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The Flirt by Booth Tarkington

Part 3 out of 5

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The opening of the door revealed Mrs. Madison in a state of
anxious perturbation, and admitted the sound of loud weeping and
agitated voices from below.

"Please go down," implored the mother. "You can do more with her
than I can. She and your father have been having a terrible scene
since Richard went home."

Laura hurried down to the library.


"Oh, _come_ in, Laura!" cried her sister, as Laura appeared in the
doorway. "Don't _stand_ there! Come in if you want to take part in
a grand old family row!" With a furious and tear-stained face, she
was confronting her father who stood before her in a resolute
attitude and a profuse perspiration. "Shut the door!" shouted Cora
violently, adding, as Laura obeyed, "Do you want that little Pest
in here? Probably he's eavesdropping anyway. But what difference
does it make? I don't care. Let him hear! Let anybody hear that
wants to! They can hear how I'm tortured if they like. I didn't
close my eyes last night, and now I'm being tortured. Papa!" She
stamped her foot. "Are you going to take back that insult to me?"

"`Insult'?" repeated her father, in angry astonishment.

"Pshaw," said Laura, laughing soothingly and coming to her. "You
know that's nonsense, Cora. Kind old papa couldn't do that if he
tried. Dear, you know he never insulted anybody in his----"

"Don't touch me!" screamed Cora, repulsing her. "Listen, if you've
got to, but let me alone. He did too! He did! He _knows_ what he

"I do not!"

"He does! He does!" cried Cora. "He said that I was--I was too
much `interested' in Mr. Corliss."

"Is that an `insult'?" the father demanded sharply.

"It was the way he said it," Cora protested, sobbing. "He meant
something he didn't _say_. He did! He did! He _meant_ to insult

"I did nothing of the kind," shouted the old man.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I said I couldn't
understand your getting so excited about the fellow's affairs and
that you seemed to take a mighty sudden interest in him."

"Well, what if I _do_?" she screamed. "Haven't I a right to be
interested in what I choose? I've got to be interested in
_something_, haven't I? _You_ don't make life very interesting, do
you? Do you think it's interesting to spend the summer in this
horrible old house with the paper falling off the walls and our
rotten old furniture that I work my hands off trying to make look
decent and can't, and every other girl I know at the seashore with
motor-cars and motor-boats, or getting a trip abroad and buying
her clothes in Paris? What do _you_ offer to interest me?"

The unfortunate man hung his head. "I don't see what all that has
to do with it----"

She seemed to leap at him. "You _don't_? You _don't_?"

"No, I don't. And I don't see why you're so crazy to please young
Corliss about this business unless you're infatuated with him. I
had an idea--and I was pleased with it, too, because Richard's a
steady fellow--that you were just about engaged to Richard
Lindley, and----"

"Engaged!" she cried, repeating the word with bitter contempt.
"Engaged! You don't suppose I'll marry him unless I want to, do
you? I will if it suits me. I won't if it suits me not to;
understand that! I don't consider myself engaged to anybody, and
you needn't either. What on earth has that got to do with your
keeping Richard Lindley from doing what Mr. Corliss wants him to?"

"I'm not keeping him from anything. He didn't say----"

"He did!" stormed Cora. "He said he would if you went into it. He
told me this afternoon, an hour ago."

"Now wait," said Madison. "I talked this over with Richard two
days ago----"

Cora stamped her foot again in frantic exasperation. "I'm talking
about this afternoon!"

"Two days ago," he repeated doggedly; "and we came to the same
conclusion: it won't do. He said he couldn't go into it unless he
went over there to Italy--and saw for himself just what he was
putting his money into, and Corliss had told him that it couldn't
be done; that there wasn't time, and showed him a cablegram from
his Italian partner saying the secret had leaked out and that
they'd have to form the company in Naples and sell the stock over
there if it couldn't be done here within the next week. Corliss
said he had to ask for an immediate answer, and so Richard told
him no, yesterday."

"Oh, my God!" groaned Cora. "What has that got to do with _your_
going into it? You're not going to risk any money! I don't ask you
to _spend_ anything, do I? You haven't got it if I did. All Mr.
Corliss wants is your name. Can't you give even _that_? What
importance is it?"

"Well, if it isn't important, what difference does it make whether
I give it or not?"

She flung up her arms as in despairing appeal for patience. "It
_is_ important to him! Richard will do it if you will be secretary
of the company: he promised me. Mr. Corliss told me your name was
worth everything here: that men said downtown you could have been
rich long ago if you hadn't been so square. Richard trusts you; he
says you're the most trusted man in town----"

"That's why I can't do it," he interrupted.

"No!" Her vehemence increased suddenly to its utmost. "No! Don't
you say that, because it's a lie. That isn't the reason you won't
do it. You won't do it because you think it would please _me_!
You're afraid it might make me _happy_! Happy--happy--_happy_!"
She beat her breast and cast herself headlong upon the sofa,
sobbing wildly. "Don't come near me!" she screamed at Laura, and
sprang to her feet again, dishevelled and frantic. "Oh, Christ in
heaven! is there such a thing as happiness in this beast of a
world? I want to leave it. I want to go away: I want _so_ to die:
Why can't I? Why can't I! Why can't I! Oh, God, why _can't_ I die?
Why can't----"

Her passion culminated in a shriek: she gasped, was convulsed from
head to foot for a dreadful moment, tore at the bosom of her dress
with rigid bent fingers, swayed; then collapsed all at once. Laura
caught her, and got her upon the sofa. In the hall, Mrs. Madison
could be heard running and screaming to Hedrick to go for the
doctor. Next instant, she burst into the room with brandy and

"I could only find these; the ammonia bottle's empty," she panted;
and the miserable father started hatless, for the drug-store, a
faint, choked wail from the stricken girl sounding in his ears:
"It's--it's my heart, mamma."

It was four blocks to the nearest pharmacy; he made what haste he
could in the great heat, but to himself he seemed double his usual
weight; and the more he tried to hurry, the less speed appeared
obtainable from his heavy legs. When he reached the place at last,
he found it crowded with noisy customers about the "soda-fount";
and the clerks were stonily slow: they seemed to know that they
were "already in eternity." He got very short of breath on the way
home; he ceased to perspire and became unnaturally dry; the air
was aflame and the sun shot fire upon his bare head. His feet
inclined to strange disobediences: he walked the last block
waveringly. A solemn Hedrick met him at the door.

"They've got her to bed," announced the boy. "The doctor's up

"Take this ammonia up," said Madison huskily, and sat down upon a
lower step of the stairway with a jolt, closing his eyes.

"You sick, too?" asked Hedrick.

"No. Run along with that ammonia."

It seemed to Madison a long time that he sat there alone, and he
felt very dizzy. Once he tried to rise, but had to give it up and
remain sitting with his eyes shut. At last he heard Cora's door
open and close; and his wife and the doctor came slowly down the
stairs, Mrs. Madison talking in the anxious yet relieved voice of
one who leaves a sick-room wherein the physician pronounces
progress encouraging.

"And you're _sure_ her heart trouble isn't organic?" she asked.

"Her heart is all right," her companion assured her. "There's
nothing serious; the trouble is nervous. I think you'll find
she'll be better after a good sleep. Just keep her quiet. Hadn't
she been in a state of considerable excitement?"


"Ah! A little upset on account of opposition to a plan she'd
formed, perhaps?"

"Well--partly," assented the mother.

"I see," he returned, adding with some dryness: "I thought it just

Madison got to his feet, and stepped down from the stairs for them
to pass him. He leaned heavily against the wall.

"You think she's going to be all right, Sloane?" he asked with an

"No cause to worry," returned the physician. "You can let her stay
in bed to-day if she wants to but----" He broke off, looking
keenly at Madison's face, which was the colour of poppies. "Hello!
what's up with _you_?"

"I'm all--right."

"Oh, you are?" retorted Sloane with sarcasm. "Sit down," he
commanded. "Sit right where you are--on the stairs, here," and,
having enforced the order, took a stethoscope from his pocket.
"Get him a glass of water," he said to Hedrick, who was at his

"Doctor!" exclaimed Mrs. Madison. "_He_ isn't going to be sick, is
he? You don't think he's sick _now_?"

"I shouldn't call him very well," answered the physician rather
grimly, placing his stethoscope upon Madison's breast. "Get his
room ready for him." She gave him a piteous look, struck with
fear; then obeyed a gesture and ran flutteringly up the stairs.

"I'm all right now," panted Madison, drinking the water Hedrick
brought him.

"You're not so darned all right," said Sloane coolly, as he
pocketed his stethoscope. "Come, let me help you up. We're going
to get you to bed."

There was an effort at protest, but the physician had his way, and
the two ascended the stairs slowly, Sloane's arm round his new
patient. At Cora's door, the latter paused.

"What's the matter?"

"I want," said Madison thickly--"I want--to speak to Cora."

"We'll pass that up just now," returned the other brusquely, and
led him on. Madison was almost helpless: he murmured in a husky,
uncertain voice, and suffered himself to be put to bed. There, the
doctor "worked" with him; cold "applications" were ordered; Laura
was summoned from the other sick-bed; Hedrick sent flying with
prescriptions, then to telephone for a nurse. The two women
attempted questions at intervals, but Sloane replied with orders,
and kept them busy.

"Do you--think I'm a---a pretty sick man, Sloane?" asked Madison
after a long silence, speaking with difficulty.

"Oh, you're sick, all right," the doctor conceded.

"I--I want to speak to Jennie."

His wife rushed to the bed, and knelt beside it.

"Don't you go to confessing your sins," said Doctor Sloane
crossly. "You're coming out of the woods all right, and you'll be
sorry if you tell her too, much. I'll begin a little flirtation
with you, Miss Laura, if you please." And he motioned to her to
follow him into the hall.

"Your father _is_ pretty sick," he told her, "and he may be sicker
before we get him into shape again. But you needn't be worried
right now; I think he's not in immediate danger." He turned at the
sound of Mrs. Madison's step, behind him, and repeated to her what
he had just said to Laura. "I hope your husband didn't give
himself away enough to be punished when we get him on his feet
again," he concluded cheerfully.

She shook her head, tried to smile through tears, and, crossing
the hall, entered Cora's room. She came back after a moment, and,
rejoining the other two at her husband's bedside, found the sick
man in a stertorous sleep. Presently the nurse arrived, and upon
the physician's pointed intimation that there were "too many
people around," Laura went to Cora's room. She halted on the
threshold in surprise. Cora was dressing.

"Mamma says the doctor says he's all right," said Cora lightly,
"and I'm feeling so much better myself I thought I'd put on
something loose and go downstairs. I think there's more air down

"Papa isn't all right, dear," said Laura, staring perplexedly at
Cora's idea of "something loose," an equipment inclusive of
something particularly close. "The doctor says he is very sick."

"I don't believe it," returned Cora promptly. "Old Sloane never
did know anything. Besides, mamma told me he said papa isn't in
any danger."

"No `immediate' danger," corrected Laura. "And besides, Doctor
Sloane said you were to stay in bed until to-morrow."

"I can't help that." Cora went on with her lacing impatiently.
"I'm not going to lie and stifle in this heat when I feel
perfectly well again--not for an old idiot like Sloane! He didn't
even have sense enough to give me any medicine." She laughed.
"Lucky thing he didn't: I'd have thrown it out of the window. Kick
that slipper to me, will you, dear?"

Laura knelt and put the slipper on her sister's foot. "Cora,
dear," she said, "you're just going to put on a negligee and go
down and sit in the library, aren't you?"

"Laura!" The tone was more than impatient. "I wish I could be let
alone for five whole minutes some time in my life! Don't you think
I've stood enough for one day? I can't bear to be questioned,
questioned, questioned! What do you do it for? Don't you see I
can't stand anything more? If you can't let me alone I do wish
you'd keep out of my room."

Laura rose and went out; but as she left the door, Cora called
after her with a rueful laugh: "Laura, I know I'm a little devil!"

Half an hour later, Laura, suffering because she had made no reply
to this peace-offering, and wishing to atone, sought Cora
downstairs and found no one. She decided that Cora must still be
in her own room; she would go to her there. But as she passed the
open front door, she saw Cora upon the sidewalk in front of the
house. She wore a new and elaborate motoring costume, charmingly
becoming, and was in the act of mounting to a seat beside
Valentine Corliss in a long, powerful-looking, white "roadster"
automobile. The engine burst into staccato thunder, sobered down;
the wheels began to move both Cora and Corliss were laughing and
there was an air of triumph about them--Cora's veil streamed and
fluttered: and in a flash they were gone.

Laura stared at the suddenly vacated space where they had been. At
a thought she started. Then she rushed upstairs to her mother, who
was sitting in the hall near her husband's door.

"Mamma," whispered Laura, flinging herself upon her knees beside
her, "when papa wanted to speak to you, was it a message to Cora?"

"Yes, dear. He told me to tell her he was sorry he'd made her
sick, and that if he got well he'd try to do what she asked him

Laura nodded cheerfully. "And he _will_ get well, darling mother,"
she said, as she rose. "I'll come back in a minute and sit with

Her return was not so quick as she promised, for she lay a long
time weeping upon her pillow, whispering over and over:

"Oh, poor, poor papa! Oh, poor, poor Richard!"


Within a week Mr. Madison's illness was a settled institution in
the household; the presence of the nurse lost novelty, even to
Hedrick, and became a part of life; the day was measured by the
three regular visits of the doctor. To the younger members of the
family it seemed already that their father had always been sick,
and that he always would be; indeed, to Cora and Hedrick he had
become only a weak and querulous voice beyond a closed door.
Doctor Sloane was serious but reassuring, his daily announcement
being that his patient was in "no immediate danger."

Mrs. Madison did not share her children's sanguine adaptability;
and, of the three, Cora was the greatest solace to the mother's
troubled heart, though Mrs. Madison never recognized this without
a sense of injustice to Laura, for Laura now was housewife and
housekeeper--that is, she did all the work except the cooking, and
on "wash-day" she did that. But Cora's help was to the very spirit
itself, for she was sprightly in these hours of trial: with
indomitable gayety she cheered her mother, inspiring in her a
firmer confidence, and, most stimulating of all, Cora steadfastly
refused to consider her father's condition as serious, or its
outcome as doubtful.

Old Sloane exaggerated, she said; and she made fun of his gravity,
his clothes and his walk, which she mimicked till she drew a
reluctant and protesting laugh from even her mother. Mrs. Madison
was sure she "couldn't get through" this experience save for Cora,
who was indeed the light of the threatened house.

Strange perversities of this world: Cora's gayety was almost
unbearable to her brother. Not because he thought it either
unfeeling or out of place under the circumstances (an aspect he
failed to consider), but because years of warfare had so
frequently made him connect cheerfulness on her part with some
unworthily won triumph over himself that habit prevailed, and he
could not be a witness of her high spirits without a strong sense
of injury. Additionally, he was subject to a deeply implanted
suspicion of any appearance of unusual happiness in her as having
source, if not in his own defeat, then in something vaguely "soft"
and wholly distasteful. She grated upon him; he chafed, and his
sufferings reached the surface. Finally, in a reckless moment, one
evening at dinner, he broke out with a shout and hurled a newly
devised couplet concerning luv-a-ly slush at his, sister's head.
The nurse was present: Cora left the table; and Hedrick later
received a serious warning from Laura. She suggested that it might
become expedient to place him in Cora's power.

"Cora knows perfectly well that something peculiar happened to
you," she advised him. "And she knows that I know what it was; and
she says it isn't very sisterly of me not to tell her. Now,
Hedrick, there was no secret about it; you didn't _confide_
your--your trouble to me, and it would be perfectly honourable of
me to tell it. I wont{sic} unless you make me, but if you can't be
polite and keep peace with Cora--at least while papa is sick I
think it may be necessary. I believe," she finished with imperfect
gravity, "that it--it would keep things quieter."

The thoughts of a boy may be long, long thoughts, but he cannot
persistently remember to fear a threatened catastrophe. Youth is
too quickly intimate with peril. Hedrick had become familiar with
his own, had grown so accustomed to it he was in danger of
forgetting it altogether; therefore it was out of perspective. The
episode of Lolita had begun to appear as a thing of the distant
and clouded past: time is so long at thirteen. Added to this, his
late immaculate deportment had been, as Laura suggested, a severe
strain; the machinery of his nature was out of adjustment and
demanded a violent reaction before it could get to running again
at average speed. Also, it is evident that his destruction had
been planned on high, for he was mad enough to answer flippantly:

"Tell her! Go on and tell her--_I_ give you leaf! _that_ wasn't
anything anyway--just helped you get a little idiot girl home.
What is there to that? I never saw her before; never saw her
again; didn't have half as much to do with her as you did
yourself. She was a lot more _your_ friend than mine; I didn't
even know her. I guess you'll have to get something better on me
than that, before you try to boss _this_ ranch, Laura Madison!"

That night, in bed, he wondered if he had not been perhaps a
trifle rash; but the day was bright when he awoke, and no
apprehension shadowed his morning face as he appeared at the
breakfast table. On the contrary, a great weight had lifted from
him; clearly his defiance had been the proper thing; he had shown
Laura that her power over him was but imaginary. Hypnotized by his
own words to her, he believed them; and his previous terrors
became gossamer; nay, they were now merely laughable. His own
remorse and shame were wholly blotted from memory, and he could
not understand why in the world he had been so afraid, nor why he
had felt it so necessary to placate Laura. She looked very meek
this morning. _That_ showed! The strong hand was the right policy
in dealing with women. He was tempted to insane daring: the rash,
unfortunate child waltzed on the lip of the crater.

"Told Cora yet?" he asked, with scornful laughter.

"Told me what?" Cora looked quickly up from her plate.

"Oh, nothing about this Corliss," he returned scathingly. "Don't
get excited."

"Hedrick!" remonstrated his mother, out of habit.

"She never thinks of anything else these days," he retorted.
"Rides with him every evening in his pe-rin-sley hired machine,
doesn't she?"

"Really, you should be more careful about the way you handle a
spoon, Hedrick," said Cora languidly, and with at least a
foundation of fact. "It is not the proper implement for decorating
the cheeks. We all need nourishment, but it is _so_ difficult
when one sees a deposit of breakfast-food in the ear of one's

Hedrick too impulsively felt of his ears and was but the worse
stung to find them immaculate and the latter half of the
indictment unjustified.

"Spoon!" he cried. "I wouldn't talk about spoons if I were you,
Cora-lee! After what I saw in the library the other night, believe
_me_, you're the one of this family that better be careful how you
`handle a spoon'!"

Cora had a moment of panic. She let the cup she was lifting drop
noisily upon its saucer, and gazed whitely at the boy, her mouth
opening wide.

"Oh, no!" he went on, with a dreadful laugh. "I didn't hear you
asking this Corliss to kiss you! Oh, no!"

At this, though her mother and Laura both started, a faint, odd
relief showed itself in Cora's expression. She recovered herself.

"You little liar!" she flashed, and, with a single quick look at
her mother, as of one too proud to appeal, left the room.

"Hedrick, Hedrick, Hedrick!" wailed Mrs. Madison. "And she told me
you drove her from the table last night too, right before Miss
Peirce!" Miss Peirce was the nurse, fortunately at this moment in
the sick-room.

"I _did_ hear her ask him that," he insisted, sullenly. "Don't you
believe it?"

"Certainly not!"

Burning with outrage, he also left his meal unfinished and
departed in high dignity. He passed through the kitchen, however,
on his way out of the house; but, finding an unusual politeness to
the cook nothing except its own reward, went on his way with a
bitter perception of the emptiness of the world and other places.

"Your father managed to talk more last night," said Mrs. Madison
pathetically to Laura. "He made me understand that he was fretting
about how little we'd been able to give our children; so few
advantages; it's always troubled him terribly. But sometimes I
wonder if we've done right: we've neither of us ever exercised any
discipline. We just couldn't bear to. You see, not having any
money, or the things money could buy, to give, I think we've
instinctively tried to make up for it by indulgence in other ways,
and perhaps it's been a bad thing. Not," she added hastily, "not
that you aren't all three the best children any mother and father
ever had! _He_ said so. He said the only trouble was that our
children were too good for us." She shook her head remorsefully
throughout Laura's natural reply to this; was silent a while;
then, as she rose, she said timidly, not looking at her daughter:
"Of course Hedrick didn't mean to tell an outright lie. They were
just talking, and perhaps he--perhaps he heard something that made
him think what he _did_. People are so often mistaken in what they
hear, even when they're talking right to each other, and----"

"Isn't it more likely," said Laura, gravely, "that Cora was
telling some story or incident, and that Hedrick overheard that
part of it, and thought she was speaking directly to Mr. Corliss?"

"Of course!" cried the mother with instant and buoyant relief; and
when the three ladies convened, a little later, Cora
(unquestioned) not only confirmed this explanation, but repeated
in detail the story she had related to Mr. Corliss. Laura had been

Hedrick passed a variegated morning among comrades. He obtained
prestige as having a father like-to-die, but another boy turned up
who had learned to chew tobacco. Then Hedrick was pronounced
inferior to others in turning "cartwheels," but succeeded in a
wrestling match for an apple, which he needed. Later, he was
chased empty-handed from the rear of an ice-wagon, but greatly
admired for his retorts to the vociferous chaser: the other boys
rightly considered that what he said to the ice-man was much more
horrible than what the ice-man said to him. The ice-man had a fair
vocabulary, but it lacked pliancy; seemed stiff and fastidious
compared with the flexible Saxon in which Hedrick sketched a
family tree lacking, perhaps, some plausibility as having produced
even an ice-man, but curiously interesting zoologically.

He came home at noon with the flush of this victory new upon his
brow. He felt equal to anything, and upon Cora's appearing at
lunch with a blithe, bright air and a new arrangement of her hair,
he opened a fresh campaign with ill-omened bravado.

"Ear-muffs in style for September, are they?" he inquired in
allusion to a symmetrical and becoming undulation upon each side
of her head. "Too bad Ray Vilas can't come any more; he'd like
those, I know he would."

Cora, who was talking jauntily to her mother, went on without
heeding. She affected her enunciation at times with a slight lisp;
spoke preciously and over-exquisitely, purposely mincing the
letter R, at the same time assuming a manner of artificial
distinction and conscious elegance which never failed to produce
in her brother the last stage of exasperation. She did this now.
Charming woman, that dear Mrs. Villard, she prattled. "I met her
downtown this morning. Dear mamma, you should but have seen her
delight when she saw _me_. She was but just returned from Bar

"`Baw-hawbaw'!" Poor Hedrick was successfully infuriated
immediately. "What in thunder is `Baw-hawbaw'? Mrs. Villawd!
Baw-hawbaw! Oh, maw!"

"She had no idea she should find _me_ in town, she said," Cora ran
on, happily. "She came back early on account of the children
having to be sent to school. She has such adorable
children--beautiful, dimpled babes----"


"--And her dear son, Egerton Villard, he's grown to be such a
comely lad, and he has the most charming courtly manners: he
helped his mother out of her carriage with all the air of a man of
the world, and bowed to me as to a duchess. I think he might be a
great influence for good if the dear Villards would but sometimes
let him associate a little with our unfortunate Hedrick. Egerton
Villard is really _distingue_; he has a beautiful head; and if he
could be induced but to let Hedrick follow him about but a

"I'll beat his beautiful head off for him if he but butts in on me
but a little!" Hedrick promised earnestly. "Idiot!"

Cora turned toward him innocently. "What did you say, Hedrick?"

"I said `Idiot'!"

"You mean Egerton Villard?"

"Both of you!"

"You think I'm an idiot, Hedrick?" Her tone was calm, merely

"Yes, I do!"

"Oh, no," she said pleasantly. "Don't you think if I were _really_
an idiot I'd be even fonder of you than I am?"

It took his breath. In a panic he sat waiting he knew not what;
but Cora blandly resumed her interrupted remarks to her mother,
beginning a description of Mrs. Villard's dress; Laura was talking
unconcernedly to Miss Peirce; no one appeared to be aware that
anything unusual had been said. His breath came back, and,
summoning his presence of mind, he found himself able to consider
his position with some degree of assurance. Perhaps, after all,
Cora's retort had been merely a coincidence. He went over and over
it in his mind, making a pretence, meanwhile, to be busy with his
plate. "If I were _really_ an idiot." . . . It was the "_really_"
that troubled him. But for that one word, he could have decided
that her remark was a coincidence; but "_really_" was ominous; had
a sinister ring. "If I were _really_ an idiot!" Suddenly the
pleasant clouds that had obscured his memory of the fatal evening
were swept away as by a monstrous Hand: it all came back to him
with sickening clearness. So is it always with the sinner with his
sin and its threatened discovery. Again, in his miserable mind, he
sat beside Lolita on the fence, with the moon shining through her
hair; and he knew--for he had often read it--that a man could be
punished his whole life through for a single moment's weakness. A
man might become rich, great, honoured, and have a large family,
but his one soft sin would follow him, hunt him out and pull him
down at last. "_Really_ an idiot!" Did that relentless Comanche,
Cora, know this Thing? He shuddered. Then he fell back upon his
faith in Providence. It _could_ not be that she knew! Ah, no!
Heaven would not let the world be so bad as that! And yet it did
sometimes become negligent--he remembered the case of a baby-girl
cousin who fell into the bath-tub and was drowned. Providence had
allowed that: What assurance had he that it would not go a step

"Why, Hedrick," said Cora, turning toward him cheerfully, "you're
not really eating anything; you're only pretending to." His heart
sank with apprehension. Was it coming? "You really must eat," she
went on. "School begins so soon, you must be strong, you know. How
we shall miss you here at home during your hours of work!"

With that, the burden fell from his shoulders, his increasing
terrors took wing. If Laura had told his ghastly secret to Cora,
the latter would not have had recourse to such weak satire as
this. Cora was not the kind of person to try a popgun on an enemy
when she had a thirteen-inch gun at her disposal; so he reasoned;
and in the gush of his relief and happiness, responded:

"You're a little too cocky lately, Cora-lee: I wish you were _my_
daughter--just about five minutes!"

Cora looked upon him fondly. "What would you do to me," she
inquired with a terrible sweetness--"darling little boy?"

Hedrick's head swam. The blow was square in the face; it jarred
every bone; the world seemed to topple. His mother, rising from
her chair, choked slightly, and hurried to join the nurse, who was
already on her way upstairs. Cora sent an affectionate laugh
across the table to her stunned antagonist.

"You wouldn't beat me, would you, dear?" she murmured. "I'm almost
sure you wouldn't; not if I asked you to kiss me some _more_."

All doubt was gone, the last hope fled! The worst had arrived. A
vision of the awful future flamed across his staggered mind. The
doors to the arena were flung open: the wild beasts howled for
hunger of him; the spectators waited.

Cora began lightly to sing:

. . . "Dear,
Would thou wert near
To hear me tell how fair thou art!
Since thou art gone I mourn all alone,
Oh, my Lolita----"

She broke off to explain: "It's one of those passionate little
Spanish serenades, Hedrick. I'll sing it for your boy-friends next
time they come to play in the yard. I think they'd like it. When
they know why you like it so much, I'm sure they will. Of course
you _do_ like it--you roguish little lover!" A spasm rewarded this
demoniacal phrase. "Darling little boy, the serenade goes on like

Oh, my Lolita, come to my heart:
Oh, come beloved, love let me press thee,
While I caress thee
In one long kiss, Lolita!
Lolita come! Let me----"

Hedrick sprang to his feet with a yell of agony. "Laura Madison,
you tattle-tale," he bellowed, "I'll never forgive you as long as
I live! I'll get even with you if it takes a thousand years!"

With that, and pausing merely to kick a rung out of a chair which
happened to be in his way, he rushed from the room.

His sisters had risen to go, and Cora flung her arms round Laura
in ecstacy. "You mean old viper!" she cried. "You could have told
me days ago! It's almost too good to be true: it's the first time
in my whole life I've felt safe from the Pest for a moment!"

Laura shook her head. "My conscience troubles me; it did seem as
if I ought to tell you--and mamma thought so, too; and I gave him
warning, but now that I have done it, it seems rather mean

"No!" exclaimed Cora. "You just gave me a chance to protect myself
for once, thank heaven!" And she picked up her skirts and danced
her way into the front hall.

"I'm afraid," said Laura, following, "I shouldn't have done it."

"Oh, Laura," cried the younger girl, "I am having the best time,
these days! This just caps it." She lowered her voice, but her
eyes grew even brighter. "I think I've shown a certain gentleman a
few things he didn't understand!"

"Who, dear?"

"Val," returned Cora lightly; "Valentine Corliss. I think he knows
a little more about women than he did when he first came here."

"You've had a difference with him?" asked Laura with eager
hopefulness. "You've broken with him?"

"Oh, Lord, no! Nothing like that." Cora leaned to her
confidentially. "He told me, once, he'd be at the feet of any
woman that could help put through an affair like his oil scheme,
and I decided I'd just show him what I could do. He'd talk about
it to me; then he'd laugh at me. That very Sunday when I got papa
to go in----"

"But he didn't," said Laura helplessly. "He only said he'd try
to----when he gets well."

"It's all the same--and it'll be a great thing for him, too," said
Cora, gayly. "Well, that very afternoon before Val left, he
practically told me I was no good. Of course he didn't use just
those words--that isn't his way--but he laughed at me. And haven't
I shown him! I sent Richard a note that very night saying papa had
consented to be secretary of the company, and Richard had said
he'd go in if papa did that, and he couldn't break his word----"

"I know," said Laura, sighing. "I know."

"Laura"--Cora spoke with sudden gravity--"did you ever know
anybody like me? I'm almost getting superstitious about it,
because it seems to me I _always_ get just what I set out to get.
I believe I could have anything in the world if I tried for it."

"I hope so, if you tried for something good for you," said Laura
sadly. "Cora, dear, you will--you will be a little easy on
Hedrick, won't you?"

Cora leaned against the newel and laughed till she was exhausted.


Mr. Trumble's offices were heralded by a neat blazon upon the
principal door, "Wade J. Trumble, Mortgages and Loans"; and the
gentleman thus comfortably, proclaimed, emerging from that door
upon a September noontide, burlesqued a start of surprise at sight
of a figure unlocking an opposite door which exhibited the name,
"Ray Vilas," and below it, the cryptic phrase, "Probate Law."

"Water!" murmured Mr. Trumble, affecting to faint. "You ain't
going in _there_, are you, Ray?" He followed the other into the
office, and stood leaning against a bookcase, with his hands in
his pockets, while Vilas raised the two windows, which were
obscured by a film of smoke-deposit: there was a thin coat of fine
sifted dust over everything. "Better not sit down, Ray," continued
Trumble, warningly. "You'll spoil your clothes and you might get a
client. That word `Probate' on the door ain't going to keep 'em
out forever. You recognize the old place, I s'pose? You must have
been here at least twice since you moved in. What's the matter?
Dick Lindley hasn't missionaried you into any idea of _working_,
has he? Oh, no, _I_ see: the Richfield Hotel bar has
closed--you've managed to drink it all at last!"

"Have you heard how old man Madison is to-day?" asked Ray, dusting
his fingers with a handkerchief.

"Somebody told me yesterday he was about the same. He's not going
to get well."

"How do you know?" Ray spoke quickly.

"Stroke too severe. People never recover----"

"Oh, yes, they do, too."

Trumble began hotly: "I beg to dif----" but checked himself,
manifesting a slight confusion. "That is, I know they don't. Old
Madison may live a while, if you call that getting well; but he'll
never be the same man he was. Doctor Sloane says it was a bad
stroke. Says it was `induced by heat prostration and excitement.'
`Excitement!'" he repeated with a sour laugh. "Yep, I expect a man
could get all the excitement he wanted in _that_ house, especially
if he was her daddy. Poor old man, I don't believe he's got five
thousand dollars in the world, and look how she dresses!"

Ray opened a compartment beneath one of the bookcases, and found a
bottle and some glasses. "Aha," he muttered, "our janitor doesn't
drink, I perceive. Join me?" Mr. Trumble accepted, and Ray
explained, cheerfully: "Richard Lindley's got me so cowed I'm
afraid to go near any of my old joints. You see, he trails me; the
scoundrel has kept me sober for whole days at a time, and I've
been mortified, having old friends see me in that condition; so I
have to sneak up here to my own office to drink to Cora, now and
then. You mustn't tell him. What's she been doing to _you_,

The little man addressed grew red with the sharp, resentful
memory. "Oh, nothing! Just struck me in the face with her parasol
on the public street, that's all!" He gave an account of his walk
to church with Cora. "I'm through with that girl!" he exclaimed
vindictively, in conclusion. "It was the damnedest thing you ever
saw in your life: right in broad daylight, in front of the church.
And she laughed when she did it; you'd have thought she was
knocking a puppy out of her way. She can't do that to me twice, I
tell you. What the devil do you see to laugh at?"

"You'll be around," returned his companion, refilling the glasses,
"asking for more, the first chance she gives you. Here's her

"I don't drink it!" cried Mr. Trumble angrily.

"And I'm through with her for good, I tell you! I'm not your kind:
I don't let a girl like that upset me till I can't think of
anything else, and go making such an ass of myself that the whole
town gabbles about it. Cora Madison's seen the last of me, I'll
thank you to notice. She's never been half-decent to me; cut
dances with me all last winter; kept me hanging round the
outskirts of every crowd she was in; stuck me with Laura and her
mother every time she had a chance; then has the nerve to try to
use me, so's she can make a bigger hit with a new man! You can bet
your head I'm through! She'll get paid though! Oh, she'll get paid
for it!"

"How?" laughed Ray.

It was a difficult question. "You wait and see," responded the
threatener, feebly. "Just wait and see. She's wild about this
Corliss, I tell you," he continued, with renewed vehemence. "She's
crazy about him; she's lost her head at last----"

"You mean he's going to avenge you?"

"No, I don't, though he might, if she decided to marry him."

"Do you know," said Ray slowly, glancing over his glass at his
nervous companion, "it doesn't strike me that Mr. Valentine
Corliss has much the air of a marrying man."

"He has the air to _me_," observed Mr. Trumble, "of a darned bad
lot! But I have to hand it to him: he's a wizard. He's got
something besides his good looks--a man that could get Cora
Madison interested in `business'! In _oil_! Cora Madison! How do
you suppose----"

His companion began to laugh again. "You don't really suppose he
talked his oil business to her, do you, Trumble?"

"He must have. Else how could she----"

"Oh, no, Cora herself never talks upon any subject but one; she
never listens to any other either."

"Then how in thunder did he----"

"If Cora asks you if you think it will rain," interrupted Vilas,
"doesn't she really seem to be asking: `Do you love me? How much?'
Suppose Mr. Corliss is an expert in the same line. Of course he
can talk about oil!"

"He strikes me," said Trumble, "as just about the slickest
customer that ever hit this town. I like Richard Lindley, and I
hope he'll see his fifty thousand dollars again. _I_ wouldn't have
given Corliss thirty cents."

"Why do you think he's a crook?"

"I don't say that," returned Trumble. "All _I_ know about him is
that he's done some of the finest work to get fifty thousand
dollars put in his hands that I ever heard of. And all anybody
knows about him is that he lived here seventeen years ago, and
comes back claiming to know where there's oil in Italy. He shows
some maps and papers and gets cablegrams signed `Moliterno.' Then
he talks about selling the old Corliss house here, where the
Madisons live, and putting the money into his oil company: he does
that to sound plausible, but I have good reason to know that house
was mortgaged to its full value within a month after his aunt left
it to him. He'll not get a cent if it's sold. That's all. And he's
got Cora Madison so crazy over him that she makes life a hell for
poor old Lindley until he puts all he's saved into the bubble. The
scheme may be all right. How do _I_ know? There's no way to tell,
without going over there, and Corliss won't let anybody do
that--oh, he's got a plausible excuse for it! But I'm sorry for
Lindley: he's so crazy about Cora, he's soft. And she's so crazy
about Corliss _she's_ soft! Well, I used to be crazy about her
myself, but I'm not soft--I'm not the Lindley kind of loon, thank

"What kind are you, Trumble?" asked Ray, mildly.

"Not your kind either," retorted the other going to the door. "She
cut me on the street the other day; she's quit speaking to me. If
you've got any money, why don't you take it over to the hotel and
give it to Corliss? She might start speaking to _you_ again. I'm
going to lunch!" He slammed the door behind him.

Ray Vilas, left alone, elevated his heels to the sill, and stared
out of the window a long time at a gravelled roof which presented
little of interest. He replenished his glass and his imagination
frequently, the latter being so stirred that when, about three
o'clock, he noticed the inroads he had made upon the bottle, tears
of self-pity came to his eyes. "Poor little drunkard!" he said
aloud. "Go ahead and do it. Isn't anything _you_ won't do!" And,
having washed his face at a basin in a corner, he set his hat
slightly upon one side, picked up a walking stick and departed
jauntily, and, to the outward eye, presentably sober.

Mr. Valentine Corliss would be glad to see him, the clerk at the
Richfield Hotel reported, after sending up a card, and upon Ray's
following the card, Mr. Valentine Corliss in person confirmed the
message with considerable amusement and a cordiality in which
there was some mixture of the quizzical. He was the taller; and
the robust manliness of his appearance, his splendid health and
boxer's figure offered a sharp contrast to the superlatively lean
tippler. Corliss was humorously aware of his advantage: his
greeting seemed really to say, "Hello, my funny bug, here you are
again!" though the words of his salutation were entirely
courteous; and he followed it with a hospitable offer.

"No," said Vilas; "I won't drink with you." He spoke so gently
that the form of his refusal, usually interpreted as truculent,
escaped the other's notice. He also declined a cigar,
apologetically asking permission to light one of his own
cigarettes; then, as he sank into a velour-covered chair,
apologized again for the particular attention he was bestowing
upon the apartment, which he recognized as one of the suites de
luxe of the hotel.

"`Parlour, bedroom, and bath,'" he continued, with a melancholy
smile; "and `Lachrymae,' and `A Reading from Homer.' Sometimes
they have `The Music Lesson,' or `Winter Scene' or `A Neapolitan
Fisher Lad' instead of `Lachrymae,' but they always have `A
Reading from Homer.' When you opened the door, a moment ago, I had
a very strong impression that something extraordinary would some
time happen to me in this room."

"Well," suggested Corliss, "you refused a drink in it."

"Even more wonderful than that," said Ray, glancing about the
place curiously. "It may be a sense of something painful that
already has happened here--perhaps long ago, before your
occupancy. It has a pathos."

"Most hotel rooms have had something happen in them," said Corliss
lightly. "I believe the managers usually change the door numbers
if what happens is especially unpleasant. Probably they change
some of the rugs, also."

"I feel----" Ray paused, frowning. "I feel as if some one had
killed himself here."

"Then no doubt some of the rugs _have_ been changed."

"No doubt." The caller laughed and waved his hand in dismissal of
the topic. "Well, Mr. Corliss," he went on, shifting to a brisker
tone, "I have come to make my fortune, too. You are Midas. Am I of
sufficient importance to be touched?"

Valentine Corliss gave him sidelong an almost imperceptibly brief
glance of sharpest scrutiny--it was like the wink of a camera
shutter--but laughed in the same instant. "Which way do you mean

"You have been quick," returned the visitor, repaying that glance
with equal swiftness, "to seize upon the American idiom. I mean:
How small a contribution would you be willing to receive toward
your support!"

Corliss did not glance again at Ray; instead, he looked interested
in the smoke of his cigar. "`Contribution,'" he repeated, with no
inflection whatever. "`Toward my support.'"

"I mean, of course, how small an investment in your oil company."

"Oh, anything, anything," returned the promoter, with quick
amiability. "We need to sell all the stock we can."

"All the money you can get?"

"Precisely. It's really a colossal proposition, Mr. Vilas."
Corliss spoke with brisk enthusiasm. "It's a perfectly certain
enormous profit upon everything that goes in. Prince Moliterno
cables me later investigations show that the oil-field is more
than twice as large as we thought when I left Naples. He's on the
ground now, buying up what he can, secretly."

"I had an impression from Richard Lindley that the secret had been

"Oh, yes; but only by a few, and those are trying to keep it quiet
from the others, of course."

"I see. Does your partner know of your success in raising a large

"You mean Lindley's? Certainly." Corliss waved his hand in light
deprecation. "Of course that's something, but Moliterno would
hardly be apt to think of it as very large! You see he's putting
in about five times that much, himself, and I've already turned
over to him double it for myself. Still, it counts--certainly; and
of course it will be a great thing for Lindley."

"I fear," Ray said hesitatingly, "you won't be much interested in
my drop for your bucket. I have twelve hundred dollars in the
world; and it is in the bank--I stopped there on my way here. To
be exact, I have twelve hundred and forty-seven dollars and
fifty-one cents. My dear sir, will you allow me to purchase one
thousand dollars' worth of stock? I will keep the two hundred and
forty-seven dollars and fifty-one cents to live on--I may need an
egg while waiting for you to make me rich. Will you accept so
small an investment?"

"Certainly," said Corliss, laughing. "Why not? You may as well
profit by the chance as any one. I'll send you the stock
certificates--we put them at par. I'm attending to that myself, as
our secretary, Mr. Madison, is unable to take up his duties."

Vilas took a cheque-book and a fountain-pen from his pocket.

"Oh, any time, any time," said Corliss cheerfully, observing the
new investor's movement.

"Now, I think," returned Vilas quietly. "How shall I make it out?"

"Oh, to me, I suppose," answered Corliss indifferently. "That will
save a little trouble, and I can turn it over to Moliterno, by
cable, as I did Lindley's. I'll give you a receipt----"

"You need not mind that," said Ray. "Really it is of no

"Of course the cheque itself is a receipt," remarked Corliss,
tossing it carelessly upon a desk. "You'll have some handsome
returns for that slip of paper, Mr. Vilas."

"In that blithe hope I came," said Ray airily.

"I am confident of it. I have my own ways of divination, Mr.
Corliss. I have gleams." He rose as if to go, but stood looking
thoughtfully about the apartment again. "Singular impression," he
murmured. "Not exactly as if I'd seen it in a dream; and yet--and

"You have symptoms of clairvoyance at times, I take it." The
conscious, smooth superiority of the dexterous man playing with an
inconsequent opponent resounded in this speech, clear as the
humming of a struck bell; and Vilas shot him a single open glance
of fire from hectic eyes. For that instant, the frailer buck
trumpeted challenge. Corliss--broad-shouldered, supple of waist,
graceful and strong--smiled down negligently; yet the very air
between the two men seemed charged with an invisible explosive.
Ray laughed quickly, as in undisturbed good nature; then,
flourishing his stick, turned toward the door.

"Oh, no, it isn't clairvoyance--no more than when I told you that
your only real interest is women." He paused, his hand upon the
door-knob. "I'm a quaint mixture, however: perhaps I should be
handled with care."

"Very good of you," laughed Corliss--"this warning. The afternoon
I had the pleasure of meeting you I think I remember your implying
that you were a mere marionette."

"A haggard harlequin!" snapped Vilas, waving his hand to a mirror
across the room. "Don't I look it?" And the phrase fitted him with
tragic accuracy. "You see? What a merry wedding-guest I'll be! I
invite you to join me on the nuptial eve."

"Thanks. Who's getting married: when the nuptial eve?"

Ray opened the door, and, turning, rolled his eyes fantastically.
"Haven't you heard?" he cried. "When Hecate marries John
Barleycorn!" He bowed low. "Mr. Midas, adieu."

Corliss stood in the doorway and watched him walk down the long
hall to the elevator. There, Ray turned and waved his hand, the
other responding with gayety which was not assumed: Vilas might be
insane, or drunk, or both, but the signature upon his cheque was

Corliss closed the door and began to pace his apartment
thoughtfully. His expression manifested a peculiar phenomenon. In
company, or upon the street, or when he talked with men, the open
look and frank eyes of this stalwart young man were disarming and
his most winning assets. But now, as he paced alone in his
apartment, now that he was not upon exhibition, now when there was
no eye to behold him, and there was no reason to dissimulate or
veil a single thought or feeling, his look was anything but open;
the last trace of frankness disappeared; the muscles at mouth and
eyes shifted; lines and planes intermingled and altered subtly;
there was a moment of misty transformation--and the face of
another man emerged. It was the face of a man uninstructed in
mercy; it was a shrewd and planning face: alert, resourceful,
elaborately perceptive, and flawlessly hard. But, beyond all, it
was the face of a man perpetually on guard.

He had the air of debating a question, his hands in his pockets,
his handsome forehead lined with a temporary indecision. His
sentry-go extended the length of his two rooms, and each time he
came back into his bedroom his glance fell consideringly upon a
steamer-trunk of the largest size, at the foot of his bed. The
trunk was partially packed as if for departure. And, indeed, it
was the question of departure which he was debating.

He was a man of varied dexterities, and he had one faculty of high
value, which had often saved him, had never betrayed him; it was
intuitive and equal to a sixth sense: he always knew when it was
time to go. An inner voice warned him; he trusted to it and obeyed
it. And it had spoken now, and there was his trunk half-packed in
answer. But he had stopped midway in his packing, because he had
never yet failed to make a clean sweep where there was the
slightest chance for one; he hated to leave a big job before it
was completely finished--and Mr. Wade Trumble had refused to
invest in the oil-fields of Basilicata.

Corliss paused beside the trunk, stood a moment immersed in
thought; then nodded once, decisively, and, turning to a
dressing-table, began to place some silver-mounted brushes and
bottles in a leather travelling-case.

There was a knock at the outer door. He frowned, set down what he
had in his hands, went to the door and opened it to find Mr.
Pryor, that plain citizen, awaiting entrance.

Corliss remained motionless in an arrested attitude, his hand upon
the knob of the opened door. His position did not alter; he became
almost unnaturally still, a rigidity which seemed to increase.
Then he looked quickly behind him, over his shoulder, and back
again, with a swift movement of the head.

"No," said Pryor, at that. "I don't want you. I just thought I'd
have two minutes' talk with you. All right?"

"All right," said Corliss quietly. "Come in." He turned
carelessly, and walked away from the door keeping between his
guest and the desk. When he reached the desk, he turned again and
leaned against it, his back to it, but in the action of turning
his hand had swept a sheet of note-paper over Ray Vilas's
cheque--a too conspicuous oblong of pale blue. Pryor had come in
and closed the door.

"I don't know," he began, regarding the other through his glasses,
with steady eyes, "that I'm going to interfere with you at all,
Corliss. I just happened to strike you--I wasn't looking for you.
I'm on vacation, visiting my married daughter that lives here, and
I don't want to mix in if I can help it."

Corliss laughed, easily. "There's nothing for you to mix in. You
couldn't if you wanted to."

"Well, I hope that's true," said Pryor, with an air of indulgence,
curiously like that of a teacher for a pupil who promises
improvement. "I do indeed. There isn't anybody I'd like to see
turn straight more than you. You're educated and cultured, and
refined, and smarter than all hell. It would be a big thing.
That's one reason I'm taking the trouble to talk to you."

"I told you I wasn't doing anything," said Corliss with a
petulance as oddly like that of a pupil as the other's indulgence
was like that of a tutor. "This is my own town; I own property
here, and I came here to sell it. I can prove it in
half-a-minute's telephoning. Where do you come in?"

"Easy, easy," said Pryor, soothingly. "I've just told you I don't
want to come in at all."

"Then what do you want?"

"I came to tell you just one thing: to go easy up there at Mr.
Madison's house."

Corliss laughed contemptuously. "It's _my_ house. I own it. That's
the property I came here to sell."

"Oh, I know," responded Pryor. "That part of it's all right. But
I've seen you several times with that young lady, and you looked
pretty thick, to me. You know you haven't got any business doing
such things, Corliss. I know your record from Buda Pesth to
Copenhagen and----"

"See here, my friend," said the younger man, angrily, "you may be
a tiptop spotter for the government when it comes to running down
some poor old lady that's bought a string of pearls in the Rue de
la Paix----"

"I've been in the service twenty-eight years," remarked Pryor,

"All right," said the other with a gesture of impatience; "and you
got me once, all right. Well, that's over, isn't it? Have I tried
anything since?"

"Not in that line," said Pryor.

"Well, what business have you with any other line?" demanded
Corliss angrily. "Who made you general supervisor of public
morals? I want to know----"

"Now, what's the use your getting excited? I'm just here to tell
you that I'm going to keep an eye on you. I don't know many people
here, and I haven't taken any particular pains to look you up. For
all I know, you're only here to sell your house, as you say. But I
know old man Madison a little, and I kind of took a fancy to him;
he's a mighty nice old man, and he's got a nice family. He's sick
and it won't do to trouble him; but--honest, Corliss--if you don't
slack off in that neighbourhood a little, I'll have to have a talk
with the young lady herself."

A derisory light showed faintly in the younger man's eyes as he
inquired, softly: "That all, Mr. Pryor?"

"No. Don't try anything on out here. Not in _any_ of your lines."

"I don't mean to."

"That's right. Sell your house and clear out. You'll find it
healthy." He went to the door. "So far as I can see," he observed,
ruminatively, "you haven't brought any of that Moliterno crowd you
used to work with over to this side with you."

"I haven't seen Moliterno for two years," said Corliss, sharply.

"Well, I've said my say." Pryor gave him a last word as he went
out. "You keep away from that little girl."

"Ass!" exclaimed Corliss, as the door closed. He exhaled a deep
breath sharply, and broke into a laugh. Then he went quickly into
his bedroom and began to throw the things out of his trunk.


Hedrick Madison's eyes were not of marble; his heart was not flint
nor his skin steel plate: he was flesh and tender; he was a
vulnerable, breathing boy, with highly developed capacities for
pain which were now being taxed to their utmost. Once he had loved
to run, to leap, to disport himself in the sun, to drink deep of
the free air; he had loved life and one or two of his fellowmen.
He had borne himself buoyantly, with jaunty self-confidence, even
with some intolerance toward the weaknesses of others, not
infrequently displaying merriment over their mischances; but his
time had found him at last; the evil day had come. Indian Summer
was Indian for him, indeed: sweet death were welcome; no charity
was left in him. He leaped no more, but walked broodingly and
sought the dark places. And yet it could not be said that times
were dull for him: the luckless picket who finds himself in an
open eighty-acre field, under the eye of a sharpshooter up a tree,
would not be apt to describe the experience as dull. And Cora
never missed a shot; she loved the work; her pleasure in it was
almost as agonizing for the target as was the accuracy of her

She was ingenious: the horrible facts at her disposal were
damaging enough in all conscience: but they did not content her.
She invented a love-story, assuming that Hedrick was living it: he
was supposed to be pining for Lolita, to be fading, day-by-day,
because of enforced separation; and she contrived this to such an
effect of reality, and with such a diabolical affectation of
delicacy in referring to it, that the mere remark, with gentle
sympathy, "I think poor Hedrick is looking a little better
to-day," infallibly produced something closely resembling a spasm.
She formed the habit of never mentioning her brother in his
presence except as "poor Hedrick," a too obvious commiseration of
his pretended attachment--which met with like success. Most
dreadful of all, she invented romantic phrases and expressions
assumed to have been spoken or written by Hedrick in reference to
his unhappiness; and she repeated them so persistently, yet always
with such apparent sincerity of belief that they were quotations
from him, and not her inventions, that the driven youth knew a
fear, sometimes, that the horrid things were actually of his own

The most withering of these was, "Torn from her I love by the
ruthless hand of a parent. . . ." It was not completed; Cora never
got any further with it, nor was there need: a howl of fury
invariably assured her of an effect as satisfactory as could
possibly have been obtained by an effort less impressionistic.
Life became a series of easy victories for Cora, and she made them
somehow the more deadly for Hedrick by not seeming to look at him
in his affliction, nor even to be aiming his way: he never could
tell when the next shot was coming. At the table, the ladies of
his family might be deep in dress, or discussing Mr. Madison's
slowly improving condition, when Cora, with utter irrelevance,
would sigh, and, looking sadly into her coffee, murmur, "Ah,
_fond_ mem'ries!" or, "_Why_ am I haunted by the dead past?" or,
the dreadful, "Torn from her I love by the ruthless hand of a
parent. . . ."

There was compassion in Laura's eyes and in his mother's, but Cora
was irresistible, and they always ended by laughing in spite of
themselves; and though they pleaded for Hedrick in private, their
remonstrances proved strikingly ineffective. Hedrick was the only
person who had ever used the high hand with Cora: she found
repayment too congenial. In the daytime he could not go in the
front yard, but Cora's window would open and a tenderly smiling
Cora lean out to call affectionately, "Don't walk on the
grass--darling little boy!" Or, she would nod happily to him and
begin to sing:

"Oh come beloved, love let me press thee,
While I caress thee
In one long kiss, Lolita. . . . "

One terror still hung over him. If it fell--as it might at any
fatal moment--then the utmost were indeed done upon him; and this
apprehension bathed his soul in night. In his own circle of
congenial age and sex he was, by virtue of superior bitterness and
precocity of speech, a chief--a moral castigator, a satirist of
manners, a creator of stinging nicknames; and many nourished
unhealed grievances which they had little hope of satisfying
against him; those who attempted it invariably departing with more
to avenge than they had brought with them. Let these once know
what Cora knew. . . . The vision was unthinkable!

It was Cora's patent desire to release the hideous item, to spread
the scandal broadcast among his fellows--to ring it from the
school-bells, to send it winging on the hot winds of Hades! The
boys had always liked his yard and the empty stable to play in,
and the devices he now employed to divert their activities
elsewhere were worthy of a great strategist. His energy and an
abnormal ingenuity accomplished incredible things: school had been
in session several weeks and only one boy had come within
conversational distance of Cora;--him Hedrick bore away bodily, in
simulation of resistless high spirits, a brilliant exhibition of

And then Cora's friend, Mrs. Villard, removed her son Egerton from
the private school he had hitherto attended, and he made his
appearance in Hedrick's class, one morning at the public school.
Hedrick's eye lighted with a savage gleam; timidly the first joy
he had known for a thousand years crept into his grim heart. After
school, Egerton expiated a part of Cora's cruelty. It was a very
small part, and the exploit no more than infinitesimally soothing
to the conqueror, but when Egerton finally got home he was no
sight for a mother.

Thus Hedrick wrought his own doom: Mrs. Villard telephoned to
Cora, and Cora went immediately to see her.

It happened to Hedrick that he was late leaving home the next
morning. His entrance into his classroom was an undeniable
sensation, and within ten minutes the teacher had lost all control
of the school. It became necessary to send for the principal.
Recess was a frantic nightmare for Hedrick, and his homeward
progress at noon a procession of such uproarious screamers as were
his equals in speed. The nethermost depths were reached when an
ignoble pigtailed person he had always trodden upon flat-footed
screamed across the fence from next door, as he reached fancied
sanctuary in his own backyard:

"Kiss me some _more_, darling little boy!"

This worm, established upon the fence opposite the conservatory
windows, and in direct view from the table in the dining-room,
shrieked the accursed request at short intervals throughout the
luncheon hour. The humour of childhood is sometimes almost

And now began a life for Hedrick which may be rather painfully but
truthfully likened to a prolongation of the experiences of a rat
that finds itself in the middle of a crowded street in daylight:
there is plenty of excitement but no pleasure. He was pursued,
harried, hounded from early morning till nightfall, and even in
his bed would hear shrill shouts go down the sidewalk from the
throats of juvenile fly-by-nights: "Oh dar-ling lit-oh darling
lit-oh _lit_-le boy, _lit_-le boy, kiss me some _more_!" And one
day he overheard a remark which strengthened his growing
conviction that the cataclysm had affected the whole United
States: it was a teacher who spoke, explaining to another a
disturbance in the hall of the school. She said, behind her hand:

"_He kissed an idiot_."

Laura had not even remotely foreseen the consequences of her
revelation, nor, indeed, did she now properly estimate their
effect upon Hedrick. She and her mother were both sorry for him,
and did what they could to alleviate his misfortunes, but there
was an inevitable remnant of amusement in their sympathy. Youth,
at war, affects stoicism but not resignation: in truth,
resignation was not much in Hedrick's line, and it would be far
from the fact to say that he was softened by his sufferings. He
brooded profoundly and his brightest thought was revenge. It was
not upon Cora that his chief bitterness turned. Cora had always
been the constant, open enemy: warfare between them was a regular
condition of life; and unconsciously, and without "thinking it
out," he recognized the naturalness of her seizing upon the
deadliest weapon against him that came to her hand. There was
nothing unexpected in that: no, the treachery, to his mind, lay in
the act of Laura, that non-combatant, who had furnished the
natural and habitual enemy with this scourge. At all times, and
with or without cause, he ever stood ready to do anything possible
for the reduction of Cora's cockiness, but now it was for the
taking-down of Laura and the repayment of her uncalled-for and
overwhelming assistance to the opposite camp that he lay awake
nights and kept his imagination hot. Laura was a serene person, so
neutral--outwardly, at least--and so little concerned for herself
in any matter he could bring to mind, that for purposes of revenge
she was a difficult proposition. And then, in a desperate hour, he
remembered her book.

Only once had he glimpsed it, but she had shown unmistakable
agitation of a mysterious sort as she wrote in it, and, upon
observing his presence, a prompt determination to prevent his
reading a word of what she had written. Therefore, it was
something peculiarly sacred and intimate. This deduction was
proved by the care she exercised in keeping the book concealed
from all eyes. A slow satisfaction began to permeate him: he made
up his mind to find that padlocked ledger.

He determined with devoted ardour that when he found it he would
make the worst possible use of it: the worst, that is, for Laura.
As for consequences to himself, he was beyond them. There is an
Irish play in which an old woman finds that she no longer fears
the sea when it has drowned the last of her sons; it can do
nothing more to her. Hedrick no longer feared anything.

The book was somewhere in Laura's room, he knew that; and there
were enough opportunities to search, though Laura had a way of
coming in unexpectedly which was embarrassing; and he suffered
from a sense of inadequacy when--on the occasion of his first new
attempt--he answered the casual inquiry as to his presence by
saying that he "had a headache." He felt there was something
indirect in the reply; but Laura was unsuspicious and showed no
disposition to be analytical. After this, he took the precaution
to bring a school-book with him and she often found the boy seated
quietly by her west window immersed in study: he said he thought
his headaches came from his eyes and that the west light "sort of
eased them a little."

The ledger remained undiscovered, although probably there has
never been a room more thoroughly and painstakingly searched,
without its floor being taken up and its walls torn down. The most
mysterious, and, at the same time, the most maddening thing about
it was the apparent simplicity of the task. He was certain that
the room contained the book: listening, barefooted, outside the
door at night, he had heard the pen scratching. The room was as
plain as a room can be, and small. There was a scantily filled
clothes-press; he had explored every cubic inch of it. There was
the small writing table with one drawer; it held only some
note-paper and a box of pen-points. There was a bureau; to his
certain knowledge it contained no secret whatever. There were a
few giltless chairs, and a white "wash-stand," a mere basin and
slab with exposed plumbing. Lastly, there was the bed, a very
large and ugly "Eastlake" contrivance; he had acquired a close
acquaintance with all of it except the interior of the huge
mattress itself, and here, he finally concluded, must of necessity
be the solution. The surface of the mattress he knew to be
unbroken; nevertheless the book was there. He had recently
stimulated his deductive powers with a narrative of French
journalistic sagacity in a similar case; and he applied French
reasoning. The ledger existed. It was somewhere in the room. He
had searched everything except the interior of the mattress. The
ledger was in that interior.

The exploration thus become necessary presented some difficulties.
Detection in the act would involve explanations hard to invent; it
would not do to say he was looking for his knife; and he could not
think of any excuse altogether free from a flavour of insincerity.
A lameness beset them all and made them liable to suspicion; and
Laura, once suspicious, might be petty enough to destroy the book,
and so put it out of his power forever. He must await the right
opportunity, and, after a racking exercise of patience, at last he
saw it coming.

Doctor Sloane had permitted his patient to come down stairs for an
increasing interval each day. Mr. Madison crept, rather than
walked, leaning upon his wife and closely attended by Miss Peirce.
He spoke with difficulty and not clearly; still, there was a
perceptible improvement, and his family were falling into the
habit of speaking of him as almost well. On that account, Mrs.
Madison urged her daughters to accept an invitation from the
mother of the once courtly Egerton Villard. It was at breakfast
that the matter was discussed.

"Of course Cora must go," Laura began, "but----"

"But nothing!" interrupted Cora. "How would it look if I went and
you didn't? Everybody knows papa's almost well, and they'd think
it silly for us to give up the first real dance since last spring
on that account; yet they're just spiteful enough, if I went and
you stayed home, to call me a `girl of no heart.' Besides," she
added sweetly, "we ought to go to show Mrs. Villard we aren't hurt
because Egerton takes so little notice of poor Hedrick."

Hedrick's lips moved silently, as in prayer.

"I'd rather not," said Laura. "I doubt if I'd have a very good

"You would, too," returned her sister, decidedly. "The men like to
dance with you; you dance every bit as well as I do, and that
black lace is the most becoming dress you ever had. Nobody ever
remembers a black dress, anyway, unless it's cut very
conspicuously, and yours isn't. I can't go without you; they love
to say nasty things about me, and you're too good a sister to give
'em this chance, you old dear." She laughed and nodded
affectionately across the table at Laura. "You've got to go!"

"Yes, it would be nicer," said the mother. And so it was settled.
It was simultaneously settled in Hedrick's mind that the night of
the dance should mark his discovery of the ledger. He would have
some industrious hours alone with the mysterious mattress, safe
from intrusion.

Meekly he lifted his eyes from his plate. "I'm glad you're going,
sister Laura," he said in a gentle voice. "I think a change will
do you good."

"Isn't it wonderful," exclaimed Cora, appealing to the others to
observe him, "what an improvement a disappointment in love can
make in deportment?"

For once, Hedrick only smiled.


Laura had spent some thoughtful hours upon her black lace dress
with results that astonished her family: it became a
ball-gown--and a splendidly effective one. She arranged her dark
hair in a more elaborate fashion than ever before, in a close
coronal of faintly lustrous braids; she had no jewellery and
obviously needed none. Her last action but one before she left her
room was to dispose of the slender chain and key she always wore
round her neck; then her final glance at the mirror--which fairly
revealed a lovely woman--ended in a deprecatory little "face" she
made at herself. It meant: "Yes, old lady, you fancy yourself very
passable in here all by yourself, don't you? Just wait: you'll be
standing beside Cora in a moment!"

And when she did stand beside Cora, in the latter's room, a moment
later, her thought seemed warranted. Cora, radiant-eyed, in high
bloom, and exquisite from head to foot in a shimmering white
dancing-dress, a glittering crescent fastening the silver fillet
that bound her vivid hair, was a flame of enchantment. Mrs.
Madison, almost weeping with delight, led her daughters proudly,
an arm round the waist of each, into her husband's room. Propped
with pillows, he reclined in an armchair while Miss Peirce
prepared his bed, an occupation she gave over upon this dazzling
entrance, departing tactfully.

"Look at these," cried the mother; "--from our garden, Jim, dear!
Don't we feel rich, you and I?"

"And--and--Laura," said the sick man, with the slow and imperfect
enunication caused by his disease; "Laura looks pretty--too."

"Isn't she adorable!" Cora exclaimed warmly. "She decided to be
the portrait of a young duchess, you see, all stately
splendour--made of snow and midnight!"

"Hear! hear!" laughed Laura; but she blushed with pleasure, and
taking Cora's hand in hers lifted it to her lips.

"And do you see Cora's crescent?" demanded Mrs. Madison. "What do
you think of _that_ for magnificence? She went down town this
morning with seven dollars, and came back with that and her party
gloves and a dollar in change! Isn't she a bargainer? Even for
rhinestones they are the cheapest things you ever heard of. They
look precisely like stones of the very finest water." They did--so
precisely, indeed, that if the resemblance did not amount to
actual identity, then had a jeweller of the town been able to
deceive the eye of Valentine Corliss, which was an eye singularly
learned in such matters.

"They're--both smart girls," said Madison, "both of them. And they
look--beautiful, to-night--both. Laura is--amazing!"

When they had gone, Mrs. Madison returned from the stairway, and,
kneeling beside her husband, put her arms round him gently: she
had seen the tear that was marking its irregular pathway down his
flaccid, gray cheek, and she understood.

"Don't. Don't worry, Jim," she whispered. "Those bright, beautiful
things!--aren't they treasures?"

"It's--it's Laura," he said. "Cora will be all right. She looks
out for--herself. I'm--I'm afraid for--Laura. Aren't you?"

"No, no," she protested. "I'm not afraid for either of them." But
she was: the mother had always been afraid for Cora.

. . . . At the dance, the two girls, attended up the stairway to
the ballroom by a chattering covey of black-coats, made a
sensational entrance to a gallant fanfare of music, an effect
which may have been timed to the premonitory tuning of instruments
heard during the ascent; at all events, it was a great success;
and Cora, standing revealed under the wide gilt archway, might
have been a lithe and shining figure from the year
eighteen-hundred-and-one, about to dance at the Luxembourg. She
placed her hand upon the sleeve of Richard Lindley, and, glancing
intelligently over his shoulder into the eyes of Valentine
Corliss, glided rhythmically away.

People looked at her; they always did. Not only the non-dancers
watched her; eyes everywhere were upon her, even though the owners
gyrated, glided and dipped on distant orbits. The other girls
watched her, as a rule, with a profound, an almost passionate
curiosity; and they were prompt to speak well of her to men,
except in trustworthy intimacy, because they did not enjoy being
wrongfully thought jealous. Many of them kept somewhat aloof from
her; but none of them ever nowadays showed "superiority" in her
presence, or snubbed her: that had been tried and proved
disastrous in rebound. Cora never failed to pay her score--and
with a terrifying interest added, her native tendency being to
take two eyes for an eye and the whole jaw for a tooth. They let
her alone, though they asked and asked among themselves the
never-monotonous question: "Why do men fall in love with girls
like that?" a riddle which, solved, makes wives condescending to
their husbands.

Most of the people at this dance had known one another as friends,
or antagonists, or indifferent acquaintances, for years, and in
such an assembly there are always two worlds, that of the women
and that of the men. Each has its own vision, radically different
from that of the other; but the greatest difference is that the
men are unaware of the other world, only a few of them--usually
queer ones like Ray Vilas--vaguely perceiving that there are two
visions, while all the women understand both perfectly. The men
splash about on the surface; the women keep their eyes open under
water. Or, the life of the assembly is like a bright tapestry: the
men take it as a picture and are not troubled to know how it is
produced; but women are weavers. There was a Beauty of far-flung
renown at Mrs. Villard's to-night: Mary Kane, a creature so made
and coloured that young men at sight of her became as water and
older men were apt to wonder regretfully why all women could not
have been made like Mary. She was a kindly soul, and never
intentionally outshone her sisters; but the perfect sumptuousness
of her had sometimes tried the amiability of Cora Madison, to whom
such success without effort and without spark seemed unfair, as
well as bovine. Miss Kane was a central figure at the dance,
shining tranquilly in a new triumph: that day her engagement had
been announced to Mr. George Wattling, a young man of no special
attainments, but desirable in his possessions and suitable to his
happiness. The pair radiated the pardonable, gay importance of
newly engaged people, and Cora, who had never before bestowed any
notice upon Mr. Wattling, now examined him with thoughtful

Finding him at her elbow in a group about a punch bowl, between
dances, she offered warm felicitations. "But I don't suppose you
care whether _I_ care for you to be happy or not," she added, with
a little plaintive laugh;--"you've always hated me so!"

Mr. Wattling was startled: never before had he imagined that Cora
Madison had given him a thought; but there was not only thought,
there was feeling, in this speech. She seemed to be concealing
with bravery an even deeper feeling than the one inadvertently
expressed. "Why, what on earth makes you think that?" he

"Think it? I _know_ it!" She gave him a strange look, luminous yet
mysterious, a curtain withdrawn only to show a shining mist with
something undefined but dazzling beyond. "I've always known it!"
And she turned away from him abruptly.

He sprang after her. "But you're wrong. I've never----"

"Oh, yes, you have." They began to discuss it, and for better
consideration of the theme it became necessary for Cora to "cut"
the next dance, promised to another, and to give it to Mr.
Wattling. They danced several times together, and Mr. Wattling's
expression was serious. The weavers of the tapestry smiled and
whispered things the men would not have understood--nor believed.

Ray Vilas, seated alone in a recessed and softly lighted gallery,
did not once lose sight of the flitting sorceress. With his elbows
on the railing, he leaned out, his head swaying slowly and
mechanically as she swept up and down the tumultuously moving
room, his passionate eyes gaunt and brilliant with his hunger. And
something very like a general thrill passed over the assembly
when, a little later, it was seen that he was dancing with her.
Laura, catching a glimpse of this couple, started and looked
profoundly disturbed.

The extravagance of Vilas's passion and the depths he sounded, in
his absurd despair when discarded, had been matters of almost
public gossip; he was accounted a somewhat scandalous and
unbalanced but picturesque figure; and for the lady whose light
hand had wrought such havoc upon him to be seen dancing with him
was sufficiently startling to elicit the universal
remark--evidently considered superlative--that it was "just like
Cora Madison!" Cora usually perceived, with an admirably clear
head, all that went on about her; and she was conscious of
increasing the sensation, when after a few turns round the room,
she allowed her partner to conduct her to a secluding grove of
palms in the gallery. She sank into the chair he offered, and,
fixing her eyes upon a small lamp of coloured glass which hung
overhead, ostentatiously looked bored.

"At your feet, Cora," he said, seating himself upon a stool, and
leaning toward her. "Isn't it appropriate that we should talk to
music--we two? It shouldn't be that quick step though--not
dance-music--should it?"

"Don't know 'm sure," murmured Cora.

"You were kind to dance with me," he said huskily. "I dared to
speak to you----"

She did not change her attitude nor the direction of her glance.
"I couldn't cut you very well with the whole town looking on. I'm
tired of being talked about. Besides, I don't care much who I
dance with--so he doesn't step on me."

"Cora," he said, "it is the prelude to `L'Arlesienne' that they
should play for you and me. Yes, I think it should be that."

"Never heard of it."

"It's just a rustic tragedy, the story of a boy in the south of
France who lets love become his whole life, and then--it kills

"Sounds very stupid," she commented languidly.

"People do sometimes die of love, even nowadays," he said,
tremulously--"in the South."

She let her eyes drift indifferently to him and perceived that he
was trembling from head to foot; that his hands and knees shook
piteously; that his lips quivered and twitched; and, at sight of
this agitation, an expression of strong distaste came to her face.

"I see." Her eyes returned to the lamp. "You're from the South,
and of course it's going to kill you."

"You didn't speak the exact words you had in your mind.'"

"Oh, what words did I have `in my mind'?" she asked impatiently.

"What you really meant was: `If it does kill you, what of it?'"

She laughed, and sighed as for release.

"Cora," he said huskily, "I understand you a little because you
possess me. I've never--literally never--had another thought since
the first time I saw you: nothing but you. I think of
you--actually every moment. Drunk or sober, asleep or--awake, it's
nothing but you, you, _you_! It will never be different: I don't
know why I can't get over it--I only know I can't. You own me; you
burn like a hot coal in my heart. You're through with me, I know.
You drained me dry. You're like a child who eats so heartily of
what he likes that he never touches it again. And I'm a dish
you're sick of. Oh, it's all plain enough, I can tell you. I'm not
exciting any more--no, just a nauseous slave!"

"Do you want people to hear you?" she inquired angrily, for his
voice had risen.

He tempered his tone. "Cora, when you liked me you went a pretty
clipping gait with me," he said, trembling even more than before.
"But you're infinitely more infatuated with this Toreador of a
Corliss than you were with me; you're lost in him; you're slaving
for him as I would for you. How far are you going with----"

"Do you want me to walk away and leave you?" she asked, suddenly
sitting up straight and looking at him with dilating eyes. "If you
want a `scene'----"

"It's over," he said, more calmly. "I know now how dangerous the
man is. Of course you will tell him I said that." He laughed
quietly. "Well--between a dangerous chap and a desperate one, we
may look for some lively times! Do you know, I believe I think
about as continuously of him, lately, as I do of you. That's why I
put almost my last cent into his oil company, and got what may be
almost my last dance with you!"

"I wouldn't call it `almost' your last dance with me!" she
returned icily. "Not after what you've said. I had a foolish idea
you could behave--well, at least decently."

"Did Corliss tell you that I insulted him in his rooms at the

"You!" She laughed, genuinely. "I see him letting you!"

"He did, however. By manner and in speech I purposely and
deliberately insulted him. You'll tell him every word of this, of
course, and he'll laugh at it, but I give myself the pleasure of
telling you. I put the proposition of an `investment' to him in a
way nobody not a crook would have allowed to be smoothed over--and
he allowed it to be smoothed over. He ate it! I felt he was a
swindler when he was showing Richard Lindley his maps and papers,
and now I've proved it to myself, and it's worth the price."
Often, when they had danced, and often during this interview, his
eyes lifted curiously to the white flaming crescent in her hair;
now they fixed themselves upon it, and in a flash of divination he
cried: "You wear it for me!"

She did not understand. "Finished raving?" she inquired.

"I gave Corliss a thousand dollars," he said, slowly. "Considering
the fact that it was my last, I flatter myself it was not
unhandsomely done--though I may never need it. It has struck me
that the sum was about what a man who had just cleaned up fifty
thousand might regard as a sort of `extra'--`for lagniappe'--and
that he might have thought it an appropriate amount to invest in a
present some jewels perhaps--to place in the hair of a pretty

She sprang to her feet, furious, but he stood in front of her and
was able to bar the way for a moment.

"Cora, I'll have a last word with you if I have to hold you," he
said with great rapidity and in a voice which shook with the
intense repression he was putting upon himself. "We do one thing
in the South, where I came from. We protect our women----"

"This looks like it! Keeping me when----"

"I love you," he said, his face whiter than she had ever seen it.
"I love you! I'm your dog! You take care of yourself if you want
to take care of anybody else! As sure as----"

"My dance, Miss Madison." A young gentleman on vacation from the
navy had approached, and, with perfect unconsciousness of what he
was interrupting, but with well-founded certainty that he was
welcome to the lady, urged his claim in a confident voice. "I
thought it would never come, you know; but it's here at last and
so am I." He laughed propitiatingly.

Ray yielded now at once. She moved him aside with her gloved
forearm as if he were merely an awkward stranger who unwittingly
stood between her and the claiming partner. Carrying the gesture
farther, she took the latter's arm, and smilingly, and without a
backward glance, passed onward and left the gallery. The
lieutenant, who had met her once or twice before, was her partner
for the succeeding dance as well, and, having noted the advantages
of the place where he had discovered her, persuaded her to return
there to sit through the second. Then without any fatiguing
preamble, he proposed marriage. Cora did not accept, but effected
a compromise, which, for the present, was to consist of an
exchange of photographs (his to be in uniform) and letters.

She was having an evening to her heart. Ray's attack on Corliss
had no dimming effect; her thought of it being that she was "used
to his raving"; it meant nothing; and since Ray had prophesied she
would tell Corliss about it, she decided not to do so.

The naval young gentleman and Valentine Corliss were the greatest
of all the lions among ladies that night; she had easily annexed
the lieutenant, and Corliss was hers already; though, for a
purpose, she had not yet been seen in company with him. He was
visibly "making an impression." His name, as he had said to
Richard Lindley, was held in honour in the town; and there was a
flavour of fancied romance in his absence since boyhood in unknown
parts, and his return now with a `foreign air' and a bow that
almost took the breath of some of the younger recipients. He was,
too, in his way, the handsomest man in the room; and the smiling,
open frankness of his look, the ready cordiality of his manner,
were found very winning. He caused plenty of flutter.

Cora waited till the evening was half over before she gave him any
visible attention. Then, during a silence of the music, between
two dances, she made him a negligent sign with her hand, the
gesture of one indifferently beckoning a creature who is certain
to come, and went on talking casually to the man who was with her.
Corliss was the length of the room from her, chatting gayly with a
large group of girls and women; but he immediately nodded to her,
made his bow to individuals of the group, and crossed the vacant,
glistening floor to her. Cora gave him no greeting whatever; she
dismissed her former partner and carelessly turned away with
Corliss to some chairs in a corner.

"Do you see that?" asked Vilas, leaning over the balcony railing
with Richard Lindley. "Look! She's showing the other girls--don't
you see? He's the New Man; she let 'em hope she wasn't going in
for him; a lot of them probably didn't even know that she knew
him. She sent him out on parade till they're all excited about
him; now she shows 'em he's entirely her property--and does it so
matter-of-factly that it's rubbed in twice as hard as if she
seemed to take some pains about it. He doesn't dance: she'll sit
out with him now, till they all read the tag she's put on him. She
says she hates being talked about. She lives on it!--so long as
it's envious. And did you see her with that chap from the navy?
Neptune thinks he's dallying with Venus perhaps, but he'll

Lindley looked at him commiseratingly. "I think I never saw
prettier decorations. Have you noticed, Ray? Must have used a
thousand chrysanthemums."

"Toreador!" whispered the other between his teeth, looking at
Corliss; then, turning to his companion, he asked: "Has it
occurred to you to get any information about Basilicata, or about
the ancestral domain of the Moliterni, from our consul-general at

Richard hesitated. "Well--yes. Yes, I did think of that. Yes, I
thought of it."

"But you didn't do it."

"No. That is, I haven't yet. You see, Corliss explained to me

His friend interrupted him with a sour laugh. "Oh, certainly! He's
one of the greatest explainers ever welcomed to our city!"

Richard said mildly: "And then, Ray, once I've gone into a thing
I--I don't like to seem suspicious."

"Poor old Dick!" returned Vilas compassionately. "You kind, easy,
sincere men are so conscientiously untruthful with yourselves. You
know in your heart that Cora would be furious with you if you
seemed suspicious, and she's been so nice to you since you put in
your savings to please her, that you can't bear to risk offending
her. She's twisted you around her little finger, and the unnamed
fear that haunts you is that you won't be allowed to stay
there--even twisted!"

"Pretty decorations, Ray," said Richard; but he grew very red.

"Do you know what you'll do," asked Ray, regarding him keenly, "if
this Don Giovanni from Sunny It' is shown up as a plain
get-rich-quick swindler?"

"I haven't considered----"

"You would do precisely," said Ray, "nothing! Cora'd see to that.
You'd sigh and go to work again, beginning at the beginning where
you were years ago, and doing it all over. Admirable resignation,
but not for me! I'm a stockholder in his company and in shape to
`take steps'! I don't know if I'd be patient enough to make them
legal--perhaps I should. He may be safe on the legal side. I'll
know more about that when I find out if there is a Prince
Moliterno in Naples who owns land in Basilicata."

"You don't doubt it?"

"I doubt everything! In this particular matter I'll have less to
doubt when I get an answer from the consul-general. _I_'ve
written, you see."

Lindley looked disturbed. "You have?"

Vilas read him at a glance. "You're afraid to find out!" he cried.
Then he set his hand on the other's shoulder. "If there ever was a
God's fool, it's you, Dick Lindley. Really, I wonder the world
hasn't kicked you around more than it has; you'd never kick back!
You're as easy as an old shoe. Cora makes you unhappy," he went
on, and with the very mention of her name, his voice shook with
passion,--"but on my soul I don't believe you know what jealousy
means: you don't even understand hate; you don't eat your

"Let's go and eat something better," suggested Richard, laughing.
"There's a continuous supper downstairs and I hear it's very

Ray smiled, rescued for a second from himself. "There isn't
anything better than your heart, you old window-pane, and I'm glad
you don't eat it. And if I ever mix it up with Don Giovanni T.
Corliss--`T' stands for Toreador--I do believe it'll be partly on
your----" He paused, leaving the sentence unfinished, as his
attention was caught by the abysmal attitude of a figure in
another part of the gallery: Mr. Wade Trumble, alone in a corner,
sitting upon the small of his small back, munching at an unlighted
cigar and otherwise manifesting a biting gloom. Ray drew Lindley's
attention to this tableau of pain. "Here's a three of us!" he
said. He turned to look down into the rhythmic kaleidoscope of
dancers. "And there goes the girl we all _ought_ to be morbid

"Who is that?"

"Laura Madison. Why aren't we? What a self-respecting creature she
is, with that cool, sweet steadiness of hers--she's like a
mountain lake. She's lovely and she plays like an angel, but so
far as anybody's ever thinking about her is concerned she might
almost as well not exist. Yet she's really beautiful to-night, if
you can manage to think of her except as a sort of retinue for

"She _is_ rather beautiful to-night. Laura's always a very
nice-looking girl," said Richard, and with the advent of an idea,
he added: "I think one reason she isn't more conspicuous and
thought about is that she is so quiet," and, upon his companion's
greeting this inspiration with a burst of laughter, "Yes, that was

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