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The Flirt
by Booth Tarkington
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"What's happened?" asked Laura quickly. "You look exactly like a going-away bride. What——"

Cora spoke rapidly: "Laura, I want you to take this bag and keep it in your room till a messenger-boy comes for it. When the bell rings, go to the door yourself, and hand it to him. Don't give Hedrick a chance to go to the door. Just give it to the boy;—and don't say anything to mamma about it. I'm going downtown and I may not be back."

Laura began to be frightened.

"What is it you want to do, Cora?" she asked, trembling.

Cora was swift and business-like. "See here, Laura, I've got to keep my head about me. You can do a great deal for me, if you won't be emotional just now, and help me not to be. I can't afford it, because I've got to do things, and I'm going to do them just as quickly as I can, and get it over. If I wait any longer I'll go insane. I can'T wait! You've been a wonderful sister to me; I've always counted on you, and you've never once gone back on me. Right now, I need you to help me more than I ever have in my life. Will you——"

"But I must know——"

"No, you needn't! I'll tell you just this much: I've got myself in a devil of a mess——"

Laura threw her arms round her: "Oh, my dear, dear little sister!" she cried.

But Cora drew away. "Now that's just what you mustn't do. I can't stand it! You've got to be quiet. I can't——"

"Yes, yes," Laura said hurriedly. "I will. I'll do whatever you say."

"It's perfectly simple: all I want you to do is to take charge of my travelling-bag, and, when a messenger-boy comes, give it to him without letting anybody know anything about it."

"But I've got to know where you're going—I can't let you go and not——"

"Yes, you can! Besides, you've promised to. I'm not going to do anything foolish ——"

"Then why not tell me?" Laura began. She went on, imploring Cora to confide in her, entreating her to see their mother—to do a dozen things altogether outside of Cora's plans.

"You're wasting your breath, Laura," said the younger sister, interrupting, "and wasting my time. You're in the dark: you think I'm going to run away with Val Corliss and you're wrong. I sent him out of the house for good, a while ago——"

"Thank heaven for that!" cried Laura.

"I'm going to take care of myself," Cora went on rapidly. "I'm going to get out of the mess I'm in, and you've got to let me do it my own way. I'll send you a note from downtown. You see that the messenger——"

She was at the door, but Laura caught her by the sleeve, protesting and beseeching.

Cora turned desperately. "See here. I'll come back in two hours and tell you all about it. If I promise that, will you promise to send me the bag by the——"

"But if you're coming back you won't need——"

Cora spoke very quietly. "I'll go to pieces in a moment. Really, I do think I'd better jump out of the window and have it over."

"I'll send the bag," Laura quavered, "if you'll promise to come back in two hours."

"I promise!"

Cora gave her a quick embrace, a quick kiss, and, dry-eyed, ran out of the room, down the stairs, and out of the house.

She walked briskly down Corliss Street. It was a clear day, bright noon, with an exhilarating tang in the air, and a sky so glorious that people outdoors were continually conscious of the blue overhead, and looked up at it often. An autumnal cheerfulness was abroad, and pedestrians showed it in their quickened steps, in their enlivened eyes, and frequent smiles, and in the colour of their faces. But none showed more colour or a gayer look than Cora. She encountered many whom she knew, for it was indeed a day to be stirring, and she nodded and smiled her way all down the long street, thinking of what these greeted people would say to-morrow. "I saw her yesterday, walking down Corliss Street, about noon, in a gray suit and looking fairly radiant!" Some of those she met were enemies she had chastened; she prophesied their remarks with accuracy. Some were old suitors, men who had desired her; one or two had place upon her long list of boy-sweethearts: she gave the same gay, friendly nod to each of them, and foretold his morrow's thoughts of her, in turn. Her greeting of Mary Kane was graver, as was aesthetically appropriate, Mr. Wattling's engagement having been broken by that lady, immediately after his drive to the Country Club for tea. Cora received from the beautiful jilt a salutation even graver than her own, which did not confound her.

Halfway down the street was a drug-store. She went in, and obtained appreciative permission to use the telephone. She came out well satisfied, and went swiftly on her way. Ten minutes later, she opened the door of Wade Trumble's office.

He was alone; her telephone had caught him in the act of departing for lunch. But he had been glad to wait—glad to the verge of agitation.

"By George, Cora!" he exclaimed, as she came quickly in and closed the door, "but you can look stunning! Believe me, that's some get-up. But let me tell you right here and now, before you begin, it's no use your tackling me again on the oil proposition. If there was any chance of my going into it which there wasn't, not one on earth—why, the very fact of your asking me would have stopped me. I'm no Dick Lindley, I beg to inform you: I don't spend my money helping a girl that I want, myself, to make a hit with another man. You treated me like a dog about that, right in the street, and you needn't try it again, because I won't stand for it. You can't play me, Cora!"

"Wade," she said, coming closer, and looking at him mysteriously, "didn't you tell me to come to you when I got through playing?"

"What?" He grew very red, took a step back from her, staring at her distrustfully, incredulously.

"I've got through playing", she said in a low voice. "And I've come to you."

He was staggered. "You've come——" he said, huskily.

"Here I am, Wade."

He had flushed, but now the colour left his small face, and he grew very white. "I don't believe you mean it."

"Listen," she said. "I was rotten to you about that oil nonsense. It was nonsense, nothing on earth but nonsense. I tell you frankly I was a fool. I didn't care the snap of my finger for Corliss, but—oh, what's the use of pretending? You were always such a great 'business man,' always so absorbed in business, and put it before everything else in the world. You cared for me, but you cared for business more than for me. Well, no woman likes that, Wade. I've come to tell you the whole thing: I can't stand it any longer. I suffered horribly because—because——" She faltered. "Wade, that was no way to win a girl."

"Cora!" His incredulity was strong.

"I thought I hated you for it, Wade. Yes, I did think that; I'm telling you everything, you see just blurting it out as it comes, Wade. Well, Corliss asked me to help him, and it struck me I'd show that I could understand a business deal, myself. Wade, this is pretty hard to say, I was such a little fool, but you ought to know it. You've got a right to know it, Wade: I thought if I put through a thing like that, it would make a tremendous hit with you, and that then I could say: 'So this is the kind of thing you put ahead of me, is it? Simple little things like this, that I can do, myself, by turning over my little finger!' So I got Richard to go in—that was easy; and then it struck me that the crowning triumph of the whole thing would be to get you to come in yourself. That would be showing you, I thought! But you wouldn't: you put me in my place—and I was angry—I never was so angry in my life, and I showed it." Tears came into her voice. "Oh, Wade," she said, softly, "it was the very wildness of my anger that showed what I really felt."

"About—about me?" His incredulity struggled with his hope. He stepped close to her.

"What an awful fool I've been," she sighed.

"Why, I thought I could show you I was your equal! And look what it's got me into, Wade!"

"What has it got you into, Cora?"

"One thing worth while: I can see what I really am when I try to meet you on your own ground." She bent her head, humbly, then lifted it, and spoke rapidly. "All the rest is dreadful, Wade. I had a distrust of Corliss from the first; I didn't like him, but I took him up because I thought he offered the chance to show you what I could do. Well, it's got me into a most horrible mess. He's a swindler, a rank——"

"By George!" Wade shouted. "Cora, you're talking out now like a real woman."

"Listen. I got horribly tired of him after a week or so, but I'd promised to help him and I didn't break with him; but yesterday I just couldn't stand him any longer and I told him so, and sent him away. Then, this morning, an old man came to the house, a man named Pryor, who knew him and knew his record, and he told me all about him." She narrated the interview.

"But you had sent Corliss away first?" Wade asked, sharply.

"Yesterday, I tell you." She set her hand on the little man's shoulder. "Wade, there's bound to be a scandal over all this. Even if Corliss gets away without being arrested and tried, the whole thing's bound to come out. I'll be the laughing-stock of the town—and I deserve to be: it's all through having been ridiculous idiot enough to try and impress you with my business brilliancy. Well, I can't stand it!"

"Cora, do you——" He faltered.

She leaned toward him, her hand still on his shoulder, her exquisite voice lowered, and thrilling in its sweetness. "Wade, I'm through playing. I've come to you at last because you've utterly conquered me. If you'll take me away to-day, I'll marry you to-day!"

He gave a shout that rang again from the walls.

"Do you want me?" she whispered; then smiled upon his rapture indulgently.

Rapture it was. With the word "marry," his incredulity sped forever. But for a time he was incoherent: he leaped and hopped, spoke broken bits of words, danced fragmentarily, ate her with his eyes, partially embraced her, and finally kissed her timidly.

"Such a wedding we'll have!" he shouted, after that.

"No!" she said sharply. "We'll be married by a Justice of the Peace and not a soul there but us, and it will be now, or it never will be! If you don't——"

He swore she should have her way.

"Then we'll be out of this town on the three o'clock train this afternoon," she said. She went on with her plans, while he, growing more accustomed to his privilege, caressed her as he would. "You shall have your way," she said, "in everything except the wedding-journey. That's got to be a long one—I won't come back here till people have forgotten all about this Corliss mix-up. I've never been abroad, and I want you to take me. We can stay a long, long time. I've brought nothing—we'll get whatever we want in New York before we sail."

He agreed to everything. He had never really hoped to win her; paradise had opened, dazing him with glory: he was astounded, mad with joy, and abjectly his lady's servant.

"Hadn't you better run along and get the license?" she laughed. "We'll have to be married on the way to the train." "Cora!" he gasped. "You angel!"

"I'll wait here for you," she smiled. "There won't be too much time."

He obtained a moderate control of his voice and feet. "Enfield—that's my cashier—he'll be back from his lunch at one-thirty. Tell him about us, if I'm not here by then. Tell him he's got to manage somehow. Good-bye till I come back Mrs. Trumble!"

At the door he turned. "Oh, have you—you——" He paused uncertainly. "Have you sent Richard Lindley any word about——"

"Wade!" She gave his inquiry an indulgent amusement. "If I'm not worrying about him, do you think you need to?"

"I meant about——"

"You funny thing," she said. "I never had any idea of really marrying him; it wasn't anything but one of those silly half-engagements, and——"

"I didn't mean that," he said, apologetically. "I meant about letting him know what this Pryor told you about Corliss, so that Richard might do something toward getting his money back. We ought to—"

"Oh, yes," she said quickly. "Yes, that's all right."

"You saw Richard?"

"No. I sent him a note. He knows all about it by this time, if he has been home this morning. You'd better start, Wade. Send a messenger to our house for my bag. Tell him to bring it here and then take a note for me. You'd really better start—dear!"

"Cora!" he shouted, took her in his arms, and was gone. His departing gait down the corridor to the elevator seemed, from the sounds, to be a gallop.

Left alone, Cora wrote, sealed, and directed a note to Laura. In it she recounted what Pryor had told her of Corliss; begged Laura and her parents not to think her heartless in not preparing them for this abrupt marriage. She was in such a state of nervousness, she wrote, that explanations would have caused a breakdown. The marriage was a sensible one; she had long contemplated it as a possibility; and, after thinking it over thoroughly, she had decided it was the only thing to do. She sent her undying love.

She was sitting with this note in her hand when shuffling footsteps sounded in the corridor; either Wade's cashier or the messenger, she supposed. The door-knob turned, a husky voice asking, "Want a drink?" as the door opened.

Cora was not surprised—she knew Vilas's office was across the hall from that in which she waited—but she was frightened.

Ray stood blinking at her.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, at last.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

It is probable that he got the truth out of her, perhaps all of it. That will remain a matter of doubt; Cora's evidence, if she gave it, not being wholly trustworthy in cases touching herself. But she felt no need of mentioning to any one that she had seen her former lover that day. He had gone before the return of Enfield, Mr. Trumble's assistant, who was a little later than usual, it happened; and the extreme nervousness and preoccupation exhibited by Cora in telling Enfield of his employer's new plans were attributed by the cashier to the natural agitation of a lady about to wed in a somewhat unusual (though sensible) manner.

It is the more probable that she told Ray the whole truth, because he already knew something of Corliss's record abroad. On the dusty desk in Ray's own office lay a letter, received that morning from the American Consul at Naples, which was luminous upon that subject, and upon the probabilities of financial returns for the investment of a thousand dollars in the alleged oil-fields of Basilicata.

In addition, Cora had always found it very difficult to deceive Vilas: he had an almost perfect understanding of a part of her nature; she could never far mislead him about herself. With her, he was intuitive and jumped to strange, inconsistent, true conclusions, as women do. He had the art of reading her face, her gestures; he had learned to listen to the tone of her voice more than to what she said. In his cups, too, he had fitful but almost demoniac inspirations for hidden truth.

And, remembering that Cora always "got even," it remains finally to wonder if she might not have told him everything at the instance of some shadowy impulse in that direction. There may have been a luxury in whatever confession she made; perhaps it was not entirely forced from her, and heaven knows how she may have coloured it. There was an elusive, quiet satisfaction somewhere in her subsequent expression; it lurked deep under the surface of the excitement with which she talked to Enfield of her imminent marital abduction of his small boss.

Her agitation, a relic of the unknown interview just past, simmered down soon, leaving her in a becoming glow of colour, with slender threads of moisture brilliantly outlining her eyelids. Mr. Enfield, a young, well-favoured and recent importation from another town, was deliciously impressed by the charm of the waiting lady. They had not met; and Enfield wondered how Trumble had compassed such an enormous success as this; and he wished that he had seen her before matters had gone so far. He thought he might have had a chance. She seemed pleasantly interested in him, even as it was—and her eyes were wonderful, with their swift, warm, direct little plunges into those of a chance comrade of the moment. She went to the window, in her restlessness, looking down upon the swarming street below, and the young man, standing beside her, felt her shoulder most pleasantly though very lightly—in contact with his own, as they leaned forward, the better to see some curiosity of advertising that passed. She turned her face to his just then, and told him that he must come to see her: the wedding journey would be long, she said, but it would not be forever.

Trumble bounded in, shouting that everything was attended to, except instructions to Enfield, whom he pounded wildly upon the back. He began signing papers; a stenographer was called from another room of his offices; and there was half an hour of rapid-fire. Cora's bag came, and she gave the bearer the note for Laura; another bag was brought for Wade; and both bags were carried down to the automobile the bridegroom had left waiting in the street. Last, came a splendid cluster of orchids for the bride to wear, and then Wade, with his arm about her, swept her into the corridor, and the stirred Enfield was left to his own beating heart, and the fresh, radiant vision of this startling new acquaintance: the sweet mystery of the look she had thrown back at him over his employer's shoulder at the very last. "Do not forget me!" it had seemed to say. "We shall come back—some day."

The closed car bore the pair to the little grim marriage-shop quickly enough, though they were nearly run down by a furious police patrol automobile, at a corner near the Richfield Hotel. Their escape was by a very narrow margin of safety, and Cora closed her eyes. Then she was cross, because she had been frightened, and commanded Wade cavalierly to bid the driver be more careful.

Wade obeyed sympathetically. "Of course, though, it wasn't altogether his fault," he said, settling back, his arm round his lady's waist. "It's an outrage for the police to break their own rules that way. I guess they don't need to be in a hurry any more than we do!"

The Justice made short work of it.

As they stood so briefly before him, there swept across her vision the memory of what she had always prophesied as her wedding:—a crowded church, "The Light That Breathed O'er Eden" from an unseen singer; then the warm air trembling to the Lohengrin march; all heads turning; the procession down the aisle; herself appearing—climax of everything—a delicious and brilliant figure: graceful, rosy, shy, an imperial prize for the groom, who in these foreshadowings had always been very indistinct. The picture had always failed in outline there: the bridegroom's nearest approach to definition had never been clearer than a composite photograph. The truth is, Cora never in her life wished to be married.

But she was.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Valentine Corliss had nothing to do but to wait for the money his friend Antonio would send him by cable. His own cable, anticipating his letter, had been sent yesterday, when he came back to the hotel, after lunching in the country with Cora.

As he walked down Corliss Street, after his tumultuous interview with her, he was surprised to find himself physically tremulous: he had not supposed that an encounter, however violent, with an angry woman could so upset his nerves. It was no fear of Pryor which shook him. He knew that Pryor did not mean to cause his arrest—certainly not immediately. Of course, Pryor knew that Cora would tell him. The old fellow's move was a final notification. It meant: "Get out of town within twenty-four hours." And Corliss intended to obey. He would have left that evening, indeed, without the warning; his trunk was packed.

He would miss Cora. He had kept a cool head throughout their affair until the last; but this morning she had fascinated him: and he found himself passionately admiring the fury of her. She had confused him as he had never been confused. He thought he had tamed her; thought he owned her; and the discovery of this mistake was what made him regret that she would not come away with him. Such a flight, until to-day, had been one of his apprehensions: but now the thought that it was not to be, brought something like pain. At least, he felt a vacancy; had a sense of something lacking. She would have been a bright comrade for the voyage; and he thought of gestures of hers, turns of the head, tricks of the lovely voice; and sighed.

Of course it was best for him that he could return to his old trails alone and free; he saw that. Cora would have been a complication and an embarrassment without predictable end, but she would have been a rare flame for a while. He wondered what she meant to do; of course she had a plan. Should he try again, give her another chance? No; there was one point upon which she had not mystified him: he knew she really hated him.

. . . The wind was against the smoke that day; and his spirits rose, as he walked in the brisk air with the rich sky above him. After all, this venture upon his native purlieus had been fax from fruitless: he could not have expected to do much better. He had made his coup; he knew no other who could have done it. It was a handsome bit of work, in fact, and possible only to a talented native thoroughly sophisticated in certain foreign subtleties. He knew himself for a rare combination.

He had a glimmer of Richard Lindley beginning at the beginning again to build a modest fortune: it was the sort of thing the Richard Lindleys were made for. Corliss was not troubled. Richard had disliked him as a boy; did not like him now; but Corliss had not taken his money out of malice for that. The adventurer was not revengeful; he was merely impervious.

At the hotel, he learned that Moliterno's cable had not yet arrived; but he went to an agency of one of the steamship lines and reserved his passage, and to a railway ticket office and secured a compartment for himself on an evening train. Then he returned to his room in the hotel.

The mirror over the mantelpiece, in the front room of his suite, showed him a fine figure of a man: hale, deep-chested, handsome, straight and cheerful.

He nodded to it.

"Well, old top," he said, reviewing and summing up his whole campaign, "not so bad. Not so bad, all in all; not so bad, old top. Well played indeed!"

At a sound of footsteps approaching his door, he turned in casual expectancy, thinking it might be a boy to notify him that Moliterno's cable had arrived. But there was no knock, and the door was flung wide open.

It was Vilas, and he had his gun with him this time. He had two.

There was a shallow clothes-closet in the wall near the fireplace, and Corliss ran in there; but Vilas began to shoot through the door.

Mutilated, already a dead man, and knowing it, Corliss came out, and tried to run into the bedroom. It was no use.

Ray saved his last shot for himself. It did the work.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

There is a song of parting, an intentionally pathetic song, which contains the line, "All the tomorrows shall be as to-day," meaning equally gloomy. Young singers, loving this line, take care to pronounce the words with unusual distinctness: the listener may feel that the performer has the capacity for great and consistent suffering. It is not, of course, that youth loves unhappiness, but the appearance of it, its supposed picturesqueness. Youth runs from what is pathetic, but hangs fondly upon pathos. It is the idea of sorrow, not sorrow, which charms: and so the young singer dwells upon those lingering tomorrows, happy in the conception of a permanent wretchedness incurred in the interest of sentiment. For youth believes in permanence.

It is when we are young that we say, "I shall never," and "I shall always," not knowing that we are only time's atoms in a crucible of incredible change. An old man scarce dares say, "I have never," for he knows that if he searches he will find, probably, that he has. "All, all is change."

It was an evening during the winter holidays when Mrs. Lindley, coming to sit by the fire in her son's smoking-room, where Richard sat glooming, narrated her legend of the Devil of Lisieux. It must have been her legend: the people of Lisieux know nothing of it; but this Richard the Guileless took it for tradition, as she alleged it, and had no suspicion that she had spent the afternoon inventing it.

She did not begin the recital immediately upon taking her chair, across the hearth from her son; she led up to it. She was an ample, fresh-coloured, lively woman; and like her son only in being a kind soul: he got neither his mortal seriousness nor his dreaminess from her. She was more than content with Cora's abandonment of him, though, as chivalrousness was not demanded of her, she would have preferred that he should have been the jilt. She thought Richard well off in his release, even at the price of all his savings. But there was something to hope, even in that matter, Pryor wrote from Paris encouragingly: he believed that Moliterno might be frightened or forced into at least a partial restitution; though Richard would not count upon it, and had "begun at the beginning" again, as a small-salaried clerk in a bank, trudging patiently to work in the morning and home in the evening, a long-faced, tired young man, more absent than ever, lifeless, and with no interest in anything outside his own broodings. His mother, pleased with his misfortune in love, was of course troubled that it should cause him to suffer. She knew she could not heal him; but she also knew that everything is healed in time, and that sometimes it is possible for people to help time a little.

Her first remark to her son, this evening, was that to the best of her memory she had never used the word "hellion." And, upon his saying gently, no, he thought it probable that she never had, but seeking no farther and dropping his eyes to the burning wood, apparently under the impression that the subject was closed, she informed him brusquely that it was her intention to say it now.

"What is it you want to say, mother?"

"If I can bring myself to use the word 'hellion'," she returned, "I'm going to say that of all the heaven-born, whole-souled and consistent ones I ever knew Hedrick Madison is the King."

"In what new way?" he inquired.

"Egerton Villard. Egerton used to be the neatest, best-mannered, best-dressed boy in town; but he looks and behaves like a Digger Indian since he's taken to following Hedrick around. Mrs. Villard says it's the greatest sorrow of her life, but she's quite powerless: the boy is Hedrick's slave. The other day she sent a servant after him, and just bringing him home nearly ruined her limousine. He was solidly covered with molasses, over his clothes and all, from head to foot, and then he'd rolled in hay and chicken feathers to be a gnu for Hedrick to kodak in the African Wilds of the Madisons' stable. Egerton didn't know what a gnu was, but Hedrick told him that was the way to be one, he said. Then, when they'd got him scraped and boiled, and most of his hair pulled out, a policemen came to arrest him for stealing the jug of molasses at a corner grocery."

Richard nodded, and smiled faintly for comment. They sat in silence for a while.

"I saw Mrs. Madison yesterday," said his mother. "She seemed very cheerful; her husband is able to talk almost perfectly again, though he doesn't get downstairs. Laura reads to him a great deal."

He nodded again, his gaze not moving from the fire.

"Laura was with her mother," said Mrs. Lindley. "She looked very fetching in a black cloth suit and a fur hat—old ones her sister left, I suspect, but very becoming, for all that. Laura's 'going out' more than usual this winter. She's really the belle of the holiday dances, I hear. Of course she would be", she added, thoughtfully—"now."

"Why should she be 'now' more than before?"

"Oh, Laura's quite blossomed," Mrs. Lindley answered. "I think she's had some great anxieties relieved. Of course both she and her mother must have worried about Cora as much as they waited on her. It must be a great burden lifted to have her comfortably settled, or, at least, disposed of. I thought they both looked better. But I have a special theory about Laura: I suppose you'll laugh at me——"

"Oh, no."

"I wish you would sometimes," she said wistfully, "so only you laughed. My idea is that Laura was in love with that poor little Trumble, too."

"What?" He looked up at that.

"Yes; girls fall in love with anybody. I fancy she cared very deeply for him; but I think she's a strong, sane woman, now. She's about the steadiest, coolest person I know—and I know her better, lately, than I used to. I think she made up her mind that she'd not sit down and mope over her unhappiness, and that she'd get over what caused it; and she took the very best remedy: she began going about, going everywhere, and she went gayly, too! And I'm sure she's cured; I'm sure she doesn't care the snap of her fingers for Wade Trumble or any man alive. She's having a pretty good time, I imagine: she has everything in the world except money, and she's never cared at all about that. She's young, and she dresses well—these days—and she's one of the handsomest girls in town; she plays like a poet, and she dances well——"

"Yes," said Richard;—reflectively, "she does dance well."

"And from what I hear from Mrs. Villard," continued his mother, "I guess she has enough young men in love with her to keep any girl busy."

He was interested enough to show some surprise. "In love with Laura?"

"Four, I hear." The best of women are sometimes the readiest with impromptu statistics.

"Well, well!" he said, mildly.

"You see, Laura has taken to smiling on the world, and the world smiles back at her. It's not a bad world about that, Richard."

"No," he sighed. "I suppose not."

"But there's more than that in this case, my dear son."

"Is there?"

The intelligent and gentle matron laughed as though at some unexpected turn of memory and said:

"Speaking of Hedrick, did you ever hear the story of the Devil of Lisieux, Richard?"

"I think not; at least, I don't remember it."

"Lisieux is a little town in Normandy," she said. "I was there a few days with your father, one summer, long ago. It's a country full of old stories, folklore, and traditions; and the people still believe in the Old Scratch pretty literally. This legend was of the time when he came to Lisieux. The people knew he was coming because a wise woman had said that he was on the way, and predicted that he would arrive at the time of the great fair. Everybody was in great distress, because they knew that whoever looked at him would become bewitched, but, of course, they had to go to the fair. The wise woman was able to give them a little comfort; she said some one was coming with the devil, and that the people must not notice the devil, but keep their eyes fastened on this other—then they would be free of the fiend's influence. But, when the devil arrived at the fair, nobody even looked to see who his companion was, for the devil was so picturesque, so vivid, all in flaming scarlet and orange, and he capered and danced and sang so that nobody could help looking at him—and, after looking once, they couldn't look away until they were thoroughly under his spell. So they were all bewitched, and began to scream and howl and roll on the ground, and turn on each other and brawl, and 'commit all manner of excesses.' Then the wise woman was able to exorcise the devil, and he sank into the ground; but his companion stayed, and the people came to their senses, and looked, and they saw that it was an angel. The angel had been there all the time that the fiend was, of course. So they have a saying now, that there may be angels with us, but we don't notice them when the devil's about."

She did not look at her son as she finished, and she had hurried through the latter part of her "legend" with increasing timidity. The parallel was more severe, now that she put it to him, than she intended; it sounded savage; and she feared she had overshot her mark. Laura, of course, was the other, the companion; she had been actually a companion for the vivid sister, everywhere with her at the fair, and never considered: now she emerged from her overshadowed obscurity, and people were able to see her as an individual—heretofore she had been merely the retinue of a flaming Cora. But the "legend" was not very gallant to Cora!

Mrs. Lindley knew that it hurt her son; she felt it without looking at him, and before he gave a sign. As it was, he did not speak, but, after a few moments, rose and went quietly out of the room: then she heard the front door open and close. She sat by his fire a long, long time and was sorry—and wondered.

When Richard came home from his cold night-prowl in the snowy streets, he found a sheet of note paper upon his pillow:

"Dearest Richard, I didn't mean that anybody you ever cared for was a d—-l. I only meant that often the world finds out that there are lovely people it hasn't noticed."

. . . He reproached himself, then, for the reproach his leaving her had been; he had a susceptible and annoying conscience, this unfortunate Richard. He found it hard to get to sleep, that night; and was kept awake long after he had planned how he would make up to his mother for having received her "legend" so freezingly. What kept him awake, after that, was a dim, rhythmic sound coming from the house next door, where a holiday dance was in progress—music far away and slender: fiddle, 'cello, horn, bassoon, drums, all rollicking away almost the night-long, seeping through the walls to his restless pillow. Finally, when belated drowsiness came, the throbbing tunes mingled with his half-dreams, and he heard the light shuffling of multitudinous feet over the dancing-floor, and became certain that Laura's were among them. He saw her, gliding, swinging, laughing, and happy and the picture did not please him: it seemed to him that she would have been much better employed sitting in black to write of a hopeless love. Coquetting with four suitors was not only inconsistent; it was unbecoming. It "suited Cora's style," but in Laura it was outrageous. When he woke, in the morning, he was dreaming of her: dressed as Parthenia, beautiful, and throwing roses to an acclaiming crowd through which she was borne on a shield upon the shoulders of four Antinouses. Richard thought it scandalous.

His indignation with her had not worn off when he descended to breakfast, but he made up to his mother for having troubled her. Then, to cap his gallantry, he observed that several inches of snow must have fallen during the night; it would be well packed upon the streets by noon; he would get a sleigh, after lunch, and take her driving. It was a holiday.

She thanked him, but half-declined. "I'm afraid it's too cold for me, but there are lots of nice girls in town, Richard, who won't mind weather."

"But I asked you!" It was finally left an open question for the afternoon to settle; and, upon her urging, he went out for a walk. She stood at the window to watch him, and, when she saw that he turned northward, she sank into a chair, instead of going to give Joe Varden his after-breakfast instructions, and fell into a deep reverie.

Outdoors, it was a biting cold morning, wind-swept and gray; and with air so frosty-pure no one might breathe it and stay bilious: neither in body nor bilious in spirit. It was a wind to sweep the yellow from jaundiced cheeks and make them rosy; a wind to clear dulled eyes; it was a wind to lift foolish hearts, to lift them so high they might touch heaven and go winging down the sky, the wildest of wild-geese.

. . . When the bell rang, Laura was kneeling before the library fire, which she had just kindled, and she had not risen when Sarah brought Richard to the doorway. She was shabby enough, poor Cinderella! looking up, so frightened, when her prince appeared.

She had not been to the dance.

She had not four suitors. She had none.

He came toward her. She rose and stepped back a little. Ashes had blown upon her, and, oh, the old, old thought of the woman born to be a mother! she was afraid his clothes might get dusty if he came too close.

But to Richard she looked very beautiful; and a strange thing happened: trembling, he saw that the firelight upon her face was brighter than any firelight he had ever seen.

THE END

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