HotFreeBooks.com
The Flirt
by Booth Tarkington
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"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 lamp.

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 house——"

"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 man.

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 professional.

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 awake."

"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!"

"How?"

"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 all."

"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 dejection.

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 night.

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 him.

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.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

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 forgotten.

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."

"Cards?"

"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."

"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 remarked:

"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, Joe."

"What two, Richard?"

"Cora," he said, with gentle simplicity, "and me."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

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 wonder!

"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 disguised.

. . . "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 now."

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 to-morrow! Day after tomorrow!

. . . . "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! To-morrow!"

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.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

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 worse.

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 rang.

"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 account.

"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 room.

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, please."

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 foot.

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.



CHAPTER TWENTY

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 monosyllable.

"Ass!"

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:

MOST ILLUSTRIOUS MOLITERNO:

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 laughter.

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 Spaniard!"

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 that!"

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 appetites.

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 going——"

"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 street.

"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 hall.

"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 me."

"Cora—please see him?"

"Not me! I've got too much to think about to bother with him."

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! I——"

"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 with——"

"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 seriously.

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."

"Why?"

"Did you see her?"

"No, I'm sorry to——"

"She's home, all right," Hedrick took pleasure in informing him.

"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."

"Who?"

"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, stammering.

"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 disaster.

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.



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

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 charged.

"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 graciousness.

"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 instead."

"Me?"

"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 Corliss."

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 genuineness."

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 I 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 say?"

She had begun to tremble, not with fear. "He said a good deal."

"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 instant.

"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 reputation——"

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 and——"

"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 you?"

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 Corliss.

"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 perfectly——"

"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 divorced——"

"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 possible——"

"Val," she said, in a tone lower than she had used since he entered the room; "Val, do you want me to come?"

"Yes."

"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!"

"Actor!"

"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 neither.

"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.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

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 hurriedly.

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.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse