One of the advancing figures lifted a semaphoric arm. "Too late," said Cope; "They recognize you."
"Then we'll walk on and meet them," declared Medora.
The new-comers were young professors and graduate students. They were soon in possession of the thrilling facts of the past night, and one of them offered to be a prisoner, if a prisoner was desired. When they heard how Bertram Cope had saved the lives of defenseless women in a lonely land, they inclined to smile. Two of them had been present on another shore when Cope had "saved" Amy Leffingwell from a watery death, and they knew how far heroics might be pushed by women who were willing to idealize. Cope saw their smiles and felt that he had fumbled an opportunity: when he might have been a truncheon, he had been only a megaphone.
The new arrivals, after climbing the sandy rise to the house, were shown the devastated kitchen and were asked to declare what provisions they carried. They had enough food for their own needs and a trifle to spare. Lunch might be managed, but any thought of a later meal was out of the question. "We'll start back at four-thirty," said Medora to Peter. "Meanwhile"—to the college men—"the world is ours."
After lunch the enlarged party walked forth again. Mrs. Phillips had old things to show to fresh eyes: she formed the new visitors into a compact little group and let them see how good a guide she could be. Cope and Carolyn strolled negligently—even unsystematically—behind. Once or twice the personally conducted looked back.
"I hope she won't tell them again how I came to the rescue," said Cope. "It makes a man feel too flat for words. Anybody might think, to hear her go on, that I had saved you all from robbery and murder...."
"Why, but didn't you?" inquired Carolyn seriously.
COPE GETS NEW LIGHT ON HIS CHUM
Cope had the luck to get back to Churchton with little further in the way of homage. He was careful with Carolyn; she had perhaps addressed him in a sonnet, and she might go on and address him in an ode. He thought he had done nothing to deserve the one, and he would do almost anything to escape the other. She was a nice pleasant quiet girl; but nice pleasant quiet girls were beginning to do such equivocal things in poetical print!
Having returned to town by a method that put the minimum tax on his powers, Cope was in shape, next day, for an hour on the faculty tennis-courts. He played with no special skill or vigor, but he made a pleasing picture in his flannels; and Carolyn, who happened to pass—who passed by at about five in the afternoon, lingered for the spectacle and thought of two or three lines to start a poem with.
Cope, unconscious of this, presently turned his attention to Lemoyne, who was on the eve of his first dress rehearsal and who was a good deal occupied with wigs and lingerie. Here one detail leads to another, and anyone who goes in wholeheartedly may go in dreadfully deep. Their room came to be strown with all the disconcerting items of a theatrical wardrobe. Cope soon reached the point where he was not quite sure that he liked it all, and he began to develop a distaste for Lemoyne's preoccupation with it. He came home one afternoon to find on the corner of his desk a long pair of silk stockings and a too dainty pair of ladies' shoes. "Oh, Art!" he protested. And then,—not speaking his essential thought,—"Aren't these pretty expensive?"
"The thing has got to be done right," returned Lemoyne. "Feet are about the first thing they notice."
At the actual performance Lemoyne's feet were noticed, certainly; though perhaps not more than his head. His wig, as is usually the case with dark people, was of a sunny blond hue. Its curls, as palpably artificial as they were voluminous, made his eyes look darker and somehow more liquid than ever. The contrast was piquant, almost sensational. Of course he had sacrificed, for the time, his small moustache. Lemoyne was not "Annabella" herself, but only her chief chum; yet shorter skirts and shorter sleeves and a deliberately assumed feminine air helped distinguish him from the hearty young lads who manoeuvred in the chorus.
Just who are those who enjoy the epicene on the stage? Not many women, one prefers to think; and surely it arouses the impatience, if not worse, of many men. Most amateur drama is based, perhaps, on the attempted "escape": one likes to bolt from his own day, his own usual costume, his own range of ideas, and even from his own sex. Endeavors toward this last are most enjoyable—or least offensive—when they show frank and patent inadequacy. It was Arthur Lemoyne's fortune—or misfortune—to do his work all too well.
Mrs. Phillips found his performance as little to her taste as she had anticipated. Carolyn Thorpe got as much enjoyment out of the gauche carriage and rough voices of the "chorus girls" as she had expected, but was not observed to warm toward "Annabella's" closest friend. The Pearsons, back from their wedding trip, had seats near the big crimson velvet curtain. Pearson himself openly luxuriated in the amusing ineptitude of two or three beskirted acquaintances among the upper classmen, but frowned at Lemoyne's light tenor tones and mincing ways. Of course the right sort of fellow, even if he had to sing his solo in the lightest of light tenors, would still, on lapsing into dialogue, reinstate himself apologetically by using as rough and gruff a voice as he could summon. Not so Lemoyne: he was doing a consistent piece of "characterization," and he was feminine, even overfeminine, throughout.
"I never liked him, anyway," said George to Amy.
Amy gave a nod of agreement. Yet why this critical zeal? There was but one man to like, after all.
"That make-up! That low-cut gown!" said George, in further condemnation. "There's such a thing as going too far."
Basil Randolph met Cope in the back lobby at the close of the performance. The dramatic season in the city itself had begun to languish; besides that, Randolph, in order to maintain his place on the edge of the life academical, always made it a point to remember the Grayfriars each spring.
"A very thorough, consistent piece of work—your friend's," said Randolph. He spoke in a firm, net, withholding tone, looking Cope full in the face, meanwhile. What he said was little, perhaps, of what was in his mind; yet Cope caught a note of criticism and of condemnation.
"Yes," he almost felt constrained to say in reply, "yes, I know what you did for him—for me, rather; and possibly this is not the outcome foreseen. I hope you won't regret your aid."
Randolph went past him placidly. He seemed to have little to regret. On the contrary, he almost appeared to be pleased. He may have felt that Lemoyne had shown himself in a tolerably clear light, and that it was for Cope, should he choose, to take heed.
Two days later, Randolph gave his impression of the performance to Foster. "It's just what I should have expected," declared the cripple acrimoniously. "I'm glad you never had any taste for the fellow; and I should have been quite as well pleased if I hadn't found you caring for the other."
Randolph took refuge in a bland inexpressiveness. There was no need to school his face: he had only to discipline his voice.
"Oh, well," he said smoothly, "it's only a passing amitie—something soon to be over, perhaps." He used an alien word because he could not select, on the instant, from his stock of English, the word he needed, and because he was not quite sure what idea he wanted to express. "I only wish," he went on, in the same even tone, "that this chap had been doing better by his work. At one early stage of the rehearsals there was a lot of registration and fee-paying for the new term. Well, if he hasn't been satisfactory, they needn't blame me. Let them blame the system that diverts so much time and attention to interests quite outside the regular curriculum."
"You talk like a book!" said Foster, with blunt disdain.
"Language——" began Randolph.
"——was made to conceal thought," completed the other. "Stop talking. Stop thinking. Or, if you must think, just get your thoughts back on your business."
Foster might have expressed himself still more pungently if he had been aware, as Cope was, of an episode which took place, behind the scenes, at the close of the performance. Lemoyne's singing and dancing in the last act had had a marked success: after all, people had come to enjoy and to applaud. Following two or three recalls, a large sheaf of roses had been passed over the footlights; for a close imitation of professional procedure was held to give the advantage of strict vraisemblance. This "tribute" Lemoyne took in character, with certain graces, pirouettes and smiles. His success so mounted to his head (for he was the one person in the case who approximated a professional effect) that after he had retired he could not quiet down and leave his part. He continued to act off-stage; and in his general state of ebulliency he endeavored to bestow a measure of upwelling femininity upon another performer who was in the dress of his own sex. This downright fellow, in cutaway and silk hat, did not understand,—or at least had no patience with a role carried too far. He brusquely cleared himself of Lemoyne's arm with a good vigorous push. This effort not only propelled Lemoyne against some scenery and left him, despite the voluminous blond wig, with a bruise on his forehead; it immediately pushed him out of his part, and it ended by pushing him out of the organization and even out of the University.
"Keep off, will you!" said the young elegant crudely.
Lemoyne's "atmosphere" dissipated suddenly. His art-structure collapsed. As he looked about he saw plainly that the other man's act was approved. He had carried things too far. Well, such are the risks run by the sincere, self-revealing artist.
When all this reached Cope, he felt a personal chagrin. Truly, the art of human intercourse was an art that called for some care. Lemoyne's slight wound left no trace after forty-eight hours—perhaps his "notices" in "The Index" and "The Campus" had acted as a salve; but certain sections of opinion remained unfriendly, and there was arising a new atmosphere of distaste and disapproval.
The college authorities had not been satisfied, for some time, with his clerical labors, and some of them thought that his stage performance—an "exhibition" one of them termed it—called for reproof, or more. They laid their heads together and Lemoyne and Cope were not long in learning their decision. Lemoyne was pronounced a useless element in one field, a discrepant element in another, a detriment in both. His essentially slight connection with the real life of the University came to be more fully recognized. Alma Mater, in fine, could do without him, and meant to. Censure was the lot of the indignant boys who officered the society, and who asked Lemoyne to withdraw; and complete scission from the nourishing vine of Knowledge was his final fate.
No occupation; no source of income. Winnebago was cold; nor was it to be warmed into ardor by press-notices. It had seen too many already and was tired of them.
The two young men conferred. Again Basil Randolph was their hope.
"He ought to be able to do something for me in the city," said Lemoyne. "He's acquainted in business circles, isn't he?"
Cope bent over him—paler, thinner, more solicitous. "I'll try it," he said.
Cope once more approached Randolph, but Randolph shook his head. He had no faith in Lemoyne, and he had done enough already against his own interests and desires.
Lemoyne fluttered about to little effect for a few weeks, while Cope was finishing up his thesis. Beyond an accustomed and desired companionship, Lemoyne contributed nothing—was a drag, in truth. He returned to Winnebago a fortnight before the convocation and the conferring of degrees; and it was the understanding that, somehow, he and Cope should share together a summer divided between Winnebago and Freeford. Randolph was left to claim Cope's interest, if he could.
COPE TAKES HIS DEGREE
Lemoyne's departure but a fortnight before Cope's small share in the convocation seemed to hint at mutual dissatisfaction; it might even stand for a disagreement, or possibly a quarrel. "It's just as well that he went," said Randolph to himself. "His presence here was no advantage to Bertram—nor to anybody else." And with another fortnight Cope himself would be gone; and who knew in what distant quarter he might take up his autumn work? His ambitions, as Randolph knew, pointed to some important university in the East. Meanwhile, make the most of the flying days.
Medora Phillips took the same view. She let Carolyn Thorpe loose for a week's spring vacation, and sent Cope word that she was alone in a darkened, depopulated home. Amy married. Hortense banished. Carolyn waved aside. With all such varying devotions removed, why should he not look in on her loneliness, during these final days, for dinner or tea? He was still "charming"—however difficult, however recalcitrant. And he was soon to depart. And who could believe that the fall term would bring his equal or his like?
Randolph, still taking his business easily, had suggestions for walks and lunches; he had also free time to make his suggestions operative. But Cope, though frequently seen in active movement on the campus and through the town, gave little heed to either of his elderly friends. He met them both, in High Street, on different occasions, and thanked and smiled and promised—and kept away. He was doubtless absorbed in his special work, in the details of the closing year. He may have thought (as young men have been known to think) that, in accepting their invitations, he had done enough for them already. He had shown his good will on several occasions; let that suffice. Or he may have thought (as young men have been found capable of thinking) not at all: other concerns, more pressing and more contemporaneous, may have crowded them out of his mind altogether.
"I wonder if it's sensitiveness?" asked Randolph of Foster. "His chum didn't go away in the best of good odor...."
"Settle it for yourself," returned Foster brusquely. "And recall that you have an office—and might have office-hours. Still, if you insist on asking me——"
"I don't. But you may speak, if you like."
"And if you will consent to be fobbed off with a short-measure answer——"
"That's right. Don't say all you think."
"Then I would put it somewhere between indifference and ingratitude. Nearer the latter. We know the young."
"I don't feel that I've done so very much for him," said Randolph, rather colorlessly.
"You were inclined to."
"H'm, yes. I could have opened up avenues that would have made his year here a very different thing. Perhaps he didn't realize what I could do. And perhaps he found me too old."
"Shall you attend the convocation?"
"I go usually. I'll push him off from shore and waft him good-bye."
"Good-bye? Good riddance!"
"You never liked him."
"I never did. If he leaves town without showing up here, no loss."
"Medora expects him here?"
"I think so."
Randolph descended to the lower floor. Mrs. Phillips was alone, seated behind a tea-service that steamed with expectation.
"Going?" she asked.
"Going. Joe is grouchy and violent today. And he keeps on reminding me that I have an office."
Medora glanced at the clock. Expectation seemed to be simmering down.
"Stay a few moments if you like. Forget the office a little longer. I'll make some fresh."
"Not all these preparations for me?"
"Well, they're here. Take advantage."
"You're all alone?"
"Alone. The house is empty."
Medora tried to look as if at the heart of a tremendous vacuum.
"I can't fill it."
"You can fill fifteen minutes."
"Oh, if you're going to confound time and space...!"
He sat down receptively.
Medora rang a bell and harried Helga a little.
She glanced at Randolph. He sat there as if less to fill than to be filled.
"Say something," she said.
"Are you going to the convocation?"
He sat silent.
"Does that exhaust the subjects of interest?" she asked.
"Pretty nearly. Doesn't it?"
Medora fell silent in turn,—let the light clatter of the tea things speak for her.
"Are you going to the convocation?" he presently asked again.
"Such variety!" she mocked.
"Yes," she said.
"That's better. Let's go together—as friends."
"Who would imagine us going as enemies?"
"Who, indeed?" Yet if they went together they went as reconciled competitors,—they went as the result of a truce.
"I should like to see Bertram Cope in cap and gown," he said.
"He has worn them before, he tells me."
"As a member of the choir, during his undergraduate days."
"I never noticed him especially, then," she acknowledged.
"We can notice him now."
Medora made a slight grimace. "Yes, we can notice." He the actor; they the audience. "A farewell performance."
"A final view."
Convocation day came clear, fair, mild. The professors walked in colorful solemnity beneath the elms and up the middle aisle of the chapel, lending both to outdoors and indoors the enlivenment of hoods red, yellow, purple. The marshals led strings of candidates—long strings and short—to the platform where the president sat, and the deans presented in due order their bachelors, masters and doctors. The rapid handing out of the diplomas brought frequent applause—bits, spatters, volleys, as the case might be. There was recognition for a Chinaman, for a negro law-student, for a pair of Filipinos; there was a marked outburst for a husky young man who was assumed by the uninformed to have been a star in the university's athletic life; there was a respectful but emphatic acknowledgment for a determined- looking middle-aged woman with gray hair, who was led on with four men as a little string of five; there was a salvo for a thoughtful, dignified man of thirty-odd, who went up as a group in himself, attended by marshals before and behind; and there was a slight spatter of applause for Bertram Cope (one of a small procession of six), yet rather more for a smiling young man who followed him....
Cope looked somewhat spare, despite his voluminous gown. The trying lights added little color to his face, and brought his cheek-bones into undue prominence. But he took his sheepskin with a bow and a gesture that extinguished several of his companions; and he faced the audience, on descending from the stage, with a composed effect gained by experience in the choir. The lustre in the ceiling lit up his yellow hair and his blue eyes: "He is as charming as ever!" thought Medora Phillips.
"He's had a hard pull of it," commented Randolph.
"I hope his own people will feed him up this summer," said Medora. Her emphasis was wayward; "He wouldn't let we do it," she seemed to mean.
"Nor me," she almost made Randolph say.
There was a recessional, and then the crowds of students flooded the corridors and circulated under the fresh foliage of the campus. Randolph and Medora Phillips passed out with the rest of the assemblage. In the midst of one of the avenues of elms they noticed Cope as the center of a little group: two plain, elderly people (his parents, doubtless) and—and——
Medora Phillips looked twice. Yes, the other figure was Carolyn Thorpe, offering congratulations. Carolyn had returned to her post and her work the day before. "H'm," thought Medora, disposed to be miffed. Still, Carolyn had, after all, the same right to attend as anyone else.
Medora and Basil Randolph added their congratulations to Carolyn's. Cope, still in academic garb, performed the necessary introductions. His air was eager, but cursory; smiling and ready, yet impersonal and cool; above all, expeditious. If his parents passed on with the impression that Medora Phillips and Basil Randolph were but casual acquaintances, worthy of nothing beyond brief formalities, the blame was his own.
"I'm showing father and mother over the campus," he said, with an open smile and a wave with his diploma, as he edged away.
The elders docilely took their cue, and moved away with him.
"Well," said Randolph, "there are buildings, of course; and fountains, and sun-dials, and memorial benches; but..."
"They add nothing to him," pronounced Medora, as she looked back on the retiring party.
"Did you expect them to?" he asked. "Charm, like guilt, is personal. Anyhow, there seems to be no brother," he added.
"Well, come, Carolyn," said Medora, to her returned secretary, who was looking after the party too; "let's start for home. Good afternoon, Basil."
"What nice, good, pleasant, friendly people they are!" breathed Carolyn.
Randolph had strolled away, and Medora Phillips turned a studious glance on her companion. Carolyn was conceivably in a state of mind—keyed up to an all-inclusive appreciation. Did that foreshadow further verse?—a rustic rhapsody, a provincial pantoum? But Medora withheld question. Much as she would have enjoyed a well-consolidated impression of the visitors, she did not intend to secure it by interrogating Carolyn Thorpe.
COPE IN A FINAL VIEW
Cope, after a few days, followed his parents back to Freeford. He may have said good-bye to his landlady and to some of his associates in his department; but he contrived no set adieux for the friends who had done so much for him—or had tried to—through the past year. Basil Randolph and Medora Phillips had their last view of him when, diploma in hand, he led his parents away, over the campus.
"Oh, well," said Randolph resignedly, "we were less important to him than we thought. Only a couple of negligible items among many. Entered in his ledger—if we were entered—and now faded away to a dim, rusty, illegible scrawl...."
"Stop it, Basil! You make me feel old, antique, antediluvian. I don't want to. I shan't let myself be pushed back and ignored. I'm going to give Amy and George a rousing big dinner before long; and when the fall term opens I shall entertain as never before. And if that young man from the South turns up here during the summer to see Hortense, I shall do a lot for them."
Hortense Dunton had long since returned, of course, from the Tennessee and North Carolina mountains; but she ignored the convocation. One drop of bitterness, if tasted again—even reminiscently—would have turned everything to gall. Instead, she found a measure of sweetness in the letters which followed on her return from that region. They were addressed in a bold, dashing young hand, and bore the postmark "Nashville." Hortense was inclined to let them lie conspicuously on the front-hall table, for half an hour or so, before she took them up. Little might be absolutely known about her passage with Cope; but there the letters lay, for her aunt's eye and for Carolyn Thorpe's.
Carolyn prattled a little, not indiscreetly, about her meeting with the Freeford family on the campus. As Basil Randolph himself had done months before, she endeavored to construct a general environment for them and to determine their place in the general social fabric. She had, however, the advantage of having seen them; she was not called to make an exiguous evocation from the void. She still held that they were nice, good, pleasant, friendly people: if they had subordinated themselves, docilely and automatically, to the prepotent social and academic figures of the society about them, that in no wise detracted from the favorable impression they had made on her.
"Just the right parents for Bertram," she said fondly, to herself. She made, almost unconsciously, the allowance that is still generally made, among Americans, for the difference between two generations: the elder, of course, continues to provide a staid, sober, and somewhat primitive background for the brilliancy of the younger. Her own people, if they appeared in Churchton, might seem a bit simple and provincial too.
Hortense took Carolyn's slight and fond observations with a silent scorn. When she spoke at all, she was likely to say something about "family"; and it was gathered that the dashing correspondent at Nashville was conspicuously "well-connected." Also, that he belonged to the stirring New South and had put money in his purse. Hortense's contempt for the semi- rustic and impecunious Cope became boundless.
About the middle of July a letter lay on the front-hall table for Carolyn. It was from Cope.
"Only think!" said Carolyn to herself, in a small private ecstasy within her locked bedchamber; "he wrote on his own account and of his own accord. Not a line from me; not a suggestion!"
The letter was an affair of two small pages. "Yours very sincerely, Bertram L. Cope" simply told "My dear Miss Thorpe" that he had been spending three or four days in Winnebago, Wisconsin, and that he had now returned home for a month of further study, having obtained a post in an important university in the East, at a satisfactory stipend. A supplementary line conveyed regards to Mrs. Phillips. And that was all.
Was it a handful of husks, or was it a banquet? Carolyn took it for the latter and lived on it for days. Little it mattered what or how much he had written: he had written, and of his own accord—as Carolyn made a point of from the first. There is an algebraic formula expressive of the truth that "1" is an infinitely greater number of times than "0." And a single small taper is infinitely greater in point of light and cheer than none at all. Carolyn's little world underwent illumination, and she with it. She promptly soared to a shining infinity.
Medora Phillips could not overlook Carolyn's general glow, nor the sense of elevation she conveyed. Things became clearer still when Carolyn passed on the scanty message which Cope had added at the end. "Best regards to Mrs. Phillips"—there it was, so far as it went. And Medora felt, along with Carolyn, that a slight mention was an immensity of times greater than no mention at all. "Very kind, very thoughtful of him, I'm sure," she said without irony.
Carolyn let her read the letter for herself. It was a brief, cool, succinct thing, and not at all unsuited for general circulation. "Best regards to Mrs. Phillips. Yours very sincerely, Bertram L. Cope," she read again; then, like Carolyn, she retired for meditation.
Well, from its dozen or fifteen lines several things might fairly be inferred. "Three or four days in Winnebago"—a scanty pattern for a visit. Had three or four been enough? Had Lemoyne been found glum and unpleasant? Had those months of close companionship brought about a mutually diminished interest? Not a word as to Lemoyne's accompanying him to Freeford, or joining him there later. On the contrary, a strong implication that there would be sufficient to occupy him without the company of Lemoyne or anybody else: evidences of an eye set solely on the new opportunity in the East.
"Well, if he is going to get along without him," said Medora to herself, "it will be all the better for him. He was never any advantage to him," she added, with an informal and irresponsible use of her pronouns. But she knew what she meant and had no auditor to satisfy.
When, however, she touched on the matter with Basil Randolph she showed more exactitude. Randolph had lingered late upstairs with Foster, and he had been intercepted, on his way out, with an invitation to remain to dinner. "Very well," he said. "Sing-Lo is not invariably inspired on Monday evening. I shall be glad to stay."
He felt, in fact, the need of a little soothing. Foster had been taking a farewell shot at Cope and had been rough and vindictive. He had heard something of the antics of "Annabella's" partner and had magnified characteristically the seriousness of the offense. "What hope for him"— meaning Cope—"so long as he goes on liking and admiring that fellow?"
"Well," returned Randolph, in an effortless platitude, "liking is the great mystery—whether you take its coming or its going."
"The sooner this one goes, the better," snapped Foster. "Have you heard from that fellow at all?" he inquired.
"'That fellow'? What fellow—this time?"
"The other one, of course. Cope."
Foster wiped out Cope with one question.
"Likely to 'cultivate' some other young chap, next year?"
Randolph had a moment of sober thoughtfulness.
"Good! Get back into harness; have 'hours' and all the rest of it. Best thing in the world for you. The young care so much for us—the devil they do!"
Foster gave a savage, dragging clutch at his shade and twisted rebelliously in his chair.
Randolph left him to himself and went below.
Downstairs dinner proceeded cautiously. There was no chance for an interchange of thought until the two young women should have been got out of the way. Hortense had her own affair at the back of her head, and Carolyn hers. Neither could sympathize with the other. Hortense's manner to Carolyn was one of half-suppressed insolence. Carolyn, buoyed up interiorly, seemed able to endure it,—perhaps was not fully conscious of it. There was relief when, after dessert, each arose and went her respective way.
Medora and Randolph settled down on a causeuse in the drawing-room. The place was half-lighted, but Randolph made out that his companion was taking on a conscious air of pseudo-melancholy.
Her eyes roved the dim, cluttered room with studied mournfulness, and she said, presently:
"Dear old house! Undergoing depopulation, and soon to be a waste."
"Yes; they're leaving it one by one. First, Amy. You remember Amy?"
"I believe so."
"She married George and went away. You recall the occasion?"
"I think I was present."
"And now it's Hortense."
"Is it, indeed?"
She told him about the gallant young Southerner in Tennessee, and gave a forecast of a probable pairing.
"And next it will be Carolyn."
"Carolyn? Who has cast his eye on her?"
Medora shot it out.
"Cope!" Randolph gave himself another twist in that well-twisted sofa.
"Cope," she repeated. If the boy were indeed beyond her own reach, she would report his imminent capture by another with as much effect as she could command.
And she told of Carolyn's fateful letter.
"So that's how it stands?" he said thoughtfully.
"I don't say 'how' it stands. I don't say that it 'stands' at all. But he has prospects and she has hopes."
"Prospects and hopes,—a strong working combination."
Medora took the leap. "She will marry him, of course," she said decidedly. "After his having jilted Amy——"
"'Jilted' her? Do you understand it that way?"
"And trampled on Hortense——"
"'Trampled'? Surely you exaggerate."
"And ignored me——You will let me use that mild word, 'ignored'?"
"Its use is granted. He has ignored others too."
"After all that, who is there left in the house but Carolyn? Listen; I'll tell you how it will be. She has answered his letter, of course,—imagine whether or not she was prompt about it!—and he will answer hers——"
"Will answer it?"
"Not at once, perhaps; but soon: in the course of two or three weeks. Then she will reply,—and there you have a correspondence in full swing. Then, in the fall he will write her from his new post in the East, and say: 'Dear Girl,—At last I can——,' and so on."
"You mean that you destine poor Carolyn for a man who is so apt at jilting and trampling and ignoring?"
"Who else is there?" Medora continued to demand sturdily. "In October they will be married——"
"Heaven forbid!" ejaculated Randolph.
"You have something better to suggest?"
"Nothing better. Something different. Listen, as you yourself say. Next October I shall call on you, put my hand in my inside pocket, bring out a letter and read it to you. It will run like this: 'My dear Mr. Randolph,— You will be pleased, I am sure, to hear that I now have a good position at the university in this pleasant town. Arthur Lemoyne, whom you recall, is studying psychology here, and we are keeping house together. He wishes to be remembered. I thank you for your many kindnesses,'—that is put in as a mere possibility,—'and also send best regards to Mrs. Phillips and the members of her household. Sincerely yours, Bertram L. Cope.'"
"I won't accept that!" cried Medora. "He will marry Carolyn, and I shall do as much for her as I did for Amy, and as much as I expect to do for Hortense."
"I see. The three matches made and the desolation of the house complete."
"Complete, yes; leaving me alone among the ruins."
"And nothing would rescue you from them but a fourth?"
"Basil, you are not proposing?"
"I scarcely think so," he returned, with slow candor. "I shouldn't care to live in this house; and you——"
"I knew you never liked my furnishings!"
"——and you, I am sure, would never care to live in any other."
"I shall stay where I am," she declared. "Shall you stay where you are?" she asked keenly.
"Confess that housekeeping on your own account is less attractive than it once was."
"I do. Confess that you, with all your outfit and all your goings-on, never quite—never quite—succeeded in..."
Medora shrugged. "The young, at best, only tolerate us. We are but the platform they dance on,—the ladder they climb by."
"After all, he was a 'charming' chap. Your own word, you know."
"Yet scarcely worth the to-do we made over him," said Medora, willing to save her face.
Randolph shrugged in turn, and threw out his hands in a gesture which she had never known him to employ before.
"Worth the to-do? Who is?"