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Title: Gentle Julia
Author: Tarkington, Booth, 1869-1946
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gentle Julia" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: Gentle Julia]

GENTLE JULIA

BY
BOOTH TARKINGTON

AUTHOR OF PENROD, PENROD AND SAM,
THE TURMOIL, ETC.

ILLUSTRATED BY
C. ALLAN GILBERT
and
WORTH BREHM

GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

Made in the United States of America

       *       *       *       *       *

COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY P. F. COLLIER AND SON COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY THE PICTORIAL REVIEW COMPANY

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
AT
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.

       *       *       *       *       *

TO M. L. K.

       *       *       *       *       *

GENTLE JULIA

"Rising to the point of order, this one said that since the morgue
was not yet established as the central monument and inspiration of
our settlement, and true philosophy was as well expounded in the
convivial manner as in the miserable, he claimed for himself, not
the license, but the right, to sing a ballad, if he chose, upon even
so solemn a matter as the misuse of the town pump by witches."

       *       *       *       *       *



GENTLE JULIA

CHAPTER ONE


Superciliousness is not safe after all, because a person who forms the
habit of wearing it may some day find his lower lip grown permanently
projected beyond the upper, so that he can't get it back, and must go
through life looking like the King of Spain. This was once foretold as a
probable culmination of Florence Atwater's still plastic profile, if
Florence didn't change her way of thinking; and upon Florence's
remarking dreamily that the King of Spain was an awf'ly han'some man,
her mother retorted: "But not for a girl!" She meant, of course, that a
girl who looked too much like the King of Spain would not be handsome,
but her daughter decided to misunderstand her.

"Why, mamma, he's my Very Ideal! I'd marry him to-morrow!"

Mrs. Atwater paused in her darning, and let the stocking collapse
flaccidly into the work-basket in her lap. "Not at barely thirteen,
would you?" she said. "It seems to me you're just a shade too young to
be marrying a man who's already got a wife and several children. Where
did you pick up that 'I'd-marry-him-to-morrow,' Florence?"

"Oh, I hear that everywhere!" returned the damsel, lightly. "Everybody
says things like that. I heard Aunt Julia say it. I heard Kitty Silver
say it."

"About the King of Spain?" Mrs. Atwater inquired.

"I don't know who they were saying it about," said Florence, "but they
were saying it. I don't mean they were saying it together; I heard one
say it one time and the other say it some other time. I think Kitty
Silver was saying it about some coloured man. She proba'ly wouldn't want
to marry any white man; at least I don't expect she would. She's _been_
married to a couple of coloured men, anyhow; and she was married twice
to one of 'em, and the other one died in between. Anyhow, that's what
she told me. She weighed over two hunderd pounds the first time she was
married, and she weighed over two hunderd-and-seventy the last time she
was married to the first one over again, but she says she don't know
how much she weighed when she was married to the one in between. She
says she never got weighed all the time she was married to that one. Did
Kitty Silver ever tell you that, mamma?"

"Yes, often!" Mrs. Atwater replied. "I don't think it's very
entertaining; and it's not what we were talking about. I was trying to
tell you----"

"I know," Florence interrupted. "You said I'd get my face so's my
underlip wouldn't go back where it ought to, if I didn't quit turning up
my nose at people I think are beneath contemp'. I guess the best thing
would be to just feel that way without letting on by my face, and then
there wouldn't be any danger."

"No," said Mrs. Atwater. "That's not what I meant. You mustn't let your
feelings get _their_ nose turned up, or their underlip out, either,
because feelings can grow warped just as well as----"

But her remarks had already caused her daughter to follow a trail of
thought divergent from the main road along which the mother feebly
struggled to progress. "Mamma," said Florence, "do you b'lieve it's true
if a person swallows an apple-seed or a lemon-seed or a watermelon-seed,
f'r instance, do you think they'd have a tree grow up inside of 'em?
Henry Rooter said it would, yesterday."

Mrs. Atwater looked a little anxious. "Did you swallow some sort of
seed?" she asked.

"It was only some grape-seeds, mamma; and you needn't think I got to
take anything for it, because I've swallowed a million, I guess, in my
time!"

"In your time?" her mother repeated, seemingly mystified.

"Yes, and so have you and papa," Florence went on. "I've seen you when
you ate grapes. Henry said maybe not, about grapes, because I told him
all what I've just been telling you, mamma, how I must have swallowed a
million, in my time, and he said grape-seeds weren't big enough to get a
good holt, but he said if I was to swallow an apple-seed a tree would
start up, and in a year or two, maybe, it would grow up so't I couldn't
get my mouth shut on account the branches."

"Nonsense!"

"Henry said another boy told _him_, but he said you could ask anybody
and they'd tell you it was true. Henry said this boy that told him's
uncle died of it when he was eleven years old, and this boy knew a grown
woman that was pretty sick from it right now. I expect Henry wasn't
telling such a falsehood about it, mamma, but proba'ly this boy did,
because I didn't believe it for a minute! Henry Rooter says he never
told a lie _yet_, in his whole life, mamma, and he wasn't going to begin
now." She paused for a moment, then added: "I don't believe a word he
says!"

She continued to meditate disapprovingly upon Henry Rooter. "Old thing!"
she murmured gloomily, for she had indeed known moments of apprehension
concerning the grape-seeds. "Nothing but an old thing--what he is!" she
repeated inaudibly.

"Florence," said Mrs. Atwater, "don't you want to slip over to grandpa's
and ask Aunt Julia if she has a very large darning needle? And don't
forget not to look supercilious when you meet people on the way. Even
your grandfather has been noticing it, and he was the one that spoke of
it to me. Don't forget!"

"Yes'm."

Florence went out of the house somewhat moodily, but afternoon sunshine
enlivened her; and, opening the picket gate, she stepped forth with a
fair renewal of her chosen manner toward the public, though just at that
moment no public was in sight. Miss Atwater's underlip resumed the
position for which her mother had predicted that regal Spanish fixity,
and her eyebrows and nose were all three perceptibly elevated. At the
same time, her eyelids were half lowered, while the corners of her mouth
somewhat deepened, as by a veiled mirth, so that this well-dressed child
strolled down the shady sidewalk wearing an expression not merely of
high-bred contempt but also of mysterious derision. It was an expression
that should have put any pedestrian in his place, and it seems a pity
that the long street before her appeared to be empty of human life. No
one even so much as glanced from a window of any of the comfortable
houses, set back at the end of their "front walks" and basking amid
pleasant lawns; for, naturally, this was the "best residence street" in
the town, since all the Atwaters and other relatives of Florence dwelt
there. Happily, an old gentleman turned a corner before she had gone a
hundred yards, and, as he turned in her direction, it became certain
that they would meet. He was a stranger--that is to say, he was unknown
to Florence--and he was well dressed; while his appearance of age
(proba'ly at least forty or sixty or something) indicated that he might
have sense enough to be interested in other interesting persons.

An extraordinary change took place upon the surface of Florence Atwater:
all superciliousness and derision of the world vanished; her eyes opened
wide, and into them came a look at once far-away and intently fixed.
Also, a frown of concentration appeared upon her brow, and her lips
moved silently, but with rapidity, as if she repeated to herself
something of almost tragic import. Florence had recently read a
newspaper account of the earlier struggles of a now successful actress:
As a girl, this determined genius went about the streets repeating the
lines of various roles to herself--constantly rehearsing, in fact, upon
the public thoroughfares, so carried away was she by her intended
profession and so set upon becoming famous. This was what Florence was
doing now, except that she rehearsed no rôle in particular, and the
words formed by her lips were neither sequential nor consequential,
being, in fact, the following: "Oh, the darkness ... never, never,
never! ... you couldn't ... he wouldn't ... Ah, mother! ... Where the
river swings so slowly ... Ah, _no_!" Nevertheless, she was doing all
she could for the elderly stranger, and as they came closer,
encountered, and passed on, she had the definite impression that he did
indeed take her to be a struggling young actress who would some day be
famous--and then he might see her on a night of triumph and recognize
her as the girl he had passed on the street, that day, so long ago! But
by this time, the episode was concluded; the footsteps of him for whom
she was performing had become inaudible behind her, and she began to
forget him; which was as well, since he went out of her life then, and
the two never met again. The struggling young actress disappeared, and
the previous superiority was resumed. It became elaborately emphasized
as a boy of her own age emerged from the "side yard" of a house at the
next corner and came into her view.

The boy caught sight of Florence in plenty of time to observe this
emphasis, which was all too obviously produced by her sensations at
sight of himself; and, after staring at her for a moment, he allowed his
own expression to become one of painful fatigue. Then he slowly swung
about, as if to return into that side-yard obscurity whence he had come;
making clear by this pantomime that he reciprocally found the sight of
her insufferable. In truth, he did; for he was not only her neighbour
but her first-cousin as well, and a short month older, though taller
than she--tall beyond his years, taller than need be, in fact, and still
in knickerbockers. However, his parents may not have been mistaken in
the matter, for it was plain that he looked as well in knickerbockers as
he could have looked in anything. He had no visible beauty, though it
was possible to hope for him that by the time he reached manhood he
would be more tightly put together than he seemed at present; and indeed
he himself appeared to have some consciousness of insecurity in the
fastenings of his members, for it was his habit (observable even now as
he turned to avoid Miss Atwater) to haul at himself, to sag and hitch
about inside his clothes, and to corkscrew his neck against the swathing
of his collar. And yet there were times, as the most affectionate of his
aunts had remarked, when, for a moment or so, he appeared to be almost
knowing; and, seeing him walking before her, she had almost taken him
for a young man; and sometimes he said something in a settled kind of
way that was almost adult. This fondest aunt went on to add, however,
that of course, the next minute after one of these fleeting spells, he
was sure to be overtaken by his more accustomed moods, when his eye
would again fix itself with fundamental aimlessness upon nothing. In
brief, he was at the age when he spent most of his time changing his
mind about things, or, rather, when his mind spent most of its time
changing him about things; and this was what happened now.

After turning his back on the hateful sight well known to him as his
cousin Florence at her freshest, he turned again, came forth from his
place of residence, and joining her upon the pavement, walked beside
her, accompanying her without greeting or inquiry. His expression of
fatigue, indicating her insufferableness, had not abated; neither had
her air of being a duchess looking at bugs.

"You _are_ a pretty one!" he said; but his intention was perceived to be
far indeed from his words.

"Oh, _am_ I, Mister Herbert Atwater?" Florence responded. "I'm _awf'ly_
glad _you_ think so!"

"I mean about what Henry Rooter said," her cousin explained. "Henry
Rooter told me he made you believe you were goin' to have a grapevine
climbin' up from inside of you because you ate some grapes with the
seeds in 'em. He says you thought you'd haf to get a carpenter to build
a little arbour so you could swallow it for the grapevine to grow on. He
says----"

Florence had become an angry pink. "That little Henry Rooter is the
worst falsehooder in this town; and I never believed a word he said in
his life! Anyway, what affairs is it of yours, I'd like you to please be
so kind and obliging for to tell me, Mister Herbert Illingsworth
Atwater, Exquire!"

"What affairs?" Herbert echoed in plaintive satire. "What affairs is it
of mine? That's just the trouble! It's _got_ to be my affairs because
you're my first-cousin. My goodness _I_ didn't have anything to do with
you being my cousin, did I?"

"Well, _I_ didn't!"

"That's neither here nor there," said Herbert. "What _I_ want to know
is, how long you goin' to keep this up?"

"Keep what up?"

"I mean, how do you think I like havin' somebody like Henry Rooter
comin' round me tellin' what they made a cousin of mine believe, and
more than thirteen years old, goin' on fourteen ever since about a month
ago!"

Florence shouted: "Oh, for goodness' _sakes_!" then moderated the volume
but not the intensity of her tone. "Kindly reply to _this_. Whoever
asked you to come and take a walk with me to-day?"

Herbert protested to heaven. "Why, I wouldn't take a walk with you if
every policeman in this town tried to make me! I wouldn't take a walk
with you if they brought a million horses and--"

"I wouldn't take a walk with _you_," Florence interrupted, "if they
brought a million million horses and cows and camels and--"

"No, you wouldn't," Herbert said. "Not if _I_ could help it!"

But by this time Florence had regained her derisive superciliousness.
"There's a few things you _could_ help," she said; and the incautious
Herbert challenged her with the inquiry she desired.

"What could I help?"

"I should think you could help bumpin' into me every second when I'm
takin' a walk on my own affairs, and walk along on your own side of the
sidewalk, anyway, and not be so awkward a person has to keep trippin'
over you about every time I try to take a step!"

Herbert withdrew temporarily to his own side of the pavement. "Who?" he
demanded hotly. "_Who_ says I'm awkward?"

"All the fam'ly," Miss Atwater returned, with a light but infuriating
laugh. "You bump into 'em sideways and keep gettin' half in front of
'em whenever they try to take a step, and then when it looks as if
they'd pretty near fall over you--"

"You look here!"

"And besides all that," Florence went on, undisturbed, "why, you
generally keep kind of snorting, or somep'n, and then making all those
noises in your neck. You were doin' it at grandpa's last Sunday dinner
because every time there wasn't anybody talking, why, everybody could
hear you plain as everything, and you ought to've seen grandpa look at
you! He looked as if you'd set him crazy if you didn't quit that
chuttering and cluckling!"

Herbert's expression partook of a furious astonishment. "I don't any
such thing!" he burst out. "I guess I wouldn't talk much about last
Sunday dinner, if I was _you_ neither. Who got caught eatin' off the ice
cream freezer spoon out on the back porch, if you please? Yes, and I
guess you better study a little grammar, while you're about it. There's
no such words in the English language as 'cluckling' and 'chuttering.'"

"I don't care what language they're in," the stubborn Florence insisted.
"It's what you do, just the same: cluckling and chuttering!"

Herbert's manners went to pieces. "Oh, dry up!" he bellowed.

"That's a _nice_ way to talk! So gentlemanly----"

"Well, you try be a lady, then!"

"'Try!'" Florence echoed. "Well, after that, I'll just politely thank you
to dry up, yourself, Mister Herbert Atwater!"

At this Herbert became moody. "Oh, pfuff!" he said; and for some moments
walked in silence. Then he asked: "Where you goin', Florence?"

The damsel paused at a gate opening upon a broad lawn evenly divided by
a brick walk that led to the white-painted wooden veranda of an ample
and honest old brick house. "Righ' there to grandpa's, since you haf to
know!" she said. "And thank you for your delightful comp'ny which I
never asked for, if you care to hear the truth for once in your life!"

Herbert meditated. "Well, I got nothin' else to do, as I know of," he
said. "Let's go around to the back door so's to see if Kitty Silver's
got anything."

Then, not amiably, but at least inconsequently, they passed inside the
gate together. Their brows were fairly unclouded; no special marks of
conflict remained; for they had met and conversed in a manner customary
rather than unusual.

They followed a branch of the brick walk and passed round the south side
of the house, where a small orchard of apple-trees showed generous
promise. Hundreds of gay little round apples among the leaves glanced
the high lights to and fro on their polished green cheeks as a breeze
hopped through the yard, while the shade beneath trembled with
coquettishly moving disks of sunshine like golden plates. A pattern of
orange light and blue shadow was laid like a fanciful plaid over the
lattice and the wide, slightly sagging steps of the elderly "back
porch"; and here, taking her ease upon these steps, sat a middle-aged
coloured woman of continental proportions. Beyond all contest, she was
the largest coloured woman in that town, though her height was not
unusual, and she had a rather small face. That is to say, as Florence
had once explained to her, her face was small but the other parts of her
head were terribly wide. Beside her was a circular brown basket, of a
type suggesting arts-and-crafts; it was made with a cover, and there was
a bow of brown silk upon the handle.

"What you been up to to-day, Kitty Silver?" Herbert asked genially.
"Any thing special?" For this was the sequel to his "so's we can see if
Kitty Silver's got anything." But Mrs. Silver discouraged him.

"No, I ain't," she replied. "I ain't, an' I ain't goin' to."

"I thought you pretty near always made cookies on Tuesday," he said.

"Well, I ain't _this_ Tuesday," said Kitty Silver. "I ain't, and I ain't
goin' to. You might dess well g'on home ri' now. I ain't, an' I ain't
goin' to."

Docility was no element of Mrs. Silver's present mood, and Herbert's
hopeful eyes became blank, as his gaze wandered from her head to the
brown basket beside her. The basket did not interest him; the ribbon
gave it a quality almost at once excluding it from his consciousness. On
the contrary, the ribbon had drawn Florence's attention, and she stared
at the basket eagerly.

"What you got there, Kitty Silver?" she asked.

"What I got where?"

"In that basket."

"Nemmine what I got 'n 'at basket," said Mrs. Silver crossly, but added
inconsistently: "I dess _wish_ somebody ast me what I got 'n 'at basket!
_I_ ain't no cat-washwoman fer _no_body!"

"Cats!" Florence cried. "Are there cats in that basket, Kitty Silver?
Let's look at 'em!"

The lid of the basket, lifted by the eager, slim hand of Miss Atwater,
rose to disclose two cats of an age slightly beyond kittenhood. They
were of a breed unfamiliar to Florence, and she did not obey the impulse
that usually makes a girl seize upon any young cat at sight and caress
it. Instead, she looked at them with some perplexity, and after a moment
inquired: "Are they really cats, Kitty Silver, do you b'lieve?"

"Cats what she done tole _me_," the coloured woman replied. "You betta
shet lid down, you don' wan' 'em run away, 'cause they ain't yoosta
livin' 'n 'at basket yit; an' no matter whut kine o' cats they is or
they isn't, _one_ thing true: they _wile_ cats!"

"But what makes their hair so long?" Florence asked. "I never saw cats
with hair a couple inches long like that."

"Miss Julia say they Berjum cats."

"What?"

"I ain't tellin' no mo'n she tole me. You' aunt say they Berjum cats."

"Persian," said Herbert. "That's nothing. I've seen plenty Persian cats.
My goodness, I should think you'd seen a Persian cat at yow age.
Thirteen goin' on fourteen!"

"Well, I _have_ seen Persian cats plenty times, I guess," Florence said.
"I thought Persian cats were white, and these are kind of gray."

At this Kitty Silver permitted herself to utter an embittered laugh.
"You wrong!" she said. "These cats, they white; yes'm!"

"Why, they aren't either! They're gray as----"

"No'm," said Mrs. Silver. "They plum spang white, else you' Aunt Julia
gone out her mind; me or her, one. I say: 'Miss Julia, them gray cats.'
'White,' she say. 'Them two cats is white cats,' she say. 'Them cats
been crated,' she say. 'They been livin' in a crate on a dirty express
train fer th'ee fo' days,' she say. 'Them cats gone got all smoke' up
thataway,' she say. 'No'm, Miss Julia,' I say, 'No'm, Miss Julia, they
ain't _no_ train,' I say, 'they ain't _no_ train kin take an' smoke two
white cats up like these cats so's they hair is gray clean plum up to
they hide.' You betta put the lid down, I tell you!"

Florence complied, just in time to prevent one of the young cats from
leaping out of the basket, but she did not fasten the cover. Instead,
she knelt, and, allowing a space of half an inch to intervene between
the basket and the rim of the cover, peered within at the occupants. "I
believe the one to this side's a he," she said. "It's got greenisher
eyes than the other one; that's the way you can always tell. I b'lieve
this one's a he and the other one's a she."

"I ain't stedyin' about no he an' she!"

"What did Aunt Julia say?" Florence asked.

"Whut you' Aunt Julia say when?"

"When you told her these were gray cats and not white cats?"

"She tole me take an' clean 'em," said Kitty Silver. "She say, she say
she want 'em clean' up spick an' spang befo' Mista Sammerses git here to
call an' see 'em." And she added morosely: "I ain't no cat-washwoman!"

"She wants you to bathe 'em?" Florence inquired, but Kitty Silver did
not reply immediately. She breathed audibly, with a strange effect upon
vasty outward portions of her, and then gave an incomparably dulcet
imitation of her own voice, as she interpreted her use of it during the
recent interview.

'Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say--'Miss Julia, ma'am, my bizniss cookin'
vittles,' I say. 'Miss Julia, ma'am,' I tole her, 'Miss Julia, ma'am, I
cook fer you' pa, an' cook fer you' fam'ly year in, year out, an' I hope
an' pursue, whiles some might make complaint, I take whatever I find,
an' I leave whatever I find. No'm, Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say--'no'm,
Miss Julia, ma'am, I ain't no cat-washwoman!'"

"What did Aunt Julia say then?"

"She say, she say: 'Di'n I tell you take them cats downstairs an' clean
'em?' she say. I ain't _no_body's cat-washwoman!"

Florence was becoming more and more interested. "I should think that
would be kind of fun," she said. "To be a cat-washwoman. _I_ wouldn't
mind that at all: I'd kind of like it. I expect if you was a
cat-washwoman, Kitty Silver, you'd be pretty near the only one was in
the world. I wonder if they do have 'em any place, cat-washwomen."

"I don' know if they got 'em some place," said Kitty Silver, "an' I
don't know if they ain't got 'em no place; but I bet if they do got 'em
any place, it's some place else from here!"

Florence looked thoughtful. "Who was it you said is going to call this
evening and see 'em?"

"Mista Sammerses."

"She means Newland Sanders," Herbert explained. "Aunt Julia says all her
callers that ever came to this house in their lives, Kitty Silver never
got the name right of a single one of 'em!"

"Newland Sanders is the one with the little moustache," Florence said.
"Is that the one you mean by 'Sammerses,' Kitty Silver?"

"Mista Sammerses who you' Aunt Julia tole _me_," Mrs. Silver responded
stubbornly. "He ain't got no moustache whut you kin look at--dess some
blackish whut don' reach out mo'n halfway todes the bofe ends of his
mouf."

"Well," said Florence, "was Mr. Sanders the one gave her these Persian
cats, Kitty Silver?"

"I reckon." Mrs. Silver breathed audibly again, and her expression was
strongly resentful. "When she go fer a walk 'long with any them callers
she stop an' make a big fuss over any li'l ole dog or cat an' I don't
know whut all, an' after they done buy her all the candy from all the
candy sto's in the livin' worl', an' all the flowers from all the
greenhouses they is, it's a wonder some of 'em ain't sen' her a mule fer
a present, 'cause seem like to me they done sen' her mos' every kine of
animal they is! Firs' come Airydale dog you' grampaw tuck an' give away
to the milkman; 'n'en come two mo' pups; I don't know whut they is,
'cause they bofe had dess sense enough to run away after you' grampaw
try learn 'em how much he ain't like no pups; an' nex' come them two
canaries hangin' in the dinin'-room now, an' nex'--di'n' I holler so's
they could a-hear me all way down town? Di'n' I walk in my kitchen one
mawnin' right slam in the face of ole warty allagatuh three foot long
a-lookin' at me over the aidge o' my kitchen sink?"

"It was Mr. Clairdyce gave her that," said Florence. "He'd been to
Florida; but she didn't care for it very much, and she didn't make any
fuss at all when grandpa got the florist to take it. Grandpa hates
animals."

"He don' hate 'em no wuss'n whut I do," said Kitty Silver. "An' he ain't
got to ketch 'em lookin' at him outen of his kitchen sink--an' he ain't
fixin' to be no cat-washwoman neither!"

"_Are_ you fixing to?" Florence asked quickly. "You don't need to do it,
Kitty Silver. I'd be willing to, and so'd Herbert. Wouldn't you,
Herbert?"

Herbert deliberated within himself, then brightened. "I'd just as soon,"
he said. "I'd kind of like to see how a cat acts when it's getting
bathed."

"I think it would be spesh'ly inter'sting to wash Persian cats,"
Florence added, with increasing enthusiasm. "I never washed a cat in my
life."

"Neither have I," said Herbert. "I always thought they did it
themselves."

Kitty Silver sniffed. "Ain't I says so to you' Aunt Julia? She done tole
me, 'No,' she say. She say, she say Berjum cats ain't wash they self;
they got to take an' git somebody else to wash 'em!"

"If we're goin' to bathe 'em," said Florence, "we ought to know their
names, so's we can tell 'em to hold still and everything. You can't do
much with an animal unless you know their name. Did Aunt Julia tell you
these cats' names, Kitty Silver?"

"She say they name Feef an' Meemuh. Yes'm! Feef an' Meemuh! Whut kine o'
name is Feef an' Meemuh fer cat name!"

"Oh, those are lovely names!" Florence assured her, and, turning to
Herbert, explained: "She means Fifi and Mimi."

"Feef an' Meemuh," said Kitty Silver. "Them name don' suit me, an' them
long-hair cats don' suit me neither." Here she lifted the cover of the
basket a little, and gazed nervously within. "Look at there!" she said.
"Look at the way they lookin' at me! Don't you look at _me_ thataway,
you Feef an' Meemuh!" She clapped the lid down and fastened it. "Fixin'
to jump out an' grab me, was you?"

"I guess, maybe," said Florence, "maybe I better go ask Aunt Julia if I
and Herbert can't wash 'em. I guess I better go _ask_ her anyhow." And
she ran up the steps and skipped into the house by way of the kitchen. A
moment later she appeared in the open doorway of a room upstairs.



CHAPTER TWO


It was a pretty room, lightly scented with the pink geraniums and blue
lobelia and coral fuchsias that poised, urgent with colour, in the
window-boxes at the open windows. Sunshine paused delicately just
inside, where forms of pale-blue birds and lavender flowers curled up
and down the cretonne curtains; and a tempered, respectful light fell
upon a cushioned _chaise longue_; for there fluffily reclined, in
garments of tender fabric and gentle colours, the prettiest
twenty-year-old girl in that creditably supplied town.

It must be said that no stranger would have taken Florence at first
glance to be her niece, though everybody admitted that Florence's hair
was pretty. ("I'll say _that_ for her," was the family way of putting
it.). Florence did not care for her hair herself; it was dark and thick
and long, like her Aunt Julia's; but Florence--even in the realistic
presence of a mirror--preferred to think of herself as an ashen blonde,
and also as about a foot taller than she was. Persistence kept this
picture habitually in her mind, which, of course, helps to explain her
feeling that she was justified in wearing that manner of
superciliousness deplored by her mother. More middle-aged gentlemen than
are suspected believe that they look like the waspen youths in the
magazine advertisements of clothes; and this impression of theirs
accounts (as with Florence) for much that is seemingly inexplicable in
their behaviour.

Florence's Aunt Julia was reading an exquisitely made little book, which
bore her initials stamped in gold upon the cover; and it had evidently
reached her by a recent delivery of the mail, for wrappings bearing
cancelled stamps lay upon the floor beside the _chaise longue_. It was a
special sort of book, since its interior was not printed, but all
laboriously written with pen and ink--poems, in truth, containing more
references to a lady named Julia than have appeared in any other poems
since Herrick's. So warmly interested in the reading as to be rather
pink, though not always with entire approval, this Julia nevertheless,
at the sound of footsteps, closed the book and placed it beneath one of
the cushions assisting the _chaise longue_ to make her position a
comfortable one. Her greeting was not enthusiastic.

"What do you want, Florence?"

"I was going to ask you if Herbert and me--I mean: Was it Noble Dill
gave you Fifi and Mimi, Aunt Julia?"

"Noble Dill? No."

"I wish it was," Florence said. "I'd like these cats better if they were
from Noble Dill."

"Why?" Julia inquired. "Why are you so partial to Mr. Noble Dill?"

"I think he's _so_ much the most inter'sting looking of all that come to
see you. Are you _sure_ it wasn't Noble Dill gave you these cats, Aunt
Julia?"

A look of weariness became plainly visible upon Miss Julia Atwater's
charming face. "I do wish you'd hurry and grow up, Florence," she said.

"I do, too! What for, Aunt Julia?"

"So there'd be somebody else in the family of an eligible age. I really
think it's an outrageous position to be in," Julia continued, with
languid vehemence--"to be the only girl between thirteen and forty-one
in a large connection of near relatives, including children, who all
seem to think they haven't anything to think of but Who comes to see
her, and Who came to see her yesterday, and Who was here the day before,
and Who's coming to-morrow, and Who's she going to marry! You really
ought to grow up and help me out, because I'm getting tired of it. No.
It wasn't Noble Dill but Mr. Newland Sanders that sent me Fifi and
Mimi--and I want you to keep away from 'em."

"Why?" asked Florence.

"Because they're very rare cats, and you aren't ordinarily a very
careful sort of person, Florence, if you don't mind my saying so.
Besides, if I let you go near them, the next thing Herbert would be over
here mussing around, and he can't go near _anything_ without ruining it!
It's just in him; he can't help it."

Florence looked thoughtful for a brief moment; then she asked: "Did
Newland Sanders send 'em with the names already to them?"

"No," said Julia, emphasizing the patience of her tone somewhat. "I
named them after they got here. Mr. Sanders hasn't seen them yet. He had
them shipped to me. He's coming this evening. Anything more to-day,
Florence?"

"Well, I was thinking," said Florence. "What do you think grandpa'll
think about these cats?"

"I don't believe there'll be any more outrages," Julia returned, and her
dark eyes showed a moment's animation. "I told him at breakfast that
the Reign of Terror was ended, and he and everybody else had to keep
away from Fifi and Mimi. Is that about all, Florence?"

"You let Kitty Silver go near 'em, though. She says she's fixing to wash
'em."

Julia smiled faintly. "I thought she would! I had to go so far as to
tell her that as long as I'm housekeeper in my father's house she'd do
what I say or find some other place. She behaved outrageously and
pretended to believe the natural colour of Fifi and Mimi is gray!"

"I expect," said Florence, after pondering seriously for a little
while--"I expect it would take quite some time to dry them."

"No doubt. But I'd rather you didn't assist. I'd rather you weren't even
around looking on, Florence."

A shade fell upon her niece's face at this. "Why, Aunt Julia, I couldn't
do any harm to Fifi and Mimi just _lookin'_ at 'em, could I?"

Julia laughed. "That's the trouble; you never do 'just look' at anything
you're interested in, and, if you don't mind my saying so, you've got
rather a record, dear! Now, don't you care: you can find lots of other
pleasant things to do at home--or over at Herbert's, or Aunt Fanny's.
You run along now and----"

"Well----" Florence said, moving as if to depart.

"You might as well go out by the front door, child," Julia suggested,
with a little watchful urgency. "You come over some day when Fifi and
Mimi have got used to the place, and you can look at them all you want
to."

"Well, I just----"

But as Florence seemed disposed still to linger, her aunt's manner
became more severe, and she half rose from her reclining position.

"No, I really mean it! Fifi and Mimi are royal-bred Persian cats with a
wonderful pedigree, and I don't know how much trouble and expense it
cost Mr. Sanders to get them for me. They're entirely different from
ordinary cats; they're very fine and queer, and if anything happens to
them, after all the trouble papa's made over other presents I've had,
I'll go straight to a sanitarium! No, Florence, you keep away from the
kitchen to-day, and I'd like to hear the front door as you go out."

"Well," said Florence; "I do wish if these cats are as fine as all that,
it was Noble Dill that gave 'em to you. I'd like these cats lots better
if _he_ gave 'em to you, wouldn't you?"

"No, I wouldn't."

"Well----" Florence said again, and departed.

Twenty is an unsuspicious age, except when it fears that its dignity or
grace may be threatened from without; and it might have been a "bad
sign" in revelation of Julia Atwater's character if she had failed to
accept the muffled metallic clash of the front door's closing as a token
that her niece had taken a complete departure for home. A supplemental
confirmation came a moment later, fainter but no less conclusive: the
distant slamming of the front gate; and it made a clear picture of an
obedient Florence on her homeward way. Peace came upon Julia: she read
in her book, while at times she dropped a languid, graceful arm, and,
with the pretty hand at the slimmer end of it, groped in a dark shelter
beneath her couch to make a selection, merely by her well-experienced
sense of touch, from a frilled white box that lay in concealment there.
Then, bringing forth a crystalline violet become scented sugar, or a bit
of fruit translucent in hardened sirup, she would delicately set it on
the way to that attractive dissolution hoped for it by the wistful
donor--and all without removing her shadowy eyes from the little volume
and its patient struggle for dignified rhymes with "Julia." Florence
was no longer in her beautiful relative's thoughts.

Florence was idly in the thoughts, however, of Mrs. Balche, the
next-door neighbour to the south. Happening to glance from a bay-window,
she negligently marked how the child walked to the front gate, opened
it, paused for a moment's meditation, then hurled the gate to a vigorous
closure, herself remaining within its protection. "Odd!" Mrs. Balche
murmured.

Having thus eloquently closed the gate, Florence slowly turned and moved
toward the rear of the house, quickening her steps as she went, until at
a run she disappeared from the scope of Mrs. Balche's gaze, cut off by
the intervening foliage of Mr. Atwater's small orchard. Mrs. Balche felt
no great interest; nevertheless, she paused at the sound of a boy's
voice, half husky, half shrill, in an early stage of change. "What she
say, Flor'nce? D'she say we could?" But there came a warning "_Hush
up_!" from Florence, and then, in a lowered tone, the boy's voice said:
"Look here; these are mighty funny-actin' cats. I think they're kind of
crazy or somep'n. Kitty Silver's fixed a washtub full o' suds for us."

Mrs. Balche was reminded of her own cat, and went to give it a little
cream. Mrs. Balche was a retired widow, without children, and too timid
to like dogs; but after a suitable interval, following the loss of her
husband, she accepted from a friend the gift of a white kitten, and
named it Violet. It may be said that Mrs. Balche, having few interests
in life, and being of a sequestering nature, lived for Violet, and that
so much devotion was not good for the latter's health. In his youth,
after having shown sufficient spirit to lose an eye during a sporting
absence of three nights and days, Violet was not again permitted enough
freedom of action to repeat this disloyalty; though, now, in his
advanced middle-age, he had been fed to such a state that he seldom
cared to move, other than by a slow, sneering wavement of the tail when
friendly words were addressed to him; and consequently, as he seemed
beyond all capacity or desire to run away, or to run at all, Mrs. Balche
allowed him complete liberty of action.

She found him asleep upon her "back porch," and placed beside him a
saucer of cream, the second since his luncheon. Then she watched him
affectionately as he opened his eye, turned toward the saucer his noble
Henry-the-Eighth head with its great furred jowls, and began the process
of rising for more food, which was all that ever seemed even feebly to
rouse his mind. When he had risen, there was little space between him
anywhere and the floor.

Violet took his cream without enthusiasm, pausing at times and turning
his head away. In fact, he persisted only out of an incorrigible
sensuality, and finally withdrew a pace or two, leaving creamy traces
still upon the saucer. With a multitude of fond words his kind mistress
drew his attention to these, whereupon, making a visible effort, he
returned and disposed of them.

"Dat's de 'itty darlin'," she said, stooping to stroke him. "Eat um all
up nice clean. Dood for ole sweet sin!" She continued to stroke him, and
Violet half closed his eye, but not with love or serenity, for he
simultaneously gestured with his tail, meaning to say: "Oh, do take your
hands off o' me!" Then he opened the eye and paid a little attention to
sounds from the neighbouring yard. A high fence, shrubberies, and
foliage concealed that yard from the view of Violet, but the sounds were
eloquent to him, since they were those made by members of his own
general species when threatening atrocities. The accent may have been
foreign, but Violet caught perfectly the sense of what was being said,
and instinctively he muttered reciprocal curses within himself.

"What a matta, honey?" his companion inquired sympathetically. "Ess, bad
people f'ighten poor Violet!"

From beyond the fence came the murmurings of a boy and a girl in hushed
but urgent conversation; and with these sounds there mingled watery
agitations, splashings and the like, as well as those low vocalizings
that Violet had recognized; but suddenly there were muffled explosions,
like fireworks choked in feather beds; and the human voices grew
uncontrollably somewhat louder, so that their import was
distinguishable. "_Ow!_" "Hush up, can't you? You want to bring the
whole town to--_ow!_" "Hush up yourself!" "Oh, _goodness_!" "Look out!
Don't let her----" "Well, look what she's _doin'_ to me, can't you?"
"For Heavenses' sakes, catch holt and----_Ow!_"

Then came a husky voice, inevitably that of a horrified coloured person
hastening from a distance: "Oh, my soul!" There was a scurrying, and the
girl was heard in furious yet hoarsely guarded vehemence: "Bring the
clo'es prop! Bring the clo'es prop! We can poke that one down from the
garage, anyway. _Oh, my goodness, look at 'er go!_"

Mrs. Balche shook her head. "Naughty children!" she said, as she picked
up the saucer and went to the kitchen door, which she held open for
Violet to enter. "Want to come with mamma?"

But Violet had lost even the faint interest in life he had shown a few
moments earlier. He settled himself to another stupor in the sun.

"Well, well," Mrs. Balche said indulgently. "Afterwhile shall have some
more nice keem."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sunset was beginning to be hinted, two hours later, when, in another
quarter of the town, a little girl of seven or eight, at play on the
domestic side of an alley gate, became aware of an older girl regarding
her fixedly over the top of the gate. The little girl felt embarrassed
and paused in her gayeties, enfolding in her arms her pet and playmate.
"Howdy' do," said the stranger, in a serious tone. "What'll you take for
that cat?"

The little girl made no reply, and the stranger, opening the gate, came
into the yard. She looked weary, rather bedraggled, yet hurried: her air
was predominantly one of anxiety. "I'll give you a quarter for that
cat," she said. "I want an all-white cat, but this one's only got that
one gray spot over its eye, and I don't believe there's an all-white
cat left in town, leastways that anybody's willing to part with. I'll
give you twenty-five cents for it. I haven't got it with me, but I'll
promise to give it to you day after to-morrow."

The little girl still made no reply, but continued to stare, her eyes
widening, and the caller spoke with desperation.

"See here," she said, "I _got_ to have a whitish cat! That'n isn't worth
more'n a quarter, but I'll give you thirty-five cents for her, money
down, day after to-morrow."

At this, the frightened child set the cat upon the ground and fled into
the house. Florence Atwater was left alone; that is to say, she was the
only human being in the yard, or in sight. Nevertheless, a human voice
spoke, not far behind her. It came through a knot-hole in the fence, and
it was a voice almost of passion.

"_You grab it!_"

Florence stood in silence, motionless; there was a solemnity about her.
The voice exhorted. "My goodness!" it said. "She didn't say she
_wouldn't_ sell it, did she? You can bring her the money like you said
you would, can't you? I got _mine_, didn't I, almost without any
trouble at all! My Heavens! Ain't Kitty Silver pretty near crazy? Just
think of the position we've put her into! I tell you, you _got_ to!"

But now Florence moved. She moved slowly at first: then with more
decision and rapidity.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening's dusk had deepened into blue night when the two cousins,
each with a scant, uneasy dinner eaten, met by appointment in the alley
behind their mutual grandfather's place of residence, and, having
climbed the back fence, approached the kitchen. Suddenly Florence lifted
her right hand, and took between thumb and forefinger a lock of hair
upon the back of Herbert's head.

"Well, for Heavenses' sakes!" he burst out, justifiably protesting.

"Hush!" Florence warned him. "Kitty Silver's talkin' to somebody in
there. It might be Aunt Julia! C'm'ere!"

She led him to a position beneath an open window of the kitchen. Here
they sat upon the ground, with their backs against the stone foundation
of the house, and listened to voices and the clink of dishes being
washed.

"She's got another ole coloured darky woman in there with her," said
Florence. "It's a woman belongs to her church and comes to see her 'most
every evening. Listen; she's telling her about it. I bet we could get
the real truth of it maybe better this way than if we went in and asked
her right out. Anyway, it isn't eavesdropping if you listen when people
are talkin' about you, yourself. It's only wrong when it isn't any of
your own bus--"

"For Heavenses' sakes hush _up_!" her cousin remonstrated. "Listen!"

"'No'm, Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say"--thus came the voice of Mrs.
Silver--"'no'm, Miss Julia, ma'am. Them the same two cats you han' me,
Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say. 'Leas'wise,' I say, 'them the two same cats
whut was in nat closed-up brown basket when I open it up an' take an'
fix to wash 'em. Somebody might 'a' took an' change 'em 'fo' they got to
_me_,' I say, 'Miss Julia, ma'am, but all the change happen to 'em sence
they been in charge of _me_, that's the gray whut come off 'em whiles I
washin' 'em an' dryin' 'em in corn meal and flannel. I dunno how much
_washin'_ 'em change 'em, Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say, ''cause how much
they change or ain't change, that's fer you to say and me not to jedge,'
I say."

"Lan' o' misery!" cried the visitor, chuckling delightedly. "I wonder
how you done kep' you face, Miss Kitty. What Miss Julia say?"

A loud, irresponsible outburst of mirth on the part of Mrs. Silver
followed. When she could again control herself, she replied more
definitely. "Miss Julia say, she say she ain't never hear no sech
outragelous sto'y in her life! She _tuck_ on! Hallelujah! An' all time,
Miz Johnson, I give you my word, I stannin' there holdin' nat basket,
carryin' on up hill an' down dale how them the same two Berjum cats
Mista Sammerses sen' her: an' trouble enough dess ten'in' to that
basket, lemme say to you, Miz Johnson, as anybody kin tell you whutever
tried to take care o' two cats whut ain't yoosta each other in the same
basket. An' every blessed minute I stannin' there, can't I hear that ole
Miz Blatch nex' do', out in her back yod an' her front yod, an' plum out
in the street, hollerin': 'Kitty? Kitty? Kitty?' '_Yes!_' Miss Julia
say, she say, 'Fine sto'y!' she say. 'Them two cats you claim my Berjum
cats, they got short hair, an' they ain't the same age an' they ain't
even nowheres near the same _size_,' she say. 'One of 'em's as fat as
_bofe_ them Berjum cats,' she say: 'an' it's on'y got one eye,' she say.
'Well, Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say--'_one_ thing; they come out white,
all 'cept dess around that there skinnier one's eye,' I say: 'dess the
same you tell me they goin' to,' I say. 'You right about _that_ much,
ma'am!' I say."

"Oh, me!" Mrs. Johnson moaned, worn with applausive laughter. "What she
respon' then?"

"I set that basket down," said Kitty Silver, "an' I start fer the do',
whiles she unfasten the lid fer to take one mo' look at 'em, I reckon:
but open window mighty close by, an' nat skinny white cat make one jump,
an' after li'l while I lookin' out thishere window an' see that ole fat
Miz Blatch's tom, waddlin' crost the yod todes home."

"What she doin' now?" Mrs. Johnson inquired.

"Who? Miss Julia? She settin' out on the front po'che talkin' to Mista
Sammerses."

"My name! How she goin' fix it with _him_, after all thishere
dishcumaraddle?"

"Who? Miss Julia? Leave her alone, honey! She take an' begin talk so
fas' an' talk so sweet, no young man ain't goin' to ricklect he ever
give her no cats, not till he's gone an' halfway home! But I ain't tole
you the en' of it, Miz Johnson, an' the en' of it's the bes' part whut
happen."

"What's that, Miss Kitty?"

"Look!" said Mrs. Silver. "Mista Atwater gone in yonder, after I come
out, an' ast whut all them goin's-on about. Well suh, an' di'n' he come
walkin' out in my kitchen an' slip me two bright spang new silbuh
dolluhs right in my han'?"

"My name!"

"Yessuh!" said Mrs. Silver triumphantly. And in the darkness outside the
window Florence drew a deep breath. "I'd of felt just awful about this,"
she said, "if Noble Dill had given Aunt Julia those Persian cats."

"Why?" Herbert inquired, puzzled by her way of looking at things. "I
don't see why it would make it any worse _who_ gave 'em to her."

"Well, it would," Florence said. "But anyway, I think we did rather
wrong. Did you notice what Kitty Silver said about what grandpa did?"

"Well?"

"I think we ought to tell him our share of it," Florence returned
thoughtfully. "I don't want to go to bed to-night with all this on my
mind, and I'm going to find grandpa right now and confess every bit of
it to him."

Herbert hopefully decided to go with her.



CHAPTER THREE


Julia, like Herbert, had been a little puzzled by Florence's expression
of a partiality for the young man, Noble Dill; it was not customary for
anybody to confess a weakness for him. However, the aunt dismissed the
subject from her mind, as other matters pressed sharply upon her
attention; she had more worries than most people guessed.

The responsibilities of a lady who is almost officially the prettiest
person in a town persistently claiming sixty-five thousand inhabitants
are often heavier than the world suspects, and there were moments when
Julia found the position so trying that she would have preferred to
resign. She was a warm-hearted, appreciative girl, naturally unable to
close her eyes to sterling merit wherever it appeared: and it was not
without warrant that she complained of her relatives. The whole family,
including the children, she said, regaled themselves with her private
affairs as a substitute for theatre-going. But one day, a week after the
irretrievable disappearance of Fifi and Mimi, she went so far as to
admit a note of unconscious confession into her protest that she was
getting pretty tired of being mistaken for a three-ring circus! Such was
her despairing expression, and the confession lies in her use of the
word "three."

The misleading moderation of "three" was pointed out to her by her
niece, whose mind at once violently seized upon the word and divested it
of context--a process both feminine and instinctive, for this child was
already beginning to be feminine. "Three!" she said. "Why, Aunt Julia,
you must be crazy! There's Newland Sanders and Noble Dill and that old
widower, Ridgley, that grandpa hates so, and Mister Clairdyce and George
Plum and the two new ones from out of town that Aunt Fanny Patterson
said you had at church Sunday morning--Herbert said he didn't like one
of 'em's looks much, Aunt Julia. And there's Parker Kent Usher and that
funny-lookin' one with the little piece of whiskers under his underlip
that Noble Dill got so mad at when they were calling, and Uncle Joe
laughed about, and I don't know who all! Anyhow, there's an awful lot
more than three, Aunt Julia."

Julia looked down with little favour upon the talkative caller. Florence
was seated upon the shady steps of the veranda, and Julia, dressed for a
walk, occupied a wicker chair above her. "Julia, dressed for a
walk"--how scant the words! It was a summer walk that Julia had dressed
for: and she was all too dashingly a picture of coolness on a hot day: a
brunette in murmurous white, though her little hat was a film of
blackest blue, and thus also in belt and parasol she had almost matched
the colour of her eyes. Probably no human-made fabric could have come
nearer to matching them, though she had once met a great traveller--at
least he went far enough in his search for comparisons--who told her
that the Czarina of Russia had owned a deep sapphire of precisely the
colour, but the Czarina's was the only sapphire yet discovered that had
it. One of Newland Sanders's longest Poems-to-Julia was entitled "Black
Sapphires."

Julia's harmonies in black sapphire were uncalled for. If she really had
been as kind as she was too often capable of looking, she would have
fastened patches over both eyes--one patch would have been useless--and
she would have worn flat shoes and patronized a dressmaker with genius
enough to misrepresent her. But Julia was not great enough for such
generosities: she should have been locked up till she passed sixty; her
sufferings deserve no pity.

And yet an attack of the mumps during the winter had brought Julia more
sympathy than the epidemic of typhoid fever in the Old Ladies' Infirmary
brought all of the nine old ladies who were under treatment there. Julia
was confined to her room for almost a month, during which a florist's
wagon seemed permanent before the house: and a confectioner's frequently
stood beside the florist's. Young Florence, an immune who had known the
mumps in infancy, became an almost constant attendant upon the patient,
with the result that the niece contracted an illness briefer than the
aunt's, but more than equalling it in poignancy, caused by the poor
child's economic struggle against waste. Florence's convalescence took
place in her own home without any inquiries whatever from the outer
world, but Julia's was spent in great part at the telephone. Even a poem
was repeated to her by the instrument:

    How the world blooms anew
    To think that you
    Can speak again,
    Can hear
    The words of men
    And the dear
    Own voice of you.

This was Newland Sanders. He was just out of college, a reviewer, a
poet, and once, momentarily, an atheist. It was Newland who was present
and said such a remarkable thing when Julia had the accident to her
thumb-nail in closing the double doors between the living-room and the
library, where her peculiar old father sat reading. "To see you suffer,"
Newland said passionately as she nursed her injury:--"to see you in
pain, that is the one thing in the universe which I feel beyond all my
capacities. Do you know, when you are made to suffer pain, then I feel
that there is no God!"

This strong declaration struck Herbert as one of the most impressive
things he had ever heard, though he could not account for its being said
to any aunt of his. Herbert had just dropped in without the formality of
ringing the bell, and had paused in the hall, outside the open door of
the living-room. He considered the matter, after Newland had spoken, and
concluded to return to his own place of residence without disturbing
anybody at his grandfather's. At home he found his mother and father
entertaining one of his uncles, one of his aunts, two of his
great-uncles, one of his great-aunts, and one of his grown-up cousins,
at cards: and he proved to be warranted in believing that they would all
like to know what he had heard. Newland's statement became quite
celebrated throughout the family: and Julia, who had perceived almost a
sacred something in his original fervour, changed her mind after hearing
the words musingly repeated, over and over, by her fat old Uncle Joe.

Florence thought proper to remind her of this to-day, after Julia's
protest containing the too moderately confessional word "three."

"If you don't want to be such a circus," the niece continued, reasoning
perfectly, "I don't see what you always keep leadin' all of 'em on all
the time just the same for."

"Who've you heard saying that, Florence?" her aunt demanded.

"Aunt Fanny Patterson," Florence replied absently. "F'r instance, Aunt
Julia, I don't see what you want to go walking with Newland Sanders for,
when you said yourself you wished he was dead, or somep'n, after there
got to be so muck talk in the family and everywhere about his sayin' all
that about the Bible when you hurt your thumb. All the family----"

Julia sighed profoundly. "I wish 'all the family' would try to think
about themselves for just a little while! There's entirely too little
self-centredness among my relatives to suit me!"

"Why, it's only because you're related to me that _I_ pay the very
_slightest_ attention to what goes on here," Florence protested. "It's
my own grandfather's house, isn't it? Well, if you didn't live here, and
if you wasn't my own grandfather's daughter, Aunt Julia, I wouldn't ever
pay the _very_ slightest attention to you! Anyway, I don't _much_
criticize all these people that keep calling on you--anyway not half as
much as Herbert does. Herbert thinks he always hass to act so critical,
now his voice is changing."

"At your age," said Julia, "my mind was on my schoolbooks."

"Why, Aunt Julia!" Florence exclaimed in frank surprise. "Grandpa says
just the opposite from that. I've heard him say, time and time and time
again, you always _were_ this way, ever since you were four years old."

"What way?" asked her aunt.

"Like you are now, Aunt Julia. Grandpa says by the time you were
fourteen it got so bad he had to get a new front gate, the way they
leaned on it. He says he hoped when you grew up he'd get a little peace
in his own house, but he says it's worse, and never for one minute the
livelong day can he----"

"I know," Julia interrupted. "He talks like a Christian Martyr and
behaves like Nero. I might warn you to keep away from him, by the way,
Florence. He says that either you or Herbert was over here yesterday and
used his spectacles to cut a magazine with, and broke them. I wouldn't
be around here much if I were you until he's got over it."

"It must have been Herbert broke 'em," said Florence promptly.

"Papa thinks it was you. Kitty Silver told him it was."

"Mean ole reptile!" said Florence, alluding to Mrs. Silver; then she
added serenely, "Well, grandpa don't get home till five o'clock, and
it's only about a quarter of two now. Aunt Julia, what are you waitin'
around here for?"

"I told you; I'm going walking."

"I mean: Who with?"

Miss Atwater permitted herself a light moan. "With Mr. Sanders and Mr.
Ridgely, Florence."

Florence's eyes grew large and eager. "Why, Aunt Julia, I thought those
two didn't speak to each other any more!"

"They don't," Julia assented in a lifeless voice. "It just happened that
Mr. Sanders and Mr. Ridgley and Mr. Dill, all three, asked me to take a
walk this afternoon at two o'clock."

"But Noble Dill isn't going?"

"No," said Julia. "I was fortunate enough to remember that I'd already
promised someone else when he asked me. That's what I didn't remember
when Mr. Ridgely asked me."

"I'd have gone with Noble Dill," Florence said firmly. "Noble Dill is my
Very Ideal! I'd marry him to-morrow."

"It seems to me," her aunt remarked, "I heard your mother telling
somebody the other day that you had said the same thing about the King
of Spain."

Florence laughed. "Oh, that was only a passing fancy," she said lightly.
"Aunt Julia, what's Newland Sanders supposed to do?"

"I think he hasn't entered any business or profession yet."

"I bet he couldn't," her niece declared. "What's that old Ridgely
supposed to be? Just a widower?"

"Never mind!"

"And that George Plum's supposed to do something or other around Uncle
Joe's ole bank, isn't he?" Florence continued.

"'Supposed'!" Julia protested. "What is all this 'supposed to be'? Where
did you catch that horrible habit? You know the whole family worries
over your superciliousness, Florence; but until now I've always thought
it was just the way your face felt easiest. If it's going to break out
in your talk, too, it's time you began to cure yourself of it."

"Oh, it doesn't hurt anything!" Florence made careless response, and, as
she saw the thin figure of young Mr. Sanders approaching in the
distance, "Look!" she cried, pointing. "Why, he doesn't even _compare_
to Noble Dill!"

"Don't point at people!"

"Well, he's nothing much to point at!" She lowered her finger. "It's no
depredation to me, Aunt Julia, to give up pointing at Newland Sanders.
Atch'ly, I wouldn't give Noble Dill's little finger for a hunderd and
fifty Newland Sanderses!"

Julia smiled faintly as she watched Mr. Sanders, who seemed not yet to
be aware of her, because he thought it would be better to reach the gate
and lift his hat just there. "What _has_ brought on all this tenderness
in favour of Mr. Dill, Florence?"

Her niece's eyes, concentrated in thought, then became dreamy. "I like
him because he's so uncouth," she said. "I think he's the uncouthest of
any person I ever saw."

"'Uncouth'?"

"Yes," said Florence. "Herbert said I was uncouth, and I looked it up in
the ditchanary. It said, 'Rare, exquisite, elegant, unknown, obs,
unfamiliar, strange,' and a whole lot else. I never did know a word that
means so much, I guess. What's 'obs' mean, Aunt Julia?"

"Hush!" said Julia, rising, for Mr. Sanders had made a little startled
movement as he reached the gate and caught sight of her; and now, straw
hat in hand, he was coming up the brick walk that led to the veranda.
His eyes were fixed upon Julia with an intensity that seemed to affect
his breathing; there was a hushedness about him. And Florence, in
fascination, watched Julia's expression and posture take on those little
changes that always seemed demanded of her by the approach of a young or
youngish man, or a nicely dressed old one. By almost imperceptible
processes the commonplace moment became dramatic at once.

"You!" said Newland in a low voice.

And Julia, with an implication as flattering as the gesture was
graceful, did not wait till he was within reach, but suddenly extended
her welcoming hand at arm's length. He sprang forward convulsively and
grasped it, as if forever.

"You see my little niece?" Julia said. "I think you know her."

"Know her?" Mr. Sanders repeated; then roused his faculties and gave
Florence a few fingers dangling coldly after their recent emotion.
"Florence. Oh, yes, Florence."

Florence had not risen, but remained seated upon the steps, her look and
air committed to that mood of which so much complaint had been made.
"How do you do," she said. "There's Mr. Ridgely."

"Where?" Newland asked loudly.

"Comin' in at the gate," said Florence. "He's goin' walkin' with you,
too."

In this crisis, Mr. Sanders's feeling was obviously one of startled
anguish. He turned to Julia.

"Why, this is terrible!" he said. "You told me----"

"Sh!" she warned him; and whispered hastily, all in a breath:
"_Couldn't-be-helped-explain-next-time-I-see-you._" Then she advanced a
gracious step to meet the newcomer.

But the superciliousness of Florence visibly increased with this advent:
Mr. Ridgely was easily old enough to be her grandfather, yet she seemed
to wish it evident that she would not have cared for him even in that
capacity. He was, in truth, one of those widowers who feel younger than
ever, and behave as they feel. Since his loss he had shown the greatest
willingness to forego whatever advantages age and experience had given
him over the descendants of his old friends and colleagues, and his
cheerfulness as well as his susceptibility to all that was charming had
begun to make him so famous in the town that some of his contemporaries
seemed to know scarce another topic. And Julia had a kinder heart, as
her father bitterly complained, than most girls.

The widower came, holding out to her a votive cluster of violets, a
pink rose among them, their stems wrapped in purple; and upon the lapel
of his jovial flannel coat were other violets about a pink rosebud.

"How pretty of you!" said Julia, taking the offering; and as she pinned
it at her waist, she added rather nervously, "I believe you know Mr.
Sanders; he is going with us."

She was warranted in believing the gentlemen to be acquainted, because
no longer ago than the previous week they both had stated, in her
presence and simultaneously, that any further communication between them
would be omitted for life. Julia realized, of course, that Mr. Ridgely
must find the present meeting as trying as Newland did, and, to help him
bear it, she contrived to make him hear the hurried whisper:
"_Couldn't-be-helped-explain-some-day._"

Then with a laugh not altogether assured, she took up her parasol.
"Shall we be starting?" she inquired.

"Here's Noble Dill," said Florence, "I guess he's goin' to try to go
walkin' with you, too, Aunt Julia."

Julia turned, for in fact the gate at that moment clicked behind the
nervously advancing form of Noble Dill. He came with, a bravado that
was merely pitiable and he tried to snap his Orduma cigarette away with
thumb and forefinger in a careless fashion, only to see it publicly
disappear through an open cellar window of the house.

"I hope there's no excelsior down there," said Newland Sanders. "A good
many houses have burned to the ground just that way."

"It fell on the cement floor," Florence reported, peering into the
window. "It'll go out pretty soon."

"Then I suppose we might as well do the same thing," said Newland,
addressing Julia first and Mr. Dill second. "Miss Atwater and I are just
starting for a walk."

Mr. Ridgely also addressed the new arrival. "Miss Atwater and I are just
starting for a walk."

"You see, Noble," said the kind-hearted Julia, "I did tell you I had
another engagement."

"I came by here," Mr. Dill began in a tone commingling timidity, love,
and a fatal stubbornness; "I came by here--I mean I just happened to be
passing--and I thought if it was a walking-_party_, well, why not go
along? That's the way it struck me." He paused, coughing for courage and
trying to look easily genial, but not succeeding; then he added, "Well,
as I say, that's the way it struck me--as it were. I suppose we might as
well be starting."

"Yes, we might," Newland Sanders said quickly; and he placed himself at
Julia's left, seizing upon her parasol and opening it with
determination.

Mr. Ridgely had kept himself closely at the lady's right. "You were
mistaken, my boy," he said, falsely benevolent. "It isn't a
party--though there's Miss Florence, Noble. Nobody's asked her to go
walking to-day!"

Now, Florence took this satire literally. She jumped up and said
brightly: "I just as soon! Let's _do_ have a walking-party. I just as
soon walk with Mr. Dill as anybody, and we can all keep together, kind
of." With that, she stepped confidently to the side of her selected
escort, who appeared to be at a loss how to avert her kindness.

There was a moment of hesitation, during which a malevolent pleasure
slightly disfigured the countenances of the two gentlemen with Julia;
but when Florence pointed to a house across the street and remarked,
"There's Great-Uncle Milford and Aunt C'nelia; they been lookin' out of
their second guestroom window about half an hour," Julia uttered an
exclamation.

"Murder!" she said, and moved with decision toward the gate. "Let's go!"

Thus the little procession started, Mr. Sanders and the sprightly
widower at Beauty's side, with Florence and Mr. Dill so close behind
that, before they had gone a block, Newland found it necessary to warn
this rear rank that the heels of his new shoes were not part of the
pavement. After that the rear rank, a little abashed, consented to fall
back some paces. Julia's heightened colour, meanwhile, was little abated
by some slight episodes attending the progress of the walking-party. Her
Aunt Fanny Patterson, rocking upon a veranda, rose and evidently called
to someone within the house, whereupon she was joined by her invalid
sister, Aunt Harriet, with a trained nurse and two elderly domestics, a
solemnly whispering audience. And in the front yard of "the Henry
Atwater house," at the next corner, Herbert underwent a genuine
bedazzlement, but he affected more. His violent gaze dwelt upon
Florence, and he permitted his legs slowly to crumple under him, until,
just as the party came nearest him, he lay prostrate upon his back in a
swoon. Afterward he rose and for a time followed in a burlesque manner;
then decided to return home.

"Old heathen!" said Florence, glancing back over her shoulder as he
disappeared from view.

Mr. Dill was startled from a reverie inspired by the back of Julia's
head. "'Heathen'?" he said, in plaintive inquiry.

"I meant Herbert," Florence informed him. "Cousin Herbert Atwater. He
was following us, walking Dutch."

"'Cousin Herbert Atwater'?" said Noble dreamily. "'Dutch'?"

"He won't any more," said Florence. "He always hass to show off, now his
voice is changing." She spoke, and she also walked, with dignity--a
rather dashing kind of dignity, which was what Herbert's eccentricity of
gait intended to point out injuriously. In fact, never before had
Florence been so impressed with herself; never before, indeed, had she
been a member of a grown-up non-family party; never before had she gone
walking with an actual adult young man for her escort; and she felt that
she owed it to her position to appear in as brilliant an aspect as
possible. She managed to give herself a rhythmical, switching motion,
causing her kneelength skirt to swing from side to side--a pomp that
brought her a great deal of satisfaction as she now and then caught the
effect by twisting her neck enough to see down behind, over her
shoulder.

But her poise was temporarily threatened when the walking-party passed
her own house. Her mother happened to be sitting near an open window
upstairs, and, after gazing forth with warm interest at Julia and her
two outwalkers, Mrs. Atwater's astonished eyes fell upon Florence taking
care of the overflow. Florence bowed graciously.

"Florence!" her mother called down from the window: whereupon both
Florence and her Aunt Julia were instantly apprehensive, for Mrs. George
Atwater's lack of tact was a legend in the family. "Florence! Where on
earth are you going?"

"Never mind!" Florence thought best to respond. "Never mind!"

"You'd better come _in_," Mrs. Atwater called, her voice necessarily
louder as the party moved onward.

"Never mind!" Florence called back.

Mrs. Atwater leaned out of the window. "Where are you going? Come back
and get your _hat_. You'll get a _sunstroke_!"

Florence was able to conceal her indignation, and merely waved a hand
in airy dismissal as they passed from Mrs. Atwater's sight, leaving her
still shouting.

The daughter smiled negligently and shrugged her shoulders. "She'll get
over it!" she said.

"Who?"

"My mother. She was the one makin' all that noise," said Florence.
"Sometimes I do what she says: sometimes I don't. It's all accordings to
the way I feel." She looked up in her companion's face, and her
expression became politely fond as she thought how uncouth he was, for
in Florence's eye Noble Dill was truly rare, exquisite, and unfamiliar;
and she believed that he was obs, too, whatever that meant. She often
thought about him, and no longer ago than yesterday she had told Kitty
Silver that she couldn't see "how Aunt Julia could _look_ at anybody
else!"

Florence's selection of Noble Dill for the bright favourite of her
dreams was one of her own mysteries. Noble was not beautiful, neither
did he present to the ordinary eye of man anything especially rare,
exquisite, unfamiliar, or even so distinguished as to be obsolete. He
was about twenty-two, but not one of those book-read sportsmen of that
age, confident in clothes and manner, easy travellers and debonair;
that is to say, Noble was not of the worldly type twenty-two. True, he
had graduated from the High-school before entering his father's Real
Estate and Insurance office, but his geographical experiences (in
particular) had been limited to three or four railway excursions, at
special rates, to such points of interest as Mammoth Cave and Petoskey,
Michigan. His other experiences were not more sparkling, and except for
the emotions within him, he was in all the qualities of his mind as well
as in his bodily contours and the apparel sheltering the latter, the
most commonplace person in Florence's visible world. The inner areas of
the first and second fingers of his left hand bore cigarette stains,
seemingly indelible: the first and second fingers of his right hand were
strongly ornamented in a like manner; tokens proving him ambidextrous to
but a limited extent, however. Moreover, his garments and garnitures
were not comparable to those of either Newland Sanders or that dapper
antique, Mr. Ridgely. Noble's straw hat might have brightened under the
treatment of lemon juice or other restorative; his scarf was folded to
hide a spot that worked steadily toward a complete visibility, and some
recent efforts upon his trousers with a tepid iron, in his bedchamber
at home, counteracted but feebly that tendency of cloth to sculpture
itself in hummocks upon repeated pressure of the human knee.

All in all, nothing except the expression of Noble's face and the
somewhat ill-chosen pansy in his buttonhole hinted of the remarkable.
Yet even here was a thing for which he was not responsible himself; it
was altogether the work of Julia. What her work was, in the case of
Noble Dill, may be expressed in a word--a word used not only by the
whole Atwater family connection, in completely expressing Noble's
condition, but by Noble's own family connection as well. This complete
word was "awful."

Florence was the one exception on the Atwater side: she was far, far
from thinking or speaking of Noble Dill in that way, although, until she
looked up "uncouth" in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, she had not
found suitable means to describe him. And now, as she walked at his
side, she found her sensations to be nothing short of thrilling. For it
must be borne in mind that this was her first and wholly unexpected
outburst into society; the experience was that of an obscure aerolite
suddenly become a noble meteor. She longed to say or do something
magnificent--something strange and exhilarating, in keeping with her new
station in life.

It was this longing, and by no means a confirmed unveracity, that
prompted her to amplify her comments upon her own filial independence.
"Oh, I guess I pretty near never do anything I don't want to," she said.
"I kind of run the house to suit myself. I guess if the truth had to be
told, I just about run the whole Atwater family, when it comes to that!"

The statement was so noticeable that it succeeded in turning Noble's
attention from the back of Julia's head. "You do?" he said. "Well, that
seems queer," he added absently.

"Oh, I don't know!" she laughed. In her increasing exaltation things
appeared actually to be as she wished them to be; an atmosphere both
queenly and adventurous seemed to invest her, and any remnants of human
caution in her were assuaged by the circumstance that her Aunt Julia's
attention was subject to the strong demands necessarily imposed upon
anybody taking a walk between two gentlemen who do not "speak" to each
other. "Oh, I don't know," said Florence. "The family's used to it by
this time, I guess. The way I do things, they haf to be, I guess. When
they don't like it I don't say much for a while, then I just----" She
paused, waiting for her imagination to supply a sequel to the drama just
sketched. "Well, I guess they kind of find out they better step around
pretty lively," she concluded darkly. "They don't bother around _too_
much!"

"I suppose not," said Noble, his vacancy and credulity continuing to
dovetail perfectly.

"You bet not!" the exuberant Florence thought proper to suggest as a
preferable expression. And then she had an inspiration to enliven his
dreamy interest in her conversation. "Grandpa, he's the one I kind of
run most of all of 'em. He's about fifty or sixty, and so he hasn't got
too much sense. What I mean, he hasn't got too much sense _left_, you
know. So I haf to sort of take holt every now and then." She lowered her
voice a little, some faint whisper of discretion reaching her inward
ear. "Aunt Julia can't do a thing with him. I guess that's maybe the
reason she kind of depen's on me so much; or anyway somep'n like that.
You know, f'r instance, I had to help talk grandpa into lettin' her send
to New York for her things. Aunt Julia gets all her things in New York."

Undeniably, Mr. Dill's interest flickered up. "_Things_?" he repeated
inquiringly. "Her things?"

"Yes. Everything she wears, you know."

"Oh, yes."

"What I was goin' to tell you," Florence continued, "you know grandpa
just about hates everybody. Anyhow, he'd like to have some peace and
quiet once in a while in his own house, he says, instead of all this
moil and turmoil, and because the doctor said all the matter with her
was she eats too much candy, and they keep sendin' more all the
time--and there's somep'n the trouble with grandpa: it makes him sick to
smell violets: he had it ever since he was a little boy, and he can't
help it; and he hates animals, and they keep sendin' her Airedales and
Persian kittens, and then there was that alligator came from Florida and
upset Kitty Silver terribly--and so, you see, grandpa just hates the
whole everlasting business."

Mr. Dill nodded and spoke with conviction: "He's absolutely right;
absolutely!"

"Well, some ways he is," said Florence; and she added confidentially:
"The trouble is, he seems to think you're about as bad as any of 'em."

"What?"

"_Well_!" Florence exclaimed, with upward gestures both of eye and of
hand, to signify what she left untold of Mr. Atwater's orations upon
his favourite subject: Noble Dill. "It's torrable!" she added.

Noble breathed heavily, but a thought struggled in him and a brightening
appeared upon him. "You mean----" he began. "Do you mean it's terrible
for your Aunt Julia? Do you mean his injustice about me makes her feel
terribly?"

"No," said Florence. "No: I mean the way he goes on about everybody. But
Aunt Julia's kind of used to it. And anyhow you needn't worry about him
'long as I'm on your side. He won't do anything much to you if I say not
to. Hardly anything at all." And then, with almost a tenderness, as she
marked the visibly insufficient reassurance of her companion, she said
handsomely: "He won't say a word. I'll tell him not to."

Noble was dazed; no novelty, for he had been dazed almost continually
during the past seven months, since a night when dancing with Julia,
whom he had known all his life, he "noticed for the first time what she
looked like." (This was his mother's description.) Somewhere, he vaguely
recalled, he had read of the extraordinary influence possessed by
certain angelic kinds of children; he knew, too, what favourite
grandchildren can do with grandfathers. The effect upon him was
altogether base; he immediately sought by flattery to increase and
retain Florence's kindness. "I always _thought_ you seemed to know more
than most girls of your age," he began.

It was a great afternoon for Florence. From time to time she glanced
over her shoulder at the switching skirt, and increased its radius of
action, though this probably required more exercise, compared to the
extent of ground covered, than any lady member of a walking-party had
ever before taken, merely as a pedestrian. Meanwhile, she chattered on,
but found time to listen to the pleasant things said to her by her
companion; and though most of these were, in truth, rather vague, she
was won to him more than he knew. Henceforth she was to be his champion
indeed, sometimes with greater energy than he would need.

... The two were left alone together by Julia's gate when the walk (as
short as Julia dared to make it) was over.

"Well," Florence said, "I've had quite a nice time. I hope you enjoyed
yourself nicely, too, Mr. Dill." Then her eye rose to the overhanging
branch of a shade-tree near them. "Would you like to see me chin
myself?" she asked, stepping beneath the branch. "I bet I could
skin-the-cat on that limb! Would you like to see me do it?"

"I would _so_!" the flatterer enthused.

She became thoughtful, remembering that she was now a lady who took
walks with grown gentlemen. "I can, but I won't," she said. "I used to
do lots of things like that. I used to whenever I felt like it. I could
chin myself four times and Herbert only three. I was lots better than
Herbert when I used to do all kinds of things like that."

"Were you?"

She laughed as in a musing retrospect of times gone by. "I guess I used
to be a pretty queer kind of a girl in those days," she said. "Well--I
s'pose we ought to say good-bye for the present, so to speak, Mr. Dill."

"I'm afraid so."

"Well----" She stood looking at him expectantly, but he said nothing
more. "Well, good-bye for the present, Mr. Dill," she said again, and,
turning, walked away with dignity. But a moment later she forgot all
about her skirt and scampered.



CHAPTER FOUR


Mrs. Dill, Noble's mother, talked of organizing a Young Men's Mothers'
Club against Julia, nevertheless she acknowledged that in one solitary
way Noble was being improved by the experience. His two previous attacks
of love (one at twelve, and the other at eighteen) had been incomparably
lighter, and the changes in him, noted at home, merely a slight general
irritability and a lack of domestic punctuality due to too much
punctuality elsewhere. But, when his Julia Atwater trouble came, the
very first symptom he manifested was a strange new effort to become
beautiful; his mother even discovered that he sometimes worked with
pumice stone upon the cigarette stains on his fingers.

The most curious thing about his condition was that for a long time he
took it for granted that his family did not know what was the matter
with him; and this shows as nothing else could the meekness and tact of
the Dills; for, excluding bad cooks and the dangerously insane, the
persons most disturbing to the serenity of households are young lovers.
But the world has had to accommodate itself to them because young lovers
cannot possibly accommodate themselves to the world. For the young lover
there is no general life of the species; for him the universe is a
delicate blush under a single bonnet. He has but an irritated perception
of every vital thing in nature except the vital thing under this bonnet;
all else is trivial intrusion. But whatever does concern the centrifugal
bonnet, whatever concerns it in the remotest--ah, _then_ he springs to
life! So Noble Dill sat through a Sunday dinner at home, seemingly
drugged to a torpor, while the family talk went on about him; but when
his father, in the course of some remarks upon politics, happened to
mention the name of the county-treasurer, Charles J. Patterson, Noble's
startled attention to the conversation was so conspicuous as to be
disconcerting. Mrs. Dill signalled with her head that comment should be
omitted, and Mr. Dill became, for the moment, one factor in a fairly
clear example of telepathic communication, for it is impossible to
believe that his wife's almost imperceptible gesture was what caused
him to remember that Charles J. Patterson was Julia Atwater's uncle.

That name, Charles J. Patterson, coming thus upon Noble's ear, was like
an unexpected shrine on the wayside where plods the fanatic pilgrim; and
yet Mr. Patterson was the most casual of Julia's uncles-by-marriage: he
neither had nor desired any effect upon her destiny. To Noble he seemed
a being ineffably privileged and fateful, and something of the same
quality invested the wooden gateposts in front of Julia's house;
invested everything that had to do with her. What he felt about her
father, that august old danger, himself, was not only the uncalled-for
affection inevitable toward Julia's next of kin, but also a kind of
horror due to the irresponsible and awful power possessed by a sacred
girl's parent. Florence's offer of protection had not entirely reassured
the young lover, and, in sum, Noble loved Mr. Atwater, but often, in his
reveries, when he had rescued him from drowning or being burned to
death, he preferred to picture the peculiar old man's injuries as
ultimately fatal.

For the other Atwaters his feeling held less of apprehension, more of
tenderness; and whenever he saw one of them he became deferential and a
little short of breath. Thus, on a sunny afternoon, having been home to
lunch after his morning labour downtown, he paused in passing young
Herbert's place of residence and timidly began a conversation with this
glamoured nephew. It happened that during the course of the morning
Herbert had chosen a life career for himself; he had decided to become a
scientific specialist, an entomologist; and he was now on his knees
studying the manners and customs of the bug inhabitants of the lawn
before the house, employing for his purpose a large magnifying lens, or
"reading glass." (His discovery of this implement in the attic,
coincidentally with his reading a recent "Sunday Supplement" article on
bugs, had led to his sudden choice of a vocation.)

"Did somebody--ah, have any of the family lost anything, Herbert?" Noble
asked in a gentle voice, speaking across the fence.

Herbert did not look up, nor did he relax the scientific frown upon his
brow. "No," he said. "They always _are_ losin' things, espesh'ly Aunt
Julia, when she comes over here, or anywheres else; but I wouldn't waste
_my_ time lookin' for any old earrings or such. I got more important
things to do on my hands."

"_Has_ your Aunt Julia lost an earring, Herbert?"

"Her? Well, she nearly always _has_ lost somep'n or other, but that
isn't bother'n' _me_ any. I got better things to do with my time."
Herbert spoke without interrupting his occupation or relaxing his
forehead. "Nacher'l history is a _little_ more important to the
inhabitants of our universe than a lot o' worthless jew'lry, I guess,"
he continued; and his pride in discovering that he could say things like
this was so great that his frown gave way temporarily to a look of
pleased surprise, then came back again to express an importance much
increased. He rose, approached the fence, and condescended to lean upon
it. "I don't guess there's one person in a thousand," he said, "that
knows what they _ought_ to know about our inseck friends."

"No," Mr. Dill agreed readily. "I guess that's so. I guess you're right
about that, Herbert. When did your Aunt Julia lose the earring,
Herbert?"

"I d' know," said Herbert. "Now, you take my own father and mother: What
do they know? Well, mighty little. They may have had to learn a little
teeny bit about insecks when they were in school, but whatever little it
was they went and forgot it proba'ly long before they were married.
Well, that's no way. F'r instance, you take a pinchin' bug: What do you
suppose my father and mother know about its position in the inseck
world?"

"Well----" said Noble uneasily. "Well----" He coughed, and hastened to
add: "But as I was saying, if she lost her earring somewhere in your
yard, or----"

The scientific boy evidently did not follow this line of thought, for he
interrupted: "Why, they wouldn't know a thing about it, and a pinchin'
bug isn't one of the highest insecks at all. Ants are way up compared to
most pinchin' bugs. Ants are way up anyway. Now, you take an ant----" He
paused. "Well, everybody ought to know a lot more'n they do about ants.
It takes time, and you got to study 'em the right way, and of course
there's lots of people wouldn't know how to do it. I'm goin' to get a
book I been readin' about. It's called 'The Ant.'"

For a moment Noble was confused; he followed his young friend's
discourse but hazily, and Herbert pronounced the word "ant" precisely as
he pronounced the word "aunt." The result was that Noble began to say
something rather dreamy concerning the book just mentioned, but,
realizing that he was being misunderstood, he changed his murmur into a
cough, and inquired:

"When was she over here, Herbert?"

"Who?"

"Your Aunt Julia."

"Yesterday evening," said Herbert. "Now, f'r instance, you take a common
lightning-bug----"

"Did she lose it, then?"

"Lose what?"

"Her earring."

"I d' know," said Herbert. "You take the common lightning-bug or, as
it's called in some countries, the firefly----"

He continued, quoting and misquoting the entomological authority of the
recent "Sunday Supplement"; but his friend on the other side of the
fence was inattentive to the lecture. Noble's mind was occupied with a
wonder; he had realized, though dimly, that here was he, trying to make
starry Julia the subject of a conversation with a person who had the
dear privilege of being closely related to her--and preferred to talk
about bugs.

Herbert talked at considerable length about lightning-bugs, but as his
voice happened rather precociously to be already in a state of
adolescent change, the sound was not soothing; yet Noble lingered.
Nephews were queer, but this one was Julia's, and he finally mentioned
her again, as incidental to lightning-bugs; whereupon the mere hearer of
sounds became instantly a listener to words.

"Well, and then I says," Herbert continued;--"I says: 'It's phosphorus,
Aunt Julia.' I guess there's hardly anybody in the world doesn't know
more than Aunt Julia, except about dresses and parasols and every other
useless thing under the sun. She says: 'My! I always thought it was
sulphur!' Said nobody ever _told_ her it wasn't sulphur! I asked her: I
said: 'You mean to sit there and tell me you don't know the difference?'
And she says: 'I don't care one way or the other,' she says. She said
she just as soon a lightning-bug made his light with sulphur as with
phosphorus; it didn't make any difference to her, she says, and they
could go ahead and make their light any way they wanted, _she_ wouldn't
interfere! I had a whole hatful of 'em, and she told me not to take 'em
into their house, because grandpa hates insecks as much as he does
animals and violets, and she said they never owned a microscope or a
magnifying-glass in their lives, and wouldn't let me hunt for one. All
in the world she knows is how to sit on the front porch and say: 'Oh
you don't mean _that!_' to somebody like Newland Sanders or that ole
widower!"

"When?" Noble asked impulsively. "When did she say that?"

"Oh, I d' know," said Herbert. "I expect she proba'ly says it to
somebody or other about every evening there is."

"She does?"

"Florence says so," Herbert informed him carelessly. "Florence goes over
to grandpa's after dark and sits on the ground up against the porch and
listens."

Noble first looked startled then uneasily reminiscent. "I don't believe
Florence ought to do that," he said gravely.

"_I_ wouldn't do it!" Herbert was emphatic.

"That's right, Herbert. I'm glad you wouldn't."

"No, sir," the manly boy declared. "You wouldn't never catch _me_ takin'
my death o' cold sittin' on the damp grass in the night air just to
listen to a lot o' tooty-tooty about 'I've named a star for you,' and
all such. You wouldn't catch me----"

Noble partly concealed a sudden anguish. "Who?" he interrupted. "Who did
she say _that_ to?"

"She didn't. They say it to her, and she says? 'Oh, you don't mean
that!' and of course then they haf to go on and say some more. Florence
says----" He checked himself. "Oh, I forgot! I promised Florence I
wouldn't tell anything about all this."

"It's safe," Noble assured him quickly. "I'm quite a friend of
Florence's and it's absolutely safe with me. I won't speak of it to
anybody, Herbert. Who was it told her he'd named a star for her?"

"It was the way some ole poem began. Newland Sanders wrote it. Florence
found it under Aunt Julia's sofa-cushions and read it all through, but
_I_ wouldn't wade through all that tooty-tooty for a million dollars,
and I told her to put it back before Aunt Julia noticed. Well, about
every day he writes her a fresh one, and then in the evening he stays
later than the rest, and reads 'em to her--and you ought to hear grandpa
when _he_ gets to talkin' about it!"

"He's perfectly right," said Noble. "Perfectly! What does he say when he
talks about it, Herbert?"

"Oh, he says all this and that; and then he kind of mutters around, and
you can't tell just what all the words are exactly, so't he can deny it
if any o' the family accuses him of swearing or anything." And Herbert
added casually: "He was kind of goin' on like that about you, night
before last."

"About _me_! Why, what could he say about _me_?"

"Oh, all this and that."

"But what did he find to say?"

"Well, he heard her tellin' you how you oughtn't to smoke so many
cigarettes and all about how it was killin' you, and you sayin' you
guessed it wouldn't matter if you _did_ die, and Aunt Julia sayin' 'Oh,
you don't mean that,' and all this and such and so on, you know. He can
hear anything on the porch pretty good from the lib'ary; and Florence
told me about that, besides, because she was sittin' in the grass and
all. She told Great-Uncle Joe and Aunt Hattie about it, too."

"My heavens!" Noble gasped, as for the first time he realized to what
trumpeting publicity that seemingly hushed and moonlit bower, sacred to
Julia, had been given over. He gulped, flushed, repeated "My heavens!"
and then was able to add, with a feeble suggestion of lightness: "I
suppose your grandfather understood it was just a sort of joke, didn't
he?"

"No," said Herbert, and continued in a friendly way, for he was
flattered by Noble's interest in his remarks, and began to feel a
liking for him. "No. He said Aunt Julia only talked like that because
she couldn't think of anything else to say, and it was wearin' him out.
He said all the good it did was to make you smoke more to make her think
how reckless you were; but the worst part of it was, he'd be the only
one to suffer, because it blows all through the house and he's got to
sit in it. He said he just could stand the smell of _some_ cigarettes,
but if you burned any more o' yours on his porch he was goin' to ask
your father to raise your salary for collectin' real-estate rents, so't
you'd feel able to buy some real tobacco. He----"

But the flushed listener felt that he had heard as much as he was called
upon to bear; and he interrupted, in a voice almost out of control, to
say that he must be "getting on downtown." His young friend, diverted
from bugs, showed the greatest willingness to continue the narrative
indefinitely, evidently being in possession of copious material; but
Noble turned to depart. An afterthought detained him. "Where was it she
lost her earring?"

"Who?"

"Your Aunt Julia."

"Why, _I_ didn't say she lost any earring," Herbert returned. "I said
she always _was_ losin' 'em: I didn't say she did."

"Then you didn't mean----"

"No," said Herbert, "_I_ haven't heard of her losin' anything at all,
lately." Here he added: "Well, grandpa kept goin' on about you, and he
told her----Well, so long!" And gazed after the departing Mr. Dill in
some surprise at the abruptness of the latter's leave-taking. Then,
wondering how the back of Noble's neck could have got itself so fiery
sunburnt, Herbert returned to his researches in the grass.

       *       *       *       *       *

The peaceful street, shady and fragrant with summer, was so quiet that
the footfalls of the striding Noble were like an interruption of
coughing in a silent church. As he seethed adown the warm sidewalk the
soles of his shoes smote the pavement, for mentally he was walking not
upon cement but upon Mr. Atwater.

Unconsciously his pace presently became slower for a more concentrated
brooding upon this slanderous old man who took advantage of his position
to poison his daughter's mind against the only one of her suitors who
cared in the highest way. And upon this there came an infinitesimal
consolation in the midst of anguish, for he thought of what Herbert had
told him about Mr. Newland Sanders's poems to Julia, and he had a strong
conviction that one time or another Mr. Atwater must have spoken even
more disparagingly of these poems and their author than he had of Orduma
cigarettes and their smoker. Perhaps the old man was not altogether
vile.

This charitable moment passed. He recalled the little moonlit drama on
the embowered veranda, when Julia, in her voice of plucked harp strings,
told him that he smoked too much, and he had said it didn't matter;
nobody would care much if he died--and Julia said gently that his mother
would, and other people, too; he mustn't talk so recklessly. Out of this
the old eavesdropper had viciously represented him to be a poser, not
really reckless at all; had insulted his cigarettes and his salary.
Well, Noble would show him! He had doubts about being able to show Mr.
Atwater anything important connected with the cigarettes or the salary,
but he _could_ prove how reckless he was. With that, a vision formed
before him: he saw Julia and her father standing spellbound at a
crossing while a smiling youth stood directly between the rails in the
middle of the street and let a charging trolley-car destroy him--not
instantly, for he would live long enough to whisper, as the stricken
pair bent over him: "Now, Julia, which do you believe: your father, or
me?" And then with a slight, dying sneer: "Well, Mr. Atwater, is _this_
reckless enough to suit you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Town squirrels flitted along their high paths in the shade-tree branches
above the embittered young lover, and he noticed them not at all, which
was but little less than he noticed the elderly human couple who
observed him from a side-yard as he passed by. Mr. and Mrs. Burgess had
been happily married for fifty-three years and four months. Mr. Burgess
lay in a hammock between two maple trees, and was soothingly swung by
means of a string connecting the hammock and the rocking-chair in which
sat Mrs Burgess, acting as a mild motor for both the chair and the
hammock. "That's Noble Dill walking along the sidewalk," Mrs. Burgess
said, interpreting for her husband's failing eyes. "I bowed to him, but
he hardly seemed to see us and just barely lifted his hat. He needn't be
cross with _us_ because some other young man's probably taking Julia
Atwater out driving!"

"Yes, he need!" Mr. Burgess declared. "A boy in his condition needs to
be cross with everything. Sometimes they get so cross they go and drink
liquor. Don't you remember?"

She laughed. "I remember once!" she assented, and laughed again.

"Why, it's a terrible time of life," her husband went on. "Poets and
suchlike always take on about young love as if it were a charming and
romantic experience, but really it's just a series of mortifications.
The young lover is always wanting to do something dashing and romantic
and Sir Walter Raleigh-like, but in ordinary times about the wildest
thing he can do, if he can afford it, is to learn to run a Ford. And he
can't stand a word of criticism; he can't stand being made the least
little bit of fun of; and yet all the while his state of mind lays him
particularly open to all the things he can't stand. He can't stand
anything, and he has to stand everything. Why, it's a _horrible_ time of
life, mamma!"

"Yes, it is," she assented placidly. "I'm glad we don't have to go
through it again, Freddie; though you're only eighty-two, and with a
girl like Julia Atwater around nobody ought to be sure."



CHAPTER FIVE


Although Noble had saluted the old couple so crossly, thus unconsciously
making them, as he made the sidewalk, proxy for Mr. Atwater, so to
speak, yet the sight of them penetrated his outer layers of
preoccupation and had an effect upon him. In the midst of his suffering
his imagination paused for a shudder: What miserable old gray shadows
those two were! Thank Heaven he and Julia could never be like that! And
in the haze that rose before his mind's eye he saw himself leading Julia
through years of adventure in far parts of the world: there were
glimpses of himself fighting grotesque figures on the edge of Himalayan
precipices at dawn, while Julia knelt by the tent on the glacier and
prayed for him. He saw head-waiters bowing him and Julia to tables in
"strange, foreign cafés," and when they were seated, and he had ordered
dishes that amazed her, he would say in a low voice: "Don't look now,
but do you see that heavy-shouldered man with the insignia, sitting
with that adventuress and those eight officers who are really his
guards? Don't be alarmed, Julia, but I am here to _get_ that man!
Perhaps you remember what your father once said of me? Now, when what I
have to do here is done, perhaps you may wish to write home and mention
a few things to that old man!" And then a boy's changing voice seemed to
sound again close by: "He said he just could stand the smell of _some_
cigarettes, but if you burned any more o' yours on his porch----" And
Noble came back miserably to town again.

From an upper window of a new stucco house two maidens of nineteen
peered down at him. The shade of a striped awning protected the window
from the strong sun and the maidens from the sight of man--the latter
protection being especially fortunate, since they were preparing to take
a conversational afternoon nap, were robed with little substance, and
their heads appeared to be antlered; for they caught sight of Noble just
as they were preparing to put silk-and-lace things they called "caps" on
their heads.

"Who's that?" the visiting one asked.

"It's Noble Dill; he's kind of one of the crowd."

"Is he nice?"

"Oh, sort of. Kind of shambles around."

"Looks like last year's straw hat to me," the visiting one giggled.

"Oh, he tries to dress--lately, that is--but he never did know how."

"Looks mad about something."

"Yes. He's one of the ones in love with that Julia Atwater I told you
about."

"Has he got any chance with her?"

"Noble Dill? Mercy!"

"Is he much in love with her?"

"'Much'? _Murder!_"

The visiting one turned from the window and yawned. "Come on: let's lie
down and talk about some of the nice ones!"

The second house beyond this was--it was the house of Julia!

And what a glamour of summer light lay upon it because it was the house
of Julia! The texture of the sunshine came under a spell here; glowing
flakes of amber were afloat; a powder of opals and rubies fell silently
adrizzle through the trees. The very air changed, beating faintly with a
fairy music, for breathing it was breathing sorcery: elfin symphonies
went tinkling through it. The grass in the next yard to Julia's was
just grass, but every blade of grass in her yard was cut of jewels.

Julia's house was also the house of that person who through some
ungovernable horseplay of destiny happened to be her father: and this
gave the enchanted spot a background of lurking cyclone--no one could
tell at what instant there might rise above the roseate pleasance a
funnel-shaped cloud. With young Herbert's injurious narrative fresh in
his mind, Noble quickened his steps; but as he reached the farther fence
post, marking the southward limit of Mr. Atwater's property, he halted
short, startled beautifully. Through the open front door, just passed, a
voice had called his name; a voice of such arresting sweetness that his
breath stopped, like his feet.

"Oh, Noble!" it called again.

He turned back, and any one who might have seen his face then would have
known what was the matter with him, and must have been only the more
sure of it because his mouth was open. The next instant the adequate
reason for his disorder came lightly through the open door and down to
the gate.

Julia was kind, much too kind! She had heard that her Aunt Harriet and
her Uncle Joe were frequently describing Mr. Atwater's most recent
explosion to other members of the extensive Atwater family league; and
though she had not discovered how Aunt Harriet and Uncle Joe had
obtained their material, yet, in Julia's way of wording her thoughts, an
account of the episode was "all over town," and she was almost certain
that by this time Noble Dill had heard it. And so, lest he should
suffer, the too-gentle creature seized the first opportunity to cheer
him up. That was the most harmful thing about Julia; when anybody liked
her--even Noble Dill--she couldn't bear to have him worried. She was the
sympathetic princess who wouldn't have her puppy's tail chopped off all
at once, but only a little at a time.

"I just happened to see you going by," she said, and then, with an
astounding perfection of seriousness, she added the question: "Did you
_mind_ my calling to you and stopping you, Noble?"

He leaned, drooping, upon the gatepost, seeming to yearn toward it; his
expression was such that this gatepost need not have been surprised if
Noble had knelt to it.

"Why, no," he said hoarsely. "No, I don't have to be back at the office
any particular time. No."

"I just wanted to ask you----" She hesitated. "Well, it really doesn't
amount to anything--it's nothing so important I couldn't have spoken to
you about it some other time."

"Well," said Noble, and then on the spur of the moment he continued
darkly: "There might not be any other time."

"How do you mean, Noble?"

He smiled faintly. "I'm thinking of going away." This was true;
nevertheless, it was the first time he had thought of it. "Going away,"
he repeated in a murmur. "From this old town."

A shadowy, sweet reproach came upon Julia's eyes. "You mean--for good,
Noble?" she asked in a low voice, although no one knew better than she
what trouble such performances often cost her, later. "Noble, you don't
mean----"

He made a vocal sound conveying recklessness, something resembling a
reckless laugh. "I might go--any day! Just as it happens to strike me."

"But where to, Noble?"

"I don't----Well, maybe to China."

"China!" she cried in amazement. "Why, Noble Dill!"

"There's lots of openings in China," he said. "A white man can get a
commission in the Chinese army any day."

"And so," she said, "you mean you'd rather be an officer in the Chinese
army than stay--here?" With that, she bit her lip and averted her face
for an instant, then turned to him again, quite calm. Julia could not
help doing these things; she was born that way, and no punishment
changed her.

"Julia----" the dazzled Noble began, but he stopped with this beginning,
his voice seeming to have exhausted itself upon the name.

"When do you think you'll start?" she asked.

His voice returned. "I don't know _just_ when," he said; and he began to
feel a little too much committed to this sudden plan of departure, and
to wonder how it had come about. "I--I haven't set any day--exactly."

"Have you talked it over with your mother yet, Noble?"

"Not yet--exactly," he said, and was conscious of a distaste for China
as something unpleasant and imminent. "I thought I'd wait till--till it
was certain I _would_ go."

"When will that be, Noble?" And in spite of herself, Julia spoke in the
tone of one who controls herself to ask in calmness: "Is my name on the
list for the guillotine?"

"Well," he said, "it'll be as soon as I've made up my mind to go. I
probably won't go before then; not till I've made up my mind to."

"But you might do that any day, mightn't you?"

Noble began to feel relieved; he seemed to have hit upon a way out.
"Yes; and then I'd be gone," he said firmly. "But probably I wouldn't go
at all unless I decided to." This seemed to save him from China, and he
added recklessly: "I guess I wouldn't be missed much around this old
town if I did go."

"Yes, you would," Julia said quickly. "Your family'd miss you--and so
would everybody."

"Julia, _you_ wouldn't----"

She laughed lightly. "Of course I should, and so would papa."

Noble released the gatepost and appeared to slant backward. "What?"

"Papa was talking about you this very morning at breakfast," she said;
and she spoke the truth. "He said he _dreamed_ about you last night."

"He did?"

Julia nodded sunnily. "He dreamed that you and he were the very greatest
friends!" This also was true, so far as it went; she only omitted to
state that Mr. Atwater had gone on to classify his dream as a nightmare.
"There!" she cried. "Why, of course he'd miss you--he'd miss you as much
as he'd miss any friend of mine that comes here."

Noble felt a sudden rush of tenderness toward Mr. Atwater; it is always
possible to misjudge a man for a few hasty words. And Julia went on
quickly:

"I never saw anybody like you, Noble Dill!" she exclaimed. "I don't
suppose there's anybody in the United States except you that would be
capable of doing things like going off to be an officer in the Chinese
army--all just any minute like this. I've always declared you were about
the most reckless man I know!"

Noble shook his head. "No," he said judicially. "I'm not reckless; it's
just that I don't care what happens."

Julia became grave. "Don't you?"

"To me," he said hurriedly. "I mean I don't care what happens to myself.
I mean that's more the way I am than just reckless."

She was content to let his analysis stand, though she shook her head, as
if knowing herself to be wiser than he about his recklessness. A
cheerfulness came upon them; and the Chinese question seemed to have
been settled by these indirect processes;--in fact, neither of them ever
mentioned it again. "I mustn't keep you," she said, "especially when you
ought to be getting on downtown to business, but----Oh!" She gave the
little cry of a forgetful person reminded. "I almost forgot what I ran
out to ask you!"

"What was it, Julia?" Noble spoke huskily, in a low voice. "What is it
you want me to do, Julia?"

She gave a little fluttering laugh, half timid, half confiding. "You
know how funny papa is about tobacco smoke?" (But she hurried on without
waiting for an answer.) "Well, he is. He's the funniest old thing; he
doesn't like _any_ kind very much except his own special cheroot things.
He growls about every other kind, but the cigars Mr. _Ridgely_ smokes
when he comes here, papa really _does_ make a fuss over! And, you see, I
don't like to say 'No' when Mr. Ridgely asks if he can smoke, because it
always makes men so uncomfortable if they can't when they're sitting on
a veranda, so I wondered if I could just tactfully get him to buy
something different from his cigars?--and I thought the best thing would
be to suggest those cigarettes you always have, Noble. They're the ones
papa makes the _least_ fuss about and seems to stand the best--next to
his own, he seems to like them the most, I mean--but I'd forgotten the
name of them. That's what I ran out to ask you."

"Orduma," said Noble. "Orduma Egyptian Cigarettes."

"Would you mind giving me one--just to show Mr. Ridgely?"

Noble gave her an Orduma cigarette.

"Oh, thank you!" she said gratefully. "I mustn't keep you another
minute, because I know your father wouldn't know _what_ to do at the
office without you! Thank you so much for this!" She turned and walked
quickly halfway up the path, then paused, looking back over her
shoulder. "I'll only show it to him, Noble," she said. "I won't give it
to him!"

She bit her lip as if she had said more than she should have; shook her
head as in self-chiding; then laughed, and in a flash touched the tiny
white cylinder to her lips, waved it to him;--then ran to the veranda
and up the steps and into the house. She felt satisfied that she had set
matters right, this kind Julia!



CHAPTER SIX


Before she thus set matters right with Noble he had been unhappy and his
condition had been bad; now he was happy, but his condition was worse.
In truth, he was much, much too happy; nothing rational remained in his
mind. No elfin orchestra seemed to buzz in his ears as he went down the
street, but a loud, triumphing brass band. His unathletic chest was
inflated; he heaved up with joy; and a little child, playing on the next
corner, turned and followed him for some distance, trying to imitate his
proud, singular walk. Restored to too much pride, Noble became also much
too humane; he thought of Mr. Atwater's dream, and felt almost a
motherly need to cherish and protect him, to be indeed his friend. There
was a warm spot in Noble's chest, produced in part by a yearning toward
that splendid old man. Noble had a good home, sixty-six dollars in the
bank and a dollar and forty cents in his pockets; he would have given
all for a chance to show Mr. Atwater how well he understood him now, at
last, and how deeply he appreciated his favour.

Students of alcoholic intoxication have observed that in their cups
commonplace people, and not geniuses, do the most unusual things. So
with all other intoxications. Noble Dill was indeed no genius, and some
friend should have kept an eye upon him to-day; he was not himself. All
afternoon in a mood of tropic sunrise he collected rents, or with glad
vagueness consented instantly to their postponement. "I've come about
the rent again," he said beamingly to one delinquent tenant of his
father's best client; and turned and walked away, humming a waltz-song,
while the man was still coughing as a preliminary to argument.

Late in the afternoon, as the entranced collector sat musing alone near
a window in his father's office, his exalted mood was not affected by
the falling of a preternatural darkness over the town, nor was he roused
to action by any perception of the fact that the other clerks and the
members of the firm had gone home an hour ago; that the clock showed him
his own duty to lock up the office and not keep his mother "waiting
dinner"; and that he would be caught in a most outrageous thunderstorm
if he didn't hurry. No; he sat, smiling fondly, by the open window, and
at times made a fragmentary gesture as of some heroic or benevolent
impulse in rehearsal.

Meanwhile, paunchy with wind and wetness, unmannerly clouds came smoking
out of the blackened west. Rumbling, they drew on. Then from cloud to
cloud dizzy amazements of white fire staggered, crackled and boomed on
to the assault; the doors of the winds were opened; the tanks of deluge
were unbottomed; and the storm took the town. So, presently, Noble
noticed that it was raining and decided to go home.

With an idea that he was fulfilling his customary duties, he locked the
doors of the two inner rooms, dropped the keys gently into a
wastebasket, and passing by an umbrella which stood in a corner, went
out to the corridor, and thence stepped into the street of whooping
rain.

Here he became so practical as to turn up his collar; and, substantially
aided by the wind at his back, he was not long in leaving the purlieus
of commerce behind him for Julia's Street. Other people lived on this
street--he did, himself, for that matter; and, in fact, it was the
longest street in the town; moreover, it had an official name with
which the word "Julia" was entirely unconnected; but for Noble Dill (and
probably for Newland Sanders and for some others in age from nineteen to
sixty) it was "Julia's Street" and no other.

It was a tumultuous street as Noble splashed along the sidewalk.
Incredibly elastic, the shade-trees were practising calisthenics, though
now and then one outdid itself and lost a branch; thunder and lightning
romped like loosed scandal; rain hissed upon the pavement and capered
ankle-high. It was a storm that asked to be left to itself for a time,
after giving fair warning that the request would be made; and Noble and
the only other pedestrian in sight had themselves to blame for getting
caught.

This other pedestrian was some forty or fifty yards in advance of Noble
and moved in the same direction at about the same gait. He wore an old
overcoat, running with water; the brim of his straw hat sagged about his
head, so that he appeared to be wearing a bucket; he was a sodden and
pathetic figure. Noble himself was as sodden; his hands were wet in his
very pockets; his elbows seemed to spout; yet he spared a generous pity
for the desolate figure struggling on before him.

All at once Noble's heart did something queer within his wet bosom. He
recognized that figure, and he was not mistaken. Except the One figure,
and those of his own father and mother and three sisters, this was the
shape that Noble would most infallibly recognize anywhere in the world
and under any conditions. In spite of the dusk and the riot of the
storm, Noble knew that none other than Mr. Atwater splashed before him.

He dismissed a project for seizing upon a fallen branch and running
forward to walk beside Mr. Atwater and hold the branch over his
venerated head. All the branches were too wet; and Noble feared that Mr.
Atwater might think the picture odd and decline to be thus protected.
Yet he felt that something ought to be done to shelter Julia's father
and perhaps save him from pneumonia; surely there was some simple,
helpful, dashing thing that ordinary people couldn't think of, but that
Noble could. He would do it and not stay to be thanked. And then,
to-morrow evening, not sooner, he would go to Julia and smile and say;
"Your father didn't get too wet, I hope, after all?" And Julia: "Oh,
Noble, he's talked of you all day long as his 'new Sir Walter
Raleigh'!"

Suddenly will-o'-the-wisp opportunity flickered before him, and in his
high mood he paused not at all to consider it, but insanely chased it.
He had just reached a crossing, and down the cross street, walking away
from Noble, was the dim figure of a man carrying an umbrella. It was
just perceptible that he was a fat man, struggling with seeming
feebleness in the wind and making poor progress. Mr. Atwater, moving up
Julia's Street, was out of sight from the cross street where struggled
the fat man.

Noble ran swiftly down the cross street, jerked the umbrella from the
fat man's grasp; ran back, with hoarse sounds dying out behind him in
the riotous dusk; turned the corner, sped after Mr. Atwater, overtook
him, and thrust the umbrella upon him. Then, not pausing the shortest
instant for thanks or even recognition, the impulsive boy sped onward,
proud and joyous in the storm, leaving his beneficiary far behind him.

In his young enthusiasm he had indeed done something for Mr. Atwater. In
fact, Noble's kindness had done as much for Mr. Atwater as Julia's
gentleness had done for Noble, but how much both Julia and Noble had
done was not revealed in full until the next evening.

That was a warm and moonshiny night of air unusually dry, and yet
Florence sneezed frequently as she sat upon the "side porch" at the
house of her Great-Aunt Carrie and her Great-Uncle Joseph. Florence had
a cold in the head, though how it got to her head was a process involved
in the mysterious ways of colds, since Florence's was easily to be
connected with Herbert's remark that he wouldn't ever be caught takin'
his death o' cold sittin' on the damp grass in the night air just to
listen to a lot o' tooty-tooty. It appeared from Florence's narrative to
those interested listeners, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Joseph, that she had
been sitting on the grass in the night air when both air and grass were
extraordinarily damp. In brief, she had been at her post soon after the
storm cleared on the preceding evening, but she had heard no
tooty-tooty; her overhearings were of sterner stuff.

"Well, what did Julia say _then_?" Aunt Carrie asked eagerly.

"She said she'd go up and lock herself in her room and stuff cushions
over her ears if grandpa didn't quit makin' such a fuss."

"And what did he say?"

"He made more rumpus than ever," said Florence. "He went on and on, and
told the whole thing over and over again; he seemed like he couldn't
tell it enough, and every time he told it his voice got higher and
higher till it was kind of squealy. He said he'd had his raincoat on and
he didn't want an umberella anyhow, and hadn't ever carried one a single
time in fourteen years! And he took on about Noble Dill and all this and
that about how you _bet_ he knew who it was! He said he could tell Noble
Dill in the dark any time by his cigarette smell, and, anyway, it wasn't
too dark so's he couldn't see his skimpy little shoulders, and anyway he
saw his face. And he said Noble didn't _hand_ him the umberella; he
stuck it all down over him like he was somep'n on fire he wanted to put
out; and before he could get out of it and throw it away this ole fat
man that it belonged to and was chasin' Noble, he ran up to grandpa from
behind and took hold of him, or somep'n, and they slipped, and got to
fussin' against each other; and then after a while they got up and
grandpa saw it was somebody he knew and told him for Heaven's sake why
didn't he take his ole umberella and go on home; and so he did, because
it was raining, and I guess he proba'ly had to give up; he couldn't
out-talk grandpa."

"No," said Uncle Joe. "He couldn't, whoever he was. But what happened
about Noble Dill?"

Florence paused to accumulate and explode a sneeze, then responded
pleasantly: "He said he was goin' to kill him. He said he often and
often wanted to, and now he _was_. That's the reason I guess Aunt Julia
wrote that note this morning."

"What note?" Aunt Carrie inquired. "You haven't told us of that."

"I was over there before noon," said Florence, "and Aunt Julia gave me a
quarter and said she'd write a note for me to take to Noble Dill's house
when he came home for lunch, and give it to him. She kind of slipped it
to me, because grandpa came in there, pokin' around, while she was just
finishin' writin' it. She didn't put any envelope on it even, and she
never said a single thing to _me_ about its bein' private or my not
readin' it if I wanted to, or anything."

"Of course you didn't," said Aunt Carrie. "You didn't, did you,
Florence?"

"Why, she didn't _say_ not to," Florence protested, surprised. "It
wasn't even in an envelope."

Mr. Joseph Atwater coughed. "I hardly think we ought to ask what the
note said, even if Florence was--well, indiscreet enough to read it."

"No," said his wife. "I hardly think so either. It didn't say anything
important anyhow, probably."

"It began, 'Dear Noble,'" said Florence promptly. "Dear Noble'; that's
the way it began. It said how grandpa was just all upset to think he'd
accepted an umberella from him when Noble didn't have another one for
himself like that, and grandpa was so embarrassed to think he'd let
Noble do so much for him, and everything, he just didn't know _what_ to
do, and proba'ly it would be tactful if he wouldn't come to the house
till grandpa got over being embarrassed and everything. She said not to
come till she let him know."

"Did you notice Noble when he read it?" asked Aunt Carrie.

"Yessir! And would you believe it; he just looked _too_ happy!" Florence
made answer, not wholly comprehending with what truth.

"I'll bet," said Uncle Joseph;--"I'll bet a thousand dollars that if
Julia told Noble Dill he was six feet tall, Noble would go and order his
next suit of clothes to fit a six-foot man."

And his wife complemented this with a generalization, simple, yet of a
significance too little recognized. "They don't see a thing!" she said.
"The young men that buzz around a girl's house don't see a _thing_ of
what goes on there! Inside, I mean."

Yet at that very moment a young man was seeing something inside a girl's
house a little way down that same street. That same street was Julia's
Street and the house was Julia's. Inside the house, in the library, sat
Mr. Atwater, trying to read a work by Thomas Carlyle, while a rhythmic
murmur came annoyingly from the veranda. The young man, watching him
attentively, saw him lift his head and sniff the air with suspicion, but
the watcher took this pantomime to be an expression of distaste for
certain versifyings, and sharing that distaste, approved. Mr. Atwater
sniffed again, threw down his book and strode out to the veranda. There
sat dark-haired Julia in a silver dress, and near by, Newland Sanders
read a long young poem from the manuscript.

"Who is smoking out here?" Mr. Atwater inquired in a dead voice.

"Nobody, sir," said Newland with eagerness. "_I_ don't smoke. I have
never touched tobacco in any form in my life."

Mr. Atwater sniffed once more, found purity; and returned to the
library. But here the air seemed faintly impregnated with Orduma
cigarettes. "Curious!" he said as he composed himself once more to
read--and presently the odour seemed to wear away and vanish. Mr.
Atwater was relieved; the last thing he could have wished was to be
haunted by Noble Dill.

Yet for that while he was. Too honourable to follow such an example as
Florence's, Noble, of course, would not spy or eavesdrop near the
veranda where Julia sat, but he thought there could be no harm in
watching Mr. Atwater read. Looking at Mr. Atwater was at least the next
thing to looking at Julia. And so, out in the night, Noble was seated
upon the top of the side fence, looking through the library window at
Mr. Atwater.

After a while Noble lit another Orduma cigarette and puffed strongly to
start it. The smoke was almost invisible in the moonlight, but the night
breeze, stirring gently, wafted it toward the house, where the open
window made an inward draft and carried it heartily about the library.

Noble was surprised to see Mr. Atwater rise suddenly to his feet. He
smote his brow, put out the light, and stamped upstairs to his own room.

His purpose to retire was understood when the watcher saw a light in the
bedroom window overhead. Noble thought of the good, peculiar old man
now disrobing there, and he smiled to himself at a whimsical thought:
What form would Mr. Atwater's embarrassment take, what would be his
feeling, and what would he do, if he knew that Noble was there now,
beneath his window and thinking of him?

In the moonlight Noble sat upon the fence, and smoked Orduma cigarettes,
and looked up with affection at the bright window of Mr. Atwater's
bedchamber. Abruptly the light in that window went out.

"Saying his prayers now," said Noble. "I wonder if----" But, not to be
vain, he laughed at himself and left the thought unfinished.



CHAPTER SEVEN


A week later, on a hot July afternoon, Miss Florence Atwater, recovered
from her cold, stood in the shady back yard of her place of residence
and yawned more extensively than any one would have believed possible,
judging by her face in repose. Three of her friends, congenial in age
and sex, were out of town for the summer; two had been ascertained, by
telephonic inquiries, to be taking commanded siestas; and neither the
other one nor Florence had yet forgotten that yesterday, although they
were too religious to commit themselves to a refusal to meet as sisters
in the Great Beyond, they had taken the expurgated oath that by
Everything they would never speak to each other again so long as they
both should live.

Florence was at the end of her resources. She had sought distraction in
experimental cookery; but, having scorched a finger, and having been
told by the cook that a person's own kitchen wasn't worth the price at
eleven dollars a week if it had to git all smelled up with broiled
rubber when the femometer stood at ninety-sevvum degrees in the shade,
the experimenter abusedly turned her back on the morose woman and went
out to the back yard for a little peace.

After an interval of torpor, she decided to go and see what Herbert was
doing--a move not short of desperation, on account of Herbert's new
manner toward her. For a week Herbert had steadily pursued his
scientific career, and he seemed to feel that in it he had attained a
distinction beyond the reach of Florence. What made it ridiculous for
her to hope was, of course, the fact that she was a girl, and Herbert
had explained this to her in a cold, unpleasant way; for it is true that
what is called "feminism" must be acquired by men, and is not a
condition, or taste, natural to them. At thirteen it has not been
acquired.

She found him at home. He was importantly engaged in a room in the
cellar, where were loosely stored all manner of incapacitated household
devices; two broken clothes-wringers, a crippled and rusted
sewing-machine, an ice-cream freezer in like condition, a cracked and
discarded marble mantelpiece, chipped porcelain and chinaware of all
sorts, rusted stove lids and flatirons, half a dozen dead mops and
brooms. This was the laboratory, and here, in congenial solitude,
Herbert conducted his investigations. That is to say, until Florence
arrived he was undisturbed by human intrusion, but he was not alone--far
from it! There was, in fact, almost too much life in the place.

Where the light fell clearest from the cobwebby windows at the ground
level overhead, he had placed a long deal table, once a helpmate in the
kitchen, but now a colourless antique on three legs and two starch
boxes. Upon the table were seven or eight glass jars, formerly used for
preserves and pickles, and a dozen jelly glasses (with only streaks and
bits of jelly in them now) and five or six small round pasteboard
pill-boxes. The jars were covered, some with their own patent tops,
others with shingles or bits of board, and one with a brick. The jelly
glasses stood inverted, and were inhabited; so were the preserve jars
and pickle jars; and so were the pill-boxes, which evidently contained
star boarders, for they were pierced with "breathing holes," and one of
them, standing upon its side like a little wheel, now and then moved in
a faint, ghostly manner as if about to start rolling on its own
account--whereupon Herbert glanced up and addressed it sternly, though
somewhat inconsistently: "You shut up!"

In the display of so much experimental paraphernalia, there may have
been a hint that Herbert's was a scientific nature craving rather
quantity than quality; his collection certainly possessed the virtue of
multitudinousness, if that be a virtue; and the birds in the
neighbourhood must have been undergoing a great deal of disappointment.
In brief, as many bugs as Herbert now owned have seldom been seen in the
custody of any private individual. And nearly all of them were alive,
energetic and swearing, though several of the preserve jars had been
imperfectly drained of their heavy syrups, and in one of them a great
many spiders seemed to be having, of the whole collection, the poorest
time; being pretty well mired down and yet still subject to
disagreements among themselves. The habits of this group, under such
unusual surroundings, formed the subject of Herbert's special study at
the moment of Florence's arrival. He was seated at the table and
frowning with science as he observed the unfortunates through that
magnifying-glass, his discovery of which was responsible for their
present condition and his own choice of a career.

Florence paused in the doorway, but he gave no sign of recognition,
unless his intensified preoccupation was a sign, and Florence,
perceiving what line of conduct he meant to adopt, instinctively
selected a reciprocal one for herself. "Herbert Atwater, you ought to be
punished! I'm goin' to tell your father and mother."

"You g'way," Herbert returned, unmoved; and, without condescending to
give her a glance, he set down the magnifying-glass, and with a pencil
wrote something profoundly entomological in a soiled memorandum book
upon the table. "Run away, Flor'nce. Run away somewheres and play."

Florence approached. "'Play'!" she echoed tartly. "I should think _you_
wouldn't talk much about 'playin',' the way you're teasing those poor,
poor little bugs!"

"'Teasing'!" Herbert exclaimed: "That shows! That shows!"

"Shows what?"

"How much you know!" He became despondent about her. "See here,
Florence; it does look to me as though at your age a person ought to
know anyway enough not to disturb me when I'm expairamenting, and
everything. I should think----"

But she did not prove so meek as to await the conclusion of his
remonstrance. "I never saw anything as wicked in my whole born days!
What did any of those poor, poor little bugs ever do to _you_, I'd like
to know, you got to go and confine 'em like this! And look how dirty
your hands are!"

This final charge, wandering so far from her previous specifications of
his guilt, was purely automatic and conventional; Florence often
interjected it during the course of any cousinly discussion, whatever
the subject in dispute, and she had not even glanced at Herbert's hands
to assure herself that the accusation was warranted. But, as usual, the
facts supported her; and they also supported Herbert in his immediate
mechanical retort: "So're yours!"

"Not either!" But here Florence, after instinctively placing her hands
behind her, brought forth the right one to point, and simultaneously
uttered a loud cry: "Oh, _look_ at your hands!" For now she did look at
Herbert's hands, and was amazed.

"Well, what of it?"

"They're all lumpy!" she cried, and, as her gaze rose to his cheek, her
finger followed her eyes and pointed to strange appearances there. "Look
at your _face_!"

"Well, what of it?" he demanded, his tone not entirely free from
braggadocio. "A girl can't make expairaments the way I do, because if
one of these good ole bumblebees or hornets of mine was to give 'em a
little sting, once in a while, while they was catchin' 'em and puttin'
'em in a jar, all they'd know how to do'd be to holler and run home to
their mamma. Nobody with any gumption minds a few little stings after
you put mud on 'em."

"I guess it serves you right," Florence said, "for persecutin' these
poor, poor little bugs."

Herbert became plaintive. "Look here, Florence; I do wish you'd go on
back home where you belong."

But Florence did not reply; instead she picked up the magnifying-glass,
and, gazing through it at a pickle jar of mixed beetles, caterpillars,
angleworms, and potato bugs, permitted herself to shudder. "Vile
things!" she said.

"They are not, either!" Herbert retorted hotly. "They're about the
finest insecks that you or anybody else ever saw, and you ought to be
ashamed----"

"I ought?" his cousin cried. "Well, I should think you're the one ought
to be ashamed, if anybody ought! Down here in the cellar playin' with
all these vile bugs that ought to be given their liberty, or thrown
down the sewer, or somep'n!" Again, as she peered through the lens, she
shuddered. "Vile----"

"Florence," he said sternly, "you lay down that magnifying-glass."

"Why?"

"Because you don't know how to handle it. A magnifying-glass has got to
be handled in just the right way, and you couldn't learn if you tried a
thousand years. That's a mighty fine magnifying-glass, and I don't
intend to have it ruined."

"Why, just lookin' through it can't spoil it, can it?" she inquired,
surprised.

"You lay it down," said Herbert darkly. "Lookin' through it the wrong
way isn't going to do it any _good_."

"Why, how could just _lookin'_ through it----"

"Lookin' through it the wrong way isn't goin' to _help_ it any, I tell
you!" he insisted. "You're old enough to know that, and I'm not goin' to
have my magnifying-glass spoiled and all my insecks wasted just because
of a mere whin of yours!"

"A what?"

"A mere whin, I said!"

"What's a whin?"

"Never you mind," said Herbert ominously. "You'll proba'ly find out some
day when you aren't expectin' to!"

Undeniably, Florence was somewhat impressed: she replaced the
magnifying-glass upon the table and picked up the notebook.

"You lay that down, too," said Herbert instantly.

"Oh, maybe it's somep'n you're _'shamed_ to----"

"Go on and read it, then," he said, suddenly changing his mind, for he
was confident that she would find matter here that might cause her to
appreciate at least a little of her own inferiority.

"'Nots'," Florence began. "'Nots'----"

"Notes!" he corrected her fiercely.

"'Notes'," she read. "'Notes on our inseck friends. The spidder----'"

"_Spider!_"

"'The spider spends his time mostly in cobwebs which he digilently spins
between posts and catches flies to eat them. They are different coloured
and sizes and have legs in pairs. Spiders also spin their webs in
corners or in weeds or on a fence and sometimes in the grass. They are
more able to get about quicker than catapillars or fishing worms, but
cannot fly such as pinching bugs, lightning bugs, and birds because
having no wings, nor jump as far as the grass hoper----'"

"Grasshopper!" Herbert shouted.

"I'm readin' it the way it's spelled," Florence explained. "Anyway, it
don't make much sense."

Herbert was at least enough of an author to be furious. "Lay it down!"
he said bitterly. "And go on back home to your dolls."

"Dolls certainly would be _cleaner_ than vile bugs," Florence retorted,
tossing the book upon the table. "But in regards to that, I haven't had
any," she went on, airily--"not for years and years and years and----"

He interrupted her, his voice again plaintive. "See here, Florence, how
do you expect me to get my _work_ done, with you everlastin'ly talkin'
and goin' on around here like this? Can't you see I've got somep'n
pretty important on my hands?"

Florence became thoughtful. "I never did see as many bugs before, all
together this way," she said. "What you goin' to do with 'em, Herbert?"

"I'm makin' my expairaments."

But her thoughtfulness increased. "It seems to me," she said
slowly:--"Herbert, it seems to me there must be some awful inter'sting
thing we could do with so many bugs all together like this."

"'We'!" he cried. "My goodness, whose insecks do you think these insecks
are?"

"I just know there's somep'n," she went on, following her own line of
thought, and indifferent to his outburst. "There's somep'n we could do
with 'em that we'd never forget, if we could only think of it."

In spite of himself, Herbert was interested. "Well, what?" he asked.
"What could we do with 'em we'd never forget?"

In her eyes there was a far-away light as of a seeress groping. "I don't
just know exackly, but I know there's _somep'n_--if we could only think
of it--if we could just----" And her voice became inaudible, as in
dreamy concentration she seated herself upon the discarded ice-cream
freezer, and rested her elbows upon her knees and her chin upon the
palms of her hands.

In silence then, she thought and thought. Herbert also was silent, for
he, too, was trying to think, not knowing that already he had proved
himself to be wax in her hands, and that he was destined further to show
himself thus malleable. Like many and many another of his sex, he never
for an instant suspected that he spent the greater part of his time
carrying out ideas implanted within him by a lady-friend. Florence was
ever the imaginative one of those two, a maiden of unexpected fancies
and inexplicable conceptions, a mind of quicksilver and mist. There was
within her the seedling of a creative artist, and as she sat there, on
the ice-cream freezer in Herbert's cellar, with the slowly growing
roseate glow of deep preoccupation upon her, she looked strangely sweet
and good, and even almost pretty.



CHAPTER EIGHT


"Do you s'pose," she said, at last, in a musing voice: "Herbert, do you
s'pose maybe there's some poor family's children somewheres that haven't
got any playthings or anything and we could take all these----"

But here Herbert proved unsympathetic. "I'm not goin' to give my insecks
to any poor people's children," he said emphatically. "I don't care how
poor they are!"

"Well, I thought maybe just as a surprise----"

"I won't do it. I had mighty hard work to catch this c'lection, and I'm
not goin' to give it away to anybody, I don't care how surprised they'd
be! Anyway, I'd never get any thanks for it; they wouldn't know how to
handle 'em, and they'd get all stung up: and what'd be the use, anyhow?
I don't see how _that's_ goin' to be somep'n so interesting we'd never
forget it."

"No," she said. "I guess it wouldn't. I just thought it would be kind of
a bellnevolent thing to do."

This word disturbed Herbert, but he did not feel altogether secure in
his own impression that "benovvalent" was the proper rendition of what
she meant, and so refrained from criticism. Their musing was resumed.

"There's one thing I do wish," Florence said suddenly, after a time. "I
wish we could find some way to use the c'lection that would be useful
for Noble Dill."

Now, at this, her cousin's face showed simple amazement. "What on earth
you talkin' about?"

"Noble Dill," she said dreamily. "He's the only one I like that comes to
see Aunt Julia. Anyway, I like him the most."

"I bet Aunt Julia don't!"

"I don't care: he's the one _I_ wish she'd get married to."

Herbert was astounded. "Noble Dill? Why, I heard mamma and Aunt Hattie
and Uncle Joe talkin' about him yesterday."

"What'd they say?"

"Most of the time," said Herbert, "they just laughed. They said Noble
Dill was the very last person in this town Aunt Julia'd ever dream o'
marryin'. They said he wasn't anything: they said he wasn't handsome
and he wasn't distingrished-looking----"

"I think he is," Florence interposed. "I think he's _very_
distingrished-looking."

"Well, they said he wasn't, and they know more'n you do. Why, Noble Dill
isn't hardly any taller'n I am myself, and he hasn't got any muscle
partickyourly. Aunt Julia wouldn't look at him!"

"She does, too! My goodness, how could he sit on the porch, right in
front of her, for two or three hours at a time, without her lookin' at
him?"

"I don't care," Herbert insisted stubbornly. "_They_ said Aunt Julia
wouldn't. They said she was the worst flirt had ever been in the whole
family and Noble Dill had the worst case they ever saw, but she wouldn't
ever look at him, and if she did she'd be crazy."

"Well, anyway," said Florence, "I think he's the nicest of all that goes
to see her, and I wish we could use this c'lection some way that would
be nice for him."

Herbert renewed his protest. "How many times I got to tell you I had a
hard enough time catchin' this c'lection, day in and day out, from
before daylight till after dark, and then fixin' 'em all up like this
and everything! I don't prapose to waste 'em just to suit Noble Dill,
and I'm not goin' to give 'em away either. If anybody wanted to buy 'em
and offered a good fair price, money down, why, I----"

"_That's_ it, Herbert!" his lady-cousin exclaimed with sudden
excitement. "Let's sell 'em!" She jumped up, her eyes bright. "I bet we
could get maybe five dollars for 'em. We can pour the ones that are in
the jars that haven't got tops and the ones in the jelly glasses and
pill-boxes--we can pour all those into the jars that have got tops, and
put the tops on again, and that'd just about fill those jars--and then
we could put 'em in a basket and take 'em out and sell 'em!"

"Where could we sell 'em?" Herbert inquired, not convinced.

"At the fish store!" she cried. "Everybody uses bugs and worms for bait
when they go fishing, don't they? I bet the fish man'll buy all the
worms we got, even if he wouldn't buy anything else. I bet he'll buy all
the others, too! I bet he never saw as much good bait as this all at one
time in his whole life! I bet he'll give us five dollars--maybe more!"

Herbert was dazzled; the thought of this market was a
revelation--nothing could have been more plausible. Considered as bait,
the c'lection at once seemed to acquire a practical and financial value
which it lacked, purely as a c'lection. And with that the amateur and
scientist disappeared, giving way to the person of affairs. "'Give _us_
five dollars'?" he said, in this capacity, and for deeper effect he used
a rhetorical expression: "Who do you think is the owner of all this fish
bait, may I ask you, pray?"

"Yes, you _may_, pray!" was his cousin's instant and supercilious
retort. "Pray where would you ever of got any five dollars from any fish
man, if it hadn't been for me, pray? Pray, didn't I first sajest our
doing somep'n with the bugs we'd never forget, and if the fish man gives
us five dollars for 'em won't we remember it all our lives, pray? And,
pray, what part did you think up of all this, pray? Not one single
thing, and if you don't divide even with me, I'll run ahead and tell the
fish man the whole c'lection has been in bottles that had old medicine
and poison in 'em--and then where'll _you_ be, pray?"

It is to be doubted that Florence possessed the cold-blooded capacities
with which this impromptu in diplomacy seemed to invest her: probably
she would never have gone so far. But the words sufficed; and Herbert
was so perfectly intimidated that he was even unresentful. "Well, you
can have your ole two dollars and a half, whether you got a right to it
or not," he said. "But you got to carry the basket."

"No," said Florence. "This has got to be done right, Herbert. We're
partners now and everything's got to be divided just exackly even. I'll
carry the basket half the way and you carry it the other half."

"Well----" he grumbled, consenting.

"That's the only right way," she said sunnily. "You carry it till we get
to the fish man's, and I'll carry it all the way back."

But even Herbert could perceive the inequality here. "It'll be empty
then," he protested.

"Fair's fair and wrong's wrong," she returned firmly. "I spoke first to
carry it on the way home, and the one that speaks first gets it!"

"Look here!"

"Herbert, we got to get all these bugs fixed up and ready," she urged.
"We don't want to waste the whole afternoon just talkin' about it, do
we? Besides, Herbert, on the way home you'll have two dollars and a half
in your pocket, or anyway as much as you have left, if you buy some
soda and candy and things, and you'll feel so fine then you won't mind
whether you're carrying the basket or not."

The picture she now suggested to Herbert's mind was of himself carrying
the basket both to the fish man and from the fish man: and he found
himself anxious to protest, yet helpless in a maze of perplexity. "But
wait a minute," he began. "You said----"

"Let's don't waste another minute," she interrupted briskly. "I
shouldn't wonder it was after four o'clock by this time, and we both
need money. Hurry, Herbert!"

"But didn't you say----" He paused to rub his head. "You said I'd feel
so good I wouldn't mind if I--if----"

"No. I said, 'Hurry'!"

"Well----" And though he felt that a subtle injustice lurked somewhere,
he was unable to think the matter out clearly into its composing
elements, and gave up trying. Nevertheless, as he obeyed her, and began
to "hurry," there remained with him an impression that by some foggy and
underhand process he had been committed to acquiescence in an unfair
division of labour.

In this he was not mistaken. An hour later he and Florence were on their
way home from the fish man's place of business, and Herbert, having
carried the basket thither, was now carrying it thence. Moreover, his
burden was precisely as heavy on this homeward leg of the course as it
had been on that terminating at the fish store, for, covered by a
discreet newspaper, the preserve and pickle jars still remained within
the basket, their crowding and indignant contents intact. The fish man
had explained in terms derisive, but plain, the difference between a
fish man and a fisherman. He had maintained his definitions of the two
economic functions in spite of persistent arguments on the part of the
bait-dealers, and in the face of reductions that finally removed ninety
per cent. of their asking price. He wouldn't give fifty cents, or ten
cents, or one cent, he said: and he couldn't furnish the address of
anybody else that would. His fish came by express, he declared, again
and again: and the only people he knew that did any fishing were mainly
coloured, and dug their own bait; and though these might possibly be
willing to accept the angle worms as a gift, they would probably incline
to resent a generosity including so many spiders, not to speak of the
dangerous winged members of the c'lection. On account of these latter,
he jocosely professed himself to be anxious lest the tops of some of the
jars might work loose--and altogether he was the most disheartening man
they had ever met.

Anticlimax was never the stimulant of amiability, and, after an
altercation on the pavement just outside of the store, during which the
derisive fish man continually called to them to go on and take that
there basket out of the neighbourhood, the cousins moved morbidly away,
and walked for a time in silence.

They brooded. Herbert was even more embittered with Florence than he was
with the fish man, and Florence found life full of unexpectedness; it
had been so clear to her that the fish man would say: "Why, certainly.
Here's five dollars; two dollars and a half for each of you. Would you
care to have the jars back?" The facts, so contrary, seemed to wear the
aspect of deliberate malice, and she felt ill-used, especially as she
had several physical grievances, due to her assistance in pouring part
of the c'lection into the jars with tops. In spite of every precaution
three or four of the liveliest items had made their escape, during this
pouring, and had behaved resentfully. Florence bore one result on the
back of her left hand, two others on the thumb and second finger of her
right hand, and another, naturally the most conspicuous, on the point of
her chin. These had all been painful, in spite of mud poultices, but,
excited by the anticipation of a kindly smiling fish man, and occupied
with plans for getting Herbert to spend part of his two dollars and a
half for mutual refreshment, she had borne up cheerfully. Now,
comprehending that she had suffered in vain, she suffered anew, and
hated bugs, all fish men, and the world.

It was Herbert who broke the silence and renewed the altercation. "How
far you expeck me to go on luggin' this ole basket?" he demanded
bitterly. "All the way home?"

"I don't care how far," she informed him. "You can throw it away if you
want to. It's certainly no propaty of mine, thank you!"

"Look here, didn't you promise you'd carry it home?"

"I said I _spoke_ to. I didn't say I _would_ carry it."

"Well, I'd like to know the dif----"

But Florence cut him off. "I'll tell you the difference, since you're so
anxious to know the truth, Mister Herbert Atwater! The difference is
just this: you had no biznuss to meddle with those vile ole bugs in the
first place, and get me all stung up so't I shouldn't wonder I'd haf to
have the doctor, time I get home, and if I do I'm goin' to tell mamma
all about it and make her send the bill to your father. I want you to
know I _hurt_!"

"My goodness!" Herbert burst out. "Don't you s'pose _I_ hurt any? I
guess you don't hurt any worse than----"

She stopped him: "Listen!"

From down the street there came a brazen clamouring for the right of
way; it grew imperiously louder, and there were clatterings and
whizzings of metallic bodies at speed, while little blurs and
glistenings in the distance grew swiftly larger, taking shape as a fire
engine and a hose-cart. Then, round the near-by corner, came perilously
steering the long "hook-and-ladder wagon"; it made the turn and went by,
with its firemen imperturbable on the running boards.

"Fire!" Florence cried joyfully. "Let's go!" And, pausing no instant,
she made off up the street, shouting at the top of her voice: "_Fire!
Fire! Fire! Fire!_"

Herbert followed. He was not so swift a runner as she, though this he
never submitted to a test admitted to be fair and conclusive; and he
found her demonstration of superiority particularly offensive now, as
she called back over her shoulder: "Why don't you keep up with me? Can't
you keep up?"

"I'd _show_ you!" he panted. "If I didn't haf to lug this ole basket,
I'd leave you a mile behind mighty quick."

"Well, why'n't you drop it, then?"

"You s'pose I'm goin' to throw my c'lection away after all the trouble I
been _through_ with it?"

She slackened her gait, dropping back beside him. "Well, then, if you
think you could keep up with me if you didn't have it, why'n't you leave
it somewhere, and come back and get it after the fire's over?"

"No place to leave it."

She laughed, and pointed. "Why'n't you leave it at grandpa's?"

"Will you wait for me and start fair?"

"Come on!" They obliqued across the street, still running forward, and
at their grandfather's gate Herbert turned in and sped toward the house.

"Take it around to the kitchen and give it to Kitty Silver," Florence
called. "Tell Kitty Silver to take care of it for you."

But Herbert was in no mind to follow her advice; a glance over his
shoulder showed that Florence was taking another unfair advantage of
him. "You wait!" he shouted. "You stand still till I get back there! You
got half a mile start a'ready! You wait till we can start even!"

But Florence was skipping lightly away and she caroled over her
shoulder, waving her hand in mocking farewell as she began to run:

    "Ole Mister Slowpoke can't catch me!
    Ole Mister Slowpoke couldn't catch a flea!"

"I'll show you!" he bellowed, and, not to lose more time, he dashed up
the steps of the deserted veranda, thrust his basket deep underneath a
wicker settee, and ran violently after his elusive cousin.

She kept a tantalizing distance between them, but when they reached the
fire it was such a grand one they forgot all their differences--and also
all about the basket.



CHAPTER NINE


Noble Dill came from his father's house, after dinner that evening, a
youth in blossom, like the shrubberies and garden beds in the dim yards
up and down Julia's Street. All cooled and bathed and in new clothes of
white, he took his thrilled walk through the deep summer twilight, on
his way to that ineffable Front Porch where sat Julia, misty in the
dusk. The girlish little new moon had perished naïvely out of the sky;
the final pinkness of the west was gone; blue evening held the quiet
world; and overhead, between the branches of the maple trees, were
powdered all those bright pin points of light that were to twinkle on
generations of young lovers after Noble Dill, each one, like Noble,
walking the same fragrant path in summer twilights to see the Prettiest
Girl of All.

Now and then there came to the faintly throbbing ears of the pedestrian
a murmur of voices from lawns where citizens sat cooling after the day's
labour, or a tinkle of laughter from where maidens dull (not being
Julia) sat on verandas vacant of beauty and glamour. For these poor
things, Noble felt a wondering and disdainful pity; he pitied everything
in the world that was not on the way to starry Julia.

Eight nights had passed since he, himself, had seen her, but to-day she
had replied (over the telephone) that Mr. Atwater seemed to have settled
down again, and she believed it might be no breach of tact for Noble to
call that evening--especially as she would be on the veranda, and he
needn't ring the bell. Would she be alone--for once? It was improbable,
yet it could be hoped.

But as he came hoping up the street, another already sat beside Julia,
sharing with her the wicker settee on the dim porch, and this was the
horn-rimmed young poet. Newland had, as usual, a new poem with him; and
as others had proved of late that they could sit on Julia's veranda as
long as he could, he had seized the first opportunity to familiarize her
with this latest work.

The veranda was dark, and to go indoors to the light might have involved
too close a juxtaposition to peculiar old Mr. Atwater who was in the
library; but the resourceful Newland, foreseeing everything, had
brought with him a small pocket flashlight to illumine his manuscript.
"It's _vers libre_, of course," he said as he moved the flashlight over
the sheets of scribbled paper. "I think I told you I was beginning to
give all the old forms up. It's the one new movement, and I felt I ought
to master it."

"Of course," she said sympathetically, though with a little nervousness.
"Be just a wee bit careful with the flashlight--about turning it toward
the window, I mean--and read in your nice low voice. I always like
poetry best when it's almost whispered. I think it sounds more musical
that way, I mean."

Newland obeyed. His voice was hushed and profoundly appreciative of the
music in itself and in his poem, as he read:

          "I--And Love!
    Lush white lilies line the pool
    Like laces limned on looking-glasses!
    I tread the lilies underfoot,
    Careless how they love me!
      Still white maidens woo me,
      Win me not!
        But thou!
        Thou art a cornflower
    Sapphire-eyed!
          I bend!
        Cornflower, I ask a question.
    O flower, speak----"

Julia spoke. "I'm afraid," she said, while Newland's spirit filled with
a bitterness extraordinary even in an interrupted poet;--"I'm afraid
it's Mr. Dill coming up the walk. We'll have to postpone----" She rose
and went to the steps to greet the approaching guest. "How nice of you
to come!"

Noble, remaining on the lowest step, clung to her hand in a fever. "Nice
to come!" he said hoarsely. "It's eight days--eight days--eight days
since----"

"Mr. Sanders is here," she said. "It's so dark on this big veranda
people can hardly see each other. Come up and sit with us. I don't have
to introduce you two men to each other."

She did not, indeed. They said "H'lo, Dill" and "H'lo Sanders" in a
manner of such slighting superiority that only the utmost familiarity
could have bred a contempt so magnificent. Then, when the three were
seated, Mr. Sanders thought well to add: "How's rent collecting these
days, Dill? Still hustling around among those darky shanties over in
Bucktown?"

In the dark Noble moved convulsively, but contrived to affect a light
laugh, or a sound meant for one, as he replied, in a voice not entirely
under control: "How's the ole poetry, Sanders?"

"What?" Newland demanded sharply. "What did you say?"

"I said: 'How's the ole poetry?' Do you read it to all your relations
the way you used to?"

"See here, Dill!"

"Well, what you want, Sanders?"

"You try to talk about things you understand," said Newland. "You better
keep your mind on collecting four dollars a week from some poor coloured
widow, and don't----"

"I'd _rather_ keep my mind on that!" Noble was inspired to retort. "Your
Aunt Georgina told my mother that ever since you began thinkin' you
could write poetry the life your family led was just----"

Newland interrupted. He knew the improper thing his Aunt Georgina had
said, and he was again, and doubly, infuriated by the prospect of its
repetition here. He began fiercely:

"Dill, you see here----"

"Your Aunt Georgina said----"

Both voices had risen. Plainly it was time for someone to say:
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" Julia glanced anxiously through the darkness of
the room beyond the open window beside her, to where the light of the
library lamp shone upon a door ajar; and she was the more nervous
because Noble, to give the effect of coolness, had lit an Orduma
cigarette.

She laughed amiably, as if the two young gentlemen were as amiable as
she. "I've thought of something," she said. "Let's take the settee and
some chairs down on the lawn where we can sit and see the moon."

"There isn't any," Noble remarked vacantly.

"Let's go, anyhow," she said cheerily. "Come on."

Her purpose was effected; the belligerents were diverted, and Noble
lifted the light wicker settee. "I'll carry this," he said. "It's no
trouble. Sanders can carry a chair--I guess he'd be equal to that much."
He stumbled, dropped the settee, and lifted a basket, its contents
covered with a newspaper. "Somebody must have----"

"What is it?"

"It's a basket," said Noble.

"How curious!"

Julia peered through the darkness. "I wonder who could have left that
market basket out _here_. I suppose----" She paused. "Our cook does do
more idiotic things than--I'll go ask her if it's ours."

She stepped quickly into the house, leaving two concentrations of
inimical silence behind her, but she returned almost immediately,
followed by Kitty Silver.

"It's no use to argue," Julia was saying as they came. "You did your
marketing and simply and plainly left it out there because you were too
shiftless to----"

"No'm," Mrs. Silver protested in a high voice of defensive complaint.
"No'm, Miss Julia, I ain' lef no baskit on _no_ front po'che! I got jus'
th'ee markit baskits in the livin' worl' an' they ev'y las' one an' all
sittin' right where I kin lay my han's on 'em behime my back do'. No'm,
Miss Julia, I take my solemn oaf I ain' lef no----" But here she
debouched upon the porch, and in spite of the darkness perceived herself
to be in the presence of distinguished callers. "Pahdon me," she said
loftily, her tone altering at once, "I beg leaf to insis' I better take
thishere baskit back to my kitchen an' see whut-all's insiden of it."

With an elegant gesture she received the basket from Noble Dill and took
the handle over her ample forearm. "Hum!" she said. "Thishere ole basket
kine o' heavy, too. I wunner whut-all she _is_ got in her!" And she
groped within the basket, beneath the newspaper.

Now, it was the breath of Kitty Silver's life to linger, when she could,
in a high atmosphere; and she was a powerful gossip, exorbitantly
interested in her young mistress's affairs and all callers. Therefore it
was beyond her not to seize upon any excuse that might detain her for
any time whatever in her present surroundings.

"Pusserve jugs," she said. "Pusserve or pickle. Cain't tell which."

"You can in the kitchen," Julia said, with pointed suggestion. "Of
course you can't in the dark."

But still Mrs. Silver snatched at the fleeting moment and did not go.
"Tell by smellin' 'em," she murmured, seemingly to herself.

With ease she unscrewed the top of one of the jars; then held the open
jar to her nose. "Don't smell to me exackly like no pusserves," she
said. "Nor yit like no pickles. Don't smell to me----" She hesitated,
sniffed the jar again, and then inquired in a voice quickly grown
anxious: "Whut _is_ all thishere in thishere jug? Seem like to _me_----"

But here she interrupted herself to utter a muffled exclamation, not
coherent. Instantly she added some words suitable to religious
observances, but in a voice of passion. At the same time, with a fine
gesture, she hurled the jar and the basket from her, and both came in
contact with the wall, not far away, with a sound of breakage.

"Why, what----" Julia began. "Kitty Silver, are you crazy?"

But Kitty Silver was moving hurriedly toward the open front door, where
appeared, at that moment, Mr. Atwater in his most irascible state of
peculiarity.

He began: "What was that heathenish----"

Shouting, Mrs. Silver jostled by him, and, though she disappeared into
the house, a trail of calamitous uproar marked her passage to the
kitchen.

"What thing has happened?" Mr. Atwater demanded. "Is she----?"

His daughter interrupted him.

"_Oh_!" was all she said, and sped by him like a bit of blown
thistledown, into the house. He grasped at her as she passed him; then
suddenly he made other gestures, and, like Kitty Silver, used Jacobean
phrases. But now there were no auditors, for Noble Dill and Newland
Sanders, after thoughtlessly following a mutual and natural impulse to
step over and examine the fallen basket, had both gone out to the
street, where they lingered a while, then decided to go home.

... Later, that evening, Florence and Herbert remembered the c'lection;
so they came for it, a mistake. Discovering the fragments upon the
veranda, they made the much more important mistake of entering the house
to demand an explanation, which they received immediately. It was
delivered with so much vigour, indeed, that Florence was surprised and
hurt. And yet, the most important of her dreamy wishes of the afternoon
had been fulfilled: the c'lection had been useful to Noble Dill, for Mr.
Atwater had smelled the smell of an Orduma cigarette and was just on the
point of coming out to say some harsh things, when the c'lection
interfered. And as Florence was really responsible for its having been
in a position to interfere, so to say, she had actually in a manner
protected her protégé and also shown some of that power of which she had
boasted when she told him that sometimes she made members of her family
"step around pretty lively."

Another of her wishes appeared to be on the way to fulfilment, too. She
had hoped that something memorable might be done with the c'lection, and
the interview with her grandfather, her Aunt Julia, and Kitty Silver
seemed to leave this beyond doubt.



CHAPTER TEN


Now August came, that florid lazy month when mid-summer dawdles along in
trailing greeneries, and the day is like some jocund pagan, all flushed
and asleep, with dripping beard rosy in a wine bowl of fat vine leaves.
Yet, in this languorous time there may befall a brisker night, cool and
lively as an intrusive boy--a night made for dancing. On such a night a
hasty thought might put it as desirable that all the world should be
twenty-two years old and in love, like Noble Dill.

Upon the white bed in his room, as he dressed, lay the flat black
silhouettes of his short evening coat and trousers, side by side, trim
from new pressing; and whenever he looked at them Noble felt rich, tall,
distinguished, and dramatic. It is a mistake, as most literary legends
are mistakes, to assume that girls are the only people subject to
before-the-party exhilaration. At such times a girl is often in the
anxious yet determined mood of a runner before a foot race, or she may
be merely hopeful; some are merry and some are grim, but arithmetical
calculation of some sort, whether glorious or uneasy, is busy in their
eyes as they pin and pat before their mirrors. To behold romance gone
light-headed, turn to the humbler sort of man-creature under
twenty-three. Alone in his room, he may enact for you scenes of flowery
grace and most capricious gallantry, rehearsals as unconscious as the
curtsies of field daisies in a breeze. He has neither doubt nor
certainty of his charm; he has no arithmetic at all, and is often so
free of calculation that he does not even pull down the shades at his
windows.

Unfortunately for the neighbours, and even for passers-by, since Noble's
room had a window visible from the street, his prophetic mother had
closed his shutters before he began to dress. Thus she deprived honest
folk of what surely must have been to them the innocent pleasure of
seeing a very young man in light but complete underwear, lifting from
his head a Panama hat, new that day, in a series of courteous
salutations. At times, during this same stage of his toilet, they might
have had even more entertainment:--before putting on his socks Noble
"one-stepped" for several minutes, still retaining upon his head the
new hat. This was a hat of double value to him; not only was it pleasant
to behold in his mirror, but it was engaged in solidifying for the
evening the arrangement of his hair.

It may be admitted that he was a little giddy, for the dance was
Julia's. Mr. Atwater had been summoned to New York on a blessed business
that would keep him a fortnight, and his daughter, alert to the first
flash of opportunity, had almost instantly summoned musicians, florists,
a caterer, and set plans before them. Coincidentally, Noble had chanced
to see Mr. Atwater driving down Julia's Street that morning, a
travelling bag beside him, and, immediately putting aside for the day
all business cares, hurried to the traveller's house. Thus he
forestalled, for the time being, that competition which helped to make
caring for Julia so continuous a strain upon whatever organ is the seat
of the anxieties. Kind Julia, busy as she was, agreed to dance the first
dance with him, and the last--those being considered of such
significance that he would be entitled to the perquisites of a special
cavalier; for instance, a seat beside her during the serving of the
customary light repast. In such high fortune, no wonder he was a little
giddy as he dressed!

The process of clothing himself was disconnected, being broken by
various enacted fancies and interludes. Having approached the length of
one sock toward the completion of his toilet, he absently dropped the
other upon the floor, and danced again; his expression and attitude
signifying that he clasped a revered partner. Releasing her from this
respectful confinement, he offered the invisible lady a gracious arm and
walked up and down the room with a stateliness tempered to rhythm, a
cakewalk of strange refinement. Phrases seemed to be running in his
head, impromptus symbolic of the touching and romantic, for he spoke
them half aloud hi a wistful yet uplifted manner. "Oh, years!" he said.
"Oh, years so fair; oh, night so rare!" Then he added, in a deeper
voice:

"For life is but a golden dream so sweetly."

Other whimsies came forth from him as the dressing slowly continued,
though one might easily be at fault in attempting to fathom what was his
thought when, during the passage of his right foot through the
corresponding leg of his trousers, he exclaimed commandingly:

"Now, Jocko, for the stirrup cup!"

Jack boots and a faithful squire, probably.

During the long and dreamy session with his neck gear he went back to
the softer _motif_:

    "Oh, years so fair; oh, night so rare!
    For life is but a golden dream so sweetly."

Then, pausing abruptly to look at his coat, so smoothly folded upon the
bed, he addressed it: "O noblest sample of the tailor's dext'rous art!"

This was too much courtesy, for the coat was "ready-made," and looked
nobler upon the bed than upon its owner. In fact, it was by no means a
dext'rous sample; but evidently Noble believed in it with a high and
satisfying faith; and he repeated his compliment to it as he put it on:

"Come, noblest sample of the tailor's art; I'll don thee!"

During these processes he had been repeatedly summoned to descend to the
family dinner, and finally his mother came lamenting and called up from
the front hall that "everything" was "all getting cold!"

But by this time he was on his way, and though he went back to leave his
hat in his room, unwilling to confide it to the hat-rack below, he
presently made his appearance in the dining-room and took his seat at
the table. This mere sitting, however, appeared to be his whole
conception of dining; he seemed as unaware of his mother's urging food
upon him as if he had been a Noble Dill of waxwork. Several tunes he
lifted a fork and set it down without guiding it to its accustomed
destination. Food was far from his thoughts or desires, and if he really
perceived its presence at all, it appeared to him as something vaguely
ignoble upon the horizon.

But he was able to partake of coffee; drank two cups feverishly, his
hand visibly unsteady; and when his mother pointed out this confirmation
of many prophecies that cigarettes would ruin him, he asked if anybody
had noticed whether or not it was cloudy outdoors. At that his father
looked despondent, for the open windows of the dining-room revealed an
evening of fragrant clarity.

"I see, I see," Noble returned pettishly when the fine state of this
closely adjacent weather was pointed out to him by his old-maid sister.
"It wouldn't be raining, of course. Not on a night like this." He jumped
up. "It's time for me to go."

Mrs. Dill laughed. "It's only a little after seven. Julia won't be
through her own dinner yet. You mustn't----"

But with a tremulous smile, Noble shook his head and hurriedly left the
room. He went upstairs for his hat, and while there pinned a geranium
blossom upon his lapel, for it may be admitted that in boutonnières his
taste was as yet unformed.

Coming down again, he took a stick under his arm and was about to set
forth when he noticed a little drift of talcum powder upon one of his
patent leather shoes. After carefully removing this accretion and adding
a brighter lustre to the shoe by means of friction against the back of
his ankle, he decided to return to his room and brush the affected
portion of his trousers. Here a new reverie arrested him; he stood with
the brush in his hand for some time; then, not having used it, he
dropped it gently upon the bed, lit an Orduma cigarette, descended, and
went forth to the quiet street.

As he walked along Julia's Street toward Julia's Party, there was
something in his mien and look more dramatic than mere sprightliness;
and when he came within sight of the ineffable house and saw its many
lights shining before him, he breathed with profundity, half halting.
Again he murmured:

    "Oh, years so fair; oh, night so rare!
    For life is but a golden dream so sweetly."

At the gate he hesitated. Perhaps--perhaps he was a little early. It
might be better to walk round the block.

He executed this parade, and again hesitated at the gate. He could see
into the brightly lighted hall, beyond the open double doors; and it
contained nothing except its usual furniture. Once more he walked round
the block. The hall was again in the same condition. Again he went on.

When he had been thrice round the block after that, he discovered human
beings in the hall; they were Florence, in a gala costume, and
Florence's mother, evidently arrived to be assistants at the party, for,
with the helpful advice of a coloured manservant, they were arranging
some bunches of flowers on two hall tables. Their leisurely manner
somewhat emphasized the air of earliness that hung about the place, and
Noble thought it better to continue to walk round the block. The third
time after that, when he completed his circuit, the musicians were just
arriving, and their silhouettes, headed by that of the burdened bass
fiddler, staggered against the light of the glowing doorway like a
fantasia of giant beetles. Noble felt that it would be better to let
them get settled, and therefore walked round the block again.

Not far from the corner above Julia's, as he passed, a hoarse and
unctuous voice, issuing out of an undistinguishable lawn, called his
name: "Noble! Noble Dill!" And when Noble paused, Julia's Uncle Joseph
came waddling forth from the dimness and rested his monstrous arms upon
the top of the fence, where a street light revealed them as
shirt-sleeved and equipped with a palm-leaf fan.

"What _is_ the matter, Noble?" Mr. Atwater inquired earnestly.

"Matter?" Noble repeated. "Matter?"

"We're kind of upset," said Mr. Atwater. "My wife and I been just
sittin' out here in our front yard, not doing any harm to anybody, and
here it's nine times we've counted you passing the place--always going
the same way!" He spoke as with complaint, a man with a grievance. "It's
kind of ghostlike," he added. "We'd give a good deal to know what _you_
make of it."

Noble was nonplussed. "Why----" he said. "Why----"

"How do you get _back_? That's the mystery!" said Mr. Atwater. "You're
always walkin' down street and never up. You know my wife's never been
too strong a woman, Noble, and all this isn't doing her any good.
Besides, we sort of figured out that you ought really to be at Julia's
dance this evening."

"I am," said Noble nervously. "I mean that's where I'm going. I'm going
there. I'm going there."

"That's what's upsetting us so!" the fat man exclaimed. "You keep on
going there! Just when we've decided you must _be_ there, at last, here
you come, going there again. Well, don't let me detain you. But if you
do decide to go in, some time, Noble, I'm afraid you aren't going to be
able to do much dancing."

Noble, who had begun to walk on, halted in sudden panic. Did this
sinister fear of Mr. Atwater's mean that, as an uncle, he had heard
Julia was suddenly ill?

"Why won't I?" he asked quickly. "Is anything----"

"Your poor feet!" said Mr. Atwater, withdrawing. "Good-night, Noble."

The youth went on, somewhat disturbed; it seemed to him that this uncle,
though Julia's, was either going queer in the head or had chosen a poor
occasion to be facetious. Next time, probably, it would be better to
walk round the block below this. But it was no longer advisable to walk
round any block. When he came to the happy gateway, the tuning of
instruments and a fanfare of voices sounded from within the house; girls
in light wraps were fluttering through the hall with young men; it was
"time for the party!" And Noble went in.

Throughout the accomplishment of the entrance he made, his outside and
his inside were directly contradictory. His inside was almost
fluttering: there might have been a nest of nervous young birds in his
chest; but as he went upstairs to the "gentlemen's dressing-room," to
leave his hat and stick, this flopping and scrambling within him was
never to be guessed from his outside. His outside was unsympathetic,
even stately; he greeted his fellow guests with negligent hauteur, while
his glance seemed to say: "Only peasantry here!"



CHAPTER ELEVEN


The stairway was crowded as he descended; and as he looked down upon the
heads and shoulders of the throng below, in Julia's hall, the thought
came to him that since he had the first and last dances and supper
engaged with Julia, the hostess, this was almost the next thing to being
the host. It was a pleasing thought, and a slight graciousness now
flavoured his salutations.

At the foot of the stairs he became part of the file of young people who
were moving into one of the large rooms where Julia stood to "receive."
And then, between two heads before him, he caught a first glimpse of
her;--and all the young birds fluttering in his chest burst into song;
his heart fainted, his head ballooned, his feet seemed to dangle from
him at the ends of two strings.

There glowed sapphire-eyed Julia; never had she been prettier.

The group closed, shutting out the vision, and he found himself able to
dry his brow and get back his breath before moving forward in a cold
and aristocratic attitude. Then he became incapable of any attitude--he
was before her, and she greeted him. A buzzing of the universe confused
him: he would have stood forever, but pressure from behind pushed him
on; and so, enveloped in a scented cloud, he passed into a corner. He
tried to remember what he had said to her, but could not; perhaps it
would have discouraged him to know that all he had said was, "Well!"

Now there rattled out a challenge of drums; loud music struck upon the
air. Starting instantly to go to Julia, Noble's left leg first received
the electric impulse and crossed his laggard right; but he was no pacer,
and thus stumbled upon himself and plunged. Still convulsive, he came
headlong before her, and was the only person near who remained unaware
that his dispersal of an intervening group had the appearance of extreme
unconventionality. Noble knew nothing except that this was his dance
with Her.

Then heaven played with him. She came close and touched him exquisitely.
She placed a lovely hand upon his shoulder, her other lovely cool hand
in one of his. The air filled with bursting stars.

They danced.

Noble was conscious of her within his clasping arm, but conscious of her
as nothing human. The fluffy white bodice pressed by his hand seemed to
be that of some angel doll; the charming shoulder that sometimes touched
his was made of a divine mist. Only the pretty head, close to his, was
actual; the black-sapphire eyes gave him a little blue-black glance, now
and then, and seemed to laugh.

In truth, they did, though Julia's lips remained demure. So far as Noble
was able to comprehend what he was doing, he was floating rhythmically
to a faint, far music; but he was almost unconscious, especially from
the knees down. But to the eye of observers incapable of perceiving that
Noble was floating, it appeared that he was out of step most of the
time, and danced rather hoppingly. However, these mannerisms were no
novelty with him, and it cannot be denied that girls at dances usually
hurried impulsively away to speak to somebody when they saw him coming.
One such creature even went so far as to whisper to Julia now, during a
collision: "How'd you get caught?"

Julia was loyal; she gave no sign of comprehension, but valiantly swung
onward with Noble, bumped and bumping everywhere, in spite of the most
extraordinary and graceful dexterity on her part.

"That's one reason she's such a terrible belle," a damsel whispered to
another.

"What is?"

"The way she'll be just as nice to anybody like Noble Dill as she is to
anybody," said the first. "Look at her now: she won't laugh at him a
bit, though everybody else is."

"Well, I wouldn't laugh either," said the other. "Not in Julia's
position. I'd be too busy being afraid."

"What of?"

"Of getting a sprained ankle!"

It is well that telepathy remains, as a science, lethargic. Speculation
sets before us the prospect of a Life Beyond in which every thought is
communicated without the intervention of speech: a state wherein all
neighbours and neighbourhoods would promptly be dispersed and few
friendships long endure, one fears. If to Noble Dill's active
consciousness had penetrated merely the things thought about him and his
dancing, in this one short period of time before the music for that
dance stopped, he might easily have been understood if he had hurried
forth, obtained explosives, and blown up the place, himself indeed
included. As matters providentially were in reality, when the music
stopped he stood confounded: he thought the dance had just begun.

His mouth remained open until the necessary gestures of articulation
intermittently closed it as he said: "_Oh!_ That was _divine_!"

Too-gentle Julia agreed.

"You said I could have part of some in between the first and last," he
reminded her. "Can I have the first part of the next?"

She laughed. "I'm afraid not. The next is Mr. Clairdyce's and I really
_promised_ him I wouldn't give _any_ of his away or let anybody cut in."

"Well, then," said Noble, frowning a little, "would you be willing for
me to cut in on the third?"

"I'm afraid not. That's Newland Sanders', and I promised him the same
thing."

"Well, the one after that?"

"No, that one's Mr. Clairdyce's, too."

"It _is_?" Noble was greatly disturbed.

"Yes."

"Two that quick with old Baldy Clairdyce!" he exclaimed, raising his
voice, but unaware of the fervour with which he spoke. "Two with that
old----"

"_Sh_, Noble," she said, though she laughed. "He isn't really old; he's
just middle-aged, and only the least bit bald, just enough to be
distinguished-looking."

"Well, you know what _I_ think of him!" he returned with a vehemence not
moderated. "_I_ don't think he's distinguished-looking; I think he's
simply and plainly a regular old----"

"_Sh!_" Julia warned him again. "He's standing with some people just
behind us," she added.

"Well, then," said Noble, "can I cut in on the next one after that?"

She consulted a surreptitious little card. "I'm afraid you'll have to
wait till quite a little later on, Noble. That one is poor Mr.
Ridgely's. I promised him I wouldn't----"

"Then can I cut in on the next one after that?"

"It's Mr. Clairdyce's," said Julia--and she blushed.

"My goodness!" said Noble. "Oh, my goodness!"

"_Sh!_ I'm afraid people----"

"Let's go out on the porch," said Noble, whose manner had suddenly
become desperate. "Let's go out and get some air where we can talk this
thing over."

"I'm afraid I'd better not just now," she returned, glancing over her
shoulder. "You see, all the people aren't here yet."

"You've got an aunt here," said Noble, "and a sister-in-law and a little
niece: I saw 'em. They can----"

"I'm afraid I'd better stay indoors just now," she said persuasively.
"We can talk here just as well."

"We can't!" he insisted feverishly. "We can't, Julia! I've got something
to say, Julia. Julia, you gave me the first dance and the last dance,
and of course sitting together at supper, or whatever there is, and you
know as well as I do that means it's just the same as if you weren't
giving this party but it was somewhere else and I took you to it, and
it's always understood you _never_ dance more with anybody else than the
one you went with, when you go with that person to a place, because
that's the rights of it; and other towns it's just the same way; they do
that way there, just the same as here; they do that way everywhere,
because nobody else has got a right to cut in and dance more with you
than the one you go with, when you goes to a place with that one. Julia,
don't you see that's the regular way it is, and the only fair way it
ought to be?"

"What?"

"Weren't you even _listening_?" he cried.

"Yes, indeed, but----"

"Julia," he said desperately, "let's go out on the porch. I want to
explain just the way I feel. Let's go out on the porch, Julia. If we
stay here, somebody's just bound to interrupt us any minute before I can
explain the way I----"

But the prophecy was fulfilled even before it was concluded. A group of
loudly chattering girls and their escorts of the moment bore down upon
Julia, and shattered the tête-à-tête. Dislodged from Julia's side by a
large and eager girl, whom he had hated ever since she was six years old
and he five, Noble found himself staggering in a kind of suburb; for the
large girl's disregard of him, as she shouldered in, was actually
physical, and too powerful for him to resist. She wished to put her
coarse arm round Julia's waist, it appeared, and the whole group burbled
and clamoured: the party was _perfictly_ glorious; so was the waxed
floor; so was Julia, my _dear_, so was the music, the weather, and the
din they made!

Noble felt that his rights were being outraged. Until the next dance
began, every moment of her time was legally his--yet all he could even
see of her was the top of her head. And the minutes were flying.

He stood on tiptoe, thrust his head forward over the large girl's odious
shoulder, and shouted: "Julia! Let's go out on the porch!"

No one seemed to hear him.

"Julia----"

_Boom!_ Rackety-_Boom_! The drummer walloped his drums; a saxophone
squawked, and fiddles squealed. Hereupon appeared a tall authoritative
man, at least thirty-two years old, and all swelled up with himself, as
interpreted by Noble and several other friends of Julia's--though this,
according to quite a number of people (all feminine) was only another
way of saying that he was a person of commanding presence. He wore a
fully developed moustache, an easy smile, clothes offensively knowing;
and his hair began to show that scarcity which Julia felt gave him
distinction--a curious theory, but natural to her age. What really did
give this Clairdyce some air of distinction, however, was the calmness
with which he walked through the group that had dislodged Noble Dill,
and the assurance with which he put his arm about Julia and swept her
away in the dance.

Noble was left alone in the middle of the floor, but not for long.
Couples charged him, and he betook himself to the wall. The party, for
him, was already ruined.

Sometimes, as he stood against the wall, there would be swirled to him,
out of all the comminglements of other scents, a faint, faint hint of
heliotrope and then Julia would be borne masterfully by, her flying
skirts just touching him. And sometimes, out of the medley of all other
sounds, there would reach his ear a little laugh like a run of lightly
plucked harp strings, and he would see her shining dark hair above her
partner's shoulder as they swept again near him for an instant. And
always, though she herself might be concealed from him, he could only
too painfully mark where she danced: the overtopping head of the tall
Clairdyce was never lost to view. The face on the front part of that
disliked head wore continuously a confident smile, which had a bad
effect on Noble. It seemed to him desecration that a man with so gross a
smile should be allowed to dance with Julia. And that she should smile
back at her partner, and with such terrible kindness--as Noble twice saw
her smile--this was like a calamity happening to her white soul without
her knowing it. If she should ever marry that man--well, it would be
the old story: May and December! Noble shuddered, and the drums, the
fiddles, the bass fiddle, and the saxophone seemed to have an evil
sound.

When the music stopped he caromed hastily through the room toward Julia,
but she was in a thicket of her guests when he arrived, and for several
moments Mr. Clairdyce's broad back kept intervening--almost
intentionally, it seemed. When Noble tried to place himself in a
position to attract Julia's attention, this back moved, too, and Noble's
nose but pressed black cloth. And the noise everybody made was so
baffling that, in order to be heard, Julia herself was shouting. Finally
Noble contrived to squirm round the obtrusive back, and protruded his
strained face among all the flushed and laughing ones.

"Julia, I got to----" he began.

But this was just at the climax of a story that three people were
telling at the same time, Julia being one of them, and he received
little attention.

"Julia," he said hoarsely; "I got something I want to _tell_ you
about----"

He raised his voice: "Julia, come on! Let's go out on the _porch_!"

Nobody even knew that he was there. Nevertheless, the tall and solid
Clairdyce was conscious of him, but only, it proved, as one is conscious
of something to rest upon. His elbow, a little elevated, was at the
height of Noble's shoulder, and this heavy elbow, without its owner's
direct or active cognizance, found for itself a comfortable support.
Then, as the story reached its conclusion, this old Clairdyce joined the
general mirth so heartily as to find himself quite overcome, and he
allowed most of his weight to depend upon the supported elbow. Noble
sank like feathers.

"Here! What you doin'?" he said hotly. "I'll thank you to keep off o'
me!"

Old Baldy recovered his balance without being aware what had threatened
it, while his elbow, apparently of its own volition, groped for its
former pedestal. Noble evaded it, and pushed forward.

"Julia," he said. "I _got_ to say some----"

But the accursed music began again, and horn-rimmed Newland Sanders
already had his arm about her waist. They disappeared into the ruck of
dancers.

"Well, by George!" said Noble. "By George, I'm goin' to _do_
something!"



CHAPTER TWELVE


He went outdoors and smoked Orduma cigarettes, one after the other.
Dances and intermissions succeeded each other but Noble had "enough of
_that_, for one while!" So he muttered.

And remembering how Julia had told him that he was killing himself with
cigarettes, "All right," he said now, as he bitterly lighted his fifth
at the spark of the fourth;--"I hope I will!"

"Lot o' difference it'd make!" he said, as he lighted the eighth of a
series that must, all told, have contained nearly as much tobacco as a
cigar. And, leaning back against the trunk of one of the big old walnut
trees in the yard, he gazed toward the house, where the open window
nearest him splashed with colour like a bright and crowded aquarium. "To
_her_, anyway!" he added, with a slight remorse, remembering that his
mother had frequently shown him evidences of affection.

Yes, his mother would care, and his father and sisters would be upset,
but Julia--when the friends of the family were asked to walk by for a
last look, would she be one? What optimism remained to him presented a
sketch of Julia, in black, borne from the room in the arms of girl
friends who tried in vain to hush her; but he was unable to give this
more hopeful fragment an air of great reality. Much more probably, when
word came to her that he had smoked himself to death, she would be a
bride, dancing at Niagara Falls with her bald old husband--and she would
only laugh and pause to toss a faded rose out of the window, and then go
right on dancing. But perhaps, some day, when tears had taught her the
real meaning of life with such a man----

"You--_wow_!"

Noble jumped. From the darkness of the yard beside the house there came
a grievous howl, distressful to the spinal marrow, a sound of animal
pain. It was repeated even more passionately, and another voice was also
heard, one both hoarsely bass and falsetto in the articulation of a
single syllable. "_Ouch!_" There were sounds of violent scuffing, and
the bass-falsetto voice cried: "What's that you _stuck_ me with?" and
another: "Drag her! Drag her back by her feet!"

These alarms came from the almost impenetrable shadows of the small
orchard beside the house; and from the same quarter was heard the
repeated contact of a heavy body, seemingly wooden or metallic, with the
ground; but high over this there rose a shrieking: "Help! Help! Oh,
_hay_-yulp!" This voice was girlish. "Hay-_yulp_!"

Noble dashed into the orchard, and at once fell prostrate upon what
seemed a log, but proved to be a large and solidly packed ice-cream
freezer lying on its side.

Dark forms scrambled over the fence and vanished, but as Noble got to
his feet he was joined by a dim and smallish figure in white--though
more light would have disclosed a pink sash girdling its middle. It was
the figure of Miss Florence Atwater, seething with furious agitations.

"Vile thieves!" she panted.

"Who?" Noble asked, brushing at his knees, while Florence made some
really necessary adjustments of her own attire. "Who were they?"

"It was my own cousin, Herbert, and that nasty little Henry Rooter and
their gang. Herbert thinks he hass to act perfectly horrable all the
time, now his voice is changing!" said Florence, her emotion not abated.
"Tried to steal this whole ice-cream freezer off the back porch and
sneak it over the fence and eat it! I stuck a pretty long pin in Herbert
and two more of 'em, every bit as far as it would go." And in the
extremity of her indignation, she added: "The dirty robbers!"

"Did they hurt you?"

"You bet your life they didn't!" the child responded. "Tried to drag me
back to the house! By the feet! I guess I gave 'em enough o' _that_!"

Then, tugging the prostrate freezer into an upright position, she
exclaimed darkly: "I expect I gave ole Mister Herbert and some of the
others of 'em just a few kicks they won't be in such a hurry to forget!"
And in spite of his own gloomy condition, Noble was able, upon thinking
over matters, to spare some commiseration for Herbert and his friend,
that nasty little Henry Rooter and their gang. They seemed to have been
at a disadvantage.

"I suppose I'd better carry the freezer back to the kitchen porch," he
said. "Somebody may want it."

"'Somebody'!" Florence exclaimed. "Why, there's only two of these big
freezers, and if I hadn't happened to suspeck somep'n and be layin' for
those vile thieves, half the party wouldn't get _any_!" And as an
afterthought, when Noble had pantingly restored the heavy freezer to its
place by the kitchen door, she said: "Or else they'd had to have such
little saucers of it nobody would of been any way _like_ satisfied, and
prob'ly all the fam'ly that's here assisting would of had to go without
any at all. That'd 'a' been the worst of it!"

She opened the kitchen door, and to those within explained loudly what
dangers had been averted, directing that both freezers be placed indoors
under guard; then she rejoined Noble, who was walking slowly back to the
front yard.

"I guess it's pretty lucky you happened to be hangin' around out here,"
she said. "I guess that's about the luckiest thing ever happened to me.
The way it looks to me, I guess you saved my life. If you hadn't chased
'em away, I wouldn't been a bit surprised if that gang would killed me!"

"Oh, no!" said Noble. "They wouldn't----"

"You don't know 'em like I do," the romantic child assured him. "I know
that gang pretty well, and I wouldn't been a bit surprised. I wouldn't
been!"

"But----"

She tossed her head, signifying recklessness.

"Guess 'twouldn't make much difference to anybody particular, whether
they did or not," said this strange Florence.

Noble regarded her with astonishment; they had reached the front yard,
and paused under the trees where the darkness was mitigated by the light
from the shining windows. "Why, you oughtn't to talk that way,
Florence," he said. "Think of your mamma and papa and your--and your
Aunt Julia."

She tossed her head again. "Pooh! They'd all of 'em just say: 'Good
ribbons to bad rubbish,' I guess!" However, she seemed far from
despondent about this; in fact, she was naturally pleased with her
position as a young girl saved from the power of ruffians by a rescuer
who was her Very Ideal. "I bet if I died, they wouldn't even have a
funeral," she said cheerfully. "They'd proba'ly just leave me lay."

The curiosities of the human mind are found not in high adventure: they
are everywhere in the commonplace. Never for a moment did it strike
Noble Dill that Florence's turn to the morbid bore any resemblance to
his recent visions of his own funeral. He failed to perceive that the
two phenomena were produced out of the same laboratory jar and were
probably largely chemical, at that.

"Why, Florence!" he exclaimed. "That's a dreadful way to feel. I'm sure
your--your Aunt Julia loves you."

"Oh, well," Florence returned lightly;--"maybe she does. I don't care
whether she does or not." And now she made a deduction, the profundity
of which his condition made him unable to perceive. "It makes less
difference to anybody whether their aunts love 'em or not than whether
pretty near anybody else at all does."

"But not your Aunt _Julia_" he urged. "Your Aunt _Julia_----"

"I don't care whether she does than any other aunt I got," said
Florence. "All of 'em's just aunts, and that's all there is to it."

"But, Florence, your Aunt _Julia_----"

"She's nothin' in the world but my _aunt_," Florence insisted, and her
emphasis showed that she was trying hard to make him understand. "She's
just the same as all of 'em. I don't get anything more from her than I
do from any the rest of 'em."

Her auditor was dumfounded, but not by Florence's morals. The
cold-blooded calculation upon which her family affections seemed to be
founded, this aboriginal straightforwardness of hers, passed over him.
What shocked him was her appearing to see Julia as all of a piece with a
general lot of ordinary aunts. Helplessly, he muttered again:

"But your Aunt _Julia_----"

"There she is now," said Florence, pointing to the window nearest them.
"They've stopped dancing for a while so's that ole Mister Clairdyce can
get a chance to sing somep'n. Mamma told me he was goin' to."

Dashing chords sounded from a piano invisible to Noble and his
companion; the windows exhibited groups of deferentially expectant young
people; and then a powerful barytone began a love song. From the yard
the singer could not be seen, but Julia could be: she stood in the
demurest attitude; and no one needed to behold the vocalist to know that
the scoundrel was looking pointedly and romantically at her.

    "Dee-urra-face that holds soswee tasmile for me,
    Wairyew nah tmine how darrrk the worrrl dwooed be!"

To Noble, suffering at every pore, this was less a song than a
bellowing; and in truth the confident Mr. Clairdyce did "let his voice
out," for he was seldom more exhilarated than when he shook the ceiling.
The volume of sound he released upon his climaxes was impressive, and
the way he slid up to them had a great effect, not indoors alone, but
upon Florence, enraptured out under the trees.

"Oh, isn't it be-_you_-tiful!" she murmured.

Her humid eyes were fixed upon Noble, who was unconscious of the honour.
Florence was susceptible to anything purporting to be music, and this
song moved her. Throughout its delivery from Mr. Clairdyce's unseen
chest, her large eyes dwelt upon Noble, and it is not at all impossible
that she was applying the tender words to him, just as the vehement
Clairdyce was patently addressing them to Julia. On he sang, while
Noble, staring glassily at the demure lady, made a picture of himself
leaping unexpectedly through the window, striding to the noisy barytone,
striking him down, and after stamping on him several times, explaining:
"There! That's for your insolence to our hostess!" But he did not
actually permit himself these solaces; he only clenched and unclenched
his fingers several times, and continued to listen.

    "Geev a-mee yewr ra-smile,
      The luv va-ligh TIN yew rise,
      Life cooed not hold a fairrerr paradise.
    Geev a-mee the righ to luv va-yew all the wile,
      My worrlda for AIV-vorr,
    The sunshigh NUV vyewr-ra-smile!"

The conclusion was thunderous, and as a great noise under such
circumstances is an automatic stimulant of enthusiasm, the applause was
thunderous too. Several girls were unable to subdue their outcries of
"Charming!" and "_Won_-derf'l!"--not even after Mr. Clairdyce had begun
to sing the same song as an encore.

When this was concluded, a sigh, long and deep, was heard under the
trees. It came from Florence. Her eyes, wanly gleaming, like young
oysters in the faint light, were still fixed on Noble; and there can be
little doubt that just now there was at least one person in the world,
besides his mother, who saw him in a glamour as something rare, obs,
exquisite, and elegant. "I think that was the most be-_you_-tiful thing
I ever heard!" she said; and then, noting a stir within the house, she
became practical. "They're starting refreshments," she said. "We better
hurry in, Mr. Dill, so's to get good places. Thanks to me, there's
plenty to go round."

She moved toward the house, but, observing that he did not accompany
her, paused and looked back. "Aren't you goin' to come in, Mr. Dill?"

"I guess not. Don't tell any one I'm out here."

"I won't. But aren't you goin' to come in for----"

He shook his head. "No, I'm going to wait out here a while longer."

"But," she said, "it's _refreshments_!"

"I don't want any. I--I'm going to smoke some more, instead."

She looked at him wistfully, then even more wistfully toward the house.
Evidently she was of a divided mind: her feeling for Noble fought with
her feeling for "refreshments." Such a struggle could not endure for
long: a whiff of coffee conjured her nose, and a sound of clinking china
witched her ear. "Well," she said, "I guess I ought to have some
nourishment," and betook herself hurriedly into the house.

Noble lit another Orduma. He would follow the line of conduct he had
marked out for himself: he would not take his place by Julia for the
supper interval--perhaps that breach of etiquette would "show" her. He
could see her no longer--she had moved out of range--but he imagined
her, asking everywhere: "Hasn't _any_ one seen Mr. Dill?" And he thought
of her as biting her lip nervously, perhaps, and replying absently to
sallies and quips--perhaps even having to run upstairs to her own room
to dash something sparkling from her eyes, and, maybe, to look angrily
in her glass for an instant and exclaim, "Fool!" For Julia was proud,
and not used to be treated in this way.

He felt the least bit soothed, and, lightly flicking the ash from his
Orduma with his little finger, an act indicating some measure of
restored composure, he strolled to the other side of the house and
brought other fields of vision into view through other windows. Abruptly
his stroll came to an end.

There sat Julia, flushed and joyous, finishing her supper in company
with old Baldy Clairdyce, Newland Sanders, George Plum, seven or eight
other young gentlemen, and some inconsidered adhering girls--the
horrible barytone sitting closest of all to Julia. Moreover, upon that
very moment the orchestra, in the hall beyond, thought fit to pay the
recent vocalist a sickening compliment, and began to play "The Sunshine
of Your Smile."

Thereupon, with Julia herself first taking up the air in a dulcet
soprano, all of the party, including the people in the other rooms, sang
the dreadful song in chorus, the beaming Clairdyce exerting such
demoniac power as to be heard tremendously over all other voices. He had
risen for this effort, and to Noble, below the window, everything in his
mouth was visible.

The lone listener had a bitter thought, though it was a longing, rather
than a thought. For the first time in his life he wished that he had
adopted the profession of dentistry.

    "Geev a-mee the righ to luv va-yew ALL the wile,
      My worrrlda for AIV-vorr,
    The sunshigh NUV vyewr-ra-smile!"

The musicians swung into dance music; old Baldy closed the exhibition
with an operatic gesture (for which alone, if for nothing else, at least
one watcher thought the showy gentleman deserved hanging), and this
odious gesture concluded with a seizure of Julia's hand. She sprang up
eagerly; he whirled her away, and the whole place fluctuated in the
dance once more.

"Well, now," said Noble, between his teeth--"now, I _am_ goin' to do
something!"

He turned his back upon that painful house, walked out to the front
gate, opened it, passed through, and looked southward. Not quite two
blocks away there shone the lights of a corner drug store, still open to
custom though the hour was nearing midnight. He walked straight to the
door of this place, which stood ajar, but paused before entering, and
looked long and nervously at the middle-aged proprietor who was
unconscious of his regard, and lounged in a chair, drowsily stroking a
cat upon his lap. Noble walked in.

"Good evening," said the proprietor, rising and brushing himself
languidly. "Cat hairs," he said apologetically. "Sheddin', I reckon."
Then, as he went behind the counter, he inquired: "How's the party goin'
off?"

"It's--it's----" Noble hesitated. "I stepped in to--to----"

The druggist opened a glass case. "Aw right," he said, blinking, and
tossed upon the counter a package of Orduma cigarettes. "Old Atwater'd
have convulsions, I reckon," he remarked, "if he had to lay awake and
listen to all that noise. Price ain't changed," he added, referring
humorously to the purchase he mistakenly supposed Noble wished to make.
"F'teen cents, same as yesterday and the day before."

Noble placed the sum upon the counter. "I--I was thinking----" He
gulped.

"Huh?" said the druggist placidly, for he was too sleepy to perceive the
strangeness of his customer's manner.

Noble lighted an Orduma with an unsteady hand, leaned upon the counter,
and inquired in a voice that he strove to make casual: "Is--is the soda
fountain still running this late?"

"Sure."

"I didn't know," said Noble. "I suppose you have more calls for soda
water than you do for--for--for real liquor?"

The druggist laughed. "Funny thing: I reckon we don't have more'n half
the calls for real liquor than what we used to before we went dry."

Noble breathed deeply. "I s'pose you probably sell quite a good deal of
it though, at that. By the glass, I mean--such as a glass of something
kind of strong--like--like whiskey. That is, I sort of supposed so. I
mean I thought I'd ask you about this."

"No," said the druggist, yawning. "It never did pay well--not on this
corner, anyhow. Once there used to be a little money in it, but not
much." He roused himself somewhat. "Well, it's about twelve. Anything
you wanted 'cept them Ordumas before I close up?"

Noble gulped again. He had grown pale. "_I_ want----" he said abruptly,
then his heart seemed to fail him. "I want a glass of----" Once more he
stopped and swallowed. His shoulders drooped, and he walked across to
the soda fountain. "Well," he said, "I'll take a chocolate sundae."

The thought of going back to Julia's party was unendurable, yet a return
was necessary on account of his new hat, the abandonment of which he did
not for a moment consider. But about half way, as he walked slowly
along, he noticed an old horse-block at the curbstone, and sat down
there. He could hear the music at Julia's, sometimes loud and close at
hand, sometimes seeming to be almost a mile away. "All right!" he said,
so bitter had he grown. "Dance! Go on and _dance_!"

... When finally he reëntered Julia's gate, he shuffled up the walk, his
head drooping, and ascended the steps and crossed the veranda and the
threshold of the front door in the same manner.

Julia stood before him.

"Noble _Dill_!" she exclaimed.

As for Noble, his dry throat refused its office; he felt that he might
never be able to speak to Julia again, even if he tried.

"Where in the world have you been all evening?" she cried.

"Why, Jew-Julia!" he quavered. "Did you notice that I was gone?"

"Did I 'notice'!" she said. "You never came near me all evening after
the first dance! Not even at supper!"

"You wouldn't--you didn't----" he faltered. "You wouldn't do anything
all evening except dance with that old Clairdyce and listen to him
trying to sing."

But Julia would let no one suffer if she could help it; and she could
always help Noble. She made her eyes mysterious and used a voice of
honey and roses. "You don't think I'd _rather_ have danced with him, do
you, Noble?"

Immediately sparks seemed to crackle about his head. He started.

"What?" he said.

The scent of heliotrope enveloped him; she laughed her silver
harp-strings laugh, and lifted her arms toward the dazzled young man.
"It's the last dance," she said. "Don't you want to dance it with me?"

Then to the spectators it seemed that Noble Dill went hopping upon a
waxed floor and upon Julia's little slippers; he was bumped and bumping
everywhere; but in reality he floated in Elysian ether, immeasurably
distant from earth, his hand just touching the bodice of an angelic
doll.

Then, on his way home, a little later, with his new hat on the back of
his head, his stick swinging from his hand, and a semi-fragrant Orduma
between his lips, his condition was precisely as sweet as the condition
in which he had walked to the party.

No echoes of "The Sunshine of Your Smile" cursed his memory--that
lover's little memory fresh washed in heliotrope--and when his mother
came to his door, after he got home, and asked him if he'd had "a nice
time at the party," he said:

"Just glorious!" and believed it.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN


It was a pretty morning, two weeks after Julia's Dance; and blue and
lavender shadows, frayed with mid-summer sunshine, waggled gayly across
the grass beneath the trees of the tiny orchard, but trembled with
timidity as they hurried over the abnormal surfaces of Mrs. Silver as
she sat upon the steps of the "back porch." Her right hand held in
security one end of a leather leash; the other end of the leash was
fastened to a new collar about the neck of an odd and fascinating dog.
Seated upon the brick walk at her feet, he was regarding her with a
gravity that seemed to discomfort her. She was unable to meet his gaze,
and constantly averted her own whenever it furtively descended to his.
In fact, her expression and manner were singular, denoting
embarrassment, personal hatred, and a subtle bedazzlement. She could not
look at him, yet could not keep herself from looking at him. There was
something here that arose out of the depths of natural character; it was
intrinsic in the two personalities, that is to say; and was in addition
to the bitterness consequent upon a public experience, just past, which
had been brought upon Mrs. Silver partly by the dog's appearance (in
particular the style and colour of his hair) and partly by his
unprecedented actions in her company upon the highway.

She addressed him angrily, yet with a profound uneasiness.

"Dog!" she said. "You ain't feelin' as skittish as whut you did, li'l
while ago, is you? My glory! I dess would like to lay my han' to you'
hide once, Mister! I take an' lam you this livin' minute if I right sho'
you wouldn't take an' bite me."

She jerked the leash vindictively, upon which the dog at once "sat up"
on his haunches, put his forepaws together above his nose, in an
attitude of prayer, and looked at her inscrutably from under the great
bang of hair that fell like a black chrysanthemum over his forehead.
Beneath this woolly lambrequin his eyes were visible as two garnet
sparks of which the coloured woman was only too nervously aware. She
gasped.

"Look-a-here, dog, who's went an' ast you to take an' pray fer 'em?"

He remained motionless and devout.

"My goo'niss!" she said to him. "If you goin' keep on thisaway whut you
_is_ been, I'm goin' to up an' go way from here, ri' now!" Then she said
a remarkable thing. "Listen here, Mister! I ain' never los' no gran'
child, an' I ain' goin' 'dop' no stranger fer one, neither!"

The explanation rests upon the looks and manners of him whom she
addressed. This dog was of a kind at the top of dog kingdoms. His size
was neither insignificant nor great; probably his weight would have been
between a fourth and a third of a St. Bernard's. He had the finest head
for adroit thinking that is known among dogs; and he had an athletic
body, the forepart muffled and lost in a mass of corded black fleece,
but the rest of him sharply clipped from the chest aft; and his trim,
slim legs were clipped, though tufts were left at his ankles, and at the
tip of his short tail, with two upon his hips, like fanciful buttons of
an imaginary jacket; for thus have such dogs been clipped to a fashion
proper and comfortable for them ever since (and no doubt long before) an
Imperial Roman sculptor so chiselled one in bas-relief. In brief, this
dog, who caused Kitty Silver so much disquietude, as she sat upon the
back steps at Mr. Atwater's, belonged to that species of which no
Frenchman ever sees a specimen without smiling and murmuring:
"_Caniche!_" He was that golden-hearted little clown of all the world, a
French Poodle.

To arrive at what underlay Mrs. Silver's declaration that she had never
lost a grandchild and had no intention of adopting a stranger in the
place of one, it should be first understood that in many respects she
was a civilized person. The quality of savagery, barbarism, or
civilization in a tribe may be tested by the relations it
characteristically maintains with domestic animals; and tribes that eat
dogs are often inferior to those inclined to ceremonial cannibalism.
Likewise, the civilization, barbarism, or savagery of an individual may
be estimated by the same test, which sometimes gives us evidence of
sporadic reversions to mud. Such reversions are the stomach priests:
whatever does not minister to their own bodily inwards is a "parasite."
Dogs are "parasites"; they should not live, because to fat and eat them
somehow appears uncongenial. "Kill Dogs and Feed Pigs," they write to
the papers, and, with a Velasquez available, would burn it rather than
go chilly. "Kill dogs, feed pigs, and let _me_ eat the pigs!" they cry,
even under no great stress, these stern economists who have not noticed
how wasteful the Creator is proved to be if He made themselves. They
take the strictly intestinal view of life. It is not intelligent;
parasite bacilli will get them in the end.

Mrs. Silver was not of these. True, she sometimes professed herself
averse to all "animals," but this meant nothing more than her
unwillingness to have her work increased by their introduction into the
Atwater household. No; the appearance of the dog had stirred something
queer and fundamental within her. All coloured people look startled the
first time they see a French Poodle, but there is a difference. Most
coloured men do not really worry much about being coloured, but many
coloured women do. In the expression of a coloured man, when he looks at
a black and woolly French Poodle, there is something fonder and more
indulgent than there is in the expression of a coloured woman when she
looks at one. In fact, when some coloured women see a French Poodle they
have the air of being insulted.

Now, when Kitty Silver had first set eyes on this poodle, an hour
earlier, she looked, and plainly was, dumfounded. Never in her life had
she seen a creature so black, so incredibly black, or with hair so
kinky, so incredibly kinky. Julia had not observed Mrs. Silver closely
nor paused to wonder what thoughts were rousing in her mind, but bade
her take the poodle forth for exercise outdoors and keep him strictly
upon the leash. Without protest, though wearing a unique expression,
Kitty obeyed; she walked round the block with this mystifying dog; and
during the promenade had taken place the episode that so upset her
nerves.

She had given a little jerk to the leash, speaking sharply to the poodle
in reproach for some lingering near a wonderful sidewalk smell,
imperceptible to any one except himself. Instantly the creature rose and
walked beside her on his hind legs. He continued to parade in this
manner, rapidly, but nevertheless as if casually, without any apparent
inconvenience; and Mrs. Silver, never having seen a dog do such a thing
before, for more than a yard or so, and then only under the pressure of
many inducements, was unfavourably impressed. In fact, she had
definitely a symptom of M. Maeterlinck's awed feeling when he found
himself left alone with the talking horses: "With _whom_ was she?"

"Look-a-here, dog!" she said breathlessly. "Who you tryin' to skeer?
_You_ ain't no person!"

And then a blow fell. It came from an elderly but ever undignified woman
of her own race, who paused, across the street, and stood teetering from
side to side in joyful agitation, as she watched the approach of Mrs.
Silver with her woolly little companion beside her. When this smaller
silhouette in ink suddenly walked upright, the observer's mouth fell
open, and there was reason to hope that it might remain so, in silence,
especially as several other pedestrians had stopped to watch the
poodle's uncalled-for exhibition. But all at once the elderly rowdy saw
fit to become uproarious.

"Hoopsee!" she shouted. "Oooh, _Gran'ma_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, when the poodle "sat up," unbid, to pray, while Kitty Silver
rested upon the back steps, on her return from the excursion, she
fiercely informed him that she had never lost a grandchild and that she
would not adopt a stranger in place of one; her implication being that
he, a stranger, had been suggested for the position and considered
himself eligible for it.

He continued to pray, not relaxing a hair.

"Listen to me, dog," said Kitty Silver. "Is you a dog, or isn't you a
dog? Whut _is_ you, anyway?"

But immediately she withdrew the question. "I ain't astin' you!" she
exclaimed superstitiously. "If you isn't no dog, don't you take an' tell
me whut you is: you take an' keep it to you'se'f, 'cause I don' want to
listen to it!"

For the garnet eyes beneath the great black chrysanthemum indeed seemed
to hint that their owner was about to use human language in a human
voice. Instead, however, he appeared to be content with his little
exhibition, allowed his forepaws to return to the ground, and looked at
her with his head wistfully tilted to one side. This reassured her and
even somewhat won her. There stirred within her that curious sense of
relationship evoked from the first by his suggestive appearance;
fondness was being born, and an admiration that was in a way a form of
Narcissism. She addressed him in a mollified voice:

"Whut you want now? Don' tell me you' hungry, 'cause you awready done et
two dog biskit an' big saucer milk. Whut you stick you' ole black face
crossways at _me_ fer, honey?"

But just then the dog rose to look pointedly toward the corner of the
house. "Somebody's coming," he meant.

"Who you spectin', li'l dog?" Mrs. Silver inquired.

Florence and Herbert came round the house, Herbert trifling with a
tennis ball and carrying a racket under his arm. Florence was peeling an
orange.

"For Heavenses' sakes!" Florence cried. "Kitty Silver, where on earth'd
this dog come from?"

"B'long you' Aunt Julia."

"When'd she get him?"

"Dess to-day."

"Who gave him to her?"

"She ain't sayin'."

"You mean she won't tell?"

"She ain't sayin'," Kitty Silver repeated. "I ast her. I say, I say:
'Miss Julia, ma'am,' I say, 'Miss Julia, ma'am, who ever sen' you sech a
unlandish-lookin' dog?' I say. All she say when I ast her: 'Nemmine!'
she say, dess thataway. 'Nemmine!' she say. I reckon she ain't goin'
tell nobody who give her this dog."

"He's certainly a mighty queer-lookin' dog," said Herbert. "I've seen a
few like that, but I can't remember where. What kind is he, Kitty
Silver?"

"Miss Julia tell me he a poogle dog."

"A poodle," Florence corrected her, and then turned to Herbert in
supercilious astonishment. "A French Poodle! My goodness! I should think
you were old enough to know that much, anyway--goin' on fourteen years
old!"

"Well, I did know it," he declared. "I kind of knew it, anyhow; but I
sort of forgot it for once. Do you know if he bites, Kitty Silver?"

She was noncommittal. "He ain't bit nobody yit."

"I don't believe he'll bite," said Florence. "I bet he likes me. He
looks like he was taking a fancy to me, Kitty Silver. What's his name?"

"Gammire."

"What?"

"Gammire."

"What a funny name! Are you sure, Kitty Silver?"

"Gammire whut you' Aunt Julia tole _me_," Mrs. Silver insisted. "You kin
go on in the house an' ast her; she'll tell you the same."

"Well, anyway, I'm not afraid of him," said Florence; and she stepped
closer to the poodle, extending her hand to caress him. Then she shouted
as the dog, at her gesture, rose to his hind legs, and, as far as the
leash permitted, walked forward to meet her. She flung her arms about
him rapturously.

"Oh, the lovely thing!" she cried. "He walks on his hind legs! Why, he's
crazy about me!"

"Let him go," said Herbert. "I bet he don't like you any more than he
does anybody else. Leave go of him, and I bet he shows he likes me
better than he does you."

But when Florence released him, Gammire caressed them both impartially.
He leaped upon one, then upon the other, and then upon Kitty Silver with
a cordiality that almost unseated her.

"Let him off the leash," Florence cried. "He won't run away, 'cause the
gates are shut. Let him loose and see what he'll do."

Mrs. Silver snapped the catch of the leash, and Gammire departed in the
likeness of a ragged black streak. With his large and eccentric ears
flapping back in the wind and his afterpart hunched in, he ran round and
round the little orchard like a dog gone wild. Altogether a comedian,
when he heard children shrieking with laughter, he circled the more
wildly; then all upon an unexpected instant came to a dead halt, facing
his audience, his nose on the ground between his two forepaws, his
hindquarters high and unstooping. And, seeing they laughed at this, too,
he gave them enough of it, then came back to Kitty Silver and sat by
her feet, a spiral of pink tongue hanging from a wide-open mouth roofed
with black.

Florence resumed the peeling of her orange.

"Who do you _think_ gave Gammire to Aunt Julia?" she asked.

"I ain't stedyin' about it."

"Yes, but who do you _guess_?"

"I ain't----"

"Well, but if you had to be burned to death or guess somebody, who would
you guess?"

"I haf to git burn' up," said Kitty Silver. "Ev'y las' caller whut comes
here _is_ give her some doggone animal awready. Mista Sammerses, he give
her them two Berjum cats, an' ole Mister Ridgways whut los' his wife, he
give you' Aunt Julia them two canaries that tuck an' hopped out the cage
an' then out the window, las' week, one day, when you' grampaw was alone
in the room with 'em; an' Mista George Plummers, he give her that
Airydale dog you' grampaw tuck an' give to the milkman; an' Mista
Ushers, he give her them two pups whut you' grampaw tuck an' skeer off
the place soon as he laid eyes on 'em, an' thishere Mista Clairidge, he
give her that ole live allagatuh from Florida whut I foun' lookin' at
me over the aidge o' my kitchen sink--ugly ole thing!--an' you' grampaw
tuck an' give it to the greenhouse man. Ain't none nem ge'lmun goin' try
an' give her no _mo'_ animals, I bet! So how anybody goin' guess who
sen' her thishere Gammire? Nobody lef' whut ain't awready sen' her one
an' had the gift spile."

"Yes, there is," said Florence.

"Who?"

"Noble Dill."

"That there li'l young Mista Dills?" Kitty Silver cried. "Listen me!
Thishere dog 'spensive dog."

"I don't care; I bet Noble Dill gave him to her."

Mrs. Silver hooted. "Go way! That there young li'l Mista Dills, he ain'
nev' did show no class, no way nor no time. He be hunderd year ole b'fo'
you see him in autamobile whut b'long to him. Look at a way some nem
fine big rich men like Mista Clairidge an' Mista Ridgways take an' th'ow
they money aroun'! New necktie ev'y time you see 'em; new straw hat
right spang the firs' warm day. Ring do' bell. I say, I say: 'Walk right
in, Mista Ridgways.' Slip me dollah bill dess like that! Mista Sammerses
an' Mista Plummers, an' some nem others, they all show class. Look Mista
Sammerses' spectickles made turtle back; fancy turtle, too. I ast Miss
Julia; she tell me they fancy turtle. Gol' rim spectickles ain't in it;
no ma'am! Mista Sammerses' spectickles--jes' them rims on his
spectickles alone--I bet they cos' mo'n all whut thishere young li'l
Mista Dills got on him from his toes up an' his skin out. I bet Mista
Plummers th'ow mo' money aroun' dess fer gittin' his pants press' than
whut Mista Dills afford to spen' to buy his'n in the firs' place! He
lose his struggle, 'cause you' Aunt Julia, she out fer the big class.
Thishere Gammire, he dog cos' money; he show class same you' Aunt Julia.
Ain't neither one of 'em got to waste they time on nobody whut can't
show no mo' class than thishere li'l young dish-cumbobbery Mista Dills!"

"I don't care," Florence said stubbornly. "He could of saved up and
saved up, and if he saved up long enough he could of got enough money to
buy a dog like Gammire, because you can get money enough for anything if
you're willing to save up long enough. Anyway, I bet he's the one gave
him to her."

Herbert joined Kitty Silver in laughter. "Florence is always talkin'
about Noble Dill," he said. "She's sort of crazy, anyway, though."

[Illustration: _"Herbert attempted to continue the drowning out. He
bawled, 'She made it up! It's somep'n she made up herself! She----'"_]

"It runs in the family," Florence retorted, automatically. "I caught it
from my cousins. Anyhow, I don't think there's a single one of any that
wants to marry Aunt Julia that's got the slightest co'parison to Noble
Dill. I admire him because he's so uncouth."

"He so who?" Kitty Silver inquired.

"Uncouth."

"Yes'm," said Mrs. Silver.

"It's in the ditchanary," Florence explained. "It means rare, elegant,
exquisite, obs, unknown, and a whole lot else."

"It does not," Herbert interposed. "It means kind of countrified."

"You go look in the ditchanary," his cousin said severely. "Then, maybe,
you'll know what you're talkin' about just for once. Anyhow, I _do_ like
Noble Dill, and I bet so does Aunt Julia."

Kitty Silver shook her head. "He lose his struggle, honey! Miss Julia,
she out fer the big class. She ain't stedyin' about him 'cept maybe dess
to let him run her erran's. She treat 'em all mighty nice, 'cause the
mo' come shovin' an' pushin' each other aroun', class or no class, why,
the mo' harder that big class got to work to git her--an' the mo' she
got after her the mo' keeps a-comin'. But thishere young li'l Mista
Dills, I kine o' got strong notion he liable not come no mo' 'tall!" Her
tone had become one of reminiscent amusement, which culminated in a
burst of laughter. "Whee!" she concluded. "After las' night, I reckon
thishere Mista Dills better keep away from the place--yes'm!"

Florence looked thoughtful, and for the time said nothing. It was
Herbert who asked: "Why'd Noble Dill better stay away from here?"

"You' grampaw," Mrs. Silver said, shaking her head. "You' grampaw!"

"What about grandpa?" said Herbert. "What'd he do last night?"

"'Do'? Oh, me!" Then Mrs. Silver uttered sounds like the lowing of kine,
whereby she meant to indicate her inability to describe Mr. Atwater's
performance. "Well, ma'am," she said, in the low and husky voice of
simulated exhaustion, "all I got to say: you' grampaw beat hisse'f! He
beat hisse'f!"

"How d'you mean? How could he----"

"He beat hisse'f! He dess out-talk hisse'f! No, ma'am; I done hear him
many an' many an' many's the time, but las' night he beat hisse'f."

"What about?"

"Nothin' in the wide worl' but dess thishere young li'l Noble Dills whut
we talkin' about this livin' minute."

"What started him?"

"Whut _start_ him?" Mrs. Silver echoed with sudden loudness. "My
goo'niss! He _b'en_ started ev' since the very firs' time he ev' lay
eyes on him prancin' up the front walk to call on Miss Julia. You'
grampaw don' like none nem callers, but he everlas'n'ly did up an' take
a true spite on thishere li'l Dills!"

"I mean," said Herbert, "what started him last night?"

"Them cigareets," said Kitty Silver. "Them cigareets whut thishere Noble
Dills smoke whiles he settin' out on the front po'che callin' on you'
Aunt Julia. You' grampaw mighty funny man about smellin'! You know's
well's I do he don't even like the smell o' violet. Well, ma'am, if he
can't stan' _violet_, how in the name o' misery he goin' stan' the smell
nem cigareets thishere Dills smoke? I can't hardly stan' 'em myse'f.
When he light one on the front po'che, she sif' all through the house,
an' come slidin' right the whole way out to my kitchen, an' _bim_! she
take me in the nose! You' grampaw awready tole Miss Julia time an' time
again if that li'l Dills light dess one mo' on his front po'che he goin'
to walk out there an' do some harm! Co'se she nev' tuck an' pay no
'tention, 'cause Miss Julia, she nev' pay no 'tention to nobody; an' she
like caller have nice time--she ain' goin' tell 'em you' grampaw make
such a fuss. 'Yes, 'deed, kine frien',' she say, she say, when they ast
her: 'Miss Julia, ma'am,' they say, 'I like please strike a match fer to
light my cigareet if you please, ma'am.' She say: 'Light as many as you
please, kine frien',' she say, she say. She say: 'Smell o' cigareet dess
deligh'ful li'l smell,' she say. 'Go 'head an' smoke all you kin stan','
she say, ''cause I want you injoy you'se'f when you pay call on me,' she
say. Well, so thishere young li'l Dills settin' there puffin' an'
blowin' his ches' out and in, an' feelin' all nice 'cause it about the
firs' time this livin' summer he catch you' Aunt Julia alone to hisse'f
fer while--an' all time the house dess fillin' up, an' draf' blowin'
straight at you' grampaw whur he settin' in his liberry. Ma'am, he sen'
me out an' tell her come in, he got message mighty important fer to
speak to her. So she tell thishere Dills wait a minute, an' walk in the
liberry. Oh, ladies!"

"What'd he say?" Herbert asked eagerly.

"He di'n' say nothin'," Mrs. Silver replied eloquently. "He hollered."

"What did he holler?"

"He want know di'n' he never tell her thishere Dills can't smoke no mo'
cigareets on his property, an' di'n' he tell her he was'n' goin' allow
him on the place if he did? He say she got to go back on the po'che an'
run thishere li'l Dills off home. He say he give her fair choice; she
kin run him off, or else he go on out and chase him away hisse'f. He
claim li'l Dills ain' got no biznuss roun' callin' nowhere 't all,
'cause he on'y make about eighteen dollars a week an' ain't wuth it. He
say----"

She was confirmed in this report by an indignant interruption from
Florence. "That's just what he did say, the old thing! I heard him,
myself, and if you care to ask _me_, I'll be glad to inform you that I
think grandpa's conduck was simply insulting!"

"'Deed it were!" said Mrs. Silver. "An' dess whut he claim hisse'f he
mean it fer! But you tell me, please, how you hear whut you' grampaw
say? He mighty noisy, but you nev' could a-hear him plumb to whur you
live."

"I wasn't home," said Florence. "I was over here."

"Then you mus' 'a' made you'se'f mighty skimpish, 'cause _I_ ain't seen
you!"

"Nobody saw me. I wasn't in the house," said Florence, "I was out in
front."

"Whurbouts 'out in front'?"

"Well, I was sitting on the ground, up against the latticework of the
front porch."

"Whut fur?"

"Well, it was dark," said Florence. "I just kind of wanted to see what
might be going on."

"An' you hear all whut you' grampaw take on about an' ev'ything?"

"I should say so! You could of heard him _lots_ farther than where I
was."

"Lan' o' misery!" Kitty Silver cried. "If you done hear him whur you
was, thishere li'l Dills mus' a-hear him _mighty_ plain?"

"He did. How could he help it? He heard every word, and pretty soon he
came down off the porch and stood a minute; then he went on out the
gate, and I don't know whether he went home or not, because it was too
dark to see. But he didn't come back."

"Yo' right he didn'!" exclaimed Mrs. Silver. "I reckon he got fo'thought
'nough fer that, anyhow! I bet he ain't nev' _goin'_ come back neither.
You' grampaw say he goin' be fix fer him, if he do."

"Yes, that was while he was standing there," said Florence ruefully. "He
heard all that, too."

"Miss Julia, she s'picion' he done hear somep'm 'nother, I guess," Kitty
Silver went on. "She shet the liberry do' right almos' on you' grampaw's
nose, whiles he still a-rampin', an' she slip out on the po'che, an'
take look 'roun'; then go on up to her own room. I 'uz up there, while
after that, turn' down her bed; an' she injoyin' herse'f readin' book.
She feel kine o' put out, I reckon, but she ain't stedyin' about no
young li'l Dills. She want 'em all to have nice time an' like her, but
she goin' lose this one, an' she got plenty to spare. She show too much
class fer to fret about no Dills."

"I don't care," said Florence. "I think she ought to whether she does or
not, because I bet he was feeling just awful. And I think grandpa
behaved like an ole hoodlum."

"That'll do," Herbert admonished her sternly. "You show some respect for
your relations, if you please."

But his loyalty to the Atwater family had a bad effect on Florence. "Oh,
_will_ I?" she returned promptly. "Well, then, if you care to inquire
_my_ opinion, I just politely think grandpa ought to be hanged."

"See here----"

But Florence and Kitty Silver interrupted him simultaneously.

"Look at _that_!" Florence cried.

"My name!" exclaimed Kitty Silver.

It was the strange taste of Gammire that so excited them. Florence had
peeled her orange and divided it rather fairly into three parts, but the
vehemence she exerted in speaking of her grandfather had caused her to
drop one of these upon the ground. Gammire promptly ate it, "sat up" and
adjusted his paws in prayer for more.

"Now you listen me!" said Kitty Silver. "I ain't see no dog eat orange
in all my days, an' I ain't see nobody else whut see dog eat orange! No,
ma'am, an' I ain't nev' hear o' nobody else whut ev' see nobody whut see
dog eat orange!"

Herbert decided to be less impressed. "Oh, I've heard of dogs that'd eat
apples," he said. "Yes, and watermelon and nuts and things." As he
spoke he played with the tennis ball upon his racket, and concluded by
striking the ball high into the air. Its course was not true; and it
descended far over toward the orchard, where Herbert ran to catch
it--but he was not quick enough. At the moment the ball left the racket
Gammire abandoned his prayers: his eyes, like a careful fielder's,
calculating and estimating, followed the swerve of the ball in the
breeze, and when it fell he was on the correct spot. He caught it.

Herbert shouted. "He caught it on the _fly_! It must have been an
accident. Here----" And he struck the ball into the air again. It went
high--twice as high as the house--and again Gammire "judged" it;
continuously shifting his position, his careful eyes never leaving the
little white globe, until just before the last instant of its descent he
was motionless beneath it. He caught it again, and Herbert whooped.

Gammire brought the ball to him and invited him to proceed with the
game. That there might be no mistaking his desire, Gammire "sat up" and
prayed; nor did he find Herbert anything loth. Out of nine chances
Gammire "muffed" the ball only twice, both times excusably, and
Florence once more flung her arms about the willing performer.

"_Who_ do you s'pose trained this wonderful, darling doggie?" she cried.

Mrs. Silver shook her marvelling head. "He mus' 'a' _come_ thataway,"
she said. "I bet nobody 't all ain' train him; he do whut he want to
hisse'f. That Gammire don' ast nobody to train him."

"Oh, goodness!" Florence said, with sudden despondency. "It's awful!"

"Whut is?"

"To think of as lovely a dog as this having to face grandpa!"

"'Face' him!" Kitty Silver echoed forebodingly. "I reckon you' grampaw
do mo'n dess 'face' him."

"That's what I mean," Florence explained. "I expect he's just brute
enough to drive him off."

"Yes'm," said Mrs. Silver. "He git madder ev'y time somebody sen' her
new pet. You' grampaw mighty nervous man, an' everlas'n'ly do hate
animals."

"He hasn't seen Gammire, has he?"

"Don't look like it, do it?" said Kitty Silver. "Dog here yit."

"Well, then I----" Florence paused, glancing at Herbert, for she had
just been visited by a pleasant idea and had no wish to share it with
him. "Is Aunt Julia in the house?"

"She were, li'l while ago."

"I want to see her about somep'n I ought to see her about," said
Florence. "I'll be out in a minute."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN


She ran into the house, and found Julia seated at a slim-legged desk,
writing a note.

"Aunt Julia, it's about Gammire."

"Gamin."

"What?"

"His name is Gamin."

"Kitty Silver says his name's Gammire."

"Yes," said Julia. "She would. His name is Gamin, though. He's a little
Parisian rascal, and his name is Gamin."

"Well, Aunt Julia, I'd rather call him Gammire. How much did he cost?"

"I don't know; he was brought to me only this morning, and I haven't
asked yet."

"But I thought somebody gave him to you."

"Yes; somebody did."

"Well, I mean," said Florence, "how much did the person that gave him to
you pay for him?"

Julia sighed. "I just explained, I haven't had a chance to ask."

Florence looked hurt. "I don't mean you _would_ ask 'em right out. I
just meant: Wouldn't you be liable to kind of hint around an' give 'em a
chance to tell you how much it was? You know perfeckly well it's the way
most the fam'ly do when they give each other somep'n pretty expensive,
Christmas or birthdays, and I thought proba'ly you'd----"

"No. I shouldn't be surprised, Florence, if nobody _ever_ got to know
how much Gamin cost."

"Well----" Florence said, and decided to approach her purpose on a new
tack. "Who was it trained him?"

"I understand that the person who gave him to me has played with him at
times during the few days he's been keeping him, but hasn't 'trained'
him particularly. French Poodles almost learn their own tricks if you
give them a chance. It's natural to them; they love to be little clowns
if you let them."

"But who was this person that gave him to you?"

Julia laughed. "It's a secret, Florence--like Gamin's price."

At this Florence looked piqued. "Well, I guess I got _some_ manners!"
she exclaimed. "I know as well as you do, Aunt Julia, there's no
etiquette in coming right square out and asking how much it was when
somebody goes and makes you a present. I'm certainly enough of a lady to
keep my mouth shut when it's more polite to! But I don't see what harm
there is in telling who it is that gives anybody a present."

"No harm at all," Julia murmured as she sealed the note she had written.
Then she turned smilingly to face her niece. "Only I'm not going to."

"Well, then, Aunt Julia"--and now Florence came to her point--"what I
wanted to know is just simply the plain and simple question: Will you
give this dog Gammire to me?"

Julia leaned forward, laughing, and suddenly clapped her hands together,
close to Florence's face. "No, I won't!" she cried. "There!"

The niece frowned, lines of anxiety appearing upon her forehead. "Well,
why won't you?"

"I won't do it!"

"But, Aunt Julia, I think you ought to!"

"Why ought I to?"

"Because----" said Florence. "Well, it's necessary."

"Why?"

"Because you know as well as I do what's bound to happen to him!"

"What is?"

"Grandpa'll chase him off," said Florence. "He'll take after him the
minute he lays eyes on him, and scare him to death--and then he'll get
lost, and he won't be _anybody's_ dog! I should think you'd just as lief
he'd be my dog as have him chased all over town till a street car hits
him or somep'n."

But Julia shook her head. "That hasn't happened yet."

"It _did_ happen with every other one you ever had," Florence urged
plaintively. "He chased 'em every last one off the place, and they never
came back. You know perfectly well, Aunt Julia, grandpa's just bound to
hate this dog, and you know just exactly how he'll act about him."

"No, I don't," said Julia. "Not just _exactly_."

"Well, anyway, you know he'll behave awful."

"It's probable," the aunt admitted.

"He always does," Florence continued. "He behaves awful about everything
I ever heard about. He----"

"I'll go pretty far with you, Florence," Julia interposed, "but we'd
better leave him a loophole. You know he's a constant attendant at
church and contributes liberally to many good causes."

"Oh, you know what I mean! I mean he always acts horrable about
anything pleasant. Of course I know he's a _good_ man, and everything; I
just mean the way he behaves is perfeckly disgusting. So what's the use
your not givin' me this dog? You won't have him yourself as soon as
grandpa comes home to lunch in an hour or so."

"Oh, yes, I will!"

"Grandpa hasn't already seen him, has he?"

"No."

"Then what makes you say----"

"He isn't coming home to lunch. He won't be home till five o'clock this
afternoon."

"Well, then, about six you won't have any dog, and poor little
Gammire'll get run over by an automobile some time this very evening!"
Florence's voice became anguished in the stress of her appeal. "Aunt
Julia, _won't_ you give me this dog?"

Julia shook her head.

"Won't you, _please_?"

"No, dear."

"Aunt Julia, if it was Noble Dill gave you this dog----"

"Florence!" her aunt exclaimed. "What in the world makes you imagine
such absurd things? Poor Mr. Dill!"

"Well, if it was, I think you ought to give Gammire to me because I
_like_ Noble Dill, and I----"

But here her aunt laughed again and looked at her with some curiosity.
"You still do?" she asked. "What for?"

"Well," said Florence, swallowing, "he may be rather smallish for a man,
but he's very uncouth and distingrished-looking, and I think he doesn't
get to enjoy himself much. Grandpa talks about him so torrably
and--and----" Here, such was the unexpected depth of her feeling that
she choked, whereupon her aunt, overcome with laughter, but nevertheless
somewhat touched, sprang up and threw two pretty arms about her
charmingly.

"You _funny_ Florence!" she cried.

"Then will you give me Gammire?" Florence asked instantly.

"No. We'll bring him in the house now, and you can stay for lunch."

Florence was imperfectly consoled, but she had a thought that brightened
her a little.

"Well, there'll be an awful time when grandpa comes home this
afternoon--but it certainly will be inter'sting!"

She proved a true prophet, at least to the extent that when Mr. Atwater
opened his front gate that afternoon he was already in the presence of a
deeply interested audience whose observation was unknown to him. Through
the interstices of the lace curtains at an open window, the gaze of
Julia and Florence was concentrated upon him in a manner that might have
disquieted even so opinionated and peculiar a man as Mr. Atwater, had he
been aware of it; and Herbert likewise watched him fixedly from an
unseen outpost. Herbert had shown some recklessness, declaring loudly
that he intended to lounge in full view; but when the well-known form of
the ancestor was actually identified, coming up the street out of the
distance, the descendant changed his mind. The good green earth ceased
to seem secure; and Herbert climbed a tree. He surrounded himself with
the deepest foliage; and beneath him some outlying foothills of Kitty
Silver were visible, where she endeavoured to lurk in the concealment of
a lilac bush.

Gammire was the only person in view. He sat just in the middle of the
top step of the veranda, and his air was that of an endowed and settled
institution. What passing traffic there was interested him but vaguely,
not affecting the world to which he belonged--that world being this
house and yard, of which he felt himself now, beyond all question, the
official dog.

It had been a rather hard-working afternoon, for he had done everything
suggested to him as well as a great many other things that he thought of
himself. He had also made it clear that he had taken a fancy to
everybody, but recognized Julia to be the head of the house and of his
own universe; and though he was at the disposal of all her family and
friends, he was at her disposal first. Whithersoever she went, there
would he go also, unless she otherwise commanded. Just now she had
withdrawn, closing the door, but he understood that she intended no
permanent exclusion. Who was this newcomer at the gate?

The newcomer came to a halt, staring intolerantly. Then he advanced,
slamming the gate behind him. "Get out o' here!" he said. "You get off
the place!"

Gammire regarded him seriously, not moving, while Mr. Atwater cast an
eye about the lawn, seeming to search for something, and his gaze, thus
roving, was arrested by a slight movement of great areas behind a lilac
bush. It appeared that the dome of some public building had covered
itself with antique textiles and was endeavouring to hide there--a
failure.

"Kitty Silver!" he said. "What are you doing?"

"Suh?"

Debouching sidewise she came into fuller view, but retired a few steps.
"Whut I doin' whur, Mista Atwater?"

"How'd that dog get on my front steps?"

Her face became noncommittal entirely. "Thishere dog? He just settin'
there, suh."

"How'd he get in the yard?"

"Mus' somebody up an' brung him in."

"Who did it?"

"You mean: Who up an' brung him in, suh?"

"I mean: Who does he belong to?"

"Mus' be Miss Julia's. I reckon he is, so fur."

"What! She knows I don't allow dogs on the place."

"Yessuh."

Mr. Atwater's expression became more outraged and determined. "You mean
to say that somebody's trying to give her another dog after all I've
been through with----"

"It look that way, suh."

"Who did it?"

"Miss Julia ain't sayin'; an' me, I don' know who done it no mo'n the
lilies of the valley whut toil not neither do they spins."

In response, Mr. Atwater was guilty of exclamations lacking in courtesy;
and turning again toward Gammire, he waved his arm. "Didn't you hear me
tell you to get out of here?"

Gammire observed the gesture, and at once "sat up," placing his forepaws
over his nose in prayer, but Mr. Atwater was the more incensed.

"Get out of here, you woolly black scoundrel!"

Mrs. Silver uttered a cry of injury before she perceived that she had
mistaken her employer's intention. Gammire also appeared to mistake it,
for he came down upon the lawn, rose to his full height, on his "hind
legs," and in that humanlike posture "walked" in a wide circle. He did
this with an affectation of conscientiousness thoroughly hypocritical;
for he really meant to be humorous.

"My heavens!" Mr. Atwater cried, lamenting. "Somebody's given her one of
those things at last! I don't like _any_ kind of dog, but if there's one
dam thing on earth I _won't_ stand, it's a trick poodle!"

And while the tactless Gammire went on, "walking" a circle round him,
Mr. Atwater's eye furiously searched the borders of the path, the lawn,
and otherwheres, for anything that might serve as missile. He had never
kicked a dog, or struck one with his hand, in his life; he had a theory
that it was always better to throw something. "Idiot poodle!" he said.

But Gammire's tricks were not idiocy in the eyes of Mr. Atwater's
daughter, as she watched them. They had brought to her mind the tricks
of the Jongleur of Notre Dame, who had nothing to offer heaven itself,
to mollify heaven's rulers, except his entertainment of juggling and
nonsense; so that he sang his thin jocosities and played his poor tricks
before the sacred figure of the Madonna; but when the pious would have
struck him down for it, she miraculously came to life just long enough
to smile on him and show that he was right to offer his absurd best. And
thus, as Julia watched the little Jongleur upon the lawn, she saw this
was what he was doing: offering all he knew, hoping that someone might
laugh at him, and like him. And, not curiously, after all, if everything
were known, she found herself thinking of another foolish creature, who
had nothing in the world to offer anybody, except what came out of the
wistfulness of a foolish, loving heart. Then, though her lips smiled
faintly as she thought of Noble Dill, all at once a brightness trembled
along the eyelids of the Prettiest Girl in Town, and glimmered over, a
moment later, to shine upon her cheek.

"You get out!" Mr. Atwater shouted, "D'ye hear me, you poodle?"

He found the missile, a stone of fair diameter. He hurled it violently.

"_There_, darn you!"

The stone missed, and Gammire fled desperately after it.

"You get over that fence!" Mr. Atwater cried. "You wait till I find
another rock and I'll----"

He began to search for another stone, but, before he could find one,
Gammire returned with the first. He deposited it upon the ground at Mr.
Atwater's feet.

"There's your rock," he said.

Mr. Atwater looked down at him fiercely, and through the black
chrysanthemum two garnet sparks glinted waggishly.

"Didn't you hear me tell you what I'd do if you didn't get out o' here,
you darn poodle?"

Gammire "sat up," placed his forepaws together over his nose and
prayed. "There's your rock," he said. And he added, as clearly as if he
used a spoken language, "Let's get on with the game!"

Mr. Atwater turned to Kitty Silver. "Does he--does he know how to speak,
or shake hands, or anything like that?" he asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, as the peculiar old man sat at breakfast, he said to
the lady across the table: "Look here. Who did give Gamin to us?"

Julia bit her lip; she even cast down her eyes.

"Well, who was it?"

Her demureness still increased. "It was--Noble Dill."

Mr. Atwater was silent; he looked down and caught a clownish garnet
gleam out of a blackness neighbouring his knee. "Well, see here," he
said. "Why can't you--why can't you----"

"Why can't I what?"

"Why can't you sit out in the yard the next time he calls here, instead
of on the porch where it blows all through the house? It's just as
pleasant to sit under the trees, isn't it?"

"Pleasanter," said Julia.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN


By the end of October, with the dispersal of foliage that has served all
summer long as a screen for whatever small privacy may exist between
American neighbours, we begin to perceive the rise of our autumn high
tides of gossip. At this season of the year, in our towns of moderate
size and ambition, where apartment houses have not yet condensed and at
the same time sequestered the population, one may look over back yard
beyond back yard, both up and down the street; especially if one takes
the trouble to sit for an hour or so daily, upon the top of a high fence
at about the middle of a block.

Of course an adult who followed such a course would be thought peculiar,
no doubt he would be subject to inimical comment; but boys are
considered so inexplicable that they have gathered for themselves many
privileges denied their parents and elders, and a boy can do such a
thing as this to his full content, without anybody's thinking about it
at all. So it was that Herbert Illingsworth Atwater, Jr., sat for a
considerable time upon such a fence, after school hours, every afternoon
of the last week in October; and only one person particularly observed
him or was stimulated to any mental activity by his procedure. Even at
that, this person was affected only because she was Herbert's relative,
of an age sympathetic to his and of a sex antipathetic.

In spite of the fact that Herbert, thus seriously disporting himself on
his father's back fence, attracted only an audience of one (and she
hostile at a rather distant window) his behaviour might well have been
thought piquant by anybody. After climbing to the top of the fence he
would produce from interior pockets a small memorandum-book and a
pencil. His expression was gravely alert, his manner more than
businesslike; yet nobody could have failed to comprehend that he was
enjoying himself, especially when his attitude became tenser, as it
frequently did. Then he would rise, balancing himself at adroit ease,
his feet one before the other on the inner rail, below the top of the
boards, and with eyes dramatically shielded beneath a scoutish palm, he
would gaze sternly in the direction of some object or movement that had
attracted his attention and then, having satisfied himself of something
or other, he would sit and decisively enter a note in his
memorandum-book.

He was not always alone; sometimes he was joined by a friend, male, and,
though shorter than Herbert, about as old; and this companion was
inspired, it seemed, by motives precisely similar to those from which
sprang Herbert's own actions. Like Herbert he would sit upon the top of
the high fence; like Herbert he would rise at intervals, for the better
study of something this side the horizon; then, also like Herbert, he
would sit again and write firmly in a little notebook. And seldom in the
history of the world have any such sessions been invested by the
participants with so intentional an appearance of importance.

That was what most irritated their lone observer at the somewhat distant
upstairs back window. The important importance of Herbert and his friend
was so extreme as to be all too plainly visible across four intervening
broad back yards; in fact, there was sometimes reason to suspect that
the two performers were aware of their audience and even of her goaded
condition; and that they deliberately increased the outrageousness of
their importance on her account. And upon the Saturday of that week,
when the notebook writers were upon the fence the greater part of the
afternoon, Florence's fascinated indignation became vocal.

"Vile Things!" she said.

Her mother, sewing beside another window of the room, looked up
inquiringly.

"What are, Florence?"

"Cousin Herbert and that nasty little Henry Rooter."

"Are you watching them again?" her mother asked.

"Yes, I am," said Florence; and added tartly, "Not because I care to,
but merely to amuse myself at their expense."

Mrs. Atwater murmured, "Couldn't you find some other way to amuse
yourself, Florence?"

"I don't call this amusement," the inconsistent girl responded, not
without chagrin. "Think I'd spend all my days starin' at Herbert
Illingsworth Atwater, Junior, and that nasty little Henry Rooter, and
call it _amusement_?"

"Then why do you do it?"

"Why do I do _what_, mamma?" Florence inquired, as in despair of Mrs.
Atwater's ever learning to put things clearly.

"Why do you 'spend all your days' watching them? You don't seem able to
keep away from the window, and it appears to make you irritable. I
should think if they wouldn't let you play with them you'd be too
proud----"

"Oh, good heavens, mamma!"

"Don't use such expressions, Florence, please."

"Well," said Florence, "I got to use _some_ expression when you accuse
me of wantin' to 'play' with those two vile things! My goodness mercy,
mamma, I don't want to 'play' with 'em! I'm more than four years old, I
guess; though you don't ever seem willing to give me credit for it. I
don't haf to 'play' all the time, mamma: and anyway, Herbert and that
nasty little Henry Rooter aren't playing, either."

"Aren't they?" Mrs. Atwater inquired. "I thought the other day you said
you wanted them to let you play with them at being a newspaper reporter
or editor or something like that, and they were rude and told you to go
away. Wasn't that it?"

Florence sighed. "No, mamma, it cert'nly wasn't."

"They weren't rude to you?"

"Yes, they cert'nly were!"

"Well, then----"

"Mamma, _can't_ you understand?" Florence turned from the window to
beseech Mrs. Atwater's concentration upon the matter. "It isn't
'_playing_'! I didn't want to 'play' being a reporter; _they_ ain't
'playing'----"

"_Aren't_ playing, Florence."

"Yes'm. They're not. Herbert's got a real printing-press; Uncle Joseph
gave it to him. It's a _real_ one, mamma, can't you understand?"

"I'll try," said Mrs. Atwater. "You mustn't get so excited about it,
Florence."

"I'm not!" Florence returned vehemently. "I guess it'd take more than
those two vile things and their old printing-press to get _me_ excited!
_I_ don't care what they do; it's far less than nothing to me! All _I_
wish is they'd fall off the fence and break their vile ole necks!"

With this manifestation of impersonal calmness, she turned again to the
window; but her mother protested. "Do quit watching those foolish boys;
you mustn't let them upset you so by their playing."

Florence moaned. "They don't 'upset' me, mamma! They have no effects on
me by the slightest degree! And I _told_ you, mamma, they're not
'playing'."

"Then what are they doing?"

"Well, they're having a newspaper. They got the printing-press and an
office in Herbert's stable, and everything. They got somebody to give
'em some ole banisters and a railing from a house that was torn down
somewheres, and then they got it stuck up in the stable loft, so it runs
across with a kind of a gate in the middle of these banisters, and on
one side is the printing-press and a desk from that nasty little Henry
Rooter's mother's attic; and a table and some chairs, and a map on the
wall; and that's their newspaper office. They go out and look for what's
the news, and write it down in lead pencil; and then they go up to their
office and write it in ink; and then they print it for their newspaper."

"But what do they do on the fence?"

"That's where they go to watch what the news is," Florence explained
morosely. "They think they're so grand, sittin' up there, pokin' around!
They go other places, too; and they ask people. That's all they said _I_
could be!" Here the lady's bitterness became strongly intensified. "They
said maybe I could be one o' the ones they asked if I knew anything,
sometimes, if they happened to think of it! I just respectf'ly told 'em
I'd decline to wipe my oldest shoes on 'em to save their lives!"

Mrs. Atwater sighed. "You mustn't use such expressions, Florence."

"I don't see why not," the daughter promptly objected. "They're a lot
more refined than the expressions they used on me!"

"Then I'm very glad you didn't play with them."

But at this, Florence once more gave way to filial despair. "Mamma, you
just _can't_ see through anything! I've said anyhow fifty times they
ain't--aren't--playing! They're getting up a _real_ newspaper, and have
people _buy_ it and everything. They been all over this part of town and
got every aunt and uncle they have besides their own fathers and
mothers, and some people in the neighbourhood, and Kitty Silver and two
or three other coloured people besides. They're going to charge
twenty-five cents a year, collect-in-advance because they want the money
first; and even papa gave 'em a quarter last night; he told me so."

"How often do they intend to publish their paper, Florence?" Mrs.
Atwater inquired absently, having resumed her sewing.

"Every week; and they're goin' to have the first one a week from
to-day."

"What do they call it?"

"The North End Daily Oriole. It's the silliest name I ever heard for a
newspaper; and I told 'em so. I told 'em what _I_ thought of it, I
guess!"

"Was that the reason?" Mrs. Atwater asked.

"Was it what reason, mamma?"

"Was it the reason they wouldn't let you be a reporter with them?"

"Poot!" Florence exclaimed airily. "_I_ didn't want anything to do with
their ole paper. But anyway I didn't make fun o' their callin' it 'The
North End Daily Oriole' till after they said I couldn't be in it. _Then_
I did, you bet!"

"Florence, don't say----"

"Mamma, I got to say somep'n! Well, I told 'em I wouldn't be in their
ole paper if they begged me on their bented knees; and I said if they
begged me a thousand years I wouldn't be in any paper with such a crazy
name and I wouldn't tell 'em any news if I knew the President of the
United States had the scarlet fever! I just politely informed 'em they
could say what they liked, if they was dying _I_ declined so much as
wipe the oldest shoes I got on 'em!"

"But why _wouldn't_ they let you be on the paper?" her mother insisted.

Upon this Florence became analytical. "Just so's they could act so
important." And she added, as a consequence, "They ought to be
arrested!"

Mrs. Atwater murmured absently, but forbore to press her inquiry; and
Florence was silent, in a brooding mood. The journalists upon the fence
had disappeared from view, during her conversation with her mother; and
presently she sighed, and quietly left the room. She went to her own
apartment, where, at a small and rather battered little white desk,
after a period of earnest reverie, she took up a pen, wet the point in
purple ink, and without great effort or any critical delayings, produced
a poem.

It was in a sense an original poem, though like the greater number of
all literary projections, it was so strongly inspirational that the
source of its inspiration might easily become manifest to a cold-blooded
reader. Nevertheless, to the poetess herself, as she explained later in
good faith, the words just seemed to _come to_ her;--doubtless with
either genius or some form of miracle implied; for sources of
inspiration are seldom recognized by inspired writers themselves. She
had not long ago been party to a musical Sunday afternoon at her
Great-Uncle Joseph's house, where Mr. Clairdyce sang some of his songs
again and again, and her poem may have begun to coagulate within her
then.


                     THE ORGANEST

                  BY FLORENCE ATWATER

    The organest was seated at his organ in a church,
    In some beautiful woods of maple and birch,
    He was very weary while he played upon the keys,
    But he was a great organest and always played with ease,
              When the soul is weary,
              And the wind is dreary,
    I would like to be an organest seated all day at the organ,
    Whether my name might be Fairchild or Morgan,
              I would play music like a vast amen,
              The way it sounds in a church of men.

Florence read her poem seven or eight times, the deepening pleasure of
her expression being evidence that repetition failed to denature this
work, but on the contrary, enhanced an appreciative surprise at its
singular merit. Finally she folded the sheet of paper with a delicate
carefulness unusual to her, and placed it in her skirt pocket; then she
went downstairs and out into the back yard. Her next action was
straightforward and anything but prudish; she climbed the high wooden
fences, one after the other, until she came to a pause at the top of
that whereon the two journalists had lately made themselves so odiously
impressive.

Before her, if she had but taken note of them, were a lesson in history
and the markings of a profound transition in human evolution. Beside the
old frame stable was a little brick garage, obviously put to the daily
use intended by its designer. Quite as obviously the stable was
obsolete; anybody would have known from its outside that there was no
horse within it. There, visible, was the end of the pastoral age.

All this was lost upon Florence. She sat upon the fence, her gaze
unfavourably though wistfully fixed upon a sign of no special aesthetic
merit above the stable door.

        THE NORTH END DAILY ORIOLE
        ATWATER & ROOTER OWNERS &
    PROPREITORS SUBSCRIBE NOW 25 CENTS

The inconsistency of the word "daily" did not trouble Florence;
moreover, she had found no fault with "Oriole" until the Owners &
Propreitors had explained to her in the plainest terms known to their
vocabularies that she was excluded from the enterprise. Then, indeed,
she had been reciprocally explicit in regard not only to them and
certain personal characteristics of theirs, which she pointed out as
fundamental, but in regard to any newspaper which should deliberately
call itself an "Oriole." The partners remained superior in manner,
though unable to conceal a natural resentment; they had adopted "Oriole"
not out of a sentiment for the city of Baltimore, nor, indeed, on
account of any ornithologic interest of theirs, but as a relic left over
from an abandoned club or secret society, which they had previously
contemplated forming, its members to be called "The Orioles" for no
reason whatever. The two friends had talked of this plan at many
meetings throughout the summer, and when Mr. Joseph Atwater made his
great-nephew the unexpected present of a printing-press, and a newspaper
consequently took the place of the club, Herbert and Henry still
entertained an affection for their former scheme and decided to
perpetuate the name. They were the more sensitive to attack upon it by
an ignorant outsider and girl like Florence, and her chance of
ingratiating herself with them, if that could be now her intention, was
not a promising one.

She descended from the fence with pronounced inelegance, and,
approaching the old double doors of the "carriage-house," which were
open, paused to listen. Sounds from above assured her that the editors
were editing--or at least that they could be found at their place of
business. Therefore, she ascended the cobwebby stairway, emerged from it
into the former hay loft, and thus made her appearance in the
printing-room of _The North End Daily Oriole_.

Herbert, frowning with the burden of composition, sat at a table beyond
the official railing, and his partner was engaged at the press,
earnestly setting type. This latter person (whom Florence so seldom
named otherwise than as "that nasty little Henry Rooter") was of a pure,
smooth, fair-haired appearance, and strangely clean for his age and
occupation. His profile was of a symmetry he had not yet himself begun
to appreciate; his dress was scrupulous and modish; and though he was
short, nothing outward about him confirmed the more sinister of
Florence's two adjectives. Nevertheless, her poor opinion of him was
plain in her expression as she made her present intrusion upon his
working hours. He seemed to reciprocate.

"Listen! Didn't I and Herbert tell you to keep out o' here?" he said.
"Look at her, Herbert! She's back again!"

"You get out o' here, Florence," said Herbert, abandoning his task with
a look of pain. "How often we got to tell you we don't want you around
here when we're in our office like this?"

"For Heaven's sake!" Henry Rooter thought fit to add. "Can't you quit
runnin' up and down our office stairs once in a while, long enough for
us to get our newspaper work done? Can't you give us a little _peace_?"

The pinkiness of Florence's altering complexion was justified; she had
not been within a thousand miles of their old office for four days. With
some heat she stated this to be the fact, adding, "And I only came then
because I knew somebody ought to see that this stable isn't ruined. It's
my own uncle and aunt's stable, I guess, isn't it? Answer me that, if
you'll kindly please to do so!"

"It's my father and mother's stable," Herbert asserted. "Haven't I got a
right to say who's allowed in my own father and mother's stable?"

"You have not," the prompt Florence replied. "It's my own uncle and
aunt's stable, and I got as much right here as anybody."

"You have not!" Henry Rooter protested hotly. "This isn't either your
ole aunt and uncle's stable."

"_It isn't_?"

"No, it is not! This isn't anybody's stable. It's my and Herbert's
Newspaper Building, and I guess you haven't got the face to stand there
and claim you got a right to go in a Newspaper Building and say you got
a right there when everybody tells you to stay outside of it, I guess!"

"Oh, haven't I?"

"No, you 'haven't--I'!" Mr. Rooter maintained bitterly. "You just walk
down town and go in any Newspaper Buildings down there and tell 'em you
got a right to stay there all day long when they tell you to get out o'
there! Just try it! That's all I ask!"

Florence uttered a cry of derision. "And pray, whoever told you I was
bound to do everything you ask me to, Mister Henry Rooter?" And she
concluded by reverting to that hostile impulse, so ancient, which, in
despair of touching an antagonist effectively, reflects upon his
ancestors. "If you got anything you want to ask, you go ask your
grandmother!"

"Here!" Herbert sprang to his feet. "You try and behave like a lady!"

"Who'll make me?" she inquired.

"You got to behave like a lady as long as you're in our Newspaper
Building, anyway," Herbert said ominously. "If you expect to come up
here after you been told five dozen times to keep out----"

"For Heaven's sakes!" his partner interposed. "When we goin' to get our
newspaper _work_ done? She's _your_ cousin; I should think you could get
her out!"

"Well, I'm goin' to, ain't I?" Herbert protested plaintively. "I expect
to get her out, don't I?"

"Oh, do you?" Miss Atwater inquired, with severe mockery. "Pray, how
would you expect to accomplish it, pray?"

Herbert looked desperate, but was unable to form a reply consistent with
a few new rules of etiquette and gallantry that he had begun to observe
during the past year or so. "Now, see here, Florence," he said. "You're
old enough to know when people tell you to keep out of a place, why, it
means they want you to stay away from there."

Florence remained cold to this reasoning. "Oh, Poot!" she said.

"Now, look here!" her cousin remonstrated, and went on with his
argument. "We got our newspaper work to do, and you ought to have sense
enough to know newspaper work like this newspaper work we got on _our_
hands here isn't--well, it ain't any child's play."

His partner appeared to approve of the expression, for he nodded
severely and then used it himself. "No, you _bet_ it isn't any child's
play!" he said.

"No, sir," Herbert continued. "This newspaper work we got on our hands
here isn't any child's play."

"No, sir," Henry Rooter again agreed. "Newspaper work like this isn't
any child's play at _all_!"

"It isn't any child's play, Florence," said Herbert. "It ain't any
child's play at all, Florence. If it was just child's play or something
like that, why, it wouldn't matter so much your always pokin' up here,
and----"

"Well," his partner interrupted judicially;--"we wouldn't want her
around, even if it _was_ child's play."

"No, we wouldn't; that's so," Herbert agreed. "We wouldn't want you
around, anyhow, Florence." Here his tone became more plaintive. "So, for
mercy's sakes can't you go on home and give us a little rest? What you
want, anyhow?"

"Well, I guess it's about time you was askin' me that," she said, not
unreasonably. "If you'd asked me that in the first place, instead of
actin' like you'd never been taught anything, and was only fit to
associate with hoodlums, perhaps my time is of _some_ value, myself!"

Here the lack of rhetorical cohesion was largely counteracted by the
strong expressiveness of her tone and manner, which made clear her
position as a person of worth, dealing with the lowest of her inferiors.
She went on, not pausing:

"I thought being as I was related to you, and all the family and
everybody else is goin' to haf to read your ole newspaper, anyway it'd
be a good thing if what was printed in it wasn't _all_ a disgrace to the
family, because the name of our family's got mixed up with this
newspaper;--so here!"

Thus speaking, she took the poem from her pocket and with dignity held
it forth to her cousin.

"What's that?" Herbert inquired, not moving a hand. He was but an
amateur, yet already enough of an editor to be suspicious.

"It's a poem," Florence said. "I don't know whether I exackly ought to
have it in your ole newspaper or not, but on account of the family's
sake I guess I better. Here, take it."

Herbert at once withdrew a few steps, placing his hands behind him.
"Listen here," he said;--"you think we got time to read a lot o' nothin'
in your ole hand-writin' that nobody can read anyhow, and then go and
toil and moil to print it on our printin'-press? I guess we got work
enough printin' what we write for our newspaper our own selves! My
goodness, Florence, I _told_ you this isn't any child's play!"

For the moment, Florence appeared to be somewhat baffled. "Well," she
said. "Well, you better put this poem in your ole newspaper if you want
to have anyhow one thing in it that won't make everybody sick that reads
it."

"_I_ won't do it!" Herbert said decisively.

"What you take us for?" his partner added.

"All right, then," Florence responded. "I'll go and tell Uncle Joseph
and he'll take this printing-press back."

"He will not take it back. I already did tell him how you kept pokin'
around, tryin' to _run_ everything, and how we just worried our lives
out tryin' to keep you away. He said he bet it was a hard job; that's
what Uncle Joseph said! So go on, tell him anything you want to. You
don't get your ole poem in _our_ newspaper!"

"Not if she lived to be two hunderd years old!" Henry Rooter added.
Then he had an afterthought. "Not unless she pays for it."

"How do you mean?" Herbert asked, puzzled by this codicil.

Now Henry's brow had become corrugated with no little professional
impressiveness. "You know what we were talkin' about this morning?" he
said. "How the right way to run our newspaper, we ought to have some
advertisements in it and everything? Well, we want money, don't we? We
could put this poem in our newspaper like an advertisement;--that is, if
Florence has got any money, we could."

Herbert frowned. "If her ole poem isn't too long I guess we could. Here,
let's see it, Florence." And, taking the sheet of paper in his hand, he
studied the dimensions of the poem, without paining himself to read it.
"Well, I guess, maybe we can do it," he said. "How much ought we to
charge her?"

This question sent Henry Rooter into a state of calculation, while
Florence observed him with veiled anxiety; but after a time he looked
up, his brow showing continued strain. "Do you keep a bank,
Florence--for nickels and dimes and maybe quarters, you know?" he
inquired.

It was her cousin who impulsively replied for her. "No, she don't," he
said.

"Not since I was about seven years old!" And Florence added sharply,
though with dignity: "Do you still make mud pies in your back yard,
pray?"

"Now, see here!" Henry objected. "Try and be a lady anyway for a few
minutes, can't you? I got to figure out how much we got to charge you
for your ole poem, don't I?"

"Well, then," Florence returned, "you better ask _me_ somep'n about
that, hadn't you?"

"Well," said Henry Rooter, "have you got any money at home?"

"No, I haven't."

"Have you got any money with you?"

"Yes, I have."

"How much is it?"

"I won't tell you."

Henry frowned. "I guess we ought to make her pay about two dollars and a
half," he said, turning to his partner.

Herbert became deferential; it seemed to him that he had formed a
business association with a genius, and for a moment he was dazzled;
then he remembered Florence's financial capacities, always well known
to him, and he looked depressed. Florence, herself, looked indignant.

"Two dollars and a half!" she cried. "Why, I could buy this whole place
for two dollars and a half, printing-press, railing, and all--yes, and
you thrown in, Mister Henry Rooter!"

"See here, Florence," Henry said earnestly. "Haven't you got two dollars
and a half?"

"Of course she hasn't!" his partner assured him. "She never had two
dollars and a half in her life!"

"Well, then," said Henry gloomily, "what we goin' to do about it? How
much _you_ think we ought to charge her?"

Herbert's expression became noncommittal. "Just let me think a minute,"
he said, and with his hand to his brow he stepped behind the
unsuspicious Florence.

"I got to think," he murmured; then with the straightforwardness of his
age, he suddenly seized his damsel cousin from the rear and held her in
a tight but far from affectionate embrace, pinioning her arms. She
shrieked, "Murder!" and "Let me go!" and "Help! Hay-yulp!"

"Look in her pocket," Herbert shouted. "She keeps her money in her skirt
pocket when she's got any. It's on the left side of her. Don't let her
kick you! Look out!"

"I got it!" said the dexterous Henry, retreating and exhibiting coins.
"It's one dime and two nickels--twenty cents. Has she got any more
pockets?"

"No, I haven't!" Florence fiercely informed him, as Herbert released
her. "And I guess you better hand that money back if you don't want to
be arrested for stealing!"

But Henry was unmoved. "Twenty cents," he said calculatingly. "Well, all
right; it isn't much, but you can have your poem in our newspaper for
twenty cents, Florence. If you don't want to pay that much, why, take
your ole twenty cents and go on away."

"Yes," said Herbert. "That's as cheap as we'll do it, Florence. Take it
or leave it."

"Take it or leave it," Henry Rooter agreed. "That's the way to talk to
her; take it or leave it, Florence. If you don't take it you got to
leave it."

Florence was indignant, but she decided to take it. "All right," she
said coldly. "I wouldn't pay another cent if I died for it."

"Well, you haven't got another cent, so that's all right," Mr. Rooter
remarked; and he honourably extended an open palm toward his partner.
"Here, Herbert; you can have the dime, or the two nickels, whichever you
rather. It makes no difference to me; I'd as soon have one as the
other."

Herbert took the two nickels, and turned to Florence. "See here,
Florence," he said, in a tone of strong complaint. "This business is all
done and paid for now. What you want to hang around here any _more_
for?"

"Yes, Florence," his partner faithfully seconded him, at once. "We
haven't got any more time to waste around here to-day, and so what you
want to stand around in the way and everything for? You ought to know
yourself we don't want you."

"I'm not in the way," said Florence hotly. "Whose way am I in?"

"Well, anyhow, if you don't go," Herbert informed her, "we'll carry you
downstairs and lock you out."

"I'd just like to see you!" she returned, her eyes flashing. "Just you
dare to lay a finger on me again!" And she added, "Anyway, if you did,
those ole doors haven't got any lock on 'em: I'll come right back in and
walk right straight up the stairs again!"

Herbert advanced toward her. "Now you pay attention, to me," he said.
"You've paid for your ole poem, and we got to have some peace around
here. I'm goin' straight over to your mother and ask her to come and get
you."

Florence gave up. "What difference would _that_ make, Mister
Taddletale?" she inquired mockingly. "_I_ wouldn't be here when she
came, would I? I'll thank you to notice there's some value to my time,
myself; and I'll just politely ask you to excuse me, pray!"



CHAPTER SIXTEEN


With a proud air she crushingly departed, returning to her own home far
from dissatisfied with what she had accomplished. Moreover, she began to
expand with the realization of a new importance; and she was gratified
with the effect upon her parents, at dinner that evening, when she
informed them that she had written a poem, which was to be published in
the prospective first number of _The North End Daily Oriole_.

"Written a _poem_?" said her father. "Well, I declare! Why, that's
remarkable, Florence!"

"I'm glad the boys were nice about it," said her mother. "I should have
feared they couldn't appreciate it, after being so cross to you about
letting you have anything to do with the printing-press. They must have
thought it was a very good poem."

"Where is the poem, Florence?" Mr. Atwater asked. "Let's read it and see
what our little girl can do when she really tries."

Unfortunately Florence had not a copy, and when she informed her father
of this fact, he professed himself greatly disappointed as well as eager
for the first appearance of _The Oriole_, that he might felicitate
himself upon the evidence of his daughter's heretofore unsuspected
talent. Florence was herself anxious for the newspaper's début, and she
made her anxiety so clear to Atwater & Rooter, Owners & Propreitors,
every afternoon after school, during the following week, that by
Thursday further argument and repartee on their part were felt to be
indeed futile; and in order to have a little peace around there, they
carried her downstairs. At least, they defined their action as
"carrying," and, having deposited her in the yard, they were obliged to
stand guard at the doors, which they closed and contrived to hold
against her until her strength was worn out for that day.

Florence consoled herself. During the week she dropped in on all the
members of "the family"--her grandfather, uncles and aunts and cousins,
her great-aunts and great-uncles--and in each instance, after no
protracted formal preliminaries, lightly remarked that she wrote poetry
now; her first to appear in the forthcoming _Oriole_. And when
Great-Aunt Carrie said, "Why, Florence, you're wonderful! I couldn't
write a poem to save my life. I never _could_ see how they do it,"
Florence laughed, made a deprecatory little side motion with her head,
and responded, "Why, Aunt Carrie, that's nothing! It just kind of comes
to you."

This also served as her explanation when some of her school friends
expressed their admiration, after being told the news in confidence;
though to one of the teachers she said, smiling ruefully, as in
remembrance of midnight oil, "It _does_ take work, of course!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When opportunity offered, upon the street, she joined people she knew
(or even rather distant acquaintances) to walk with them a little way
and lead the conversation to the subject of poetry, including her own
contribution to that art. Altogether, if Florence was not in a fair way
to become a poetic celebrity it was not her own fault but entirely that
of _The North End Daily Oriole_, which was to make its appearance on
Saturday, but failed to do so on account of too much enthusiasm on the
part of Atwater & Rooter in manipulating the printing-press. It broke,
had to be repaired; and Florence, her nerves upset by the accident,
demanded her money back. This was impossible, and the postponement
proved to be but an episode; moreover, it gave her time to let more
people know of the treat that was coming.

Among these was Noble Dill. Until the Friday following her
disappointment she had found no opportunity to acquaint her Very Ideal
with the news; and but for an encounter partly due to chance, he might
not have heard of it. A sentimental enrichment of colour in her cheeks
was the result of her catching sight of him, as she was on the point of
opening and entering her own front door, that afternoon, on her return
from school. He was passing the house, walking somewhat dreamily.

Florence stepped into the sheltering vestibule, peeping round it with
earnest eyes to watch him as he went by; obviously he had taken no note
of her. Satisfied of this, she waited until he was at a little distance,
then ran lightly down to the gate, hurried after him and joined him.

"Why, Mr. Dill!" she exclaimed, in her mother's most polished manner.
"How supprising to see _you_! I presume as we both happen to be walking
the same direction we might just's well keep together."

"Surprising to see me?" Noble said vaguely. "I haven't been away
anywhere in particular, Florence." Then, at a thought, he brightened.
"I'm glad to see you, Florence. Do you know if any of your family or
relatives have heard when your Aunt Julia is coming home?"

"Aunt Julia? She's out of town," said Florence. "She's visiting
different people she used to know when she was away at school."

"Yes, I know," Mr. Dill returned. "But she's been gone six weeks."

"Oh, I don't believe it's that long," Florence said casually; then with
more earnestness: "Mr. Dill, I was goin' to ask you somep'n--it's kind
of a funny question for _me_ to ask, but----"

"Yes, she has," Noble interrupted, not aware that his remark was an
interruption. "Oh, yes, she has!" he said. "It was six weeks
day-before-yesterday afternoon. I saw your father downtown this morning,
and he said he didn't know that any of the family had heard just when
she was coming home. I thought maybe some of your relatives had a letter
from her by this afternoon's mail, perhaps."

"I guess not," said Florence. "Mr. Dill, there was a question I thought
I'd ask you. It's kind of a funny question for _me_----"

"Are you _sure_ nobody's heard from your Aunt Julia to-day?" Noble
insisted.

"I guess they haven't. Mr. Dill, I was goin' to ask you----"

"It's strange," he murmured, "I don't see how people can enjoy visits
that long. I should think they'd get anxious about what might happen at
home."

"Oh, grandpa's all right; he says he kind of likes to have the house
nice and quiet to himself; and anyway Aunt Julia enjoys visiting,"
Florence assured him. "Aunt Fanny saw a newspaper from one the places
where Aunt Julia's visiting her school room-mate. It had her picture in
it and called her 'the famous Northern Beauty'; it was down South
somewhere. Well, Mr. Dill, I was just sayin' I believe I'd ask you----"

But a sectional rancour seemed all at once to affect the young man. "Oh,
yes. I heard about that," he said. "Your Aunt Fanny lent my mother the
newspaper. Those people in _that_ part of the country--well----" He
paused, remembering that it was only Florence he addressed; and he
withheld from utterance his opinion that the Civil War ought to be
fought all over again. "Your father said your grandfather hadn't heard
from her for several days, and even then she hadn't said when she was
coming home."

"No, I expect she didn't," said Florence. "Mr. Dill, I was goin' to ask
you somep'n--it's kind of a queer kind of question for _me_ to ask, I
guess----" She paused. However, he did not interrupt her, seeming
preoccupied with gloom; whereupon Florence permitted herself a
deprecatory laugh, and continued, "It might be you'd answer yes, or it
might be you'd answer no; but anyway I was goin' to ask you--it's kind
of a funny question for _me_ to ask, I expect--but do you like poetry?"

"What?"

"Well, as things have turned out lately I guess it's kind of a funny
question, Mr. Dill, but do you like poetry?"

Noble's expression took on a coldness; for the word brought to his mind
a thought of Newland Sanders. "Do I like poetry?" said Noble. "No, I
don't."

Florence was momentarily discouraged; but at her age people usually
possess an invaluable faculty, which they lose later in life; and it is
a pity that they do lose it. At thirteen--especially the earlier months
of thirteen--they are still able to set aside and dismiss from their
minds almost any facts, no matter how audibly those facts have asked for
recognition. Children superbly allow themselves to become deaf, so to
speak, to undesirable circumstances; most frequently, of course, to
undesirable circumstances in the way of parental direction; so that
fathers, mothers, nurses, or governesses, not comprehending that this
mental deafness is for the time being entirely genuine, are liable to
hoarseness both of throat and temper. Thirteen is an age when the fading
of this gift or talent, one of the most beautiful of childhood, begins
to impair its helpfulness under the mistaken stress of discipline; but
Florence retained something of it. In a moment or two Noble Dill's
disaffection toward poetry was altogether as if it did not exist.

She coughed, inclined her head a little to one side, in her mother's
manner of politeness to callers, and, repeating her deprecatory laugh,
remarked: "Well, of course it's kind of a funny question for _me_ to
ask, of course."

"What is, Florence?" Noble inquired absently.

"Well--what I was saying was that 'course it's sort of queer _me_ askin'
if you liked poetry, of course, on account of my _writing_ poetry the
way I do now."

She looked up at him with a bright readiness to respond modestly to
whatever exclamation his wonder should dictate; but Noble's attention
had straggled again.

"Has she written your mother lately?" he asked.

Florence's expression denoted a mental condition slightly disturbed.
"No," she said. "It's goin' to be printed in _The North End Daily
Oriole_."

"What?"

"My poem. It's about a vast amen--anyhow, that's proba'ly the best thing
in it, I guess--and they're goin' to have it out to-morrow, or else
they'll have to settle with _me_; that's one thing certain! I'll bring
one over to your house and leave it at the door for you, Mr. Dill."

Noble had but a confused notion of what she thus generously promised.
However, he said, "Thank you," and nodded vaguely.

"Of course, I don't know as it's so awful good," Florence admitted
insincerely. "The family all seem to think it's something pretty much;
but I don't know if it is or not. _Really_, I don't!"

"No," said Noble, still confused. "I suppose not."

"I'm half way through another one I think myself'll be a good deal
better. I'm not goin' as fast with it as I did with the other one, and I
expect it'll be quite a ways ahead of this one." She again employed the
deprecatory little laugh. "I don't know how I do it, myself. The family
all think it's sort of funny I don't know how I do it, myself; but
that's the way it is. They all say if they could do it they're sure
they'd know how they did it; but I guess they're wrong. I presume if you
can do it, why, it just _comes_ to you. Don't you presume that's the way
it is, Mr. Dill?"

"I--guess so." They had reached his gate, and he stopped. "You're sure
none of your family have heard anything to-day?" he asked anxiously.

"From Aunt Julia? I don't think they have."

He sighed, and opened the gate. "Well, good evening, Florence."

"Good evening." Her eyes followed him wistfully as he passed within the
enclosure; then she turned and walked quickly toward her own home; but
at the corner of the next fence she called back over her shoulder, "I'll
leave it with your mother for you, if you're not home when I bring it."

"What?" he shouted, from his front door.

"I'll leave it with your _mother_."

"Leave what?"

"The _poem_!"

"Oh!" said Noble. "Thanks!"

But when his mother handed him a copy of the first issue of _The North
End Daily Oriole_, the next day, when he came home to lunch, he read it
without edification; there was nothing about Julia in it.

                     THE NORTH END DAILY ORIOLE

                Atwater & Rooter Owners & Propreitors

                  SUBSCRIBE NOW 25 Cents Per Year

    Subscriptions shloud be brought to the East etrance of Atwater
    & Rooter Newspaper Building every afternoon 4.30 to 6.  25 cents.

               =======================================

                         NEWS OF THE CITY

                            ----------

    The Candidates for mayor at the election are Mr P. N. Gordon and
    John T Milo. The contest is very great between these candidates.

    Holcombs chickens get in MR. Joseph Atwater's yard a god deal
    lately. He says chickens are out of place in a city of this size.

    Minnie the cook of Mr. F. L. Smith's residisence goes downtown
    every Thrusday afts about three her regular day for it.

    A new ditch is being dug accross the MR. Henry D. Vance backyrad.
    ;Tis about dug but nobody is working there now. Patty Fairchild
    received the highest mark in declamation of the 7A at Sumner School
    last Friday.

    Balf's grorcey wagon ran over a cat of the Mr. Rayfort family. Geo.
    the driver of the wagom stated he had not but was willing to take
    it away and burg it somewheres Geo. stated regret and claimed
    nothing but an accident which could not be helped and not his team
    that did the damage.

    MissColfield teacher of the 7A atSumner School was reproted on the
    sink list. We hope she will soon be well.

    There were several deaths in the city this week.

    Mr. Fairchild father of Patty Fairchild was on the sick list
    several days and did not go to his office but is out now.

    Been Kriso the cHauffeur of the Mr. R. G. Atwater family washes
    their car on Monday. In using the hose he turned water over the
    fence accidently and hit Lonnie the washWOman in back of MRS.
    Bruffs who called him some low names. Ben told her if he had have
    been a man he wrould strike her but soon the distrubance was at an
    end. There is a good deal more of other news which will be printed
    in our next NO.

                        Advertisements & Poems
                          20 Cents Each Up.

               JOSEPH K. ATWATER & CO.
                 127 South Iowa St,
                 Steam Pumps.

                            THE Organstep
                                 BY Florence Atwater

    The Organstep was seated at his organ in a
    In some beautifil words of vagle and brir
      But he was a gReat organstep and always
        When the soil is weary
        And the mind is drearq
      I would play music like a vast amen
      The way it sounds in a church of new
      Subscribe NOW 25 cents Adv & Poetry
      20 cents up. Atwater & Rooter News
      Paper Building 25 cents per YEAR

Such was the first issue, complete, of _The North End Daily Oriole_.
What had happened to the poem was due partly to Atwater & Rooter's
natural lack of experience in a new and exacting trade; partly to their
enviable unconsciousness of any necessity for proof-reading; and
somewhat to their haste in getting through the final and least
interesting stage of their undertaking; for of course so far as the
printers were concerned, the poem was mere hack work anti-climax.

And as they later declared, under fire, anybody that could make out more
than three words in five of Florence's ole handwriting was welcome to do
it. Besides, what did it matter if a little bit was left out at the end
of one or two of the lines? They couldn't be expected to run the lines
out over their margin, could they? And they never knew anything crazier
than makin' all this fuss, because: Well, what if some of it wasn't
printed just exactly right, who in the world was goin' to notice it, and
what was the difference of just a few words different in that ole poem,
anyhow?

For by the time these explanations (so to call them) took place,
Florence was indeed makin' a fuss. Her emotion, at first, had been
happily stimulated at sight of "BY Florence Atwater." A singular
tenderness had risen in her--a tremulous sense as of something almost
sacred coming at last into its own; and she hurried to distribute,
gratis, among relatives and friends, several copies of the _Oriole_,
paying for them, too (though not without injurious argument), at the
rate of two cents a copy. But upon returning to her own home, she became
calm enough (for a moment or so) to look over the poem with attention to
details. She returned hastily to the Newspaper Building, but would have
been wiser to remain away, since all subscribers had received their
copies by the time she got there; and under the circumstances little
reparation was practicable.

She ended her oration--or professed to end it--by declaring that she
would never have another poem in their ole vile newspaper as long as she
lived.

"You're right about that!" Henry Rooter agreed heartily. "We wouldn't
_let_ another one in it. Not for fifty dollars! Just look at all the
trouble we took, moiling and toiling, to get your ole poem printed as
nice as we could, so it wouldn't ruin our newspaper, and then you come
over here and go on like this, and all this and that, why, I wouldn't go
through it again for a _hunderd_ dollars! We're makin' good money
anyhow, with our newspaper, Florence Atwater. You needn't think we
depend on _you_ for our living!"

"That's so," his partner declared. "We knew you wouldn't be satisfied,
anyway, Florence. Didn't we, Henry?"

"I should say we did!"

"Yes, sir!" said Herbert. "Right when we were havin' the worst time
tryin' to print it and make out some o' the words, I said right then we
were just throwing away our time. I said, 'What's the use? That ole
girl's bound to raise Cain anyhow, so what's the use wastin' a whole lot
of our good time and brains like this, just to suit _her_? Whatever we
do, she's certain to come over and insult us.' Isn't that what I said,
Henry?"

"Yes, it is; and I said then you were right, and you _are_ right!"

"Cert'nly I am," said Herbert. "Didn't I tell you she'd be just the way
some the family say she is? A good many of 'em say she'd find fault with
the undertaker at her own funeral. That's just exactly what I said!"

"Oh, you did?" Florence burlesqued a polite interest. "How _vir_ry
considerate of you! Then, perhaps you'll try to be a gentleman enough
for one simple moment to allow me to tell you my last remarks on this
subject. I've said enough----"

"Oh, _have_ you?" Herbert interrupted with violent sarcasm. "Oh, no! Say
not so! Florence, say not so!"

At this, Henry Rooter loudly shouted with applausive hilarity; whereupon
Herbert, rather surprised at his own effectiveness, naturally repeated
his waggery.

"Say not so, Florence! Say not so! Say not so!"

"I'll tell you one thing!" his lady cousin cried, thoroughly infuriated.
"I wish to make just one last simple remark that I would care to soil
myself with in _your_ respects, Mister Herbert Illingsworth Atwater and
Mister Henry Rooter!"

"Oh, say not so, Florence!" they both entreated. "Say not so! Say not
so!"

"I'll just simply state the simple truth," Florence announced. "In the
first place, you're goin' to live to see the day when you'll come and
beg me on your bented knees to have me put poems or anything I want to
in your ole newspaper, but I'll just _laugh_ at you! '_Indeed_?' I'll
say! 'So you come beggin' around _me_, do you? Ha, ha!' I'll say! 'I
guess it's a little too late for that! Why, I wouldn't----'"

"Oh, say not so, Florence! Say not so!"

"'_Me_ to allow you to have one of my poems?' I'll say, 'Much less than
_that_!' I'll say, 'because even if I was wearing the oldest shoes I got
in the world I wouldn't take the trouble to----'"

Her conclusion was drowned out. "Oh, _Florence_, say not so! Say not so,
Florence! Say not so!"



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


The hateful entreaty still murmured in her resentful ears, that night,
as she fell asleep; and she passed into the beginnings of a dream with
her lips slightly dimpling the surface of her pillow in belated
repartee. And upon waking, though it was Sunday, her first words, half
slumbrous in the silence of the morning, were, "Vile Things!" Her
faculties became more alert during the preparation of a toilet that was
to serve not only for breakfast, but with the addition of gloves, a hat,
and a blue-velvet coat, for Church and Sunday-school as well; and she
planned a hundred vengeances. That is to say, her mind did not occupy
itself with plots possible to make real; but rather it dabbled among
those fragmentary visions that love to overlap and displace one another
upon the changeful retina of the mind's eye.

In all of these pictures, wherein prevailingly she seemed to be some
sort of deathly powerful Queen of Poetry, the postures assumed by the
figures of Messrs. Atwater and Rooter (both in an extremity of rags)
were miserably suppliant. So she soothed herself a little--but not long.
Herbert, in the next pew, in church, and Henry in the next beyond that,
were perfect compositions in smugness. They were cold, contented,
aristocratic; and had an imperturbable understanding between themselves
(even then perceptible to the sensitive Florence) that she was a
nuisance now capably disposed of by their beautiful discovery of "Say
not so!" Florence's feelings were unbecoming to the place and occasion.

But at four o'clock, that afternoon, she was assuaged into a milder
condition by the arrival, according to an agreement made in
Sunday-school, of the popular Miss Patty Fairchild.

Patty was thirteen and a half; an exquisite person with gold-dusted
hair, eyes of singing blue, and an alluring air of sweet
self-consciousness. Henry Rooter and Herbert Illingsworth Atwater, Jr.,
out gathering news, saw her entering Florence's gate, and immediately
forgot that they were reporters. They became silent, gradually moving
toward the house of their newspaper's sole poetess.

Florence and Patty occupied themselves indoors for half an hour; then
went out in the yard to study a mole's tunnel that had interested
Florence recently. They followed it across the lawn at the south side of
the house, discussing the habits of moles and other matters of zoölogy;
and finally lost the track near the fence, which was here the "side
fence" and higher than their heads. Patty looked through a knot-hole to
see if the tunnel was visible in the next yard, but, without reporting
upon her observations, she turned, as if carelessly, and leaned back
against the fence, covering the knot-hole.

"Florence," she said, in a tone softer than she had been using
heretofore;--"Florence, do you know what I think?"

"No. Could you see any more tracks over there?"

"Florence," said Patty;--"I was just going to tell you something, only
maybe I better not."

"Why not?" Florence inquired. "Go on and tell me."

"No," said Patty gently. "You might think it was silly."

"No, I won't."

"Yes, you _might_."

"I promise I won't."

"Well, then--oh, Florence I'm _sure_ you'll think it's silly!"

"I _promised_ I wouldn't."

"Well--I don't think I better say it."

"Go on," Florence urged. "Patty, you _got_ to."

"Well, then, if I got to," said Patty. "What I was going to say,
Florence: Don't you think your cousin Herbert and Henry Rooter have got
the nicest eyes of any boy in town?"

"_Who_?" Florence was astounded.

"I do," Patty said in her charming voice. "I think Herbert and Henry've
got the nicest eyes of any boy in town."

"You do?" Florence cried incredulously.

"Yes, I really do, Florence. I think Herbert Atwater and Henry Rooter
have got the nicest eyes of any boy in town."

"Well, I never heard anything like _this_ before!" Florence declared.

"But _don't_ you think they've got the nicest eyes of any boy in town?"
Patty insisted, appealingly.

"I think," said Florence, "their eyes are just horrable!"

"What?"

"_Herbert's_ eyes," continued Florence, ardently, "are the very worst
lookin' ole squinty eyes I ever saw, and that nasty little Henry
_Rooter's_ eyes----"

But Patty had suddenly become fidgety; she hurried away from the fence.
"Come over here, Florence," she said. "Let's go over to the other side
of the yard and talk."

It was time for her to take some such action. Messrs. Atwater and
Rooter, seated quietly together upon a box on the other side of the
fence (though with their backs to the knot-hole), were beginning to show
signs of inward disturbance. Already flushed with the unexpected
ineffabilities overheard, their complexions had grown even pinker upon
Florence's open-hearted expressions of opinion. Slowly they turned their
heads to look at the fence, upon the other side of which stood the
maligner of their eyes. Not that they cared what _that_ ole girl
thought--but she oughtn't to be allowed to go around talking like this
and perhaps prejudicing everybody that had a kind word to say for them.

"Come on over here, Florence," called Patty huskily, from the other side
of the yard. "Let's talk over here."

Florence was puzzled, but consented. "What you want to talk over here
for?" she asked as she came near her friend.

"Oh, I don't know," said Patty. "Let's go out in the front yard."

She led the way round the house, and a moment later uttered a cry of
surprise as the firm of Atwater & Rooter, passing along the pavement,
hesitated at the gate. Their celebrated eyes showed doubt for a moment,
then a brazenness: Herbert and Henry decided to come in.

"Isn't this the funniest thing?" cried Patty. "After what I just said
awhile ago--_you_ know, Florence. Don't you dare to tell 'em!"

"I cert'nly won't!" her hostess promised, and, turning inhospitably to
the two callers, "What on earth you want around here?" she inquired.

Herbert chivalrously took upon himself the duty of response. "Look here;
this is my own aunt and uncle's yard, isn't it? I guess if I want to
come in it I got a perfect right to."

"I should say so," his partner said warmly.

"Why, of course!" the cordial Patty agreed. "We can play some nice
Sunday games, or something. Let's sit on the porch steps and think what
to do."

"_I_ just as soon," said Henry Rooter. "_I_ got nothin' p'ticular to
do."

"I haven't either," said Herbert.

Thereupon, Patty sat between them on the steps.

"This is _per-feckly_ grand!" she cried. "Come on, Florence, aren't you
going to sit down with all the rest of us?"

"Well, pray kindly excuse _me_!" said Miss Atwater; and she added that
she would neither sit on the same steps with Herbert Atwater and Henry
Rooter, nor, even if they entreated her with accompanying genuflections,
would she have anything else whatever to do with them. She concluded
with a reference to the oldest pair of shoes she might ever come to
possess; and withdrew to the railing of the veranda at a point farthest
from the steps; and, seated there, swinging one foot rhythmically, she
sang hymns in a tone at once plaintive and inimical.

It was not lost upon her, however, that her withdrawal had little effect
upon her guests. They chattered gaily, and Patty devised, or remembered,
harmless little games that could be played by a few people as well as by
many; and the three participants were so congenial and noisy and made so
merry, that before long Florence was unable to avoid the impression
that whether she liked it or not she was giving quite a party.

At times the noted eyes of Atwater & Rooter were gentled o'er with the
soft cast of enchantment, especially when Patty felt called upon to
reprove the two with little coquetries of slaps and pushes. Noted for
her sprightliness, she was never sprightlier; her pretty laughter tooted
continuously, and the gentlemen accompanied it with doting sounds so
repulsive to Florence that without being actively conscious of what she
did, she embodied the phrase, "perfeckly sickening," in the hymn she was
crooning, and repeated it over and over to the air of "Rock of Ages."

"Now I tell you what let's play," the versatile Patty proposed, after
exhausting the pleasures of "Geography," "Ghosts" and other tests of
intellect. "Let's play 'Truth.' We'll each take a piece o' paper and a
pencil, and then each of us asks the other one some question, and we haf
to write down the answer and sign your name and fold it up so nobody can
see it except the one that asked the question, and we haf to keep it a
secret and never tell as long as we live."

"All right," said Henry Rooter. "I'll be the one to ask you a question,
Patty."

"No," Herbert said promptly. "I ought to be the one to ask Patty."

"Why ought you?" Henry demanded. "Why ought you?"

"Listen!" Patty cried, "_I_ know the way we'll do. I'll ask each of you
a question--we haf to whisper it--and each one of you'll ask me one, and
then we'll write it. That'll be simply grand!" She clapped her hands;
then checked herself. "Oh, I guess we can't either. We haven't got any
paper and pencils unless----" Here she seemed to recall her hostess.
"Oh, Florrie, dear! Run in the house and get us some paper and pencils."

Florence gave no sign other than to increase the volume of her voice as
she sang: "Perf'ly sick'ning, clef' for me, let me _perf'_ly
sick-kin-_ning_!"

"We got plenty," said Herbert; whereupon he and Henry produced pencils
and their professional note-books, and supplied their fair friend and
themselves with material for "Truth." "Come on, Patty, whisper me
whatever you want to."

"No; I ought to have her whisper _me_, first," Henry Rooter objected.
"I'll write the answer to _any_ question; I don't care what it's about."

"Well, it's got to be the _truth_, you know," Patty warned them. "We
all haf to write down just exackly the truth on our word of honour and
sign our name. Promise?"

They promised earnestly.

"All right," said Patty. "Now I'll whisper Henry a question first, and
then you can whisper yours to me first, Herbert."

This seemed to fill all needs happily, and the whispering and writing
began, and continued with a coziness little to the taste of the piously
singing Florence. She altered all previous opinions of her friend Patty,
and when the latter finally closed the session on the steps, and
announced that she must go home, the hostess declined to accompany her
into the house to help her find where she had left her hat and wrap.

"I haven't the _least_ idea where I took 'em off!" Patty declared in the
airiest manner. "If you won't come with me, Florrie, s'pose you just
call in the front door and tell your mother to get 'em for me."

"Oh, they're _somewhere_ in there," Florence said coldly, not ceasing to
swing her foot, and not turning her head. "You can find 'em by yourself,
I presume, or if you can't I'll have our maid throw 'em out in the yard
or somep'n to-morrow."

"Well, _thank_ you!" Miss Fairchild rejoined, as she entered the house.

The two boys stood waiting, having in mind to go with Patty as far as
her own gate. "That's a _pretty_ way to speak to company!" Herbert
addressed his cousin with heavily marked severity. "Next time you do
anything like that I'll march straight in the house and inform your
mother of the fact."

Florence still swung her foot and looked dreamily away. She sang, to the
air of "Rock of Ages":

"Henry Rooter, Herbert, too--they make me sick, they make me sick,
that's what they do."

However, they were only too well prepared with their annihilating
response.

"Oh, say not so! Florence, say not so! _Florence!_ Say not so!"

They even sent this same odious refrain back to her from the street, as
they departed with their lovely companion; and, so tenuous is feminine
loyalty sometimes, under these stresses, Miss Fairchild mingled her
sweet, tantalizing young soprano with their changing and cackling
falsetto.

"Say not so, Florence! Oh, say not so! Say not so!"



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


They went satirically down the street, their chumminess with one another
bountifully increased by their common derision of the outsider on the
porch; and even at a distance they still contrived to make themselves
intolerable; looking back over their shoulders, at intervals, with
say-not-so expressions on their faces. Even when these faces were far
enough away to be but yellowish oval planes, their say-not-so
expressions were still bitingly eloquent.

Now a northern breeze chilled the air, as the hateful three became
indistinguishable in the haze of autumn dusk, whereupon Florence stopped
swinging her foot, left the railing, and went morosely into the house.
And here it was her fortune to make two discoveries vital to her present
career; the first arising out of a conversation between her father and
mother in the library, where a gossipy fire of soft coal encouraged this
proper Sunday afternoon entertainment for man and wife.

"Sit down and rest, Florence," said her mother. "I'm afraid you play too
hard when Patty and the boys are here. Do sit down quietly and rest
yourself a little while." And as Florence obeyed, Mrs. Atwater turned to
her husband, resuming: "Well, that's what _I_ said. I told Aunt Carrie I
thought the same way about it that _you_ did. Of course nobody _ever_
knows what Julia's going to do next, and nobody needs to be surprised at
anything she does do. Ever since she came home from school, about
four-fifths of all the young men in town have been wild about her--and
so's every old bachelor, for the matter of that!"

"Yes," Mr. Atwater added. "And every old widower, too."

His wife warmly accepted the amendment. "And every old widower, too,"
she said, nodding. "Rather! And of course Julia's just done exactly as
she pleased about everything, and naturally she's going to do as she
pleases about _this_."

"Well, of course it's her own affair, Mollie," Mr. Atwater said mildly.
"She couldn't be expected to consult the whole Atwater family connection
before she----"

"Oh, no," she agreed. "I don't say she could. Still, it _is_ rather
upsetting, coming so suddenly like this, when not one of the family has
ever seen him--never even heard his very name before."

[Illustration: _"'Well, men ... I don't want to see any loafin' around
here, men. I expect I'll have a pretty good newspaper this week.'"_]

"Well, that part of it isn't especially strange, Mollie. He was born and
brought up in a town three hundred miles from here. I don't see just how
we _could_ have heard his name unless he visited here or got into the
papers in some way."

Mrs. Atwater seemed unwilling to yield a mysterious point. She rocked
decorously in her rocking-chair, shook her head, and after setting her
lips rigidly, opened them to insist that she could never change her
mind: Julia had acted very abruptly. "Why couldn't she have let her poor
father know at least a _few_ days before she did?"

Mr. Atwater sighed. "Why, she explains in her letter that she only knew
it, herself, an hour before she wrote."

"Her poor father!" his wife repeated commiseratingly.

"Why, Mollie, I don't see how father's especially to be pitied."

"Don't you?" said Mrs. Atwater. "That old man, to have to live in that
big house all alone, except a few negro servants?"

"Why, no! About half the houses in the neighbourhood, up and down the
street, are fully occupied by close relatives of his: I doubt if he'll
be really as lonely as he'd like to be. And he's often said he'd give a
great deal if Julia had been a plain, unpopular girl. I'm strongly of
the opinion, myself, that he'll be pleased about this. Of course it may
upset him a little at first."

"Yes; I think it will!" Mrs. Atwater shook her head forebodingly. "And
he isn't the only one it's going to upset."

"No, he isn't," her husband admitted seriously. "That's always been the
trouble with Julia; she never could bear to seem disappointing; and so,
of course, I suppose every one of 'em has a special idea that he's
really about the top of the list with her."

"Every last one of 'em is positive of it," said Mrs. Atwater. "That was
Julia's way with 'em!"

"Yes, Julia's always been much too kind-hearted for other people's
good." Thus Mr. Atwater summed up Julia; and he was her brother.
Additionally, since he was the older, he had known her since her birth.

"If you ask _me_," said his wife, "I'll really be surprised if it all
goes through without a suicide."

"Oh, not quite suicide, perhaps," Mr. Atwater protested. "I'm glad it's
a fairly dry town though."

She failed to fathom his simple meaning. "Why?"

"Well, some of 'em might feel _that_ desperate at least," he explained.
"Prohibition's a safeguard for the disappointed in love."

This phrase and a previous one stirred Florence, who had been sitting
quietly, according to request, and "resting", but not resting her
curiosity. "_Who's_ disappointed in love, papa?" she inquired with an
explosive eagerness that slightly startled her preoccupied parents.
"What _is_ all this about Aunt Julia, and grandpa goin' to live alone,
and people committing suicide and prohibition and everything? What _is_
all this, mamma?"

"Nothing, Florence."

"Nothing! That's what you always say about the very most inter'sting
things that happen in the whole family! What _is_ all this, papa?"

"It's nothing that would be interesting to little girls, Florence.
Merely some family matters."

"My goodness!" Florence exclaimed. "I'm not a 'little girl' any more,
papa! You're _always_ forgetting my age! And if it's a family matter I
belong to the family, I guess, about as much as anybody else, don't I?
Grandpa himself isn't any _more_ one of the family than I am, I don't
care _how_ old he is!"

This was undeniable, and her father laughed. "It's really nothing you'd
care about one way or the other," he said.

"Well, I'd care about it if it's a secret," Florence insisted. "If it's
a secret I'd want to know it, whatever it's about."

"Oh, it isn't a secret, particularly, I suppose. At least, it's not to
be made public for a time; it's only to be known in the family."

"Well, didn't I just _prove_ I'm as much one o' the family as----"

"Never mind," her father said soothingly. "I don't suppose there's any
harm in your knowing it--if you won't go telling everybody. Your Aunt
Julia has just written us that she's engaged."

Mrs. Atwater uttered an exclamation, but she was too late to check him.

"I'm afraid you oughtn't to have told Florence. She _isn't_ just the
most discreet----"

"Pshaw!" he laughed. "She certainly is 'one of the family', however, and
Julia wrote that all of the family might be told. You'll not speak of it
outside the family, will you, Florence?"

But Florence was not yet able to speak of it, even inside the family; so
surprising, sometimes, are parents' theories of what will not interest
their children. She sat staring, her mouth open, and in the uncertain
illumination of the room these symptoms of her emotional condition went
unobserved.

"I say, you won't speak of Julia's engagement outside the family, will
you, Florence?"

"Papa!" she gasped. "Did Aunt Julia write she was _engaged_?"

"Yes."

"To get _married_?"

"It would seem so."

"To _who_?"

"'To whom,' Florence," her mother suggested primly.

"Mamma!" the daughter cried. "Who's Aunt Julia engaged to get married
to? Noble Dill?"

"Good gracious, _no_!" Mrs. Atwater exclaimed. "What an absurd idea!
It's to a young man in the place she's visiting--a stranger to all of
us. Julia only met him a few weeks ago." Here she forgot Florence, and
turned again to her husband, wearing her former expression of
experienced foreboding.

"It's just as I said. It's exactly like Julia to do such a reckless
thing!"

"But as we don't know anything at all about the young man," he
remonstrated, "how do you know it's reckless?"

"How do you know he's young?" Mrs. Atwater retorted crisply. "All in the
world she said about him was that he's a lawyer. He may be a widower,
for all we know, or divorced, with seven or eight children."

"Oh, no, Mollie!"

"Why, he _might_!" she insisted. "For all we know, he may be a widower
for the third or fourth _time_, or divorced, with any _number_ of
children! If such a person proposed to Julia, you know yourself she'd
hate to be disappointing!"

Her husband laughed. "I don't think she'd go so far as to actually
accept 'such a person' and write home to announce her engagement to the
family. I suppose most of her swains here have been in the habit of
proposing to her just as frequently as she was unable to prevent them
from going that far; and while I don't think she's been as discouraging
with them as she might have been, she's never really accepted any of
'em. She's never been engaged before."

"No," Mrs. Atwater admitted. "Not to this extent! She's never quite
announced it to the family before, that is."

"Yes; I'd hate to have Julia's job when she comes back!" Julia's brother
admitted ruefully.

"What job?"

"Breaking it to her admirers."

"Oh, _she_ isn't going to do that!"

"She'll have to, now," he said. "She'll either have to write the news to
'em, or else tell 'em, face to face, when she comes home."

"She won't do either."

"Why, how could she get out of it?"

His wife smiled pityingly. "She hasn't set a time for coming home, has
she? Don't you know enough of Julia's ways to see she'll never in the
world stand up to the music? She writes that all the family can be told,
because she knows the news will leak out, here and there, in confidence,
little by little, so by the time she gets home they'll all have been
through their first spasms, and after that she hopes they'll just send
her some forgiving flowers and greet her with manly hand-clasps--and get
ready to usher at the wedding!"

"Well," said Mr. Atwater, "I'm afraid you're right. It does seem rather
like Julia to stay away till the first of the worst is over. I'm really
sorry for some of 'em. I suppose it _will_ get whispered about, and
they'll hear it; and there are some of the poor things that might take
it pretty hard."

"'Take it pretty hard!'" his wife echoed loudly. "There's _one_ of 'em,
at least, who'll just merely lose his reason!"

"Which one?"

"Noble Dill."

At this, the slender form of Florence underwent a spasmodic seizure in
her chair, but as the fit was short and also noiseless, it passed
without being noticed.

"Yes," said Mr. Atwater thoughtfully. "I suppose he will."

"He certainly will!" Mrs. Atwater declared. "Noble's mother told me last
week that he'd got so he was just as liable to drop a fountain-pen in
his coffee as a lump of sugar; and when any one speaks to him he either
doesn't know it, or else jumps. When he says anything, himself, she says
they can scarcely ever make out what he's talking about. He was trying
enough before Julia went away; but since she's been gone Mrs. Dill says
he's like nothing in her experience. She says he doesn't inherit it;
Mr. Dill wasn't anything like this about her."

Mr. Atwater smiled faintly. "Mrs. Dill wasn't anything like Julia."

"No," said his wife. "She was quite a sensible girl. I'd hate to be in
her place now, though, when she tells Noble about _this_."

"How can Mrs. Dill tell him, since she doesn't know it herself?"

"Well--perhaps she ought to know it, so that she _could_ tell him.
_Somebody_ ought to tell him, and it ought to be done with the greatest
tact. It ought to be broken to him with the most delicate care and
sympathy, or the consequences----"

"Nobody could foretell the consequences," her husband interrupted:--"no
matter how tactfully it's broken to Noble."

"No," she said, "I suppose that's true. I think the poor thing's likely
to lose his reason unless it _is_ done tactfully, though."

"Do you think we really ought to tell Mrs. Dill, Mollie? I mean,
seriously: Do you?"

For some moments she considered his question, then replied, "No. It's
possible we'd be following a Christian course in doing it; but still
we're rather bound not to speak of it outside the family, and when it
does get outside the family I think we'd better not be the ones
responsible--especially since it might easily be traced to us. I think
it's usually better to keep out of things when there's any doubt."

"Yes," he said, meditating. "I never knew any harm to come of people's
sticking to their own affairs."

But as he and his wife became silent for a time, musing in the
firelight, their daughter's special convictions were far from coinciding
with theirs, although she, likewise, was silent--a singularity they
should have observed. So far were they from a true comprehension of her,
they were unaware that she had more than a casual, young-cousinly
interest in Julia Atwater's engagement and in those possible
consequences to Noble Dill just sketched with some intentional
exaggeration. They did not even notice her expression when Mr. Atwater
snapped on the light, in order to read; and she went quietly out of the
library and up the stairs to her own room.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the floor, near her bed, where Patty Fairchild had left her coat and
hat, Florence made another discovery. Two small, folded slips of paper
lay there, dropped by Miss Fairchild when she put on her coat in the
darkening room. They were the replies to Patty's whispered questions in
the game on the steps--the pledged Truth, written by Henry Rooter and
Herbert Atwater on their sacred words and honours. The infatuated pair
had either overestimated Patty's caution, or else each had thought she
would so prize his little missive that she would treasure it in a tender
safety, perhaps pinned upon her blouse (at the first opportunity) over
her heart. It is positively safe to say that neither of the two
veracities would ever have been set upon paper had Herbert and Henry any
foreshadowing that Patty might be careless; and the partners would have
been seized with the utmost horror could they have conceived the
possibility of their trustful messages ever falling into the hands of
the relentless creature who now, without an instant's honourable
hesitation, unfolded and read them.

"_Yes if I got to tell the truth I know I have got pretty eyes_,"
Herbert had unfortunately written. "I _am glad you think so too Patty
because your eyes are too Herbert Illingsworth Atwater, Jr._"

And Mr. Henry Rooter had likewise ruined himself in a coincidental
manner:

"_Well Patty my eyes are pretty but suppose I would like to trade with
yours because you have beautiful eyes also, sure as my name is Henry
Rooter._"

Florence stood close to the pink-shaded electric drop-light over her
small white dressing-table, reading again and again these pathetically
honest little confidences. Her eyelids were withdrawn to an
unprecedented retirement, so remarkably she stared; while her mouth
seemed to prepare itself for the attempted reception of a bulk beyond
its capacity. And these plastic tokens, so immoderate as to be
ordinarily the consequence of nothing short of horror, were overlaid by
others, subtler and more gleaming, which wrought the true significance
of the contortion--a joy that was dumfounding.

Her thoughts were first of Fortune's kindness in selecting her for a
favour so miraculously dovetailing into the precise need of her life;
then she considered Henry and Herbert, each at this hour probably
brushing his hair in preparation for the Sunday evening meal, and both
touchingly unconscious of the calamity now befalling them; but what
eventually engrossed her mind was a thought about Wallie Torbin.

This Master Torbin, fourteen years of age, was in all the town the boy
most dreaded by his fellow-boys, and also by girls, including many of
both sexes who knew him only by sight--and hearing. He had no physical
endowment or attainment worth mention; but boys who could "whip him with
one hand" became sycophants in his presence; the terror he inspired was
moral. He had a special over-development of a faculty exercised clumsily
enough by most human beings, especially in their youth; in other words,
he had a genius--not, however, a genius having to do with anything
generally recognized as art or science. True, if he had been a violinist
prodigy or mathematical prodigy, he would have had some respect from his
fellows--about equal to that he might have received if he were gifted
with some pleasant deformity, such as six toes on a foot--but he would
never have enjoyed such deadly prestige as had actually come to be his.
In brief, then, Wallie Torbin had a genius for mockery.

Almost from his babyhood he had been a child of one purpose: to increase
by burlesques the sufferings of unfortunate friends. If one of them
wept, Wallie incessantly pursued him, yelping in horrid mimicry; if one
were chastised he could not appear out-of-doors for days except to
encounter Wallie and a complete rehearsal of the recent agony. "Quit,
Papa! _Pah_-puh, quee-yet! I'll _never_ do it again, Pah-puh! Oh,
_lemme_ alone, Pah-_puh_!"

As he grew older, his insatiate curiosity enabled him to expose
unnumbered weaknesses, indiscretions, and social misfortunes on the part
of acquaintances and schoolmates; and to every exposure his noise and
energy gave a hideous publicity: the more his victim sought privacy the
more persistently he was followed by Wallie, vociferous and attended by
hilarious spectators. But above all other things, what most stimulated
the demoniac boy to prodigies of satire was a tender episode or any
symptom connected with the dawn of love. Florence herself had suffered
at intervals throughout her eleventh summer because Wallie discovered
that Georgie Beck had sent her a valentine; and the humorist's many,
many squealings of that valentine's affectionate quatrain finally left
her unable to decide which she hated the more, Wallie or Georgie. That
was the worst of Wallie: he never "let up"; and in Florence's circle
there was no more sobering threat than, "I'll tell Wallie Torbin!" As
for Henry Rooter and Herbert Illingsworth Atwater, Jr., they would as
soon have had a Head-hunter on their trail as Wallie Torbin in the
possession of anything that could incriminate them in an implication of
love--or an acknowledgment (in their own handwriting!) of their own
beauty.

The fabric of civilized life is interwoven with blackmail: even some of
the noblest people do favours for other people who are depended upon not
to tell somebody something that the noblest people have done. Blackmail
is born into us all, and our nurses teach us more blackmail by
threatening to tell our parents if we won't do this and that--and our
parents threaten to tell the doctor--and so we learn! Blackmail is part
of the daily life of a child. Displeased, his first resort to get his
way with other children is a threat to "tell," but by-and-by his
experience discovers the mutual benefit of honour among blackmailers.
Therefore, at eight it is no longer the ticket to threaten to tell the
teacher; and, a little later, threatening to tell any adult at all is
considered something of a breakdown in morals. Notoriously, the code is
more liable to infraction by people of the physically weaker sex, for
the very reason, of course, that their inferiority of muscle so
frequently compels such a sin, if they are to have their way. But for
Florence there was now no such temptation. Looking to the demolition of
Atwater & Rooter, an exposure before adults of the results of "Truth"
would have been an effect of the sickliest pallor compared to what might
be accomplished by a careful use of the catastrophic Wallie Torbin.

       *       *       *       *       *

On Sunday evening it was her privileged custom to go to the house of fat
old Great-Uncle Joseph and remain until nine o'clock, in chatty
companionship with Uncle Joseph and Aunt Carrie, his wife, and a few
other relatives (including Herbert) who were in the habit of dropping in
there, on Sunday evenings. In summer, lemonade and cake were frequently
provided; in the autumn, one still found cake, and perhaps a pitcher of
clear new cider: apples were a certainty.

This evening was glorious: there were apples and cider and cake, with
walnuts, perfectly cracked, and a large open-hearted box of candy; for
Uncle Joseph and Aunt Carrie had foreseen the coming of several more
Atwaters than usual, to talk over the new affairs of their beautiful
relative, Julia. Seldom have any relative's new affairs been more
thoroughly talked over than were Julia's that evening; though all the
time by means of symbols, since it was thought wiser that Herbert and
Florence should not yet be told of Julia's engagement; and Florence's
parents were not present to confess their indiscretion. Julia was
referred to as "the traveller"; other makeshifts were employed with the
most knowing caution, and all the while Florence merely ate inscrutably.
The more sincere Herbert was placid; the foods absorbing his attention.

"Well, all I say is, the traveller better enjoy herself on her travels,"
said Aunt Fanny, finally, as the subject appeared to be wearing toward
exhaustion. "She certainly is in for it when the voyaging is over and
she arrives in the port she sailed from, and has to show her papers. I
agree with the rest of you: she'll have a great deal to answer for, and
most of all about the shortest one. My own opinion is that the shortest
one is going to burst like a balloon."

"The shortest one," as the demure Florence had understood from the
first, was none other than her Very Ideal. Now she looked up from the
stool where she sat with her back against a pilaster of the mantelpiece.
"Uncle Joseph," she said;--"I was just thinking. What is a person's
reason?"

The fat gentleman, rosy with firelight and cider, finished his fifth
glass before responding. "Well, there _are_ persons I never could find
any reason for at all. 'A person's reason'? What do you mean, 'a
person's reason,' Florence?"

"I mean: like when somebody says, 'They'll lose their reason,'" she
explained. "Has everybody got a reason, and if they have, what is it,
and how do they lose it, and what would they do then?"

"Oh! I see!" he said. "You needn't worry. I suppose since you heard it
you've been hunting all over yourself for your reason and looking to see
if there was one hanging out of anybody else, somewhere. No; it's
something you can't see, ordinarily, Florence. Losing your reason is
just another way of saying, 'going crazy'!"

"Oh!" she murmured, and appeared to be disturbed.

At this, Herbert thought proper to offer a witticism for the pleasure of
the company.

"_You_ know, Florence," he said, "it only means acting like _you_ most
always do." He applauded himself with a burst of changing laughter
ranging from a bullfrog croak to a collapsing soprano; then he added:
"Espeshually when you come around my and Henry's Newspaper Building! You
cert'nly 'lose your reason' every time you come around _that_ ole
place!"

"Well, course I haf to act like the people that's already there,"
Florence retorted, not sharply, but in a musing tone that should have
warned him. It was not her wont to use a quiet voice for repartee.
Thinking her humble, he laughed the more raucously.

"Oh, Florence!" he besought her. "Say not so! Say not so!"

"Children, children!" Uncle Joseph remonstrated.

Herbert changed his tone; he became seriously plaintive. "Well, she does
act that way, Uncle Joseph! When she comes around there you'd think we
were runnin' a lunatic asylum, the way she takes on. She hollers and
bellers and squalls and squawks. The least little teeny thing she don't
like about the way we run our paper, she comes flappin' over there and
goes to screechin' around you could hear her out at the Poor House
Farm!"

"Now, now, Herbert," his Aunt Fanny interposed. "Poor little Florence
isn't saying anything impolite to you--not right now, at any rate. Why
don't you be a little sweet to her just for once?"

Her unfortunate expression revolted all the manliness in Herbert's
bosom. "Be a little _sweet_ to her?" he echoed with poignant
incredulity, and then in candour made plain how poorly Aunt Fanny
inspired him. "I just exackly as soon be a little sweet to an
alligator," he said.

"Oh, oh!" said Aunt Carrie.

"I would!" Herbert insisted. "Or a mosquito. I'd rather, to _either_ of
'em, 'cause anyway they don't make so much noise. Why, you just ought to
_hear_ her," he went on, growing more and more severe. "You ought to
just come around our Newspaper Building any afternoon you please, after
school, when Henry and I are tryin' to do our work in anyway _some_
peace. Why, she just squawks and squalls and squ----"

"It must be terrible," Uncle Joseph interrupted. "What do you do all
that for, Florence, every afternoon?"

"Just for exercise," she answered dreamily; and her placidity the more
exasperated her journalist cousin.

"She does it because she thinks _she_ ought to be runnin' our own
newspaper, my and Henry's; that's why she does it! She thinks she knows
more about how to run newspapers than anybody alive; but there's one
thing she's goin' to find out; and that is, she don't get anything
_more_ to do with my and Henry's newspaper. We wouldn't have another
single one of her ole poems in it, no matter how much she offered to
pay us! Uncle Joseph, I think you ought to _tell_ her she's got no
business around my and Henry's Newspaper Building."

"But, Herbert," Aunt Fanny suggested;--"you might let Florence have a
little share in it of some sort. Then everything would be all right."

"It would?" he said. "It _woo_-wud? Oh, my goodness, Aunt Fanny, I guess
you'd like to see our newspaper just utterably ruined! Why, we wouldn't
let that girl have any more to do with it than we would some horse!"

"Oh, oh!" both Aunt Fanny and Aunt Carrie exclaimed, shocked.

"We wouldn't," Herbert insisted. "A horse would know any amount more how
to run a newspaper than she does. Soon as we got our printing-press, we
said right then that we made up our minds Florence Atwater wasn't ever
goin' to have a single thing to do with our newspaper. If you let her
have anything to do with anything she wants to run the whole thing. But
she might just as well learn to stay away from our Newspaper Building,
because after we got her out yesterday we fixed a way so's she'll never
get in _there_ again!"

Florence looked at him demurely. "Are you sure, Herbert?" she inquired.

"Just you try it!" he advised her, and he laughed tauntingly. "Just come
around to-morrow and try it; that's all I ask!"

"I cert'nly intend to," she responded with dignity. "I may have a slight
supprise for you."

"Oh, _Florence_, say not so! Say not so, Florence! Say not so!"

At this, she looked full upon him, and already she had something in the
nature of a surprise for him; for so powerful was the still balefulness
of her glance that he was slightly startled. "I might say not so," she
said. "I might, if I was speaking of what pretty eyes you say yourself
you know you have, Herbert."

It staggered him. "What--what do you mean?"

"Oh, nothin'," she replied airily.

Herbert began to be mistrustful of the solid earth: somewhere there was
a fearful threat to his equipoise. "What you talkin' about?" he said
with an effort to speak scornfully; but his sensitive voice almost
failed him.

"Oh, nothin'," said Florence. "Just about what pretty eyes you know you
have, and Patty's being pretty, too, and so you're glad she thinks
yours are pretty, the way _you_ do--and everything!"

Herbert visibly gulped. He believed that Patty had betrayed him; had
betrayed the sworn confidence of "Truth!"

"That's all I was talkin' about," Florence added. "Just about how you
knew you had such pretty eyes. Say not so, Herbert! Say not so!"

"Look here!" he said. "When'd you see Patty again between this afternoon
and when you came over here?"

"What makes you think I saw her?"

"Did you telephone her?"

"What makes you think so?"

Once more Herbert gulped. "Well, I guess you're ready to believe
anything anybody tells you," he said, with palsied bravado. "You don't
believe everything Patty Fairchild says, do you?"

"Why, Herbert! Doesn't she always tell the _truth_?"

"Her? Why, half the time," poor Herbert babbled, "you can't tell whether
she's just makin' up what she says or not. If you've gone and believed
everything that ole girl told you, you haven't got even what little
sense I used to think you had!" So base we are under strain,
sometimes--so base when our good name is threatened with the truth of
us! "I wouldn't believe anything she said," he added, in a sickish
voice, "if she told me fifty times and crossed her heart!"

"Wouldn't you if she said you _wrote down_ how pretty you knew your eyes
were, Herbert? Wouldn't you if it was on paper in your own handwriting?"

"What's this about Herbert having 'pretty eyes'?" Uncle Joe inquired,
again bringing general attention to the young cousins; and Herbert
shuddered. This fat uncle had an unpleasant reputation as a joker.

The nephew desperately fell back upon the hopeless device of attempting
to drown out his opponent's voice as she began to reply. He became
vociferous with scornful laughter, badly cracked. "Florence got mad!" he
shouted, mingling the purported information with hoots and cacklings.
"She got mad because I and Henry played some games with Patty and
wouldn't let her play! She's tryin' to make up stories on us to get
even. She made it up! It's all made up! She----"

"No, no," Mr. Atwater interrupted. "Let Florence tell us. Florence,
what was it about Herbert's knowing he had 'pretty eyes'?"

Herbert attempted to continue the drowning out. He bawled. "She made it
_up_! It's somep'n she made up her_self_! She----"

"Herbert," said Uncle Joseph;--"if you don't keep quiet, I'll take back
the printing-press."

Herbert substituted a gulp for the continuation of his noise.

"Now, Florence," said Uncle Joseph, "tell us what you were saying about
how Herbert knows he has such 'pretty eyes'."

Then it seemed to Herbert that a miracle befell. Florence looked up,
smiling modestly. "Oh, it wasn't anything, Uncle Joseph," she said. "I
was Just trying to tease Herbert any way I could think of."

"Oh, was that all?" A hopeful light faded out of Uncle Joseph's large
and inexpressive face. "I thought perhaps you'd detected him in some
indiscretion."

Florence laughed, "I was just teasin' him. It wasn't anything, Uncle
Joseph."

Hereupon, Herbert resumed a confused breathing. Dazed, he remained
uneasy, profoundly so: and gratitude was no part of his emotion. He
well understood that in conflicts such as these Florence was never
susceptible to impulses of compassion; in fact, if there was warfare
between them, experience had taught him to be wariest when she seemed
kindest. He moved away from her, and went into another room where his
condition was one of increasing mental discomfort, though he looked over
the pictures in his great-uncle's copy of "Paradise Lost." These
illustrations, by M. Gustave Doré, failed to aid in reassuring his
troubled mind.

When Florence left the house, he impulsively accompanied her,
maintaining a nervous silence as they walked the short distance between
Uncle Joseph's front gate and her own. There, however, he spoke.

"Look here! You don't haf to go and believe everything that ole girl
told you, do you?"

"No," said Florence heartily. "I don't haf to."

"Well, look here," he urged, helpless but to repeat. "You don't haf to
believe whatever it was she went and told you, do you?"

"What was it you think she told me, Herbert?"

"All that guff--you know. Well, whatever it was you _said_ she told
you."

"I didn't," said Florence. "I didn't say she told me anything at all."

"Well, she did, didn't she?"

"Why, no," Florence replied, lightly. "She didn't say anything to _me_.
Only I'm glad to have your _opinion_ of her, how she's such a
story-teller and all--if I ever want to tell her, and everything!"

But Herbert had greater alarms than this, and the greater obscured the
lesser. "Look here," he said, "if she didn't tell you, how'd you know it
then?"

"How'd I know what?"

"That--that big story about my ever writin' I knew I had"--he gulped
again--"pretty eyes."

"Oh, about _that_!" Florence said, and swung the gate shut between them.
"Well, I guess it's too late to tell you to-night, Herbert; but maybe if
you and that nasty little Henry Rooter do every single thing I tell you
to, and do it just _exackly_ like I tell you from this time on, why
maybe--I only say 'maybe'--well, maybe I'll tell you some day when I
feel like it."

She ran up the path and up the veranda steps, but paused before opening
the front door, and called back to the waiting Herbert:

"The only person I'd ever _think_ of tellin' about it before I tell you
would be a boy I know." She coughed, and added as by an afterthought,
"He'd just love to know all about it; I know he would. So, when I tell
anybody about it I'll only tell just you and this other boy."

"What other boy?" Herbert demanded.

And her reply, thrilling through the darkness, left him demoralized with
horror.

"Wallie Torbin!"



CHAPTER NINETEEN


The next afternoon, about four o'clock, Herbert stood gloomily at the
main entrance of Atwater & Rooter's Newspaper Building awaiting his
partner. The other entrances were not only nailed fast but massively
barricaded; and this one (consisting of the ancient carriage-house
doors, opening upon a driveway through the yard) had recently been made
effective for exclusion. A long and heavy plank leaned against the wall,
near by, ready to be set in hook-shaped iron supports fastened to the
inner sides of the doors; and when the doors were closed, with this
great plank in place, a person inside the building might seem entitled
to count upon the enjoyment of privacy, except in case of earthquake,
tornado, or fire. In fact, the size of the plank and the substantial
quality of the iron fastenings could be looked upon, from a certain
viewpoint, as a real compliment to the energy and persistence of
Florence Atwater.

Herbert had been in no complimentary frame of mind, however, when he
devised the obstructions, nor was he now in such a frame of mind. He was
pessimistic in regard to his future, and also embarrassed in
anticipation of some explanations it would be necessary to make to his
partner. He strongly hoped that Henry's regular after-school appearance
at the Newspaper Building would precede Florence's, because these
explanations required both deliberation and tact, and he was convinced
that it would be almost impossible to make them at all if Florence got
there first.

He understood that he was unfortunately within her power; and he saw
that it would be dangerous to place in operation for her exclusion from
the Building this new mechanism contrived with such hopeful care, and at
a cost of two dollars and twenty-five cents taken from the _Oriole's_
treasury. What he wished Henry to believe was that for some good reason,
which Herbert had not yet been able to invent, it would be better to
show Florence a little politeness. He had a desperate hope that he might
find some diplomatic way to prevail on Henry to be as subservient to
Florence as she had seemed to demand, and he was determined to touch any
extremity of unveracity, rather than permit the details of his answer
in "Truth" to come to his partner's knowledge. Henry Rooter was not
Wallie Torbin; but in possession of material such as this he could
easily make himself intolerable.

Therefore, it was in a flurried state of mind that Herbert waited; and
when his friend appeared, over the fence, his perturbation was not
decreased. He even failed to notice the unusual gravity of Henry's
manner.

"Hello, Henry! I thought I wouldn't start in working till you got here.
I didn't want to haf to come all the way downstairs again to open the
door and hi'st our good ole plank up again."

"I see," said Henry, glancing nervously at their good ole plank. "Well,
I guess Florence'll never get in _this_ good ole door--that is, she
won't if we don't let her, or something."

This final clause would have astonished Herbert if he had been less
preoccupied with his troubles. "You bet she won't!" he said
mechanically. "She couldn't ever get in here again--if the _family_
didn't go intafering around and give me the dickens and everything,
because they think--they _say_ they do, anyhow--they say they
think--they think----"

He paused, disguising a little choke as a cough of scorn for the
family's thinking.

"What did you say your family think?" Henry asked absently.

"Well, they say we ought to let her have a share in our newspaper."
Again he paused, afraid to continue lest his hypocrisy appear so
bare-faced as to invite suspicion. "Well, maybe we _ought_," he said
finally, his eyes guiltily upon his toe, which slowly scuffed the
ground. "I don't say we ought, and I don't say we oughtn't."

He expected at the least a sharp protest from his partner, who, on the
contrary, surprised him. "Well, that's the way _I_ look at it," Henry
said. "I don't say we ought and I don't say we oughtn't."

And he, likewise, stared at the toe of a shoe that scuffed the ground.
Herbert felt a little better; this particular subdivision of his
difficulties seemed to be working out with unexpected ease.

"I don't say we will and I don't say we won't," Henry added. "That's the
way I look at it. My father and mother are always talkin' to me: how I
got to be polite and everything, and I guess maybe it's time I began to
pay some 'tention to what they say. You don't have your father and
mother for always, you know, Herbert."

Herbert's mood at once chimed with this unprecedented filial
melancholy. "No, you don't, Henry. That's what I often think about,
myself. No, sir, a fellow doesn't have his father and mother to advise
him our whole life, and you ought to do a good deal what they say while
they're still alive."

"That's what I say," Henry agreed gloomily; and then, without any
alteration of his tone, or of the dejected thoughtfulness of his
attitude, he changed the subject in a way that painfully startled his
companion. "Have you seen Wallie Torbin to-day, Herbert?"

"What!"

"Have you seen Wallie Torbin to-day?"

Herbert swallowed. "Why, what makes--what makes you ask me that, Henry?"
he said.

"Oh, nothin'." Henry still kept his eyes upon his gloomily scuffing toe.
"I just wondered, because I didn't happen to see him in school this
afternoon when I happened to look in the door of the Eight-A when it was
open. I didn't want to know on account of anything particular. I just
happened to say that about him because I didn't have anything else to
think about just then, so I just happened to think about him, the way you
do when you haven't got anything much on your mind and might get to
thinkin' about you can't tell what. That's all the way it was; I just
happened to kind of wonder if he was around anywhere maybe."

Henry's tone was obviously, even elaborately, sincere; and Herbert was
reassured. "Well, I didn't see him," he responded. "Maybe he's sick."

"No, he isn't," his friend said. "Florence said she saw him chasin' his
dog down the street about noon."

At this Herbert's uneasiness was uncomfortably renewed. "_Florence_ did?
Where'd you see Florence?"

Mr. Rooter swallowed. "A little while ago," he said, and again
swallowed. "On the way home from school."

"Look--look here!" Herbert was flurried to the point of panic.
"Henry--did Florence--did she go and tell you--did she tell you----?"

"_I_ didn't hardly notice what she was talkin' about," Henry said
doggedly. "She didn't have anything to say that _I'd_ ever care two
cents about. She came up behind me and walked along with me a ways, but
I got too many things on my mind to hardly pay the least attention to
anything _she_ ever talks about. She's a girl what I think about her
the less people pay any 'tention to what she says the better off they
are."

"That's the way with me, Henry," his partner assured him earnestly. "I
never pay any notice to what _she_ says. The way I figure it out about
_her_, Henry, everybody'd be a good deal better off if nobody ever paid
the least notice to anything she says. I never even notice what she
says, myself."

"I don't either," said Henry. "All _I_ think about is what my father and
mother say, because I'm not goin' to have their advice all the rest o'
my life, after they're dead. If they want me to be polite, why, I'll do
it and that's all there is about it."

"It's the same way with me, Henry. If she comes flappin' around here
blattin' and blubbin' how she's goin' to have somep'n to do with our
newspaper, why, the only reason _I'd_ ever let her would be because my
_family_ say I ought to show more politeness to her than up to now. I
wouldn't do it on any other account, Henry."

"Neither would I. That's just the same way _I_ look at it, Herbert. If I
ever begin to treat her any better, she's got my father and mother to
thank, not me. That's the only reason _I'd_ be willing to say we better
leave the plank down and let her in, if she comes around here like she's
liable to."

"Well," said Herbert. "_I'm_ willing. I don't want to get in trouble
with the family."

And they mounted the stairs to their editorial, reportorial, and
printing rooms; and began to work in a manner not only preoccupied but
apprehensive. At intervals they would give each other a furtive glance,
and then seem to reflect upon their fathers' and mothers' wishes and the
troublous state of the times. Florence did not keep them waiting long,
however.

She might have been easier to bear had her manner of arrival been less
assured. She romped up the stairs, came skipping across the old floor,
swinging her hat by a ribbon, flung open the gate in the sacred railing,
and, flouncing into the principal chair, immodestly placed her feet on
the table in front of that chair. Additionally, such was her lively
humour, she affected to light and smoke the stub of a lead pencil.
"Well, men," she said heartily, "I don't want to see any loafin' around
here, men. I expect I'll have a pretty good newspaper this week; yes,
sir, a pretty good newspaper, and I guess you men got to jump around a
good deal to do everything I think of, or else maybe I guess I'll have
to turn you off. I don't want to haf to do that, men."

The blackmailed partners made no reply, on account of an inability that
was perfect for the moment. They stared at her helplessly, though not
kindly; for in their expressions the conflict between desire and policy
was almost staringly vivid. And such was their preoccupation, each with
the bitterness of his own case, that neither wondered at the other's
strange complaisance.

Florence made it clear to them that henceforth she was the editor of
_The North End Daily Oriole_. (She said she had decided not to change
the name.) She informed them that they were to be her printers; she did
not care to get all inky and nasty herself, she said. She would,
however, do all the writing for her newspaper, and had with her a new
poem. Also, she would furnish all the news and it would be printed just
as she wrote it, and printed _nicely_, too, or else----She left the
sentence unfinished.

Thus did this cool hand take possession of an established industry, and
in much the same fashion did she continue to manage it. There were
unsuppressible protests; there was covert anguish; there was even a
strike--but it was a short one. When the printers remained away from
their late Newspaper Building, on Wednesday afternoon, Florence had an
interview with Herbert after dinner at his own door. He explained coldly
that Henry and he had grown tired of the printing-press and had decided
to put in all their spare time building a theatre in Henry's attic; but
Florence gave him to understand that the theatre could not be; she
preferred the _Oriole_.

Henry and Herbert had both stopped "speaking" to Patty Fairchild, for
each believed her treacherous to himself; but Florence now informed
Herbert that far from depending on mere hearsay, she had in her own
possession the confession of his knowledge that he had ocular beauty;
that she had discovered the paper where Patty had lost it; and that it
was now in a secure place, and in an envelope, upon the outside of which
was already written, "For Wallie Torbin. Kindness of Florence A."

Herbert surrendered.

So did Henry Rooter, a little later that evening, after a telephoned
conversation with the slave-driver.

Therefore, the two miserable printers were back in their places the next
afternoon. They told each other that the theatre they had planned wasn't
so much after all; and anyhow your father and mother didn't last all
your life, and it was better to do what they wanted, and be polite while
they were alive.

And on Saturday the new _Oriole_, now in every jot and item the inspired
organ of feminism, made its undeniably sensational appearance.

A copy, neatly folded, was placed in the hand of Noble Dill, as he set
forth for his place of business, after lunching at home with his mother.
Florence was the person who placed it there; she came hurriedly from
somewhere in the neighbourhood, out of what yard or alley he did not
notice, and slipped the little oblong sheet into his lax fingers.

"There!" she said breathlessly. "There's a good deal about you in it
this week, Mr. Dill, and I guess--I guess----"

"What, Florence?"

"I guess maybe you'll----" She looked up at him shyly; then, with no
more to say, turned and ran back in the direction whence she had come.
Noble walked on, not at once examining her little gift, but carrying it
absently in fingers still lax at the end of a dangling arm. There was no
life in him for anything. Julia was away.

Away! And yet the dazzling creature looked at him from sky, from earth,
from air; looked at him with the most poignant kindness, yet always
shook her head! She had answered his first letter by a kind little note,
his second by a kinder and littler one, and his third, fourth, fifth,
and sixth by no note at all; but by the kindest message (through one of
her aunts) that she was thinking about him a great deal. And even this
was three weeks ago. Since then from Julia--nothing at all!

But yesterday something a little stimulating had happened. On the
street, downtown, he had come face to face, momentarily, with Julia's
father; and for the first time in Noble's life Mr. Atwater nodded to him
pleasantly. Noble went on his way, elated. Was there not something
almost fatherly in this strange greeting?

An event so singular might be interpreted in the happiest way: What had
Julia written her father, to change him so toward Noble? And Noble was
still dreamily interpreting as he walked down the street with _The North
End Daily Oriole_ idle in an idle hand.

He found a use for that hand presently, and, having sighed, lifted it to
press it upon his brow, but did not complete the gesture. As his hand
came within the scope of his gaze, levelled on the unfathomable
distance, he observed that the fingers held a sheet of printed paper;
and he remembered Florence. Instead of pressing his brow he unfolded the
journal she had thrust upon him. As he began to read, his eye was
lustreless, his gait slack and dreary; but soon his whole demeanour
changed, it cannot be said for the better.

           THE NORTH END DAILY ORIOLE

    Atwater & Co., Owners & Propietors
    Subscribe NOW 25 cents Per. Year. Sub-
    scriptions should be brought to the East
    Main Entrance of Atwater & Co., News-
       paper  Building  every afternoon
          430  to  VI  25 Cents

                      POEMS

           My Soul by Florence Atwater

        When my heart is dreary
        Then my soul is weary
        As a bird with a broken wing
    Who never again will sing
    Like the sound of a vast amen
    That comes from a church of men.

        When my soul is dreary
        It could never be cheery
        But I think of myideal
        And everything seems real
        Like the sound of the bright church bells peal.

    Poems by Florence Atwater will be in the paper each and every Sat.

            Advertisements 45c. each Up

              Joseph K. Atwater Co.
              127 South Iowa St.
                Steam Pumps

            The News of the City

    Miss Florence Atwater of tHis City received a mark of 94 in History
    Examination at the concusion of the school Term last June.

    Blue hair ribbons are in style again.

    Miss Patty Fairchild of this City has not been doing as well in
    Declamation lately as formerly.

    MR. Noble Dill of this City is seldom seen on the streets of the
    City without smoking a cigarette.

    Miss Julia Atwater of this City is out of the City.

    The MR. Rayfort family of this City have been presentde with the
    present of a new Cat by Geo. the man employeD by Balf & CO. This
    cat is perfectly baeutiful and still quit young.

    Miss Julia Atwater of this City is visiting friends in the Soth.
    The family have had many letters from her that are read by each and
    all of the famild.

    Mr. Noble Dill of this City is in business with his Father.

    There was quite a wind storm Thursday doing damage to shade trees
    in many parts of our beautiful City.

    From Letters to the family Miss Julia Atwater of this City is
    enjoying her visit in the south a greadeal.

    Miss Patty Fairchild of the 7 A of this City, will probably not
    pass in ARithmetiC--unless great improvement takes place before
    Examination.

    Miss Julia Atwater of this City wrote a letter to the family
    stating while visiting in the SOuth she has made an engagement to
    be married to MR. Crum of that City. The family do not know who
    this MR. Crum is but It is said he is a widower though he has been
    diVorced with a great many children.

    The new ditch of the MR. Henry D. Vance, backyard of this City is
    about through now as little remain to be done and it is thought the
    beighborhood will son look better. Subscribe NOW 25c. Per Year Adv.
    45c. up. Atwater & Co. Newspaper Building 25 Cents Per Years.

It may be assumed that the last of the news items was wasted upon Noble
Dill and that he never knew of the neighbourhood improvement believed to
be imminent as a result of the final touches to the ditch of the Mr.
Henry D. Vance backyard.



CHAPTER TWENTY


Throughout that afternoon adult members of the Atwater family connection
made futile efforts to secure all the copies of the week's edition of
_The North End Daily Oriole_. It could not be done.

It was a trying time for "the family." Great Aunt Carrie said that she
had the "worst afternoon of any of 'em," because young Newland Sanders
came to her house at two and did not leave until five; all the time
counting over, one by one, the hours he'd spent with Julia since she was
seventeen and turned out, unfortunately, to be a Beauty. Newland had not
restrained himself, Aunt Carrie said, and long before he left she wished
Julia had never been born--and as for Herbert Illingsworth Atwater,
Junior, the only thing to do with him was to send him to some strict
Military School.

Florence's father telephoned to her mother from downtown at three, and
said that Mr. George Plum and the ardent vocalist, Clairdyce, had just
left his office. They had not called in company, however, but
coincidentally; and each had a copy of _The North End Daily Oriole_,
already somewhat worn with folding and unfolding. Mr. Clairdyce's
condition was one of desperate calm, Florence's father said, but Mr.
Plum's agitation left him rather unpresentable for the street, though he
had finally gone forth with his hair just as he had rumpled it, and with
his hat in his hand. They wished the truth, they said: Was it true or
was it not true? Mr. Atwater had told them that he feared Julia was
indeed engaged, though he knew nothing of her fiancé's previous marriage
or marriages, or of the number of his children. They had responded that
they cared nothing about that. This man Crum's record was a matter of
indifference to them, they said. All they wanted to know was whether
Julia was engaged or not--and she was!

"The odd thing to _me_," Mr. Atwater continued to his wife, "is where on
earth Herbert could have got his story about this Crum's being a
widower, and divorced, and with all those children. Do you know if
Julia's written any of the family about these things and they haven't
told the rest of us?"

"No," said Mrs. Atwater. "I'm sure she hasn't. Every letter she's
written to any of us has passed all through the family, and I know I've
seen every one of 'em. She's never said anything about him at all,
except that he was a lawyer. I'm sure _I_ can't imagine where Herbert
got his awful information; I never thought he was the kind of boy to
just make up such things out of whole cloth."

Florence, sitting quietly in a chair near by, with a copy of "Sesame and
Lilies" in her lap, listened to her mother's side of this conversation
with an expression of impersonal interest; and if she could have
realized how completely her parents had forgotten (naturally enough) the
details of their first rambling discussion of Julia's engagement, she
might really have felt as little alarm as she showed.

"Well," said Mr. Atwater, "I'm glad _our_ branch of the family isn't
responsible. That's a comfort, anyhow, especially as people are reading
copies of Herbert's dreadful paper all up and down the town, my clerk
says. He tells me that over at the Unity Trust Company, where young
Murdock Hawes is cashier, they only got hold of one copy, but typewrote
it and multigraphed it, and some of 'em have already learned it by heart
to recite to poor young Hawes. He's the one who sent Julia the three
fivepound boxes of chocolates from New York all at the same time, you
remember."

"Yes," Mrs. Atwater sighed. "Poor thing!"

"Florence is out among the family, I suppose?" he inquired.

"No; she's right here. She's just started to read Ruskin this afternoon.
She says she's going to begin and read all of him straight through.
That's very nice, don't you think?"

He seemed to muse before replying.

"I think that's very nice, at her age especially," Mrs. Atwater urged.
"Don't you?"

"Ye-es! Oh, yes! At least I suppose so. Ah--you don't think--of course
she hasn't had anything at all to do with this?"

"Well, I don't _see_ how she could. You know Aunt Fanny told us how
Herbert declared before them all, only last Sunday night, that Florence
should never have one thing to do with his printing-press, and said they
wouldn't even let her come near it."

"Yes, that's a fact. I'm glad Herbert made it so clear that she can't be
implicated. I suppose the family are all pretty well down on Uncle
Joseph?"

"Uncle Joseph is being greatly blamed," said Mrs. Atwater primly. "He
really ought to have known better than to put such an instrument as a
printing-press into the hands of an irresponsible boy of that age. Of
course it simply encouraged him to print all kinds of things. We none of
us think Uncle Joseph ever dreamed that Herbert would publish, anything
exactly like _this_, and of course Uncle Joseph says himself he never
dreamed such a thing; he's said so time and time and time again, all
afternoon. But of course he's greatly blamed."

"I suppose there've been quite a good many of 'em over there blaming
him?" her husband inquired.

"Yes--until he telephoned to a garage and hired a car and went for a
drive. He said he had plenty of money with him and didn't know when he'd
be back."

"Serves him right," said Mr. Atwater. "Does anybody know where Herbert
is?"

"Not yet!"

"Well----" and he returned to a former theme. "I _am_ glad we aren't
implicated. Florence is right there with you, you say?"

"Yes," Mrs. Atwater replied. "She's right here, reading. You aren't
worried about her, are you?" she added.

"Oh, no; I'm sure it's all right. I only thought----"

"Only thought what?"

"Well, it _did_ strike me as curious," said Mr. Atwater; "especially
after Aunt Fanny's telling us how Herbert declared Florence could never
have a single thing to do with his paper again----"

"Well, what?"

"Well, here's her poem right at the top of it, and a _very_ friendly
item about her history mark of last June. It doesn't seem like Herbert
to be so complimentary to Florence, all of a sudden. Just struck me as
rather curious; that's all."

"Why, yes," said Mrs. Atwater, "it does seem a little odd, when you
think of it."

"Have you _asked_ Florence if she had anything to do with getting out
this week's _Oriole_?"

"Why, no; it never occurred to me, especially after what Aunt Fanny told
us," said Mrs. Atwater. "I'll ask her now."

But she was obliged to postpone putting the intended question. "Sesame
and Lilies" lay sweetly upon the seat of the chair that Florence had
occupied; but Florence herself had gone somewhere else.

She had gone for a long, long ramble; and pedestrians who encountered
her, and happened to notice her expression, were interested; and as they
went on their way several of them interrupted the course of their
meditations to say to themselves that she was the most thoughtful
looking young girl they had ever seen. There was a touch of wistfulness
about her, too; as of one whose benevolence must renounce all hope of
comprehension and reward.

Now, among those who observed her unusual expression was a gentleman of
great dimensions disposed in a closed automobile that went labouring
among mudholes in an unpaved outskirt of the town. He rapped upon the
glass before him, to get the driver's attention, and a moment later the
car drew up beside Florence, as she stood in a deep reverie at the
intersection of two roads.

Uncle Joseph opened the door and took his cigar from his mouth. "Get in,
Florence," he said. "I'll take you for a ride." She started violently;
whereupon he restored the cigar to his mouth, puffed upon it, breathing
heavily the while as was his wont, and added, "I'm not going home. I'm
out for a nice long ride. Get in."

"I was takin' a walk," she said dubiously. "I haf to take a whole lot of
exercise, and I ought to walk and walk and walk. I guess I ought to
keep on walkin'."

"Get in," he said. "I'm out riding. I don't know _when_ I'll get home!"

Florence stepped in, Uncle Joseph closed the door, and the car slowly
bumped onward.

"You know where Herbert is?" Uncle Joseph inquired.

"No," said Florence, in a gentle voice.

"I do," he said. "Herbert and your friend Henry Rooter came to our house
with one of the last copies of the _Oriole_ they were distributing to
subscribers; and after I read it I kind of foresaw that the feller
responsible for their owning a printing-press was going to be in some
sort of family trouble or other. I had quite a talk with 'em and they
hinted they hadn't had much to do with this number of the paper, except
the mechanical end of it; but they wouldn't come out right full with
what they meant. They seemed to have some good reason for protecting a
third party, and said quite a good deal about their fathers and mothers
being but mortal and so on; so Henry and Herbert thought they oughtn't
to expose this third party--whoever she may happen to be. Well, I
thought they better not stay too long, because I was compromised enough
already, without being seen in their company; and I gave 'em something
to help 'em out with at the movies. You can stay at movies an awful long
time, and if you've got money enough to go to several of 'em, why,
you're fixed for pretty near as long as you please. A body ought to be
able to live a couple o' months at the movies for nine or ten dollars, I
should think."

He was silent for a time, then asked, "I don't suppose your papa and
mamma will be worrying about you, will they, Florence?"

"Oh, no!" she said quickly. "Not in the least! There was nothin' at all
for me to do at our house this afternoon."

"That's good," he said, "because before we go back I was thinking some
of driving around by way of Texas."

Florence looked at him trustfully and said nothing. It seemed to her
that he suspected something; she was not sure; but his conversation was
a little peculiar, though not in the least sinister. Indeed she was able
to make out that he had more the air of an accomplice than of a
prosecutor or a detective. Nevertheless, she was convinced that far, far
the best course for her to pursue, during the next few days, would be
one of steadfast reserve. And such a course was congenial to her mood,
which was subdued, not to say apprehensive; though she was sure her
recent conduct, if viewed sympathetically, would be found at least
Christian. The trouble was that probably it would not be viewed
sympathetically. No one would understand how carefully and tactfully she
had prepared the items of the _Oriole_ to lead suavely up to the news of
Aunt Julia's engagement and break it to Noble Dill in a manner that
would save his reason.

Therefore, on account of this probable lack of comprehension on the part
of the family and public, it seemed to her that the only wise and good
course to follow would be to claim nothing for herself, but to allow
Herbert and Henry to remain undisturbed in full credit for publishing
the _Oriole_. This involved a disappointment, it is true; nevertheless,
she decided to bear it.

She had looked forward to surprising "the family" delightfully. As they
fluttered in exclamation about her, she had expected to say, "Oh, the
_poem_ isn't so much, I guess--I wrote it quite a few days ago and I'm
writing a couple new ones now--but I did take quite a lot o' time and
trouble with the rest of the paper, because I had to write every single
word of it, or else let Henry and Herbert try to, and 'course they'd
just of ruined it. Oh, it isn't so much to talk about, I guess; it just
sort of _comes_ to me to do things that way."

Thirteen attempts to exercise a great philanthropy, and every grown
person in sight, with the possible exception of Great-Uncle Joseph, goes
into wholly unanticipated fits of horror. Cause and effect have no
honest relation: Fate operates without justice or even rational
sequence; life and the universe appear to be governed, not in order and
with system, but by Chance, becoming sinister at any moment without
reason.

And while Florence, thus a pessimist, sat beside fat Uncle Joseph during
their long, long drive, relatives of hers were indeed going into fits;
at least, so Florence would have described their gestures and
incoherences of comment. Moreover, after the movies, straight into such
a fitful scene did the luckless Herbert walk when urged homeward by
thoughts of food, at about six that evening. Henry Rooter had strongly
advised him against entering the house.

"You better not," he said earnestly. "_Honest_, you better not,
Herbert!"

"Well, we got apple dumplings for dinner," Herbert said, his tone
showing the strain of mental uncertainty. "Eliza told me this morning we
were goin' to have 'em. I kind of hate to go in, but I guess I better,
Henry."

"_You_ won't see any apple dumplings," Henry predicted.

"Well, I believe I better try it, Henry."

"You better come home with me. My father and mother'll be perfectly
willing to have you."

"I know that," said Herbert. "But I guess I better go in and try it,
anyhow, Henry. I didn't have anything to do with what's in the _Oriole_.
It's every last word ole Florence's doing. I haven't got any more right
to be picked on for that than a child."

"Yes," Henry admitted. "But if you go and tell 'em so, I bet she'd get
even with you some way that would probably get _me_ in trouble, too,
before we get through with the job. _I_ wouldn't tell 'em if I was you,
Herbert!"

"Well, I wasn't intending to," Herbert responded gloomily; and the
thought of each, unknown to the other, was the same, consisting of a
symbolic likeness of Wallie Torbin at his worst. "I _ought_ to tell on
Florence; by rights I ought," said Herbert; "but I've decided I won't.
There's no tellin' what she wouldn't do. Not that she could do anything
to _me_, particyourly----"

"Nor me, either," his friend interposed hurriedly. "I don't worry about
anything like that! Still, if I was you I wouldn't tell. She's only a
girl, we got to remember."

"Yes," said Herbert. "That's the way _I_ look at it, Henry; and the way
I look at it is just simply this: long as she _is_ a girl, why, simply
let her go. You can't tell what she'd do, and so what's the use to go
and tell on a girl?"

"That's the way _I_ look at it," Henry agreed. "What's the use? If I was
in your place, I'd act just the same way you do."

"Well," said Herbert, "I guess I better go on in the house, Henry. It's
a good while after dark."

"You're makin' a big mistake!" Henry Rooter called after him. "_You_
won't see any apple dumplings, I bet a hunderd dollars! You better come
on home with me."

Herbert no more than half opened his front door before he perceived that
his friend's advice had been excellent. So clearly Herbert perceived
this, that he impulsively decided not to open the door any farther, but
on the contrary to close it and retire; and he would have done so, had
his mother not reached forth and detained him. She was, in fact, just
inside that door, standing in the hall with one of his great-aunts, one
of his aunts, two aunts-by-marriage, and an elderly unmarried cousin,
who were all just on the point of leaving. However, they changed their
minds and decided to remain, now that Herbert was among them.

The captive's father joined them, a few minutes later, but it had
already become clear to Herbert that _The North End Daily Oriole_ was in
one sense a thing of the past, though in another sense this former owner
and proprietor was certain that he would never hear the last of it.
However, on account of the life of blackmail and slavery now led by the
members of the old régime, the _Oriole's_ extinction was far less
painful to Herbert than his father supposed; and the latter wasted a
great deal of severity, insisting that the printing-press should be
returned that very night to Uncle Joseph. Herbert's heartiest
retrospective wish was that the ole printing-press had been returned to
Uncle Joseph long ago.

"If you can find him to give it to!" Aunt Harriet suggested. "Nobody
_knows_ where he goes when he gets the way he did this afternoon when we
were discussing it with him! I only hope he'll be back to-night!"

"He can't stay away forever," Aunt Fanny remarked. "That garage is
charging him five dollars an hour for the automobile he's in, and surely
even Joseph will decide there's a limit to wildness _some_ time!"

"I don't care when he comes back," Herbert's father declared grimly.
"Whenever he does he's got to take that printing-press back--and Herbert
will be let out of the house long enough to carry it over. His mother or
I will go with him."

Herbert bore much more than this. He had seated himself on the third
step of the stairway, and maintained as much dogged silence as he could.
Once, however, they got a yelp of anguish out of him. It was when Cousin
Virginia said: "Oh, Herbert, Herbert! How could you make up that
terrible falsehood about Mr. Crum? And, _think_ of it; right on the same
page with your cousin Florence's pure little poem!"

Herbert uttered sounds incoherent but loud, and expressive of a supreme
physical revulsion. The shocked audience readily understood that he
liked neither Cousin Virginia's chiding nor Cousin Florence's pure
little poem.

"Shame!" said his father.

Herbert controlled himself. It could be seen that his spirit was broken,
when Aunt Fanny mourned, shaking her head at him, smiling ruefully:

"Oh, if boys could only be girls!"

Herbert just looked at her.

"The worst thing," said his father;--"that is, if there's any part of it
that's worse than another--the worst thing about it all is this rumour
about Noble Dill."

"What about that poor thing?" Aunt Harriet asked. "We haven't heard."

"Why, I walked up from downtown with old man Dill," said Mr. Atwater,
"and the Dill family are all very much worried. It seems that Noble
started downtown after lunch, as usual, and pretty soon he came back to
the house and he had a copy of this awful paper that little Florence had
given him, and----"

"_Who_ gave it to him?" Aunt Fanny asked. "_Who_?"

"Little Florence."

"Why, that's curious," Cousin Virginia murmured. "I must telephone and
ask her mother about that."

The brooding Herbert looked up, and there was a gleam in his dogged eye;
but he said nothing.

"Go on," Aunt Harriet urged. "What did Noble do?"

"Why, his mother said he just went up to his room and changed his shoes
and necktie----"

"I thought so," Aunt Fanny whispered. "Crazy!"

"And then," Mr. Atwater continued, "he left the house and she supposed
he'd gone down to the office; but she was uneasy, and telephoned his
father. Noble hadn't come. He didn't come all afternoon, and he didn't
go back to the house; and they telephoned around to every place he
_could_ go that they know of, and they couldn't find him or hear
anything about him at all--not anywhere." Mr. Atwater coughed, and
paused.

"But what," Aunt Harriet cried;--"_what_ do they think's become of him?"

"Old man Dill said they were all pretty anxious," said Mr. Atwater.
"They're afraid Noble has--they're afraid he's disappeared."

Aunt Fanny screamed.

Then, in perfect accord, they all turned to look at Herbert, who rose
and would have retired upstairs had he been permitted.

As that perturbing evening wore on, word gradually reached the most
outlying members of the Atwater family connection that Noble Dill was
missing. Ordinarily, this bit of news would have caused them no severe
anxiety. Noble's person and intellect were so
commonplace--"insignificant" was the term usually preferred in his own
circle--that he was considered to be as nearly negligible as it is
charitable to consider a fellow-being. True, there was one thing that
set him apart; he was found worthy of a superlative when he fell in love
with Julia; and of course this distinction caused him to become better
known and more talked about than he had been in his earlier youth.

However, the eccentricities of a person in such an extremity of love are
seldom valued except as comedy, and even then with no warmth of heart
for the comedian, but rather with an incredulous disdain; so it is safe
to say that under other circumstances, Noble might have been missing,
indeed, and few of the Atwaters would have missed him. But as matters
stood they worried a great deal about him, fearing that a rash act on
his part might reflect notoriety upon themselves on account of their
beautiful relative--and _The North End Daily Oriole_. And when nine
o'clock came and Mrs. Dill reported to Herbert's father, over the
telephone, that nothing had yet been heard of her son, the pressure of
those who were blaming the _Oriole_ more than they blamed Julia became
so wearing that Herbert decided he would rather spend the remaining days
of his life running away from Wallie Torbin than put in any more of such
a dog's evening as he _was_ putting in. Thus he defined it.

He made a confession; that is to say, it was a proclamation. He
proclaimed his innocence. He began history with a description of events
distinctly subsequent to Sunday pastimes with Patty Fairchild, and
explained how he and Henry had felt that their parents would not always
be with them, and as their parents wished them to be polite, they had
resolved to be polite to Florence. Proceeding, he related in detail her
whole journalistic exploit.

Of the matter in hand he told the perfect and absolute truth--and was
immediately refuted, confuted, and demonstrated to be a false witness by
Aunt Fanny, Aunt Carrie, and Cousin Virginia, who had all heard him
vehemently declare, no longer ago than the preceding Sunday evening,
that he and his partner had taken secure measures to prevent Florence
from ever again setting foot within the Newspaper Building. In addition,
he was quite showered with definitions; and these, though so various,
all sought to phrase but the one subject: his conduct in seeking to drag
Florence into the mire, when she was absent and could not defend
herself. Poor Florence would answer later in the evening, he was told
severely; and though her cause was thus championed against the slander,
it is true that some of her defenders felt stirrings of curiosity in
regard to Florence. In fact, there was getting to be something almost
like a cloud upon her reputation. There were several things for her to
explain;--among them, her taking it upon herself to see that Noble
received a copy of the _Oriole_, and also her sudden departure from home
and rather odd protraction of absence therefrom. It was not thought she
was in good company. Uncle Joseph had telephoned from a suburb that they
were dining at a farmhouse and would thence descend to the general
region of the movies.

"_Nobody_ knows what that man'll do, when he decides to!" Aunt Carrie
said nervously. "Letting the poor child stay up so late! She ought to be
in bed this minute, even if it is Saturday night! Or else she ought to
be here to listen to her own bad little cousin trying to put his
terrible responsibility on her shoulders."

One item of this description of himself the badgered Herbert could not
bear in silence, although he had just declared that since the truth was
so ill-respected among his persecutors he would open his mouth no more
until the day of his death. He passed over "bad," but furiously stated
his height in feet, inches, and fractions of inches.

Aunt Fanny shook her head in mourning. "That may be, Herbert," she said
gently. "But you must try to realize it can't bring poor young Mr. Dill
back to his family."

Again Herbert just looked at her. He had no indifference more profound
than that upon which her strained conception of the relation between
cause and effect seemed to touch;--from his point of view, to be missing
should be the lightest of calamities. It is true that he was concerned
with the restoration of Noble Dill to the rest of the Dills so far as
such an event might affect his own incomparable misfortunes, but not
otherwise. He regarded Noble and Noble's disappearance merely as unfair
damage to himself, and he continued to look at this sorrowing great-aunt
of his until his thoughts made his strange gaze appear to her so
hardened that she shook her head and looked away.

"Poor young Mr. Dill!" she said. "If someone could only have been with
him and kept talking to him until he got used to the idea a little!"

Cousin Virginia nodded comprehendingly. "Yes, it might have tided him
over," she said. "He wasn't handsome, nor impressive, of course, nor
anything like that, but he always spoke so nicely to people on the
street. I'm sure he never harmed even a kitten, poor soul!"

"I'm sure he never did," Herbert's mother agreed gently. "Not even a
kitten. I do wonder where he is now."

But Aunt Fanny uttered a little cry of protest. "I'm afraid we may
hear!" she said. "Any moment!"



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


These sympathetic women had unanimously set their expectation in so
romantically pessimistic a groove that the most tragic news of Noble
would have surprised them little. But if the truth of his whereabouts
could have been made known to them, as they sat thus together at what
was developing virtually into his wake, with Herbert as a compulsory
participant, they would have turned the session into a riot of
amazement. Noble was in the very last place (they would have said, when
calmer) where anybody in the world could have even madly dreamed of
looking for him! They would have been right about it. No one could have
expected to find Noble to-night inside the old, four-square brick house
of H. I. Atwater, Senior, chief of the Atwaters and father of too gentle
Julia. Moreover, Mr. Atwater himself was not at present in the house; he
had closed and locked it the day before, giving the servants a week's
vacation and telling them not to return till he sent for them; and he
had then gone out of town to look over a hominy-mill he thought of
buying. And yet, as the wake went on, there was a light in the house,
and under that light sat Noble Dill.

Returning home, after Florence had placed the shattering paper within
his hand, Noble had changed his shoes and his tie. He was but a
mechanism; he had no motive. The shoes he put on were no better than
those he took off; the fresh tie was no lovelier than the one he had
worn; nor had it even the lucidity to be a purple one, as the banner of
grief. No; his action was, if so viewed, "crazy," as Aunt Fanny had
called it. Agitation first took this form; that was all. Love and change
of dress are so closely allied; and in happier days, when Noble had come
home from work and would see Julia in the evening, he usually changed
his clothes. No doubt there is some faint tracery here, probably too
indistinct to repay contemplation.

When he left the house he walked rapidly downtown, and toward the end of
this one-mile journey he ran; but as he was then approaching the railway
station, no one thought him eccentric. He was, however, for when he
entered the station he went to a bench and sat looking upward for more
than ten minutes before he rose, went to a ticket window and asked for
a time-table.

"What road?" the clerk inquired.

"All points South," said Noble.

He placed the time-table, still folded, in his pocket, rested an elbow
on the brass apron of the window, and would have given himself up to
reflections, though urged to move away. Several people, wishing to buy
tickets, had formed a line behind him; they perceived that Noble had
nothing more to say to the clerk, and the latter encouraged their
protests, even going so far as to inquire: "For heaven's sakes, can't
you let these folk buy their tickets?" And since Noble still did not
move: "My gosh, haven't you got no _feet_?"

"Feet? Oh, yes," said Noble gently. "I'm going away." And went back to
his seat.

Afterwhile, he sought to study his time-table. Ordinarily, his mind was
one of those able to decipher and comprehend railway time-tables; he had
few gifts, but this was one of them. It failed him now; so he wandered
back to the ticket-window, and, after urgent coaching, eventually took
his place at the end instead of at the head of the line that waited
there. In his turn he came again to the window, and departed from it
after a conversation with the clerk that left the latter in accord with
Aunt Fanny Atwater's commiserating adjective, though the clerk's own
pity was expressed in argot. "The poor nut!" he explained to his next
client. "Wants to buy a ticket on a train that don't pull out until ten
thirty-five to-night; and me fillin' it all out, stampin' it and
everything, what for? Turned out all his pockets and couldn't come
within eight dollars o' the price! Where you want to go?"

Noble went back to his bench and sat there for a long time, though there
was no time, long or short, for him. He was not yet consciously
suffering; nor was he thinking at all. True, he had a dim, persistent
impulse to action--or why should he be at the station?--but for the
clearest expression of his condition it is necessary to borrow a
culinary symbol; he was jelling. But the state of shock was slowly
dispersing, while a perception of approaching anguish as slowly
increased. He was beginning to swallow nothing at intervals and the
intervals were growing shorter.

Dusk was misting down, outdoors, when with dragging steps he came out of
the station. He looked hazily up and down the street, where the
corner-lamps and shop-windows now were lighted; and, after dreary
hesitation, he went in search of a pawn-shop, and found one. The old man
who operated it must have been a philanthropist, for Noble was so
fortunate as to secure a loan of nine dollars upon his watch. Surprised
at this, he returned to the station, and went back to the same old
bench.

It was fully occupied, and he stood for some time looking with vague
reproach at the large family of coloured people who had taken it. He had
a feeling that he lived there and that these coloured people were
trespassers; but upon becoming aware that part of an orange was being
rubbed over his left shoe by the youngest of the children, he groaned
abruptly and found another bench.

A little after six o'clock a clanging and commotion in the train-shed
outside, attending the arrival of a "through express," stirred him from
his torpor, and he walked heavily across the room to the same
ticket-window he had twice blocked; but there was no queue attached to
it now. He rested his elbow upon the apron and his chin upon his hand,
while the clerk waited until he should state his wishes. This was a new
clerk, who had just relieved the other.

"Well! Well!" he said at last.

"I'll take it now," Noble responded.

"What'll you take now?"

"That ticket."

"What ticket?"

"The same one I wanted before," Noble sighed.

The clerk gave him a piercing look, glanced out of the window and saw
that there were no other clients, then went to a desk at the farther end
of his compartment, and took up some clerical work he had in hand.

Noble leaned upon the apron of the window, waiting; and if he thought
anything, he thought the man was serving him.

The high, vaulted room became resonant with voices and the blurred
echoes of mingling footsteps on the marble floor, as passengers from the
express hurried anxiously to the street, or more gaily straggled
through, shouting with friends who came to greet them; and among these
moving groups there walked a youthful fine lady noticeably enlivening to
the dullest eye. She was preceded by a brisk porter who carried two
travelling-bags of a rich sort, as well as a sack of implements for the
game of golf; and she was warm in dark furs, against which the vasty
clump of violets she wore showed dewy gleamings of blue.

At sight of Noble Dill, more than pensive at the ticket-window, she
hesitated, then stopped and observed him. That she should observe
anybody was in a way a coincidence, for, as it happened, she was herself
the most observed person in all the place. She was veiled in two veils,
but she had been seen in the train without these, and some of her
fellow-travellers, though strangers to her, were walking near her in a
hypocritical way, hoping still not to lose sight of her, even veiled.
And although the shroudings permitted the most meagre information of her
features, what they did reveal was harmfully piquant; moreover, there
was a sweetness of figure, a disturbing grace; while nothing could
disguise her air of wearing that many violets casually as a daily
perquisite and matter of course.

[Illustration: _"He stared at her. His elbow sagged away from the
window; the whole person of Noble Dill seemed near collapse."_]

So this observed lady stopped and observed Noble, who in return observed
her not at all, being but semi-conscious. Looked upon thoughtfully, it
is a coincidence that we breathe; certainly it is a mighty coincidence
that we speak to one another and comprehend; for these are true marvels.
But what petty interlacings of human action so pique our sense of
the theatrical that we call them coincidences and are astonished! That
Julia should arrive during Noble's long process of buying a ticket to go
to her was stranger than that she stopped to look at him, though still
not comparable in strangeness to the fact that either of them, or any
living creature, stood upon the whirling earth;--yet when Noble Dill
comprehended what was happening he was amazed.

She spoke to him.

"Noble!" she said.

He stared at her. His elbow sagged away from the window; the whole
person of Noble Dill seemed near collapse. He shook; he had no voice.

"I just this minute got off the train," she said. "Are you going away
somewhere?"

"No," he whispered; then obtained command of a huskiness somewhat
greater in volume. "I'm just standing here."

"I told the porter to get me a taxicab," she said. "If you're going home
for dinner I'll drop you at your house."

"I--I'm--I----" His articulation encountered unsurmountable
difficulties, but Julia had been with him through many such trials
aforetime. She said briskly, "I'm awfully hungry and I want to get
home. Come on--if you like?"

He walked waveringly at her side through the station, and followed her
into the dim interior of the cab, which became fragrant of violets--an
emanation at once ineffable and poisonous.

"I'm so glad I happened to run across you," she said, as they began to
vibrate tremulously in unison with the fierce little engine that drew
them. "I want to hear all the news. Nobody knows I'm home. I didn't
write or telegraph to a soul; and I'll be a complete surprise to father
and everybody--I don't know how pleasant a one! _You_ didn't seem so
frightfully glad to see me, Noble!"

"Am I?" he whispered. "I mean--I mean--I mean: Didn't I?"

"No!" she laughed. "You looked--you looked shocked! It couldn't have
been because I'm ill or anything, because I'm not; and if I were you
couldn't have told it through these two veils. Possibly I'd better take
your expression as a compliment." She paused, then asked hesitatingly,
"Shall I?"

This was the style for which the Atwaters held Julia responsible; but
they were mistaken: she was never able to control it. Now she went
cheerily on: "Perhaps not, as you don't answer. I shouldn't be so bold!
Do you suppose anybody at all will be glad to see me?"

"I--I----" He seemed to hope that words would come in their own good
time.

"Noble!" she cried. "Don't be so glum!" And she touched his arm with her
muff, a fluffy contact causing within him a short convulsion, naturally
invisible. "Noble, aren't you going to tell me what's all the news?"

"There's--some," he managed to inform her. "Some--some news."

"What is it?"

"It's--it's----"

"Never mind," she said soothingly. "Get your breath; I can wait. I hope
nothing's wrong in your family, Noble."

"No. Oh, no."

"It isn't just my turning up unexpectedly that's upset you so, of
course," she dared to say. "Naturally, I know better than to think such
a thing as that."

"Oh, Julia!" he said. "Oh, Julia!"

"What is it, Noble?"

"Noth-ing," he murmured, disjointing the word.

"How odd you happened to be there at the station," she said, "just when
my train came in! You're sure you weren't going away anywhere?"

"No; oh, no."

She was thoughtful, then laughed confidentially. "You're the only person
in town that knows I'm home, Noble."

"I'm glad," he said humbly.

She laughed again. "I came all of a sudden--on an impulse. It's a little
idiotic. I'll tell you all about it, Noble. You see, ten or twelve days
ago I wrote the family a more or less indiscreet letter. That is, I told
them something I wanted them to be discreet about, and, of course, when
I got to thinking it over, I knew they wouldn't. You see, I wrote them
something I wanted them to keep a secret, but the more I thought about
it, the more I saw I'd better hurry back. Yesterday it got into my head
that I'd better jump on the next train for home!"

She paused, then added, "So I did! About ten or twelve days is as long
as anybody has a right to expect the Atwater family connection to keep
the deadliest kind of a secret, isn't it?" And as he did not respond,
she explained, modestly, "Of course, it wasn't a very deadly secret; it
was really about something of only the least importance."

The jar of this understatement restored Noble's voice to a sudden and
startling loudness. "'Only the least importance'!" he shouted. "With a
man named Crum!"

"What!" she cried

"Crum!" Noble insisted. "That's exactly what it said his name was!"

"_What_ said his name was?"

"_The North End Daily Oriole!_"

"What in heaven's name is that?"

"It's the children's paper, Herbert's and Florence's: your own niece and
nephew, Julia! You don't mean you deny it, do you, Julia?"

She was in great confusion: "Do I deny what?"

"That his name's Crum!" Noble said passionately. "That his name's Crum
and that he's a widower and he's been divorced and's got nobody knows
how many children!"

Julia sought to collect herself. "I don't know what you're talking
about," she said. "If you mean that I happened to meet a very charming
man while I was away, and that his name happened to be Crum, I don't
know why I should go to the trouble of denying it. But if Mr. Crum has
had the experiences you say he has, it is certainly news to me! I think
someone told me he was only twenty-six years old. He looked rather
younger."

"You 'think someone told' you!" Noble groaned. "Oh, Julia! And here it
is, all down in black and white, in my pocket!"

"I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about." Julia's tone
was cold, and she drew herself up haughtily, though the gesture was
ineffective in the darkness of that quivering interior. The quivering
stopped just then, however, as the taxicab came to a rather abrupt halt
before her house.

"Will you come in with me a moment, please?" Julia said as she got out.
"There are some things I want to ask you--and I'm sure my father hasn't
come home from downtown yet. There's no light in the front part of the
house."



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


There was no light in any other part of the house, they discovered,
after abandoning the front door bell for an excursion to the rear.
"That's disheartening to a hungry person," Julia remarked: and then
remembered that she had a key to the front door in her purse. She opened
the door, and lighted the hall chandelier while Noble brought in her
bags from the steps where the taxicab driver had left them.

"There's nobody home at all," Julia said thoughtfully. "Not even Gamin."

"No. Nobody," her sad companion agreed, shaking his head. "Nobody at
all, Julia. Nobody at all." Rousing himself, he went back for the golf
tools, and with a lingering gentleness set them in a corner. Then,
dumbly, he turned to go.

"Wait, please," said Julia. "I want to ask you a few things--especially
about what you've got 'all down in black and white' in your pocket. Will
you shut the front door, if you please, and go into the library and
turn on the lights and wait there while I look over the house and see if
I can find why it's all closed up like this?"

Noble went into the library and found the control of the lights. She
came hurrying in after him.

"It's chilly. The furnace seems to be off," she said. "I'll----" But
instead of declaring her intentions, she enacted them; taking a match
from a little white porcelain trough on the mantelpiece and striking it
on the heel of her glittering shoe. Then she knelt before the grate and
set the flame to paper beneath the kindling-wood and coal. "You mustn't
freeze," she said, with a thoughtful kindness that killed him; and as
she went out of the room he died again;--for she looked back over her
shoulder.

She had pushed up her veils and this was his first sight of that
disastrous face in long empty weeks and weeks. Now he realized that all
his aching reveries upon its contours had shown but pallid likenesses;
for here was the worst thing about Julia's looks;--even her most
extravagant suitor, in absence, could not dream an image of her so
charming as he found herself when he saw her again. Thus, seeing Julia
again was always a discovery. And this glance over her shoulder as she
left a room--not a honeyed glance but rather inscrutable, yet implying
that she thought of the occupant, and might continue to think of him
while gone from him--this was one of those ways of hers that experience
could never drill out of her.

"I'm Robinson Crusoe, Noble," she said, when she came back. "I suppose I
might as well take off my furs, though." But first she unfastened the
great bouquet she wore and tossed it upon a table. Noble was standing
close to the table, and he moved away from it hurriedly--a revulsion
that she failed to notice. She went on to explain, as she dropped her
cloak and stole upon a chair: "Papa's gone away for at least a week.
He's taken his ulster. It doesn't make any difference what the weather
is, but when he's going away for a week or longer, he always takes it
with him, except in summer. If he's only going to be gone two or three
days he takes his short overcoat. And unless I'm here when he leaves
town he always gives the servants a holiday till he gets back; so
they've gone and even taken Gamin with 'em, and I'm all alone in the
house. I can't get even Kitty Silver back until to-morrow, and then I'll
probably have to hunt from house to house among her relatives. Papa left
yesterday, because the numbers on his desk calender are pulled off up
to to-day, and that's the first thing he does when he comes down for
breakfast. So here I am, Robinson Crusoe for to-night at least."

"I suppose," said Noble huskily, "I suppose you'll go to some of your
aunts or brothers or cousins or something."

"No," she said. "My trunk may come up from the station almost any time,
and if I close the house they'll take it back."

"You needn't bother about that, Julia. I'll look after it."

"How?"

"I could sit on the porch till it comes," he said. "I'd tell 'em you
wanted 'em to leave it." He hesitated, painfully. "I--if you want to
lock up the house I--I could wait out on the porch with your trunk, to
see that it was safe, until you come back to-morrow morning."

She looked full at him, and he plaintively endured the examination.

"_Noble!_" Undoubtedly she had a moment's shame that any creature should
come to such a pass for her sake. "What crazy nonsense!" she said; and
sat upon a stool before the crackling fire. "Do sit down, Noble--unless
your dinner will be waiting for you at home?"

"No," he murmured. "They never wait for me. Don't you want me to look
after your trunk?"

"Not by sitting all night with it on the porch!" she said. "I'm going to
stay here myself. I'm not going out; I don't want to see any of the
family to-night."

"I thought you said you were hungry?"

"I am; but there's enough in the pantry. I looked."

"Well, if you don't want to see any of 'em," he suggested, "and they
know your father's away and think the house is empty, they're liable to
notice the lights and come in, and then you'd have to see 'em."

"No, you can't see the lights of this room from the street, and I lit
the lamp at the other end of the hall. The light near the front door,"
Julia added, "I put out."

"You did?"

"I can't see any of 'em to-night," she said resolutely. "Besides, I want
to find out what you meant by what you said in the taxicab before I do
anything else."

"What I meant in the taxicab?" he echoed. "Oh, Julia! Julia!"

She frowned, first at the fire, then, turning her head, at Noble. "You
seem to feel reproachful about something," she observed.

"No, I don't. I don't feel reproachful, Julia. I don't know what I feel,
but I don't feel reproachful."

She smiled faintly. "Don't you? Well, there's something perhaps you do
feel, and that's hungry. Will you stay to dinner with me--if I go and
get it?"

"What?"

"You can have dinner with me--if you want to? You can stay till ten
o'clock--if you want to? Wait!" she said, and jumped up and ran out of
the room.

Half an hour later she came back and called softly to him from the
doorway; and he followed her to the dining-room.

"It isn't much of a dinner, Noble," she said, a little tremulously,
being for once (though strictly as a cook) genuinely apologetic;--but
the scrambled eggs, cold lamb, salad, and coffee were quite as "much of
a dinner" as Noble wanted. To him everything on that table was hallowed,
yet excruciating.

"Let's eat first and talk afterward," Julia proposed; but what she
meant by "talk" evidently did not exclude interchange of information
regarding weather and the health of acquaintances, for she spoke freely
upon these subjects, while Noble murmured in response and swallowed a
little of the sacred food, but more often swallowed nothing. Bitterest
of all was his thought of what this unexampled seclusion with Julia
could have meant to him, were those poisonous violets not at her
waist--for she had put them on again--and were there no Crum in the
South. Without these fatal obstructions, the present moment would have
been to him a bit of what he often thought of as "dream life"; but all
its sweetness was a hurt.

"_Now_ we'll talk!" said Julia, when she had brought him back to the
library fire again, and they were seated before it. "Don't you want to
smoke?" He shook his head dismally, having no heart for what she
proposed. "Well, then," she said briskly, but a little ruefully, "let's
get to the bottom of things. Just what did you mean you had 'in black
and white' in your pocket?"

Slowly Noble drew forth the historic copy of _The North End Daily
Oriole_; and with face averted, placed it in her extended hand.

"What in the world!" she exclaimed, unfolding it; and then as its title
and statement of ownership came into view, "Oh, yes! I see. Aunt Carrie
wrote me that Uncle Joseph had given Herbert a printing-press. I suppose
Herbert's the editor?"

"And that Rooter boy," Noble said sadly. "I think maybe your little
niece Florence has something to do with it, too."

"'Something' to do with it? She usually has _all_ to do with anything
she gets hold of! But what's it got to do with me?"

"You'll see!" he prophesied accurately.

She began to read, laughing at some of the items as she went along; then
suddenly she became rigid, holding the small journal before her in a
transfixed hand.

"Oh!" she cried. "_Oh!_"

"That's--that's what--I meant," Noble explained.

Julia's eyes grew dangerous. "The little fiends!" she cried. "Oh,
really, this is a long-suffering family, but it's time these outrages
were stopped!"

She jumped up. "Isn't it frightful?" she demanded of Noble.

"Yes, it is," he said, with a dismal fervour. "Nobody knows that better
than I do, Julia!"

"I mean _this_!" she cried, extending the _Oriole_ toward him with a
vigorous gesture. "I mean this dreadful story about poor Mr. Crum!"

"But it's true," he said.

"Noble Dill!"

"Julia?"

"Do you dare to say you believed it?"

He sprang up. "It isn't true?"

"Not one word of it! I told you Mr. Crum is only twenty-six. He hasn't
been out of college more than three or four years, and it's the most
terrible slander to say he's ever been married at all!"

Noble dropped back into his chair of misery. "I thought you meant it
wasn't true."

"I've just told you there isn't one _word_ of tr----"

"But you're--engaged," Noble gulped. "You're engaged to him, Julia!"

She appeared not to hear this. "I suppose it _can_ be lived down," she
said. "To think of Uncle Joseph putting such a thing into the hands of
those awful children!"

"But, Julia, you're eng----"

"Noble!" she said sharply.

"Well, you _are_ eng----"

Julia drew herself up. "Different people mean different things by that
word," she said with severity, like an annoyed school-teacher. "There
are any number of shades of meaning to words; and if I used the word you
mention, in writing home to the family, I may have used a certain shade
and they may have thought I intended another."

"But, Julia----"

"Mr. Crum is a charming young man," she continued with the same
primness. "I liked him very much indeed. I liked him very, very much. I
liked him very, _very_----"

"I understand," he interrupted. "Don't say it any more, Julia."

"No; you don't understand! At _first_ I liked him very much--in fact, I
still do, of course--I'm sure he's one of the best and most attractive
young men in the world. I think he's a man any girl ought to be happy
with, if he were only to be considered by himself. I don't deny that. I
liked him very much indeed, and I don't deny that for several days after
he--after he proposed to me--I don't deny I thought something serious
_might_ come of it. But at that time, Noble, I hadn't--hadn't really
thought of what it meant to give up living here at home, with all the
family and everything--and friends--friends like you, Noble. I hadn't
thought what it would mean to me to give all this up. And besides, there
was something very important. At the time I wrote that letter mentioning
poor Mr. Crum to the family, Noble, I hadn't--I hadn't----" She paused,
visibly in some distress. "I hadn't----"

"You hadn't what?" he cried.

"I hadn't met his mother!"

Noble leaped to his feet. "Julia! You aren't--you aren't engaged?"

"I am not," she answered decisively. "If I ever was--in the slightest--I
certainly am not now."

Poor Noble was transfigured. He struggled; making half-formed gestures,
speaking half-made words. A rapture glowed upon him.

"Julia--Julia----" He choked. "Julia, promise me something. Will you
promise me something? Julia, promise to promise me something."

"I will," she said quickly. "What do you want me to do?"

Then he saw that it was his time to speak; that this was the moment for
him to dare everything and ask for the utmost he could hope from her.

"Give me your word!" he said, still radiantly struggling. "Give me your
word--your word--your word and your sacred promise, Julia--that you'll
never be engaged to anybody at all!"



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


At six minutes after four o'clock on the second afternoon following
Julia's return, Noble Dill closed his own gate behind him and set forth
upon the four-minute walk that would bring him to Julia's. He wore a bit
of scarlet geranium in the buttonhole of his new light overcoat; he
flourished a new walking-stick and new grey gloves. As for his
expression, he might have been a bridegroom.

Passing the mouth of an alley, as he swung along the street, he was
aware of a commotion, of missiles hurled and voices clashed. In this
alley there was a discord: passion and mockery were here inimically
intermingled.

Casting _a_ glance that way, Noble could see but one person; a boy of
fourteen who looked through a crack in a board fence, steadfastly
keeping an eye to this aperture and as continuously calling through it,
holding his head to a level for this purpose, but at the same time
dancing--and dancing tauntingly, it was conveyed--with the other parts
of his body. His voice was now sweet, now piercing, and again far too
dulcet with the overkindness of burlesque; and if, as it seemed, he was
unburdening his spleen, his spleen was a powerful one and gorged. He
appeared to be in a torment of tormenting; and his success was proved by
the pounding of bricks, parts of bricks and rocks of size upon the other
side of the fence, as close to the crack as might be.

"Oh, dolling!" he wailed, his tone poisonously amorous. "Oh, dolling
Henery! Oo's dot de mos' booful eyes in a dray bid nasty world. Henery!
Oh, _has_ I dot booful eyes, dolling Pattywatty? Yes, I _has_! I _has_
dot pretty eyes!" His voice rose unbearably. "_Oh_, what prettiest eyes
I dot! Me and Herbie Atwater! _Oh_, my booful eyes! Oh, my _booful_----"

But even as he reached this apex, the head, shoulders, and arms of
Herbert Atwater rose momentarily above the fence across the alley,
behind the tormentor. Herbert's expression was implacably resentful, and
so was the gesture with which he hurled an object at the comedian
preoccupied with the opposite fence. This object, upon reaching its
goal, as it did more with a splash than a thud, was revealed as a
tomato, presumably in a useless state. The taunter screamed in
astonishment, and after looking vainly for an assailant, began
necessarily to remove his coat.

Noble, passing on, thought he recognized the boy as one of the Torbin
family, but he was not sure, and he had no idea that the episode was in
any possible manner to be connected with his own recent history. How
blindly we walk our ways! As Noble flourished down the street, there
appeared a wan face at a prison window; and the large eyes looked out
upon him wistfully. But Noble went on, as unwitting that he had to do
with this prison as that he had to do with Master Torbin's tomato.

The face at the window was not like Charlotte Corday's, nor was the
window barred, though the prisoner knew a little solace in wondering if
she did not suggest that famous picture. For all purposes, except during
school hours, the room was certainly a cell; and the term of
imprisonment was set at three days. Uncle Joseph had been unable to
remain at the movies forever: people do have to go home eventually,
especially when accompanied by thirteen-year-old great-nieces. Florence
had finally to face the question awaiting her; and it would have been
better for her had she used less imagination in her replies.

Yet she was not wholly despondent as her eyes followed the disappearing
figure of Noble Dill. His wholesome sprightliness was visible at any
distance; and who would not take a little pride in having been even the
mistaken instrument of saving so gay a young man from the loss of his
reason? No; Florence was not cast down. Day-after-to-morrow she would
taste Freedom again, and her profoundest regret was that after all her
Aunt Julia was not to be married. Florence had made definite plans for
the wedding, especially for the principal figure at the ceremony. This
figure, as Florence saw things, would have been that of the "Flower
Girl," naturally a niece of the bride; but she was able to dismiss the
bright dream with some philosophy. And to console her for everything,
had she not a star in her soul? Had she not discovered that she could
write poetry whenever she felt like it?

Noble passed from her sight, but nevertheless continued his radiant
progress down Julia's Street. Life stretched before him, serene,
ineffably fragrant, unending. He saw it as a flower-strewn sequence of
calls upon Julia, walks with Julia, talks with Julia by the library
fire. Old Mr. Atwater was to be away four days longer, and Julia, that
great-hearted bride-not-to-be, had given him her promise.

Blushing, indeed divinely, she had promised him upon her sacred word,
never so long as she lived, to be engaged to anybody at all.


                           THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

                   BOOKS BY BOOTH TARKINGTON

     ALICE ADAMS
     BEASLEY'S CHRISTMAS PARTY
     BEAUTY AND THE JACOBIN
     CHERRY
     CONQUEST OF CANAAN
     GENTLE JULIA
     HARLEQUIN AND COLUMBINE
     HIS OWN PEOPLE
     IN THE ARENA
     MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE
     PENROD
     PENROD AND SAM
     RAMSEY MILHOLLAND
     SEVENTEEN
     THE BEAUTIFUL LADY
     THE FLIRT
     THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA
     THE GIBSON UPRIGHT
     THE GUEST OF QUESNAY
     THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
     THE MAN FROM HOME
     THE TURMOIL
     THE TWO VANREVELS

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

1. Punctuation normalized to contemporary standards.

2. List of "Books by Booth Tarkington" originally before frontispiece
   moved to end of text.





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