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Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Part 3 out of 6

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Mrs. Adams's air of thoughtfulness had not departed. "But you
say this Mr. Russell is well off on his own account, Walter."

"Oh, Joe Lamb says he's got some little of his own. Didn't know
how much."

"Well, then----"

Walter laughed his laugh. "Cut it out," he bade her. "Alice
wouldn't run in fourth place."

Alice had been looking at him in a detached way, as though
estimating the value of a specimen in a collection not her own.
"Yes," she said, indifferently. "You REALLY are vulgar, Walter."

He had finished his meal; and, rising, he came round the table to
her and patted her good-naturedly on the shoulder. "Good ole
Allie!" he said. "HONEST, you wouldn't run in fourth place. If
I was you I'd never even start in the class. That frozen-face
gang will rule you off the track soon as they see your colours."

"Walter!" his mother said again.

"Well, ain't I her brother?" he returned, seeming to be entirely
serious and direct, for the moment, at least. "_I_ like the ole
girl all right. Fact is, sometimes I'm kind of sorry for her."

"But what's it all ABOUT?" Alice cried. "Simply because you met
me down-town with a man I never saw but once before and just
barely know! Why all this palaver?"

"'Why?'" he repeated, grinning. "Well, I've seen you start
before, you know!" He went to the door, and paused. "I got no
date to-night. Take you to the movies, you care to go."

She declined crisply. "No, thanks!"

"Come on," he said, as pleasantly as he knew how.

"Give me a chance to show you a better time than we had up at
that frozen-face joint. I'll get you some chop suey afterward."

"No, thanks!"

"All right," he responded and waved a flippant adieu. "As the
barber says, 'The better the advice, the worse it's wasted!'
Good-night!"

Alice shrugged her shoulders; but a moment or two later, as the
jar of the carelessly slammed front door went through the house,
she shook her head, reconsidering. "Perhaps I ought to have gone
with him. It might have kept him away from whatever dreadful
people are his friends--at least for one night."

"Oh, I'm sure Walter's a GOOD boy," Mrs. Adams said, soothingly;
and this was what she almost always said when either her husband
or Alice expressed such misgivings. "He's odd, and he's picked
up right queer manners; but that's only because we haven't given
him advantages like the other young men. But I'm sure he's a
GOOD boy."

She reverted to the subject a little later, while she washed the
dishes and Alice wiped them. "Of course Walter could take his
place with the other nice boys of the town even yet," she said.
"I mean, if we could afford to help him financially. They all
belong to the country clubs and have cars and----"

"Let's don't go into that any more, mama," the daughter begged
her. "What's the use?"

"It COULD be of use," Mrs. Adams insisted. "It could if your
father----"

"But papa CAN'T."

"Yes, he can."

"But how can he? He told me a man of his age CAN'T give up a
business he's been in practically all his life, and just go
groping about for something that might never turn up at all. I
think he's right about it, too, of course!"

Mrs. Adams splashed among the plates with a new vigour
heightened by an old bitterness. "Oh, yes," she said. "He talks
that way; but he knows better."

"How could he 'know better,' mama?"

"HE knows how!"

"But what does he know?"

Mrs. Adams tossed her head. "You don't suppose I'm such a fool
I'd be urging him to give up something for nothing, do you,
Alice? Do you suppose I'd want him to just go 'groping around'
like he was telling you? That would be crazy, of course. Little
as his work at Lamb's brings in, I wouldn't be so silly as to ask
him to give it up just on a CHANCE he could find something else.
Good gracious, Alice, you must give me credit for a little
intelligence once in a while!"

Alice was puzzled. "But what else could there be except a
chance? I don't see----"

"Well, I do," her mother interrupted, decisively. "That man
could make us all well off right now if he wanted to. We could
have been rich long ago if he'd ever really felt as he ought to
about his family."

"What! Why, how could----"

"You know how as well as I do," Mrs. Adams said, crossly. "I
guess you haven't forgotten how he treated me about it the Sunday
before he got sick."

She went on with her work, putting into it a sudden violence
inspired by the recollection; but Alice, enlightened, gave
utterance to a laugh of lugubrious derision. "Oh, the GLUE
factory again!" she cried. "How silly!" And she renewed her
laughter.

So often do the great projects of parents appear ignominious to
their children. Mrs. Adams's conception of a glue factory as a
fairy godmother of this family was an absurd old story which
Alice had never taken seriously. She remembered that when she
was about fifteen her mother began now and then to say something
to Adams about a "glue factory," rather timidly, and as a vague
suggestion, but never without irritating him. Then, for years,
the preposterous subject had not been mentioned; possibly because
of some explosion on the part of Adams, when his daughter had not
been present. But during the last year Mrs. Adams had quietly
gone back to these old hints, reviving them at intervals and also
reviving her husband's irritation. Alice's bored impression was
that her mother wanted him to found, or buy, or do something, or
other, about a glue factory; and that he considered the proposal
so impracticable as to be insulting. The parental conversations
took place when neither Alice nor Walter was at hand, but
sometimes Alice had come in upon the conclusion of one, to find
her father in a shouting mood, and shocking the air behind him
with profane monosyllables as he departed. Mrs. Adams would be
left quiet and troubled; and when Alice, sympathizing with the
goaded man, inquired of her mother why these tiresome bickerings
had been renewed, she always got the brooding and cryptic answer,
"He COULD do it--if he wanted to." Alice failed to comprehend
the desirability of a glue factory--to her mind a father engaged
in a glue factory lacked impressiveness; had no advantage over a
father employed by Lamb and Company; and she supposed that Adams
knew better than her mother whether such an enterprise would be
profitable or not. Emphatically, he thought it would not, for
she had heard him shouting at the end of one of these painful
interviews, "You can keep up your dang talk till YOU die and _I_
die, but I'll never make one God's cent that way!"

There had been a culmination. Returning from church on the
Sunday preceding the collapse with which Adams's illness had
begun, Alice found her mother downstairs, weeping and
intimidated, while her father's stamping footsteps were loudly
audible as he strode up and down his room overhead. So were his
endless repetitions of invective loudly audible: "That woman!
Oh, that woman; Oh, that danged woman!"

Mrs. Adams admitted to her daughter that it was "the old glue
factory" and that her husband's wildness had frightened her into
a "solemn promise" never to mention the subject again so long as
she had breath. Alice laughed. The "glue factory" idea was not
only a bore, but ridiculous, and her mother's evident seriousness
about it one of those inexplicable vagaries we sometimes discover
in the people we know best. But this Sunday rampage appeared to
be the end of it, and when Adams came down to dinner, an hour
later, he was unusually cheerful. Alice was glad he had gone
wild enough to settle the glue factory once and for all; and she
had ceased to think of the episode long before Friday of that
week, when Adams was brought home in the middle of the afternoon
by his old employer, the "great J. A. Lamb," in the latter's
car.

During the long illness the "glue factory" was completely
forgotten, by Alice at least; and her laugh was rueful as well as
derisive now, in the kitchen, when she realized that her mother's
mind again dwelt upon this abandoned nuisance. "I thought you'd
got over all that nonsense, mama," she said.

Mrs. Adams smiled, pathetically. "Of course you think it's
nonsense, dearie. Young people think everything's nonsense that
they don't know anything about."

"Good gracious!" Alice cried. "I should think I used to hear
enough about that horrible old glue factory to know something
about it!"

"No," her mother returned patiently. "You've never heard
anything about it at all."

"I haven't?"

"No. Your father and I didn't discuss it before you children.
All you ever heard was when he'd get in such a rage, after we'd
been speaking of it, that he couldn't control himself when you
came in. Wasn't _I_ always quiet? Did _I_ ever go on talking
about it?"

"No; perhaps not. But you're talking about it now, mama, after
you promised never to mention it again."

"I promised not to mention it to your father," said Mrs. Adams,
gently. "I haven't mentioned it to him, have I?"

"Ah, but if you mention it to me I'm afraid you WILL mention it
to him. You always do speak of things that you have on your
mind, and you might get papa all stirred up again about--" Alice
paused, a light of divination flickering in her eyes. "Oh!" she
cried. "I SEE!"

"What do you see?"

"You HAVE been at him about it!"

"Not one single word!"

"No!" Alice cried. "Not a WORD, but that's what you've meant all
along! You haven't spoken the words to him, but all this urging
him to change, to 'find something better to go into'--it's all
been about nothing on earth but your foolish old glue factory
that you know upsets him, and you gave your solemn word never to
speak to him about again! You didn't say it, but you meant
it--and he KNOWS that's what you meant! Oh, mama!"

Mrs. Adams, with her hands still automatically at work in the
flooded dishpan, turned to face her daughter. "Alice," she said,
tremulously, "what do I ask for myself?"

"What?"

"I say, What do I ask for myself? Do you suppose _I_ want
anything? Don't you know I'd be perfectly content on your
father's present income if I were the only person to be
considered? What do I care about any pleasure for myself? I'd
be willing never to have a maid again; _I_ don't mind doing the
work. If we didn't have any children I'd be glad to do your
father's cooking and the housework and the washing and ironing,
too, for the rest of my life. I wouldn't care. I'm a poor cook
and a poor housekeeper; I don't do anything well; but it would be
good enough for just him and me. I wouldn't ever utter one word
of com----"

"Oh, goodness!" Alice lamented. "What IS it all about?"

"It's about this," said Mrs. Adams, swallowing. "You and Walter
are a new generation and you ought to have the same as the rest
of the new generation get. Poor Walter--asking you to go to the
movies and a Chinese restaurant: the best he had to offer! Don't
you suppose _I_ see how the poor boy is deteriorating? Don't you
suppose I know what YOU have to go through, Alice? And when I
think of that man upstairs----" The agitated voice grew louder.
"When I think of him and know that nothing in the world but his
STUBBORNNESS keeps my children from having all they want and what
they OUGHT to have, do you suppose I'm going to hold myself bound
to keep to the absolute letter of a silly promise he got from me
by behaving like a crazy man? I can't! I can't do it! No
mother could sit by and see him lock up a horn of plenty like
that in his closet when the children were starving!"

"Oh, goodness, goodness me!" Alice protested. "We aren't
precisely 'starving,' are we?"

Mrs. Adams began to weep. "It's just the same. Didn't I see
how flushed and pretty you looked, this afternoon, after you'd
been walking with this young man that's come here? Do you
suppose he'd LOOK at a girl like Mildred Palmer if you had what
you ought to have? Do you suppose he'd be going into business
with her father if YOUR father----"

"Good heavens, mama; you're worse than Walter: I just barely know
the man! DON'T be so absurd!"

"Yes, I'm always 'absurd,'" Mrs. Adams moaned. "All I can do
is cry, while your father sits upstairs, and his horn of
plenty----"

But Alice interrupted with a peal of desperate laughter. "Oh,
that 'horn of plenty!' Do come down to earth, mama. How can you
call a GLUE factory, that doesn't exist except in your mind, a
'horn of plenty'? Do let's be a little rational!"

"It COULD be a horn of plenty," the tearful Mrs, Adams insisted.
"It could! You don't understand a thing about it."

"Well, I'm willing," Alice said, with tired skepticism. "Make me
understand, then. Where'd you ever get the idea?"

Mrs. Adams withdrew her hands from the water, dried them on a
towel, and then wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. "Your father
could make a fortune if he wanted to," she said, quietly. "At
least, I don't say a fortune, but anyhow a great deal more than
he does make."

"Yes, I've heard that before, mama, and you think he could make
it out of a glue factory. What I'm asking is: How?"

"How? Why, by making glue and selling it. Don't you know how
bad most glue is when you try to mend anything? A good glue is
one of the rarest things there is; and it would just sell itself,
once it got started. Well, your father knows how to make as good
a glue as there is in the world."

Alice was not interested. "What of it? I suppose probably
anybody could make it if they wanted to."

"I SAID you didn't know anything about it. Nobody else could
make it. Your father knows a formula for making it."

"What of that?"

"It's a secret formula. It isn't even down on paper. It's worth
any amount of money."

"'Any amount?'" Alice said, remaining incredulous. "Why hasn't
papa sold it then?"

"Just because he's too stubborn to do anything with it at all!"

"How did papa get it?"

"He got it before you were born, just after we were married. I
didn't think much about it then: it wasn't till you were growing
up and I saw how much we needed money that I----"

"Yes, but how did papa get it?" Alice began to feel a little more
curious about this possible buried treasure. "Did he invent it?"

"Partly," Mrs. Adams said, looking somewhat preoccupied. "He
and another man invented it."

"Then maybe the other man----"

"He's dead."

"Then his family----"

"I don't think he left any family," Mrs. Adams said. "Anyhow,
it belongs to your father. At least it belongs to him as much as
it does to any one else. He's got an absolutely perfect right to
do anything he wants to with it, and it would make us all
comfortable if he'd do what I want him to--and he KNOWS it would,
too!"

Alice shook her head pityingly. "Poor mama!" she said. "Of
course he knows it wouldn't do anything of the kind, or else he'd
have done it long ago."

"He would, you say?" her mother cried. "That only shows how
little you know him!"

"Poor mama!" Alice said again, soothingly. "If papa were like
what you say he is, he'd be--why, he'd be crazy!"

Mrs. Adams agreed with a vehemence near passion. "You're right
about him for once: that's just what he is! He sits up there in
his stubbornness and lets us slave here in the kitchen when if he
wanted to--if he'd so much as lift his little finger----"

"Oh, come, now!" Alice laughed. "You can't build even a glue
factory with just one little finger."

Mrs. Adams seemed about to reply that finding fault with a
figure of speech was beside the point; but a ringing of the front
door bell forestalled the retort. "Now, who do you suppose that
is?" she wondered aloud, then her face brightened. "Ah--did Mr.
Russell ask if he could----"

"No, he wouldn't be coming this evening," Alice said. "Probably
it's the great J. A. Lamb: he usually stops for a minute on
Thursdays to ask how papa's getting along. I'll go."

She tossed her apron off, and as she went through the house her
expression was thoughtful. She was thinking vaguely about the
glue factory and wondering if there might be "something in it"
after all. If her mother was right about the rich possibilities
of Adams's secret--but that was as far as Alice's speculations
upon the matter went at this time: they were checked, partly by
the thought that her father probably hadn't enough money for such
an enterprise, and partly by the fact that she had arrived at the
front door.

CHAPTER XII

The fine old gentleman revealed when she opened the door was
probably the last great merchant in America to wear the chin
beard. White as white frost, it was trimmed short with exquisite
precision, while his upper lip and the lower expanses of his
cheeks were clean and rosy from fresh shaving. With this trim
white chin beard, the white waistcoat, the white tie, the suit of
fine gray cloth, the broad and brilliantly polished black shoes,
and the wide-brimmed gray felt hat, here was a man who had found
his style in the seventies of the last century, and thenceforth
kept it. Files of old magazines of that period might show him,
in woodcut, as, "Type of Boston Merchant"; Nast might have drawn
him as an honest statesman. He was eighty, hale and sturdy, not
aged; and his quick blue eyes, still unflecked, and as brisk as a
boy's, saw everything.

"Well, well, well!" he said, heartily. "You haven't lost any of
your good looks since last week, I see, Miss Alice, so I guess
I'm to take it you haven't been worrying over your daddy. The
young feller's getting along all right, is he?"

"He's much better; he's sitting up, Mr. Lamb. Won't you come
in?"

"Well, I don't know but I might." He turned to call toward twin
disks of light at the curb, "Be out in a minute, Billy"; and the
silhouette of a chauffeur standing beside a car could be seen to
salute in response, as the old gentleman stepped into the hall.
"You don't suppose your daddy's receiving callers yet, is he?"

"He's a good deal stronger than he was when you were here last
week, but I'm afraid he's not very presentable, though."

"'Presentable?'" The old man echoed her jovially. "Pshaw! I've
seen lots of sick folks. _I_ know what they look like and how
they love to kind of nest in among a pile of old blankets and
wrappers. Don't you worry about THAT, Miss Alice, if you think
he'd like to see me."

"Of course he would--if----" Alice hesitated; then said quickly,"
Of course he'd love to see you and he's quite able to, if you
care to come up."

She ran up the stairs ahead of him, and had time to snatch the
crocheted wrap from her father's shoulders. Swathed as usual, he
was sitting beside a table, reading the evening paper; but when
his employer appeared in the doorway he half rose as if to come
forward in greeting.

"Sit still!" the old gentleman shouted. "What do you mean?
Don't you know you're weak as a cat? D'you think a man can be
sick as long as you have and NOT be weak as a cat? What you
trying to do the polite with ME for?"

Adams gratefully protracted the handshake that accompanied these
inquiries. "This is certainly mighty fine of you, Mr. Lamb," he
said. "I guess Alice has told you how much our whole family
appreciate your coming here so regularly to see how this old bag
o' bones was getting along. Haven't you, Alice?"

"Yes, papa," she said; and turned to go out, but Lamb checked
her.

"Stay right here, Miss Alice; I'm not even going to sit down. I
know how it upsets sick folks when people outside the family come
in for the first time."

"You don't upset me," Adams said. "I'll feel a lot better for
getting a glimpse of you, Mr. Lamb."

The visitor's laugh was husky, but hearty and re-assuring, like
his voice in speaking. "That's the way all my boys blarney me,
Miss Alice," he said. "They think I'll make the work lighter on
'em if they can get me kind of flattered up. You just tell your
daddy it's no use; he doesn't get on MY soft side, pretending he
likes to see me even when he's sick."

"Oh, I'm not so sick any more," Adams said. "I expect to be back
in my place ten days from now at the longest."

"Well, now, don't hurry it, Virgil; don't hurry it. You take
your time; take your time."

This brought to Adams's lips a feeble smile not lacking in a kind
of vanity, as feeble. "Why?" he asked. "I suppose you think my
department runs itself down there, do you?"

His employer's response was another husky laugh. "Well, well,
well!" he cried, and patted Adams's shoulder with a strong pink
hand. "Listen to this young feller, Miss Alice, will you! He
thinks we can't get along without him a minute! Yes, sir, this
daddy of yours believes the whole works 'll just take and run
down if he isn't there to keep 'em wound up. I always suspected
he thought a good deal of himself, and now I know he does!"

Adams looked troubled. "Well, I don't like to feel that my
salary's going on with me not earning it."

"Listen to him, Miss Alice! Wouldn't you think, now, he'd let me
be the one to worry about that? Why, on my word, if your daddy
had his way, _I_ wouldn't be anywhere. He'd take all my worrying
and everything else off my shoulders and shove me right out of
Lamb and Company! He would!"

"It seems to me I've been soldiering on you a pretty long while,
Mr. Lamb," the convalescent said, querulously. "I don't feel
right about it; but I'll be back in ten days. You'll see."

The old man took his hand in parting. "All right; we'll see,
Virgil. Of course we do need you, seriously speaking; but we
don't need you so bad we'll let you come down there before you're
fully fit and able." He went to the door. "You hear, Miss
Alice? That's what I wanted to make the old feller understand,
and what I want you to kind of enforce on him. The old place is
there waiting for him, and it'd wait ten years if it took him
that long to get good and well. You see that he remembers it,
Miss Alice!"

She went down the stairs with him, and he continued to impress
this upon her until he had gone out of the front door. And even
after that, the husky voice called back from the darkness, as he
went to his car, "Don't forget, Miss Alice; let him take his own
time. We always want him, but we want him to get good and well
first. Good-night, good-night, young lady!"

When she closed the door her mother came from the farther end of
the "living-room," where there was no light; and Alice turned to
her.

"I can't help liking that old man, mama," she said. "He always
sounds so--well, so solid and honest and friendly! I do like
him."

But Mrs. Adams failed in sympathy upon this point. "He didn't
say anything about raising your father's salary, did he?" she
asked, dryly.

"No."

"No. I thought not."

She would have said more, but Alice, indisposed to listen, began
to whistle, ran up the stairs, and went to sit with her father.
She found him bright-eyed with the excitement a first caller
brings into a slow convalescence: his cheeks showed actual hints
of colour; and he was smiling tremulously as he filled and lit
his pipe. She brought the crocheted scarf and put it about his
shoulders again, then took a chair near him.

"I believe seeing Mr. Lamb did do you good, papa," she said.
"I sort of thought it might, and that's why I let him come up.
You really look a little like your old self again."

Adams exhaled a breathy "Ha!" with the smoke from his pipe as he
waved the match to extinguish it. "That's fine," he said. "The
smoke I had before dinner didn't taste the way it used to, and I
kind of wondered if I'd lost my liking for tobacco, but this one
seems to be all right. You bet it did me good to see J. A.
Lamb! He's the biggest man that's ever lived in this town or
ever will live here; and you can take all the Governors and
Senators or anything they've raised here, and put 'em in a pot
with him, and they won't come out one-two-three alongside o' him!
And to think as big a man as that, with all his interests and
everything he's got on his mind--to think he'd never let anything
prevent him from coming here once every week to ask how I was
getting along, and then walk right upstairs and kind of CALL on
me, as it were well, it makes me sort of feel as if I wasn't so
much of a nobody, so to speak, as your mother seems to like to
make out sometimes."

"How foolish, papa! Of COURSE you're not 'a nobody.'"

Adams chuckled faintly upon his pipe-stem, what vanity he had
seeming to be further stimulated by his daughter's applause. "I
guess there aren't a whole lot of people in this town that could
claim J. A. showed that much interest in 'em," he said. "Of
course I don't set up to believe it's all because of merit, or
anything like that. He'd do the same for anybody else that'd
been with the company as long as I have, but still it IS
something to be with the company that long and have him show he
appreciates it."

"Yes, indeed, it is, papa."

"Yes, sir," Adams said, reflectively. "Yes, sir, I guess that's
so. And besides, it all goes to show the kind of a man he is.
Simon pure, that's what that man is, Alice. Simon pure! There's
never been anybody work for him that didn't respect him more than
they did any other man in the world, I guess. And when you work
for him you know he respects you, too. Right from the start you
get the feeling that J. A. puts absolute confidence in you; and
that's mighty stimulating: it makes you want to show him he
hasn't misplaced it. There's great big moral values to the way a
man like him gets you to feeling about your relations with the
business: it ain't all just dollars and cents--not by any means!"

He was silent for a time, then returned with increasing
enthusiasm to this theme, and Alice was glad to see so much
renewal of life in him; he had not spoken with a like cheerful
vigour since before his illness. The visit of his idolized great
man had indeed been good for him, putting new spirit into him;
and liveliness of the body followed that of the spirit. His
improvement carried over the night: he slept well and awoke late,
declaring that he was "pretty near a well man and ready for
business right now." Moreover, having slept again in the
afternoon, he dressed and went down to dinner, leaning but
lightly on Alice, who conducted him.

"My! but you and your mother have been at it with your scrubbing
and dusting!" he said, as they came through the "living-room."
"I don't know I ever did see the house so spick and span before!"
His glance fell upon a few carnations in a vase, and he chuckled
admiringly. "Flowers, too! So THAT'S what you coaxed that
dollar and a half out o 'me for, this morning!"

Other embellishments brought forth his comment when he had taken
his old seat at the head of the small dinner-table. "Why, I
declare, Alice!" he exclaimed. "I been so busy looking at all
the spick-and-spanishness after the house-cleaning, and the
flowers out in the parlour--'living-room' I suppose you want me
to call it, if I just GOT to be fashionable--I been so busy
studying over all this so-and-so, I declare I never noticed YOU
till this minute! My, but you ARE all dressed up! What's goin'
on? What's it about: you so all dressed up, and flowers in the
parlour and everything?"

"Don't you see, papa? It's in honour of your coming downstairs
again, of course."

"Oh, so that's it," he said. "I never would 'a' thought of that,
I guess."

But Walter looked sidelong at his father, and gave forth his sly
and knowing laugh. "Neither would I!" he said.

Adams lifted his eyebrows jocosely. "You're jealous, are you,
sonny? You don't want the old man to think our young lady'd make
so much fuss over him, do you?"

"Go on thinkin' it's over you," Walter retorted, amused. "Go on
and think it. It'll do you good."

"Of course I'll think it," Adams said. "It isn't anybody's
birthday. Certainly the decorations are on account of me coming
downstairs. Didn't you hear Alice say so?"

"Sure, I heard her say so."

"Well, then----"

Walter interrupted him with a little music. Looking shrewdly at
Alice, he sang:

"I was walkin' out on Monday with my sweet thing.
She's my neat thing,
My sweet thing:
I'll go round on Tuesday night to see her.
Oh, how we'll spoon----"

"Walter!" his mother cried. "WHERE do you learn such vulgar
songs?" However, she seemed not greatly displeased with him, and
laughed as she spoke.

"So that's it, Alice!" said Adams. "Playing the hypocrite with
your old man, are you? It's some new beau, is it?"

"I only wish it were," she said, calmly. "No. It's just what I
said: it's all for you, dear."

"Don't let her con you," Walter advised his father. "She's got
expectations. You hang around downstairs a while after dinner
and you'll see."

But the prophecy failed, though Adams went to his own room
without waiting to test it. No one came.

Alice stayed in the "living-room" until half-past nine, when she
went slowly upstairs. Her mother, almost tearful, met her at the
top, and whispered, "You mustn't mind, dearie."

"Mustn't mind what?" Alice asked, and then, as she went on her
way, laughed scornfully. "What utter nonsense!" she said.

Next day she cut the stems of the rather scant show of carnations
and refreshed them with new water. At dinner, her father, still
in high spirits, observed that she had again "dressed up" in
honour of his second descent of the stairs; and Walter repeated
his fragment of objectionable song; but these jocularities were
rendered pointless by the eventless evening that followed; and in
the morning the carnations began to appear tarnished and flaccid.

Alice gave them a long look, then threw them away; and neither
Walter nor her father was inspired to any rallying by her plain
costume for that evening. Mrs. Adams was visibly depressed.

When Alice finished helping her mother with the dishes, she went
outdoors and sat upon the steps of the little front veranda. The
night, gentle with warm air from the south, surrounded her
pleasantly, and the perpetual smoke was thinner. Now that the
furnaces of dwelling-houses were no longer fired, life in that
city had begun to be less like life in a railway tunnel; people
were aware of summer in the air, and in the thickened foliage of
the shade-trees, and in the sky. Stars were unveiled by the
passing of the denser smoke fogs, and to-night they could be seen
clearly; they looked warm and near. Other girls sat upon
verandas and stoops in Alice's street, cheerful as young
fishermen along the banks of a stream.

Alice could hear them from time to time; thin sopranos persistent
in laughter that fell dismally upon her ears. She had set no
lines or nets herself, and what she had of "expectations," as
Walter called them, were vanished. For Alice was experienced;
and one of the conclusions she drew from her experience was that
when a man says, "I'd take you for anything you wanted me to," he
may mean it or, he may not; but, if he does, he will not postpone
the first opportunity to say something more. Little affairs,
once begun, must be warmed quickly; for if they cool they are
dead.

But Alice was not thinking of Arthur Russell. When she tossed
away the carnations she likewise tossed away her thoughts of that
young man. She had been like a boy who sees upon the street,
some distance before him, a bit of something round and
glittering, a possible dime. He hopes it is a dime, and, until
he comes near enough to make sure, he plays that it is a dime.
In his mind he has an adventure with it: he buys something
delightful. If he picks it up, discovering only some tin-foil
which has happened upon a round shape, he feels a sinking. A
dulness falls upon him.

So Alice was dull with the loss of an adventure; and when the
laughter of other girls reached her, intermittently, she had not
sprightliness enough left in her to be envious of their gaiety.
Besides, these neighbours were ineligible even for her envy,
being of another caste; they could never know a dance at the
Palmers', except remotely, through a newspaper. Their laughter
was for the encouragement of snappy young men of the stores and
offices down-town, clerks, bookkeepers, what not--some of them
probably graduates of Frincke's Business College.

Then, as she recalled that dark portal, with its dusty stairway
mounting between close walls to disappear in the upper shadows,
her mind drew back as from a doorway to Purgatory. Nevertheless,
it was a picture often in her reverie; and sometimes it came
suddenly, without sequence, into the midst of her other thoughts,
as if it leaped up among them from a lower darkness; and when it
arrived it wanted to stay. So a traveller, still roaming the
world afar, sometimes broods without apparent reason upon his
family burial lot: "I wonder if I shall end there."

The foreboding passed abruptly, with a jerk of her breath, as the
street-lamp revealed a tall and easy figure approaching from the
north, swinging a stick in time to its stride. She had given
Russell up--and he came.

"What luck for me!" he exclaimed. "To find you alone!"

Alice gave him her hand for an instant, not otherwise moving.
"I'm glad it happened so," she said. "Let's stay out here, shall
we? Do you think it's too provincial to sit on a girl's front
steps with her?"

"'Provincial?' Why, it's the very best of our institutions," he
returned, taking his place beside her. "At least, I think so
to-night."

"Thanks! Is that practice for other nights somewhere else?"

"No," he laughed. "The practicing all led up to this. Did I
come too soon?"

"No," she replied, gravely. "Just in time!"

"I'm glad to be so accurate; I've spent two evenings wanting to
come, Miss Adams, instead of doing what I was doing."

"What was that?"

"Dinners. Large and long dinners. Your fellow-citizens are
immensely hospitable to a newcomer."

"Oh, no," Alice said. "We don't do it for everybody. Didn't you
find yourself charmed?"

"One was a men's dinner," he explained. "Mr. Palmer seemed to
think I ought to be shown to the principal business men."

"What was the other dinner?"

"My cousin Mildred gave it."

"Oh, DID she!" Alice said, sharply, but she recovered herself in
the same instant, and laughed. "She wanted to show you to the
principal business women, I suppose."

"I don't know. At all events, I shouldn't give myself out to be
so much feted by your 'fellow-citizens,' after all, seeing these
were both done by my relatives, the Palmers. However, there are
others to follow, I'm afraid. I was wondering--I hoped maybe
you'd be coming to some of them. Aren't you?"

"I rather doubt it," Alice said, slowly. "Mildred's dance was
almost the only evening I've gone out since my father's illness
began. He seemed better that day; so I went. He was better the
other day when he wanted those cigars. He's very much up and
down." She paused. "I'd almost forgotten that Mildred is your
cousin."

"Not a very near one," he explained. "Mr. Palmer's father was
my great-uncle."

"Still, of course you are related."

"Yes; that distantly."

Alice said placidly, "It's quite an advantage."

He agreed. "Yes. It is."

"No," she said, in the same placid tone. "I mean for Mildred."

"I don't see----"

She laughed. "No. You wouldn't. I mean it's an advantage over
the rest of us who might like to compete for some of your time;
and the worst of it is we can't accuse her of being unfair about
it. We can't prove she showed any trickiness in having you for a
cousin. Whatever else she might plan to do with you, she didn't
plan that. So the rest of us must just bear it!"

"The 'rest of you!'" he laughed. "It's going to mean a great
deal of suffering!"

Alice resumed her placid tone. "You're staying at the Palmers',
aren't you?"

"No, not now. I've taken an apartment. I'm going to live here;
I'm permanent. Didn't I tell you?"

"I think I'd heard somewhere that you were," she said. "Do you
think you'll like living here?"

"How can one tell?"

"If I were in your place I think I should be able to tell, Mr.
Russell."

"How?"

"Why, good gracious!" she cried. "Haven't you got the most
perfect creature in town for your--your cousin? SHE expects to
make you like living here, doesn't she? How could you keep from
liking it, even if you tried not to, under the circumstances?"

"Well, you see, there's such a lot of circumstances," he
explained; "I'm not sure I'll like getting back into a business
again. I suppose most of the men of my age in the country have
been going through the same experience: the War left us with a
considerable restlessness of spirit."

"You were in the War?" she asked, quickly, and as quickly
answered herself, "Of course you were!"

"I was a left-over; they only let me out about four months ago,"
he said. "It's quite a shake-up trying to settle down again."

"You were in France, then?"

"Oh, yes; but I didn't get up to the front much--only two or
three times, and then just for a day or so. I was in the
transportation service."

"You were an officer, of course."

"Yes," he said. "They let me play I was a major."

"I guessed a major," she said. "You'd always be pretty grand, of
course."

Russell was amused. "Well, you see," he informed her, "as it
happened, we had at least several other majors in our army. Why
would I always be something 'pretty grand?'"

"You're related to the Palmers. Don't you notice they always
affect the pretty grand?"

"Then you think I'm only one of their affectations, I take it."

"Yes, you seem to be the most successful one they've got!" Alice
said, lightly. "You certainly do belong to them." And she
laughed as if at something hidden from him. "Don't you?"

"But you've just excused me for that," he protested. "You said
nobody could be blamed for my being their third cousin. What a
contradictory girl you are!"

Alice shook her head. "Let's keep away from the kind of girl I
am."

"No," he said. "That's just what I came here to talk about."

She shook her head again. "Let's keep first to the kind of man
you are. I'm glad you were in the War."

"Why?"

"Oh, I don't know." She was quiet a moment, for she was thinking
that here she spoke the truth: his service put about him a little
glamour that helped to please her with him. She had been pleased
with him during their walk; pleased with him on his own account;
and now that pleasure was growing keener. She looked at him, and
though the light in which she saw him was little more than
starlight, she saw that he was looking steadily at her with a
kindly and smiling seriousness. All at once it seemed to her
that the night air was sweeter to breathe, as if a distant
fragrance of new blossoms had been blown to her. She smiled back
to him, and said, "Well, what kind of man are you?"

"I don't know; I've often wondered," he replied. "What kind of
girl are you?"

"Don't you remember? I told you the other day. I'm just me!"

"But who is that?"

"You forget everything;" said Alice. "You told me what kind of a
girl I am. You seemed to think you'd taken quite a fancy to me
from the very first."

"So I did," he agreed, heartily.

"But how quickly you forgot it!"

"Oh, no. I only want YOU to say what kind of a girl you are."

She mocked him. "'I don't know; I've often wondered!' What kind
of a girl does Mildred tell you I am? What has she said about me
since she told you I was 'a Miss Adams?'"

"I don't know; I haven't asked her."

"Then DON'T ask her," Alice said, quickly.

"Why?"

"Because she's such a perfect creature and I'm such an imperfect
one. Perfect creatures have the most perfect way of ruining the
imperfect ones."

"But then they wouldn't be perfect. Not if they----"

"Oh, yes, they remain perfectly perfect," she assured him.
"That's because they never go into details. They're not so
vulgar as to come right out and TELL that you've been in jail for
stealing chickens. They just look absent-minded and say in a low
voice, 'Oh, very; but I scarcely think you'd like her
particularly'; and then begin to talk of something else right
away."

His smile had disappeared. "Yes," he said, somewhat ruefully.
"That does sound like Mildred. You certainly do seem to know
her! Do you know everybody as well as that?"

"Not myself," Alice said. "I don't know myself at all. I got to
wondering about that--about who I was--the other day after you
walked home with me."

He uttered an exclamation, and added, explaining it, "You do give
a man a chance to be fatuous, though! As if it were walking home
with me that made you wonder about yourself!"

"It was," Alice informed him, coolly. "I was wondering what I
wanted to make you think of me, in case I should ever happen to
see you again."

This audacity appeared to take his breath. "By George!" he
cried.

"You mustn't be astonished," she said. "What I decided then was
that I would probably never dare to be just myself with you--not
if I cared to have you want to see me again--and yet here I am,
just being myself after all!"

"You ARE the cheeriest series of shocks," Russell exclaimed,
whereupon Alice added to the series.

"Tell me: Is it a good policy for me to follow with you?" she
asked, and he found the mockery in her voice delightful. "Would
you advise me to offer you shocks as a sort of vacation from
suavity?"

"Suavity" was yet another sketch of Mildred; a recognizable one,
or it would not have been humorous. In Alice's hands, so
dexterous in this work, her statuesque friend was becoming as
ridiculous as a fine figure of wax left to the mercies of a
satirist.

But the lively young sculptress knew better than to overdo: what
she did must appear to spring all from mirth; so she laughed as
if unwillingly, and said, "I MUSTN'T laugh at Mildred! In the
first place, she's your--your cousin. And in the second place,
she's not meant to be funny; it isn't right to laugh at really
splendid people who take themselves seriously. In the third
place, you won't come again if I do."

"Don't be sure of that," Russell said, "whatever you do."

"'Whatever I do?'" she echoed. "That sounds as if you thought I
COULD be terrific! Be careful; there's one thing I could do that
would keep you away."

"What's that?"

"I could tell you not to come," she said. "I wonder if I ought
to."

"Why do you wonder if you 'ought to?'"

"Don't you guess?"

"No."

"Then let's both be mysteries to each other," she suggested. "I
mystify you because I wonder, and you mystify me because you
don't guess why I wonder. We'll let it go at that, shall we?"

"Very well; so long as it's certain that you DON'T tell me not to
come again."

"I'll not tell you that--yet," she said. "In fact----" She
paused, reflecting, with her head to one side. "In fact, I won't
tell you not to come, probably, until I see that's what you want
me to tell you. I'll let you out easily--and I'll be sure to see
it. Even before you do, perhaps."

"That arrangement suits me," Russell returned, and his voice held
no trace of jocularity: he had become serious. "It suits me
better if you're enough in earnest to mean that I can come--oh,
not whenever I want to; I don't expect so much!--but if you mean
that I can see you pretty often."

"Of course I'm in earnest," she said. "But before I say you can
come 'pretty often,' I'd like to know how much of my time you'd
need if you did come 'whenever you want to'; and of course you
wouldn't dare make any answer to that question except one.
Wouldn't you let me have Thursdays out?"

"No, no," he protested. "I want to know. Will you let me come
pretty often?"

"Lean toward me a little," Alice said. "I want you to
understand." And as he obediently bent his head near hers, she
inclined toward him as if to whisper; then, in a half-shout, she
cried,

"YES!"

He clapped his hands. "By George!" he said. "What a girl you
are!"

"Why?"

"Well, for the first reason, because you have such gaieties as
that one. I should think your father would actually like being
ill, just to be in the house with you all the time."

"You mean by that," Alice inquired, "I keep my family cheerful
with my amusing little ways?"

"Yes. Don't you?"

"There were only boys in your family, weren't there, Mr.
Russell?"

"I was an only child, unfortunately."

"Yes," she said. "I see you hadn't any sisters."

For a moment he puzzled over her meaning, then saw it, and was
more delighted with her than ever. "I can answer a question of
yours, now, that I couldn't a while ago."

"Yes, I know," she returned, quietly.

"But how could you know?"

"It's the question I asked you about whether you were going to
like living here," she said. "You're about to tell me that now
you know you WILL like it."

"More telepathy!" he exclaimed. "Yes, that was it, precisely. I
suppose the same thing's been said to you so many times that
you----"

"No, it hasn't," Alice said, a little confused for the moment.
"Not at all. I meant----" She paused, then asked in a gentle
voice, "Would you really like to know?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, I was only afraid you didn't mean it."

"See here," he said. "I did mean it. I told you it was being
pretty difficult for me to settle down to things again. Well,
it's more difficult than you know, but I think I can pull through
in fair spirits if I can see a girl like you 'pretty often.'"

"All right," she said, in a business-like tone. "I've told you
that you can if you want to."

"I do want to," he assured her. "I do, indeed!"

"How often is 'pretty often,' Mr. Russell?"

"Would you walk with me sometimes? To-morrow?"

"Sometimes. Not to-morrow. The day after."

"That's splendid!" he said. "You'll walk with me day after
to-morrow, and the night after that I'll see you at Miss Lamb's
dance, won't I?"

But this fell rather chillingly upon Alice. "Miss Lamb's dance?
Which Miss Lamb?" she asked.

"I don't know--it's the one that's just coming out of mourning."

"Oh, Henrietta--yes. Is her dance so soon? I'd forgotten."

"You'll be there, won't you?" he asked. "Please say you're
going."

Alice did not respond at once, and he urged her again: "Please do
promise you'll be there."

"No, I can't promise anything," she said, slowly. "You see, for
one thing, papa might not be well enough."

"But if he is?" said Russell. "If he is you'll surely come,
won't you? Or, perhaps----" He hesitated, then went on quickly,
"I don't know the rules in this place yet, and different places
have different rules; but do you have to have a chaperone, or
don't girls just go to dances with the men sometimes? If they
do, would you--would you let me take you?"

Alice was startled. "Good gracious!"

"What's the matter?"

"Don't you think your relatives---- Aren't you expected to go
with Mildred--and Mrs. Palmer?"

"Not necessarily. It doesn't matter what I might be expected to
do," he said. "Will you go with me?"

"I---- No; I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"I can't. I'm not going."

"But why?"

"Papa's not really any better," Alice said, huskily. "I'm too
worried about him to go to a dance." Her voice sounded
emotional, genuinely enough; there was something almost like a
sob in it. "Let's talk of other things, please."

He acquiesced gently; but Mrs. Adams, who had been listening to
the conversation at the open window, just overhead, did not hear
him. She had correctly interpreted the sob in Alice's voice,
and, trembling with sudden anger, she rose from her knees, and
went fiercely to her husband's room.

CHAPTER XIII

He had not undressed, and he sat beside the table, smoking his
pipe and reading his newspaper. Upon his forehead the lines in
that old pattern, the historical map of his troubles, had grown a
little vaguer lately; relaxed by the complacency of a man who not
only finds his health restored, but sees the days before him
promising once more a familiar routine that he has always liked
to follow.

As his wife came in, closing the door behind her, he looked up
cheerfully, "Well, mother," he said, "what's the news
downstairs?"

"That's what I came to tell you," she informed him, grimly.

Adams lowered his newspaper to his knee and peered over his
spectacles at her. She had remained by the door, standing, and
the great greenish shadow of the small lamp-shade upon his table
revealed her but dubiously. "Isn't everything all right?" he
asked. "What's the matter?"

"Don't worry: I'm going to tell you," she said, her grimness not
relaxed. "There's matter enough, Virgil Adams. Matter enough to
make me sick of being alive!"

With that, the markings on his brows began to emerge again in all
their sharpness; the old pattern reappeared. "Oh, my, my!" he
lamented. "I thought maybe we were all going to settle down to a
little peace for a while. What's it about now?"

"It's about Alice. Did you think it was about ME or anything for
MYSELF?"

Like some ready old machine, always in order, his irritability
responded immediately and automatically to her emotion. "How in
thunder could I think what it's about, or who it's for? SAY it,
and get it over!"

"Oh, I'll 'say' it," she promised, ominously. "What I've come to
ask you is, How much longer do you expect me to put up with that
old man and his doings?"

"Whose doings? What old man?"

She came at him, fiercely accusing. "You know well enough what
old man, Virgil Adams! That old man who was here the other
night."

"Mr. Lamb?"

"Yes; 'Mister Lamb!'" She mocked his voice. "What other old man
would I be likely to mean except J. A. Lamb?"

"What's he been doing now?" her husband inquired, satirically.
"Where'd you get something new against him since the last time
you----"

"Just this!" she cried. "The other night when that man was here,
if I'd known how he was going to make my child suffer, I'd never
have let him set his foot in my house."

Adams leaned back in his chair as though her absurdity had eased
his mind. "Oh, I see," he said. "You've just gone plain crazy.
That's the only explanation of such talk, and it suits the case."

"Hasn't that man made us all suffer every day of our lives?" she
demanded. "I'd like to know why it is that my life and my
children's lives have to be sacrificed to him?"

"How are they 'sacrificed' to him?"

"Because you keep on working for him! Because you keep on
letting him hand out whatever miserable little pittance he
chooses to give you; that's why! It's as if he were some
horrible old Juggernaut and I had to see my children's own father
throwing them under the wheels to keep him satisfied."

"I won't hear any more such stuff!" Lifting his paper, Adams
affected to read.

"You'd better listen to me," she admonished him. "You might be
sorry you didn't, in case he ever tried to set foot in my house
again! I might tell him to his face what I think of him."

At this, Adams slapped the newspaper down upon his knee. "Oh,
the devil! What's it matter what you think of him?"

"It had better matter to you!" she cried. "Do you suppose I'm
going to submit forever to him and his family and what they're
doing to my child?"

"What are he and his family doing to 'your child?'"

Mrs. Adams came out with it. "That snippy little Henrietta Lamb
has always snubbed Alice every time she's ever had the chance.
She's followed the lead of the other girls; they've always all of
'em been jealous of Alice because she dared to try and be happy,
and because she's showier and better-looking than they are, even
though you do give her only about thirty-five cents a year to do
it on! They've all done everything on earth they could to drive
the young men away from her and belittle her to 'em; and this
mean little Henrietta Lamb's been the worst of the whole crowd to
Alice, every time she could see a chance."

"What for?" Adams asked, incredulously. "Why should she or
anybody else pick on Alice?"

"'Why?' 'What for?'" his wife repeated with a greater vehemence.
"Do YOU ask me such a thing as that? Do you really want to
know?"

"Yes; I'd want to know--I would if I believed it."

"Then I'll tell you," she said in a cold fury. "It's on account
of you, Virgil, and nothing else in the world."

He hooted at her. "Oh, yes! These girls don't like ME, so they
pick on Alice."

"Quit your palavering and evading," she said. "A crowd of girls
like that, when they get a pretty girl like Alice among them,
they act just like wild beasts. They'll tear her to pieces, or
else they'll chase her and run her out, because they know if she
had half a chance she'd outshine 'em. They can't do that to a
girl like Mildred Palmer because she's got money and family to
back her. Now you listen to me, Virgil Adams: the way the world
is now, money IS family. Alice would have just as much 'family'
as any of 'em every single bit--if you hadn't fallen behind in
the race."

"How did I----"

"Yes, you did!" she cried. "Twenty-five years ago when we were
starting and this town was smaller, you and I could have gone
with any of 'em if we'd tried hard enough. Look at the people we
knew then that do hold their heads up alongside of anybody in
this town! WHY can they? Because the men of those families made
money and gave their children everything that makes life worth
living! Why can't we hold our heads up? Because those men
passed you in the race. They went up the ladder, and you--you're
still a clerk down at that old hole!"

"You leave that out, please," he said. "I thought you were going
to tell me something Henrietta Lamb had done to our Alice."

"You BET I'm going to tell you," she assured him, vehemently.
"But first I'm telling WHY she does it. It's because you've
never given Alice any backing nor any background, and they all
know they can do anything they like to her with perfect impunity.
If she had the hundredth part of what THEY have to fall back on
she'd have made 'em sing a mighty different song long ago!"

"How would she?"

"Oh, my heavens, but you're slow!" Mrs. Adams moaned. "Look
here! You remember how practically all the nicest boys in this
town used to come here a few years ago. Why, they were all crazy
over her; and the girls HAD to be nice to her then. Look at the
difference now! There'll be a whole month go by and not a young
man come to call on her, let alone send her candy or flowers, or
ever think of TAKING her any place and yet she's prettier and
brighter than she was when they used to come. It isn't the
child's fault she couldn't hold 'em, is it? Poor thing, SHE
tried hard enough! I suppose you'd say it was her fault,
though."

"No; I wouldn't."

"Then whose fault is it?"

"Oh, mine, mine," he said, wearily. "I drove the young men away,
of course."

"You might as well have driven 'em, Virgil. It amounts to just
the same thing."

"How does it?"

"Because as they got older a good many of 'em began to think more
about money; that's one thing. Money's at the bottom of it all,
for that matter. Look at these country clubs and all such
things: the other girls' families belong and we don't, and Alice
don't; and she can't go unless somebody takes her, and nobody
does any more. Look at the other girls' houses, and then look at
our house, so shabby and old-fashioned she'd be pretty near
ashamed to ask anybody to come in and sit down nowadays! Look at
her clothes--oh, yes; you think you shelled out a lot for that
little coat of hers and the hat and skirt she got last March; but
it's nothing. Some of these girls nowadays spend more than your
whole salary on their clothes. And what jewellery has she got?
A plated watch and two or three little pins and rings of the kind
people's maids wouldn't wear now. Good Lord, Virgil Adams, wake
up! Don't sit there and tell me you don't know things like this
mean SUFFERING for the child!"

He had begun to rub his hands wretchedly back and forth over his
bony knees, as if in that way he somewhat alleviated the tedium
caused by her racking voice. "Oh, my, my!" he muttered. "OH,
my, my!"

"Yes, I should think you WOULD say 'Oh, my, my!'" she took him
up, loudly. "That doesn't help things much! If you ever wanted
to DO anything about it, the poor child might see some gleam of
hope in her life. You don't CARE for her, that's the trouble;
you don't care a single thing about her."

"I don't?"

"No; you don't. Why, even with your miserable little salary you
could have given her more than you have. You're the closest man
I ever knew: it's like pulling teeth to get a dollar out of you
for her, now and then, and yet you hide some away, every month or
so, in some wretched little investment or other. You----"

"Look here, now," he interrupted, angrily. "You look here! If I
didn't put a little by whenever I could, in a bond or something,
where would you be if anything happened to me? The insurance
doctors never passed me; YOU know that. Haven't we got to have
SOMETHING to fall back on?"

"Yes, we have!" she cried. "We ought to have something to go on
with right now, too, when we need it. Do you suppose these
snippets would treat Alice the way they do if she could afford to
ENTERTAIN? They leave her out of their dinners and dances simply
because they know she can't give any dinners and dances to leave
them out of! They know she can't get EVEN, and that's the whole
story! That's why Henrietta Lamb's done this thing to her now."

Adams had gone back to his rubbing of his knees. "Oh, my, my!"
he said. "WHAT thing?"

She told him. "Your dear, grand, old Mister Lamb's Henrietta has
sent out invitations for a large party--a LARGE one. Everybody
that is anybody in this town is asked, you can be sure. There's
a very fine young man, a Mr. Russell, has just come to town, and
he's interested in Alice, and he's asked her to go to this dance
with him. Well, Alice can't accept. She can't go with him,
though she'd give anything in the world to do it. Do you
understand? The reason she can't is because Henrietta Lamb
hasn't invited her. Do you want to know why Henrietta hasn't
invited her? It's because she knows Alice can't get even, and
because she thinks Alice ought to be snubbed like this on account
of only being the daughter of one of her grandfather's clerks. I
HOPE you understand!"

"Oh, my, my!" he said. "OH, my, my!"

"That's your sweet old employer," his wife cried, tauntingly.
"That's your dear, kind, grand old Mister Lamb! Alice has been
left out of a good many smaller things, like big dinners and
little dances, but this is just the same as serving her notice
that she's out of everything! And it's all done by your dear,
grand old----"

"Look here!" Adams exclaimed. "I don't want to hear any more of
that! You can't hold him responsible for everything his
grandchildren do, I guess! He probably doesn't know a thing
about it. You don't suppose he's troubling HIS head over----"

But she burst out at him passionately. "Suppose you trouble YOUR
head about it! You'd better, Virgil Adams! You'd better, unless
you want to see your child just dry up into a miserable old maid!
She's still young and she has a chance for happiness, if she had
a father that didn't bring a millstone to hang around her neck,
instead of what he ought to give her! You just wait till you die
and God asks you what you had in your breast instead of a heart!"

"Oh, my, my!" he groaned. "What's my heart got to do with it?"

"Nothing! You haven't got one or you'd give her what she needed.
Am I asking anything you CAN'T do? You know better; you know I'm
not!"

At this he sat suddenly rigid, his troubled hands ceasing to rub
his knees; and he looked at her fixedly. "Now, tell me," he
said, slowly. "Just what ARE you asking?"

"You know!" she sobbed.

"You mean you've broken your word never to speak of THAT to me
again?"

"What do _I_ care for my word?" she cried, and, sinking to the
floor at his feet, rocked herself back and forth there. "Do you
suppose I'll let my 'word' keep me from struggling for a little
happiness for my children? It won't, I tell you; it won't! I'll
struggle for that till I die! I will, till I die till I die!"

He rubbed his head now instead of his knees, and, shaking all
over, he got up and began with uncertain steps to pace the floor.

"Hell, hell, hell!" he said. "I've got to go through THAT
again!"

"Yes, you have!" she sobbed. "Till I die."

"Yes; that's what you been after all the time I was getting
well."

"Yes, I have, and I'll keep on till I die!"

"A fine wife for a man," he said. "Beggin' a man to be a dirty
dog!"

"No! To be a MAN--and I'll keep on till I die!"

Adams again fell back upon his last solace: he walked, half
staggering, up and down the room, swearing in a rhythmic
repetition.

His wife had repetitions of her own, and she kept at them in a
voice that rose to a higher and higher pitch, like the sound of
an old well-pump. "Till I die! Till I die! Till I DIE!"

She ended in a scream; and Alice, coming up the stairs, thanked
heaven that Russell had gone. She ran to her father's door and
went in.

Adams looked at her, and gesticulated shakily at the convulsive
figure on the floor. "Can you get her out of here?"

Alice helped Mrs. Adams to her feet; and the stricken woman
threw her arms passionately about her daughter.

"Get her out!" Adams said, harshly; then cried, "Wait!"

Alice, moving toward the door, halted, and looked at him blankly,
over her mother's shoulder. "What is it, papa?"

He stretched out his arm and pointed at her. "She says--she says
you have a mean life, Alice."

"No, papa."

Mrs. Adams turned in her daughter's arms. "Do you hear her lie?
Couldn't you be as brave as she is, Virgil?"

"Are you lying, Alice?" he asked. "Do you have a mean time?"

"No, papa."

He came toward her. "Look at me!" he said. "Things like this
dance now--is that so hard to bear?"

Alice tried to say, "No, papa," again, but she couldn't.
Suddenly and in spite of herself she began to cry.

"Do you hear her?" his wife sobbed. "Now do you----"

He waved at them fiercely. "Get out of here!" he said. "Both of
you! Get out of here!"

As they went, he dropped in his chair and bent far forward, so
that his haggard face was concealed from them. Then, as Alice
closed the door, he began to rub his knees again, muttering, "Oh,
my, my! OH, my, my!"

CHAPTER XIV

There shone a jovial sun overhead on the appointed "day after
to-morrow"; a day not cool yet of a temperature friendly to
walkers; and the air, powdered with sunshine, had so much life in
it that it seemed to sparkle. To Arthur Russell this was a day
like a gay companion who pleased him well; but the gay companion
at his side pleased him even better. She looked her prettiest,
chattered her wittiest, smiled her wistfulest, and delighted him
with all together.

"You look so happy it's easy to see your father's taken a good
turn," he told her.

"Yes; he has this afternoon, at least," she said. "I might have
other reasons for looking cheerful, though."

"For instance?"

"Exactly!" she said, giving him a sweet look just enough mocked
by her laughter. "For instance!"

"Well, go on," he begged.

"Isn't it expected?" she asked.

"Of you, you mean?"

"No," she returned. "For you, I mean!"

In this style, which uses a word for any meaning that quick look
and colourful gesture care to endow it with, she was an expert;
and she carried it merrily on, leaving him at liberty (one of the
great values of the style) to choose as he would how much or how
little she meant. He was content to supply mere cues, for
although he had little coquetry of his own, he had lately begun
to find that the only interesting moments in his life were those
during which Alice Adams coquetted with him. Happily, these
obliging moments extended themselves to cover all the time he
spent with her. However serious she might seem, whatever
appeared to be her topic, all was thou-and-I.

He planned for more of it, seeing otherwise a dull evening ahead;
and reverted, afterwhile, to a forbidden subject. "About that
dance at Miss Lamb's--since your father's so much better----"

She flushed a little. "Now, now!" she chided him. "We agreed
not to say any more about that."

"Yes, but since he IS better----"

Alice shook her head. "He won't be better to-morrow. He always
has a bad day after a good one especially after such a good one
as this is."

"But if this time it should be different," Russell persisted;
"wouldn't you be willing to come if he's better by to-morrow
evening? Why not wait and decide at the last minute?"

She waved her hands airily. "What a pother!" she cried. "What
does it matter whether poor little Alice Adams goes to a dance or
not?"

"Well, I thought I'd made it clear that it looks fairly bleak to
me if you don't go."

"Oh, yes!" she jeered.

"It's the simple truth," he insisted. "I don't care a great deal
about dances these days; and if you aren't going to be there----"

"You could stay away," she suggested. "You wouldn't!"

"Unfortunately, I can't. I'm afraid I'm supposed to be the
excuse. Miss Lamb, in her capacity as a friend of my
relatives----"

"Oh, she's giving it for YOU! I see! On Mildred's account you
mean?"

At that his face showed an increase of colour. "I suppose just
on account of my being a cousin of Mildred's and of----"

"Of course! You'll have a beautiful time, too. Henrietta'll see
that you have somebody to dance with besides Miss Dowling, poor
man!"

"But what I want somebody to see is that I dance with you! And
perhaps your father----"

"Wait!" she said, frowning as if she debated whether or not to
tell him something of import; then, seeming to decide
affirmatively, she asked: "Would you really like to know the
truth about it?"

"If it isn't too unflattering."

"It hasn't anything to do with you at all," she said. "Of course
I'd like to go with you and to dance with you--though you don't
seem to realize that you wouldn't be permitted much time with
me."

"Oh, yes, I----"

"Never mind!" she laughed. "Of course you wouldn't. But even if
papa should be better to-morrow, I doubt if I'd go. In fact, I
know I wouldn't. There's another reason besides papa."

"Is there?"

"Yes. The truth is, I don't get on with Henrietta Lamb. As a
matter of fact, I dislike her, and of course that means she
dislikes me. I should never think of asking her to anything I
gave, and I really wonder she asks me to things SHE gives." This
was a new inspiration; and Alice, beginning to see her way out of
a perplexity, wished that she had thought of it earlier: she
should have told him from the first that she and Henrietta had a
feud, and consequently exchanged no invitations. Moreover, there
was another thing to beset her with little anxieties: she might
better not have told him from the first, as she had indeed told
him by intimation, that she was the pampered daughter of an
indulgent father, presumably able to indulge her; for now she
must elaborately keep to the part. Veracity is usually simple;
and its opposite, to be successful, should be as simple; but
practitioners of the opposite are most often impulsive, like
Alice; and, like her, they become enmeshed in elaborations.

"It wouldn't be very nice for me to go to her house," Alice went
on, "when I wouldn't want her in mine. I've never admired her.
I've always thought she was lacking in some things most people
are supposed to be equipped with--for instance, a certain feeling
about the death of a father who was always pretty decent to his
daughter. Henrietta's father died just, eleven months and
twenty-seven days before your cousin's dance, but she couldn't
stick out those few last days and make it a year; she was there."

Alice stopped, then laughed ruefully, exclaiming, "But this is
dreadful of me!"

"Is it?"

"Blackguarding her to you when she's giving a big party for you!
Just the way Henrietta would blackguard me to you--heaven knows
what she WOULDN'T say if she talked about me to you! It would be
fair, of course, but--well, I'd rather she didn't!" And with
that, Alice let her pretty hand, in its white glove, rest upon
his arm for a moment; and he looked down at it, not unmoved to
see it there. "I want to be unfair about just this," she said,
letting a troubled laughter tremble through her appealing voice
as she spoke. "I won't take advantage of her with anybody,
except just--you! I'd a little rather you didn't hear anybody
blackguard me, and, if you don't mind--could you promise not to
give Henrietta the chance?"

It was charmingly done, with a humorous, faint pathos altogether
genuine; and Russell found himself suddenly wanting to shout at
her, "Oh, you DEAR!" Nothing else seemed adequate; but he
controlled the impulse in favour of something more conservative.

"Imagine any one speaking unkindly of you--not praising you!"

"Who HAS praised me to you?" she asked, quickly.

"I haven't talked about you with any one; but if I did, I know
they'd----"

"No, no!" she cried, and went on, again accompanying her words
with little tremulous runs of laughter. "You don't understand
this town yet. You'll be surprised when you do; we're different.
We talk about one another fearfully! Haven't I just proved it,
the way I've been going for Henrietta? Of course I didn't say
anything really very terrible about her, but that's only because
I don't follow that practice the way most of the others do. They
don't stop with the worst of the truth they can find: they make
UP things--yes, they really do! And, oh, I'd RATHER they didn't
make up things about me--to you!"

"What difference would it make if they did?" he inquired,
cheerfully. "I'd know they weren't true."

"Even if you did know that, they'd make a difference," she said.
"Oh, yes, they would! It's too bad, but we don't like anything
quite so well that's had specks on it, even if we've wiped the
specks off;--it's just that much spoiled, and some things are all
spoiled the instant they're the least bit spoiled. What a man
thinks about a girl, for instance. Do you want to have what you
think about me spoiled, Mr. Russell?"

"Oh, but that's already far beyond reach," he said, lightly.

"But it can't be!" she protested.

"Why not?"

"Because it never can be. Men don't change their minds about one
another often: they make it quite an event when they do, and talk
about it as if something important had happened. But a girl only
has to go down-town with a shoe-string unfastened, and every man
who sees her will change his mind about her. Don't you know
that's true?"

"Not of myself, I think."

"There!" she cried. "That's precisely what every man in the
world would say!"

"So you wouldn't trust me?"

"Well--I'll be awfully worried if you give 'em a chance to tell
you that I'm too lazy to tie my shoe-strings!"

He laughed delightedly. "Is that what they do say?" he asked.

"Just about! Whatever they hope will get results." She shook
her head wisely. "Oh, yes; we do that here!"

"But I don't mind loose shoe-strings," he said. "Not if they're
yours."

"They'll find out what you do mind."

"But suppose," he said, looking at her whimsically; "suppose I
wouldn't mind anything--so long as it's yours?"

She courtesied. "Oh, pretty enough! But a girl who's talked
about has a weakness that's often a fatal one."

"What is it?"

"It's this: when she's talked about she isn't THERE. That's how
they kill her."

"I'm afraid I don't follow you."

"Don't you see? If Henrietta--or Mildred--or any of 'em--or some
of their mothers--oh, we ALL do it! Well, if any of 'em told you
I didn't tie my shoe-strings, and if I were there, so that you
could see me, you'd know it wasn't true. Even if I were sitting
so that you couldn't see my feet, and couldn't tell whether the
strings were tied or not just then, still you could look at me,
and see that I wasn't the sort of girl to neglect my
shoe-strings. But that isn't the way it happens: they'll get at
you when I'm nowhere around and can't remind you of the sort of
girl I really am."

"But you don't do that," he complained. "You don't remind me you
don't even tell me--the sort of girl you really are! I'd like to
know."

"Let's be serious then," she said, and looked serious enough
herself. "Would you honestly like to know?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, you must be careful."

"'Careful?'" The word amused him.

"I mean careful not to get me mixed up," she said. "Careful not
to mix up the girl you might hear somebody talking about with the
me I honestly try to make you see. If you do get those two mixed
up--well, the whole show'll be spoiled!"

"What makes you think so?"

"Because it's----" She checked herself, having begun to speak too
impulsively; and she was disturbed, realizing in what tricky
stuff she dealt. What had been on her lips to say was, "Because
it's happened before!" She changed to, "Because it's so easy to
spoil anything--easiest of all to spoil anything that's
pleasant."

"That might depend."

"No; it's so. And if you care at all about--about knowing a girl
who'd like someone to know her----"

"Just 'someone?' That's disappointing."

"Well--you," she said.

"Tell me how 'careful' you want me to be, then!"

"Well, don't you think it would be nice if you didn't give
anybody the chance to talk about me the way--the way I've just
been talking about Henrietta Lamb?"

With that they laughed together, and he said, "You may be cutting
me off from a great deal of information, you know."

"Yes," Alice admitted. "Somebody might begin to praise me to
you, too; so it's dangerous to ask you to change the subject if I
ever happen to be mentioned. But after all----" She paused.

"'After all' isn't the end of a thought, is it?"

"Sometimes it is of a girl's thought; I suppose men are neater
about their thoughts, and always finish 'em. It isn't the end of
the thought I had then, though."

"What is the end of it?"

She looked at him impulsively. "Oh, it's foolish," she said, and
she laughed as laughs one who proposes something probably
impossible. "But, WOULDN'T it be pleasant if two people could
ever just keep themselves TO themselves, so far as they two were
concerned? I mean, if they could just manage to be friends
without people talking about it, or talking to THEM about it?"

"I suppose that might be rather difficult," he said, more amused
than impressed by her idea.

"I don't know: it might be done," she returned, hopefully.
"Especially in a town of this size; it's grown so it's quite a
huge place these days. People can keep themselves to themselves
in a big place better, you know. For instance, nobody knows that
you and I are taking a walk together today."

"How absurd, when here we are on exhibition!"

"No; we aren't."

"We aren't?"

"Not a bit of it!" she laughed. "We were the other day, when you
walked home with me, but anybody could tell that had just
happened by chance, on account of your overtaking me; people can
always see things like that. But we're not on exhibition now.
Look where I've led you!"

Amused and a little bewildered, he looked up and down the street,
which was one of gaunt-faced apartment-houses, old, sooty, frame
boarding-houses, small groceries and drug-stores, laundries and
one-room plumbers' shops, with the sign of a clairvoyant here
and there.

"You see?" she said. "I've been leading you without your knowing
it. Of course that's because you're new to the town, and you
give yourself up to the guidance of an old citizen."

"I'm not so sure, Miss Adams. It might mean that I don't care
where I follow so long as I follow you."

"Very well," she said. "I'd like you to keep on following me at
least long enough for me to show you that there's something nicer
ahead of us than this dingy street."

"Is that figurative?" he asked.

"Might be!" she returned, gaily. "There's a pretty little park
at the end, but it's very proletarian, and nobody you and I know
will be more likely to see us there than on this street."

"What an imagination you have!" he exclaimed. "You turn our
proper little walk into a Parisian adventure."

She looked at him in what seemed to be a momentary grave
puzzlement. "Perhaps you feel that a Parisian adventure mightn't
please your--your relatives?"

"Why, no," he returned. "You seem to think of them oftener than
I do."

This appeared to amuse Alice, or at least to please her, for she
laughed. "Then I can afford to quit thinking of them, I suppose.
It's only that I used to be quite a friend of Mildred's--but
there! we needn't to go into that. I've never been a friend of
Henrietta Lamb's, though, and I almost wish she weren't taking
such pains to be a friend of yours."

"Oh, but she's not. It's all on account of----"

"On Mildred's account," Alice finished this for him, coolly.
"Yes, of course."

"It's on account of the two families," he was at pains to
explain, a little awkwardly. "It's because I'm a relative of the
Palmers, and the Palmers and the Lambs seem to be old family
friends."

"Something the Adamses certainly are not," Alice said. "Not with
either of 'em; particularly not with the Lambs!" And here, scarce
aware of what impelled her, she returned to her former
elaborations and colourings. "You see, the differences between
Henrietta and me aren't entirely personal: I couldn't go to her
house even if I liked her. The Lambs and Adamses don't get on
with each other, and we've just about come to the breaking-point
as it happens."

"I hope it's nothing to bother you."

"Why? A lot of things bother me."

"I'm sorry they do," he said, and seemed simply to mean it.

She nodded gratefully. "That's nice of you, Mr. Russell. It
helps. The break between the Adamses and the Lambs is a pretty
bothersome thing. It's been coming on a long time." She sighed
deeply, and the sigh was half genuine; this half being for her
father, but the other half probably belonged to her instinctive
rendering of Juliet Capulet, daughter to a warring house. "I
hate it all so!" she added.

"Of course you must."

"I suppose most quarrels between families are on account of
business," she said. "That's why they're so sordid. Certainly
the Lambs seem a sordid lot to me, though of course I'm biased."
And with that she began to sketch a history of the commercial
antagonism that had risen between the Adamses and the Lambs.

The sketching was spontaneous and dramatic. Mathematics had no
part in it; nor was there accurate definition of Mr. Adams's
relation to the institution of Lamb and Company. The point was
clouded, in fact; though that might easily be set down to the
general haziness of young ladies confronted with the mysteries of
trade or commerce. Mr. Adams either had been a vague sort of
junior member of the firm, it appeared, or else he should have
been made some such thing; at all events, he was an old mainstay
of the business; and he, as much as any Lamb, had helped to build
up the prosperity of the company. But at last, tired of
providing so much intelligence and energy for which other people
took profit greater than his own, he had decided to leave the
company and found a business entirely for himself. The Lambs
were going to be enraged when they learned what was afoot.

Such was the impression, a little misted, wrought by Alice's
quick narrative. But there was dolorous fact behind it: Adams
had succumbed.

His wife, grave and nervous, rather than triumphant, in success,
had told their daughter that the great J. A. would be furious
and possibly vindictive. Adams was afraid of him, she said.

"But what for, mama?" Alice asked, since this seemed a turn of
affairs out of reason. "What in the world has Mr. Lamb to do
with papa's leaving the company to set up for himself? What
right has he to be angry about it? If he's such a friend as he
claims to be, I should think he'd be glad--that is, if the glue
factory turns out well. What will he be angry for?"

Mrs. Adams gave Alice an uneasy glance, hesitated, and then
explained that a resignation from Lamb's had always been looked
upon, especially by "that old man," as treachery. You were
supposed to die in the service, she said bitterly, and her
daughter, a little mystified, accepted this explanation. Adams
had not spoken to her of his surrender; he seemed not inclined to
speak to her at all, or to any one.

Alice was not serious too long, and she began to laugh as she
came to the end of her decorative sketch. "After all, the whole
thing is perfectly ridiculous," she said. "In fact, it's FUNNY!
That's on account of what papa's going to throw over the Lamb
business FOR! To save your life you couldn't imagine what he's
going to do!"

"I won't try, then," Russell assented.

"It takes all the romance out of ME," she laughed. "You'll never
go for a Parisian walk with me again, after I tell you what I'll
be heiress to." They had come to the entrance of the little
park; and, as Alice had said, it was a pretty place, especially
on a day so radiant. Trees of the oldest forest stood there,
hale and serene over the trim, bright grass; and the proletarians
had not come from their factories at this hour; only a few
mothers and their babies were to be seen, here and there, in the
shade. "I think I'll postpone telling you about it till we get
nearly home again," Alice said, as they began to saunter down one
of the gravelled paths. "There's a bench beside a spring farther
on; we can sit there and talk about a lot of things--things not
so sticky as my dowry's going to be."

"'Sticky?'" he echoed. "What in the world----" She laughed
despairingly.

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