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Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

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man as a guest."

"Yes, I know; but you want to have all this fancy cookin'; and I
see well enough you're going to get that old dress suit out of
the cedar chest in the attic, and try to make me put it on me."

"I do think you better, Virgil."

"I hope the moths have got in it," he said. "Last time I wore it
was to the banquet, and it was pretty old then. Of course I
didn't mind wearing it to the banquet so much, because that was
what you might call quite an occasion." He spoke with some
reminiscent complacency; "the banquet," an affair now five years
past, having provided the one time in his life when he had been
so distinguished among his fellow-citizens as to receive an
invitation to be present, with some seven hundred others, at the
annual eating and speech-making of the city's Chamber of
Commerce. "Anyhow, as you say, I think it would look foolish of
me to wear a dress suit for just one young man," he went on
protesting, feebly. "What's the use of all so much howdy-do,
anyway? You don't expect him to believe we put on all that style
every night, do you? Is that what you're after?"

"Well, we want him to think we live nicely," she admitted.

"So that's it!" he said, querulously. "You want him to think
that's our regular gait, do you? Well, he'll know better about
me, no matter how you fix me up, because he saw me in my regular
suit the evening she introduced me to him, and he could tell
anyway I'm not one of these moving-picture sporting-men that's
always got a dress suit on. Besides, you and Alice certainly
have some idea he'll come AGAIN, haven't you? If they get things
settled between 'em he'll be around the house and to meals most
any time, won't he? You don't hardly expect to put on style all
the time, I guess. Well, he'll see then that this kind of thing
was all show-off, and bluff, won't he? What about it?"

"Oh, well, by THAT time----" She left the sentence unfinished, as
if absently. "You could let us have a little money for
to-morrow, couldn't you, honey?"

"Oh, I reckon, I reckon," he mumbled. "A girl like Alice is some
comfort: she don't come around acting as if she'd commit suicide
if she didn't get three hundred and fifty dollars in the next
five minutes. I expect I can spare five or six dollars for your
show-off if I got to."

However, she finally obtained fifteen before his bedtime; and the
next morning "went to market" after breakfast, leaving Alice to
make the beds. Walter had not yet come downstairs. "You had
better call him," Mrs. Adams said, as she departed with a big
basket on her arm. "I expect he's pretty sleepy; he was out so
late last night I didn't hear him come in, though I kept awake
till after midnight, listening for him. Tell him he'll be late
to work if he doesn't hurry; and see that he drinks his coffee,
even if he hasn't time for anything else. And when Malena comes,
get her started in the kitchen: show her where everything is."
She waved her hand, as she set out for a corner where the cars
stopped. "Everything'll be lovely. Don't forget about Walter."

Nevertheless, Alice forgot about Walter for a few minutes. She
closed the door, went into the "living-room" absently, and
stared vaguely at one of the old brown-plush rocking-chairs
there. Upon her forehead were the little shadows of an
apprehensive reverie, and her thoughts overlapped one another in
a fretful jumble. "What will he think? These old
chairs--they're hideous. I'll scrub those soot-streaks on the
columns: it won't do any good, though. That long crack in the
column--nothing can help it. What will he think of papa? I hope
mama won't talk too much. When he thinks of Mildred's house, or
of Henrietta's, or any of 'em, beside this-- She said she'd buy
plenty of roses; that ought to help some. Nothing could be done
about these horrible chairs: can't take 'em up in the attic--a
room's got to have chairs! Might have rented some. No; if he
ever comes again he'd see they weren't here. 'If he ever comes
again'--oh, it won't be THAT bad! But it won't be what he
expects. I'm responsible for what he expects: he expects just
what the airs I've put on have made him expect. What did I want
to pose so to him for--as if papa were a wealthy man and all
that? What WILL he think? The photograph of the Colosseum's a
rather good thing, though. It helps some--as if we'd bought it
in Rome perhaps. I hope he'll think so; he believes I've been
abroad, of course. The other night he said, 'You remember the
feeling you get in the Sainte-Chapelle'.--There's another lie of
mine, not saying I didn't remember because I'd never been there.
What makes me do it? Papa MUST wear his evening clothes. But
Walter----"

With that she recalled her mother's admonition, and went upstairs
to Walter's door. She tapped upon it with her fingers.

"Time to get up, Walter. The rest of us had breakfast over half
an hour ago, and it's nearly eight o'clock. You'll be late.
Hurry down and I'll have some coffee and toast ready for you."
There came no sound from within the room, so she rapped louder.

"Wake up, Walter!"

She called and rapped again, without getting any response, and
then, finding that the door yielded to her, opened it and went
in. Walter was not there.

He had been there, however; had slept upon the bed, though not
inside the covers; and Alice supposed he must have come home so
late that he had been too sleepy to take off his clothes. Near
the foot of the bed was a shallow closet where he kept his "other
suit" and his evening clothes; and the door stood open, showing a
bare wall. Nothing whatever was in the closet, and Alice was
rather surprised at this for a moment. "That's queer," she
murmured; and then she decided that when he woke he found the
clothes he had slept in "so mussy" he had put on his "other
suit," and had gone out before breakfast with the mussed clothes
to have them pressed, taking his evening things with them.
Satisfied with this explanation, and failing to observe that it
did not account for the absence of shoes from the closet floor,
she nodded absently, "Yes, that must be it"; and, when her mother
returned, told her that Walter had probably breakfasted
down-town. They did not delay over this; the coloured woman had
arrived, and the basket's disclosures were important.

"I stopped at Worlig's on the way back," said Mrs. Adams,
flushed with hurry and excitement. "I bought a can of caviar
there. I thought we'd have little sandwiches brought into the
'living-room' before dinner, the way you said they did when you
went to that dinner at the----"

"But I think that was to go with cocktails, mama, and of course
we haven't----"

"No," Mrs. Adams said. "Still, I think it would be nice. We
can make them look very dainty, on a tray, and the waitress can
bring them in. I thought we'd have the soup already on the
table; and we can walk right out as soon as we have the
sandwiches, so it won't get cold. Then, after the soup, Malena
says she can make sweetbread pates with mushrooms: and for the
meat course we'll have larded fillet. Malena's really a fancy
cook, you know, and she says she can do anything like that to
perfection. We'll have peas with the fillet, and potato balls
and Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts are fashionable now, they
told me at market. Then will come the chicken salad, and after
that the ice-cream--she's going to make an angel-food cake to go
with it--and then coffee and crackers and a new kind of cheese I
got at Worlig's, he says is very fine."

Alice was alarmed. "Don't you think perhaps it's too much,
mama?"

"It's better to have too much than too little," her mother said,
cheerfully. "We don't want him to think we're the kind that
skimp. Lord knows we have to enough, though, most of the time!
Get the flowers in water, child. I bought 'em at market because
they're so much cheaper there, but they'll keep fresh and nice.
You fix 'em any way you want. Hurry! It's got to be a busy
day."

She had bought three dozen little roses. Alice took them and
began to arrange them in vases, keeping the stems separated as
far as possible so that the clumps would look larger. She put
half a dozen in each of three vases in the "living-room," placing
one vase on the table in the center of the room, and one at each
end of the mantelpiece. Then she took the rest of the roses to
the dining-room; but she postponed the arrangement of them until
the table should be set, just before dinner. She was thoughtful;
planning to dry the stems and lay them on the tablecloth like a
vine of roses running in a delicate design, if she found that the
dozen and a half she had left were enough for that. If they
weren't she would arrange them in a vase.

She looked a long time at the little roses in the basin of water,
where she had put them; then she sighed, and went away to heavier
tasks, while her mother worked in the kitchen with Malena. Alice
dusted the "living-room" and the dining-room vigorously, though
all the time with a look that grew more and more pensive; and
having dusted everything, she wiped the furniture; rubbed it
hard. After that, she washed the floors and the woodwork.

Emerging from the kitchen at noon, Mrs. Adams found her daughter
on hands and knees, scrubbing the bases of the columns between
the hall and the "living-room."

"Now, dearie," she said, "you mustn't tire yourself out, and
you'd better come and eat something. Your father said he'd get a
bite down-town to-day--he was going down to the bank--and Walter
eats down-town all the time lately, so I thought we wouldn't
bother to set the table for lunch. Come on and we'll have
something in the kitchen."

"No," Alice said, dully, as she went on with the work. "I don't
want anything."

Her mother came closer to her. "Why, what's the matter?" she
asked, briskly. "You seem kind of pale, to me; and you don't
look--you don't look HAPPY."

"Well----" Alice began, uncertainly, but said no more.

"See here!" Mrs. Adams exclaimed. "This is all just for you!
You ought to be ENJOYING it. Why, it's the first time
we've--we've entertained in I don't know how long! I guess it's
almost since we had that little party when you were eighteen.
What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing. I don't know."

"But, dearie, aren't you looking FORWARD to this evening?"

The girl looked up, showing a pallid and solemn face. "Oh, yes,
of course," she said, and tried to smile. "Of course we had to
do it--I do think it'll be nice. Of course I'm looking forward
to it."

CHAPTER XX

She was indeed "looking forward" to that evening, but in a cloud
of apprehension; and, although she could never have guessed it,
this was the simultaneous condition of another person--none other
than the guest for whose pleasure so much cooking and scrubbing
seemed to be necessary. Moreover, Mr. Arthur Russell's
premonitions were no product of mere coincidence; neither had any
magical sympathy produced them. His state of mind was rather the
result of rougher undercurrents which had all the time been
running beneath the surface of a romantic friendship.

Never shrewder than when she analyzed the gentlemen, Alice did
not libel him when she said he was one of those quiet men who are
a bit flirtatious, by which she meant that he was a bit
"susceptible," the same thing--and he had proved himself
susceptible to Alice upon his first sight of her. "There!" he
said to himself. "Who's that?" And in the crowd of girls at his
cousin's dance, all strangers to him, she was the one he wanted
to know.

Since then, his summer evenings with her had been as secluded as
if, for three hours after the falling of dusk, they two had drawn
apart from the world to some dear bower of their own. The little
veranda was that glamorous nook, with a faint golden light
falling through the glass of the closed door upon Alice, and
darkness elsewhere, except for the one round globe of the street
lamp at the corner. The people who passed along the sidewalk,
now and then, were only shadows with voices, moving vaguely under
the maple trees that loomed in obscure contours against the
stars. So, as the two sat together, the back of the world was
the wall and closed door behind them; and Russell, when he was
away from Alice, always thought of her as sitting there before
the closed door. A glamour was about her thus, and a spell upon
him; but he had a formless anxiety never put into words: all the
pictures of her in his mind stopped at the closed door.

He had another anxiety; and, for the greater part, this was of
her own creating. She had too often asked him (no matter how
gaily) what he heard about her, too often begged him not to hear
anything. Then, hoping to forestall whatever he might hear, she
had been at too great pains to account for it, to discredit and
mock it; and, though he laughed at her for this, telling her
truthfully he did not even hear her mentioned, the everlasting
irony that deals with all such human forefendings prevailed.

Lately, he had half confessed to her what a nervousness she had
produced. "You make me dread the day when I'll hear somebody
speaking of you. You're getting me so upset about it that if I
ever hear anybody so much as say the name 'Alice Adams,' I'll
run!" The confession was but half of one because he laughed; and
she took it for an assurance of loyalty in the form of burlesque.

She misunderstood: he laughed, but his nervousness was genuine.

After any stroke of events, whether a happy one or a catastrophe,
we see that the materials for it were a long time gathering, and
the only marvel is that the stroke was not prophesied. What bore
the air of fatal coincidence may remain fatal indeed, to this
later view; but, with the haphazard aspect dispelled, there is
left for scrutiny the same ancient hint from the Infinite to the
effect that since events have never yet failed to be law-abiding,
perhaps it were well for us to deduce that they will continue to
be so until further notice.

. . . On the day that was to open the closed door in the
background of his pictures of Alice, Russell lunched with his
relatives. There were but the four people, Russell and Mildred
and her mother and father, in the great, cool dining-room.
Arched French windows, shaded by awnings, admitted a mellow light
and looked out upon a green lawn ending in a long conservatory,
which revealed through its glass panes a carnival of plants in
luxuriant blossom. From his seat at the table, Russell glanced
out at this pretty display, and informed his cousins that he was
surprised. "You have such a glorious spread of flowers all over
the house," he said, "I didn't suppose you'd have any left out
yonder. In fact, I didn't know there were so many splendid
flowers in the world."

Mrs. Palmer, large, calm, fair, like her daughter, responded
with a mild reproach: "That's because you haven't been cousinly
enough to get used to them, Arthur. You've almost taught us to
forget what you look like."

In defense Russell waved a hand toward her husband. "You see,
he's begun to keep me so hard at work----"

But Mr. Palmer declined the responsibility. "Up to four or five
in the afternoon, perhaps," he said. "After that, the young
gentleman is as much a stranger to me as he is to my family.
I've been wondering who she could be."

"When a man's preoccupied there must be a lady then?" Russell
inquired.

"That seems to be the view of your sex," Mrs; Palmer suggested.
"It was my husband who said it, not Mildred or I."

Mildred smiled faintly. "Papa may be singular in his ideas; they
may come entirely from his own experience, and have nothing to do
with Arthur."

"Thank you, Mildred," her cousin said, bowing to her gratefully.
"You seem to understand my character--and your father's quite as
well!"

However, Mildred remained grave in the face of this customary
pleasantry, not because the old jest, worn round, like what
preceded it, rolled in an old groove, but because of some
preoccupation of her own. Her faint smile had disappeared, and,
as her cousin's glance met hers, she looked down; yet not before
he had seen in her eyes the flicker of something like a
question--a question both poignant and dismayed. He may have
understood it; for his own smile vanished at once in favour of a
reciprocal solemnity.

"You see, Arthur," Mrs. Palmer said, "Mildred is always a good
cousin. She and I stand by you, even if you do stay away from us
for weeks and weeks." Then, observing that he appeared to be so
occupied with a bunch of iced grapes upon his plate that he had
not heard her, she began to talk to her husband, asking him what
was "going on down-town."

Arthur continued to eat his grapes, but he ventured to look again
at Mildred after a few moments. She, also, appeared to be
occupied with a bunch of grapes though she ate none, and only
pulled them from their stems. She sat straight, her features as
composed and pure as those of a new marble saint in a cathedral
niche; yet her downcast eyes seemed to conceal many thoughts; and
her cousin, against his will, was more aware of what these
thoughts might be than of the leisurely conversation between her
father and mother. All at once, however, he heard something that
startled him, and he listened--and here was the effect of all
Alice's forefendings; he listened from the first with a sinking
heart.

Mr. Palmer, mildly amused by what he was telling his wife, had
just spoken the words, "this Virgil Adams." What he had said
was, "this Virgil Adams--that's the man's name. Queer case."

"Who told you?" Mrs. Palmer inquired, not much interested.

"Alfred Lamb," her husband answered. "He was laughing about his
father, at the club. You see the old gentleman takes a great
pride in his judgment of men, and always boasted to his sons that
he'd never in his life made a mistake in trusting the wrong man.
Now Alfred and James Albert, Junior, think they have a great joke
on him; and they've twitted him so much about it he'll scarcely
speak to them. From the first, Alfred says, the old chap's only
repartee was, 'You wait and you'll see!' And they've asked him so
often to show them what they're going to see that he won't say
anything at all!"

"He's a funny old fellow," Mrs. Palmer observed. "But he's so
shrewd I can't imagine his being deceived for such a long time.
Twenty years, you said?"

"Yes, longer than that, I understand. It appears when this
man--this Adams--was a young clerk, the old gentleman trusted him
with one of his business secrets, a glue process that Mr. Lamb
had spent some money to get hold of. The old chap thought this
Adams was going to have quite a future with the Lamb concern, and
of course never dreamed he was dishonest. Alfred says this Adams
hasn't been of any real use for years, and they should have let
him go as dead wood, but the old gentleman wouldn't hear of it,
and insisted on his being kept on the payroll; so they just
decided to look on it as a sort of pension. Well, one morning
last March the man had an attack of some sort down there, and Mr.
Lamb got his own car out and went home with him, himself, and
worried about him and went to see him no end, all the time he was
ill."

"He would," Mrs. Palmer said, approvingly. "He's a kind-hearted
creature, that old man."

Her husband laughed. "Alfred says he thinks his kind-heartedness
is about cured! It seems that as soon as the man got well again
he deliberately walked off with the old gentleman's glue secret.
Just calmly stole it! Alfred says he believes that if he had a
stroke in the office now, himself, his father wouldn't lift a
finger to help him!"

Mrs. Palmer repeated the name to herself thoughtfully.
"'Adams'--'Virgil Adams.' You said his name was Virgil Adams?"

"Yes."

She looked at her daughter. "Why, you know who that is,
Mildred," she said, casually. "It's that Alice Adams's father,
isn't it? Wasn't his name Virgil Adams?"

"I think it is," Mildred said.

Mrs. Palmer turned toward her husband. "You've seen this Alice
Adams here. Mr. Lamb's pet swindler must be her father."

Mr. Palmer passed a smooth hand over his neat gray hair, which
was not disturbed by this effort to stimulate recollection. "Oh,
yes," he said. "Of course--certainly. Quite a good-looking
girl--one of Mildred's friends. How queer!"

Mildred looked up, as if in a little alarm, but did not speak.
Her mother set matters straight. "Fathers ARE amusing," she said
smilingly to Russell, who was looking at her, though how fixedly
she did not notice; for she turned from him at once to enlighten
her husband. "Every girl who meets Mildred, and tries to push
the acquaintance by coming here until the poor child has to hide,
isn't a FRIEND of hers, my dear!"

Mildred's eyes were downcast again, and a faint colour rose in
her cheeks. "Oh, I shouldn't put it quite that way about Alice
Adams," she said, in a low voice. "I saw something of her for a
time. She's not unattractive in a way."

Mrs. Palmer settled the whole case of Alice carelessly. "A
pushing sort of girl," she said. "A very pushing little person."

"I----" Mildred began; and, after hesitating, concluded, "I
rather dropped her."

"Fortunate you've done so," her father remarked, cheerfully.
"Especially since various members of the Lamb connection are here
frequently. They mightn't think you'd show great tact in having
her about the place." He laughed, and turned to his cousin.
"All this isn't very interesting to poor Arthur. How terrible
people are with a newcomer in a town; they talk as if he knew all
about everybody!"

"But we don't know anything about these queer people, ourselves,"
said Mrs. Palmer. "We know something about the girl, of
course--she used to be a bit too conspicuous, in fact! However,
as you say, we might find a subject more interesting for Arthur."

She smiled whimsically upon the young man. "Tell the truth," she
said. "Don't you fairly detest going into business with that
tyrant yonder?"

"What? Yes--I beg your pardon!" he stammered.

"You were right," Mrs. Palmer said to her husband. "You've
bored him so, talking about thievish clerks, he can't even answer
an honest question."

But Russell was beginning to recover his outward composure. "Try
me again," he said. "I'm afraid I was thinking of something
else."

This was the best he found to say. There was a part of him that
wanted to protest and deny, but he had not heat enough, in the
chill that had come upon him. Here was the first "mention" of
Alice, and with it the reason why it was the first: Mr. Palmer
had difficulty in recalling her, and she happened to be spoken
of, only because her father's betrayal of a benefactor's trust
had been so peculiarly atrocious that, in the view of the
benefactor's family, it contained enough of the element of humour
to warrant a mild laugh at a club. There was the deadliness of
the story: its lack of malice, even of resentment. Deadlier
still were Mrs. Palmer's phrases: "a pushing sort of girl," "a
very pushing little person," and "used to be a bit TOO
conspicuous, in fact." But she spoke placidly and by chance;
being as obviously without unkindly motive as Mr. Palmer was
when he related the cause of Alfred Lamb's amusement. Her
opinion of the obscure young lady momentarily her topic had been
expressed, moreover, to her husband, and at her own table. She
sat there, large, kind, serene--a protest might astonish but
could not change her; and Russell, crumpling in his strained
fingers the lace-edged little web of a napkin on his knee, found
heart enough to grow red, but not enough to challenge her.

She noticed his colour, and attributed it to the embarrassment of
a scrupulously gallant gentleman caught in a lapse of attention
to a lady. "Don't be disturbed," she said, benevolently.
"People aren't expected to listen all the time to their
relatives. A high colour's very becoming to you, Arthur; but it
really isn't necessary between cousins. You can always be
informal enough with us to listen only when you care to."

His complexion continued to be ruddier than usual, however,
throughout the meal, and was still somewhat tinted when Mrs.
Palmer rose. "The man's bringing you cigarettes here," she said,
nodding to the two gentlemen. "We'll give you a chance to do the
sordid kind of talking we know you really like. Afterwhile,
Mildred will show you what's in bloom in the hothouse, if you
wish, Arthur."

Mildred followed her, and, when they were alone in another of the
spacious rooms, went to a window and looked out, while her mother
seated herself near the center of the room in a gilt armchair,
mellowed with old Aubusson tapestry. Mrs. Palmer looked
thoughtfully at her daughter's back, but did not speak to her
until coffee had been brought for them.

"Thanks," Mildred said, not turning, "I don't care for any
coffee, I believe."

"No?" Mrs. Palmer said, gently. "I'm afraid our good-looking
cousin won't think you're very talkative, Mildred. You spoke
only about twice at lunch. I shouldn't care for him to get the
idea you're piqued because he's come here so little lately,
should you?"

"No, I shouldn't," Mildred answered in a low voice, and with that
she turned quickly, and came to sit near her mother. "But it's
what I am afraid of! Mama, did you notice how red he got?"

"You mean when he was caught not listening to a question of mine?
Yes; it's very becoming to him."

"Mama, I don't think that was the reason. I don't think it was
because he wasn't listening, I mean."

"No?"

"I think his colour and his not listening came from the same
reason," Mildred said, and although she had come to sit near her
mother, she did not look at her. "I think it happened because
you and papa----" She stopped.

"Yes?" Mrs. Palmer said, good-naturedly, to prompt her. "Your
father and I did something embarrassing?"

"Mama, it was because of those things that came out about Alice
Adams."

"How could that bother Arthur? Does he know her?"

"Don't you remember?" the daughter asked. "The day after my
dance I mentioned how odd I thought it was in him--I was a little
disappointed in him. I'd been seeing that he met everybody, of
course, but she was the only girl HE asked to meet; and he did it
as soon as he noticed her. I hadn't meant to have him meet
her--in fact, I was rather sorry I'd felt I had to ask her,
because she oh, well, she's the sort that 'tries for the new
man,' if she has half a chance; and sometimes they seem quite
fascinated--for a time, that is. I thought Arthur was above all
that; or at the very least I gave him credit for being too
sophisticated."

"I see," Mrs. Palmer said, thoughtfully. "I remember now that
you spoke of it. You said it seemed a little peculiar, but of
course it really wasn't: a 'new man' has nothing to go by, except
his own first impressions. You can't blame poor Arthur--she's
quite a piquant looking little person. You think he's seen
something of her since then?"

Mildred nodded slowly. "I never dreamed such a thing till
yesterday, and even then I rather doubted it--till he got so red,
just now! I was surprised when he asked to meet her, but he just
danced with her once and didn't mention her afterward; I forgot
all about it--in fact, I virtually forgot all about HER. I'd
seen quite a little of her----"

"Yes," said Mrs. Palmer. "She did keep coming here!"

"But I'd just about decided that it really wouldn't do," Mildred
went on. "She isn't--well, I didn't admire her."

"No," her mother assented, and evidently followed a direct
connection of thought in a speech apparently irrelevant. "I
understand the young Malone wants to marry Henrietta. I hope she
won't; he seems rather a gross type of person."

"Oh, he's just one," Mildred said. "I don't know that he and
Alice Adams were ever engaged--she never told me so. She may not
have been engaged to any of them; she was just enough among the
other girls to get talked about--and one of the reasons I felt a
little inclined to be nice to her was that they seemed to be
rather edging her out of the circle. It wasn't long before I saw
they were right, though. I happened to mention I was going to
give a dance and she pretended to take it as a matter of course
that I meant to invite her brother--at least, I thought she
pretended; she may have really believed it. At any rate, I had
to send him a card; but I didn't intend to be let in for that
sort of thing again, of course. She's what you said, 'pushing';
though I'm awfully sorry you said it."

"Why shouldn't I have said it, my dear?"

"Of course I didn't say 'shouldn't.'" Mildred explained,
gravely. "I meant only that I'm sorry it happened."

"Yes; but why?"

"Mama"--Mildred turned to her, leaning forward and speaking in a
lowered voice--"Mama, at first the change was so little it seemed
as if Arthur hardly knew it himself. He'd been lovely to me
always, and he was still lovely to me but--oh, well, you've
understood--after my dance it was more as if it was just his
nature and his training to be lovely to me, as he would be to
everyone a kind of politeness. He'd never said he CARED for me,
but after that I could see he didn't. It was clear--after that.
I didn't know what had happened; I couldn't think of anything I'd
done. Mama--it was Alice Adams."

Mrs. Palmer set her little coffee-cup upon the table beside her,
calmly following her own motion with her eyes, and not seeming to
realize with what serious entreaty her daughter's gaze was fixed
upon her. Mildred repeated the last sentence of her revelation,
and introduced a stress of insistence.

"Mama, it WAS Alice Adams!"

But Mrs. Palmer declined to be greatly impressed, so far as her
appearance went, at least; and to emphasize her refusal, she
smiled indulgently. "What makes you think so?"

"Henrietta told me yesterday."

At this Mrs. Palmer permitted herself to laugh softly aloud.
"Good heavens! Is Henrietta a soothsayer? Or is she Arthur's
particular confidante?"

"No. Ella Dowling told her."

Mrs. Palmer's laughter continued. "Now we have it!" she
exclaimed. "It's a game of gossip: Arthur tells Ella, Ella tells
Henrietta, and Henrietta tells----"

"Don't laugh, please, mama," Mildred begged. "Of course Arthur
didn't tell anybody. It's roundabout enough, but it's true. I
know it! I hadn't quite believed it, but I knew it was true when
he got so red. He looked--oh, for a second or so he looked
--stricken! He thought I didn't notice it. Mama, he's been to
see her almost every evening lately. They take long walks
together. That's why he hasn't been here."

Of Mrs. Palmer's laughter there was left only her indulgent
smile, which she had not allowed to vanish. "Well, what of it?"
she said.

"Mama!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Palmer. "What of it?"

"But don't you see?" Mildred's well-tutored voice, though
modulated and repressed even in her present emotion, nevertheless
had a tendency to quaver. "It's true. Frank Dowling was going
to see her one evening and he saw Arthur sitting on the stoop
with her, and didn't go in. And Ella used to go to school with a
girl who lives across the street from here. She told Ella----"

"Oh, I understand," Mrs. Palmer interrupted. "Suppose he does
go there. My dear, I said, 'What of it?'"

"I don't see what you mean, mama. I'm so afraid he might think
we knew about it, and that you and papa said those things about
her and her father on that account--as if we abused them because
he goes there instead of coming here."

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Palmer rose, went to a window, and, turning
there, stood with her back to it, facing her daughter and looking
at her cheerfully. "Nonsense, my dear! It was perfectly clear
that she was mentioned by accident, and so was her father. What
an extraordinary man! If Arthur makes friends with people like
that, he certainly knows better than to expect to hear favourable
opinions of them. Besides, it's only a little passing thing with
him."

"Mama! When he goes there almost every----"

"Yes," Mrs. Palmer said, dryly. "It seems to me I've heard
somewhere that other young men have gone there 'almost every!'
She doesn't last, apparently. Arthur's gallant, and he's
impressionable--but he's fastidious, and fastidiousness is
always the check on impressionableness. A girl belongs to her
family, too--and this one does especially, it strikes me!
Arthur's very sensible; he sees more than you'd think."

Mildred looked at her hopefully. "Then you don't believe he's
likely to imagine we said those things of her in any meaning
way?"

At this, Mrs. Palmer laughed again. "There's one thing you seem
not to have noticed, Mildred."

"What's that?"

"It seems to have escaped your attention that he never said a
word."

"Mightn't that mean----?" Mildred began, but she stopped.

"No, it mightn't," her mother replied, comprehending easily. "On
the contrary, it might mean that instead of his feeling it too
deeply to speak, he was getting a little illumination."

Mildred rose and came to her. "WHY do you suppose he never told
us he went there? Do you think he's--do you think he's pleased
with her, and yet ashamed of it? WHY do you suppose he's never
spoken of it?"

"Ah, that," Mrs. Palmer said,--"that might possibly be her own
doing. If it is, she's well paid by what your father and I said,
because we wouldn't have said it if we'd known that Arthur----"
She checked herself quickly. Looking over her daughter's
shoulder, she saw the two gentlemen coming from the corridor
toward the wide doorway of the room; and she greeted them
cheerfully. "If you've finished with each other for a while,"
she added, "Arthur may find it a relief to put his thoughts on
something prettier than a trust company--and more fragrant."

Arthur came to Mildred.

"Your mother said at lunch that perhaps you'd----"

"I didn't say 'perhaps,' Arthur," Mrs. Palmer interrupted, to
correct him. "I said she would. If you care to see and smell
those lovely things out yonder, she'll show them to you. Run
along, children!"

Half an hour later, glancing from a window, she saw them come
from the hothouses and slowly cross the lawn. Arthur had a fine
rose in his buttonhole and looked profoundly thoughtful.

CHAPTER XXI

That morning and noon had been warm, though the stirrings of a
feeble breeze made weather not flagrantly intemperate; but at
about three o'clock in the afternoon there came out of the
southwest a heat like an affliction sent upon an accursed people,
and the air was soon dead of it. Dripping negro ditch-diggers
whooped with satires praising hell and hot weather, as the
tossing shovels flickered up to the street level, where sluggish
male pedestrians carried coats upon hot arms, and fanned
themselves with straw hats, or, remaining covered, wore soaked
handkerchiefs between scalp and straw. Clerks drooped in silent,
big department stores, stenographers in offices kept as close to
electric fans as the intervening bulk of their employers would
let them; guests in hotels left the lobbies and went to lie
unclad upon their beds; while in hospitals the patients murmured
querulously against the heat, and perhaps against some noisy
motorist who strove to feel the air by splitting it, not troubled
by any foreboding that he, too, that hour next week, might need
quiet near a hospital. The "hot spell" was a true spell, one
upon men's spirits; for it was so hot that, in suburban
outskirts, golfers crept slowly back over the low undulations of
their club lands, abandoning their matches and returning to
shelter.

Even on such a day, sizzling work had to be done, as in winter.
There were glowing furnaces to be stoked, liquid metals to be
poured; but such tasks found seasoned men standing to them; and
in all the city probably no brave soul challenged the heat more
gamely than Mrs. Adams did, when, in a corner of her small and
fiery kitchen, where all day long her hired African immune cooked
fiercely, she pressed her husband's evening clothes with a hot
iron. No doubt she risked her life, but she risked it cheerfully
in so good and necessary a service for him. She would have given
her life for him at any time, and both his and her own for her
children.

Unconscious of her own heroism, she was surprised to find herself
rather faint when she finished her ironing. However, she took
heart to believe that the clothes looked better, in spite of one
or two scorched places; and she carried them upstairs to her
husband's room before increasing blindness forced her to grope
for the nearest chair. Then, trying to rise and walk, without
having sufficiently recovered, she had to sit down again; but
after a little while she was able to get upon her feet; and,
keeping her hand against the wall, moved successfully to the door
of her own room. Here she wavered; might have gone down, had she
not been stimulated by the thought of how much depended upon
her;--she made a final great effort, and floundered across the
room to her bureau, where she kept some simple restoratives.
They served her need, or her faith in them did; and she returned
to her work.

She went down the stairs, keeping a still tremulous hand upon the
rail; but she smiled brightly when Alice looked up from below,
where the woodwork was again being tormented with superfluous
attentions.

"Alice, DON'T!" her mother said, commiseratingly. "You did all
that this morning and it looks lovely. What's the use of wearing
yourself out on it? You ought to be lying down, so's to look
fresh for to-night."

"Hadn't you better lie down yourself?" the daughter returned.
"Are you ill, mama?"

"Certainly not. What in the world makes you think so?"

"You look pretty pale," Alice said, and sighed heavily. "It
makes me ashamed, having you work so hard--for me."

"How foolish! I think it's fun, getting ready to entertain a
little again, like this. I only wish it hadn't turned so hot:
I'm afraid your poor father'll suffer--his things are pretty
heavy, I noticed. Well, it'll do him good to bear something for
style's sake this once, anyhow!" She laughed, and coming to
Alice, bent down and kissed her. "Dearie," she said, tenderly,
"wouldn't you please slip upstairs now and take just a little
teeny nap to please your mother?"

But Alice responded only by moving her head slowly, in token of
refusal.

"Do!" Mrs. Adams urged. "You don't want to look worn out, do
you?"

"I'll LOOK all right," Alice said, huskily. "Do you like the way
I've arranged the furniture now? I've tried all the different
ways it'll go."

"It's lovely," her mother said, admiringly. "I thought the last
way you had it was pretty, too. But you know best; I never knew
anybody with so much taste. If you'd only just quit now, and
take a little rest----"

"There'd hardly be time, even if I wanted to; it's after five but
I couldn't; really, I couldn't. How do you think we can manage
about Walter--to see that he wears his evening things, I mean?"

Mrs. Adams pondered. "I'm afraid he'll make a lot of
objections, on account of the weather and everything. I wish
we'd had a chance to tell him last night or this morning. I'd
have telephoned to him this afternoon except--well, I scarcely
like to call him up at that place, since your father----"

"No, of course not, mama."

"If Walter gets home late," Mrs. Adams went on, "I'll just slip
out and speak to him, in case Mr. Russell's here before he
comes. I'll just tell him he's got to hurry and get his things
on."

"Maybe he won't come home to dinner," Alice suggested, rather
hopefully. "Sometimes he doesn't."

"No; I think he'll be here. When he doesn't come he usually
telephones by this time to say not to wait for him; he's very
thoughtful about that. Well, it really is getting late: I must
go and tell her she ought to be preparing her fillet. Dearie, DO
rest a little."

"You'd much better do that yourself," Alice called after her, but
Mrs. Adams shook her head cheerily, not pausing on her way to
the fiery kitchen.

Alice continued her useless labours for a time; then carried her
bucket to the head of the cellar stairway, where she left it upon
the top step; and, closing the door, returned to the
"living-room;" Again she changed the positions of the old plush
rocking-chairs, moving them into the corners where she thought
they might be least noticeable; and while thus engaged she was
startled by a loud ringing of the door-bell. For a moment her
face was panic-stricken, and she stood staring, then she realized
that Russell would not arrive for another hour, at the earliest,
and recovering her equipoise, went to the door.

Waiting there, in a languid attitude, was a young coloured woman,
with a small bundle under her arm and something malleable in her
mouth. "Listen," she said. "You folks expectin' a coloured
lady?"

"No," said Alice. "Especially not at the front door."

"Listen," the coloured woman said again. "Listen. Say, listen.
Ain't they another coloured lady awready here by the day?
Listen. Ain't Miz Malena Burns here by the day this evenin'?
Say, listen. This the number house she give ME."

"Are you the waitress?" Alice asked, dismally.

"Yes'm, if Malena here."

"Malena is here," Alice said, and hesitated; but she decided not
to send the waitress to the back door; it might be a risk. She
let her in. "What's your name?"

"Me? I'm name' Gertrude. Miss Gertrude Collamus."

"Did you bring a cap and apron?"

Gertrude took the little bundle from under her arm. "Yes'm. I'm
all fix'."

"I've already set the table," Alice said. "I'll show you what we
want done."

She led the way to the dining-room, and, after offering some
instruction there, received by Gertrude with languor and a slowly
moving jaw, she took her into the kitchen, where the cap and
apron were put on. The effect was not fortunate; Gertrude's eyes
were noticeably bloodshot, an affliction made more apparent by
the white cap; and Alice drew her mother apart, whispering
anxiously,

"Do you suppose it's too late to get someone else?"

"I'm afraid it is," Mrs. Adams said. "Malena says it was hard
enough to get HER! You have to pay them so much that they only
work when they feel like it."

"Mama, could you ask her to wear her cap straighter? Every time
she moves her head she gets it on one side, and her skirt's too
long behind and too short in front--and oh, I've NEVER seen such
FEET!" Alice laughed desolately. "And she MUST quit that
terrible chewing!"

"Never mind; I'll get to work with her. I'll straighten her out
all I can, dearie; don't worry." Mrs. Adams patted her
daughter's shoulder encouragingly. "Now YOU can't do another
thing, and if you don't run and begin dressing you won't be
ready. It'll only take me a minute to dress, myself, and I'll be
down long before you will. Run, darling! I'll look after
everything."

Alice nodded vaguely, went up to her room, and, after only a
moment with her mirror, brought from her closet the dress of
white organdie she had worn the night when she met Russell for
the first time. She laid it carefully upon her bed, and began to
make ready to put it on. Her mother came in, half an hour later,
to "fasten" her.

"I'M all dressed," Mrs. Adams said, briskly. "Of course it
doesn't matter. He won't know what the rest of us even look
like: How could he? I know I'm an old SIGHT, but all I want is
to look respectable. Do I?"

"You look like the best woman in the world; that's all!" Alice
said, with a little gulp.

Her mother laughed and gave her a final scrutiny. "You might use
just a tiny bit more colour, dearie-- I'm afraid the excitement's
made you a little pale. And you MUST brighten up! There's sort
of a look in your eyes as if you'd got in a trance and couldn't
get out. You've had it all day. I must run: your father wants
me to help him with his studs. Walter hasn't come yet, but I'll
look after him; don't worry, And you better HURRY, dearie, if
you're going to take any time fixing the flowers on the table."

She departed, while Alice sat at the mirror again, to follow her
advice concerning a "tiny bit more colour." Before she had
finished, her father knocked at the door, and, when she
responded, came in. He was dressed in the clothes his wife had
pressed; but he had lost substantially in weight since they were
made for him; no one would have thought that they had been
pressed. They hung from him voluminously, seeming to be the
clothes of a larger man.

"Your mother's gone downstairs," he said, in a voice of distress.

"One of the buttonholes in my shirt is too large and I can't keep
the dang thing fastened. _I_ don't know what to do about it! I
only got one other white shirt, and it's kind of ruined: I tried
it before I did this one. Do you s'pose you could do anything?"

"I'll see," she said.

"My collar's got a frayed edge," he complained, as she examined
his troublesome shirt. "It's a good deal like wearing a saw; but
I expect it'll wilt down flat pretty soon, and not bother me
long. I'm liable to wilt down flat, myself, I expect; I don't
know as I remember any such hot night in the last ten or twelve
years." He lifted his head and sniffed the flaccid air, which
was laden with a heavy odour. "My, but that smell is pretty
strong!" he said.

"Stand still, please, papa," Alice begged him. "I can't see
what's the matter if you move around. How absurd you are about
your old glue smell, papa! There isn't a vestige of it, of
course."

"I didn't mean glue," he informed her. "I mean cabbage. Is that
fashionable now, to have cabbage when there's company for
dinner?"

"That isn't cabbage, papa. It's Brussels sprouts."

"Oh, is it? I don't mind it much, because it keeps that glue
smell off me, but it's fairly strong. I expect you don't notice
it so much because you been in the house with it all along, and
got used to it while it was growing."

"It is pretty dreadful," Alice said. "Are all the windows open
downstairs?"

"I'll go down and see, if you'll just fix that hole up for me."

"I'm afraid I can't," she said. "Not unless you take your shirt
off and bring it to me. I'll have to sew the hole smaller."

"Oh, well, I'll go ask your mother to----"

"No," said Alice. "She's got everything on her hands. Run and
take it off. Hurry, papa; I've got to arrange the flowers on the
table before he comes."

He went away, and came back presently, half undressed, bringing
the shirt. "There's ONE comfort," he remarked, pensively, as she
worked. "I've got that collar off--for a while, anyway. I wish
I could go to table like this; I could stand it a good deal
better. Do you seem to be making any headway with the dang
thing?"

"I think probably I can----"

Downstairs the door-bell rang, and Alice's arms jerked with the
shock.

"Golly!" her father said. "Did you stick your finger with that
fool needle?"

She gave him a blank stare. "He's come!"

She was not mistaken, for, upon the little veranda, Russell stood
facing the closed door at last. However, it remained closed for
a considerable time after he rang. Inside the house the warning
summons of the bell was immediately followed by another sound,
audible to Alice and her father as a crash preceding a series of
muffled falls. Then came a distant voice, bitter in complaint.

"Oh, Lord!" said Adams. "What's that?"

Alice went to the top of the front stairs, and her mother
appeared in the hall below.

"Mama!"

Mrs. Adams looked up. "It's all right," she said, in a loud
whisper. "Gertrude fell down the cellar stairs. Somebody left a
bucket there, and----" She was interrupted by a gasp from Alice,
and hastened to reassure her. "Don't worry, dearie. She may
limp a little, but----"

Adams leaned over the banisters. "Did she break anything?" he
asked.

"Hush!" his wife whispered. "No. She seems upset and angry
about it, more than anything else; but she's rubbing herself, and
she'll be all right in time to bring in the little sandwiches.
Alice! Those flowers!"

"I know, mama. But----"

"Hurry!" Mrs. Adams warned her. "Both of you hurry! I MUST let
him in!"

She turned to the door, smiling cordially, even before she opened
it. "Do come right in, Mr. Russell," she said, loudly, lifting
her voice for additional warning to those above. "I'm SO glad to
receive you informally, this way, in our own little home.
There's a hat-rack here under the stairway," she continued, as
Russell, murmuring some response, came into the hall. "I'm
afraid you'll think it's almost TOO informal, my coming to the
door, but unfortunately our housemaid's just had a little
accident--oh, nothing to mention! I just thought we better not
keep you waiting any longer. Will you step into our living-room,
please?"

She led the way between the two small columns, and seated herself
in one of the plush rocking-chairs, selecting it because Alice
had once pointed out that the chairs, themselves, were less
noticeable when they had people sitting in them. "Do sit down,
Mr. Russell; it's so very warm it's really quite a trial just to
stand up!"

"Thank you," he said, as he took a seat. "Yes. It is quite
warm." And this seemed to be the extent of his responsiveness
for the moment. He was grave, rather pale; and Mrs. Adams's
impression of him, as she formed it then, was of "a
distinguished-looking young man, really elegant in the best sense
of the word, but timid and formal when he first meets you." She
beamed upon him, and used with everything she said a continuous
accompaniment of laughter, meaningless except that it was meant
to convey cordiality. "Of course we DO have a great deal of warm
weather," she informed him. "I'm glad it's so much cooler in the
house than it is outdoors."

"Yes," he said. "It is pleasanter indoors." And, stopping with
this single untruth, he permitted himself the briefest glance
about the room; then his eyes returned to his smiling hostess.

"Most people make a great fuss about hot weather," she said.
"The only person I know who doesn't mind the heat the way other
people do is Alice. She always seems as cool as if we had a
breeze blowing, no matter how hot it is. But then she's so
amiable she never minds anything. It's just her character.
She's always been that way since she was a little child; always
the same to everybody, high and low. I think character's the
most important thing in the world, after all, don't you, Mr.
Russell?"

"Yes," he said, solemnly; and touched his bedewed white forehead
with a handkerchief.

"Indeed it is," she agreed with herself, never failing to
continue her murmur of laughter. "That's what I've always told
Alice; but she never sees anything good in herself, and she just
laughs at me when I praise her. She sees good in everybody ELSE
in the world, no matter how unworthy they are, or how they behave
toward HER; but she always underestimates herself. From the time
she was a little child she was always that way. When some other
little girl would behave selfishly or meanly toward her, do you
think she'd come and tell me? Never a word to anybody! The
little thing was too proud! She was the same way about school.
The teachers had to tell me when she took a prize; she'd bring it
home and keep it in her room without a word about it to her
father and mother. Now, Walter was just the other way. Walter
would----" But here Mrs. Adams checked herself, though she
increased the volume of her laughter. "How silly of me!" she
exclaimed. "I expect you know how mothers ARE, though, Mr.
Russell. Give us a chance and we'll talk about our children
forever! Alice would feel terribly if she knew how I've been
going on about her to you."

In this Mrs. Adams was right, though she did not herself suspect
it, and upon an almost inaudible word or two from him she went on
with her topic. "Of course my excuse is that few mothers have a
daughter like Alice. I suppose we all think the same way about
our children, but SOME of us must be right when we feel we've got
the best. Don't you think so?"

"Yes. Yes, indeed."

"I'm sure _I_ am!" she laughed. "I'll let the others speak for
themselves." She paused reflectively. "No; I think a mother
knows when she's got a treasure in her family. If she HASN'T got
one, she'll pretend she has, maybe; but if she has, she knows it.
I certainly know _I_ have. She's always been what people call
'the joy of the household'--always cheerful, no matter what went
wrong, and always ready to smooth things over with some bright,
witty saying. You must be sure not to TELL we've had this little
chat about her--she'd just be furious with me--but she IS such a
dear child! You won't tell her, will you?"

"No," he said, and again applied the handkerchief to his forehead
for an instant. "No, I'll----" He paused, and finished lamely:
"I'll--not tell her."

Thus reassured, Mrs. Adams set before him some details of her
daughter's popularity at sixteen, dwelling upon Alice's
impartiality among her young suitors: "She never could BEAR to
hurt their feelings, and always treated all of them just alike.
About half a dozen of them were just BOUND to marry her!
Naturally, her father and I considered any such idea ridiculous;
she was too young, of course."

Thus the mother went on with her biographical sketches, while the
pale young man sat facing her under the hard overhead light of a
white globe, set to the ceiling; and listened without
interrupting. She was glad to have the chance to tell him a few
things about Alice he might not have guessed for himself, and,
indeed, she had planned to find such an opportunity, if she
could; but this was getting to be altogether too much of one, she
felt. As time passed, she was like an actor who must improvise
to keep the audience from perceiving that his fellow-players have
missed their cues; but her anxiety was not betrayed to the still
listener; she had a valiant soul.

Alice, meanwhile, had arranged her little roses on the table in
as many ways, probably, as there were blossoms; and she was still
at it when her father arrived in the dining-room by way of the
back stairs and the kitchen.

"It's pulled out again," he said. "But I guess there's no help
for it now; it's too late, and anyway it lets some air into me
when it bulges. I can sit so's it won't be noticed much, I
expect. Isn't it time you quit bothering about the looks of the
table? Your mother's been talking to him about half an hour now,
and I had the idea he came on your account, not hers. Hadn't you
better go and----"

"Just a minute." Alice said, piteously. "Do YOU think it looks
all right?"

"The flowers? Fine! Hadn't you better leave 'em the way they
are, though?"

"Just a minute," she begged again. "Just ONE minute, papa!" And
she exchanged a rose in front of Russell's plate for one that
seemed to her a little larger.

"You better come on," Adams said, moving to the door.

"Just ONE more second, papa." She shook her head, lamenting.
"Oh, I wish we'd rented some silver!"

"Why?"

"Because so much of the plating has rubbed off a lot of it. JUST
a second, papa." And as she spoke she hastily went round the
table, gathering the knives and forks and spoons that she thought
had their plating best preserved, and exchanging them for more
damaged pieces at Russell's place. "There!" she sighed, finally.

"Now I'll come." But at the door she paused to look back
dubiously, over her shoulder.

"What's the matter now?"

"The roses. I believe after all I shouldn't have tried that vine
effect; I ought to have kept them in water, in the vase. It's so
hot, they already begin to look a little wilted, out on the dry
tablecloth like that. I believe I'll----"

"Why, look here, Alice!" he remonstrated, as she seemed disposed
to turn back. "Everything'll burn up on the stove if you keep
on----"

"Oh, well," she said, "the vase was terribly ugly; I can't do any
better. We'll go in." But with her hand on the door-knob she
paused. "No, papa. We mustn't go in by this door. It might
look as if----"

"As if what?"

"Never mind," she said. "Let's go the other way."

"I don't see what difference it makes," he grumbled, but
nevertheless followed her through the kitchen, and up the back
stairs then through the upper hallway. At the top of the front
stairs she paused for a moment, drawing a deep breath; and then,
before her father's puzzled eyes, a transformation came upon her.

Her shoulders, like her eyelids, had been drooping, but now she
threw her head back: the shoulders straightened, and the lashes
lifted over sparkling eyes; vivacity came to her whole body in a
flash; and she tripped down the steps, with her pretty hands
rising in time to the lilting little tune she had begun to hum.

At the foot of the stairs, one of those pretty hands extended
itself at full arm's length toward Russell, and continued to be
extended until it reached his own hand as he came to meet her.
"How terrible of me!" she exclaimed. "To be so late coming down!
And papa, too--I think you know each other."

Her father was advancing toward the young man, expecting to shake
hands with him, but Alice stood between them, and Russell, a
little flushed, bowed to him gravely over her shoulder, without
looking at him; whereupon Adams, slightly disconcerted, put his
hands in his pockets and turned to his wife.

"I guess dinner's more'n ready," he said. "We better go sit
down."

But she shook her head at him fiercely, "Wait!" she whispered.

"What for? For Walter?"

"No; he can't be coming," she returned, hurriedly, and again
warned him by a shake of her head. "Be quiet!"

"Oh, well----" he muttered.

"Sit down!"

He was thoroughly mystified, but obeyed her gesture and went to
the rocking-chair in the opposite corner, where he sat down, and,
with an expression of meek inquiry, awaited events.

Meanwhile, Alice prattled on: "It's really not a fault of mine,
being tardy. The shameful truth is I was trying to hurry papa.
He's incorrigible: he stays so late at his terrible old
factory--terrible new factory, I should say. I hope you don't
HATE us for making you dine with us in such fearful weather! I'm
nearly dying of the heat, myself, so you have a fellow-sufferer,
if that pleases you. Why is it we always bear things better if
we think other people have to stand them, too?" And she added,
with an excited laugh: "SILLY of us, don't you think?"

Gertrude had just made her entrance from the dining-room, bearing
a tray. She came slowly, with an air of resentment; and her
skirt still needed adjusting, while her lower jaw moved at
intervals, though not now upon any substance, but reminiscently,
of habit. She halted before Adams, facing him.

He looked plaintive. "What you want o' me?" he asked.

For response, she extended the tray toward him with a gesture of
indifference; but he still appeared to be puzzled. "What in the
world----?" he began, then caught his wife's eye, and had
presence of mind enough to take a damp and plastic sandwich from
the tray. "Well, I'll TRY one," he said, but a moment later, as
he fulfilled this promise, an expression of intense dislike came
upon his features, and he would have returned the sandwich to
Gertrude. However, as she had crossed the room to Mrs. Adams he
checked the gesture, and sat helplessly, with the sandwich in his
hand. He made another effort to get rid of it as the waitress
passed him, on her way back to the dining-room, but she appeared
not to observe him, and he continued to be troubled by it.

Alice was a loyal daughter. "These are delicious, mama," she
said; and turning to Russell, "You missed it; you should have
taken one. Too bad we couldn't have offered you what ought to go
with it, of course, but----"

She was interrupted by the second entrance of Gertrude, who
announced, "Dinner serve'," and retired from view.

"Well, well!" Adams said, rising from his chair, with relief.
"That's good! Let's go see if we can eat it." And as the little
group moved toward the open door of the dining-room he disposed
of his sandwich by dropping it in the empty fireplace.

Alice, glancing back over her shoulder, was the only one who saw
him, and she shuddered in spite of herself. Then, seeing that he
looked at her entreatingly, as if he wanted to explain that he
was doing the best he could, she smiled upon him sunnily, and
began to chatter to Russell again.

CHAPTER XXII

Alice kept her sprightly chatter going when they sat down, though
the temperature of the room and the sight of hot soup might have
discouraged a less determined gayety. Moreover, there were
details as unpropitious as the heat: the expiring roses expressed
not beauty but pathos, and what faint odour they exhaled was no
rival to the lusty emanations of the Brussels sprouts; at the
head of the table, Adams, sitting low in his chair, appeared to
be unable to flatten the uprising wave of his starched bosom; and
Gertrude's manner and expression were of a recognizable hostility
during the long period of vain waiting for the cups of soup to be
emptied. Only Mrs. Adams made any progress in this direction;
the others merely feinting, now and then lifting their spoons as
if they intended to do something with them.

Alice's talk was little more than cheerful sound, but, to fill a
desolate interval, served its purpose; and her mother supported
her with ever-faithful cooings of applausive laughter. "What a
funny thing weather is!" the girl ran on. "Yesterday it was
cool--angels had charge of it--and to-day they had an engagement
somewhere else, so the devil saw his chance and started to move
the equator to the North Pole; but by the time he got half-way,
he thought of something else he wanted to do, and went off; and
left the equator here, right on top of US! I wish he'd come back
and get it!"

"Why, Alice dear!" her mother cried, fondly. "What an
imagination! Not a very pious one, I'm afraid Mr. Russell might
think, though!" Here she gave Gertrude a hidden signal to remove
the soup; but, as there was no response, she had to make the
signal more conspicuous. Gertrude was leaning against the wall,
her chin moving like a slow pendulum, her streaked eyes fixed
mutinously upon Russell. Mrs. Adams nodded several times,
increasing the emphasis of her gesture, while Alice talked
briskly; but the brooding waitress continued to brood. A faint
snap of the fingers failed to disturb her; nor was a covert
hissing whisper of avail, and Mrs. Adams was beginning to show
signs of strain when her daughter relieved her.

"Imagine our trying to eat anything so hot as soup on a night
like this!" Alice laughed. "What COULD have been in the cook's
mind not to give us something iced and jellied instead? Of
course it's because she's equatorial, herself, originally, and
only feels at home when Mr. Satan moves it north." She looked
round at Gertrude, who stood behind her. "Do take this dreadful
soup away!"

Thus directly addressed, Gertrude yielded her attention, though
unwillingly, and as if she decided only by a hair's weight not to
revolt, instead. However, she finally set herself in slow
motion; but overlooked the supposed head of the table, seeming to
be unaware of the sweltering little man who sat there. As she
disappeared toward the kitchen with but three of the cups upon
her tray he turned to look plaintively after her, and ventured an
attempt to recall her.

"Here!" he said, in a low voice. "Here, you!"

"What is it, Virgil?" his wife asked.

"What's her name?"

Mrs. Adams gave him a glance of sudden panic, and, seeing that
the guest of the evening was not looking at her, but down at the
white cloth before him, she frowned hard, and shook her head.

Unfortunately Alice was not observing her mother, and asked,
innocently: "What's whose name, papa?"

"Why, this young darky woman," he explained. "She left mine."

"Never mind," Alice laughed. "There's hope for you, papa. She
hasn't gone forever!"

"I don't know about that," he said, not content with this
impulsive assurance. "She LOOKED like she is." And his remark,
considered as a prediction, had begun to seem warranted before
Gertrude's return with china preliminary to the next stage of the
banquet.

Alice proved herself equal to the long gap, and rattled on
through it with a spirit richly justifying her mother's praise of
her as "always ready to smooth things over"; for here was more
than long delay to be smoothed over. She smoothed over her
father and mother for Russell; and she smoothed over him for
them, though he did not know it, and remained unaware of what he
owed her. With all this, throughout her prattlings, the girl's
bright eyes kept seeking his with an eager gayety, which but
little veiled both interrogation and entreaty--as if she asked:
"Is it too much for you? Can't you bear it? Won't you PLEASE
bear it? I would for you. Won't you give me a sign that it's
all right?"

He looked at her but fleetingly, and seemed to suffer from the
heat, in spite of every manly effort not to wipe his brow too
often. His colour, after rising when he greeted Alice and her
father, had departed, leaving him again moistly pallid; a
condition arising from discomfort, no doubt, but, considered as a
decoration, almost poetically becoming to him. Not less becoming
was the faint, kindly smile, which showed his wish to express
amusement and approval; and yet it was a smile rather strained
and plaintive, as if he, like Adams, could only do the best he
could.

He pleased Adams, who thought him a fine young man, and decidedly
the quietest that Alice had ever shown to her family. In her
father's opinion this was no small merit; and it was to Russell's
credit, too, that he showed embarrassment upon this first
intimate presentation; here was an applicant with both reserve
and modesty. "So far, he seems to be first rate a mighty fine
young man," Adams thought; and, prompted by no wish to part from
Alice but by reminiscences of apparent candidates less pleasing,
he added, "At last!"

Alice's liveliness never flagged. Her smoothing over of things
was an almost continuous performance, and had to be. Yet, while
she chattered through the hot and heavy courses, the questions
she asked herself were as continuous as the performance, and as
poignant as what her eyes seemed to be asking Russell. Why had
she not prevailed over her mother's fear of being "skimpy?" Had
she been, indeed, as her mother said she looked, "in a trance?"
But above all: What was the matter with HIM? What had happened?
For she told herself with painful humour that something even
worse than this dinner must be "the matter with him."

The small room, suffocated with the odour of boiled sprouts, grew
hotter and hotter as more and more food appeared, slowly borne
in, between deathly long waits, by the resentful, loud-breathing
Gertrude. And while Alice still sought Russell's glance, and
read the look upon his face a dozen different ways, fearing all
of them; and while the straggling little flowers died upon the
stained cloth, she felt her heart grow as heavy as the food, and
wondered that it did not die like the roses.

With the arrival of coffee, the host bestirred himself to make
known a hospitable regret, "By George!" he said. "I meant to buy
some cigars." He addressed himself apologetically to the guest.
"I don't know what I was thinking about, to forget to bring some
home with me. I don't use 'em myself--unless somebody hands me
one, you might say. I've always been a pipe-smoker, pure and
simple, but I ought to remembered for kind of an occasion like
this."

"Not at all," Russell said. "I'm not smoking at all lately; but
when I do, I'm like you, and smoke a pipe."

Alice started, remembering what she had told him when he overtook
her on her way from the tobacconist's; but, after a moment,
looking at him, she decided that he must have forgotten it. If
he had remembered, she thought, he could not have helped glancing
at her. On the contrary, he seemed more at ease, just then, than
he had since they sat down, for he was favouring her father with
a thoughtful attention as Adams responded to the introduction of
a man's topic into the conversation at last. "Well, Mr.
Russell, I guess you're right, at that. I don't say but what
cigars may be all right for a man that can afford 'em, if he
likes 'em better than a pipe, but you take a good old pipe
now----"

He continued, and was getting well into the eulogium customarily
provoked by this theme, when there came an interruption: the
door-bell rang, and he paused inquiringly, rather surprised.

Mrs. Adams spoke to Gertrude in an undertone:

"Just say, 'Not at home.'"

"What?"

"If it's callers, just say we're not at home."

Gertrude spoke out freely: "You mean you astin' me to 'tend you'
front do' fer you?"

She seemed both incredulous and affronted, but Mrs. Adams
persisted, though somewhat apprehensively. "Yes.
Hurry--uh--please. Just say we're not at home if you please."

Again Gertrude obviously hesitated between compliance and revolt,
and again the meeker course fortunately prevailed with her. She
gave Mrs. Adams a stare, grimly derisive, then departed. When
she came back she said:

"He say he wait."

"But I told you to tell anybody we were not at home," Mrs Adams
returned. "Who is it?"

"Say he name Mr. Law."

"We don't know any Mr. Law."

"Yes'm; he know you. Say he anxious to speak Mr. Adams. Say he
wait."

"Tell him Mr. Adams is engaged."

"Hold on a minute," Adams intervened. "Law? No. I don't know
any Mr. Law. You sure you got the name right?"

"Say he name Law," Gertrude replied, looking at the ceiling to
express her fatigue. "Law. 'S all he tell me; 's all I know."

Adams frowned. "Law," he said. "Wasn't it maybe 'Lohr?'"

"Law," Gertrude repeated. "'S all he tell me; 's all I know."

"What's he look like?"

"He ain't much," she said. "'Bout you' age; got brustly white
moustache, nice eye-glasses."

"It's Charley Lohr!" Adams exclaimed. "I'll go see what he
wants."

"But, Virgil," his wife remonstrated, "do finish your coffee; he
might stay all evening. Maybe he's come to call."

Adams laughed. "He isn't much of a caller, I expect. Don't
worry: I'll take him up to my room." And turning toward Russell,
"Ah--if you'll just excuse me," he said; and went out to his
visitor.

When he had gone, Mrs. Adams finished her coffee, and, having
glanced intelligently from her guest to her daughter, she rose.
"I think perhaps I ought to go and shake hands with Mr. Lohr,
myself," she said, adding in explanation to Russell, as she
reached the door, "He's an old friend of my husband's and it's a
very long time since he's been here."

Alice nodded and smiled to her brightly, but upon the closing of
the door, the smile vanished; all her liveliness disappeared; and
with this change of expression her complexion itself appeared to
change, so that her rouge became obvious, for she was pale
beneath it. However, Russell did not see the alteration, for he
did not look at her; and it was but a momentary lapse the
vacation of a tired girl, who for ten seconds lets herself look
as she feels. Then she shot her vivacity back into place as by
some powerful spring.

"Penny for your thoughts!" she cried, and tossed one of the
wilted roses at him, across the table. "I'll bid more than a
penny; I'll bid tuppence--no, a poor little dead rose a rose for
your thoughts, Mr. Arthur Russell! What are they?"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid I haven't any."

"No, of course not," she said. "Who could have thoughts in
weather like this? Will you EVER forgive us?"

"What for?"

"Making you eat such a heavy dinner--I mean LOOK at such a heavy
dinner, because you certainly didn't do more than look at it--on
such a night! But the crime draws to a close, and you can begin
to cheer up!" She laughed gaily, and, rising, moved to the door.
"Let's go in the other room; your fearful duty is almost done,
and you can run home as soon as you want to. That's what you're
dying to do."

"Not at all," he said in a voice so feeble that she laughed
aloud.

"Good gracious!" she cried. "I hadn't realized it was THAT bad!"

For this, though he contrived to laugh, he seemed to have no
verbal retort whatever; but followed her into the "living-room,"
where she stopped and turned, facing him.

"Has it really been so frightful?" she asked.

"Why, of course not. Not at all."

"Of course yes, though, you mean!"

"Not at all. It's been most kind of your mother and father and
you."

"Do you know," she said, "you've never once looked at me for more
than a second at a time the whole evening? And it seemed to me I
looked rather nice to-night, too!"

"You always do," he murmured.

"I don't see how you know," she returned; and then stepping
closer to him, spoke with gentle solicitude: "Tell me: you're
really feeling wretchedly, aren't you? I know you've got a
fearful headache, or something. Tell me!"

"Not at all."

"You are ill--I'm sure of it."

"Not at all."

"On your word?"

"I'm really quite all right."

"But if you are----" she began; and then, looking at him with a
desperate sweetness, as if this were her last resource to rouse
him, "What's the matter, little boy?" she said with lisping
tenderness. "Tell auntie!"

It was a mistake, for he seemed to flinch, and to lean backward,
however, slightly. She turned away instantly, with a flippant
lift and drop of both hands. "Oh, my dear!" she laughed. "I
won't eat you!"

And as the discomfited young man watched her, seeming able to
lift his eyes, now that her back was turned, she went to the
front door and pushed open the screen. "Let's go out on the
porch," she said. "Where we belong!"

Then, when he had followed her out, and they were seated, "Isn't
this better?" she asked. "Don't you feel more like yourself out
here?"

He began a murmur: "Not at----"

But she cut him off sharply: "Please don't say 'Not at all'
again!"

"I'm sorry."

"You do seem sorry about something," she said. "What is it?
Isn't it time you were telling me what's the matter?"

"Nothing. Indeed nothing's the matter. Of course one IS rather
affected by such weather as this. It may make one a little
quieter than usual, of course."

She sighed, and let the tired muscles of her face rest. Under
the hard lights, indoors, they had served her until they ached,
and it was a luxury to feel that in the darkness no grimacings
need call upon them.

"Of course, if you won't tell me----" she said.

"I can only assure you there's nothing to tell."

"I know what an ugly little house it is," she said. "Maybe it
was the furniture--or mama's vases that upset you. Or was it
mama herself--or papa?"

"Nothing 'upset' me."

At that she uttered a monosyllable of doubting laughter. "I
wonder why you say that."

"Because it's so."

"No. It's because you're too kind, or too conscientious, or too
embarrassed--anyhow too something--to tell me." She leaned
forward, elbows on knees and chin in hands, in the reflective
attitude she knew how to make graceful. "I have a feeling that
you're not going to tell me," she said, slowly. "Yes--even that
you're never going to tell me. I wonder--I wonder----"

"Yes? What do you wonder?"

"I was just thinking--I wonder if they haven't done it, after
all."

"I don't understand."

"I wonder," she went on, still slowly, and in a voice of
reflection, "I wonder who HAS been talking about me to you, after
all? Isn't that it?"

"Not at----" he began, but checked himself and substituted
another form of denial. "Nothing is 'it.'"

"Are you sure?"

"Why, yes."

"How curious!" she said.

"Why?"

"Because all evening you've been so utterly different."

"But in this weather----"

"No. That wouldn't make you afraid to look at me all evening!"

"But I did look at you. Often."

"No. Not really a LOOK."

"But I'm looking at you now."

"Yes--in the dark!" she said. "No--the weather might make you
even quieter than usual, but it wouldn't strike you so nearly
dumb. No--and it wouldn't make you seem to be under such a
strain--as if you thought only of escape!"

"But I haven't----"

"You shouldn't," she interrupted, gently. "There's nothing you
have to escape from, you know. You aren't committed to--to this
friendship."

"I'm sorry you think----" he began, but did not complete the
fragment.

She took it up. "You're sorry I think you're so different, you
mean to say, don't you? Never mind: that's what you did mean to
say, but you couldn't finish it because you're not good at
deceiving."

"Oh, no," he protested, feebly. "I'm not deceiving. I'm----"

"Never mind," she said again. "You're sorry I think you're so
different--and all in one day--since last night. Yes, your voice
SOUNDS sorry, too. It sounds sorrier than it would just because
of my thinking something you could change my mind about in a
minute so it means you're sorry you ARE different."

"No--I----"

But disregarding the faint denial, "Never mind," she said. "Do
you remember one night when you told me that nothing anybody else
could do would ever keep you from coming here? That if you--if
you left me it would be because I drove you away myself?"

"Yes," he said, huskily. "It was true."

"Are you sure?"

"Indeed I am," he answered in a low voice, but with conviction.

"Then----" She paused. "Well--but I haven't driven you away."

"No."

"And yet you've gone," she said, quietly.

"Do I seem so stupid as all that?"

"You know what I mean." She leaned back in her chair again, and
her hands, inactive for once, lay motionless in her lap. When
she spoke it was in a rueful whisper:

"I wonder if I HAVE driven you away?"

"You've done nothing--nothing at all," he said.

"I wonder----" she said once more, but she stopped. In her mind
she was going back over their time together since the first
meeting--fragments of talk, moments of silence, little things of
no importance, little things that might be important; moonshine,
sunshine, starlight; and her thoughts zigzagged among the
jumbling memories; but, as if she made for herself a picture of
all these fragments, throwing them upon the canvas haphazard, she
saw them all just touched with the one tainting quality that gave
them coherence, the faint, false haze she had put over this
friendship by her own pretendings. And, if this terrible dinner,
or anything, or everything, had shown that saffron tint in its
true colour to the man at her side, last night almost a lover,
then she had indeed of herself driven him away, and might well
feel that she was lost.

"Do you know?" she said, suddenly, in a clear, loud voice. "I
have the strangest feeling. I feel as if I were going to be with
you only about five minutes more in all the rest of my life!"

"Why, no," he said. "Of course I'm coming to see you--often.
I----"

"No," she interrupted. "I've never had a feeling like this
before. It's--it's just SO; that's all! You're GOING--why,
you're never coming here again!" She stood up, abruptly,
beginning to tremble all over. "Why, it's FINISHED, isn't it?"
she said, and her trembling was manifest now in her voice. "Why,
it's all OVER, isn't it? Why, yes!"

He had risen as she did. "I'm afraid you're awfully tired and
nervous," he said. "I really ought to be going."

"Yes, of COURSE you ought," she cried, despairingly. "There's
nothing else for you to do. When anything's spoiled, people
CAN'T do anything but run away from it. So good-bye!"

"At least," he returned, huskily, "we'll only--only say
good-night."

Then, as moving to go, he stumbled upon the veranda steps, "Your
HAT!" she cried. "I'd like to keep it for a souvenir, but I'm
afraid you need it!"

She ran into the hall and brought his straw hat from the chair
where he had left it. "You poor thing!" she said, with quavering
laughter. "Don't you know you can't go without your hat?"

Then, as they faced each other for the short moment which both of
them knew would be the last of all their veranda moments, Alice's
broken laughter grew louder. "What a thing to say!" she cried.
"What a romantic parting--talking about HATS!"

Her laughter continued as he turned away, but other sounds came
from within the house, clearly audible with the opening of a door
upstairs--a long and wailing cry of lamentation in the voice of
Mrs. Adams. Russell paused at the steps, uncertain, but Alice
waved to him to go on.

"Oh, don't bother," she said. "We have lots of that in this
funny little old house! Good-bye!"

And as he went down the steps, she ran back into the house and
closed the door heavily behind her.

CHAPTER XXIII

Her mother's wailing could still be heard from overhead, though
more faintly; and old Charley Lohr was coming down the stairs
alone.

He looked at Alice compassionately. "I was just comin' to
suggest maybe you'd excuse yourself from your company," he said.
"Your mother was bound not to disturb you, and tried her best to
keep you from hearin' how she's takin' on, but I thought probably
you better see to her."

"Yes, I'll come. What's the matter?"

"Well," he said, "_I_ only stepped over to offer my sympathy and
services, as it were. _I_ thought of course you folks knew all
about it. Fact is, it was in the evening paper--just a little
bit of an item on the back page, of course."

"What is it?"

He coughed. "Well, it ain't anything so terrible," he said.
"Fact is, your brother Walter's got in a little trouble--well, I
suppose you might call it quite a good deal of trouble. Fact is,
he's quite considerable short in his accounts down at Lamb and
Company."

Alice ran up the stairs and into her father's room, where Mrs.
Adams threw herself into her daughter's arms. "Is he gone?" she
sobbed. "He didn't hear me, did he? I tried so hard----"

Alice patted the heaving shoulders her arms enclosed. "No, no,"
she said. "He didn't hear you--it wouldn't have mattered--he
doesn't matter anyway."

"Oh, POOR Walter!" The mother cried. "Oh, the POOR boy! Poor,
poor Walter! Poor, poor, poor, POOR----"

"Hush, dear, hush!" Alice tried to soothe her, but the lament
could not be abated, and from the other side of the room a
repetition in a different spirit was as continuous. Adams paced
furiously there, pounding his fist into his left palm as he
strode. "The dang boy!" he said. "Dang little fool! Dang
idiot! Dang fool! Whyn't he TELL me, the dang little fool?"

"He DID!" Mrs. Adams sobbed. "He DID tell you, and you wouldn't
GIVE it to him."

"He DID, did he?" Adams shouted at her. "What he begged me for
was money to run away with! He never dreamed of putting back
what he took. What the dangnation you talking about--accusing
me!"

"He NEEDED it," she said. "He needed it to run away with! How
could he expect to LIVE, after he got away, if he didn't have a
little money? Oh, poor, poor, POOR Walter! Poor, poor,
poor----"

She went back to this repetition; and Adams went back to his own,
then paused, seeing his old friend standing in the hallway
outside the open door.

"Ah--I'll just be goin', I guess, Virgil," Lohr said. "I don't
see as there's any use my tryin' to say any more. I'll do
anything you want me to, you understand."

"Wait a minute," Adams said, and, groaning, came and went down
the stairs with him. "You say you didn't see the old man at
all?"

"No, I don't know a thing about what he's going to do," Lohr
said, as they reached the lower floor. "Not a thing. But look
here, Virgil, I don't see as this calls for you and your wife to
take on so hard about--anyhow not as hard as the way you've
started."

"No," Adams gulped. "It always seems that way to the other party
that's only looking on!"

"Oh, well, I know that, of course," old Charley returned,
soothingly. "But look here, Virgil: they may not catch the boy;
they didn't even seem to be sure what train he made, and if they
do get him, why, the ole man might decide not to prosecute
if----"

"HIM?" Adams cried, interrupting. "Him not prosecute? Why,
that's what he's been waiting for, all along! He thinks my boy
and me both cheated him! Why, he was just letting Walter walk
into a trap! Didn't you say they'd been suspecting him for some
time back? Didn't you say they'd been watching him and were just
about fixing to arrest him?"

"Yes, I know," said Lohr; "but you can't tell, especially if you
raise the money and pay it back."

"Every cent!" Adams vociferated. "Every last penny! I can raise
it--I GOT to raise it! I'm going to put a loan on my factory
to-morrow. Oh, I'll get it for him, you tell him! Every last
penny!"

"Well, ole feller, you just try and get quieted down some now."
Charley held out his hand in parting. "You and your wife just
quiet down some. You AIN'T the healthiest man in the world, you
know, and you already been under quite some strain before this
happened. You want to take care of yourself for the sake of your
wife and that sweet little girl upstairs, you know. Now,
good-night," he finished, stepping out upon the veranda. "You
send for me if there's anything I can do."

"Do?" Adams echoed. "There ain't anything ANYBODY can do!" And
then, as his old friend went down the path to the sidewalk, he
called after him, "You tell him I'll pay him every last cent!
Every last, dang, dirty PENNY!"

He slammed the door and went rapidly up the stairs, talking
loudly to himself. "Every dang, last, dirty penny! Thinks
EVERYBODY in this family wants to steal from him, does he?
Thinks we're ALL yellow, does he? I'll show him!" And he came
into his own room vociferating, "Every last, dang, dirty penny!"

Mrs. Adams had collapsed, and Alice had put her upon his bed,
where she lay tossing convulsively and sobbing, "Oh, POOR
Walter!" over and over, but after a time she varied the sorry
tune. "Oh, poor Alice!" she moaned, clinging to her daughter's
hand. "Oh, poor, POOR Alice to have THIS come on the night of
your dinner--just when everything seemed to be going so well--at
last--oh, poor, poor, POOR----"

"Hush!" Alice said, sharply. "Don't say 'poor Alice!' I'm all
right."

"You MUST be!" her mother cried, clutching her. "You've just GOT
to be! ONE of us has got to be all right--surely God wouldn't
mind just ONE of us being all right--that wouldn't hurt Him----"

"Hush, hush, mother! Hush!"

But Mrs. Adams only clutched her the more tightly. "He seemed
SUCH a nice young man, dearie! He may not see this in the
paper--Mr. Lohr said it was just a little bit of an item--he MAY
not see it, dearie----"

Then her anguish went back to Walter again; and to his needs as a
fugitive--she had meant to repair his underwear, but had
postponed doing so, and her neglect now appeared to be a detail
as lamentable as the calamity itself. She could neither be
stilled upon it, nor herself exhaust its urgings to self-
reproach, though she finally took up another theme temporarily.
Upon an unusually violent outbreak of her husband's, in
denunciation of the runaway, she cried out faintly that he was
cruel; and further wearied her broken voice with details of
Walter's beauty as a baby, and of his bedtime pieties throughout
his infancy.

So the hot night wore on. Three had struck before Mrs. Adams
was got to bed; and Alice, returning to her own room, could hear
her father's bare feet thudding back and forth after that. "Poor
papa!" she whispered in helpless imitation of her mother. "Poor
papa! Poor mama! Poor Walter! Poor all of us!"

She fell asleep, after a time, while from across the hall the
bare feet still thudded over their changeless route; and she woke
at seven, hearing Adams pass her door, shod. In her wrapper she
ran out into the hallway and found him descending the stairs.

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