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Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Part 2 out of 6

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Mildred was giving her hand to one and another of her guests as
rapidly as she could, passing them on to her father and mother,
and at the same time resisting the efforts of three or four
detached bachelors who besought her to give over her duty in
favour of the dance-music just beginning to blare.

She was a large, fair girl, with a kindness of eye somewhat
withheld by an expression of fastidiousness; at first sight of
her it was clear that she would never in her life do anything
"incorrect," or wear anything "incorrect." But her correctness
was of the finer sort, and had no air of being studied or
achieved; conduct would never offer her a problem to be settled
from a book of rules, for the rules were so deep within her that
she was unconscious of them. And behind this perfection there
was an even ampler perfection of what Mrs. Adams called
"background." The big, rich, simple house was part of it, and
Mildred's father and mother were part of it. They stood beside
her, large, serene people, murmuring graciously and gently
inclining their handsome heads as they gave their hands to the
guests; and even the youngest and most ebullient of these took on
a hushed mannerliness with a closer approach to the bower.

When the opportunity came for Alice and Walter to pass within
this precinct, Alice, going first, leaned forward and whispered
in Mildred's ear. "You DIDN'T wear the maize georgette! That's
what I thought you were going to. But you look simply DARLING!
And those pearls----"

Others were crowding decorously forward, anxious to be done with
ceremony and get to the dancing; and Mildred did not prolong the
intimacy of Alice's enthusiastic whispering. With a faint
accession of colour and a smile tending somewhat in the direction
of rigidity, she carried Alice's hand immediately onward to Mrs.
Palmer's. Alice's own colour showed a little heightening as she
accepted the suggestion thus implied; nor was that emotional tint
in any wise decreased, a moment later, by an impression that
Walter, in concluding the brief exchange of courtesies between
himself and the stately Mr. Palmer, had again reassured himself
with a yawn.

But she did not speak of it to Walter; she preferred not to
confirm the impression and to leave in her mind a possible doubt
that he had done it. He followed her out upon the waxed floor,
said resignedly: "Well, come on," put his arm about her, and they
began to dance.

Alice danced gracefully and well, but not so well as Walter. Of
all the steps and runs, of all the whimsical turns and twirlings,
of all the rhythmic swayings and dips commanded that season by
such blarings as were the barbaric product, loud and wild, of the
Jazz Louies and their half-breed bunches, the thin and sallow
youth was a master. Upon his face could be seen contempt of the
easy marvels he performed as he moved in swift precision from one
smooth agility to another; and if some too-dainty or jealous
cavalier complained that to be so much a stylist in dancing was
"not quite like a gentleman," at least Walter's style was what
the music called for. No other dancer in the room could be
thought comparable to him. Alice told him so.

"It's wonderful!" she said. "And the mystery is, where you ever
learned to DO it! You never went to dancing-school, but there
isn't a man in the room who can dance half so well. I don't see
why, when you dance like this, you always make such a fuss about
coming to parties."

He sounded his brief laugh, a jeering bark out of one side of the
mouth, and swung her miraculously through a closing space between
two other couples. "You know a lot about what goes on, don't
you? You prob'ly think there's no other place to dance in this
town except these frozen-face joints."

"'Frozen face?'" she echoed, laughing. "Why, everybody's having
a splendid time. Look at them."

"Oh, they holler loud enough," he said. "They do it to make each
other think they're havin' a good time. You don't call that
Palmer family frozen-face berries, I s'pose. No?"

"Certainly not. They're just dignified and----"

"Yeuh!" said Walter. "They're dignified, 'specially when you
tried to whisper to Mildred to show how IN with her you were, and
she moved you on that way. SHE'S a hot friend, isn't she!"

"She didn't mean anything by it. She----"

"Ole Palmer's a hearty, slap you-on-the-back ole berry," Walter
interrupted; adding in a casual tone, "All I'd like, I'd like to
hit him."

"Walter! By the way, you mustn't forget to ask Mildred for a
dance before the evening is over."

"Me?" He produced the lop-sided appearance of his laugh, but
without making it vocal. "You watch me do it!"

"She probably won't have one left, but you must ask her, anyway."

"Why must I?"

"Because, in the first place, you're supposed to, and, in the
second place, she's my most intimate friend."

"Yeuh? Is she? I've heard you pull that 'most-intimate-friend'
stuff often enough about her. What's SHE ever do to show she
is?"

"Never mind. You really must ask her, Walter. I want you to;
and I want you to ask several other girls afterwhile; I'll tell
you who."

"Keep on wanting; it'll do you good."

"Oh, but you really----"

"Listen!" he said. "I'm just as liable to dance with any of
these fairies as I am to buy a bucket o' rusty tacks and eat 'em.
Forget it! Soon as I get rid of you I'm goin' back to that room
where I left my hat and overcoat and smoke myself to death."

"Well," she said, a little ruefully, as the frenzy of Jazz Louie
and his half-breeds was suddenly abated to silence, "you
mustn't--you mustn't get rid of me TOO soon, Walter."

They stood near one of the wide doorways, remaining where they
had stopped. Other couples, everywhere, joined one another,
forming vivacious clusters, but none of these groups adopted the
brother and sister, nor did any one appear to be hurrying in
Alice's direction to ask her for the next dance. She looked
about her, still maintaining that jubilance of look and manner
she felt so necessary--for it is to the girls who are "having a
good time" that partners are attracted--and, in order to lend
greater colour to her impersonation of a lively belle, she began
to chatter loudly, bringing into play an accompaniment of
frolicsome gesture. She brushed Walter's nose saucily with the
bunch of violets in her hand, tapped him on the shoulder, shook
her pretty forefinger in his face, flourished her arms, kept her
shoulders moving, and laughed continuously as she spoke.

"You NAUGHTY old Walter!" she cried. "AREN'T you ashamed to be
such a wonderful dancer and then only dance with your own little
sister! You could dance on the stage if you wanted to. Why, you
could made your FORTUNE that way! Why don't you? Wouldn't it be
just lovely to have all the rows and rows of people clapping
their hands and shouting, 'Hurrah! Hurrah, for Walter Adams!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

He stood looking at her in stolid pity.

"Cut it out," he said. "You better be givin' some of these
berries the eye so they'll ask you to dance."

She was not to be so easily checked, and laughed loudly,
flourishing her violets in his face again. "You WOULD like it;
you know you would; you needn't pretend! Just think! A whole
big audience shouting, 'Hurrah! HURRAH! HUR----'"

"The place'll be pulled if you get any noisier," he interrupted,
not ungently. "Besides, I'm no muley cow."

"A 'COW?'" she laughed. "What on earth----"

"I can't eat dead violets," he explained. "So don't keep tryin'
to make me do it."

This had the effect he desired, and subdued her; she abandoned
her unsisterly coquetries, and looked beamingly about her, but
her smile was more mechanical than it had been at first.

At home she had seemed beautiful; but here, where the other girls
competed, things were not as they had been there, with only her
mother and Miss Perry to give contrast. These crowds of other
girls had all done their best, also, to look beautiful, though
not one of them had worked so hard for such a consummation as
Alice had. They did not need to; they did not need to get their
mothers to make old dresses over; they did not need to hunt
violets in the rain.

At home her dress had seemed beautiful; but that was different,
too, where there were dozens of brilliant fabrics, fashioned in
new ways--some of these new ways startling, which only made the
wearers centers of interest and shocked no one. And Alice
remembered that she had heard a girl say, not long before, "Oh,
ORGANDIE! Nobody wears organdie for evening gowns except in
midsummer." Alice had thought little of this; but as she looked
about her and saw no organdie except her own, she found greater
difficulty in keeping her smile as arch and spontaneous as she
wished it. In fact, it was beginning to make her face ache a
little.

Mildred came in from the corridor, heavily attended. She carried
a great bouquet of violets laced with lilies of-the-valley; and
the violets were lusty, big purple things, their stems wrapped in
cloth of gold, with silken cords dependent, ending in long
tassels. She and her convoy passed near the two young Adamses;
and it appeared that one of the convoy besought his hostess to
permit "cutting in"; they were "doing it other places" of late,
he urged; but he was denied and told to console himself by
holding the bouquet, at intervals, until his third of the
sixteenth dance should come. Alice looked dubiously at her own
bouquet.

Suddenly she felt that the violets betrayed her; that any one who
looked at them could see how rustic, how innocent of any
florist's craft they were "I can't eat dead violets," Walter
said. The little wild flowers, dying indeed in the warm air,
were drooping in a forlorn mass; and it seemed to her that
whoever noticed them would guess that she had picked them
herself. She decided to get rid of them.

Walter was becoming restive. "Look here!" he said. "Can't you
flag one o' these long-tailed birds to take you on for the next
dance? You came to have a good time; why don't you get busy and
have it? I want to get out and smoke."

"You MUSTN'T leave me, Walter," she whispered, hastily.
"Somebody'll come for me before long, but until they do----"

"Well, couldn't you sit somewhere?"

"No, no! There isn't any one I could sit with."

"Well, why not? Look at those ole dames in the corners. What's
the matter your tyin' up with some o' them for a while?"

"PLEASE, Walter; no!"

In fact, that indomitable smile of hers was the more difficult to
maintain because of these very elders to whom Walter referred.
They were mothers of girls among the dancers, and they were there
to fend and contrive for their offspring; to keep them in
countenance through any trial; to lend them diplomacy in the
carrying out of all enterprises; to be "background" for them; and
in these essentially biological functionings to imitate their own
matings and renew the excitement of their nuptial periods. Older
men, husbands of these ladies and fathers of eligible girls, were
also to be seen, most of them with Mr. Palmer in a billiard-room
across the corridor. Mr. and Mrs. Adams had not been invited.
"Of course papa and mama just barely know Mildred Palmer," Alice
thought, "and most of the other girls' fathers and mothers are
old friends of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, but I do think she might
have ASKED papa and mama, anyway--she needn't have been afraid
just to ask them; she knew they couldn't come." And her smiling
lip twitched a little threateningly, as she concluded the silent
monologue. "I suppose she thinks I ought to be glad enough she
asked Walter!"

Walter was, in fact, rather noticeable. He was not Mildred's
only guest to wear a short coat and to appear without gloves; but
he was singular (at least in his present surroundings) on account
of a kind of coiffuring he favoured, his hair having been shaped
after what seemed a Mongol inspiration. Only upon the top of the
head was actual hair perceived, the rest appearing to be nudity.
And even more than by any difference in mode he was set apart by
his look and manner, in which there seemed to be a brooding,
secretive and jeering superiority and this was most vividly
expressed when he felt called upon for his loud, short, lop-sided
laugh. Whenever he uttered it Alice laughed, too, as loudly as
she could, to cover it.

"Well," he said. "How long we goin' to stand here? My feet are
sproutin' roots."

Alice took his arm, and they began to walk aimlessly through the
rooms, though she tried to look as if they had a definite
destination, keeping her eyes eager and her lips parted;--people
had called jovially to them from the distance, she meant to
imply, and they were going to join these merry friends. She was
still upon this ghostly errand when a furious outbreak of drums
and saxophones sounded a prelude for the second dance.

Walter danced with her again, but he gave her a warning. "I
don't want to leave you high and dry," he told her, "but I can't
stand it. I got to get somewhere I don't haf' to hurt my eyes
with these berries; I'll go blind if I got to look at any more of
'em. I'm goin' out to smoke as soon as the music begins the next
time, and you better get fixed for it."

Alice tried to get fixed for it. As they danced she nodded
sunnily to every man whose eye she caught, smiled her smile with
the under lip caught between her teeth; but it was not until the
end of the intermission after the dance that she saw help coming.

Across the room sat the globular lady she had encountered that
morning, and beside the globular lady sat a round-headed,
round-bodied girl; her daughter, at first glance. The family
contour was also as evident a characteristic of the short young
man who stood in front of Mrs. Dowling, engaged with her in a
discussion which was not without evidences of an earnestness
almost impassioned. Like Walter, he was declining to dance a
third time with sister; he wished to go elsewhere.

Alice from a sidelong eye watched the controversy: she saw the
globular young man glance toward her, over his shoulder;
whereupon Mrs. Dowling, following this glance, gave Alice a look
of open fury, became much more vehement in the argument, and even
struck her knee with a round, fat fist for emphasis.

"I'm on my way," said Walter. "There's the music startin' up
again, and I told you----"

She nodded gratefully. "It's all right--but come back before
long, Walter."

The globular young man, red with annoyance, had torn himself from
his family and was hastening across the room to her. "C'n I have
this dance?"

"Why, you nice Frank Dowling!" Alice cried. "How lovely!"

CHAPTER VII

They danced. Mr. Dowling should have found other forms of
exercise and pastime.

Nature has not designed everyone for dancing, though sometimes
those she has denied are the last to discover her niggardliness.
But the round young man was at least vigorous enough--too much
so, when his knees collided with Alice's--and he was too sturdy
to be thrown off his feet, himself, or to allow his partner to
fall when he tripped her. He held her up valiantly, and
continued to beat a path through the crowd of other dancers by
main force.

He paid no attention to anything suggested by the efforts of the
musicians, and appeared to be unaware that there should have been
some connection between what they were doing and what he was
doing; but he may have listened to other music of his own, for
his expression was of high content; he seemed to feel no doubt
whatever that he was dancing. Alice kept as far away from him as
under the circumstances she could; and when they stopped she
glanced down, and found the execution of unseen manoeuvres,
within the protection of her skirt, helpful to one of her insteps
and to the toes of both of her slippers.

Her cheery partner was paddling his rosy brows with a fine
handkerchief. "That was great!" he said. "Let's go out and sit
in the corridor; they've got some comfortable chairs out there."

"Well--let's not," she returned. "I believe I'd rather stay in
here and look at the crowd."

"No; that isn't it," he said, chiding her with a waggish
forefinger. "You think if you go out there you'll miss a chance
of someone else asking you for the next dance, and so you'll have
to give it to me."

"How absurd!" Then, after a look about her that revealed nothing
encouraging, she added graciously, "You can have the next if you
want it."

"Great!" he exclaimed, mechanically. "Now let's get out of
here--out of THIS room, anyhow."

"Why? What's the matter with----"

"My mother," Mr. Dowling explained. "But don't look at her.
She keeps motioning me to come and see after Ella, and I'm simply
NOT going to do it, you see!"

Alice laughed. "I don't believe it's so much that," she said,
and consented to walk with him to a point in the next room from
which Mrs. Dowling's continuous signalling could not be seen.
"Your mother hates me."

"Oh, no; I wouldn't say that. No, she don't," he protested,
innocently. "She don't know you more than just to speak to, you
see. So how could she?"

"Well, she does. I can tell."

A frown appeared upon his rounded brow. "No; I'll tell you the
way she feels. It's like this: Ella isn't TOO popular, you
know--it's hard to see why, because she's a right nice girl, in
her way--and mother thinks I ought to look after her, you see.
She thinks I ought to dance a whole lot with her myself, and stir
up other fellows to dance with her--it's simply impossible to
make mother understand you CAN'T do that, you see. And then
about me, you see, if she had her way I wouldn't get to dance
with anybody at all except girls like Mildred Palmer and
Henrietta Lamb. Mother wants to run my whole programme for me,
you understand, but the trouble of it is--about girls like that,
you see well, I couldn't do what she wants, even if I wanted to
myself, because you take those girls, and by the time I get Ella
off my hands for a minute, why, their dances are always every
last one taken, and where do I come in?"

Alice nodded, her amiability undamaged. "I see. So that's why
you dance with me."

"No, I like to," he protested. "I rather dance with you than I
do with those girls." And he added with a retrospective
determination which showed that he had been through quite an
experience with Mrs. Dowling in this matter. "I TOLD mother I
would, too!"

"Did it take all your courage, Frank?"

He looked at her shrewdly. "Now you're trying to tease me," he
said. "I don't care; I WOULD rather dance with you! In the
first place, you're a perfectly beautiful dancer, you see, and in
the second, a man feels a lot more comfortable with you than he
does with them. Of course I know almost all the other fellows
get along with those girls all right; but I don't waste any time
on 'em I don't have to. _I_ like people that are always cordial
to everybody, you see--the way you are."

"Thank you," she said, thoughtfully.

"Oh, I MEAN it," he insisted. "There goes the band again. Shall
we?"

"Suppose we sit it out?" she suggested. "I believe I'd like to
go out in the corridor, after all--it's pretty warm in here."

Assenting cheerfully, Dowling conducted her to a pair of
easy-chairs within a secluding grove of box-trees, and when they
came to this retreat they found Mildred Palmer just departing,
under escort of a well-favoured gentleman about thirty. As these
two walked slowly away, in the direction of the dancing-floor,
they left it not to be doubted that they were on excellent terms
with each other; Mildred was evidently willing to make their
progress even slower, for she halted momentarily, once or twice;
and her upward glances to her tall companion's face were of a
gentle, almost blushing deference. Never before had Alice seen
anything like this in her friend's manner.

"How queer!" she murmured.

"What's queer?" Dowling inquired as they sat down.

"Who was that man?"

"Haven't you met him?"

"I never saw him before. Who is he?"

"Why, it's this Arthur Russell."

"What Arthur Russell? I never heard of him." Mr. Dowling was
puzzled. "Why, THAT'S funny! Only the last time I saw you, you
were telling me how awfully well you knew Mildred Palmer."

"Why, certainly I do," Alice informed him. "She's my most
intimate friend."

"That's what makes it seem so funny you haven't heard anything
about this Russell, because everybody says even if she isn't
engaged to him right now, she most likely will be before very
long. I must say it looks a good deal that way to me, myself."

"What nonsense!" Alice exclaimed. "She's never even mentioned
him to me."

The young man glanced at her dubiously and passed a finger over
the tiny prong that dashingly composed the whole substance of his
moustache.

"Well, you see, Mildred IS pretty reserved," he remarked. "This
Russell is some kind of cousin of the Palmer family, I
understand."

"He is?"

"Yes--second or third or something, the girls say. You see, my
sister Ella hasn't got much to do at home, and don't read
anything, or sew, or play solitaire, you see; and she hears about
pretty much everything that goes on, you see. Well, Ella says a
lot of the girls have been talking about Mildred and this Arthur
Russell for quite a while back, you see. They were all wondering
what he was going to look like, you see; because he only got here
yesterday; and that proves she must have been talking to some of
'em, or else how----"

Alice laughed airily, but the pretty sound ended abruptly with an
audible intake of breath. "Of course, while Mildred IS my most
intimate friend," she said, "I don't mean she tells me
everything--and naturally she has other friends besides. What
else did your sister say she told them about this Mr. Russell?"

"Well, it seems he's VERY well off; at least Henrietta Lamb told
Ella he was. Ella says----"

Alice interrupted again, with an increased irritability. "Oh,
never mind what Ella says! Let's find something better to talk
about than Mr. Russell!"

"Well, I'M willing," Mr. Dowling assented, ruefully. "What you
want to talk about?"

But this liberal offer found her unresponsive; she sat leaning
back, silent, her arms along the arms of her chair, and her eyes,
moist and bright, fixed upon a wide doorway where the dancers
fluctuated. She was disquieted by more than Mildred's reserve,
though reserve so marked had certainly the significance of a
warning that Alice's definition, "my most intimate friend,"
lacked sanction. Indirect notice to this effect could not well
have been more emphatic, but the sting of it was left for a later
moment. Something else preoccupied Alice: she had just been
surprised by an odd experience. At first sight of this Mr.
Arthur Russell, she had said to herself instantly, in words as
definite as if she spoke them aloud, though they seemed more like
words spoken to her by some unknown person within her: "There!
That's exactly the kind of looking man I'd like to marry!"

In the eyes of the restless and the longing, Providence often
appears to be worse than inscrutable: an unreliable Omnipotence
given to haphazard whimsies in dealing with its own creatures,
choosing at random some among them to be rent with tragic
deprivations and others to be petted with blessing upon blessing.

In Alice's eyes, Mildred had been blessed enough; something ought
to be left over, by this time, for another girl. The final touch
to the heaping perfection of Christmas-in-everything for Mildred
was that this Mr. Arthur Russell, good-looking, kind-looking,
graceful, the perfect fiance, should be also "VERY well off." Of
course! These rich always married one another. And while the
Mildreds danced with their Arthur Russells the best an outsider
could do for herself was to sit with Frank Dowling--the one last
course left her that was better than dancing with him.

"Well, what DO you want to talk about?" he inquired.

"Nothing," she said. "Suppose we just sit, Frank." But a moment
later she remembered something, and, with a sudden animation,
began to prattle. She pointed to the musicians down the
corridor. "Oh, look at them! Look at the leader! Aren't they
FUNNY? Someone told me they're called 'Jazz Louie and his
half-breed bunch.' Isn't that just crazy? Don't you love it? Do
watch them, Frank."

She continued to chatter, and, while thus keeping his glance away
from herself, she detached the forlorn bouquet of dead violets
from her dress and laid it gently beside the one she had carried.

The latter already reposed in the obscurity selected for it at
the base of one of the box-trees.

Then she was abruptly silent.

"You certainly are a funny girl," Dowling remarked. "You say you
don't want to talk about anything at all, and all of a sudden you
break out and talk a blue streak; and just about the time I begin
to get interested in what you're saying you shut off! What's the
matter with girls, anyhow, when they do things like that?"

"I don't know; we're just queer, I guess."

"I say so! Well, what'll we do NOW? Talk, or just sit?"

"Suppose we just sit some more."

"Anything to oblige," he assented. "I'm willing to sit as long
as you like."

But even as he made his amiability clear in this matter, the
peace was threatened--his mother came down the corridor like a
rolling, ominous cloud. She was looking about her on all sides,
in a fidget of annoyance, searching for him, and to his dismay
she saw him. She immediately made a horrible face at his
companion, beckoned to him imperiously with a dumpy arm, and
shook her head reprovingly. The unfortunate young man tried to
repulse her with an icy stare, but this effort having obtained
little to encourage his feeble hope of driving her away, he
shifted his chair so that his back was toward her discomfiting
pantomime. He should have known better, the instant result was
Mrs. Dowling in motion at an impetuous waddle.

She entered the box-tree seclusion with the lower rotundities of
her face hastily modelled into the resemblance of an
over-benevolent smile a contortion which neglected to spread its
intended geniality upward to the exasperated eyes and anxious
forehead.

"I think your mother wants to speak to you, Frank," Alice said,
upon this advent.

Mrs. Dowling nodded to her. "Good evening, Miss Adams," she
said. "I just thought as you and Frank weren't dancing you
wouldn't mind my disturbing you----"

"Not at all," Alice murmured.

Mr. Dowling seemed of a different mind. "Well, what DO you
want?" he inquired, whereupon his mother struck him roguishly
with her fan.

"Bad fellow!" She turned to Alice. "I'm sure you won't mind
excusing him to let him do something for his old mother, Miss
Adams."

"What DO you want?" the son repeated.

"Two very nice things," Mrs. Dowling informed him. "Everybody
is so anxious for Henrietta Lamb to have a pleasant evening,
because it's the very first time she's been anywhere since her
father's death, and of course her dear grandfather's an old
friend of ours, and----"

"Well, well!" her son interrupted. "Miss Adams isn't interested
in all this, mother."

"But Henrietta came to speak to Ella and me, and I told her you
were so anxious to dance with her----"

"Here!" he cried. "Look here! I'd rather do my own----"

"Yes; that's just it," Mrs. Dowling explained. "I just thought
it was such a good opportunity; and Henrietta said she had most
of her dances taken, but she'd give you one if you asked her
before they were all gone. So I thought you'd better see her as
soon as possible."

Dowling's face had become rosy. "I refuse to do anything of the
kind."

"Bad fellow!" said his mother, gaily. "I thought this would be
the best time for you to see Henrietta, because it won't be long
till all her dances are gone, and you've promised on your WORD to
dance the next with Ella, and you mightn't have a chance to do it
then. I'm sure Miss Adams won't mind if you----"

"Not at all," Alice said.

"Well, _I_ mind!" he said. "I wish you COULD understand that
when I want to dance with any girl I don't need my mother to ask
her for me. I really AM more than six years old!"

He spoke with too much vehemence, and Mrs. Dowling at once saw
how to have her way. As with husbands and wives, so with many
fathers and daughters, and so with some sons and mothers: the man
will himself be cross in public and think nothing of it, nor will
he greatly mind a little crossness on the part of the woman; but
let her show agitation before any spectator, he is instantly
reduced to a coward's slavery. Women understand that ancient
weakness, of course; for it is one of their most important means
of defense, but can be used ignobly.

Mrs. Dowling permitted a tremulousness to become audible in her
voice. "It isn't very--very pleasant --to be talked to like that
by your own son--before strangers!"

"Oh, my! Look here!" the stricken Dowling protested. "_I_
didn't say anything, mother. I was just joking about how you
never get over thinking I'm a little boy. I only----"

Mrs. Dowling continued: "I just thought I was doing you a little
favour. I didn't think it would make you so angry."

"Mother, for goodness' sake! Miss Adams'll think----"

"I suppose," Mrs. Dowling interrupted, piteously, "I suppose it
doesn't matter what _I_ think!"

"Oh, gracious!"

Alice interfered; she perceived that the ruthless Mrs. Dowling
meant to have her way. "I think you'd better go, Frank.
Really."

"There!" his mother cried. "Miss Adams says so, herself! What
more do you want?"

"Oh, gracious!" he lamented again, and, with a sick look over his
shoulder at Alice, permitted his mother to take his arm and
propel him away. Mrs. Dowling's spirits had strikingly
recovered even before the pair passed from the corridor: she
moved almost bouncingly beside her embittered son, and her eyes
and all the convolutions of her abundant face were blithe.

Alice went in search of Walter, but without much hope of finding
him. What he did with himself at frozen-face dances was one of
his most successful mysteries, and her present excursion gave her
no clue leading to its solution. When the musicians again
lowered their instruments for an interval she had returned,
alone, to her former seat within the partial shelter of the
box-trees.

She had now to practice an art that affords but a limited variety
of methods, even to the expert: the art of seeming to have an
escort or partner when there is none. The practitioner must
imply, merely by expression and attitude, that the supposed
companion has left her for only a few moments, that she herself
has sent him upon an errand; and, if possible, the minds of
observers must be directed toward a conclusion that this errand
of her devising is an amusing one; at all events, she is alone
temporarily and of choice, not deserted. She awaits a devoted
man who may return at any instant.

Other people desired to sit in Alice's nook, but discovered her
in occupancy. She had moved the vacant chair closer to her own,
and she sat with her arm extended so that her hand, holding her
lace kerchief, rested upon the back of this second chair,
claiming it. Such a preemption, like that of a traveller's bag
in the rack, was unquestionable; and, for additional evidence,
sitting with her knees crossed, she kept one foot continuously
moving a little, in cadence with the other, which tapped the
floor. Moreover, she added a fine detail: her half-smile, with
the under lip caught, seemed to struggle against repression, as
if she found the service engaging her absent companion even more
amusing than she would let him see when he returned: there was
jovial intrigue of some sort afoot, evidently. Her eyes, beaming
with secret fun, were averted from intruders, but sometimes, when
couples approached, seeking possession of the nook, her thoughts
about the absentee appeared to threaten her with outright
laughter; and though one or two girls looked at her skeptically,
as they turned away, their escorts felt no such doubts, and
merely wondered what importantly funny affair Alice Adams was
engaged in. She had learned to do it perfectly.

She had learned it during the last two years; she was twenty when
for the first time she had the shock of finding herself without
an applicant for one of her dances. When she was sixteen "all
the nice boys in town," as her mother said, crowded the Adamses'
small veranda and steps, or sat near by, cross-legged on the
lawn, on summer evenings; and at eighteen she had replaced the
boys with "the older men." By this time most of "the other
girls," her contemporaries, were away at school or college, and
when they came home to stay, they "came out"--that feeble revival
of an ancient custom offering the maiden to the ceremonial
inspection of the tribe. Alice neither went away nor "came out,"
and, in contrast with those who did, she may have seemed to lack
freshness of lustre--jewels are richest when revealed all new in
a white velvet box. And Alice may have been too eager to secure
new retainers, too kind in her efforts to keep the old ones. She
had been a belle too soon.

CHAPTER VIII

The device of the absentee partner has the defect that it cannot
be employed for longer than ten or fifteen minutes at a time, and
it may not be repeated more than twice in one evening: a single
repetition, indeed, is weak, and may prove a betrayal. Alice
knew that her present performance could be effective during only
this interval between dances; and though her eyes were guarded,
she anxiously counted over the partnerless young men who lounged
together in the doorways within her view. Every one of them
ought to have asked her for dances, she thought, and although she
might have been put to it to give a reason why any of them
"ought," her heart was hot with resentment against them.

For a girl who has been a belle, it is harder to live through
these bad times than it is for one who has never known anything
better. Like a figure of painted and brightly varnished wood,
Ella Dowling sat against the wall through dance after dance with
glassy imperturbability; it was easier to be wooden, Alice
thought, if you had your mother with you, as Ella had. You were
left with at least the shred of a pretense that you came to sit
with your mother as a spectator, and not to offer yourself to be
danced with by men who looked you over and rejected you--not for
the first time. "Not for the first time": there lay a sting!
Why had you thought this time might be different from the other
times? Why had you broken your back picking those hundreds of
violets?

Hating the fatuous young men in the doorways more bitterly for
every instant that she had to maintain her tableau, the smiling
Alice knew fierce impulses to spring to her feet and shout at
them, "You IDIOTS!" Hands in pockets, they lounged against the
pilasters, or faced one another, laughing vaguely, each one of
them seeming to Alice no more than so much mean beef in clothes.
She wanted to tell them they were no better than that; and it
seemed a cruel thing of heaven to let them go on believing
themselves young lords. They were doing nothing, killing time.
Wasn't she at her lowest value at least a means of killing time?
Evidently the mean beeves thought not. And when one of them
finally lounged across the corridor and spoke to her, he was the
very one to whom she preferred her loneliness.

"Waiting for somebody, Lady Alicia?" he asked, negligently; and
his easy burlesque of her name was like the familiarity of the
rest of him. He was one of those full-bodied, grossly handsome
men who are powerful and active, but never submit themselves to
the rigour of becoming athletes, though they shoot and fish from
expensive camps. Gloss is the most shining outward mark of the
type. Nowadays these men no longer use brilliantine on their
moustaches, but they have gloss bought from manicure-girls, from
masseurs, and from automobile-makers; and their eyes, usually
large, are glossy. None of this is allowed to interfere with
business; these are "good business men," and often make large
fortunes. They are men of imagination about two things--women
and money, and, combining their imaginings about both, usually
make a wise first marriage. Later, however, they are apt to
imagine too much about some little woman without whom life seems
duller than need be. They run away, leaving the first wife well
enough dowered. They are never intentionally unkind to women,
and in the end they usually make the mistake of thinking they
have had their money's worth of life. Here was Mr. Harvey
Malone, a young specimen in an earlier stage of development,
trying to marry Henrietta Lamb, and now sauntering over to speak
to Alice, as a time-killer before his next dance with Henrietta.

Alice made no response to his question, and he dropped lazily
into the vacant chair, from which she sharply withdrew her hand.
"I might as well use his chair till he comes, don't you think?
You don't MIND, do you, old girl?"

"Oh, no," Alice said. "It doesn't matter one way or the other.
Please don't call me that."

"So that's how you feel?" Mr. Malone laughed indulgently,
without much interest. "I've been meaning to come to see you for
a long time honestly I have--because I wanted to have a good talk
with you about old times. I know you think it was funny, after
the way I used to come to your house two or three times a week,
and sometimes oftener--well, I don't blame you for being hurt,
the way I stopped without explaining or anything. The truth is
there wasn't any reason: I just happened to have a lot of
important things to do and couldn't find the time. But I AM
going to call on you some evening--honestly I am. I don't wonder
you think----"

"You're mistaken," Alice said. "I've never thought anything
about it at all."

"Well, well!" he said, and looked at her languidly. "What's the
use of being cross with this old man? He always means well."
And, extending his arm, he would have given her a friendly pat
upon the shoulder but she evaded it. "Well, well!" he said.
"Seems to me you're getting awful tetchy! Don't you like your
old friends any more?"

"Not all of them."

"Who's the new one?" he asked, teasingly. "Come on and tell us,
Alice. Who is it you were holding this chair for?"

"Never mind."

"Well, all I've got to do is to sit here till he comes back; then
I'll see who it is."

"He may not come back before you have to go."

"Guess you got me THAT time," Malone admitted, laughing as he
rose. "They're tuning up, and I've got this dance. I AM coming
around to see you some evening." He moved away, calling back
over his shoulder, "Honestly, I am!"

Alice did not look at him,

She had held her tableau as long as she could; it was time for
her to abandon the box-trees; and she stepped forth frowning, as
if a little annoyed with the absentee for being such a time upon
her errand; whereupon the two chairs were instantly seized by a
coquetting pair who intended to "sit out" the dance. She walked
quickly down the broad corridor, turned into the broader hall,
and hurriedly entered the dressing-room where she had left her
wraps.

She stayed here as long as she could, pretending to arrange her
hair at a mirror, then fidgeting with one of her slipper-buckles;
but the intelligent elderly woman in charge of the room made an
indefinite sojourn impracticable. "Perhaps I could help you with
that buckle, Miss," she suggested, approaching. "Has it come
loose?" Alice wrenched desperately; then it was loose. The
competent woman, producing needle and thread, deftly made the
buckle fast; and there was nothing for Alice to do but to express
her gratitude and go.

She went to the door of the cloak-room opposite, where a coloured
man stood watchfully in the doorway. "I wonder if you know which
of the gentlemen is my brother, Mr. Walter Adams," she said.

"Yes'm; I know him."

"Could you tell me where he is?"

"No'm; I couldn't say."

"Well, if you see him, would you please tell him that his sister,
Miss Adams, is looking for him and very anxious to speak to him?"

"Yes'm. Sho'ly, sho'ly!"

As she went away he stared after her and seemed to swell with
some bursting emotion. In fact, it was too much for him, and he
suddenly retired within the room, releasing strangulated
laughter.

Walter remonstrated. Behind an excellent screen of coats and
hats, in a remote part of the room, he was kneeling on the floor,
engaged in a game of chance with a second coloured attendant; and
the laughter became so vehement that it not only interfered with
the pastime in hand, but threatened to attract frozen-face
attention.

"I cain' he'p it, man," the laughter explained. "I cain' he'p
it! You sut'n'y the beatin'es' white boy 'n 'is city!"

The dancers were swinging into an "encore" as Alice halted for an
irresolute moment in a doorway. Across the room, a cluster of
matrons sat chatting absently, their eyes on their dancing
daughters; and Alice, finding a refugee's courage, dodged through
the scurrying couples, seated herself in a chair on the outskirts
of this colony of elders, and began to talk eagerly to the matron
nearest her. The matron seemed unaccustomed to so much vivacity,
and responded but dryly, whereupon Alice was more vivacious than
ever; for she meant now to present the picture of a jolly girl
too much interested in these wise older women to bother about
every foolish young man who asked her for a dance.

Her matron was constrained to go so far as to supply a tolerant
nod, now and then, in complement to the girl's animation, and
Alice was grateful for the nods. In this fashion she
supplemented the exhausted resources of the dressing-room and the
box-tree nook; and lived through two more dances, when again Mr.
Frank Dowling presented himself as a partner.

She needed no pretense to seek the dressing-room for repairs
after that number; this time they were necessary and genuine.
Dowling waited for her, and when she came out he explained for
the fourth or fifth time how the accident had happened. "It was
entirely those other people's fault," he said. "They got me in a
kind of a corner, because neither of those fellows knows the
least thing about guiding; they just jam ahead and expect
everybody to get out of their way. It was Charlotte Thom's
diamond crescent pin that got caught on your dress in the back
and made such a----"

"Never mind," Alice said in a tired voice. "The maid fixed it so
that she says it isn't very noticeable."

"Well, it isn't," he returned. "You could hardly tell there'd
been anything the matter. Where do you want to go? Mother's
been interfering in my affairs some more and I've got the next
taken."

"I was sitting with Mrs. George Dresser. You might take me back
there."

He left her with the matron, and Alice returned to her
picture-making, so that once more, while two numbers passed,
whoever cared to look was offered the sketch of a jolly, clever
girl preoccupied with her elders. Then she found her friend
Mildred standing before her, presenting Mr. Arthur Russell, who
asked her to dance with him.

Alice looked uncertain, as though not sure what her engagements
were; but her perplexity cleared; she nodded, and swung
rhythmically away with the tall applicant. She was not grateful
to her hostess for this alms. What a young hostess does with a
fiance, Alice thought, is to make him dance with the unpopular
girls. She supposed that Mr. Arthur Russell had already danced
with Ella Dowling.

The loan of a lover, under these circumstances, may be painful to
the lessee, and Alice, smiling never more brightly, found nothing
to say to Mr. Russell, though she thought he might have found
something to say to her. "I wonder what Mildred told him," she
thought. "Probably she said, 'Dearest, there's one more girl
you've got to help me out with. You wouldn't like her much, but
she dances well enough and she's having a rotten time. Nobody
ever goes near her any more.'"

When the music stopped, Russell added his applause to the
hand-clapping that encouraged the uproarious instruments to
continue, and as they renewed the tumult, he said heartily,
"That's splendid!"

Alice gave him a glance, necessarily at short range, and found
his eyes kindly and pleased. Here was a friendly soul, it
appeared, who probably "liked everybody." No doubt he had
applauded for an "encore" when he danced with Ella Dowling, gave
Ella the same genial look, and said, "That's splendid!"

When the "encore" was over, Alice spoke to him for the first
time.

"Mildred will be looking for you," she said. "I think you'd
better take me back to where you found me."

He looked surprised. "Oh, if you----"

"I'm sure Mildred will be needing you," Alice said, and as she
took his arm and they walked toward Mrs. Dresser, she thought it
might be just possible to make a further use of the loan. "Oh, I
wonder if you----" she began.

"Yes?" he said, quickly.

"You don't know my brother, Walter Adams," she said. "But he's
somewhere I think possibly he's in a smoking-room or some place
where girls aren't expected, and if you wouldn't think it too
much trouble to inquire----"

"I'll find him," Russell said, promptly. "Thank you so much for
that dance. I'll bring your brother in a moment."

It was to be a long moment, Alice decided, presently. Mrs.
Dresser had grown restive; and her nods and vague responses to
her young dependent's gaieties were as meager as they could well
be. Evidently the matron had no intention of appearing to her
world in the light of a chaperone for Alice Adams; and she
finally made this clear. With a word or two of excuse, breaking
into something Alice was saying, she rose and went to sit next to
Mildred's mother, who had become the nucleus of the cluster. So
Alice was left very much against the wall, with short stretches
of vacant chairs on each side of her. She had come to the end of
her picture-making, and could only pretend that there was
something amusing the matter with the arm of her chair.

She supposed that Mildred's Mr. Russell had forgotten Walter by
this time. "I'm not even an intimate enough friend of Mildred's
for him to have thought he ought to bother to tell me he couldn't
find him," she thought. And then she saw Russell coming across
the room toward her, with Walter beside him. She jumped up
gaily.

"Oh, thank you!" she cried. "I know this naughty boy must have
been terribly hard to find. Mildred'll NEVER forgive me! I've
put you to so much----"

"Not at all," he said, amiably, and went away, leaving the
brother and sister together.

"Walter, let's dance just once more," Alice said, touching his
arm placatively. "I thought--well, perhaps we might go home
then."

But Walter's expression was that of a person upon whom an outrage
has just been perpetrated. "No," he said. "We've stayed THIS
long, I'm goin' to wait and see what they got to eat. And you
look here!" He turned upon her angrily. "Don't you ever do that
again!"

"Do what?"

"Send somebody after me that pokes his nose into every corner of
the house till he finds me! 'Are you Mr. Walter Adams?' he
says. I guess he must asked everybody in the place if they were
Mr. Walter Adams! Well, I'll bet a few iron men you wouldn't
send anybody to hunt for me again if you knew where he found me!"

"Where was it?"

Walter decided that her fit punishment was to know. "I was
shootin' dice with those coons in the cloak-room."

"And he saw you?"

"Unless he was blind!" said Walter. "Come on, I'll dance this
one more dance with you. Supper comes after that, and THEN we'll
go home."

Mrs. Adams heard Alice's key turning in the front door and
hurried down the stairs to meet her.

"Did you get wet coming in, darling?" she asked. "Did you have a
good time?"

"Just lovely!" Alice said, cheerily, and after she had arranged
the latch for Walter, who had gone to return the little car, she
followed her mother upstairs and hummed a dance-tune on the way.

"Oh, I'm so glad you had a nice time," Mrs. Adams said, as they
reached the door of her daughter's room together. "You DESERVED
to, and it's lovely to think----"

But at this, without warning, Alice threw herself into her
mother's arms, sobbing so loudly that in his room, close by, her
father, half drowsing through the night, started to full
wakefulness.

CHAPTER IX

On a morning, a week after this collapse of festal hopes, Mrs.
Adams and her daughter were concluding a three-days' disturbance,
the "Spring house-cleaning"--postponed until now by Adams's long
illness--and Alice, on her knees before a chest of drawers, in
her mother's room, paused thoughtfully after dusting a packet of
letters wrapped in worn muslin. She called to her mother, who
was scrubbing the floor of the hallway just beyond the open door,

"These old letters you had in the bottom drawer, weren't they
some papa wrote you before you were married?"

Mrs. Adams laughed and said, "Yes. Just put 'em back where they
were--or else up in the attic--anywhere you want to."

"Do you mind if I read one, mama?"

Mrs. Adams laughed again. "Oh, I guess you can if you want to.
I expect they're pretty funny!"

Alice laughed in response, and chose the topmost letter of the
packet. "My dear, beautiful girl," it began; and she stared at
these singular words. They gave her a shock like that caused by
overhearing some bewildering impropriety; and, having read them
over to herself several times, she went on to experience other
shocks.

MY DEAR, BEAUTIFUL GIRL:

This time yesterday I had a mighty bad case of blues because I
had not had a word from you in two whole long days and when I do
not hear from you every day things look mighty down in the mouth
to me. Now it is all so different because your letter has
arrived and besides I have got a piece of news I believe you will
think as fine as I do. Darling, you will be surprised, so get
ready to hear about a big effect on our future. It is this way.
I had sort of a suspicion the head of the firm kind of took a
fancy to me from the first when I went in there, and liked the
way I attended to my work and so when he took me on this business
trip with him I felt pretty sure of it and now it turns out I was
about right. In return I guess I have got about the best boss in
this world and I believe you will think so too. Yes, sweetheart,
after the talk I have just had with him if J. A. Lamb asked me
to cut my hand off for him I guess I would come pretty near doing
it because what he says means the end of our waiting to be
together. From New Years on he is going to put me in entire
charge of the sundries dept. and what do you think is going to
be my salary? Eleven hundred cool dollars a year ($1,100.00).
That's all! Just only a cool eleven hundred per annum! Well, I
guess that will show your mother whether I can take care of you
or not. And oh how I would like to see your dear, beautiful,
loving face when you get this news.

I would like to go out on the public streets and just dance and
shout and it is all I can do to help doing it, especially when I
know we will be talking it all over together this time next week,
and oh my darling, now that your folks have no excuse for putting
it off any longer we might be in our own little home before Xmas.

Would you be glad?

Well, darling, this settles everything and makes our future just
about as smooth for us as anybody could ask. I can hardly
realize after all this waiting life's troubles are over for you
and me and we have nothing to do but to enjoy the happiness
granted us by this wonderful, beautiful thing we call life. I
know I am not any poet and the one I tried to write about you the
day of the picnic was fearful but the way I THINK about you is a
poem.

Write me what you think of the news. I know but write me anyhow.

I'll get it before we start home and I can be reading it over all
the time on the tram.

Your always loving

VIRGIL.

The sound of her mother's diligent scrubbing in the hall came
back slowly to Alice's hearing, as she restored the letter to the
packet, wrapped the packet in its muslin covering, and returned
it to the drawer. She had remained upon her knees while she read
the letter; now she sank backward, sitting upon the floor with
her hands behind her, an unconscious relaxing for better ease to
think. Upon her face there had fallen a look of wonder.

For the first time she was vaguely perceiving that life is
everlasting movement. Youth really believes what is running
water to be a permanent crystallization and sees time fixed to a
point: some people have dark hair, some people have blond hair,
some people have gray hair. Until this moment, Alice had no
conviction that there was a universe before she came into it.
She had always thought of it as the background of herself: the
moon was something to make her prettier on a summer night.

But this old letter, through which she saw still flickering an
ancient starlight of young love, astounded her. Faintly before
her it revealed the whole lives of her father and mother, who had
been young, after all--they REALLY had--and their youth was now
so utterly passed from them that the picture of it, in the
letter, was like a burlesque of them. And so she, herself, must
pass to such changes, too, and all that now seemed vital to her
would be nothing.

When her work was finished, that afternoon, she went into her
father's room. His recovery had progressed well enough to permit
the departure of Miss Perry; and Adams, wearing one of Mrs.
Adams's wrappers over his night-gown, sat in a high-backed chair
by a closed window. The weather was warm, but the closed window
and the flannel wrapper had not sufficed him: round his shoulders
he had an old crocheted scarf of Alice's; his legs were wrapped
in a heavy comfort; and, with these swathings about him, and his
eyes closed, his thin and grizzled head making but a slight
indentation in the pillow supporting it, he looked old and little
and queer.

Alice would have gone out softly, but without opening his eyes,
he spoke to her: "Don't go, dearie. Come sit with the old man a
little while."

She brought a chair near his. "I thought you were napping."

"No. I don't hardly ever do that. I just drift a little
sometimes."

"How do you mean you drift, papa?"

He looked at her vaguely. "Oh, I don't know. Kind of pictures.
They get a little mixed up--old times with times still ahead,
like planning what to do, you know. That's as near a nap as I
get--when the pictures mix up some. I suppose it's sort of
drowsing."

She took one of his hands and stroked it. "What do you mean when
you say you have pictures like 'planning what to do'?" she asked.

"I mean planning what to do when I get out and able to go to work
again."

"But that doesn't need any planning," Alice said, quickly.
"You're going back to your old place at Lamb's, of course."

Adams closed his eyes again, sighing heavily, but made no other
response.

"Why, of COURSE you are!" she cried. "What are you talking
about?"

His head turned slowly toward her, revealing the eyes, open in a
haggard stare. "I heard you the other night when you came from
the party," he said. "I know what was the matter."

"Indeed, you don't," she assured him. "You don't know anything
about it, because there wasn't anything the matter at all."

"Don't you suppose I heard you crying? What'd you cry for if
there wasn't anything the matter?"

"Just nerves, papa. It wasn't anything else in the world."

"Never mind," he said. "Your mother told me."

"She promised me not to!"

At that Adams laughed mournfully. "It wouldn't be very likely
I'd hear you so upset and not ask about it, even if she didn't
come and tell me on her own hook. You needn't try to fool me; I
tell you I know what was the matter."

"The only matter was I had a silly fit," Alice protested. "It
did me good, too."

"How's that?"

"Because I've decided to do something about it, papa."

"That isn't the way your mother looks at it," Adams said,
ruefully. "She thinks it's our place to do something about it.
Well, I don't know--I don't know; everything seems so changed
these days. You've always been a good daughter, Alice, and you
ought to have as much as any of these girls you go with; she's
convinced me she's right about THAT. The trouble is----" He
faltered, apologetically, then went on, "I mean the question
is--how to get it for you."

"No!" she cried. "I had no business to make such a fuss just
because a lot of idiots didn't break their necks to get dances
with me and because I got mortified about Walter--Walter WAS
pretty terrible----"

"Oh, me, my!" Adams lamented. "I guess that's something we just
have to leave work out itself. What you going to do with a boy
nineteen or twenty years old that makes his own living? Can't
whip him. Can't keep him locked up in the house. Just got to
hope he'll learn better, I suppose."

"Of course he didn't want to go to the Palmers'," Alice
explained, tolerantly--"and as mama and I made him take me, and
he thought that was pretty selfish in me, why, he felt he had a
right to amuse himself any way he could. Of course it was awful
that this--that this Mr. Russell should----" In spite of her,
the recollection choked her.

"Yes, it was awful," Adams agreed. "Just awful. Oh, me, my!"

But Alice recovered herself at once, and showed him a cheerful
face. "Well, just a few years from now I probably won't even
remember it! I believe hardly anything amounts to as much as we
think it does at the time."

"Well--sometimes it don't."

"What I've been thinking, papa: it seems to me I ought to DO
something."

"What like?"

She looked dreamy, but was obviously serious as she told him:
"Well, I mean I ought to be something besides just a kind of
nobody. I ought to----" She paused.

"What, dearie?"

"Well--there's one thing I'd like to do. I'm sure I COULD do it,
too."

"What?"

"I want to go on the stage: I know I could act." At this, her
father abruptly gave utterance to a feeble cackling of laughter;
and when Alice, surprised and a little offended, pressed him for
his reason, he tried to evade, saying, "Nothing, dearie. I just
thought of something." But she persisted until he had to
explain.

"It made me think of your mother's sister, your Aunt Flora, that
died when you were little," he said. "She was always telling how
she was going on the stage, and talking about how she was certain
she'd make a great actress, and all so on; and one day your
mother broke out and said she ought 'a' gone on the stage,
herself, because she always knew she had the talent for it--and,
well, they got into kind of a spat about which one'd make the
best actress. I had to go out in the hall to laugh!"

"Maybe you were wrong," Alice said, gravely. "If they both felt
it, why wouldn't that look as if there was talent in the family?
I've ALWAYS thought----"

"No, dearie," he said, with a final chuckle. "Your mother and
Flora weren't different from a good many others. I expect ninety
per cent. of all the women I ever knew were just sure they'd be
mighty fine actresses if they ever got the chance. Well, I guess
it's a good thing; they enjoy thinking about it and it don't do
anybody any harm."

Alice was piqued. For several days she had thought almost
continuously of a career to be won by her own genius. Not that
she planned details, or concerned herself with first steps; her
picturings overleaped all that. Principally, she saw her name
great on all the bill-boards of that unkind city, and herself,
unchanged in age but glamorous with fame and Paris clothes,
returning in a private car. No doubt the pleasantest development
of her vision was a dialogue with Mildred; and this became so
real that, as she projected it, Alice assumed the proper
expressions for both parties to it, formed words with her lips,
and even spoke some of them aloud. "No, I haven't forgotten you,
Mrs. Russell. I remember you quite pleasantly, in fact. You
were a Miss Palmer, I recall, in those funny old days. Very kind
of you, I'm shaw. I appreciate your eagerness to do something
for me in your own little home. As you say, a reception WOULD
renew my acquaintanceship with many old friends--but I'm shaw
you won't mind my mentioning that I don't find much inspiration
in these provincials. I really must ask you not to press me. An
artist's time is not her own, though of course I could hardly
expect you to understand----"

Thus Alice illuminated the dull time; but she retired from the
interview with her father still manfully displaying an outward
cheerfulness, while depression grew heavier within, as if she had
eaten soggy cake. Her father knew nothing whatever of the stage,
and she was aware of his ignorance, yet for some reason his
innocently skeptical amusement reduced her bright project almost
to nothing. Something like this always happened, it seemed; she
was continually making these illuminations, all gay with gildings
and colourings; and then as soon as anybody else so much as
glanced at them--even her father, who loved her--the pretty
designs were stricken with a desolating pallor. "Is this LIFE?"
Alice wondered, not doubting that the question was original and
all her own. "Is it life to spend your time imagining things
that aren't so, and never will be? Beautiful things happen to
other people; why should I be the only one they never CAN happen
to?"

The mood lasted overnight; and was still upon her the next
afternoon when an errand for her father took her down-town.
Adams had decided to begin smoking again, and Alice felt rather
degraded, as well as embarrassed, when she went into the large
shop her father had named, and asked for the cheap tobacco he
used in his pipe. She fell back upon an air of amused
indulgence, hoping thus to suggest that her purchase was made for
some faithful old retainer, now infirm; and although the calmness
of the clerk who served her called for no such elaboration of her
sketch, she ornamented it with a little laugh and with the
remark, as she dropped the package into her coat-pocket, "I'm
sure it'll please him; they tell me it's the kind he likes."

Still playing Lady Bountiful, smiling to herself in anticipation
of the joy she was bringing to the simple old negro or Irish
follower of the family, she left the shop; but as she came out
upon the crowded pavement her smile vanished quickly.

Next to the door of the tobacco-shop, there was the open entrance
to a stairway, and, above this rather bleak and dark aperture, a
sign-board displayed in begrimed gilt letters the information
that Frincke's Business College occupied the upper floors of the
building. Furthermore, Frincke here publicly offered "personal
instruction and training in practical mathematics, bookkeeping,
and all branches of the business life, including stenography,
typewriting, etc."

Alice halted for a moment, frowning at this signboard as though
it were something surprising and distasteful which she had never
seen before. Yet it was conspicuous in a busy quarter; she
almost always passed it when she came down-town, and never
without noticing it. Nor was this the first time she had paused
to lift toward it that same glance of vague misgiving.

The building was not what the changeful city defined as a modern
one, and the dusty wooden stairway, as seen from the pavement,
disappeared upward into a smoky darkness. So would the footsteps
of a girl ascending there lead to a hideous obscurity, Alice
thought; an obscurity as dreary and as permanent as death. And
like dry leaves falling about her she saw her wintry imaginings
in the May air: pretty girls turning into withered creatures as
they worked at typing-machines; old maids "taking dictation" from
men with double chins; Alice saw old maids of a dozen different
kinds "taking dictation." Her mind's eye was crowded with them,
as it always was when she passed that stairway entrance; and
though they were all different from one another, all of them
looked a little like herself.

She hated the place, and yet she seldom hurried by it or averted
her eyes. It had an unpleasant fascination for her, and a
mysterious reproach, which she did not seek to fathom. She
walked on thoughtfully to-day; and when, at the next corner, she
turned into the street that led toward home, she was given a
surprise. Arthur Russell came rapidly from behind her, lifting
his hat as she saw him.

"Are you walking north, Miss Adams?" he asked. "Do you mind if I
walk with you?"

She was not delighted, but seemed so. "How charming!" she cried,
giving him a little flourish of the shapely hands; and then,
because she wondered if he had seen her coming out of the
tobacco-shop, she laughed and added, "I've just been on the most
ridiculous errand!"

"What was that?"

"To order some cigars for my father. He's been quite ill, poor
man, and he's so particular--but what in the world do _I_ know
about cigars?"

Russell laughed. "Well, what DO you know about 'em? Did you
select by the price?"

"Mercy, no!" she exclaimed, and added, with an afterthought, "Of
course he wrote down the name of the kind he wanted and I gave it
to the shopman. I could never have pronounced it."

CHAPTER X

In her pocket as she spoke her hand rested upon the little sack
of tobacco, which responded accusingly to the touch of her
restless fingers; and she found time to wonder why she was
building up this fiction for Mr. Arthur Russell. His discovery
of Walter's device for whiling away the dull evening had shamed
and distressed her; but she would have suffered no less if almost
any other had been the discoverer. In this gentleman, after
hearing that he was Mildred's Mr. Arthur Russell, Alice felt not
the slightest "personal interest"; and there was yet to develop
in her life such a thing as an interest not personal. At
twenty-two this state of affairs is not unique.

So far as Alice was concerned Russell might have worn a placard,
"Engaged." She looked upon him as diners entering a restaurant
look upon tables marked "Reserved": the glance, slightly
discontented, passes on at once. Or so the eye of a prospector
wanders querulously over staked and established claims on the
mountainside, and seeks the virgin land beyond; unless, indeed,
the prospector be dishonest. But Alice was no claim-jumper--so
long as the notice of ownership was plainly posted.

Though she was indifferent now, habit ruled her: and, at the very
time she wondered why she created fictitious cigars for her
father, she was also regretting that she had not boldly carried
her Malacca stick down-town with her. Her vivacity increased
automatically.

"Perhaps the clerk thought you wanted the cigars for yourself,"
Russell suggested. "He may have taken you for a Spanish
countess."

"I'm sure he did!" Alice agreed, gaily; and she hummed a bar or
two of "LaPaloma," snapping her fingers as castanets, and swaying
her body a little, to suggest the accepted stencil of a "Spanish
Dancer." "Would you have taken me for one, Mr. Russell?" she
asked, as she concluded the impersonation.

"I? Why, yes," he said. "I'D take you for anything you wanted
me to."

"Why, what a speech!" she cried, and, laughing, gave him a quick
glance in which there glimmered some real surprise. He was
looking at her quizzically, but with the liveliest appreciation.
Her surprise increased; and she was glad that he had joined her.

To be seen walking with such a companion added to her pleasure.
She would have described him as "altogether quite
stunning-looking"; and she liked his tall, dark thinness, his
gray clothes, his soft hat, and his clean brown shoes; she liked
his easy swing of the stick he carried.

"Shouldn't I have said it?" he asked. "Would you rather not be
taken for a Spanish countess?"

"That isn't it," she explained. "You said----"

"I said I'd take you for whatever you wanted me to. Isn't that
all right?"

"It would all depend, wouldn't it?"

"Of course it would depend on what you wanted."

"Oh, no!" she laughed. "It might depend on a lot of things."

"Such as?"

"Well----" She hesitated, having the mischievous impulse to say,
"Such as Mildred!" But she decided to omit this reference, and
became serious, remembering Russell's service to her at Mildred's
house. "Speaking of what I want to be taken for," she
said;--"I've been wondering ever since the other night what you
did take me for! You must have taken me for the sister of a
professional gambler, I'm afraid!"

Russell's look of kindness was the truth about him, she was to
discover; and he reassured her now by the promptness of his
friendly chuckle. "Then your young brother told you where I
found him, did he? I kept my face straight at the time, but I
laughed afterward--to myself. It struck me as original, to say
the least: his amusing himself with those darkies."

"Walter IS original," Alice said; and, having adopted this new
view of her brother's eccentricities, she impulsively went on to
make it more plausible. "He's a very odd boy, and I was afraid
you'd misunderstand. He tells wonderful 'darky stories,' and
he'll do anything to draw coloured people out and make them talk;
and that's what he was doing at Mildred's when you found him for
me--he says he wins their confidence by playing dice with them.
In the family we think he'll probably write about them some day.
He's rather literary."

"Are you?" Russell asked, smiling.

"I? Oh----" She paused, lifting both hands in a charming gesture
of helplessness. "Oh, I'm just--me!"

His glance followed the lightly waved hands with keen approval,
then rose to the lively and colourful face, with its hazel eyes,
its small and pretty nose, and the lip-caught smile which seemed
the climax of her decorative transition. Never had he seen a
creature so plastic or so wistful.

Here was a contrast to his cousin Mildred, who was not wistful,
and controlled any impulses toward plasticity, if she had them.
"By George!" he said. "But you ARE different!"

With that, there leaped in her such an impulse of roguish
gallantry as she could never resist. She turned her head, and,
laughing and bright-eyed, looked him full in the face.

"From whom?" she cried.

"From--everybody!" he said. "Are you a mind-reader?"

"Why?"

"How did you know I was thinking you were different from my
cousin, Mildred Palmer?"

"What makes you think I DID know it?"

"Nonsense!" he said. "You knew what I was thinking and I knew
you knew."

"Yes," she said with cool humour. "How intimate that seems to
make us all at once!"

Russell left no doubt that he was delighted with these gaieties
of hers. "By George!" he exclaimed again. "I thought you were
this sort of girl the first moment I saw you!"

"What sort of girl? Didn't Mildred tell you what sort of girl I
am when she asked you to dance with me?"

"She didn't ask me to dance with you--I'd been looking at you.
You were talking to some old ladies, and I asked Mildred who you
were."

"Oh, so Mildred DIDN'T----" Alice checked herself. "Who did she
tell you I was?"

"She just said you were a Miss Adams, so I----"

"'A' Miss Adams?" Alice interrupted.

"Yes. Then I said I'd like to meet you."

"I see. You thought you'd save me from the old ladies."

"No. I thought I'd save myself from some of the girls Mildred
was getting me to dance with. There was a Miss Dowling----"

"Poor man!" Alice said, gently, and her impulsive thought was
that Mildred had taken few chances, and that as a matter of
self-defense her carefulness might have been well founded. This
Mr. Arthur Russell was a much more responsive person than one
had supposed.

"So, Mr. Russell, you don't know anything about me except what
you thought when you first saw me?"

"Yes, I know I was right when I thought it."

"You haven't told me what you thought."

"I thought you were like what you ARE like."

"Not very definite, is it? I'm afraid you shed more light a
minute or so ago, when you said how different from Mildred you
thought I was. That WAS definite, unfortunately!"

"I didn't say it," Russell explained. "I thought it, and you
read my mind. That's the sort of girl I thought you were--one
that could read a man's mind. Why do you say 'unfortunately'
you're not like Mildred?"

Alice's smooth gesture seemed to sketch Mildred. "Because she's
perfect--why, she's PERFECTLY perfect! She never makes a
mistake, and everybody looks up to her--oh, yes, we all fairly
adore her! She's like some big, noble, cold statue--'way above
the rest of us--and she hardly ever does anything mean or
treacherous. Of all the girls I know I believe she's played the
fewest really petty tricks. She's----"

Russell interrupted; he looked perplexed. "You say she's
perfectly perfect, but that she does play SOME----"

Alice laughed, as if at his sweet innocence. "Men are so funny!"
she informed him. "Of course girls ALL do mean things sometimes.
My own career's just one long brazen smirch of 'em! What I mean
is, Mildred's perfectly perfect compared to the rest of us."

"I see," he said, and seemed to need a moment or two of
thoughtfulness. Then he inquired, "What sort of treacherous
things do YOU do?"

"I? Oh, the very worst kind! Most people bore me particularly
the men in this town--and I show it."

"But I shouldn't call that treacherous, exactly."

"Well, THEY do," Alice laughed. "It's made me a terribly
unpopular character! I do a lot of things they hate. For
instance, at a dance I'd a lot rather find some clever old woman
and talk to her than dance with nine-tenths of these nonentities.
I usually do it, too."

"But you danced as if you liked it. You danced better than any
other girl I----"

"This flattery of yours doesn't quite turn my head, Mr.
Russell," Alice interrupted. "Particularly since Mildred only
gave you Ella Dowling to compare with me!"

"Oh, no," he insisted. "There were others--and of course
Mildred, herself."

"Oh, of course, yes. I forgot that. Well----" She paused, then
added, "I certainly OUGHT to dance well."

"Why is it so much a duty?"

"When I think of the dancing-teachers and the expense to papa!
All sorts of fancy instructors--I suppose that's what daughters
have fathers for, though, isn't it? To throw money away on
them?"

"You don't----" Russell began, and his look was one of alarm.
"You haven't taken up----"

She understood his apprehension and responded merrily, "Oh,
murder, no! You mean you're afraid I break out sometimes in a
piece of cheesecloth and run around a fountain thirty times, and
then, for an encore, show how much like snakes I can make my arms
look."

"I SAID you were a mind-reader!" he exclaimed. "That's exactly
what I was pretending to be afraid you might do."

"'Pretending?' That's nicer of you. No; it's not my mania."

"What is?"

"Oh, nothing in particular that I know of just now. Of course
I've had the usual one: the one that every girl goes through."

"What's that?"

"Good heavens, Mr. Russell, you can't expect me to believe
you're really a man of the world if you don't know that every
girl has a time in her life when she's positive she's divinely
talented for the stage! It's the only universal rule about women
that hasn't got an exception. I don't mean we all want to go on
the stage, but we all think we'd be wonderful if we did. Even
Mildred. Oh, she wouldn't confess it to you: you'd have to know
her a great deal better than any man can ever know her to find
out."

"I see," he said. "Girls are always telling us we can't know
them. I wonder if you----"

She took up his thought before he expressed it, and again he was
fascinated by her quickness, which indeed seemed to him almost
telepathic. "Oh, but DON'T we know one another, though!" she
cried.

"Such things we have to keep secret--things that go on right
before YOUR eyes!"

"Why don't some of you tell us?" he asked.

"We can't tell you."

"Too much honour?"

"No. Not even too much honour among thieves, Mr. Russell. We
don't tell you about our tricks against one another because we
know it wouldn't make any impression on you. The tricks aren't
played against you, and you have a soft side for cats with lovely
manners!"

"What about your tricks against us?"

"Oh, those!" Alice laughed. "We think they're rather cute!"

"Bravo!" he cried, and hammered the ferrule of his stick upon the
pavement.

"What's the applause for?"

"For you. What you said was like running up the black flag to
the masthead."

"Oh, no. It was just a modest little sign in a pretty
flower-bed: 'Gentlemen, beware!'"

"I see I must," he said, gallantly.

"Thanks! But I mean, beware of the whole bloomin' garden!" Then,
picking up a thread that had almost disappeared: "You needn't
think you'll ever find out whether I'm right about Mildred's not
being an exception by asking her," she said. "She won't tell
you: she's not the sort that ever makes a confession."

But Russell had not followed her shift to the former topic.
"'Mildred's not being an exception?'" he said, vaguely.
"I don't----"

"An exception about thinking she could be a wonderful thing on the
stage if she only cared to. If you asked her I'm pretty sure
she'd say, 'What nonsense!' Mildred's the dearest, finest thing
anywhere, but you won't find out many things about her by asking
her."

Russell's expression became more serious, as it did whenever his
cousin was made their topic. "You think not?" he said. "You
think she's----"

"No. But it's not because she isn't sincere exactly. It's only
because she has such a lot to live up to. She has to live up to
being a girl on the grand style to herself, I mean, of course."
And without pausing Alice rippled on, "You ought to have seen ME
when I had the stage-fever! I used to play 'Juliet' all alone in
my room.' She lifted her arms in graceful entreaty, pleading
musically,

"O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest thy love prove----"

She broke off abruptly with a little flourish, snapping thumb and
finger of each outstretched hand, then laughed and said, "Papa
used to make such fun of me! Thank heaven, I was only fifteen; I
was all over it by the next year."

"No wonder you had the fever," Russell observed. "You do it
beautifully. Why didn't you finish the line?"

"Which one? 'Lest thy love prove likewise variable'? Juliet was
saying it to a MAN, you know. She seems to have been ready to
worry about his constancy pretty early in their affair!"

Her companion was again thoughtful. "Yes," he said, seeming to
be rather irksomely impressed with Alice's suggestion. "Yes; it
does appear so."

Alice glanced at his serious face, and yielded to an audacious
temptation. "You mustn't take it so hard," she said, flippantly.

"It isn't about you: it's only about Romeo and Juliet."

"See here!" he exclaimed. "You aren't at your mind-reading
again, are you? There are times when it won't do, you know!"

She leaned toward him a little, as if companionably: they were
walking slowly, and this geniality of hers brought her shoulder
in light contact with his for a moment. "Do you dislike my
mind-reading?" she asked, and, across their two just touching
shoulders, gave him her sudden look of smiling wistfulness. "Do
you hate it?"

He shook his head. "No, I don't," he said, gravely. "It's quite
pleasant. But I think it says, 'Gentlemen, beware!'"

She instantly moved away from him, with the lawless and frank
laugh of one who is delighted to be caught in a piece of
hypocrisy. "How lovely!" she cried. Then she pointed ahead.
"Our walk is nearly over. We're coming to the foolish little
house where I live. It's a queer little place, but my father's
so attached to it the family have about given up hope of getting
him to build a real house farther out. He doesn't mind our being
extravagant about anything else, but he won't let us alter one
single thing about his precious little old house. Well!" She
halted, and gave him her hand. "Adieu!"

"I couldn't," he began; hesitated, then asked: "I couldn't come
in with you for a little while?"

"Not now," she said, quickly. "You can come----" She paused.

"When?"

"Almost any time." She turned and walked slowly up the path, but
he waited. "You can come in the evening if you like," she called
back to him over her shoulder.

"Soon?"

"As soon as you like!" She waved her hand; then ran indoors and
watched him from a window as he went up the street. He walked
rapidly, a fine, easy figure, swinging his stick in a way that
suggested exhilaration. Alice, staring after him through the
irregular apertures of a lace curtain, showed no similar
buoyancy. Upon the instant she closed the door all sparkle left
her: she had become at once the simple and sometimes troubled
girl her family knew.

"What is going on out there?" her mother asked, approaching from
the dining-room.

"Oh, nothing," Alice said, indifferently, as she turned away.
"That Mr. Russell met me downtown and walked up with me."

"Mr. Russell? Oh, the one that's engaged to Mildred?"

"Well--I don't know for certain. He didn't seem so much like an
engaged man to me." And she added, in the tone of thoughtful
preoccupation: "Anyhow--not so terribly!"

Then she ran upstairs, gave her father his tobacco, filled his
pipe for him, and petted him as he lighted it.

CHAPTER XI

After that, she went to her room and sat down before her
three-leaved mirror. There was where she nearly always sat when
she came into her room, if she had nothing in mind to do. She
went to that chair as naturally as a dog goes to his corner.

She leaned forward, observing her profile; gravity seemed to be
her mood. But after a long, almost motionless scrutiny, she
began to produce dramatic sketches upon that ever-ready stage,
her countenance: she showed gaiety, satire, doubt, gentleness,
appreciation of a companion and love-in-hiding--all studied in
profile first, then repeated for a "three-quarter view."
Subsequently she ran through them, facing herself in full.

In this manner she outlined a playful scenario for her next
interview with Arthur Russell; but grew solemn again, thinking of
the impression she had already sought to give him. She had no
twinges for any underminings of her "most intimate friend"--in
fact, she felt that her work on a new portrait of Mildred for Mr.

Russell had been honest and accurate. But why had it been her
instinct to show him an Alice Adams who didn't exist?

Almost everything she had said to him was upon spontaneous
impulse, springing to her lips on the instant; yet it all seemed
to have been founded upon a careful design, as if some hidden
self kept such designs in stock and handed them up to her,
ready-made, to be used for its own purpose. What appeared to be
the desired result was a false-coloured image in Russell's mind;
but if he liked that image he wouldn't be liking Alice Adams; nor
would anything he thought about the image be a thought about her.

Nevertheless, she knew she would go on with her false, fancy
colourings of this nothing as soon as she saw him again; she had
just been practicing them. "What's the idea?" she wondered.
"What makes me tell such lies? Why shouldn't I be just myself?"
And then she thought, "But which one is myself?"

Her eyes dwelt on the solemn eyes in the mirror; and her lips,
disquieted by a deepening wonder, parted to whisper:

"Who in the world are you?"

The apparition before her had obeyed her like an alert slave, but
now, as she subsided to a complete stillness, that aspect changed
to the old mockery with which mirrors avenge their wrongs. The
nucleus of some queer thing seemed to gather and shape itself
behind the nothingness of the reflected eyes until it became
almost an actual strange presence. If it could be identified,
perhaps the presence was that of the hidden designer who handed
up the false, ready-made pictures, and, for unknown purposes,
made Alice exhibit them; but whatever it was, she suddenly found
it monkey-like and terrifying. In a flutter she jumped up and
went to another part of the room.

A moment or two later she was whistling softly as she hung her
light coat over a wooden triangle in her closet, and her musing
now was quainter than the experience that led to it; for what she
thought was this, "I certainly am a queer girl!" She took a
little pride in so much originality, believing herself probably
the only person in the world to have such thoughts as had been
hers since she entered the room, and the first to be disturbed by
a strange presence in the mirror. In fact, the effect of the
tiny episode became apparent in that look of preoccupied
complacency to be seen for a time upon any girl who has found
reason to suspect that she is a being without counterpart.

This slight glow, still faintly radiant, was observed across the
dinner-table by Walter, but he misinterpreted it. "What YOU
lookin' so self-satisfied about?" he inquired, and added in his
knowing way, "I saw you, all right, cutie!"

"Where'd you see me?"

"Down-town."

"This afternoon, you mean, Walter?"

"Yes, 'this afternoon, I mean, Walter,'" he returned,
burlesquing her voice at least happily enough to please himself;
for he laughed applausively. "Oh, you never saw me! I passed
you close enough to pull a tooth, but you were awful busy. I
never did see anybody as busy as you get, Alice, when you're
towin' a barge. My, but you keep your hands goin'! Looked like
the air was full of 'em! That's why I'm onto why you look so
tickled this evening; I saw you with that big fish."

Mrs. Adams laughed benevolently; she was not displeased with
this rallying. "Well, what of it, Walter?" she asked. "If you
happen to see your sister on the street when some nice young man
is being attentive to her----"

Walter barked and then cackled. "Whoa, Sal!" he said. "You got
the parts mixed. It's little Alice that was 'being attentive.' I
know the big fish she was attentive to, all right, too."

"Yes," his sister retorted, quietly. "I should think you might
have recognized him, Walter."

Walter looked annoyed. "Still harpin' on THAT!" he complained.
"The kind of women I like, if they get sore they just hit you
somewhere on the face and then they're through. By the way, I
heard this Russell was supposed to be your dear, old, sweet
friend Mildred's steady. What you doin' walkin' as close to him
as all that?"

Mrs. Adams addressed her son in gentle reproof, "Why Walter!"

"Oh, never mind, mama," Alice said. "To the horrid all things
are horrid."

"Get out!" Walter protested, carelessly. "I heard all about this
Russell down at the shop. Young Joe Lamb's such a talker I
wonder he don't ruin his grandfather's business; he keeps all us
cheap help standin' round listening to him nine-tenths of our
time. Well, Joe told me this Russell's some kin or other to the
Palmer family, and he's got some little money of his own, and
he's puttin' it into ole Palmer's trust company and Palmer's
goin' to make him a vice-president of the company. Sort of a
keep-the-money-in-the-family arrangement, Joe Lamb says."

Mrs. Adams looked thoughtful. "I don't see----" she began.

"Why, this Russell's supposed to be tied up to Mildred," her son
explained. "When ole Palmer dies this Russell will be his
son-in-law, and all he'll haf' to do'll be to barely lift his
feet and step into the ole man's shoes. It's certainly a mighty
fat hand-me-out for this Russell! You better lay off o' there,
Alice. Pick somebody that's got less to lose and you'll make
better showing."

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