn only to show a
shining mist with something undefined but dazzling beyond. "I've
always known it!" And she turned away from him abruptly.
He sprang after her. "But you're wrong. I've never----"
"Oh, yes, you have." They began to discuss it, and for
better consideration of the theme it became necessary for Cora to
"cut" the next dance, promised to another, and to give it to Mr.
Wattling. They danced several times together, and Mr. Wattling's
expression was serious. The weavers of the tapestry smiled and
whispered things the men would not have understood--nor believed.
Ray Vilas, seated alone in a recessed and softly lighted
gallery, did not once lose sight of the flitting sorceress. With
his elbows on the railing, he leaned out, his head swaying slowly
and mechanically as she swept up and down the tumultuously moving
room, his passionate eyes gaunt and brilliant with his
hunger. And something very like a general thrill passed over the
assembly when, a little later, it was seen that he was dancing
with her. Laura, catching a glimpse of this couple, started and
looked profoundly disturbed.
The extravagance of Vilas's passion and the depths he
sounded, in his absurd despair when discarded, had been matters
of almost public gossip; he was accounted a somewhat scandalous
and unbalanced but picturesque figure; and for the lady whose
light hand had wrought such havoc upon him to be seen dancing
with him was sufficiently startling to elicit the universal
remark--evidently considered superlative--that it was "just like
Cora Madison!" Cora usually perceived, with an admirably clear
head, all that went on about her; and she was conscious of
increasing the sensation, when after a few turns round the room,
she allowed her partner to conduct her to a secluding grove of
palms in the gallery. She sank into the chair he offered, and,
fixing her eyes upon a small lamp of coloured glass which hung
overhead, ostentatiously looked bored.
"At your feet, Cora," he said, seating himself upon a stool,
and leaning toward her. "Isn't it appropriate that we
should talk to music--we two? It shouldn't be that quick step
though--not dance-music--should it?"
"Don't know 'm sure," murmured Cora.
"You were kind to dance with me," he said huskily. "I dared
to speak to you----"
She did not change her attitude nor the direction of her
glance. "I couldn't cut you very well with the whole town
looking on. I'm tired of being talked about. Besides, I don't
care much who I dance with--so he doesn't step on me."
"Cora," he said, "it is the prelude to `L'Arlesienne' that
they should play for you and me. Yes, I think it should be
"Never heard of it."
"It's just a rustic tragedy, the story of a boy in the south
of France who lets love become his whole life, and then--it kills
"Sounds very stupid," she commented languidly.
"People do sometimes die of love, even nowadays," he said,
tremulously--"in the South."
She let her eyes drift indifferently to him and perceived
that he was trembling from head to foot; that his hands and knees
shook piteously; that his lips quivered and twitched; and, at
sight of this agitation, an expression of strong distaste
came to her face.
"I see." Her eyes returned to the lamp. "You're from the
South, and of course it's going to kill you."
"You didn't speak the exact words you had in your mind.'"
"Oh, what words did I have `in my mind'?" she asked
"What you really meant was: `If it does kill you, what of
She laughed, and sighed as for release.
"Cora," he said huskily, "I understand you a little because
you possess me. I've never--literally never--had another thought
since the first time I saw you: nothing but you. I think of
you--actually every moment. Drunk or sober, asleep or--awake,
it's nothing but you, you, YOU! It will never be different:
I don't know why I can't get over it--I only know I can't. You
own me; you burn like a hot coal in my heart. You're through
with me, I know. You drained me dry. You're like a child who
eats so heartily of what he likes that he never touches it again.
And I'm a dish you're sick of. Oh, it's all plain enough, I can
tell you. I'm not exciting any more--no, just a nauseous slave!
"Do you want people to hear you?" she inquired angrily, for
his voice had risen.
He tempered his tone. "Cora, when you liked me you went a
pretty clipping gait with me," he said, trembling even more than
before. "But you're infinitely more infatuated with this
Toreador of a Corliss than you were with me; you're lost in him;
you're slaving for him as I would for you. How far are you going
"Do you want me to walk away and leave you?" she asked,
suddenly sitting up straight and looking at him with dilating
eyes. "If you want a `scene'----"
"It's over," he said, more calmly. "I know now how dangerous
the man is. Of course you will tell him I said that." He
laughed quietly. "Well--between a dangerous chap and a desperate
one, we may look for some lively times! Do you know, I believe I
think about as continuously of him, lately, as I do of you.
That's why I put almost my last cent into his oil company, and
got what may be almost my last dance with you!"
"I wouldn't call it `almost' your last dance with me!" she
returned icily. "Not after what you've said. I had a foolish
idea you could behave--well, at least decently."
"Did Corliss tell you that I insulted him in his rooms at the
"You!" She laughed, genuinely. "I see him letting you!"
"He did, however. By manner and in speech I purposely and
deliberately insulted him. You'll tell him every word of this,
of course, and he'll laugh at it, but I give myself the pleasure
of telling you. I put the proposition of an `investment' to him
in a way nobody not a crook would have allowed to be smoothed
over--and he allowed it to be smoothed over. He ate it! I felt
he was a swindler when he was showing Richard Lindley his maps
and papers, and now I've proved it to myself, and it's worth the
price." Often, when they had danced, and often during this
interview, his eyes lifted curiously to the white flaming
crescent in her hair; now they fixed themselves upon it, and in a
flash of divination he cried: "You wear it for me!"
She did not understand. "Finished raving?" she inquired.
"I gave Corliss a thousand dollars," he said, slowly.
"Considering the fact that it was my last, I flatter myself it
was not unhandsomely done--though I may never need it. It has
struck me that the sum was about what a man who had just
cleaned up fifty thousand might regard as a sort of `extra'--`for
lagniappe'--and that he might have thought it an appropriate
amount to invest in a present some jewels perhaps--to place in
the hair of a pretty friend!"
She sprang to her feet, furious, but he stood in front of her
and was able to bar the way for a moment.
"Cora, I'll have a last word with you if I have to hold you,"
he said with great rapidity and in a voice which shook with the
intense repression he was putting upon himself. "We do one thing
in the South, where I came from. We protect our women----"
"This looks like it! Keeping me when----"
"I love you," he said, his face whiter than she had ever seen
it. "I love you! I'm your dog! You take care of yourself if
you want to take care of anybody else! As sure as----"
"My dance, Miss Madison." A young gentleman on vacation from
the navy had approached, and, with perfect unconsciousness of
what he was interrupting, but with well-founded certainty that he
was welcome to the lady, urged his claim in a confident voice.
"I thought it would never come, you know; but it's here at
last and so am I." He laughed propitiatingly.
Ray yielded now at once. She moved him aside with her gloved
forearm as if he were merely an awkward stranger who unwittingly
stood between her and the claiming partner. Carrying the gesture
farther, she took the latter's arm, and smilingly, and without a
backward glance, passed onward and left the gallery. The
lieutenant, who had met her once or twice before, was her partner
for the succeeding dance as well, and, having noted the
advantages of the place where he had discovered her, persuaded
her to return there to sit through the second. Then without any
fatiguing preamble, he proposed marriage. Cora did not accept,
but effected a compromise, which, for the present, was to consist
of an exchange of photographs (his to be in uniform) and letters.
She was having an evening to her heart. Ray's attack on
Corliss had no dimming effect; her thought of it being that she
was "used to his raving"; it meant nothing; and since Ray had
prophesied she would tell Corliss about it, she decided not to do
The naval young gentleman and Valentine Corliss were the
greatest of all the lions among ladies that night; she had easily
annexed the lieutenant, and Corliss was hers already; though, for
a purpose, she had not yet been seen in company with him. He was
visibly "making an impression." His name, as he had said to
Richard Lindley, was held in honour in the town; and there was a
flavour of fancied romance in his absence since boyhood in
unknown parts, and his return now with a `foreign air' and a bow
that almost took the breath of some of the younger recipients.
He was, too, in his way, the handsomest man in the room; and the
smiling, open frankness of his look, the ready cordiality of his
manner, were found very winning. He caused plenty of flutter.
Cora waited till the evening was half over before she gave
him any visible attention. Then, during a silence of the music,
between two dances, she made him a negligent sign with her hand,
the gesture of one indifferently beckoning a creature who is
certain to come, and went on talking casually to the man who was
with her. Corliss was the length of the room from her, chatting
gayly with a large group of girls and women; but he immediately
nodded to her, made his bow to individuals of the group, and
crossed the vacant, glistening floor to her. Cora gave him
no greeting whatever; she dismissed her former partner and
carelessly turned away with Corliss to some chairs in a corner.
"Do you see that?" asked Vilas, leaning over the balcony
railing with Richard Lindley. "Look! She's showing the other
girls--don't you see? He's the New Man; she let 'em hope she
wasn't going in for him; a lot of them probably didn't even know
that she knew him. She sent him out on parade till they're all
excited about him; now she shows 'em he's entirely her
property--and does it so matter-of-factly that it's rubbed in
twice as hard as if she seemed to take some pains about it. He
doesn't dance: she'll sit out with him now, till they all read
the tag she's put on him. She says she hates being talked about.
She lives on it!--so long as it's envious. And did you see her
with that chap from the navy? Neptune thinks he's dallying with
Venus perhaps, but he'll get----"
Lindley looked at him commiseratingly. "I think I never saw
prettier decorations. Have you noticed, Ray? Must have used a
thousand chrysanthemums."
"Toreador!" whispered the other between his teeth, looking at
Corliss; then, turning to his companion, he asked: "Has it
occurred to you to get any information about Basilicata, or about
the ancestral domain of the Moliterni, from our consul-general at
Richard hesitated. "Well--yes. Yes, I did think of that.
Yes, I thought of it."
"But you didn't do it."
"No. That is, I haven't yet. You see, Corliss explained to
me that----"
His friend interrupted him with a sour laugh. "Oh,
certainly! He's one of the greatest explainers ever welcomed to
our city!"
Richard said mildly: "And then, Ray, once I've gone into a
thing I--I don't like to seem suspicious."
"Poor old Dick!" returned Vilas compassionately. "You kind,
easy, sincere men are so conscientiously untruthful with
yourselves. You know in your heart that Cora would be furious
with you if you seemed suspicious, and she's been so nice to you
since you put in your savings to please her, that you can't bear
to risk offending her. She's twisted you around her little
finger, and the unnamed fear that haunts you is that you won't be
allowed to stay there--even twisted!"
"Pretty decorations, Ray," said Richard; but he grew very
"Do you know what you'll do," asked Ray, regarding him
keenly, "if this Don Giovanni from Sunny It' is shown up as a
plain get-rich-quick swindler?"
"I haven't considered----"
"You would do precisely, said Ray, "nothing! Cora'd see to
that. You'd sigh and go to work again, beginning at the
beginning where you were years ago, and doing it all over.
Admirable resignation, but not for me! I'm a stockholder in his
company and in shape to `take steps'! I don't know if I'd be
patient enough to make them legal--perhaps I should. He may be
safe on the legal side. I'll know more about that when I find
out if there is a Prince Moliterno in Naples who owns land in
"You don't doubt it?"
"I doubt everything! In this particular matter I'll have
less to doubt when I get an answer from the consul-general.
_I_'ve written, you see.
Lindley looked disturbed. "You have?"
Vilas read him at a glance. "You're afraid to find out!" he
cried. Then he set his hand on the other's shoulder. "If
there ever was a God's fool, it's you, Dick Lindley. Really, I
wonder the world hasn't kicked you around more than it has; you'd
never kick back! You're as easy as an old shoe. Cora makes you
unhappy," he went on, and with the very mention of her name, his
voice shook with passion,--"but on my soul I don't believe you
know what jealousy means: you don't even understand hate; you
don't eat your heart----"
"Let's go and eat something better," suggested Richard,
laughing. "There's a continuous supper downstairs and I hear
it's very good."
Ray smiled, rescued for a second from himself. "There isn't
anything better than your heart, you old window-pane, and I'm
glad you don't eat it. And if I ever mix it up with Don Giovanni
T. Corliss--`T' stands for Toreador--I do believe it'll be partly
on your----" He paused, leaving the sentence unfinished, as his
attention was caught by the abysmal attitude of a figure in
another part of the gallery: Mr. Wade Trumble, alone in a
corner, sitting upon the small of his small back, munching at an
unlighted cigar and otherwise manifesting a biting gloom. Ray
drew Lindley's attention to this tableau of pain. "Here's a
three of us!" he said. He turned to look down into the
rhythmic kaleidoscope of dancers. "And there goes the girl we
all OUGHT to be morbid about."
"Who is that?"
"Laura Madison. Why aren't we? What a self-respecting
creature she is, with that cool, sweet steadiness of hers--she's
like a mountain lake. She's lovely and she plays like an angel,
but so far as anybody's ever thinking about her is concerned she
might almost as well not exist. Yet she's really beautiful
to-night, if you can manage to think of her except as a sort of
retinue for Cora."
"She IS rather beautiful to-night. Laura's always a very
nice-looking girl," said Richard, and with the advent of an idea,
he added: "I think one reason she isn't more conspicuous and
thought about is that she is so quiet," and, upon his companion's
greeting this inspiration with a burst of laughter, "Yes, that
was a brilliant deduction," he said; "but I do think she's about
the quietest person I ever knew. I've noticed there are times
when she'll scarcely speak at all for half an hour, or even
"You're not precisely noisy yourself," said Ray. Have you
danced with her this evening?"
"Why, no," returned the other, in a tone which showed
this omission to be a discovery; "not yet. I must, of course."
"Yes, she's really `rather' beautiful. Also, she dances
`rather' better than any other girl in town. Go and perform your
painful duty."
"Perhaps I'd better," said Richard thoughtfully, not
perceiving the satire. "At any rate, I'll ask her for the next."
He found it unengaged. There came to Laura's face an April
change as he approached, and she saw he meant to ask her to
dance. And, as they swam out into the maelstrom, he noticed it,
and remarked that it WAS rather warm, to which she replied by
a cheerful nod. Presently there came into Richard's mind the
thought that he was really an excellent dancer; but he did not
recall that he had always formed the same pleasing estimate of
himself when he danced with Laura, nor realize that other young
men enjoyed similar self-help when dancing with her. And yet he
repeated to her what Ray had said of her dancing, and when she
laughed as in appreciation of a thing intended humorously, he
laughed, too, but insisted that she did dance "very well indeed."
She laughed again at that, and they danced on, not talking. He
had no sense of "guiding" her; there was no feeling of
effort whatever; she seemed to move spontaneously with his wish,
not to his touch; indeed, he was not sensible of touching her at
"Why, Laura," he exclaimed suddenly, "you dance
She stumbled and almost fell; saved herself by clutching at
his arm; he caught her; and the pair stopped where they were, in
the middle of the floor. A flash of dazed incredulity from her
dark eyes swept him; there was something in it of the child
dodging an unexpected blow.
"Did I trip you?" he asked anxiously.
"No," she laughed, quickly, and her cheeks grew even redder.
"I tripped myself. Wasn't that too bad--just when you were
thinking that I danced well! Let's sit down. May we?"
They went to some chairs against a wall. There, as they sat,
Cora swung by them, dancing again with her lieutenant, and
looking up trancedly into the gallant eyes of the triumphant and
intoxicated young man. Visibly, she was a woman with a suitor's
embracing arm about her. Richard's eyes followed them.
"Ah, don't!" said Laura in a low voice.
He turned to her. "Don't what?"
"I didn't mean to speak out loud," she said tremulously.
"But I meant: don't look so troubled. It doesn't mean anything
at all--her coquetting with that bird of passage. He's going
away in the morning."
"I don't think I was troubling about that."
"Well, whatever it was"--she paused, and laughed with a
plaintive timidity--"why, just don't trouble about it!"
"Do I look very much troubled?" he asked seriously.
"Yes. And you don't look very gay when you're not!" She
laughed with more assurance now. "I think you're always the
wistfulest looking man I ever saw."
"Everybody laughs at me, I believe," he said, with continued
seriousness. "Even Ray Vilas thinks I'm an utter fool. Am I, do
YOU think?"
He turned as he spoke and glanced inquiringly into her eyes.
What he saw surprised and dismayed him.
"For heaven's sake, don't cry!" he whispered hurriedly.
She bent her head, turning her face from him.
"I've been very hopeful lately," he said. "Cora has
been so kind to me since I did what she wanted me to, that I----"
He gave a deep sigh. "But if you're THAT sorry for me, my
chances with her must be pretty desperate."
She did not alter her attitude, but with her down-bent face
still away from him, said huskily: "It isn't you I'm sorry for.
You mustn't ever give up; you must keep on trying and trying. If
you give up, I don't know what will become of her!"
A moment later she rose suddenly to her feet. "Let's finish
our dance," she said, giving him her hand. "I'm sure I won't
stumble again."
The two girls let themselves into the house noiselessly, and,
turning out the hall-light, left for them by their mother, crept
upstairs on tiptoe; and went through the upper hall directly to
Laura's room--Cora's being nearer the sick-room. At their age it
is proper that a gayety be used three times: in anticipation, and
actually, and in after-rehearsal. The last was of course now in
order: they went to Laura's room to "talk it over." There was no
gas-fixture in this small chamber; but they found Laura's
oil-lamp burning brightly upon her writing-table
"How queer!" said Laura with some surprise, as she closed the
door. "Mother never leaves the lamp lit for me; she's always so
afraid of lamps exploding."
"Perhaps Miss Peirce came in here to read, and forgot to turn
it out," suggested Cora, seating herself on the edge of the bed
and letting her silk wrap fall from her shoulders. "Oh, Laura,
wasn't he gorgeous. . . ."
She referred to the gallant defender of our seas, it
appeared, and while Laura undressed and got into a wrapper, Cora
recounted in detail the history of the impetuous sailor's
enthrallment;--a resume predicted three hours earlier by a
gleeful whisper hissed across the maritime shoulder as the
sisters swung near each other during a waltz: "PROPOSED!"
"I've always heard they're horribly inconstant," she said,
regretfully. "But, oh, Laura, wasn't he beautiful to look at!
Do you think he's more beautiful than Val? No--don't tell me if
you do. I don't want to hear it! Val was so provoking: he
didn't seem to mind it at all. He's nothing but a big brute
sometimes: he wouldn't even admit that he minded, when I asked
him. I was idiot enough to ask; I couldn't help it; he was so
tantalizing" and exasperating--laughing at me. I never knew
anybody like him; he's so sure of himself and he can be so cold.
Sometimes I wonder if he really cares about anything, deep down
in his heart--anything except himself. He seems so selfish:
there are times when he almost makes me hate him; but just when I
get to thinking I do, I find I don't--he's so deliciously strong,
and there's such a BIG luxury in being understood: I
always feel he KNOWS me clear to the bone, somehow! But,
oh," she sighed regretfully," doesn't a uniform become a man?
They ought to all wear 'em. It would look silly on such a little
goat as that Wade Trumble, though: nothing could make him look
like a whole man. Did you see him glaring at me? Beast! I was
going to be so nice and kittenish and do all my prettiest tricks
for him, to help Val with his oil company. Val thinks Wade would
come in yet, if I'D only get him in the mood to have another
talk with Val about it; but the spiteful little rat wouldn't come
near me. I believe that was one of the reasons Val laughed at me
and pretended not to mind my getting proposed to. He MUST
have minded; he couldn't have helped minding it, really. That's
his way; he's so MEAN--he won't show things. He knows
ME. I can't keep anything from him; he reads ME like a
signboard; and then about himself he keeps me guessing, and I
can't tell when I've guessed right. Ray Vilas behaved
disgustingly, of course; he was horrid and awful. I might have
expected it. I suppose Richard was wailing HIS tiresome
sorrows on your poor shoulder----"
"No," said Laura. "He was very cheerful. He seemed glad you
were having a good time."
"He didn't look particularly cheerful at me. I never saw so
slow a man: I wonder when he's going to find out about that
pendant. Val would have seen it the instant I put it on. And,
oh, Laura! isn't George Wattling funny? He's just SOFT!
He's good-looking though," she continued pensively, adding, "I
promised to motor out to the Country Club with him to-morrow for
"Oh, Cora,"protested Laura, "no! Please don't!"
"I've promised; so I'll have to, now." Cora laughed. "It'll
do Mary Kane good. Oh, I'm not going to bother much with
HIM--he makes me tired. I never saw anything so complacent
as that girl when she came in to-night, as if her little Georgie
was the greatest capture the world had ever seen. . . ."
She chattered on. Laura, passive, listened with a thoughtful
expression, somewhat preoccupied. The talker yawned at last.
"It must be after three," she said, listlessly, having gone
over her evening so often that the colours were beginning to
fade. She yawned again. "Laura," she remarked absently, "I
don't see how you can sleep in this bed; it sags so."
"I've never noticed it," said her sister. "It's a very
comfortable old bed."
Cora went to her to be unfastened, reverting to the
lieutenant during the operation, and kissing the tire-woman
warmly at its conclusion. "You're always so sweet to me, Laura,"
she said affectionately. "I don't know how you manage it.
You're so good"--she laughed--"sometimes I wonder how you stand
me. If I were you, I'm positive I couldn't stand me at all!"
Another kiss and a hearty embrace, and she picked up her wrap and
skurried silently through the hall to her own room.
It was very late, but Laura wrote for almost an hour in her
book (which was undisturbed) before she felt drowsy. Then she
extinguished the lamp, put the book away and got into bed.
It was almost as if she had attempted to lie upon the empty
air: the mattress sagged under her weight as if it had been a
hammock; and something tore with a ripping sound. There was a
crash, and a choked yell from a muffled voice somewhere, as the
bed gave way. For an instant, Laura fought wildly in an
entanglement of what she insufficiently perceived to be springs,
slats and bedclothes with something alive squirming underneath.
She cleared herself and sprang free, screaming, but even in her
fright she remembered her father and clapped her hand over
her mouth that she might keep from screaming again. She dove at
the door, opened it, and fled through the hall to Cora's room,
still holding her hand over her mouth.
"Cora! Oh, Cora!" she panted, and flung herself upon her
sister's bed.
Cora was up instantly; and had lit the gas in a trice.
"There's a burglar!" Laura contrived to gasp. "In my room!
Under the bed!"
"What! "
"I fell on him! Something's the matter with the bed. It
broke. I fell on him!"
Cora stared at her wide-eyed. "Why, it can't be. Think how
long I was in there. Your bed broke, and you just thought there
was some one there. You imagined it."
"No, no, no!" wailed Laura. I HEARD him: he gave a kind
of dreadful grunt."
"Are you sure?"
"SURE? He wriggled--oh! I could FEEL him!"
Cora seized a box of matches again. "I'm going to find out."
"Oh, no, no!" protested Laura, cowering."
"Yes, I am. If there's a burglar in the house I'm going to
find him!"
"We mustn't wake papa."
"No, nor mamma either. You stay here if you want to----"
"Let's call Hedrick," suggested the pallid Laura; "or put our
heads out of the window and scream for----"
Cora laughed; she was not in the least frightened. "That
wouldn't wake papa, of course! If we had a telephone I'd send
for the police; but we haven't. I'm going to see if there's any
one there. A burglar's a man, I guess, and I can't imagine
myself being afraid of any MAN!"
Laura clung to her, but Cora shook her off and went through
the hall undaunted, Laura faltering behind her. Cora lighted
matches with a perfectly steady hand; she hesitated on the
threshold of Laura's room no more than a moment, then lit the
Laura stifled a shriek at sight of the bed. "Look, look!"
she gasped.
"There's no one under it now, that's certain," said Cora, and
boldly lifted a corner of it. "Why, it's been cut all to pieces
from underneath! You're right; there was some one here. It's
practically dismembered. Don't you remember my telling you
how it sagged? And I was only sitting on the edge of it! The
slats have all been moved out of place, and as for the mattress,
it's just a mess of springs and that stuffing stuff. He must
have thought the silver was hidden there."
"Oh, oh, oh!" moaned Laura. "He WRIGGLED----ugh!"
Cora picked up the lamp. "Well, we've got to go over the
"No, no!"
"Hush! I'll go alone then."
"You CAN'T."
"I will, though!"
The two girls had changed places in this emergency. In her
fright Laura was dependent, clinging: actual contact with the
intruder had unnerved her. It took all her will to accompany her
sister upon the tour of inspection, and throughout she cowered
behind the dauntless Cora. It was the first time in their lives
that their positions had been reversed. From the days of Cora's
babyhood, Laura had formed the habit of petting and shielding the
little sister, but now that the possibility became imminent of
confronting an unknown and dangerous man, Laura was so shaken
that, overcome by fear, she let Cora go first. Cora had not
boasted in vain of her bravery; in truth, she was not afraid of any
They found the fastenings of the doors secure and likewise
those of all the windows, until they came to the kitchen. There,
the cook had left a window up, which plausibly explained the
marauder's mode of ingress. Then, at Cora's insistence, and to
Laura's shivering horror, they searched both cellar and garret,
and concluded that he had escaped by the same means. Except
Laura's bed, nothing in the house had been disturbed; but this
eccentricity on the part of a burglar, though it indeed struck
the two girls as peculiar, was not so pointedly mysterious to
them as it might have been had they possessed a somewhat greater
familiarity with the habits of criminals whose crimes are
They finally retired, Laura sleeping with her sister, and
Cora had begun to talk of the lieutenant again, instead of the
burglar, before Laura fell asleep.
In spite of the short hours for sleep, both girls appeared at
the breakfast-table before the meal was over, and were naturally
pleased with the staccato of excitement evoked by their news.
Mrs. Madison and Miss Peirce were warm in admiration of their
bravery, but in the same breath condemned it as foolhardy.
"I never knew such wonderful girls!" exclaimed the mother,
almost tearfully. "You crazy little lions! To think of your not
even waking Hedrick! And you didn't have even a poker and were
in your bare feet--and went down in the CELLAR----"
"It was all Cora," protested Laura. "I'm a hopeless,
disgusting coward. I never knew what a coward I was before.
Cora carried the lamp and went ahead like a drum-major. I just
trailed along behind her, ready to shriek and run--or faint!"
"Could you tell anything about him when you fell on him?"
inquired Miss Peirce. "What was his voice like when he shouted?"
"Choked. It was a horrible, jolted kind of cry. It hardly
sounded human."
"Could you tell anything about whether he was a large man, or
small, or----"
"Only that he seemed very active. He seemed to be kicking.
He WRIGGLED----ugh!"
They evolved a plausible theory of the burglar's motives and
line of reasoning. "You see," said Miss Peirce, much stirred, in
summing up the adventure, "he either jimmies the window, or finds
it open already, and Sarah's mistaken and she DID leave
it open! Then he searched the downstairs first, and didn't find
anything. Then he came upstairs, and was afraid to come into any
of the rooms where we were. He could tell which rooms had people
in them by hearing us breathing through the keyholes. He finds
two rooms empty, and probably he made a thorough search of Miss
Cora's first. But he isn't after silver toilet articles and
pretty little things like that. He wants really big booty or
none, so he decides that an out-of-the-way, unimportant room like
Miss Laura's is where the family would be most apt to hide
valuables, jewellery and silver, and he knows that mattresses
have often been selected as hiding-places; so he gets under the
bed and goes to work. Then Miss Cora and Miss Laura come in so
quietly--not wanting to wake anybody--that he doesn't hear them,
and he gets caught there. That's the way it must have been."
"But why," Mrs. Madison inquired of this authority, "why do
you suppose he lit the lamp?"
"To see by," answered the ready Miss Peirce. It was accepted
as final.
Further discussion was temporarily interrupted by the
discovery that Hedrick had fallen asleep in his chair.
"Don't bother him, Cora," said his mother. "He's finished
eating--let him sleep a few minutes, if he wants to, before he
goes to school. He's not at all well. He played too hard,
yesterday afternoon, and hurt his knee, he said. He came down
limping this morning and looking very badly. He oughtn't to run
and climb about the stable so much after school. See how utterly
exhausted he looks!--Not even this excitement can keep him
"I think we must be careful not to let Mr. Madison suspect
anything about the burglar," said Miss Peirce. "It would be bad
for him."
Laura began: "But we ought to notify the police----"
"Police!" Hedrick woke so abruptly, and uttered the word with
such passionate and vehement protest, that everybody started. "I
suppose you want to KILL your father, Laura Madison!"
"Do you suppose he wouldn't know something had happened with
a squad of big, heavy policemen tromping all over the house? The
first thing they'd do would be to search the whole place----"
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Madison quickly. "It wouldn't do at
"I should think not! I'm glad," continued Hedrick,
truthfully, "THAT idea's out of your head! I believe Laura
imagined the whole thing anyway."
"Have you looked at her mattress," inquired Cora, "darling
little boy?"
He gave her a concentrated look, and rose to leave. "Nothin'
on earth but imagina----" He stopped with a grunt as he
forgetfully put his weight on his left leg. He rubbed his knee,
swallowed painfully, and, leaving the word unfinished, limped
haughtily from the room.
He left the house, gloomily swinging his books from a spare
length of strap, and walking with care to ease his strains and
bruises as much as possible. He was very low in his mind, that
boy. His fortunes had reached the ebb-tide, but he had no hope
of a rise. He had no hope of anything. It was not even a
consolation that, through his talent for surprise in waylayings,
it had lately been thought necessary, by the Villard family, to
have Egerton accompanied to and from school by a man-servant.
Nor was Hedrick more deeply depressed by the certainty that both
public and domestic scandal must soon arise from the
inevitable revelation of his discontinuing his attendance at
school without mentioning this important change of career at
home. He had been truant a full fortnight, under brighter
circumstances a matter for a lawless pride--now he had neither
fear nor vainglory. There was no room in him for anything but
He walked two blocks in the direction of his school; turned a
corner; walked half a block; turned north in the alley which ran
parallel to Corliss Street, and a few moments later had
cautiously climbed into an old, disused refuse box which stood
against the rear wall of the empty stable at his own home. He
pried up some loose boards at the bottom of the box, and entered
a tunnel which had often and often served in happier days--when
he had friends--for the escape of Union officers from Libby
Prison and Andersonville. Emerging, wholly soiled, into a
box-stall, he crossed the musty carriage house and ascended some
rickety steps to a long vacant coachman's-room, next to the
hayloft. He closed the door, bolted it, and sank moodily upon a
broken, old horsehair sofa.
This apartment was his studio. In addition to the sofa, it
contained an ex-bureau, three chair-like shapes, a once
marble-topped table, now covered with a sheet of zinc, two empty
bird cages, and a condemned whatnot. The walls were rather
over-decorated in coloured chalks, the man-headed-snake motive
predominating; they were also loopholed for firing into the
hayloft. Upon the table lay a battered spy-glass, minus lenses,
and, nearby, two boxes, one containing dried corn-silk, the other
hayseed, convenient for the making of amateur cigarettes; the
smoker's outfit being completed by a neat pile of rectangular
clippings from newspapers. On the shelves of the whatnot were
some fragments of a dead pie, the relics of a "Fifteen-Puzzle," a
pink Easter-egg, four seashells, a tambourine with part of a
girl's face still visible in aged colours, about two thirds of a
hot-water bag, a tintype of Hedrick, and a number of books:
several by Henty, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," "100
Practical Jokes, Easy to Perform," "The Jungle Book," "My Lady
Rotha," a "Family Atlas," "Three Weeks," "Pilgrim's Progress,"
"A Boy's Life in Camp," and "The Mystery of the Count's Bedroom."
The gloomy eye of Hedrick wandered to "The Mystery of the
Count's Bedroom," and remained fixed upon it moodily and
contemptuously. His own mystery made that one seem tame and
easy: Laura's bedroom laid it all over the Count's, in his
conviction; and with a soul too weary of pain to shudder, he
reviewed the bafflements and final catastrophe of the preceding
He had not essayed the attempt upon the mattress until
assured that the house was wrapped in slumber. Then, with hope
in his heart, he had stolen to Laura's room, lit the lamp,
feeling safe from intrusion, and set to work. His implement at
first was a long hatpin of Cora's. Lying on his back beneath the
bed, and, moving the slats as it became necessary, he sounded
every cubic inch of the mysterious mattress without encountering
any obstruction which could reasonably be supposed to be the
ledger. This was not more puzzling than it was infuriating,
since by all processes of induction, deduction, and pure logic,
the thing was necessarily there. It was nowhere else. Therefore
it was there. It HAD to be there! With the great blade of
his Boy Scout's knife he began to disembowel the mattress
For a time he had worked furiously and effectively, but the
position was awkward, the search laborious, and he was obliged to
rest frequently. Besides, he had waited to a later hour
than he knew, for his mother to go to bed, and during one of his
rests he incautiously permitted his eyes to close. When he woke,
his sisters were in the room, and he thought it advisable to
remain where he was, though he little realized how he had
weakened his shelter. When Cora left the room, he heard Laura
open the window, sigh, and presently a tiny clinking and a click
set him a-tingle from head to foot: she was opening the padlocked
book. The scratching sound of a pen followed. And yet she had
not come near the bed. The mattress, then, was a living lie.
With infinite caution he had moved so that he could see her,
arriving at a coign of vantage just as she closed the book. She
locked it, wrapped it in an oilskin cover which lay beside it on
the table, hung the key-chain round her neck, rose, yawned, and,
to his violent chagrin, put out the light. He heard her moving
but could not tell where, except that it was not in his part of
the room. Then a faint shuffling warned him that she was
approaching the bed, and he withdrew his head to avoid being
stepped upon. The next moment the world seemed to cave in upon
Laura's flight had given him opportunity to escape to
his own room unobserved; there to examine, bathe and bind his
wounds, and to rectify his first hasty impression that he had
been fatally mangled.
Hedrick glared at "The Mystery of the Count's Bedroom."
By and by he got up, brought the book to the sofa and began
to read it over.
The influence of a familiar and sequestered place is not only
soothing; the bruised mind may often find it restorative. Thus
Hedrick, in his studio, surrounded by his own loved bric-a-brac,
began to feel once more the stir of impulse. Two hours' reading
inspired him. What a French reporter (in the Count's bedroom)
could do, an American youth in full possession of his
powers--except for a strained knee and other injuries--could do.
Yes, and would!
He evolved a new chain of reasoning. The ledger had been
seen in Laura's room; it had been heard in her room; it appeared
to be kept in her room. But it was in no single part of the
room. All the parts make a whole. Therefore, the book was not
in the room.
On the other hand, Laura had not left the room when she took
the book from its hiding-place. This was confusing; therefore he
determined to concentrate logic solely upon what she had done
with the ledger when she finished writing in it. It
was dangerous to assume that she had restored it to the place
whence she obtained it, because he had already proved that place
to be both in the room and out of the room. No; the question he
must keep in was: What did she do with it?
Laura had not left the room. But the book had left the room.
Arrived at this inevitable deduction, he sprang to his feet
in a state of repressed excitement and began to pace the
floor--like a hound on the trail. Laura had not left the room,
but the book had left the room: he must keep his mind upon this
point. He uttered a loud exclamation and struck the zinc
table-top a smart blow with his clenched fist.
Laura had thrown the book out of the window!
In the exaltation of this triumph, he forgot that it was not
yet the hour for a scholar's reappearance, and went forth in
haste to search the ground beneath the window--a disappointing
quest, for nowhere in the yard was there anything but withered
grass, and the rubbish of other frost-bitten vegetation. His
mother, however, discovered something else, and, opening the
kitchen window, she asked, with surprise:
"Why, Hedrick, what on earth are you doing here?"
"Me?" inquired Hedrick.
"What are you doing here?"
"Here?" Evidently she puzzled him.
She became emphatic. "I want to know what you are doing."
"Just standing here," he explained in a meek, grieved way.
"But why aren't you at school?"
This recalled what he had forgotten, and he realized the
insecurity of his position. "Oh, yes," he said--"school. Did
you ask me----"
"Didn't you go to school?"
He began to speak rapidly. "Didn't I go to SCHOOL?
Well, where else could I go? Just because I'm here now doesn't
mean I didn't GO, does it? Because a person is in China
right now wouldn't have to mean he'd never been in South America,
would it?"
"Then what's the matter?"
"Well, I was going along, and you know I didn't feel very
well and----" He paused, with the advent of a happier idea, then
continued briskly: "But that didn't stop me, because I thought I
ought to go if I dropped, so I went ahead, but the teacher
was sick and they couldn't get a substitute. She must have been
pretty sick, she looked so pale----"
"They dismissed the class?"
"And I don't have to go to-morrow either."
"I see," said his mother. "But if you feel ill, Hedrick,
hadn't you better come in and lie down?"
"I think it's kind of passing off. The fresh air seems to be
doing me good."
"Be careful of your sore knee, dear." She closed the window,
and he was left to continue his operations in safety.
Laura had thrown the ledger out of the window; that was
proved absolutely. Obviously, she had come down before daylight
and retrieved it. Or, she had not. Proceeding on the assumption
that she had not, he lifted his eyes and searched the air. Was
it possible that the book, though thrown from the window, had
never reached the ground? The branches of an old and stalwart
maple, now almost divested of leaves, extended in rough symmetry
above him, and one big limb, reaching out toward the house, came
close to Laura's windows. Triumph shown again from the shrewd
countenance of the sleuth: Laura must have slid the ledger along
a wire into a hollow branch. However, no wire was to be
seen--and the shrewd countenance of the sleuth fell. But perhaps
she had constructed a device of silk threads, invisible from
below, which carried the book into the tree. Action!
He climbed carefully but with many twinges, finally pausing
in a parlous situation not far from the mysterious window which
Laura had opened the night before. A comprehensive survey of the
tree revealed only the very patent fact that none of the branches
was of sufficient diameter to conceal the ledger. No silk
threads came from the window. He looked and looked and looked at
that window; then his eye fell a little, halted less than three
feet below the window-ledge, and the search was ended.
The kitchen window which his mother had opened was directly
beneath Laura's, and was a very long, narrow window, in the style
of the house, and there was a protecting stone ledge above it.
Upon this ledge lay the book, wrapped in its oil-skin covering
and secured from falling by a piece of broken iron hooping, stuck
in the mortar of the bricks. It could be seen from nowhere save
an upper window of the house next door, or from the tree itself,
and in either case only when the leaves had fallen.
Laura had felt very safe. No one had ever seen the book
except that night, early in August, when, for a better
circulation of air, she had left her door open as she wrote, and
Hedrick had come upon her. He had not spoken of it again; she
perceived that he had forgotten it; and she herself forgot that
the memory of a boy is never to be depended on; its forgettings
are too seldom permanent in the case of things that ought to stay
To get the book one had only to lean from the window.
Hedrick seemed so ill during lunch that his mother spoke of
asking Doctor Sloane to look at him, if he did not improve before
evening. Hedrick said meekly that perhaps that would be best--if
he did not improve. After a futile attempt to eat, he courteously
excused himself from the table--a ceremony which made
even Cora fear that his case might be serious--and, going feebly
to the library, stretched himself upon the sofa. His mother put
a rug over him; Hedrick, thanking her touchingly, closed his
eyes; and she went away, leaving him to slumber.
After a time, Laura came into the room on an errand,
walking noiselessly, and, noticing that his eyes were open,
apologized for waking him.
"Never mind," he returned, in the tone of an invalid. "I
didn't sleep sound. I think there's something the matter inside
my head: I have such terrible dreams. I guess maybe it's better
for me to keep awake. I'm kind of afraid to go to sleep. Would
you mind staying here with me a little while?"
"Certainly I'll stay," she said, and, observing that his
cheeks were flushed, and his eyes unusually bright, she laid a
cool hand on his forehead. "You haven't any fever, dear; that's
good. You'll be all right to-morrow. Would you like me to read
to you?"
"I believe," he answered, plaintively, "reading might kind of
disturb my mind: my brain feels so sort of restless and queer.
I'd rather play some kind of game."
"No, not cards exactly. Something' I can do lying down. Oh,
I know! You remember the one where we drew pictures and the
others had to guess what they were? Well, I've invented a game
like that. You sit down at the desk over there and take some
sheets of paper. I'll tell you the rest."
She obeyed. "What next?"
"Now, I'll describe some people and where they live and not
tell who they are, and you see if you can guess their names and
"Addresses, too?"
"Yes, because I'm going to describe the way their houses
look. Write each name on a separate sheet of paper, and the
number of their house below it if you know it, and if you don't
know it, just the street. If it's a woman: put `Miss' or `Mrs.'
before their name and if it's a man write `Esquire' after it."
"Is all that necessary for the game?"
"It's the way I invented it and I think you might----"
"Oh, all right," she acquiesced, good-naturedly. "It shall
be according to your rules."
"Then afterward, you give me the sheets of paper with the
names and addresses written on 'em, and we--we----" He hesitated.
"Yes. What do we do then?"
"I'll tell you when we come to it." But when that stage of
his invention was reached, and Laura had placed the inscribed
sheets in his hand, his interest had waned, it appeared. Also,
his condition had improved.
"Let's quit. I thought this game would be more exciting," he
said, sitting up. "I guess," he added with too much modesty,
"I'm not very good at inventing games. I b'lieve I'll go out to
the barn; I think the fresh air----"
"Do you feel well enough to go out?" she asked. "You do seem
to be all right, though."
"Yes, I'm a lot better, I think." He limped to the door."
The fresh air will be the best thing for me."
She did not notice that he carelessly retained her
contributions to the game, and he reached his studio with them in
his hand. Hedrick had entered the 'teens and he was a reader:
things in his head might have dismayed a Borgia.
No remotest glimpse entered that head of the enormity of what
he did. To put an end to his punishing of Cora, and, to render
him powerless against that habitual and natural enemy, Laura had
revealed a horrible incident in his career--it had become a
public scandal; he was the sport of fools; and it might be months
before the thing was lived down. Now he had the means, as he
believed, to even the score with both sisters at a stroke. To
him it was turning a tremendous and properly scathing joke
upon them. He did not hesitate.
That evening, as Richard Lindley sat at dinner with his
mother, Joe Varden temporarily abandoned his attendance at the
table to answer the front doorbell. Upon his return, he
"Messenger-boy mus' been in big hurry. Wouldn' wait till I
git to door."
"What was it?" asked Richard.
"Boy with package. Least, I reckon it were a boy. Call'
back from the front walk, say he couldn' wait. Say he lef'
package in vestibule."
"What sort of a package?"
"Middle-size kind o' big package."
"Why don't you see what it is, Richard?" Mrs. Lindley asked
of her son. "Bring it to the table, Joe."
When it was brought, Richard looked at the superscription
with surprise. The wrapper was of heavy brown paper, and upon it
a sheet of white notepaper had been pasted, with the address:
"Richard Lindley, Esq.,
1218 Corliss Street."
"It's from Laura Madison," he said, staring at this writing.
"What in the world would Laura be sending me?"
"You might possibly learn by opening it," suggested his
mother. "I've seen men puzzle over the outside of things quite
as often as women. Laura Madison is a nice girl." She never
volunteered similar praise of Laura Madison's sister. Mrs.
Lindley had submitted to her son's plans concerning Cora, lately
confided; but her submission lacked resignation.
"It's a book," said Richard, even more puzzled, as he took
the ledger from its wrappings. "Two little torn places at the
edge of the covers. Looks as if it had once had clasps----"
"Perhaps it's the Madison family album," Mrs. Lindley
suggested. "Pictures of Cora since infancy. I imagine she's had
plenty taken."
"No." He opened the book and glanced at the pages covered in
Laura's clear, readable hand. "No, it's about half full of
writing. Laura must have turned literary." He read a line or
two, frowning mildly. "My soul! I believe it's a novel! She
must think I'm a critic--to want me to read it." Smiling at the
idea, he closed the ledger. "I'll take it upstairs to my
hang-out after dinner, and see if Laura's literary manner has my
august approval. Who in the world would ever have thought she'd
decide to set up for a writer?"
"I imagine she might have something to write worth reading,"
said his mother. "I've always thought she was an
interesting-looking girl."
"Yes, she is. She dances well, too."
"Of course," continued Mrs. Lindley, thoughtfully, "she
seldom SAYS anything interesting, but that may be because she
so seldom has a chance to say anything at all."
Richard refused to perceive this allusion. "Curious that
Laura should have sent it to me," he said. "She's never seemed
interested in my opinion about anything. I don't recall her ever
speaking to me on any subject whatever--except one."
He returned his attention to his plate, but his mother did
not appear to agree with him that the topic was exhausted.
"`Except one'?" she repeated, after waiting for some time.
"Yes," he replied, in his habitual preoccupied and
casual tone. "Or perhaps two. Not more than two, I should
say--and in a way you'd call that only one, of course. Bread,
"What two, Richard?"
"Cora," he said, with gentle simplicity, "and me."
Mrs. Lindley had arranged for her son a small apartment on the
second floor, and it was in his own library and smoking-room that
Richard, comfortable in a leather-chair by a reading-lamp, after
dinner, opened Laura's ledger.
The first page displayed no more than a date now eighteen
months past, and the line:
"Love came to me to-day."
The next page was dated the next day, and, beneath, he read:
"That was all I COULD write, yesterday. I think I was
too excited to write. Something seemed to be singing in my
breast. I couldn't think in sentences--not even in words. How
queer it is that I had decided to keep a diary, and bound this
book for it, and now the first thing I have written in it
was THAT! It will not be a diary. It shall be YOUR
book. I shall keep it sacred to You and write to You in it. How
strange it will be if the day ever comes when I shall show it to
You! If it should, you would not laugh at it, for of course the
day couldn't come unless you understood. I cannot think it will
ever come--that day! But maybe---- No, I mustn't let myself
hope too much that it will, because if I got to hoping too much,
and you didn't like me, it would hurt too much. People who
expect nothing are never disappointed--I must keep that in mind.
Yet EVERY girl has a RIGHT to hope for her own man to
come for her some time, hasn't she? It's not easy to discipline
the wanting to hope--since YESTERDAY!
"I think I must always have thought a great deal about you
without knowing it. We really know so little what we think: our
minds are going on all the time and we hardly notice them. It is
like a queer sort of factory--the owner only looks in once in a
while and most of the time hasn't any idea what sort of goods his
spindles are turning out.
"I saw You yesterday! It seems to me the strangest thing in
the world. I've seen you by chance, probably two or three times
a month nearly all my life, though you so seldom come here
to call. And this time wasn't different from dozens of other
times--you were just standing on the corner by the Richfield,
waiting for a car. The only possible difference is that you had
been out of town for several months--Cora said so this
morning--and how ridiculous it seems now, didn't even know it! I
hadn't noticed it--not with the top part of my mind, but perhaps
the deep part that does the real thinking had noticed it and had
mourned your absence and was so glad to see you again that it
made the top part suddenly see the wonderful truth!"
Lindley set down the ledger to relight his cigar. It struck
him that Laura had been writing "very odd Stuff," but
interesting; and certainly it was not a story. Vaguely he
recalled Marie Bashkirtseff: hadn't she done something like this?
He resumed the reading:
"You turned and spoke to me in that lovely, cordial,
absent-minded way of yours--though I'd never thought (with the
top part) what a lovely way it was; and for a moment I only
noticed how nice you looked in a light gray suit, because
I'd only seen you in black for so long, while you'd been in
mourning for your brother."
Richard, disturbed by an incredible idea, read these last
words over and then dismissed the notion as nonsense.
". . . While you'd been in mourning for your brother--and it
struck me that light gray was becoming to you. Then such a queer
thing happened: I felt the great kindness of your eyes. I
thought they were full of--the only word that seems to express it
at all is CHARITY--and they had a sweet, faraway look, too,
and I've ALWAYS thought that a look of wistful kindness was
the loveliest look in the world--and you had it, and I saw it and
then suddenly, as you held your hat in your hand, the sunshine on
your hair seemed brighter than any sunshine I had ever seen--and
I began to tremble all over. I didn't understand what was the
matter with me or what had made me afraid with you not of
you--all at once, but I was so hopelessly rattled that instead of
waiting for the car, as I'd just told you I meant to, I said I'd
decided to walk, and got away--without any breath left to
breathe with! I COULDN'T have gotten on the car with you---
and I couldn't have spoken another word.
"And as I walked home, trembling all the way, I saw that
strange, dazzling sunshine on your hair, and the wistful, kind
look in your eyes--you seemed not to have taken the car but to
have come with me--and I was uplifted and exalted oh, so
strangely--oh, how the world was changing for me! And when I got
near home, I began to walk faster, and on the front path I broke
into a run and rushed in the house to the piano--and it was as if
my fingers were thirsty for the keys! Then I saw that I was
playing to you and knew that I loved you.
"I love you!
"How different everything is now from everything before.
Music means what it never did: Life has leaped into blossom for
me. Everywhere there is colour and radiance that I had never
seen--the air is full of perfume. Dear, the sunshine that fell
upon your head has spread over the world!
"I understand, as I never understood, that the world--so
dazzling to me now--was made for love and is meaningless without
it. The years until yesterday are gray--no, not gray, because
that was the colour You were wearing--not gray, because
that is a beautiful colour. The empty years until yesterday had
no colour at all. Yes, the world has meaning only through
loving, and without meaning there is no real life. We live only
by loving, and now that this gift of life has come to me I love
ALL the world. I feel that I must be so kind, kind, KIND
to EVERYBODY! Such an odd thing struck me as my greatest
wish. When I was little, I remember grandmother telling me how,
when she was a child in pioneer days, the women made the men's
clothes--homespun--and how a handsome young Circuit Rider, who
was a bachelor, seemed to her the most beautifully dressed man
she had ever seen. The women of the different churches made his
clothes, as they did their husbands' and brothers.' you see--only
better! It came into my head that that would be the divinest
happiness that I could know--to sew for you! If you and I lived
in those old, old times--you LOOK as if you belonged to them,
you know, dear--and You were the young minister riding into the
settlement on a big bay horse--and all the girls at the window,
of course!--and I sewing away at the homespun for you!--I think
all the angels of heaven would be choiring in my heart--and
what thick, warm clothes I'd make you for winter! Perhaps in
heaven they'll let some of the women sew for the men they love--I
"I hear Cora's voice from downstairs as I write. She's often
so angry with Ray, poor girl. It does not seem to me that she
and Ray really belong to each other, though they SAY so often
that they do."
Richard having read thus far with a growing, vague
uneasiness, looked up, frowning. He hoped Laura had no Marie
Bashkirtseff idea of publishing this manuscript. It was too
intimate, he thought, even if the names in it were to be
. . . "Though they SAY so often that they do. I think Ray
is in love with HER, but it can't be like THIS. What he
feels must be something wholly different--there is violence and
wildness in it. And they are bitter with each other so often -
always `getting even' for something. He does care--he is
frantically "IN love" with her, undoubtedly, but so insanely
jealous. I suppose all jealousy is insane. But love is the only
sanity. How can what is insane be part of it? I could not be
jealous of You. I owe life to you--I have never lived till
The next writing was two days later:
. . . . "To-day as I passed your house with Cora, I kept
looking at the big front door at which you go in and out so
often--YOUR door! I never knew that just a door could look
so beautiful! And unconsciously I kept my eyes on it, as we
walked on, turning my head and looking and looking back at it,
till Cora suddenly burst out laughing, and said: `Well,
LAURA!' And I came to myself--and found her looking at me.
It was like getting back after a journey, and for a second I was
a little dazed, and Cora kept on laughing at me, and I felt
myself getting red. I made some silly excuse about thinking your
house had been repainted--and she laughed louder than ever. I
was afraid then that she understood--I wonder if she could have?
I hope not, though I love her so much I don't know why I would
rather she didn't know, unless it is just my FEELING about
it. It is a GUARDIAN feeling--that I must keep for myself,
the music of these angels singing in my heart--singing of You. I
hope she did not understand--and I so fear she did. Why
should I be so AFRAID?" . . .
. . . . "Two days since I have talked to You in your book
after Cora caught me staring at your door and laughed at me--and
ten minutes ago I was sitting beside the ACTUAL You on the
porch! I am trembling yet. It was the first time you'd come for
months and months; and yet you had the air of thinking it rather
a pleasant thing to do as you came up the steps! And a dizzy
feeling came over me, because I wondered if it was seeing me on
the street THAT day that put it into your head to come. It
seemed too much happiness--and risking too much--to let myself
BELIEVE it, but I couldn't help just wondering. I began to
tremble as I saw you coming up our side of the street in the
moonlight--and when you turned in here I was all panic--I nearly
ran into the house. I don't know how I found voice to greet you.
I didn't seem to have any breath left at all. I was so relieved
when Cora took a chair between us and began to talk to you,
because I'm sure I couldn't have. She and poor Ray had been
having one of their quarrels and she was punishing him. Poor
boy, he seemed so miserable--though he tried to talk to me--about
politics, I think, though I'm not sure, because I couldn't
listen much better than either of us could talk. I could only
hear Your voice--such a rich, quiet voice, and it has a sound
like the look you have--friendly and faraway and wistful. I have
thought and thought about what it is that makes you look wistful.
You have less to wish for than anybody else in the world because
you have Yourself. So why are you wistful? I think it's just
because you ARE!
"I heard Cora asking you why you hadn't come to see us for so
long, and then she said: `Is it because you dislike me? You
look at me, sometimes, as if you dislike me!' And I wished she
hadn't said it. I had a feeling you wouldn't like that
`personal' way of talking that she enjoys--and that--oh, it
didn't seem to be in keeping with the dignity of You! And I love
Cora so much I wanted her to be finer--with You. I wanted her to
understand you better than to play those little charming tricks
at you. You are so good, so HIGH, that if she could make a
real friend of you I think it would be the best thing for her
that could happen. She's never had a man-FRIEND. Perhaps
she WAS trying to make one of you and hasn't any other
way to go about it. She can be so REALLY sweet, I wanted you
to see that side of her.
"Afterwhile, when Ray couldn't bear it any longer to talk to
me, and in his desperation brazenly took Cora to the other end of
the porch almost by force, and I was left, in a way, alone with
you what did you think of me? I was tongue-tied! Oh, oh, oh!
You were quiet--but I_ was DUMB! My heart wasn't dumb--it
hammered! All the time I kept saying to myself such a jumble of
things. And into the jumble would come such a rapture that You
were there--it was like a paean of happiness--a chanting of the
glory of having You near me--I WAS mixed up! I could
PLAY all those confused things, but writing them doesn't tell
it. Writing them would only be like this: `He's here, he's
HERE! Speak, you little fool! He's here, he's here! He's
sitting beside you! SPEAK, idiot, or he'll never come back!
He's here, he's beside you you could put out your hand and touch
him! Are you dead, that you can't speak? He's here, he's here,
he's HERE!'
"Ah, some day I shall be able to talk to you--but not till I
get more used to this inner song. It seems to WILL that
nothing else shall come from my lips till IT does!
"In spite of my silence--my outward woodenness--you said, as
you went away, that you would come again! You said `soon'! I
could only nod but Cora called from the other end of the porch
and asked: `HOW soon?' Oh, I bless her for it, because you
said, `Day after to-morrow.' Day after tomorrow! Day after
. . . . "Twenty-one hours since I wrote--no, SANG--`Day
after to-morrow!' And now it is `To-morrow!' Oh, the slow,
golden day that this has been! I could not stay in the house--I
walked--no, I WINGED! I was in the open country before I
knew it--with You! For You are in everything. I never knew the
sky was blue, before. Until now I just thought it was the sky.
The whitest clouds I ever saw sailed over that blue, and I stood
upon the prow of each in turn, then leaped in and swam to the
next and sailed with IT! Oh, the beautiful sky, and kind,
green woods and blessed, long, white, dusty country road! Never
in my life shall I forget that walk--this day in the open with my
love--You! To-morrow! To-morrow! To-morrow! TOMORROW!"
The next writing in Laura's book was dated more than two
months later:
. . . . "I have decided to write again in this book. I have
thought it all out carefully, and I have come to the conclusion
that it can do no harm and may help me to be steady and sensible.
It is the thought, not its expression, that is guilty, but I do
not believe that my thoughts are guilty: I believe that they are
good. I know that I wish only good. I have read that when
people suffer very much the best thing is for them to cry. And
so I'll let myself WRITE out my feelings--and perhaps get rid
of some of the silly self-pity I'm foolish enough to feel,
instead of going about choked up with it. How queer it is that
even when we keep our thoughts respectable we can't help having
absurd FEELINGS like self-pity, even though we know how
rotten stupid they are! Yes, I'll let it all out here, and then,
some day, when I've cured myself all whole again, I'll burn this
poor, silly old book. And if I'm not cured before the wedding,
I'll burn it then, anyhow.
"How funny little girls are! From the time they're little
bits of things they talk about marriage--whom they are going to
marry, what sort of person it will be. I think Cora and I
began when she was about five and I not seven. And as girls grow
up, I don't believe there was ever one who genuinely expected to
be an old maid. The most unattractive young girls discuss and
plan and expect marriage just as much as the prettier and gayer
ones. The only way we can find out that men don't want to marry
us is by their not asking us. We don't see ourselves very well,
and I honestly believe we all think--way deep down--that we're
pretty attractive. At least, every girl has the idea, sometimes,
that if men only saw the whole truth they'd think her as nice as
any other girl, and really nicer than most others. But I don't
believe I have any hallucinations of that sort about myself left.
I can't imagine--now--ANY man seeing anything in me that
would make him care for me. I can't see anything about me to
care for, myself. Sometimes I think maybe I could make a man get
excited about me if I could take a startlingly personal tone with
him from the beginning, making him wonder all sorts of you-and-I
perhapses--but I couldn't do it very well probably--oh, I
couldn't make myself do it if I could do it well! And I
shouldn't think it would have much effect except upon very
inexperienced men--yet it does! Now, I wonder if this is a
streak of sourness coming out; I don't feel bitter--I'm just
thinking honestly, I'm sure.
"Well, here I am facing it: all through my later childhood,
and all through my girlhood, I believe what really occupied me
most--with the thought of it underlying all things else, though
often buried very deep--was the prospect of my marriage. I
regarded it as a certainty: I would grow up, fall in love, get
engaged, and be married--of course! So I grew up and fell in
love with You--but it stops there, and I must learn how to be an
Old Maid and not let anybody see that I mind it. I know this is
the hardest part of it, the beginning: it will get easier
by-and-by, of course. If I can just manage this part of it, it's
bound not to hurt so much later on.
"Yes, I grew up and fell in love with You--for you will
always be You. I'll never, never get over THAT, my dear!
You'll never, never know it; but I shall love You always till I
die, and if I'm still Me after that, I shall keep right on loving
you then, of course. You see, I didn't fall in love with you
just to have you for myself. I fell in love with You! And that
can never bother you at all nor ever be a shame to me that I
love unsought, because you won't know, and because it's just an
ocean of good-will, and every beat of my heart sends a new great
wave of it toward you and Cora. I shall find happiness, I
believe, in service--I am sure there will be times when I can
serve you both. I love you both and I can serve her for You and
you for her. This isn't a hysterical mood, or a fit of
`exaltation': I have thought it all out and I know that I can
live up to it. You are the best thing that can ever come into
her life, and everything I can do shall be to keep you there. I
must be very, very careful with her, for talk and advice do not
influence her much. You love her--she has accepted you, and it
is beautiful for you both. It must be kept beautiful. It has
all become so clear to me: You are just what she has always
needed, and if by any mischance she lost you I do not know what
would become----"
"Good God!" cried Richard. He sprang to his feet, and the
heavy book fell with a muffled crash upon the floor, sprawling
open upon its face, its leaves in disorder. He moved away from
it, staring at it in incredulous dismay. But he knew.
Memory, that drowsy custodian, had wakened slowly, during this
hour, beginning the process with fitful gleams of
semi-consciousness, then, irritated, searching its pockets for
the keys and dazedly exploring blind passages; but now it flung
wide open the gallery doors, and there, in clear light, were the
rows of painted canvasses.
He remembered "that day" when he was waiting for a car, and
Laura Madison had stopped for a moment, and then had gone on,
saying she preferred to walk. He remembered that after he got
into the car he wondered why he had not walked home with her; had
thought himself "slow" for not thinking of it in time to do it.
There had seemed something very "taking" about her, as she
stopped and spoke to him, something enlivening and wholesome and
sweet--it had struck him that Laura was a "very nice girl." He
had never before noticed how really charming she could look; in
fact he had never thought much about either of the
Madison sisters, who had become "young ladies" during his
mourning for his brother. And this pleasant image of Laura
remained with him for several days, until he decided that it
might be a delightful thing to spend an evening with her. He had
called, and he remembered, now, Cora's saying to him that he
looked at her sometimes as if he did not like her; he had been
surprised and astonishingly pleased to detect a mysterious
feeling in her about it.
He remembered that almost at once he had fallen in love with
Cora: she captivated him, enraptured him, as she still did--as
she always would, he felt, no matter how she treated him or what
she did to him. He did not analyze the process of the captivation
and enrapturement--for love is a mystery and cannot be
analyzed. This is so well known that even Richard Lindley knew
it, and did not try!
. . . Heartsick, he stared at the fallen book. He was a
man, and here was the proffered love of a woman he did not want.
There was a pathos in the ledger; it seemed to grovel, sprawling
and dishevelled in the circle of lamp-light on the floor: it was
as if Laura herself lay pleading at his feet, and he looked
down upon her, compassionate but revolted. He realized with
astonishment from what a height she had fallen, how greatly he
had respected her, how warmly liked her. What she now destroyed
had been more important than he had guessed.
Simple masculine indignation rose within him: she was to have
been his sister. If she had been unable to stifle this misplaced
love of hers, could she not at least have kept it to herself?
Laura, the self-respecting! No; she offered it--offered it to
her sister's betrothed. She had written that he should "never,
never know it"; that when she was "cured" she would burn the
ledger. She had not burned it! There were inconsistencies in
plenty in the pitiful screed, but these were the wildest--and the
cheapest. In talk, she had urged him to "keep trying," for Cora,
and now the sick-minded creature sent him this record. She
wanted him to know. Then what else was it but a plea? "I love
you. Let Cora go. Take me."
He began to walk up and down, wondering what was to be done.
After a time, he picked up the book gingerly, set it upon a shelf
in a dark corner, and went for a walk outdoors. The night air
seemed better than that of the room that held the ledger.
At the corner a boy, running, passed him. It was Hedrick
Madison, but Hedrick did not recognize Richard, nor was his mind
at that moment concerned with Richard's affairs; he was on an
errand of haste to Doctor Sloane. Mr. Madison had wakened from a
heavy slumber unable to speak, his condition obviously much
Hedrick returned in the doctor's car, and then hung uneasily
about the door of the sick-room until Laura came out and told him
to go to bed. In the morning, his mother did not appear at the
breakfast table, Cora was serious and quiet, and Laura said that
he need not go to school that day, though she added that the
doctor thought their father would get "better." She looked wan
and hollow-eyed: she had not been to bed, but declared that she
would rest after breakfast. Evidently she had not missed her
ledger; and Hedrick watched her closely, a pleasurable excitement
stirring in his breast.
She did not go to her room after the meal; the house was
cold, possessing no furnace, and, with Hedrick's assistance, she
carried out the ashes from the library grate, and built a fire
there. She had just lighted it, and the kindling was beginning
to crackle, glowing rosily over her tired face, when the bell
"Will you see who it is, please, Hedrick?"
He went with alacrity, and, returning, announced in an odd
voice. "It's Dick Lindley. He wants to see you."
"Me?" she murmured, wanly surprised. She was kneeling before
the fireplace, wearing an old dress which was dusted with ashes,
and upon her hands a pair of worn-out gloves of her father's.
Lindley appeared in the hall behind Hedrick, carrying under his
arm something wrapped in brown paper. His expression led her to
think that he had heard of her father's relapse, and came on that
"Don't look at me, Richard," she said, smiling faintly as she
rose, and stripping her hands of the clumsy gloves. "It's good
of you to come, though. Doctor Sloane thinks he is going to be
better again."
Richard inclined his head gravely, but did not speak.
"Well," said Hedrick with a slight emphasis, I guess I'll go
out in the yard a while." And with shining eyes he left the
In the hall, out of range from the library door, he executed
a triumphant but noiseless caper, and doubled with mirth,
clapping his hand over his mouth to stifle the effervescings of
his joy. He had recognized the ledger in the same wrapping
in which he had left it in Mrs. Lindley's vestibule. His moment
had come: the climax of his enormous joke, the repayment in some
small measure for the anguish he had so long endured. He crept
silently back toward the door, flattened his back against the
wall, and listened.
"Richard," he heard Laura say, a vague alarm in her voice,
"what is it? What is the matter?"
Then Lindley: "I did not know what to do about it. I
couldn't think of any sensible thing. I suppose what I am doing
is the stupidest of all the things I thought of, but at least
it's honest--so I've brought it back to you myself. Take it,
There was a crackling of the stiff wrapping paper, a little
pause, then a strange sound from Laura. It was not vocal and no
more than just audible: it was a prolonged scream in a whisper.
Hedrick ventured an eye at the crack, between the partly open
door and its casing. Lindley stood with his back to him, but the
boy had a clear view of Laura. She was leaning against the wall,
facing Richard, the book clutched in both arms against her bosom,
the wrapping paper on the floor at her feet.
"I thought of sending it back and pretending to think it had
been left at my mother's house by mistake," said Richard sadly,
"and of trying to make it seem that I hadn't read any of it. I
thought of a dozen ways to pretend I believed you hadn't really
meant me to read it----"
Making a crucial effort, she managed to speak.
You--think I--did mean----"
"Well," he answered, with a helpless shrug, "you sent it!
But it's what's in it that really matters, isn't it? I could
have pretended anything in a note, I suppose, if I had written
instead of coming. But I found that what I most dreaded was
meeting you again, and as we've got to meet, of course, it seemed
to me the only thing to do was to blunder through a talk with
you, somehow or another, and get that part of it over. I thought
the longer I put off facing you, the worse it would be for both
of us--and--and the more embarrassing. I'm no good at
pretending, anyhow; and the thing has happened. What use is
there in not being honest? Well?"
She did not try again to speak. Her state was lamentable: it
was all in her eyes.
Richard hung his head wretchedly, turning partly away
from her. "There's only one way--to look at it," he said
hesitatingly, and stammering. "That is--there's only one thing
to do: to forget that it's happened. I'm--I--oh, well, I care
for Cora altogether. She's got never to know about this. She
hasn't any idea or--suspicion of it, has she?"
Laura managed to shake her head.
"She never must have," he said. "Will you promise me to burn
that book now?"
She nodded slowly.
"I--I'm awfully sorry, Laura," he said brokenly. "I'm not
idiot enough not to see that you're suffering horribly. I
suppose I have done the most blundering thing possible." He
stood a moment, irresolute, then turned to the door. "Good-bye."
Hedrick had just time to dive into the hideous little room of
the multitudinous owls as Richard strode into the hall. Then,
with the closing of the front door, the boy was back at his post.
Laura stood leaning against the wall, the book clutched in
her arms, as Richard had left her. Slowly she began to sink, her
eyes wide open, and, with her back against the wall, she slid
down until she was sitting upon the floor. Her arms relaxed
and hung limp at her sides, letting the book topple over in
her lap, and she sat motionless.
One of her feet protruded from her skirt, and the leaping
firelight illumined it ruddily. It was a graceful foot in an old
shoe which had been re-soled and patched. It seemed very still,
that patched shoe, as if it might stay still forever. Hedrick
knew that Laura had not fainted, but he wished she would move her
He went away. He went into the owl-room again, and stood
there silently a long, long time. Then he stole back again
toward the library door, but caught a glimpse of that old,
motionless shoe through the doorway as he came near. Then he
spied no more. He went out to the stable, and, secluding himself
in his studio, sat moodily to meditate.
Something was the matter. Something had gone wrong. He had
thrown a bomb which he had expected to go off with a stupendous
bang, leaving him, as the smoke cleared, looking down in merry
triumph, stinging his fallen enemies with his humour, withering
them with satire, and inquiring of them how it felt, now THEY
were getting it. But he was decidedly untriumphant: he wished
Laura had moved her foot and that she hadn't that patch upon
her shoe. He could not get his mind off that patch. He began to
feel very queer: it seemed to be somehow because of the patch.
If she had worn a pair of new shoes that morning. . . . Yes, it
was that patch.
Thirteen is a dangerous age: nothing is more subtle. The
boy, inspired to play the man, is beset by his own relapses into
childhood, and Hedrick was near a relapse.
By and by, he went into the house again, to the library.
Laura was not there, but he found the fire almost smothered under
heaping ashes. She had burned her book.
He went into the room where the piano was, and played "The
Girl on the Saskatchewan" with one finger; then went out to the
porch and walked up and down, whistling cheerily.
After that, he went upstairs and asked Miss Peirce how his
father was "feeling," receiving a noncommital reply; looked in at
Cora's room; saw that his mother was lying asleep on Cora's bed
and Cora herself examining the contents of a dressing-table
drawer; and withdrew. A moment later, he stood in the passage
outside Laura's closed door listening. There was no sound.
He retired to his own chamber, found it unbearable, and,
fascinated by Laura's, returned thither; and, after standing a
long time in the passage, knocked softly on the door.
"Laura," he called, in a rough and careless voice, "it's kind
of a pretty day outdoors. If you've had your nap, if I was you
I'd go out for a walk." There was no response. "I'll go with
you," he added, "if you want me to."
He listened again and heard nothing. Then he turned the knob
softly. The door was unlocked; he opened it and went in.
Laura was sitting in a chair, with her back to a window, her
hands in her lap. She was staring straight in front of her.
He came near her hesitatingly, and at first she did not seem
to see him or even to know that she was not alone in the room.
Then she looked at him wonderingly, and, as he stood beside her,
lifted her right hand and set it gently upon his head.
"Hedrick," she said, "was it you that took my book to----"
All at once he fell upon his knees, hid his face in her lap,
and burst into loud and passionate sobbing.
Valentine Corliss, having breakfasted in bed at a late hour that
morning, dozed again, roused himself, and, making a toilet,
addressed to the image in his shaving-mirror a disgusted
However, he had not the look of a man who had played cards
all night to a disastrous tune with an accompaniment in Scotch.
His was a surface not easily indented: he was hard and healthy,
clear-skinned and clear-eyed. When he had made himself
point-device, he went into the "parlour" of his apartment,
frowning at the litter of malodorous, relics, stumps and stubs
and bottles and half-drained glasses, scattered chips and cards,
dregs of a night, session. He had been making acquaintances.
He sat at the desk and wrote with a steady hand in Italian:
We live but learn little. As to myself it appears that I learn
nothing--nothing! You will at once convey to
me by CABLE five thousand lire. No; add the difference in
exchange so as to make it one thousand dollars which I shall
receive, taking that sum from the two-hundred and thirty thousand
lire which I entrusted to your safekeeping by cable as the result
of my enterprise in this place. I should have returned at once,
content with that success, but as you know I am a very stupid
fellow, never pleased with a moderate triumph, nor with a large
one, when there is a possible prospect of greater. I am
compelled to believe that the greater I had in mind in this case
was an illusion: my gentle diplomacy avails nothing against a
small miser--for we have misers even in these States, though you
will not believe it. I abandon him to his riches! From the
success of my venture I reserved four thousand dollars to keep by
me and for my expenses, and it is humiliating to relate that all
of this, except a small banknote or two, was taken from me last
night by amateurs. I should keep away from cards--they hate me,
and alone I can do nothing with them. Some young gentlemen of
the place, whose acquaintance I had made at a ball, did me the
honour of this lesson at the native game of poker, at which
I--though also native--am not even so expert as yourself, and, as
you will admit, Antonio, my friend, you are not a good
player--when observed. Unaided, I was a child in their
hands. It was also a painful rule that one paid for the counters
upon delivery. This made me ill, but I carried it off with an
air of carelessness creditable to an adopted Neapolitan. Upon
receipt of the money you are to cable me, I shall leave this town
and sail immediately. Come to Paris, and meet me there at the
place on the Rue Auber within ten days from your reading this
letter. You will have, remaining, two hundred and twenty-five
thousand francs, which it will be safer to bring in cash, and I
will deal well with you, as is our custom with each other. You
have done excellently throughout; your cables and letters for
exhibition concerning those famous oil wells have been
perfection; and I shall of course not deduct what was taken by
these thieves of poker players from the sum of profits upon which
we shall estimate your commission. I have several times had the
feeling that the hour for departure had arrived; now I shall
delay not a moment after receiving your cable, though I may
occupy the interim with a last attempt to interest my small
miser. Various circumstances cause me some uneasiness, though I
do not believe I could be successfully assailed by the law in the
matter of oil. You do own an estate in Basilicata, at least your
brother does--these good people here would not be apt to discover
the difference--and the rest is a matter of plausibility. The
odious coincidence of encountering the old cow, Pryor,
fretted me somewhat (though he has not repeated his annoying
call), and I have other small apprehensions--for example, that it
may not improve my credit if my loss of last night becomes
gossip, though the thieves professed strong habits of discretion.
My little affair of gallantry grows embarrassing. Such affairs
are so easy to inaugurate; extrication is more difficult.
However, without it I should have failed to interest my investor
and there is always the charm. Your last letter is too curious
in that matter. Licentious man, one does not write of these
things while under the banner of the illustrious Uncle Sam--I am
assuming the American attitude while here, or perhaps my early
youth returns to me--a thing very different from your own
boyhood, Don Antonio. Nevertheless, I promise you some laughter
in the Rue Auber. Though you will not be able to understand the
half of what I shall tell you--particularly the portraits I shall
sketch of my defeated rivals--your spirit shall roll with
To the bank, then, the instant you read. Cable me one
thousand dollars, and be at the Rue Auber not more than ten days
later. To the bank! Thence to the telegraph office. Speed!
V. C.
He was in better spirits as he read over this letter, and he
chuckled as he addressed it. He pictured himself in the rear
room of the bar in the Rue Auber, relating, across the
little marble-topped table, this American adventure, to the
delight of that blithe, ne'er-do-well outcast of an exalted poor
family, that gambler, blackmailer and merry rogue, Don Antonio
Moliterno, comrade and teacher of this ductile Valentine since
the later days of adolescence. They had been school-fellows in
Rome, and later roamed Europe together unleashed, discovering
worlds of many kinds. Valentine's careless mother let her boy go
as he liked, and was often negligent in the matter of
remittances: he and his friend learned ways to raise the wind,
becoming expert and making curious affiliations. At her death
there was a small inheritance; she had not been provident. The
little she left went rocketing, and there was the wind to be
raised again: young Corliss had wits and had found that they
could supply him--most of the time--with much more than the
necessities of life. He had also found that he possessed a
strong attraction for various women; already--at twenty-two--his
experience was considerable, and, in his way, he became a
specialist. He had a talent; he improved it and his opportunities.
Altogether, he took to the work without malice and with a
light heart. . . .
He sealed the envelope, rang for a boy, gave him the letter
to post, and directed that the apartment should be set to rights.
It was not that in which he had received Ray Vilas. Corliss had
moved to rooms on another floor of the hotel, the day after that
eccentric and somewhat ominous person had called to make an
"investment." Ray's shadowy forebodings concerning that former
apartment had encountered satire: Corliss was a "materialist"
and, at the mildest estimate, an unusually practical man, but he
would never sleep in a bed with its foot toward the door;
southern Italy had seeped into him. He changed his rooms, a
measure of which Don Antonio Moliterno would have wholly
approved. Besides, these were as comfortable as the others, and
so like them as even to confirm Ray's statement concerning "A
Reading from Homer": evidently this work had been purchased by
the edition.
A boy came to announce that his "roadster" waited for him at
the hotel entrance, and Corliss put on a fur motoring coat and
cap, and went downstairs. A door leading from the hotel bar into
the lobby was open, and, as Corliss passed it, there issued a
mocking shout:
"Tor'dor! Oh, look at the Tor'dor! Ain't he the handsome
Ray Vilas stumbled out, tousled, haggard, waving his arms in
absurd and meaningless gestures; an amused gallery of tipplers
filling the doorway behind him.
"Goin' take Carmen buggy ride in the country, ain't he? Good
ole Tor'dor!" he quavered loudly, clutching Corliss's shoulder.
"How much you s'pose he pays f' that buzz-buggy by the day,
jeli'm'n? Naughty Tor'dor, stole thousand dollars from
me--makin' presents--diamond cresses. Tor'dor, I hear you been
playing cards. Tha's sn't nice. Tor'dor, you're not a goo' boy
at all--YOU know you oughtn't waste Dick Lindley's money like
Corliss set his open hand upon the drunkard's breast and sent
him gyrating and plunging backward. Some one caught the
grotesque figure as it fell.
"Oh, my God," screamed Ray, "I haven't got a gun on me! He
KNOWS I haven't got my gun with me! WHY haven't I got my
gun with me?"
They hustled him away, and Corliss, enraged and startled,
passed on. As he sped the car up Corliss Street, he decided
to anticipate his letter to Moliterno by a cable. He had stayed
too long.
Cora looked charming in a new equipment for November
motoring; yet it cannot be said that either of them enjoyed the
drive. They lunched a dozen miles out from the city at an
establishment somewhat in the nature of a roadside inn; and,
although its cuisine was quite unknown to Cora's friend, Mrs.
Villard (an eager amateur of the table), they were served with a
meal of such unusual excellence that the waiter thought it a
thousand pities patrons so distinguished should possess such poor
They returned at about three in the afternoon, and Cora
descended from the car wearing no very amiable expression.
"Why won't you come in now?" she asked, looking at him
angrily. "We've got to talk things out. We've settled nothing
whatever. I want to know why you can't stop."
"I've got some matters to attend to, and----"
"What matters?" She shot him a glance of fierce skepticism.
"Are you packing to get out?"
"Cora!" he cried reproachfully, "how can you say things like
that to ME!"
She shook her head. "Oh, it wouldn't surprise me in the
least! How do _I_ know what you'll do? For all I know, you
may be just that kind of a man. You SAID you ought to be
"Cora," he explained, gently, "I didn't say I meant to go. I
said only that I thought I ought to, because Moliterno will be
needing me in Basilicata. I ought to be there, since it appears
that no more money is to be raised here. I ought to be
superintending operations in the oil-field, so as to make the
best use of the little I have raised."
"You?" she laughed. "Of course _I_ didn't have anything to
do with it!"
He sighed deeply. "You know perfectly well that I appreciate
all you did. We don't seem to get on very well to-day----"
"No!" She laughed again, bitterly. "So you think you'll be
going, don't you?"
"To my rooms to write some necessary letters."
"Of course not to pack your trunk?"
"Cora," he returned, goaded; "sometimes you're just
impossible. I'll come to-morrow forenoon."
"Then don't bring the car. I'm tired of motoring and tired
of lunching in that rotten hole. We can talk just as well in the
library. Papa's better, and that little fiend will be in
school to-morrow. Come out about ten."
He started the machine. "Don't forget I love you," he called
in a low voice.
She stood looking after him as the car dwindled down the
"Yes, you do!" she murmured.
She walked up the path to the house, her face thoughtful, as
with a tiresome perplexity. In her own room, divesting herself
of her wraps, she gave the mirror a long scrutiny. It offered
the picture of a girl with a hard and dreary air; but Cora saw
something else, and presently, though the dreariness remained,
the hardness softened to a great compassion. She suffered: a
warm wave of sorrow submerged her, and she threw herself upon the
bed and wept long and silently for herself.
At last her eyes dried, and she lay staring at the ceiling.
The doorbell rang, and Sarah, the cook, came to inform her that
Mr. Richard Lindley was below.
"Tell him I'm out."
"Can't," returned Sarah. "Done told him you was home." And
she departed firmly.
Thus abandoned, the prostrate lady put into a few words what
she felt about Sarah, and, going to the door, whisperingly
summoned in Laura, who was leaving the sick-room, across the
"Richard is downstairs. Will you go and tell him I'm sick in
bed--or dead? Anything to make him go." And, assuming Laura's
acquiescence, Cora went on, without pause: "Is father worse?
What's the matter with you, Laura?"
"Nothing. He's a little better, Miss Peirce thinks."
"You look ill."
"I'm all right."
"Then run along like a duck and get rid of that old bore for
"Cora--please see him?"
"Not me! I've got too much to think about to bother with
Laura walked to the window and stood with her back to her
sister, apparently interested in the view of Corliss Street there
presented. "Cora," she said, "why don't you marry him and have
done with all this?"
Cora hooted.
"Why not? Why not marry him as soon as you can get ready?
Why don't you go down now and tell him you will? Why not, Cora?"
"I'd as soon marry a pail of milk--yes, tepid milk, skimmed!
"Don't you realize how kind he'd be to you?"
"I don't know about that," said Cora moodily. "He might
object to some things--but it doesn't matter, because I'm not
going to try him. I don't mind a man's being a fool, but I can't
stand the absent-minded breed of idiot. I've worn his diamond in
the pendant right in his eyes for weeks; he's never once noticed
it enough even to ask me about the pendant, but bores me to death
wanting to know why I won't wear the ring! Anyhow, what's the
use talking about him? He couldn't marry me right now, even if I
wanted him to--not till he begins to get something on the
investment he made with Val. Outside of that, he's got nothing
except his rooms at his mother's; she hasn't much either; and if
Richard should lose what he put in with Val, he couldn't marry
for years, probably. That's what made him so obstinate about it.
No; if I ever marry right off the reel it's got to be somebody
"Cora"--Laura still spoke from the window, not
turning--"aren't you tired of it all, of this getting so
upset about one man and then another and----"
"TIRED!" Cora uttered the word in a repressed fury of
emphasis. "I'm sick of EVERYTHING! I don't care for
anything or anybody on this earth--except--except you and mamma.
I thought I was going to love Val. I thought I DID--but oh,
my Lord, I don't! I don't think I CAN care any more. Or
else there isn't any such thing as love. How can anybody tell
whether there is or not? You get kind of crazy over a man and
want to go the limit--or marry him perhaps--or sometimes you just
want to make him crazy about you--and then you get over it--and
what is there left but hell!" She choked with a sour laugh.
"Ugh! For heaven's sake, Laura, don't make me talk.
Everything's gone to the devil and I've got to think. The best
thing you can do is to go down and get rid of Richard for me. I
CAN'T see him!"
"Very well," said Laura, and went to the door.
"You're a darling," whispered Cora, kissing her quickly.
"Tell him I'm in a raging headache--make him think I wanted to
see him, but you wouldn't let me, because I'm too ill." She
laughed. "Give me a little time, old dear: I may decide to
take him yet!"
It was Mrs. Madison who informed the waiting Richard that
Cora was unable to see him, because she was "lying down"; and the
young man, after properly inquiring about Mr. Madison, went
blankly forth.
Hedrick was stalking the front yard, mounted at a great
height upon a pair of stilts. He joined the departing visitor
upon the sidewalk and honoured him with his company, proceeding
storkishly beside him.
"Been to see Cora?"
"Yes, Hedrick."
"What'd you want to see her about?" asked the frank youth
Richard was able to smile. "Nothing in particular, Hedrick."
"You didn't come to tell her about something?"
"Nothing whatever, my dear sir. I wished merely the honour
of seeing her and chatting with her upon indifferent subjects.
"Did you see her?"
"No, I'm sorry to----"
"She's home, all right," Hedrick took pleasure in informing
"Yes. She was lying down and I told your mother not to
disturb her."
"Worn out with too much automobile riding, I expect," Hedrick
sniffed. "She goes out about every day with this Corliss in his
hired roadster."
They walked on in silence. Not far from Mrs. Lindley's,
Hedrick abruptly became vocal in an artificial laugh. Richard
was obviously intended to inquire into its cause, but, as he did
not, Hedrick, after laughing hollowly for some time, volunteered
the explanation:
"I played a pretty good trick on you last night."
"Odd I didn't know it."
"That's why it was good. You'd never guess it in the world."
"No, I believe I shouldn't. You see what makes it so hard,
Hedrick, is that I can't even remember seeing you, last night."
"Nobody saw me. Somebody heard me though, all right."
"The nigger that works at your mother's--Joe."
"What about it? Were you teasing Joe?"
"No, it was you I was after."
"Well? Did you get me?"
Hedrick made another somewhat ghastly pretence of mirth.
"Well, I guess I've had about all the fun out of it I'm going to.
Might as well tell you. It was that book of Laura's you thought
she sent you."
Richard stopped short; whereupon Hedrick turned clumsily, and
began to stalk back in the direction from which they had come.
"That book--I thought she--sent me?" Lindley repeated,
"She never sent it," called the boy, continuing to walk away.
"She kept it hid, and I found it. I faked her into writing your
name on a sheet of paper, and made you think she'd sent the old
thing to you. I just did it for a joke on you."
With too retching an effort to simulate another burst of
merriment, he caught the stump of his right stilt in a pavement
crack, wavered, cut in the air a figure like a geometrical
proposition gone mad, and came whacking to earth in magnificent
Richard took him to Mrs. Lindley for repairs. She kept him
until dark: Hedrick was bandaged, led, lemonaded and blandished.
Never in his life had he known such a listener.
That was a long night for Cora Madison, and the morning found her
yellow. She made a poor breakfast, and returned from the table
to her own room, but after a time descended restlessly and
wandered from one room to another, staring out of the windows.
Laura had gone out; Mrs. Madison was with her husband, whom she
seldom left; Hedrick had departed ostensibly for school; and the
house was as still as a farm in winter--an intolerable condition
of things for an effervescent young woman whose diet was
excitement. Cora, drumming with her fingers upon a window in the
owl-haunted cell, made noises with her throat, her breath and her
lips not unsuggestive of a sputtering fuse. She was heavily
"Now what in thunder do YOU want?" she inquired of an
elderly man who turned in from the sidewalk and with serious
steps approached the house.
Pryor, having rung, found himself confronted with the lady he
had come to seek. Ensued the moment of strangers
meeting: invisible antennae extended and touched;--at the
contact, Cora's drew in, and she looked upon him without
"I just called," he said placatively, smiling as if some
humour lurked in his intention, "to ask how your father is. I
heard downtown he wasn't getting along quite so well."
"He's better this morning, thanks," said Cora, preparing to
close the door.
"I thought I'd just stop and ask about him. I heard he'd had
another bad spell--kind of a second stroke."
"That was night before last. The doctor thinks he's improved
very much since then."
The door was closing; he coughed hastily, and detained it by
speaking again. "I've called several times to inquire about him,
but I believe it's the first time I've had the pleasure of
speaking to you, Miss Madison. I'm Mr. Pryor." She appeared to
find no comment necessary, and he continued: "Your father did a
little business for me, several years ago, and when I was here on
my vacation, this summer, I was mighty sorry to hear of his
sickness. I've had a nice bit of luck lately and got a second
furlough, so I came out to spend a couple of weeks and
Thanksgiving with my married daughter."
Cora supposed that it must be very pleasant.
"Yes," he returned. "But I was mighty sorry to hear your
father wasn't much better than when I left. The truth is, I
wanted to have a talk with him, and I've been reproaching myself
a good deal that I didn't go ahead with it last summer, when he
was well, only I thought then it mightn't be necessary--might be
disturbing things without much reason."
"I'm afraid you can't have a talk with him now," she said.
"The doctor says----"
"I know, I know," said Pryor, "of course. I wonder"--he
hesitated, smiling faintly--"I wonder if I could have it with you
"Oh, it isn't business," he laughed, observing her
expression. "That is, not exactly." His manner became very
serious. "It's about a friend of mine--at least, a man I know
pretty well. Miss Madison, I saw you driving out through the
park with him, yesterday noon, in an automobile. Valentine
Cora stared at him. Honesty, friendliness, and grave concern
were disclosed to her scrutiny. There was no mistaking him:
he was a good man. Her mouth opened, and her eyelids flickered
as from a too sudden invasion of light--the look of one
perceiving the close approach of a vital crisis. But there was
no surprise in her face.
"Come in," she said.
. . . . When Corliss arrived, at about eleven o'clock that
morning, Sarah brought him to the library, where he found Cora
waiting for him. He had the air of a man determined to be
cheerful under adverse conditions: he came in briskly, and Cora
closed the door behind him.
"Keep away from me," she said, pushing him back sharply, the
next instant. "I've had enough of that for a while I believe."
He sank into a chair, affecting desolation. "Caresses
blighted in the bud! Cora, one would think us really married."
She walked across the floor to a window, turned there, with
her back to the light, and stood facing him, her arms folded.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, noting this attitude. "Is it
the trial scene from a faded melodrama?" She looked steadily at
him without replying. "What's it all about to-day?" he
asked lightly. "I'll try to give you the proper cues if you'll
indicate the general nature of the scene, Cora mine."
She continued to look at him in silence.
"It's very effective," he observed. "Brings out the figure,
too. Do forgive me if you're serious, dear lady, but never in my
life was I able to take the folded-arms business seriously. It
was used on the stage of all countries so much that I believe
most new-school actors have dropped it. They think it lacks
Cora waited a moment longer, then spoke. "How much chance
have I to get Richard Lindley's money back from you?"
He was astounded. "Oh, I say!"
"I had a caller, this morning," she said, slowly. "He talked
about you--quite a lot! He's told me several things about you."
"Mr. Vilas?" he asked, with a sting in his quick smile.
"No," she answered coolly. "Much older."
At that he jumped up, stepped quickly close to her, and swept
her with an intense and brilliant scrutiny.
"Pryor, by God!" he cried.
"He knows you pretty well," she said. "So do now!"
He swung away from her, back to his chair, dropped into it
and began to laugh. "Old Pryor! Doddering old Pryor! Doddering
old ass of a Pryor! So he did! Blood of an angel! what a stew,
what a stew!" He rose again, mirthless. "Well, what did he
She had begun to tremble, not with fear. "He said a good
"Well, what was it? What did he tell you?"
"I think you'll find it plenty!"
"Come on!"
"YOU!" She pointed at him.
"Let's have it."
"He told me"--she burst out furiously--"he said you were a
professional sharper!"
"Oh, no. Old Pryor doesn't talk like that."
She came toward him. "He told me you were notorious over
half of Europe," she cried vehemently. "He said he'd arrested
you himself, once, in Rotterdam, for smuggling jewels, and that
you were guilty, but managed to squirm out of it. He said the
police had put you out of Germany and you'd be arrested if you
ever tried to go back. He said there were other places you
didn't dare set foot in, and he said he could have you arrested
in this country any time he wanted to, and that he was going to
do it if he found you'd been doing anything wrong. Oh, yes, he
told me a few things!"
He caught her by the shoulder. "See here, Cora, do you
believe all this tommy-rot?"
She shook his hand off instantly. "Believe it? I know it!
There isn't a straight line in your whole soul and mind: you're
crooked all over. You've been crooked with ME from the
start. The moment that man began to speak, I knew every word of
it was true. He came to me because he thought it was right: he
hasn't anything against you on his own account; he said he
LIKED you! I KNEW it was true, I tell you."
He tried to put his hand on her shoulder again, beginning to
speak remonstratingly, but she cried out in a rage, broke away
from him, and ran to the other end of the room.
"Keep away! Do you suppose I like you to touch me? He told
me you always had been a wonder with women! Said you were famous
for `handling them the right way'--using them! Ah, that was
pleasant information for ME, wasn't it! Yes, I could
have confirmed him on that point. He wanted to know if I thought
you'd been doing anything of that sort here. What he meant was:
Had you been using me?"
"What did you tell him?" The question rang sharply on the
"Ha! That gets into you, does it?" she returned bitterly.
"You can't overdo your fear of that man, I think, but _I_
didn't tell him anything. I just listened and thanked him for
the warning, and said I'd have nothing more to do with you. How
COULD I tell him? Wasn't it I that made papa lend you his
name, and got Richard to hand over his money? Where does that
put ME?" She choked; sobs broke her voice. "Every--every
soul in town would point me out as a laughing-stock--the easiest
fool out of the asylum! Do you suppose _I_ want you arrested
and the whole thing in the papers? What I want is Richard's
money back, and I'm going to have it!"
"Can you be quiet for a moment and listen?" he asked gravely.
If you'll tell me what chance I have to get it back."
"Cora," he said, "you don't want it back."
"Oh? Don't I?"
"No." He smiled faintly, and went on. "Now, all this
nonsense of old Pryor's isn't worth denying. I have met him
abroad; that much is true--and I suppose I have rather a gay
She uttered a jeering shout.
"Wait!" he said. "I told you I'd cut quite a swathe, when I
first talked to you about myself. Let it go for the present and
come down to this question of Lindley's investment----"
"Yes. That's what I want you to come down to."
"As soon as Lindley paid in his check I gave him his stock
certificates, and cabled the money to be used at once in the
development of the oil-fields----"
"What! That man told me you'd `promoted' a South American
rubber company once, among people of the American colony in
Paris. The details he gave me sounded strangely familiar!"
"You'd as well be patient, Cora. Now, that money has
probably been partially spent, by this time, on tools and labour
"What are you trying to----"
"I'll show you. But first I'd like you to understand
that nothing can be done to me. There's nothing `on' me! I've
acted in good faith, and if the venture in oil is unsuccessful,
and the money lost, I can't be held legally responsible, nor can
any one prove that I am. I could bring forty witnesses from
Naples to swear they have helped to bore the wells. I'm safe as
your stubborn friend, Mr. Trumble, himself. But now then,
suppose that old Pryor is right--as of course he isn't--suppose
it, merely for a moment, because it will aid me to convey
something to your mind. If I were the kind of man he says I am,
and, being such a man, had planted the money out of reach, for my
own use, what on earth would induce me to give it back?"
"I knew it!" she groaned. "I knew you wouldn't!"
"You see," he said quietly, "it would be impossible. We must
go on supposing for a moment: if I had put that money away, I
might be contemplating a departure----"
"You'd better!" she cried fiercely. "He's going to find out
everything you've been doing. He said so. He's heard a rumour
that you were trying to raise money here; he told me so, and said
he'd soon----"
"The better reason for not delaying, perhaps. Cora, see
here!" He moved nearer her. "Wouldn't I need a lot of money if
I expected to have a beautiful lady to care for, and----"
"You idiot!" she screamed. "Do you think I'm going with
He flushed heavily. "Well, aren't you?" He paused, to stare
at her, as she wrung her hands and sobbed with hysterical
laughter. "I thought," he went on, slowly, "that you would
possibly even insist on that."
"Oh, Lord, Lord, Lord!" She stamped her foot, and with both
hands threw the tears from her eyes in wide and furious gestures.
"He told me you were married----"
"Did you let him think you hadn't known that?" demanded
"I tell you I didn't let him think ANYTHING! He said you
would never be able to get a divorce: that your wife hates you
too much to get one from you, and that she'll never----"
"See here, Cora," he said harshly, "I told you I'd been
married; I told you before I ever kissed you. You understood
"I did not! You said you HAD been. You laughed
about it. You made me think it was something that had
happened a long time ago. I thought of course you'd been
"But I told you----"
"You told me after! And then you made me think you could
easily get one--that it was only a matter of form and----"
"Cora," he interrupted, "you're the most elaborate little
self-deceiver I ever knew. I don't believe you've ever faced
yourself for an honest moment in----"
"Honest! YOU talk about `honest'! You use that word and
face ME?"
He came closer, meeting her distraught eyes squarely. "You
love to fool yourself, Cora, but the role of betrayed virtue
doesn't suit you very well. You're young, but you're a pretty
experienced woman for all that, and you haven't done anything you
didn't want to. You've had both eyes open every minute, and we
both know it. You are just as wise as----"
"You're lying and YOU know it! What did _I_ want to
make Richard go into your scheme for? You made a fool of me."
"I'm not speaking of the money now," he returned
quickly. "You'd better keep your mind on the subject. Are
you coming away with me?"
"What for?" she asked.
"What FOR?" he echoed incredulously. "I want to know if
you're coming. I promise you I'll get a divorce as soon as it's
"Val," she said, in a tone lower than she had used since he
entered the room; "Val, do you want me to come?"
"Much?" She looked at him eagerly.
"Yes, I do." His answer sounded quite genuine.
"Will it hurt you if I don't?"
"Of course it will."
"Thank heaven for that," she said quietly.
"You honestly mean you won't?"
"It makes me sick with laughing just to imagine it! I've
done some hard little thinking, lately, my friend--particularly
last night, and still more particularly this morning since that
man was here. I'd cut my throat before I'd go with you. If you
had your divorce I wouldn't marry you--not if you were the last
man on earth!"
"Cora," he cried, aghast, "what's the matter with you?
You're too many for me sometimes. I thought I understood a
few kinds of women! Now listen: I've offered to take you, and
you can't say----"
"Offered!" It was she who came toward him now. She came
swiftly, shaking with rage, and struck him upon the breast.
"`Offered'! Do you think I want to go trailing around Europe
with you while Dick Lindley's money lasts? What kind of a life
are you `offering' me? Do you suppose I'm going to have
everybody saying Cora Madison ran away with a jail-bird? Do you
think I'm going to dodge decent people in hotels and steamers,
and leave a name in this town that--Oh, get out! I don't want
any help from you! I can take care of myself, I tell you; and I
don't have to marry YOU! I'd kill you if I could--you made a
fool of me!" Her voice rose shrilly. "You made a fool of me!"
"Cora----" he began, imploringly.
"You made a fool of me!" She struck him again.
"Strike me," he said. "I love you
"Cora, I want you. I want you more than I ever----"
She screamed with hysterical laughter. "Liar, liar,
liar! The same old guff. Don't you even see it's too late for
the old rotten tricks?"
"Cora, I want you to come."
"You poor, conceited fool," she cried, "do you think you're
the only man I can marry?"
"Cora," he gasped, "you wouldn't do that!"
"Oh, get out! Get out NOW! I'm tired of you. I never
want to hear you speak again."
"Cora,"he begged. "For the last time----"
"NO! You made a fool of me!" She beat him upon the
breast, striking again and again, with all her strength. "Get
out, I tell you! I'm through with you!"
He tried to make her listen, to hold her wrists: he could do
"Get out--get out!" she screamed. She pushed and dragged him
toward the door, and threw it open. Her voice thickened; she
choked and coughed, but kept on screaming: "Get out, I tell you!
Get out, get out, damn you! Damn you, DAMN you! get out!"
Still continuing to strike him with all her strength, she
forced him out of the door.
Cora lost no time. Corliss had not closed the front door behind
him before she was running up the stairs. Mrs. Madison, emerging
from her husband's room, did not see her daughter's face; for
Cora passed her quickly, looking the other way.
"Was anything the matter?" asked the mother anxiously. "I
thought I heard----"
"Nothing in the world," Cora flung back over her shoulder.
"Mr. Corliss said I couldn't imitate Sara Bernhardt, and I showed
him I could." She began to hum; left a fragment of "rag-time"
floating behind her as she entered her own room; and Mrs.
Madison, relieved, returned to the invalid.
Cora changed her clothes quickly. She put on a pale gray
skirt and coat for the street, high shoes and a black velvet hat,
very simple. The costume was almost startlingly becoming to her:
never in her life had she looked prettier. She opened her small
jewel-case, slipped all her rings upon her fingers;
then put the diamond crescent, the pendant, her watch, and three
or four other things into the flat, envelope-shaped bag of soft
leather she carried when shopping. After that she brought from
her clothes-pantry a small travelling-bag and packed it
Laura, returning from errands downtown and glancing up at
Cora's window, perceived an urgently beckoning, gray-gloved hand,
and came at once to her sister's room.
The packed bag upon the bed first caught her eye; then Cora's
attire, and the excited expression of Cora's face, which was
high-flushed and moist, glowing with a great resolve.
"What's happened?" asked Laura quickly. "You look exactly
like a going-away bride. What----"
Cora spoke rapidly: "Laura, I want you to take this bag and
keep it in your room till a messenger-boy comes for it. When the
bell rings, go to the door yourself, and hand it to him. Don't
give Hedrick a chance to go to the door. Just give it to the
boy;--and don't say anything to mamma about it. I'm going
downtown and I may not be back."
Laura began to be frightened.
"What is it you want to do, Cora?" she asked, trembling.
Cora was swift and business-like. "See here, Laura, I've got
to keep my head about me. You can do a great deal for me, if you
won't be emotional just now, and help me not to be. I can't
afford it, because I've got to do things, and I'm going to do
them just as quickly as I can, and get it over. If I wait any
longer I'll go insane. I CAN'T wait! You've been a
wonderful sister to me; I've always counted on you, and you've
never once gone back on me. Right now, I need you to help me
more than I ever have in my life. Will you----"
"But I must know----"
"No, you needn't! I'll tell you just this much: I've got
myself in a devil of a mess----"
Laura threw her arms round her: "Oh, my dear, dear little
sister!" she cried.
But Cora drew away. "Now that's just what you mustn't do. I
can't stand it! You've got to be QUIET. I can't----"
"Yes, yes," Laura said hurriedly. "I will. I'll do whatever
you say."
"It's perfectly simple: all I want you to do is to take
charge of my travelling-bag, and, when a messenger-boy
comes, give it to him without letting anybody know anything about
"But I've got to know where you're going--I can't let you go
and not----"
"Yes, you can! Besides, you've promised to. I'm not going
to do anything foolish ----"
"Then why not tell me?" Laura began. She went on, imploring
Cora to confide in her, entreating her to see their mother--to do
a dozen things altogether outside of Cora's plans.
"You're wasting your breath, Laura," said the younger sister,
interrupting, "and wasting my time. You're in the dark: you
think I'm going to run away with Val Corliss and you're wrong. I
sent him out of the house for good, a while ago----"
"Thank heaven for that!" cried Laura.
"I'm going to take care of myself," Cora went on rapidly.
"I'm going to get out of the mess I'm in, and you've got to let
me do it my own way. I'll send you a note from downtown.
You see that the messenger----"
She was at the door, but Laura caught her by the sleeve,
protesting and beseeching.
Cora turned desperately. "See here. I'll come back in two
hours and tell you all about it. If I promise that, will
you promise to send me the bag by the----"
"But if you're coming back you won't need----"
Cora spoke very quietly. "I'll go to pieces in a moment.
Really, I do think I'd better jump out of the window and have it
"I'll send the bag," Laura quavered, "if you'll promise to
come back in two hours."
"I promise!"
Cora gave her a quick embrace, a quick kiss, and, dry-eyed,
ran out of the room, down the stairs, and out of the house.
She walked briskly down Corliss Street. It was a clear day,
bright noon, with an exhilarating tang in the air, and a sky so
glorious that people outdoors were continually conscious of the
blue overhead, and looked up at it often. An autumnal
cheerfulness was abroad, and pedestrians showed it in their
quickened steps, in their enlivened eyes, and frequent smiles,
and in the colour of their faces. But none showed more colour or
a gayer look than Cora. She encountered many whom she knew, for
it was indeed a day to be stirring, and she nodded and smiled her
way all down the long street, thinking of what these greeted
people would say to-morrow. "_I_ saw her yesterday,
walking down Corliss Street, about noon, in a gray suit and
looking fairly radiant!" Some of those she met were enemies she
had chastened; she prophesied their remarks with accuracy. Some
were old suitors, men who had desired her; one or two had place
upon her long list of boy-sweethearts: she gave the same gay,
friendly nod to each of them, and foretold his morrow's thoughts
of her, in turn. Her greeting of Mary Kane was graver, as was
aesthetically appropriate, Mr. Wattling's engagement having been
broken by that lady, immediately after his drive to the Country
Club for tea. Cora received from the beautiful jilt a salutation
even graver than her own, which did not confound her.
Halfway down the street was a drug-store. She went in, and
obtained appreciative permission to use the telephone. She came
out well satisfied, and went swiftly on her way. Ten minutes
later, she opened the door of Wade Trumble's office.
He was alone; her telephone had caught him in the act of
departing for lunch. But he had been glad to wait--glad to the
verge of agitation.
"By George, Cora!" he exclaimed, as she came quickly in and
closed the door, "but you CAN look stunning! Believe
me, that's some get-up. But let me tell you right here and now,
before you begin, it's no use your tackling me again on the oil
proposition. If there was any chance of my going into it which
there wasn't, not one on earth--why, the very fact of your asking
me would have stopped me. I'm no Dick Lindley, I beg to inform
you: I don't spend my money helping a girl that I want, myself,
to make a hit with another man. You treated me like a dog about
that, right in the street, and you needn't try it again, because
I won't stand for it. You can't play ME, Cora!"
"Wade," she said, coming closer, and looking at him
mysteriously, "didn't you tell me to come to you when I got
through playing?"
"What?" He grew very red, took a step back from her, staring
at her distrustfully, incredulously.
"I've got through playing", she said in a low voice. "And
I've come to you."
He was staggered. "You've come----" he said, huskily.
"Here I am, Wade."
He had flushed, but now the colour left his small face, and
he grew very white. "I don't believe you mean it."
"Listen," she said. "I was rotten to you about that oil
nonsense. It WAS nonsense, nothing on earth but nonsense. I
tell you frankly I was a fool. I didn't care the snap of my
finger for Corliss, but--oh, what's the use of pretending? You
were always such a great `business man,' always so absorbed in
business, and put it before everything else in the world. You
cared for me, but you cared for business more than for me. Well,
no woman likes THAT, Wade. I've come to tell you the whole
thing: I can't stand it any longer. I suffered horribly because--
because----" She faltered. "Wade, that was no way to
WIN a girl."
"Cora!" His incredulity was strong.
"I thought I hated you for it, Wade. Yes, I did think that;
I'm telling you everything, you see just blurting it out as it
comes, Wade. Well, Corliss asked me to help him, and it struck
me I'd show that I could understand a business deal, myself.
Wade, this is pretty hard to say, I was such a little fool, but
you ought to know it. You've got a right to know it, Wade: I
thought if I put through a thing like that, it would make a
tremendous hit with you, and that then I could say: `So this is
the kind of thing you put ahead of ME, is it? Simple little
things like this, that _I_ can do, myself, by turning over
my little finger!' So I got Richard to go in--that was easy; and
then it struck me that the crowning triumph of the whole thing
would be to get you to come in yourself. That WOULD be
showing you, I thought! But you wouldn't: you put me in my
place--and I was angry--I never was so angry in my life, and I
showed it." Tears came into her voice. "Oh, Wade," she said,
softly, "it was the very wildness of my anger that showed what I
really felt."
"About--about ME?" His incredulity struggled with his
hope. He stepped close to her.
"What an awful fool I've been, she sighed.
"Why, I thought I could show you I was your EQUAL! And
look what it's got me into, Wade!"
"What has it got you into, Cora?"
"One thing worth while: I can see what I really am when I
try to meet you on your own ground." She bent her head, humbly,
then lifted it, and spoke rapidly. "All the rest is dreadful,
Wade. I had a distrust of Corliss from the first; I didn't like
him, but I took him up because I thought he offered the chance to
show YOU what I could do. Well, it's got me into a most
horrible mess. He's a swindler, a rank----"
"By George!" Wade shouted. "Cora, you're talking out now
like a real woman."
"Listen. I got horribly tired of him after a week or so, but
I'd promised to help him and I didn't break with him; but
yesterday I just couldn't stand him any longer and I told him so,
and sent him away. Then, this morning, an old man came to the
house, a man named Pryor, who knew him and knew his record, and
he told me all about him." She narrated the interview.
"But you had sent Corliss away first?" Wade asked, sharply.
"Yesterday, I tell you." She set her hand on the little
man's shoulder. "Wade, there's bound to be a scandal over all
this. Even if Corliss gets away without being arrested and
tried, the whole thing's bound to come OUT. I'll be the
laughing-stock of the town--and I deserve to be: it's all through
having been ridiculous idiot enough to try and impress you with
my business brilliancy. Well, I can't stand it!"
"Cora, do you----" He faltered.
She leaned toward him, her hand still on his shoulder, her
exquisite voice lowered, and thrilling in its sweetness. "Wade,
I'm through playing. I've come to you at last because you've
utterly conquered me. If you'll take me away to-day, I'll
MARRY you to-day!"
He gave a shout that rang again from the walls.
"Do you want me?" she whispered; then smiled upon his rapture
Rapture it was. With the word "marry," his incredulity sped
forever. But for a time he was incoherent: he leaped and hopped,
spoke broken bits of words, danced fragmentarily, ate her with
his eyes, partially embraced her, and finally kissed her timidly.
"Such a wedding we'll have!" he shouted, after that.
"No!" she said sharply. "We'll be married by a Justice of
the Peace and not a soul there but us, and it will be now, or it
never will be! If you don't----"
He swore she should have her way.
"Then we'll be out of this town on the three o'clock train
this afternoon," she said. She went on with her plans, while he,
growing more accustomed to his privilege, caressed her as he
would. "You shall have your way," she said, "in everything
except the wedding-journey. That's got to be a long one--I won't
come back here till people have forgotten all about this Corliss
mix-up. I've never been abroad, and I want you to take me.
We can stay a long, long time. I've brought nothing--we'll get
whatever we want in New York before we sail."
He agreed to everything. He had never really hoped to win
her; paradise had opened, dazing him with glory: he was
astounded, mad with joy, and abjectly his lady's servant.
"Hadn't you better run along and get the license?" she
laughed. "We'll have to be married on the way to the train."
"Cora!" he gasped. "You angel!"
"I'll wait here for you," she smiled. "There won't be too
much time."
He obtained a moderate control of his voice and feet.
"Enfield--that's my cashier--he'll be back from his lunch at
one-thirty. Tell him about us, if I'm not here by then. Tell
him he's got to manage somehow. Good-bye till I come back Mrs.
At the door he turned. "Oh, have you--you----" He paused
uncertainly. "Have you sent Richard Lindley any word about----"
"Wade!" She gave his inquiry an indulgent amusement. "If
I'm not worrying about him, do you think you need to?"
"I meant about----"
"You funny thing," she said. "I never had any idea of really
marrying him; it wasn't anything but one of those silly
half-engagements, and----"
"I didn't mean that, "he said, apologetically. "I meant
about letting him know what this Pryor told you about Corliss, so
that Richard might do something toward getting his money back.
We ought to{}
"Oh, yes," she said quickly. "Yes, that's all right."
"You saw Richard?"
"No. I sent him a note. He knows all about it by this time,
if he has been home this morning. You'd better start, Wade.
Send a messenger to our house for my bag. Tell him to bring it
here and then take a note for me. You'd really better
"CORA!" he shouted, took her in his arms, and was gone.
His departing gait down the corridor to the elevator seemed, from
the sounds, to be a gallop.
Left alone, Cora wrote, sealed, and directed a note to Laura.
In it she recounted what Pryor had told her of Corliss; begged
Laura and her parents not to think her heartless in not preparing
them for this abrupt marriage. She was in such a state of
nervousness, she wrote, that explanations would have caused a
breakdown. The marriage was a sensible one; she had long
contemplated it as a possibility; and, after thinking it over
thoroughly, she had decided it was the only thing to do. She
sent her undying love.
She was sitting with this note in her hand when shuffling
footsteps sounded in the corridor; either Wade's cashier or the
messenger, she supposed. The door-knob turned, a husky voice
asking, "Want a drink?" as the door opened.
Cora was not surprised--she knew Vilas's office was across
the hall from that in which she waited--but she was frightened.
Ray stood blinking at her.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, at last.
It is probable that he got the truth out of her, perhaps all of
it. That will remain a matter of doubt; Cora's evidence, if she
gave it, not being wholly trustworthy in cases touching herself.
But she felt no need of mentioning to any one that she had seen
her former lover that day. He had gone before the return of
Enfield, Mr. Trumble's assistant, who was a little later than
usual, it happened; and the extreme nervousness and preoccupation
exhibited by Cora in telling Enfield of his employer's new plans
were attributed by the cashier to the natural agitation of a lady
about to wed in a somewhat unusual (though sensible) manner.
It is the more probable that she told Ray the whole truth,
because he already knew something of Corliss's record abroad. On
the dusty desk in Ray's own office lay a letter, received that
morning from the American Consul at Naples, which was luminous
upon that subject, and upon the probabilities of financial returns
for the investment of a thousand dollars
in the alleged oil-fields of Basilicata.
In addition, Cora had always found it very difficult to
deceive Vilas: he had an almost perfect understanding of a part
of her nature; she could never far mislead him about herself.
With her, he was intuitive and jumped to strange, inconsistent,
true conclusions, as women do. He had the art of reading her
face, her gestures; he had learned to listen to the tone of her
voice more than to what she said. In his cups, too, he had
fitful but almost demoniac inspirations for hidden truth.
And, remembering that Cora always "got even," it remains
finally to wonder if she might not have told him everything at
the instance of some shadowy impulse in that direction. There
may have been a luxury in whatever confession she made; perhaps
it was not entirely forced from her, and heaven knows how she may
have coloured it. There was an elusive, quiet satisfaction
somewhere in her subsequent expression; it lurked deep under the
surface of the excitement with which she talked to Enfield of her
imminent marital abduction of his small boss.
Her agitation, a relic of the unknown interview just past,
simmered down soon, leaving her in a becoming glow of
colour, with slender threads of moisture brilliantly outlining
her eyelids. Mr. Enfield, a young, well-favoured and recent
importation from another town, was deliciously impressed by the
charm of the waiting lady. They had not met; and Enfield
wondered how Trumble had compassed such an enormous success as
this; and he wished that he had seen her before matters had gone
so far. He thought he might have had a chance. She seemed
pleasantly interested in him, even as it was--and her eyes were
wonderful, with their swift, warm, direct little plunges into
those of a chance comrade of the moment. She went to the window,
in her restlessness, looking down upon the swarming street below,
and the young man, standing beside her, felt her shoulder most
pleasantly though very lightly--in contact with his own, as they
leaned forward, the better to see some curiosity of advertising
that passed. She turned her face to his just then, and told him
that he must come to see her: the wedding journey would be long,
she said, but it would not be forever.
Trumble bounded in, shouting that everything was attended to,
except instructions to Enfield, whom he pounded wildly upon the
back. He began signing papers; a stenographer was called
from another room of his offices; and there was half an hour of
rapid-fire. Cora's bag came, and she gave the bearer the note
for Laura; another bag was brought for Wade; and both bags were
carried down to the automobile the bridegroom had left waiting in
the street. Last, came a splendid cluster of orchids for the
bride to wear, and then Wade, with his arm about her, swept her
into the corridor, and the stirred Enfield was left to his own
beating heart, and the fresh, radiant vision of this startling
new acquaintance: the sweet mystery of the look she had thrown
back at him over his employer's shoulder at the very last. "Do
not forget ME!" it had seemed to say. "We shall come
back--some day."
The closed car bore the pair to the little grim marriage-shop
quickly enough, though they were nearly run down by a furious
police patrol automobile, at a corner near the Richfield Hotel.
Their escape was by a very narrow margin of safety, and Cora
closed her eyes. Then she was cross, because she had been
frightened, and commanded Wade cavalierly to bid the driver be
more careful.
Wade obeyed sympathetically. "Of course, though, it wasn't
altogether his fault," he said, settling back, his arm round
his lady's waist. "It's an outrage for the police to break their
own rules that way. I guess they don't need to be in a hurry any
more than WE do!"
The Justice made short work of it.
As they stood so briefly before him, there swept across her
vision the memory of what she had always prophesied as her
wedding:--a crowded church, "The Light That Breathed O'er Eden"
from an unseen singer; then the warm air trembling to the Lohengrin
march; all heads turning; the procession down the aisle;
herself appearing--climax of everything--a delicious and
brilliant figure: graceful, rosy, shy, an imperial prize for the
groom, who in these foreshadowings had always been very
indistinct. The picture had always failed in outline there: the
bridegroom's nearest approach to definition had never been
clearer than a composite photograph. The truth is, Cora never in
her life wished to be married.
But she was.
Valentine Corliss had nothing to do but to wait for the money his
friend Antonio would send him by cable. His own cable,
anticipating his letter, had been sent yesterday, when he came
back to the hotel, after lunching in the country with Cora.
As he walked down Corliss Street, after his tumultuous
interview with her, he was surprised to find himself physically
tremulous: he had not supposed that an encounter, however
violent, with an angry woman could so upset his nerves. It was
no fear of Pryor which shook him. He knew that Pryor did not
mean to cause his arrest--certainly not immediately. Of course,
Pryor knew that Cora would tell him. The old fellow's move was a
final notification. It meant: "Get out of town within
twenty-four hours." And Corliss intended to obey. He would have
left that evening, indeed, without the warning; his trunk was
He would miss Cora. He had kept a cool head
throughout their affair until the last; but this morning she
had fascinated him: and he found himself passionately admiring
the fury of her. She had confused him as he had never been
confused. He thought he had tamed her; thought he owned her; and
the discovery of this mistake was what made him regret that she
would not come away with him. Such a flight, until to-day, had
been one of his apprehensions: but now the thought that it was
not to be, brought something like pain. At least, he felt a
vacancy; had a sense of something lacking. She would have been a
bright comrade for the voyage; and he thought of gestures of
hers, turns of the head, tricks of the lovely voice; and sighed.
Of course it was best for him that he could return to his old
trails alone and free; he saw that. Cora would have been a
complication and an embarrassment without predictable end, but
she would have been a rare flame for a while. He wondered what
she meant to do; of course she had a plan. Should he try again,
give her another chance? No; there was one point upon which she
had not mystified him: he knew she really hated him.
. . . The wind was against the smoke that day; and his
spirits rose, as he walked in the brisk air with the rich
sky above him. After all, this venture upon his native purlieus
had been fax from fruitless: he could not have expected to do
much better. He had made his coup; he knew no other who
could have done it. It was a handsome bit of work, in fact, and
possible only to a talented native thoroughly sophisticated in
certain foreign subtleties. He knew himself for a rare
He had a glimmer of Richard Lindley beginning at the
beginning again to build a modest fortune: it was the sort of
thing the Richard Lindleys were made for. Corliss was not
troubled. Richard had disliked him as a boy; did not like him
now; but Corliss had not taken his money out of malice for that.
The adventurer was not revengeful; he was merely impervious.
At the hotel, he learned that Moliterno's cable had not yet
arrived; but he went to an agency of one of the steamship lines
and reserved his passage, and to a railway ticket office and
secured a compartment for himself on an evening train. Then he
returned to his room in the hotel.
The mirror over the mantelpiece, in the front room of his
suite, showed him a fine figure of a man: hale, deep-chested,
handsome, straight and cheerful.
He nodded to it.
"Well, old top," he said, reviewing and summing up his whole
campaign, "not so bad. Not so bad, all in all; not so bad, old
top. Well played indeed!"
At a sound of footsteps approaching his door, he turned in
casual expectancy, thinking it might be a boy to notify him that
Moliterno's cable had arrived. But there was no knock, and the
door was flung wide open.
It was Vilas, and he had his gun with him this time. He had
There was a shallow clothes-closet in the wall near the
fireplace, and Corliss ran in there; but Vilas began to shoot
through the door.
Mutilated, already a dead man, and knowing it, Corliss came
out, and tried to run into the bedroom. It was no use.
Ray saved his last shot for himself. It did the work.
There is a song of parting, an intentionally pathetic song, which
contains the line, "All the tomorrows shall be as to-day, " meaning
equally gloomy. Young singers, loving this line, take care
to pronounce the words with unusual distinctness: the listener
may feel that the performer has the capacity for great and
consistent suffering. It is not, of course, that youth loves
unhappiness, but the appearance of it, its supposed picturesqueness.
Youth runs from what is pathetic, but hangs fondly upon
pathos. It is the idea of sorrow, not sorrow, which charms: and
so the young singer dwells upon those lingering tomorrows, happy
in the conception of a permanent wretchedness incurred in the
interest of sentiment. For youth believes in permanence.
It is when we are young that we say, "I shall never," and "I
shall always," not knowing that we are only time's atoms in a
crucible of incredible change. An old man scarce dares say, "I
have never," for he knows that if he searches he will
find, probably, that he has. "All, all is change."
It was an evening during the winter holidays when Mrs.
Lindley, coming to sit by the fire in her son's smoking-room,
where Richard sat glooming, narrated her legend of the Devil of
Lisieux. It must have been her legend: the people of Lisieux
know nothing of it; but this Richard the Guileless took it for
tradition, as she alleged it, and had no suspicion that she had
spent the afternoon inventing it.
She did not begin the recital immediately upon taking her
chair, across the hearth from her son; she led up to it. She was
an ample, fresh-coloured, lively woman; and like her son only in
being a kind soul: he got neither his mortal seriousness nor his
dreaminess from her. She was more than content with Cora's
abandonment of him, though, as chivalrousness was not demanded of
her, she would have preferred that he should have been the jilt.
She thought Richard well off in his release, even at the price of
all his savings. But there was something to hope, even in that
matter, Pryor wrote from Paris encouragingly: he believed that
Moliterno might be frightened or forced into at least a partial
restitution; though Richard would not count upon it, and had
"begun at the beginning" again, as a small-salaried clerk in a
bank, trudging patiently to work in the morning and home in the
evening, a long-faced, tired young man, more absent than ever,
lifeless, and with no interest in anything outside his own
broodings. His mother, pleased with his misfortune in love, was
of course troubled that it should cause him to suffer. She knew
she could not heal him; but she also knew that everything is
healed in time, and that sometimes it is possible for people to
help time a little.
Her first remark to her son, this evening, was that to the
best of her memory she had never used the word "hellion." And,
upon his saying gently, no, he thought it probable that she never
had, but seeking no farther and dropping his eyes to the burning
wood, apparently under the impression that the subject was
closed, she informed him brusquely that it was her intention to
say it now.
"What is it you want to say, mother?"
"If I can bring myself to use the word `hellion'," she
returned, "I'm going to say that of all the heaven-born,
whole-souled and consistent ones I ever knew Hedrick Madison is
the King."
"In what new way?" he inquired.
"Egerton Villard. Egerton used to be the neatest,
best-mannered, best-dressed boy in town; but he looks and behaves
like a Digger Indian since he's taken to following Hedrick
around. Mrs. Villard says it's the greatest sorrow of her life,
but she's quite powerless: the boy is Hedrick's slave. The other
day she sent a servant after him, and just bringing him home
nearly ruined her limousine. He was solidly covered with
molasses, over his clothes and all, from head to foot, and then
he'd rolled in hay and chicken feathers to be a GNU for
Hedrick to kodak in the African Wilds of the Madisons' stable.
Egerton didn't know what a gnu was, but Hedrick told him that was
the way to be one, he said. Then, when they'd got him scraped
and boiled, and most of his hair pulled out, a policemen came to
arrest him for stealing the jug of molasses at a corner grocery."
Richard nodded, and smiled faintly for comment. They sat in
silence for a while.
"I saw Mrs. Madison yesterday," said his mother. "She seemed
very cheerful; her husband is able to talk almost perfectly
again, though he doesn't get downstairs. Laura reads to him a
great deal."
He nodded again, his gaze not moving from the fire.
"Laura was with her mother," said Mrs. Lindley. "She looked
very fetching in a black cloth suit and a fur hat--old ones her
sister left, I suspect, but very becoming, for all that. Laura's
`going out' more than usual this winter. She's really the belle
of the holiday dances, I hear. Of course she would be", she
added, thoughtfully--"now."
"Why should she be `now' more than before?"
"Oh, Laura's quite blossomed," Mrs. Lindley answered. "I
think she's had some great anxieties relieved. Of course both
she and her mother must have worried about Cora as much as they
waited on her. It must be a great burden lifted to have her
comfortably settled, or, at least, disposed of. I thought they
both looked better. But I have a special theory about Laura: I
suppose you'll laugh at me----"
"Oh, no."
"I wish you would sometimes," she said wistfully, "so only
you laughed. My idea is that Laura was in love with that poor
little Trumble, too."
"What?" He looked up at that.
"Yes; girls fall in love with anybody. I fancy she
cared very deeply for him; but I think she's a strong, sane
woman, now. She's about the steadiest, coolest person I
know--and I know her better, lately, than I used to. I think she
made up her mind that she'd not sit down and mope over her
unhappiness, and that she'd get over what caused it; and she took
the very best remedy: she began going about, going everywhere,
and she went gayly, too! And I'm sure she's cured; I'm sure she
doesn't care the snap of her fingers for Wade Trumble or any man
alive. She's having a pretty good time, I imagine: she has
everything in the world except money, and she's never cared at
all about THAT. She's young, and she dresses well--these
days--and she's one of the handsomest girls in town; she plays
like a poet, and she dances well----"
"Yes," said Richard;--reflectively, "she does dance well."
"And from what I hear from Mrs. Villard," continued his
mother, "I guess she has enough young men in love with her to
keep any girl busy."
He was interested enough to show some surprise. "In love
with Laura?"
"Four, I hear." The best of women are sometimes the readiest
with impromptu statistics.
"Well, well!" he said, mildly.
"You see, Laura has taken to smiling on the world, and the
world smiles back at her. It's not a bad world about that,
"No," he sighed. "I suppose not."
"But there's more than that in this case, my dear son."
"Is there?"
The intelligent and gentle matron laughed as though at some
unexpected turn of memory and said:
"Speaking of Hedrick, did you ever hear the story of the
Devil of Lisieux, Richard?"
"I think not; at least, I don't remember it."
"Lisieux is a little town in Normandy," she said. "I was
there a few days with your father, one summer, long ago. It's a
country full of old stories, folklore, and traditions; and the
people still believe in the Old Scratch pretty literally. This
legend was of the time when he came to Lisieux. The people knew
he was coming because a wise woman had said that he was on the
way, and predicted that he would arrive at the time of the great
fair. Everybody was in great distress, because they knew that
whoever looked at him would become bewitched, but, of
course, they had to go to the fair. The wise woman was able to
give them a little comfort; she said some one was coming with the
devil, and that the people must not notice the devil, but keep
their eyes fastened on this other--then they would be free of the
fiend's influence. But, when the devil arrived at the fair,
nobody even looked to see who his companion was, for the devil
was so picturesque, so vivid, all in flaming scarlet and orange,
and he capered and danced and sang so that nobody could help
looking at him--and, after looking once, they couldn't look away
until they were thoroughly under his spell. So they were all
bewitched, and began to scream and howl and roll on the ground,
and turn on each other and brawl, and `commit all manner of
excesses.' Then the wise woman was able to exorcise the devil,
and he sank into the ground; but his companion stayed, and the
people came to their senses, and looked, and they saw that it was
an angel. The angel had been there all the time that the fiend
was, of course. So they have a saying now, that there may be
angels with us, but we don't notice them when the devil's about."
She did not look at her son as she finished, and she had
hurried through the latter part of her
"legend" with increasing timidity. The parallel was more severe,
now that she put it to him, than she intended; it sounded savage;
and she feared she had overshot her mark. Laura, of course, was
the other, the companion; she had been actually a companion for
the vivid sister, everywhere with her at the fair, and never
considered: now she emerged from her overshadowed obscurity, and
people were able to see her as an individual--heretofore she had
been merely the retinue of a flaming Cora. But the "legend" was
not very gallant to Cora!
Mrs. Lindley knew that it hurt her son; she felt it without
looking at him, and before he gave a sign. As it was, he did not
speak, but, after a few moments, rose and went quietly out of the
room: then she heard the front door open and close. She sat by
his fire a long, long time and was sorry--and wondered.
When Richard came home from his cold night-prowl in the snowy
streets, he found a sheet of note paper upon his pillow:
"Dearest Richard, I didn't mean that anybody you ever cared
for was a d--l. I only meant that often the world finds out that
there are lovely people it hasn't noticed."
. . . He reproached himself, then, for the reproach his
leaving her had been; he had a susceptible and annoying
conscience, this unfortunate Richard. He found it hard to get to
sleep, that night; and was kept awake long after he had planned
how he would make up to his mother for having received her
"legend" so freezingly. What kept him awake, after that, was a
dim, rhythmic sound coming from the house next door, where a
holiday dance was in progress--music far away and slender:
fiddle, 'cello, horn, bassoon, drums, all rollicking away almost
the night-long, seeping through the walls to his restless pillow.
Finally, when belated drowsiness came, the throbbing tunes
mingled with his half-dreams, and he heard the light shuffling of
multitudinous feet over the dancing-floor, and became certain
that Laura's were among them. He saw her, gliding, swinging,
laughing, and happy and the picture did not please him: it seemed
to him that she would have been much better employed sitting in
black to write of a hopeless love. Coquetting with four suitors
was not only inconsistent; it was unbecoming. It "suited Cora's
style," but in Laura it was outrageous. When he woke, in the
morning, he was dreaming of her: dressed as Parthenia,
beautiful, and throwing roses to an acclaiming crowd through
which she was borne on a shield upon the shoulders of four
Antinouses. Richard thought it scandalous.
His indignation with her had not worn off when he descended
to breakfast, but he made up to his mother for having troubled
her. Then, to cap his gallantry, he observed that several inches
of snow must have fallen during the night; it would be well
packed upon the streets by noon; he would get a sleigh, after
lunch, and take her driving. It was a holiday.
She thanked him, but half-declined. "I'm afraid it's too
cold for me, but there are lots of nice girls in town, Richard,
who won't mind weather."
"But I asked YOU!" It was finally left an open question
for the afternoon to settle; and, upon her urging, he went out
for a walk. She stood at the window to watch him, and, when she
saw that he turned northward, she sank into a chair, instead of
going to give Joe Varden his after-breakfast instructions, and
fell into a deep reverie.
Outdoors, it was a biting cold morning, wind-swept and gray;
and with air so frosty-pure no one might breathe it and stay
bilious: neither in body nor bilious in spirit. It was a
wind to sweep the yellow from jaundiced cheeks and make them
rosy; a wind to clear dulled eyes; it was a wind to lift foolish
hearts, to lift them so high they might touch heaven and go
winging down the sky, the wildest of wild-geese.
. . . When the bell rang, Laura was kneeling before the
library fire, which she had just kindled, and she had not risen
when Sarah brought Richard to the doorway. She was shabby
enough, poor Cinderella! looking up, so frightened, when her
prince appeared.
She had not been to the dance.
She had not four suitors. She had none.
He came toward her. She rose and stepped back a little.
Ashes had blown upon her, and, oh, the old, old thought of the
woman born to be a mother! she was afraid his clothes might get
dusty if he came too close.
But to Richard she looked very beautiful; and a strange thing
happened: trembling, he saw that the firelight upon her face was
brighter than any firelight he had ever seen.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?