Part 4 out of 5
a brilliant deduction," he said; "but I do think she's about the
quietest person I ever knew. I've noticed there are times when
she'll scarcely speak at all for half an hour, or even more."
"You're not precisely noisy yourself," said Ray. "Have you danced
with her this evening?"
"Why, no," returned the other, in a tone which showed this
omission to be a discovery; "not yet. I must, of course."
"Yes, she's really `rather' beautiful. Also, she dances `rather'
better than any other girl in town. Go and perform your painful
"Perhaps I'd better," said Richard thoughtfully, not perceiving
the satire. "At any rate, I'll ask her for the next."
He found it unengaged. There came to Laura's face an April change
as he approached, and she saw he meant to ask her to dance. And,
as they swam out into the maelstrom, he noticed it, and remarked
that it _was_ rather warm, to which she replied by a cheerful nod.
Presently there came into Richard's mind the thought that he was
really an excellent dancer; but he did not recall that he had
always formed the same pleasing estimate of himself when he danced
with Laura, nor realize that other young men enjoyed similar
self-help when dancing with her. And yet he repeated to her what
Ray had said of her dancing, and when she laughed as in
appreciation of a thing intended humorously, he laughed, too, but
insisted that she did dance "very well indeed." She laughed again
at that, and they danced on, not talking. He had no sense of
"guiding" her; there was no feeling of effort whatever; she seemed
to move spontaneously with his wish, not to his touch; indeed, he
was not sensible of touching her at all.
"Why, Laura," he exclaimed suddenly, "you dance _beautifully_!"
She stumbled and almost fell; saved herself by clutching at his
arm; he caught her; and the pair stopped where they were, in the
middle of the floor. A flash of dazed incredulity from her dark
eyes swept him; there was something in it of the child dodging an
"Did I trip you?" he asked anxiously.
"No," she laughed, quickly, and her cheeks grew even redder. "I
tripped myself. Wasn't that too bad--just when you were thinking
that I danced well! Let's sit down. May we?"
They went to some chairs against a wall. There, as they sat, Cora
swung by them, dancing again with her lieutenant, and looking up
trancedly into the gallant eyes of the triumphant and intoxicated
young man. Visibly, she was a woman with a suitor's embracing arm
about her. Richard's eyes followed them.
"Ah, don't!" said Laura in a low voice.
He turned to her. "Don't what?"
"I didn't mean to speak out loud," she said tremulously. "But I
meant: don't look so troubled. It doesn't mean anything at
all--her coquetting with that bird of passage. He's going away in
"I don't think I was troubling about that."
"Well, whatever it was"--she paused, and laughed with a plaintive
timidity--"why, just don't trouble about it!"
"Do I look very much troubled?" he asked seriously.
"Yes. And you don't look very gay when you're not!" She laughed
with more assurance now. "I think you're always the wistfulest
looking man I ever saw."
"Everybody laughs at me, I believe," he said, with continued
seriousness. "Even Ray Vilas thinks I'm an utter fool. Am I, do
He turned as he spoke and glanced inquiringly into her eyes. What
he saw surprised and dismayed him.
"For heaven's sake, don't cry!" he whispered hurriedly.
She bent her head, turning her face from him.
"I've been very hopeful lately," he said. "Cora has been so kind
to me since I did what she wanted me to, that I----" He gave a
deep sigh. "But if you're _that_ sorry for me, my chances with her
must be pretty desperate."
She did not alter her attitude, but with her down-bent face still
away from him, said huskily: "It isn't you I'm sorry for. You
mustn't ever give up; you must keep on trying and trying. If you
give up, I don't know what will become of her!"
A moment later she rose suddenly to her feet. "Let's finish our
dance," she said, giving him her hand. "I'm sure I won't stumble
The two girls let themselves into the house noiselessly, and,
turning out the hall-light, left for them by their mother, crept
upstairs on tiptoe; and went through the upper hall directly to
Laura's room--Cora's being nearer the sick-room. At their age it
is proper that a gayety be used three times: in anticipation, and
actually, and in after-rehearsal. The last was of course now in
order: they went to Laura's room to "talk it over." There was no
gas-fixture in this small chamber; but they found Laura's oil-lamp
burning brightly upon her writing-table.
"How queer!" said Laura with some surprise, as she closed the
door. "Mother never leaves the lamp lit for me; she's always so
afraid of lamps exploding."
"Perhaps Miss Peirce came in here to read, and forgot to turn it
out," suggested Cora, seating herself on the edge of the bed and
letting her silk wrap fall from her shoulders. "Oh, Laura, wasn't
he gorgeous. . . ."
She referred to the gallant defender of our seas, it appeared, and
while Laura undressed and got into a wrapper, Cora recounted in
detail the history of the impetuous sailor's enthrallment;--a
resume predicted three hours earlier by a gleeful whisper hissed
across the maritime shoulder as the sisters swung near each other
during a waltz: "_proposed_!"
"I've always heard they're horribly inconstant," she said,
regretfully. "But, oh, Laura, wasn't he beautiful to look at! Do
you think he's more beautiful than Val? No--don't tell me if you
do. I don't want to hear it! Val was so provoking: he didn't seem
to mind it at all. He's nothing but a big brute sometimes: he
wouldn't even admit that he minded, when I asked him. I was idiot
enough to ask; I couldn't help it; he was so tantalizing and
exasperating--laughing at me. I never knew anybody like him; he's
so sure of himself and he can be so cold. Sometimes I wonder if he
really cares about anything, deep down in his heart--anything
except himself. He seems so selfish: there are times when he
almost makes me hate him; but just when I get to thinking I do, I
find I don't--he's so deliciously strong, and there's such a _big_
luxury in being understood: I always feel he _knows_ me clear to
the bone, somehow! But, oh," she sighed regretfully, "doesn't a
uniform become a man? They ought to all wear 'em. It would look
silly on such a little goat as that Wade Trumble, though: nothing
could make him look like a whole man. Did you see him glaring at
me? Beast! I was going to be so nice and kittenish and do all my
prettiest tricks for him, to help Val with his oil company. Val
thinks Wade would come in yet, if I'D only get him in the mood to
have another talk with Val about it; but the spiteful little rat
wouldn't come near me. I believe that was one of the reasons Val
laughed at me and pretended not to mind my getting proposed to. He
_must_ have minded; he couldn't have helped minding it, really.
That's his way; he's so _mean_--he won't show things. He knows
_me_. I can't keep anything from him; he reads _me_ like a
signboard; and then about himself he keeps me guessing, and I
can't tell when I've guessed right. Ray Vilas behaved
disgustingly, of course; he was horrid and awful. I might have
expected it. I suppose Richard was wailing _his_ tiresome sorrows
on your poor shoulder----"
"No," said Laura. "He was very cheerful. He seemed glad you were
having a good time."
"He didn't look particularly cheerful at me. I never saw so slow a
man: I wonder when he's going to find out about that pendant. Val
would have seen it the instant I put it on. And, oh, Laura! isn't
George Wattling funny? He's just _soft_! He's good-looking
though," she continued pensively, adding, "I promised to motor out
to the Country Club with him to-morrow for tea."
"Oh, Cora," protested Laura, "no! Please don't!"
"I've promised; so I'll have to, now." Cora laughed. "It'll do
Mary Kane good. Oh, I'm not going to bother much with _him_--he
makes me tired. I never saw anything so complacent as that girl
when she came in to-night, as if her little Georgie was the
greatest capture the world had ever seen. . . ."
She chattered on. Laura, passive, listened with a thoughtful
expression, somewhat preoccupied. The talker yawned at last.
"It must be after three," she said, listlessly, having gone over
her evening so often that the colours were beginning to fade. She
yawned again. "Laura," she remarked absently, "I don't see how you
can sleep in this bed; it sags so."
"I've never noticed it," said her sister. "It's a very comfortable
Cora went to her to be unfastened, reverting to the lieutenant
during the operation, and kissing the tire-woman warmly at its
conclusion. "You're always so sweet to me, Laura," she said
affectionately. "I don't know how you manage it. You're so
good"--she laughed--"sometimes I wonder how you stand me. If I
were you, I'm positive I couldn't stand me at all!" Another kiss
and a hearty embrace, and she picked up her wrap and skurried
silently through the hall to her own room.
It was very late, but Laura wrote for almost an hour in her book
(which was undisturbed) before she felt drowsy. Then she
extinguished the lamp, put the book away and got into bed.
It was almost as if she had attempted to lie upon the empty air:
the mattress sagged under her weight as if it had been a hammock;
and something tore with a ripping sound. There was a crash, and a
choked yell from a muffled voice somewhere, as the bed gave way.
For an instant, Laura fought wildly in an entanglement of what she
insufficiently perceived to be springs, slats and bedclothes with
something alive squirming underneath. She cleared herself and
sprang free, screaming, but even in her fright she remembered her
father and clapped her hand over her mouth that she might keep
from screaming again. She dove at the door, opened it, and fled
through the hall to Cora's room, still holding her hand over her
"Cora! Oh, Cora!" she panted, and flung herself upon her sister's
Cora was up instantly; and had lit the gas in a trice. "There's a
burglar!" Laura contrived to gasp. "In my room! Under the bed!"
"I fell on him! Something's the matter with the bed. It broke. I
fell on him!"
Cora stared at her wide-eyed. "Why, it can't be. Think how long I
was in there. Your bed broke, and you just thought there was some
one there. You imagined it."
"No, no, no!" wailed Laura. "I _heard_ him: he gave a kind of
"Are you sure?"
"_Sure_? He wriggled--oh! I could _feel_ him!"
Cora seized a box of matches again. "I'm going to find out." "Oh,
no, no!" protested Laura, cowering.
"Yes, I am. If there's a burglar in the house I'm going to find
"We mustn't wake papa."
"No, nor mamma either. You stay here if you want to----"
"Let's call Hedrick," suggested the pallid Laura; "or put our
heads out of the window and scream for----"
Cora laughed; she was not in the least frightened. "That wouldn't
wake papa, of course! If we had a telephone I'd send for the
police; but we haven't. I'm going to see if there's any one there.
A burglar's a man, I guess, and I can't imagine myself being
afraid of any _man_!"
Laura clung to her, but Cora shook her off and went through the
hall undaunted, Laura faltering behind her. Cora lighted matches
with a perfectly steady hand; she hesitated on the threshold of
Laura's room no more than a moment, then lit the lamp.
Laura stifled a shriek at sight of the bed. "Look, look!" she
"There's no one under it now, that's certain," said Cora, and
boldly lifted a corner of it. "Why, it's been cut all to pieces
from underneath! You're right; there was some one here. It's
practically dismembered. Don't you remember my telling you how it
sagged? And I was only sitting on the edge of it! The slats have
all been moved out of place, and as for the mattress, it's just a
mess of springs and that stuffing stuff. He must have thought the
silver was hidden there."
"Oh, oh, oh!" moaned Laura. "He _wriggled_----ugh!"
Cora picked up the lamp. "Well, we've got to go over the
"Hush! I'll go alone then."
"I will, though!"
The two girls had changed places in this emergency. In her fright
Laura was dependent, clinging: actual contact with the intruder
had unnerved her. It took all her will to accompany her sister
upon the tour of inspection, and throughout she cowered behind the
dauntless Cora. It was the first time in their lives that their
positions had been reversed. From the days of Cora's babyhood,
Laura had formed the habit of petting and shielding the little
sister, but now that the possibility became imminent of
confronting an unknown and dangerous man, Laura was so shaken
that, overcome by fear, she let Cora go first. Cora had not
boasted in vain of her bravery; in truth, she was not afraid of
They found the fastenings of the doors secure and likewise those
of all the windows, until they came to the kitchen. There, the
cook had left a window up, which plausibly explained the
marauder's mode of ingress. Then, at Cora's insistence, and to
Laura's shivering horror, they searched both cellar and garret,
and concluded that he had escaped by the same means. Except
Laura's bed, nothing in the house had been disturbed; but this
eccentricity on the part of a burglar, though it indeed struck the
two girls as peculiar, was not so pointedly mysterious to them as
it might have been had they possessed a somewhat greater
familiarity with the habits of criminals whose crimes are
They finally retired, Laura sleeping with her sister, and Cora had
begun to talk of the lieutenant again, instead of the burglar,
before Laura fell asleep.
In spite of the short hours for sleep, both girls appeared at the
breakfast-table before the meal was over, and were naturally
pleased with the staccato of excitement evoked by their news. Mrs.
Madison and Miss Peirce were warm in admiration of their bravery,
but in the same breath condemned it as foolhardy.
"I never knew such wonderful girls!" exclaimed the mother, almost
tearfully. "You crazy little lions! To think of your not even
waking Hedrick! And you didn't have even a poker and were in your
bare feet--and went down in the _cellar_----"
"It was all Cora," protested Laura. "I'm a hopeless, disgusting
coward. I never knew what a coward I was before. Cora carried the
lamp and went ahead like a drum-major. I just trailed along behind
her, ready to shriek and run--or faint!"
"Could you tell anything about him when you fell on him?" inquired
Miss Peirce. "What was his voice like when he shouted?"
"Choked. It was a horrible, jolted kind of cry. It hardly sounded
"Could you tell anything about whether he was a large man, or
"Only that he seemed very active. He seemed to be kicking. He
They evolved a plausible theory of the burglar's motives and line
of reasoning. "You see," said Miss Peirce, much stirred, in
summing up the adventure, "he either jimmies the window, or finds
it open already, and Sarah's mistaken and she _did_ leave it open!
Then he searched the downstairs first, and didn't find anything.
Then he came upstairs, and was afraid to come into any of the
rooms where we were. He could tell which rooms had people in them
by hearing us breathing through the keyholes. He finds two rooms
empty, and probably he made a thorough search of Miss Cora's
first. But he isn't after silver toilet articles and pretty little
things like that. He wants really big booty or none, so he decides
that an out-of-the-way, unimportant room like Miss Laura's is
where the family would be most apt to hide valuables, jewellery
and silver, and he knows that mattresses have often been selected
as hiding-places; so he gets under the bed and goes to work. Then
Miss Cora and Miss Laura come in so quietly--not wanting to wake
anybody--that he doesn't hear them, and he gets caught there.
That's the way it must have been."
"But why," Mrs. Madison inquired of this authority, "why do you
suppose he lit the lamp?"
"To see by," answered the ready Miss Peirce. It was accepted as
Further discussion was temporarily interrupted by the discovery
that Hedrick had fallen asleep in his chair.
"Don't bother him, Cora," said his mother. "He's finished
eating--let him sleep a few minutes, if he wants to, before he
goes to school. He's not at all well. He played too hard,
yesterday afternoon, and hurt his knee, he said. He came down
limping this morning and looking very badly. He oughtn't to run
and climb about the stable so much after school. See how utterly
exhausted he looks!--Not even this excitement can keep him awake."
"I think we must be careful not to let Mr. Madison suspect
anything about the burglar," said Miss Peirce. "It would be bad
Laura began: "But we ought to notify the police----"
"Police!" Hedrick woke so abruptly, and uttered the word with such
passionate and vehement protest, that everybody started. "I
suppose you want to _kill_ your father, Laura Madison!"
"Do you suppose he wouldn't know something had happened with a
squad of big, heavy policemen tromping all over the house? The
first thing they'd do would be to search the whole place----"
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Madison quickly. "It wouldn't do at all."
"I should think not! I'm glad," continued Hedrick, truthfully,
"_that_ idea's out of your head! I believe Laura imagined the
whole thing anyway."
"Have you looked at her mattress," inquired Cora, "darling little
He gave her a concentrated look, and rose to leave. "Nothin' on
earth but imagina----" He stopped with a grunt as he forgetfully
put his weight on his left leg. He rubbed his knee, swallowed
painfully, and, leaving the word unfinished, limped haughtily from
He left the house, gloomily swinging his books from a spare length
of strap, and walking with care to ease his strains and bruises as
much as possible. He was very low in his mind, that boy. His
fortunes had reached the ebb-tide, but he had no hope of a rise.
He had no hope of anything. It was not even a consolation that,
through his talent for surprise in waylayings, it had lately been
thought necessary, by the Villard family, to have Egerton
accompanied to and from school by a man-servant. Nor was Hedrick
more deeply depressed by the certainty that both public and
domestic scandal must soon arise from the inevitable revelation of
his discontinuing his attendance at school without mentioning this
important change of career at home. He had been truant a full
fortnight, under brighter circumstances a matter for a lawless
pride--now he had neither fear nor vainglory. There was no room in
him for anything but dejection.
He walked two blocks in the direction of his school; turned a
corner; walked half a block; turned north in the alley which ran
parallel to Corliss Street, and a few moments later had cautiously
climbed into an old, disused refuse box which stood against the
rear wall of the empty stable at his own home. He pried up some
loose boards at the bottom of the box, and entered a tunnel which
had often and often served in happier days--when he had
friends--for the escape of Union officers from Libby Prison and
Andersonville. Emerging, wholly soiled, into a box-stall, he
crossed the musty carriage house and ascended some rickety steps
to a long vacant coachman's-room, next to the hayloft. He closed
the door, bolted it, and sank moodily upon a broken, old horsehair
This apartment was his studio. In addition to the sofa, it
contained an ex-bureau, three chair-like shapes, a once
marble-topped table, now covered with a sheet of zinc, two empty
bird cages, and a condemned whatnot. The walls were rather
over-decorated in coloured chalks, the man-headed-snake motive
predominating; they were also loopholed for firing into the
hayloft. Upon the table lay a battered spy-glass, minus lenses,
and, nearby, two boxes, one containing dried corn-silk, the other
hayseed, convenient for the making of amateur cigarettes; the
smoker's outfit being completed by a neat pile of rectangular
clippings from newspapers. On the shelves of the whatnot were some
fragments of a dead pie, the relics of a "Fifteen-Puzzle," a pink
Easter-egg, four seashells, a tambourine with part of a girl's
face still visible in aged colours, about two thirds of a
hot-water bag, a tintype of Hedrick, and a number of books:
several by Henty, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," "100
Practical Jokes, Easy to Perform," "The Jungle Book," "My Lady
Rotha," a "Family Atlas," "Three Weeks," "Pilgrim's Progress," "A
Boy's Life in Camp," and "The Mystery of the Count's Bedroom."
The gloomy eye of Hedrick wandered to "The Mystery of the Count's
Bedroom," and remained fixed upon it moodily and contemptuously.
His own mystery made that one seem tame and easy: Laura's bedroom
laid it all over the Count's, in his conviction; and with a soul
too weary of pain to shudder, he reviewed the bafflements and
final catastrophe of the preceding night.
He had not essayed the attempt upon the mattress until assured
that the house was wrapped in slumber. Then, with hope in his
heart, he had stolen to Laura's room, lit the lamp, feeling safe
from intrusion, and set to work. His implement at first was a long
hatpin of Cora's. Lying on his back beneath the bed, and, moving
the slats as it became necessary, he sounded every cubic inch of
the mysterious mattress without encountering any obstruction which
could reasonably be supposed to be the ledger. This was not more
puzzling than it was infuriating, since by all processes of
induction, deduction, and pure logic, the thing was necessarily
there. It was nowhere else. Therefore it was there. It _had_ to be
there! With the great blade of his Boy Scout's knife he began to
disembowel the mattress.
For a time he had worked furiously and effectively, but the
position was awkward, the search laborious, and he was obliged to
rest frequently. Besides, he had waited to a later hour than he
knew, for his mother to go to bed, and during one of his rests he
incautiously permitted his eyes to close. When he woke, his
sisters were in the room, and he thought it advisable to remain
where he was, though he little realized how he had weakened his
shelter. When Cora left the room, he heard Laura open the window,
sigh, and presently a tiny clinking and a click set him a-tingle
from head to foot: she was opening the padlocked book. The
scratching sound of a pen followed. And yet she had not come near
the bed. The mattress, then, was a living lie.
With infinite caution he had moved so that he could see her,
arriving at a coign of vantage just as she closed the book. She
locked it, wrapped it in an oilskin cover which lay beside it on
the table, hung the key-chain round her neck, rose, yawned, and,
to his violent chagrin, put out the light. He heard her moving but
could not tell where, except that it was not in his part of the
room. Then a faint shuffling warned him that she was approaching
the bed, and he withdrew his head to avoid being stepped upon. The
next moment the world seemed to cave in upon him.
Laura's flight had given him opportunity to escape to his own room
unobserved; there to examine, bathe and bind his wounds, and to
rectify his first hasty impression that he had been fatally
Hedrick glared at "The Mystery of the Count's Bedroom."
By and by he got up, brought the book to the sofa and began to
read it over.
The influence of a familiar and sequestered place is not only
soothing; the bruised mind may often find it restorative. Thus
Hedrick, in his studio, surrounded by his own loved bric-a-brac,
began to feel once more the stir of impulse. Two hours' reading
inspired him. What a French reporter (in the Count's bedroom)
could do, an American youth in full possession of his
powers--except for a strained knee and other injuries--could do.
Yes, and would!
He evolved a new chain of reasoning. The ledger had been seen in
Laura's room; it had been heard in her room; it appeared to be
kept in her room. But it was in no single part of the room. All
the parts make a whole. Therefore, the book was not in the room.
On the other hand, Laura had not left the room when she took the
book from its hiding-place. This was confusing; therefore he
determined to concentrate logic solely upon what she had done with
the ledger when she finished writing in it. It was dangerous to
assume that she had restored it to the place whence she obtained
it, because he had already proved that place to be both in the
room and out of the room. No; the question he must keep in was:
What did she do with it?
Laura had not left the room. But the book had left the room.
Arrived at this inevitable deduction, he sprang to his feet in a
state of repressed excitement and began to pace the floor--like a
hound on the trail. Laura had not left the room, but the book had
left the room: he must keep his mind upon this point. He uttered a
loud exclamation and struck the zinc table-top a smart blow with
his clenched fist.
Laura had thrown the book out of the window!
In the exaltation of this triumph, he forgot that it was not yet
the hour for a scholar's reappearance, and went forth in haste to
search the ground beneath the window--a disappointing quest, for
nowhere in the yard was there anything but withered grass, and the
rubbish of other frost-bitten vegetation. His mother, however,
discovered something else, and, opening the kitchen window, she
asked, with surprise:
"Why, Hedrick, what on earth are you doing here?"
"Me?" inquired Hedrick.
"What are you doing here?"
"Here?" Evidently she puzzled him.
She became emphatic. "I want to know what you are doing."
"Just standing here," he explained in a meek, grieved way.
"But why aren't you at school?"
This recalled what he had forgotten, and he realized the
insecurity of his position. "Oh, yes," he said--"school. Did you
"Didn't you go to school?"
He began to speak rapidly. "Didn't I go to _school_? Well, where
else could I go? Just because I'm here now doesn't mean I didn't
_go_, does it? Because a person is in China right now wouldn't
have to mean he'd never been in South America, would it?"
"Then what's the matter?"
"Well, I was going along, and you know I didn't feel very well
and----" He paused, with the advent of a happier idea, then
continued briskly: "But that didn't stop me, because I thought I
ought to go if I dropped, so I went ahead, but the teacher was
sick and they couldn't get a substitute. She must have been pretty
sick, she looked so pale----"
"They dismissed the class?"
"And I don't have to go to-morrow either."
"I see," said his mother. "But if you feel ill, Hedrick, hadn't
you better come in and lie down?"
"I think it's kind of passing off. The fresh air seems to be doing
"Be careful of your sore knee, dear." She closed the window, and
he was left to continue his operations in safety.
Laura had thrown the ledger out of the window; that was proved
absolutely. Obviously, she had come down before daylight and
retrieved it. Or, she had not. Proceeding on the assumption that
she had not, he lifted his eyes and searched the air. Was it
possible that the book, though thrown from the window, had never
reached the ground? The branches of an old and stalwart maple, now
almost divested of leaves, extended in rough symmetry above him,
and one big limb, reaching out toward the house, came close to
Laura's windows. Triumph shown again from the shrewd countenance
of the sleuth: Laura must have slid the ledger along a wire into a
hollow branch. However, no wire was to be seen--and the shrewd
countenance of the sleuth fell. But perhaps she had constructed a
device of silk threads, invisible from below, which carried the
book into the tree. Action!
He climbed carefully but with many twinges, finally pausing in a
parlous situation not far from the mysterious window which Laura
had opened the night before. A comprehensive survey of the tree
revealed only the very patent fact that none of the branches was
of sufficient diameter to conceal the ledger. No silk threads came
from the window. He looked and looked and looked at that window;
then his eye fell a little, halted less than three feet below the
window-ledge, and the search was ended.
The kitchen window which his mother had opened was directly
beneath Laura's, and was a very long, narrow window, in the style
of the house, and there was a protecting stone ledge above it.
Upon this ledge lay the book, wrapped in its oil-skin covering and
secured from falling by a piece of broken iron hooping, stuck in
the mortar of the bricks. It could be seen from nowhere save an
upper window of the house next door, or from the tree itself, and
in either case only when the leaves had fallen.
Laura had felt very safe. No one had ever seen the book except
that night, early in August, when, for a better circulation of
air, she had left her door open as she wrote, and Hedrick had come
upon her. He had not spoken of it again; she perceived that he had
forgotten it; and she herself forgot that the memory of a boy is
never to be depended on; its forgettings are too seldom permanent
in the case of things that ought to stay forgotten.
To get the book one had only to lean from the window.
* * *
Hedrick seemed so ill during lunch that his mother spoke of asking
Doctor Sloane to look at him, if he did not improve before
evening. Hedrick said meekly that perhaps that would be best--if
he did not improve. After a futile attempt to eat, he courteously
excused himself from the table--a ceremony which made even Cora
fear that his case might be serious--and, going feebly to the
library, stretched himself upon the sofa. His mother put a rug
over him; Hedrick, thanking her touchingly, closed his eyes; and
she went away, leaving him to slumber.
After a time, Laura came into the room on an errand, walking
noiselessly, and, noticing that his eyes were open, apologized for
"Never mind," he returned, in the tone of an invalid. "I didn't
sleep sound. I think there's something the matter inside my head:
I have such terrible dreams. I guess maybe it's better for me to
keep awake. I'm kind of afraid to go to sleep. Would you mind
staying here with me a little while?"
"Certainly I'll stay," she said, and, observing that his cheeks
were flushed, and his eyes unusually bright, she laid a cool hand
on his forehead. "You haven't any fever, dear; that's good. You'll
be all right to-morrow. Would you like me to read to you?"
"I believe," he answered, plaintively, "reading might kind of
disturb my mind: my brain feels so sort of restless and queer. I'd
rather play some kind of game."
"No, not cards exactly. Something' I can do lying down. Oh, I
know! You remember the one where we drew pictures and the others
had to guess what they were? Well, I've invented a game like that.
You sit down at the desk over there and take some sheets of paper.
I'll tell you the rest."
She obeyed. "What next?"
"Now, I'll describe some people and where they live and not tell
who they are, and you see if you can guess their names and
"Yes, because I'm going to describe the way their houses look.
Write each name on a separate sheet of paper, and the number of
their house below it if you know it, and if you don't know it,
just the street. If it's a woman: put `Miss' or `Mrs.' before
their name and if it's a man write `Esquire' after it."
"Is all that necessary for the game?"
"It's the way I invented it and I think you might----"
"Oh, all right," she acquiesced, good-naturedly. "It shall be
according to your rules."
"Then afterward, you give me the sheets of paper with the names
and addresses written on 'em, and we--we----" He hesitated.
"Yes. What do we do then?"
"I'll tell you when we come to it." But when that stage of his
invention was reached, and Laura had placed the inscribed sheets
in his hand, his interest had waned, it appeared. Also, his
condition had improved.
"Let's quit. I thought this game would be more exciting," he said,
sitting up. "I guess," he added with too much modesty, "I'm not
very good at inventing games. I b'lieve I'll go out to the barn; I
think the fresh air----"
"Do you feel well enough to go out?" she asked. "You do seem to be
all right, though."
"Yes, I'm a lot better, I think." He limped to the door. "The
fresh air will be the best thing for me."
She did not notice that he carelessly retained her contributions
to the game, and he reached his studio with them in his hand.
Hedrick had entered the 'teens and he was a reader: things in his
head might have dismayed a Borgia.
No remotest glimpse entered that head of the enormity of what he
did. To put an end to his punishing of Cora, and, to render him
powerless against that habitual and natural enemy, Laura had
revealed a horrible incident in his career--it had become a public
scandal; he was the sport of fools; and it might be months before
the thing was lived down. Now he had the means, as he believed, to
even the score with both sisters at a stroke. To him it was
turning a tremendous and properly scathing joke upon them. He did
* * *
That evening, as Richard Lindley sat at dinner with his mother,
Joe Varden temporarily abandoned his attendance at the table to
answer the front doorbell. Upon his return, he remarked:
"Messenger-boy mus' been in big hurry. Wouldn' wait till I git to
"What was it?" asked Richard.
"Boy with package. Least, I reckon it were a boy. Call' back from
the front walk, say he couldn' wait. Say he lef' package in
"What sort of a package?"
"Middle-size kind o' big package."
"Why don't you see what it is, Richard?" Mrs. Lindley asked of her
son. "Bring it to the table, Joe."
When it was brought, Richard looked at the superscription with
surprise. The wrapper was of heavy brown paper, and upon it a
sheet of white notepaper had been pasted, with the address:
"Richard Lindley, Esq.,
1218 Corliss Street."
"It's from Laura Madison," he said, staring at this writing.
"What in the world would Laura be sending me?"
"You might possibly learn by opening it," suggested his mother.
"I've seen men puzzle over the outside of things quite as often as
women. Laura Madison is a nice girl." She never volunteered
similar praise of Laura Madison's sister. Mrs. Lindley had
submitted to her son's plans concerning Cora, lately confided; but
her submission lacked resignation.
"It's a book," said Richard, even more puzzled, as he took the
ledger from its wrappings. "Two little torn places at the edge of
the covers. Looks as if it had once had clasps----"
"Perhaps it's the Madison family album," Mrs. Lindley suggested.
"Pictures of Cora since infancy. I imagine she's had plenty
"No." He opened the book and glanced at the pages covered in
Laura's clear, readable hand. "No, it's about half full of
writing. Laura must have turned literary." He read a line or two,
frowning mildly. "My soul! I believe it's a novel! She must think
I'm a critic--to want me to read it." Smiling at the idea, he
closed the ledger. "I'll take it upstairs to my hang-out after
dinner, and see if Laura's literary manner has my august approval.
Who in the world would ever have thought she'd decide to set up
for a writer?"
"I imagine she might have something to write worth reading," said
his mother. "I've always thought she was an interesting-looking
"Yes, she is. She dances well, too."
"Of course," continued Mrs. Lindley, thoughtfully, "she seldom
_says_ anything interesting, but that may be because she so seldom
has a chance to say anything at all."
Richard refused to perceive this allusion. "Curious that Laura
should have sent it to me," he said. "She's never seemed
interested in my opinion about anything. I don't recall her ever
speaking to me on any subject whatever--except one."
He returned his attention to his plate, but his mother did not
appear to agree with him that the topic was exhausted.
"`Except one'?" she repeated, after waiting for some time.
"Yes," he replied, in his habitual preoccupied and casual tone.
"Or perhaps two. Not more than two, I should say--and in a way
you'd call that only one, of course. Bread, Joe."
"What two, Richard?"
"Cora," he said, with gentle simplicity, "and me."
Mrs. Lindley had arranged for her son a small apartment on the
second floor, and it was in his own library and smoking-room that
Richard, comfortable in a leather-chair by a reading-lamp, after
dinner, opened Laura's ledger.
The first page displayed no more than a date now eighteen months
past, and the line:
"Love came to me to-day."
The next page was dated the next day, and, beneath, he read:
"That was all I _could_ write, yesterday. I think I was too
excited to write. Something seemed to be singing in my breast. I
couldn't think in sentences--not even in words. How queer it is
that I had decided to keep a diary, and bound this book for it,
and now the first thing I have written in it was _that_! It will
not be a diary. It shall be _your_ book. I shall keep it sacred to
You and write to You in it. How strange it will be if the day ever
comes when I shall show it to You! If it should, you would not
laugh at it, for of course the day couldn't come unless you
understood. I cannot think it will ever come--that day! But
maybe---- No, I mustn't let myself hope too much that it will,
because if I got to hoping too much, and you didn't like me, it
would hurt too much. People who expect nothing are never
disappointed--I must keep that in mind. Yet _every_ girl has a
_right_ to hope for her own man to come for her some time, hasn't
she? It's not easy to discipline the wanting to hope--since
"I think I must always have thought a great deal about you without
knowing it. We really know so little what we think: our minds are
going on all the time and we hardly notice them. It is like a
queer sort of factory--the owner only looks in once in a while and
most of the time hasn't any idea what sort of goods his spindles
are turning out.
"I saw You yesterday! It seems to me the strangest thing in the
world. I've seen you by chance, probably two or three times a
month nearly all my life, though you so seldom come here to call.
And this time wasn't different from dozens of other times--you
were just standing on the corner by the Richfield, waiting for a
car. The only possible difference is that you had been out of town
for several months--Cora said so this morning--and how ridiculous
it seems now, didn't even know it! I hadn't noticed it--not with
the top part of my mind, but perhaps the deep part that does the
real thinking had noticed it and had mourned your absence and was
so glad to see you again that it made the top part suddenly see
the wonderful truth!"
Lindley set down the ledger to relight his cigar. It struck him
that Laura had been writing "very odd Stuff," but interesting; and
certainly it was not a story. Vaguely he recalled Marie
Bashkirtseff: hadn't she done something like this? He resumed the
"You turned and spoke to me in that lovely, cordial, absent-minded
way of yours--though I'd never thought (with the top part) what a
lovely way it was; and for a moment I only noticed how nice you
looked in a light gray suit, because I'd only seen you in black
for so long, while you'd been in mourning for your brother."
Richard, disturbed by an incredible idea, read these last
words over and then dismissed the notion as nonsense.
". . . While you'd been in mourning for your brother--and it
struck me that light gray was becoming to you. Then such a queer
thing happened: I felt the great kindness of your eyes. I thought
they were full of--the only word that seems to express it at all
is _charity_--and they had a sweet, faraway look, too, and I've
_always_ thought that a look of wistful kindness was the loveliest
look in the world--and you had it, and I saw it and then suddenly,
as you held your hat in your hand, the sunshine on your hair
seemed brighter than any sunshine I had ever seen--and I began to
tremble all over. I didn't understand what was the matter with me
or what had made me afraid with you not of you--all at once, but I
was so hopelessly rattled that instead of waiting for the car, as
I'd just told you I meant to, I said I'd decided to walk, and got
away--without any breath left to breathe with! I _couldn't_ have
gotten on the car with you--- and I couldn't have spoken another
"And as I walked home, trembling all the way, I saw that strange,
dazzling sunshine on your hair, and the wistful, kind look in your
eyes--you seemed not to have taken the car but to have come with
me--and I was uplifted and exalted oh, so strangely--oh, how the
world was changing for me! And when I got near home, I began to
walk faster, and on the front path I broke into a run and rushed
in the house to the piano--and it was as if my fingers were
thirsty for the keys! Then I saw that I was playing to you and
knew that I loved you.
"I love you!
"How different everything is now from everything before. Music
means what it never did: Life has leaped into blossom for me.
Everywhere there is colour and radiance that I had never seen--the
air is full of perfume. Dear, the sunshine that fell upon your
head has spread over the world!
"I understand, as I never understood, that the world--so dazzling
to me now--was made for love and is meaningless without it. The
years until yesterday are gray--no, not gray, because that was the
colour You were wearing--not gray, because that is a beautiful
colour. The empty years until yesterday had no colour at all. Yes,
the world has meaning only through loving, and without meaning
there is no real life. We live only by loving, and now that this
gift of life has come to me I love _all_ the world. I feel that I
must be so kind, kind, _kind_ to _everybody_! Such an odd thing
struck me as my greatest wish. When I was little, I remember
grandmother telling me how, when she was a child in pioneer days,
the women made the men's clothes--homespun--and how a handsome
young Circuit Rider, who was a bachelor, seemed to her the most
beautifully dressed man she had ever seen. The women of the
different churches made his clothes, as they did their husbands'
and brothers.' you see--only better! It came into my head that
that would be the divinest happiness that I could know--to sew for
you! If you and I lived in those old, old times--you _look_ as if
you belonged to them, you know, dear--and You were the young
minister riding into the settlement on a big bay horse--and all
the girls at the window, of course!--and I sewing away at the
homespun for you!--I think all the angels of heaven would be
choiring in my heart--and what thick, warm clothes I'd make you
for winter! Perhaps in heaven they'll let some of the women sew
for the men they love--I wonder!
"I hear Cora's voice from downstairs as I write. She's often so
angry with Ray, poor girl. It does not seem to me that she and Ray
really belong to each other, though they _say_ so often that they
Richard having read thus far with a growing, vague uneasiness,
looked up, frowning. He hoped Laura had no Marie Bashkirtseff idea
of publishing this manuscript. It was too intimate, he thought,
even if the names in it were to be disguised.
. . . "Though they _say_ so often that they do. I think Ray is in
love with _her_, but it can't be like _this_. What he feels must
be something wholly different--there is violence and wildness in
it. And they are bitter with each other so often-- always `getting
even' for something. He does care--he is frantically `_in_ love'
with her, undoubtedly, but so insanely jealous. I suppose all
jealousy is insane. But love is the only sanity. How can what is
insane be part of it? I could not be jealous of You. I owe life to
you--I have never lived till now."
The next writing was two days later:
. . . . "To-day as I passed your house with Cora, I kept looking
at the big front door at which you go in and out so often--_your_
door! I never knew that just a door could look so beautiful! And
unconsciously I kept my eyes on it, as we walked on, turning my
head and looking and looking back at it, till Cora suddenly burst
out laughing, and said: `Well, _Laura_!' And I came to myself--and
found her looking at me. It was like getting back after a journey,
and for a second I was a little dazed, and Cora kept on laughing
at me, and I felt myself getting red. I made some silly excuse
about thinking your house had been repainted--and she laughed
louder than ever. I was afraid then that she understood--I wonder
if she could have? I hope not, though I love her so much I don't
know why I would rather she didn't know, unless it is just my
_feeling_ about it. It is a _guardian_ feeling--that I must keep
for myself, the music of these angels singing in my heart--singing
of You. I hope she did not understand--and I so fear she did. Why
should I be so _afraid_?" . . .
. . . . "Two days since I have talked to You in your book after
Cora caught me staring at your door and laughed at me--and ten
minutes ago I was sitting beside the _actual_ You on the porch! I
am trembling yet. It was the first time you'd come for months and
months; and yet you had the air of thinking it rather a pleasant
thing to do as you came up the steps! And a dizzy feeling came
over me, because I wondered if it was seeing me on the street
_that_ day that put it into your head to come. It seemed too much
happiness--and risking too much--to let myself _believe_ it, but I
couldn't help just wondering. I began to tremble as I saw you
coming up our side of the street in the moonlight--and when you
turned in here I was all panic--I nearly ran into the house. I
don't know how I found voice to greet you. I didn't seem to have
any breath left at all. I was so relieved when Cora took a chair
between us and began to talk to you, because I'm sure I couldn't
have. She and poor Ray had been having one of their quarrels and
she was punishing him. Poor boy, he seemed so miserable--though he
tried to talk to me--about politics, I think, though I'm not sure,
because I couldn't listen much better than either of us could
talk. I could only hear Your voice--such a rich, quiet voice, and
it has a sound like the look you have--friendly and faraway and
wistful. I have thought and thought about what it is that makes
you look wistful. You have less to wish for than anybody else in
the world because you have Yourself. So why are you wistful? I
think it's just because you _are_!
"I heard Cora asking you why you hadn't come to see us for so
long, and then she said: `Is it because you dislike me? You look
at me, sometimes, as if you dislike me!' And I wished she hadn't
said it. I had a feeling you wouldn't like that `personal' way of
talking that she enjoys--and that--oh, it didn't seem to be in
keeping with the dignity of You! And I love Cora so much I wanted
her to be finer--with You. I wanted her to understand you better
than to play those little charming tricks at you. You are so good,
so _high_, that if she could make a real friend of you I think it
would be the best thing for her that could happen. She's never had
a man-_friend_. Perhaps she _was_ trying to make one of you and
hasn't any other way to go about it. She can be so _really_ sweet,
I wanted you to see that side of her.
"Afterwhile, when Ray couldn't bear it any longer to talk to me,
and in his desperation brazenly took Cora to the other end of the
porch almost by force, and I was left, in a way, alone with you
what did you think of me? I was tongue-tied! Oh, oh, oh! You were
quiet--but _I_ was _dumb_! My heart wasn't dumb--it hammered! All
the time I kept saying to myself such a jumble of things. And into
the jumble would come such a rapture that You were there--it was
like a paean of happiness--a chanting of the glory of having You
near me--I _was_ mixed up! I could _play_ all those confused
things, but writing them doesn't tell it. Writing them would only
be like this: `He's here, he's _here_! Speak, you little fool!
He's here, he's here! He's sitting beside you! _speak_, idiot, or
he'll never come back! He's here, he's beside you you could put
out your hand and touch him! Are you dead, that you can't speak?
He's here, he's here, he's _here_!'
"Ah, some day I shall be able to talk to you--but not till I get
more used to this inner song. It seems to _will_ that nothing else
shall come from my lips till _it_ does!
"In spite of my silence--my outward woodenness--you said, as you
went away, that you would come again! You said `soon'! I could
only nod but Cora called from the other end of the porch and
asked: `_How_ soon?' Oh, I bless her for it, because you said,
`Day after to-morrow.' Day after tomorrow! Day after to-morrow!
_Day after tomorrow_!
. . . . "Twenty-one hours since I wrote--no, _sang_--`Day after
to-morrow!' And now it is `To-morrow!' Oh, the slow, golden day
that this has been! I could not stay in the house--I walked--no, I
_winged_! I was in the open country before I knew it--with You!
For You are in everything. I never knew the sky was blue, before.
Until now I just thought it was the sky. The whitest clouds I ever
saw sailed over that blue, and I stood upon the prow of each in
turn, then leaped in and swam to the next and sailed with _it_!
Oh, the beautiful sky, and kind, green woods and blessed, long,
white, dusty country road! Never in my life shall I forget that
walk--this day in the open with my love--You! To-morrow!
To-morrow! To-morrow! _To-morrow_!"
The next writing in Laura's book was dated more than two months
. . . . "I have decided to write again in this book. I have
thought it all out carefully, and I have come to the conclusion
that it can do no harm and may help me to be steady and sensible.
It is the thought, not its expression, that is guilty, but I do
not believe that my thoughts are guilty: I believe that they are
good. I know that I wish only good. I have read that when people
suffer very much the best thing is for them to cry. And so I'll
let myself _write_ out my feelings--and perhaps get rid of some of
the silly self-pity I'm foolish enough to feel, instead of going
about choked up with it. How queer it is that even when we keep
our thoughts respectable we can't help having absurd _feelings_
like self-pity, even though we know how rotten stupid they are!
Yes, I'll let it all out here, and then, some day, when I've cured
myself all whole again, I'll burn this poor, silly old book. And
if I'm not cured before the wedding, I'll burn it then, anyhow.
"How funny little girls are! From the time they're little bits of
things they talk about marriage--whom they are going to marry,
what sort of person it will be. I think Cora and I began when she
was about five and I not seven. And as girls grow up, I don't
believe there was ever one who genuinely expected to be an old
maid. The most unattractive young girls discuss and plan and
expect marriage just as much as the prettier and gayer ones. The
only way we can find out that men don't want to marry us is by
their not asking us. We don't see ourselves very well, and I
honestly believe we all think--way deep down--that we're pretty
attractive. At least, every girl has the idea, sometimes, that if
men only saw the whole truth they'd think her as nice as any other
girl, and really nicer than most others. But I don't believe I
have any hallucinations of that sort about myself left. I can't
imagine--now--_any_ man seeing anything in me that would make him
care for me. I can't see anything about me to care for, myself.
Sometimes I think maybe I could make a man get excited about me if
I could take a startlingly personal tone with him from the
beginning, making him wonder all sorts of you-and-I perhapses--but
I couldn't do it very well probably--oh, I couldn't make myself do
it if I could do it well! And I shouldn't think it would have much
effect except upon very inexperienced men--yet it does! Now, I
wonder if this is a streak of sourness coming out; I don't feel
bitter--I'm just thinking honestly, I'm sure.
"Well, here I am facing it: all through my later childhood, and
all through my girlhood, I believe what really occupied me
most--with the thought of it underlying all things else, though
often buried very deep--was the prospect of my marriage. I
regarded it as a certainty: I would grow up, fall in love, get
engaged, and be married--of course! So I grew up and fell in love
with You--but it stops there, and I must learn how to be an Old
Maid and not let anybody see that I mind it. I know this is the
hardest part of it, the beginning: it will get easier by-and-by,
of course. If I can just manage this part of it, it's bound not to
hurt so much later on.
"Yes, I grew up and fell in love with You--for you will always be
You. I'll never, never get over _that_, my dear! You'll never,
never know it; but I shall love You always till I die, and if I'm
still Me after that, I shall keep right on loving you then, of
course. You see, I didn't fall in love with you just to have you
for myself. I fell in love with You! And that can never bother you
at all nor ever be a shame to me that I love unsought, because you
won't know, and because it's just an ocean of good-will, and every
beat of my heart sends a new great wave of it toward you and Cora.
I shall find happiness, I believe, in service--I am sure there
will be times when I can serve you both. I love you both and I can
serve her for You and you for her. This isn't a hysterical mood,
or a fit of `exaltation': I have thought it all out and I know
that I can live up to it. You are the best thing that can ever
come into her life, and everything I can do shall be to keep you
there. I must be very, very careful with her, for talk and advice
do not influence her much. You love her--she has accepted you, and
it is beautiful for you both. It must be kept beautiful. It has
all become so clear to me: You are just what she has always
needed, and if by any mischance she lost you I do not know what
"Good God!" cried Richard. He sprang to his feet, and the heavy
book fell with a muffled crash upon the floor, sprawling open upon
its face, its leaves in disorder. He moved away from it, staring
at it in incredulous dismay. But he knew.
Memory, that drowsy custodian, had wakened slowly, during this
hour, beginning the process with fitful gleams of
semi-consciousness, then, irritated, searching its pockets for the
keys and dazedly exploring blind passages; but now it flung wide
open the gallery doors, and there, in clear light, were the rows
of painted canvasses.
He remembered "that day" when he was waiting for a car, and Laura
Madison had stopped for a moment, and then had gone on, saying she
preferred to walk. He remembered that after he got into the car he
wondered why he had not walked home with her; had thought himself
"slow" for not thinking of it in time to do it. There had seemed
something very "taking" about her, as she stopped and spoke to
him, something enlivening and wholesome and sweet--it had struck
him that Laura was a "very nice girl." He had never before noticed
how really charming she could look; in fact he had never thought
much about either of the Madison sisters, who had become "young
ladies" during his mourning for his brother. And this pleasant
image of Laura remained with him for several days, until he
decided that it might be a delightful thing to spend an evening
with her. He had called, and he remembered, now, Cora's saying to
him that he looked at her sometimes as if he did not like her; he
had been surprised and astonishingly pleased to detect a
mysterious feeling in her about it.
He remembered that almost at once he had fallen in love with Cora:
she captivated him, enraptured him, as she still did--as she
always would, he felt, no matter how she treated him or what she
did to him. He did not analyze the process of the captivation and
enrapturement--for love is a mystery and cannot be analyzed. This
is so well known that even Richard Lindley knew it, and did not
. . . Heartsick, he stared at the fallen book. He was a man, and
here was the proffered love of a woman he did not want. There was
a pathos in the ledger; it seemed to grovel, sprawling and
dishevelled in the circle of lamp-light on the floor: it was as if
Laura herself lay pleading at his feet, and he looked down upon
her, compassionate but revolted. He realized with astonishment
from what a height she had fallen, how greatly he had respected
her, how warmly liked her. What she now destroyed had been more
important than he had guessed.
Simple masculine indignation rose within him: she was to have been
his sister. If she had been unable to stifle this misplaced love
of hers, could she not at least have kept it to herself? Laura,
the self-respecting! No; she offered it--offered it to her
sister's betrothed. She had written that he should "never, never
know it"; that when she was "cured" she would burn the ledger. She
had not burned it! There were inconsistencies in plenty in the
pitiful screed, but these were the wildest--and the cheapest. In
talk, she had urged him to "keep trying," for Cora, and now the
sick-minded creature sent him this record. She wanted him to know.
Then what else was it but a plea? "I love you. Let Cora go. Take
He began to walk up and down, wondering what was to be done. After
a time, he picked up the book gingerly, set it upon a shelf in a
dark corner, and went for a walk outdoors. The night air seemed
better than that of the room that held the ledger.
At the corner a boy, running, passed him. It was Hedrick Madison,
but Hedrick did not recognize Richard, nor was his mind at that
moment concerned with Richard's affairs; he was on an errand of
haste to Doctor Sloane. Mr. Madison had wakened from a heavy
slumber unable to speak, his condition obviously much worse.
Hedrick returned in the doctor's car, and then hung uneasily about
the door of the sick-room until Laura came out and told him to go
to bed. In the morning, his mother did not appear at the breakfast
table, Cora was serious and quiet, and Laura said that he need not
go to school that day, though she added that the doctor thought
their father would get "better." She looked wan and hollow-eyed:
she had not been to bed, but declared that she would rest after
breakfast. Evidently she had not missed her ledger; and Hedrick
watched her closely, a pleasurable excitement stirring in his
She did not go to her room after the meal; the house was cold,
possessing no furnace, and, with Hedrick's assistance, she carried
out the ashes from the library grate, and built a fire there. She
had just lighted it, and the kindling was beginning to crackle,
glowing rosily over her tired face, when the bell rang.
"Will you see who it is, please, Hedrick?"
He went with alacrity, and, returning, announced in an odd voice.
"It's Dick Lindley. He wants to see you."
"Me?" she murmured, wanly surprised. She was kneeling before the
fireplace, wearing an old dress which was dusted with ashes, and
upon her hands a pair of worn-out gloves of her father's. Lindley
appeared in the hall behind Hedrick, carrying under his arm
something wrapped in brown paper. His expression led her to think
that he had heard of her father's relapse, and came on that
"Don't look at me, Richard," she said, smiling faintly as she
rose, and stripping her hands of the clumsy gloves. "It's good of
you to come, though. Doctor Sloane thinks he is going to be better
Richard inclined his head gravely, but did not speak.
"Well," said Hedrick with a slight emphasis, "I guess I'll go out
in the yard a while." And with shining eyes he left the room.
In the hall, out of range from the library door, he executed a
triumphant but noiseless caper, and doubled with mirth, clapping
his hand over his mouth to stifle the effervescings of his joy. He
had recognized the ledger in the same wrapping in which he had
left it in Mrs. Lindley's vestibule. His moment had come: the
climax of his enormous joke, the repayment in some small measure
for the anguish he had so long endured. He crept silently back
toward the door, flattened his back against the wall, and
"Richard," he heard Laura say, a vague alarm in her voice, "what
is it? What is the matter?"
Then Lindley: "I did not know what to do about it. I couldn't
think of any sensible thing. I suppose what I am doing is the
stupidest of all the things I thought of, but at least it's
honest--so I've brought it back to you myself. Take it, please."
There was a crackling of the stiff wrapping paper, a little pause,
then a strange sound from Laura. It was not vocal and no more than
just audible: it was a prolonged scream in a whisper.
Hedrick ventured an eye at the crack, between the partly open door
and its casing. Lindley stood with his back to him, but the boy
had a clear view of Laura. She was leaning against the wall,
facing Richard, the book clutched in both arms against her bosom,
the wrapping paper on the floor at her feet.
"I thought of sending it back and pretending to think it had been
left at my mother's house by mistake," said Richard sadly, "and of
trying to make it seem that I hadn't read any of it. I thought of
a dozen ways to pretend I believed you hadn't really meant me to
Making a crucial effort, she managed to speak.
"You--think I--did mean----"
"Well," he answered, with a helpless shrug, "you sent it! But it's
what's in it that really matters, isn't it? I could have pretended
anything in a note, I suppose, if I had written instead of coming.
But I found that what I most dreaded was meeting you again, and as
we've got to meet, of course, it seemed to me the only thing to do
was to blunder through a talk with you, somehow or another, and
get that part of it over. I thought the longer I put off facing
you, the worse it would be for both of us--and--and the more
embarrassing. I'm no good at pretending, anyhow; and the thing has
happened. What use is there in not being honest? Well?"
She did not try again to speak. Her state was lamentable: it was
all in her eyes.
Richard hung his head wretchedly, turning partly away from her.
"There's only one way--to look at it," he said hesitatingly, and
stammering. "That is--there's only one thing to do: to forget that
it's happened. I'm--I--oh, well, I care for Cora altogether. She's
got never to know about this. She hasn't any idea or--suspicion of
it, has she?"
Laura managed to shake her head.
"She never must have," he said. "Will you promise me to burn that
She nodded slowly.
"I--I'm awfully sorry, Laura," he said brokenly. "I'm not idiot
enough not to see that you're suffering horribly. I suppose I have
done the most blundering thing possible." He stood a moment,
irresolute, then turned to the door. "Good-bye."
Hedrick had just time to dive into the hideous little room of the
multitudinous owls as Richard strode into the hall. Then, with the
closing of the front door, the boy was back at his post.
Laura stood leaning against the wall, the book clutched in her
arms, as Richard had left her. Slowly she began to sink, her eyes
wide open, and, with her back against the wall, she slid down
until she was sitting upon the floor. Her arms relaxed and hung
limp at her sides, letting the book topple over in her lap, and
she sat motionless.
One of her feet protruded from her skirt, and the leaping
firelight illumined it ruddily. It was a graceful foot in an old
shoe which had been re-soled and patched. It seemed very still,
that patched shoe, as if it might stay still forever. Hedrick knew
that Laura had not fainted, but he wished she would move her foot.
He went away. He went into the owl-room again, and stood there
silently a long, long time. Then he stole back again toward the
library door, but caught a glimpse of that old, motionless shoe
through the doorway as he came near. Then he spied no more. He
went out to the stable, and, secluding himself in his studio, sat
moodily to meditate.
Something was the matter. Something had gone wrong. He had thrown
a bomb which he had expected to go off with a stupendous bang,
leaving him, as the smoke cleared, looking down in merry triumph,
stinging his fallen enemies with his humour, withering them with
satire, and inquiring of them how it felt, now _they_ were getting
it. But he was decidedly untriumphant: he wished Laura had moved
her foot and that she hadn't that patch upon her shoe. He could
not get his mind off that patch. He began to feel very queer: it
seemed to be somehow because of the patch. If she had worn a pair
of new shoes that morning. . . . Yes, it was that patch.
Thirteen is a dangerous age: nothing is more subtle. The boy,
inspired to play the man, is beset by his own relapses into
childhood, and Hedrick was near a relapse.
By and by, he went into the house again, to the library. Laura was
not there, but he found the fire almost smothered under heaping
ashes. She had burned her book.
He went into the room where the piano was, and played "The Girl on
the Saskatchewan" with one finger; then went out to the porch and
walked up and down, whistling cheerily.
After that, he went upstairs and asked Miss Peirce how his father
was "feeling," receiving a noncommital reply; looked in at Cora's
room; saw that his mother was lying asleep on Cora's bed and Cora
herself examining the contents of a dressing-table drawer; and
withdrew. A moment later, he stood in the passage outside Laura's
closed door listening. There was no sound.
He retired to his own chamber, found it unbearable, and,
fascinated by Laura's, returned thither; and, after standing a
long time in the passage, knocked softly on the door.
"Laura," he called, in a rough and careless voice, "it's kind of a
pretty day outdoors. If you've had your nap, if I was you I'd go
out for a walk." There was no response. "I'll go with you," he
added, "if you want me to."
He listened again and heard nothing. Then he turned the knob
softly. The door was unlocked; he opened it and went in.
Laura was sitting in a chair, with her back to a window, her hands
in her lap. She was staring straight in front of her.
He came near her hesitatingly, and at first she did not seem to
see him or even to know that she was not alone in the room. Then
she looked at him wonderingly, and, as he stood beside her, lifted
her right hand and set it gently upon his head.
"Hedrick," she said, "was it you that took my book to----"
All at once he fell upon his knees, hid his face in her lap, and
burst into loud and passionate sobbing.
Valentine Corliss, having breakfasted in bed at a late hour that
morning, dozed again, roused himself, and, making a toilet,
addressed to the image in his shaving-mirror a disgusted
However, he had not the look of a man who had played cards all
night to a disastrous tune with an accompaniment in Scotch. His
was a surface not easily indented: he was hard and healthy,
clear-skinned and clear-eyed. When he had made himself
point-device, he went into the "parlour" of his apartment,
frowning at the litter of malodorous, relics, stumps and stubs and
bottles and half-drained glasses, scattered chips and cards, dregs
of a night session. He had been making acquaintances.
He sat at the desk and wrote with a steady hand in Italian:
MOST ILLUSTRIOUS MOLITERNO:
We live but learn little. As to myself it appears that I learn
nothing--nothing! You will at once convey to me by _cable_ five
thousand lire. No; add the difference in exchange so as to make it
one thousand dollars which I shall receive, taking that sum from
the two-hundred and thirty thousand lire which I entrusted to your
safekeeping by cable as the result of my enterprise in this place.
I should have returned at once, content with that success, but as
you know I am a very stupid fellow, never pleased with a moderate
triumph, nor with a large one, when there is a possible prospect
of greater. I am compelled to believe that the greater I had in
mind in this case was an illusion: my gentle diplomacy avails
nothing against a small miser--for we have misers even in these
States, though you will not believe it. I abandon him to his
riches! From the success of my venture I reserved four thousand
dollars to keep by me and for my expenses, and it is humiliating
to relate that all of this, except a small banknote or two, was
taken from me last night by amateurs. I should keep away from
cards--they hate me, and alone I can do nothing with them. Some
young gentlemen of the place, whose acquaintance I had made at a
ball, did me the honour of this lesson at the native game of
poker, at which I--though also native--am not even so expert as
yourself, and, as you will admit, Antonio, my friend, you are not
a good player--when observed. Unaided, I was a child in their
hands. It was also a painful rule that one paid for the counters
upon delivery. This made me ill, but I carried it off with an air
of carelessness creditable to an adopted Neapolitan. Upon receipt
of the money you are to cable me, I shall leave this town and sail
immediately. Come to Paris, and meet me there at the place on the
Rue Auber within ten days from your reading this letter. You will
have, remaining, two hundred and twenty-five thousand francs,
which it will be safer to bring in cash, and I will deal well with
you, as is our custom with each other. You have done excellently
throughout; your cables and letters for exhibition concerning
those famous oil wells have been perfection; and I shall of course
not deduct what was taken by these thieves of poker players from
the sum of profits upon which we shall estimate your commission. I
have several times had the feeling that the hour for departure had
arrived; now I shall delay not a moment after receiving your
cable, though I may occupy the interim with a last attempt to
interest my small miser. Various circumstances cause me some
uneasiness, though I do not believe I could be successfully
assailed by the law in the matter of oil. You do own an estate in
Basilicata, at least your brother does--these good people here
would not be apt to discover the difference--and the rest is a
matter of plausibility. The odious coincidence of encountering the
old cow, Pryor, fretted me somewhat (though he has not repeated
his annoying call), and I have other small apprehensions--for
example, that it may not improve my credit if my loss of last
night becomes gossip, though the thieves professed strong habits
of discretion. My little affair of gallantry grows embarrassing.
Such affairs are so easy to inaugurate; extrication is more
difficult. However, without it I should have failed to interest my
investor and there is always the charm. Your last letter is too
curious in that matter. Licentious man, one does not write of
these things while under the banner of the illustrious Uncle
Sam--I am assuming the American attitude while here, or perhaps my
early youth returns to me--a thing very different from your own
boyhood, Don Antonio. Nevertheless, I promise you some laughter in
the Rue Auber. Though you will not be able to understand the half
of what I shall tell you--particularly the portraits I shall
sketch of my defeated rivals--your spirit shall roll with
To the bank, then, the instant you read. Cable me one thousand
dollars, and be at the Rue Auber not more than ten days later. To
the bank! Thence to the telegraph office. Speed! V. C.
He was in better spirits as he read over this letter, and he
chuckled as he addressed it. He pictured himself in the rear room
of the bar in the Rue Auber, relating, across the little
marble-topped table, this American adventure, to the delight of
that blithe, ne'er-do-well outcast of an exalted poor family, that
gambler, blackmailer and merry rogue, Don Antonio Moliterno,
comrade and teacher of this ductile Valentine since the later days
of adolescence. They had been school-fellows in Rome, and later
roamed Europe together unleashed, discovering worlds of many
kinds. Valentine's careless mother let her boy go as he liked, and
was often negligent in the matter of remittances: he and his
friend learned ways to raise the wind, becoming expert and making
curious affiliations. At her death there was a small inheritance;
she had not been provident. The little she left went rocketing,
and there was the wind to be raised again: young Corliss had wits
and had found that they could supply him--most of the time--with
much more than the necessities of life. He had also found that he
possessed a strong attraction for various women; already--at
twenty-two--his experience was considerable, and, in his way, he
became a specialist. He had a talent; he improved it and his
opportunities. Altogether, he took to the work without malice and
with a light heart. . . .
He sealed the envelope, rang for a boy, gave him the letter to
post, and directed that the apartment should be set to rights. It
was not that in which he had received Ray Vilas. Corliss had moved
to rooms on another floor of the hotel, the day after that
eccentric and somewhat ominous person had called to make an
"investment." Ray's shadowy forebodings concerning that former
apartment had encountered satire: Corliss was a "materialist" and,
at the mildest estimate, an unusually practical man, but he would
never sleep in a bed with its foot toward the door; southern Italy
had seeped into him. He changed his rooms, a measure of which Don
Antonio Moliterno would have wholly approved. Besides, these were
as comfortable as the others, and so like them as even to confirm
Ray's statement concerning "A Reading from Homer": evidently this
work had been purchased by the edition.
A boy came to announce that his "roadster" waited for him at the
hotel entrance, and Corliss put on a fur motoring coat and cap,
and went downstairs. A door leading from the hotel bar into the
lobby was open, and, as Corliss passed it, there issued a mocking
"Tor'dor! Oh, look at the Tor'dor! Ain't he the handsome
Ray Vilas stumbled out, tousled, haggard, waving his arms in
absurd and meaningless gestures; an amused gallery of tipplers
filling the doorway behind him.
"Goin' take Carmen buggy ride in the country, ain't he? Good ole
Tor'dor!" he quavered loudly, clutching Corliss's shoulder. "How
much you s'pose he pays f' that buzz-buggy by the day, jeli'm'n?
Naughty Tor'dor, stole thousand dollars from me--makin'
presents--diamond cresses. Tor'dor, I hear you been playing cards.
Tha's sn't nice. Tor'dor, you're not a goo' boy at all--_you_ know
you oughtn't waste Dick Lindley's money like that!"
Corliss set his open hand upon the drunkard's breast and sent him
gyrating and plunging backward. Some one caught the grotesque
figure as it fell.
"Oh, my God," screamed Ray, "I haven't got a gun on me! He _knows_
I haven't got my gun with me! _Why_ haven't I got my gun with me?"
They hustled him away, and Corliss, enraged and startled, passed
on. As he sped the car up Corliss Street, he decided to anticipate
his letter to Moliterno by a cable. He had stayed too long.
Cora looked charming in a new equipment for November motoring; yet
it cannot be said that either of them enjoyed the drive. They
lunched a dozen miles out from the city at an establishment
somewhat in the nature of a roadside inn; and, although its
cuisine was quite unknown to Cora's friend, Mrs. Villard (an eager
amateur of the table), they were served with a meal of such
unusual excellence that the waiter thought it a thousand pities
patrons so distinguished should possess such poor appetites.
They returned at about three in the afternoon, and Cora descended
from the car wearing no very amiable expression.
"Why won't you come in now?" she asked, looking at him angrily.
"We've got to talk things out. We've settled nothing whatever. I
want to know why you can't stop."
"I've got some matters to attend to, and----"
"What matters?" She shot him a glance of fierce skepticism.
"Are you packing to get out?"
"Cora!" he cried reproachfully, "how can you say things like that
She shook her head. "Oh, it wouldn't surprise me in the least! How
do _I_ know what you'll do? For all I know, you may be just that
kind of a man. You _said_ you ought to be going----"
"Cora," he explained, gently, "I didn't say I meant to go. I said
only that I thought I ought to, because Moliterno will be needing
me in Basilicata. I ought to be there, since it appears that no
more money is to be raised here. I ought to be superintending
operations in the oil-field, so as to make the best use of the
little I have raised."
"You?" she laughed. "Of course _I_ didn't have anything to do with
He sighed deeply. "You know perfectly well that I appreciate all
you did. We don't seem to get on very well to-day----"
"No!" She laughed again, bitterly. "So you think you'll be going,
"To my rooms to write some necessary letters."
"Of course not to pack your trunk?"
"Cora," he returned, goaded; "sometimes you're just impossible.
I'll come to-morrow forenoon."
"Then don't bring the car. I'm tired of motoring and tired of
lunching in that rotten hole. We can talk just as well in the
library. Papa's better, and that little fiend will be in school
to-morrow. Come out about ten."
He started the machine. "Don't forget I love you," he called in a
She stood looking after him as the car dwindled down the street.
"Yes, you do!" she murmured.
She walked up the path to the house, her face thoughtful, as with
a tiresome perplexity. In her own room, divesting herself of her
wraps, she gave the mirror a long scrutiny. It offered the picture
of a girl with a hard and dreary air; but Cora saw something else,
and presently, though the dreariness remained, the hardness
softened to a great compassion. She suffered: a warm wave of
sorrow submerged her, and she threw herself upon the bed and wept
long and silently for herself.
At last her eyes dried, and she lay staring at the ceiling. The
doorbell rang, and Sarah, the cook, came to inform her that Mr.
Richard Lindley was below.
"Tell him I'm out."
"Can't," returned Sarah. "Done told him you was home." And she
Thus abandoned, the prostrate lady put into a few words what she
felt about Sarah, and, going to the door, whisperingly summoned in
Laura, who was leaving the sick-room, across the hall.
"Richard is downstairs. Will you go and tell him I'm sick in
bed--or dead? Anything to make him go." And, assuming Laura's
acquiescence, Cora went on, without pause: "Is father worse?
What's the matter with you, Laura?"
"Nothing. He's a little better, Miss Peirce thinks."
"You look ill."
"I'm all right."
"Then run along like a duck and get rid of that old bore for me."
"Cora--please see him?"
"Not me! I've got too much to think about to bother with him."
Laura walked to the window and stood with her back to her sister,
apparently interested in the view of Corliss Street there
presented. "Cora," she said, "why don't you marry him and have
done with all this?"
"Why not? Why not marry him as soon as you can get ready? Why
don't you go down now and tell him you will? Why not, Cora?"
"I'd as soon marry a pail of milk--yes, tepid milk, skimmed!
"Don't you realize how kind he'd be to you?"
"I don't know about that," said Cora moodily. "He might object to
some things--but it doesn't matter, because I'm not going to try
him. I don't mind a man's being a fool, but I can't stand the
absent-minded breed of idiot. I've worn his diamond in the pendant
right in his eyes for weeks; he's never once noticed it enough
even to ask me about the pendant, but bores me to death wanting to
know why I won't wear the ring! Anyhow, what's the use talking
about him? He couldn't marry me right now, even if I wanted him
to--not till he begins to get something on the investment he made
with Val. Outside of that, he's got nothing except his rooms at
his mother's; she hasn't much either; and if Richard should lose
what he put in with Val, he couldn't marry for years, probably.
That's what made him so obstinate about it. No; if I ever marry
right off the reel it's got to be somebody with----"
"Cora"--Laura still spoke from the window, not turning--"aren't
you tired of it all, of this getting so upset about one man and
then another and----"
"_Tired_!" Cora uttered the word in a repressed fury of emphasis.
"I'm sick of _everything_! I don't care for anything or anybody on
this earth--except--except you and mamma. I thought I was going to
love Val. I thought I _did_--but oh, my Lord, I don't! I don't
think I _can_ care any more. Or else there isn't any such thing as
love. How can anybody tell whether there is or not? You get kind
of crazy over a man and want to go the limit--or marry him
perhaps--or sometimes you just want to make him crazy about
you--and then you get over it--and what is there left but hell!"
She choked with a sour laugh. "Ugh! For heaven's sake, Laura,
don't make me talk. Everything's gone to the devil and I've got to
think. The best thing you can do is to go down and get rid of
Richard for me. I _can't_ see him!"
"Very well," said Laura, and went to the door.
"You're a darling," whispered Cora, kissing her quickly. "Tell him
I'm in a raging headache--make him think I wanted to see him, but
you wouldn't let me, because I'm too ill." She laughed. "Give me a
little time, old dear: I may decide to take him yet!"
It was Mrs. Madison who informed the waiting Richard that Cora was
unable to see him, because she was "lying down"; and the young
man, after properly inquiring about Mr. Madison, went blankly
Hedrick was stalking the front yard, mounted at a great height
upon a pair of stilts. He joined the departing visitor upon the
sidewalk and honoured him with his company, proceeding storkishly
"Been to see Cora?"
"What'd you want to see her about?" asked the frank youth
Richard was able to smile. "Nothing in particular, Hedrick."
"You didn't come to tell her about something?"
"Nothing whatever, my dear sir. I wished merely the honour of
seeing her and chatting with her upon indifferent subjects."
"Did you see her?"
"No, I'm sorry to----"
"She's home, all right," Hedrick took pleasure in informing him.
"Yes. She was lying down and I told your mother not to disturb
"Worn out with too much automobile riding, I expect," Hedrick
sniffed. "She goes out about every day with this Corliss in his
They walked on in silence. Not far from Mrs. Lindley's, Hedrick
abruptly became vocal in an artificial laugh. Richard was
obviously intended to inquire into its cause, but, as he did not,
Hedrick, after laughing hollowly for some time, volunteered the
"I played a pretty good trick on you last night."
"Odd I didn't know it."
"That's why it was good. You'd never guess it in the world."
"No, I believe I shouldn't. You see what makes it so hard,
Hedrick, is that I can't even remember seeing you, last night."
"Nobody saw me. Somebody heard me though, all right."
"The nigger that works at your mother's--Joe."
"What about it? Were you teasing Joe?"
"No, it was you I was after."
"Well? Did you get me?"
Hedrick made another somewhat ghastly pretence of mirth. "Well, I
guess I've had about all the fun out of it I'm going to. Might as
well tell you. It was that book of Laura's you thought she sent
Richard stopped short; whereupon Hedrick turned clumsily, and
began to stalk back in the direction from which they had come.
"That book--I thought she--sent me?" Lindley repeated, stammering.
"She never sent it," called the boy, continuing to walk away. "She
kept it hid, and I found it. I faked her into writing your name on
a sheet of paper, and made you think she'd sent the old thing to
you. I just did it for a joke on you."
With too retching an effort to simulate another burst of
merriment, he caught the stump of his right stilt in a pavement
crack, wavered, cut in the air a figure like a geometrical
proposition gone mad, and came whacking to earth in magnificent
Richard took him to Mrs. Lindley for repairs. She kept him until
dark: Hedrick was bandaged, led, lemonaded and blandished.
Never in his life had he known such a listener.
That was a long night for Cora Madison, and the morning found her
yellow. She made a poor breakfast, and returned from the table to
her own room, but after a time descended restlessly and wandered
from one room to another, staring out of the windows. Laura had
gone out; Mrs. Madison was with her husband, whom she seldom left;
Hedrick had departed ostensibly for school; and the house was as
still as a farm in winter--an intolerable condition of things for
an effervescent young woman whose diet was excitement. Cora,
drumming with her fingers upon a window in the owl-haunted cell,
made noises with her throat, her breath and her lips not
unsuggestive of a sputtering fuse. She was heavily charged.
"Now what in thunder do _you_ want?" she inquired of an elderly
man who turned in from the sidewalk and with serious steps
approached the house.
Pryor, having rung, found himself confronted with the lady he had
come to seek. Ensued the moment of strangers meeting: invisible
antennae extended and touched;--at the contact, Cora's drew in,
and she looked upon him without graciousness.
"I just called," he said placatively, smiling as if some humour
lurked in his intention, "to ask how your father is. I heard
downtown he wasn't getting along quite so well."
"He's better this morning, thanks," said Cora, preparing to close
"I thought I'd just stop and ask about him. I heard he'd had
another bad spell--kind of a second stroke."
"That was night before last. The doctor thinks he's improved very
much since then."
The door was closing; he coughed hastily, and detained it by
speaking again. "I've called several times to inquire about him,
but I believe it's the first time I've had the pleasure of
speaking to you, Miss Madison. I'm Mr. Pryor." She appeared to
find no comment necessary, and he continued: "Your father did a
little business for me, several years ago, and when I was here on
my vacation, this summer, I was mighty sorry to hear of his
sickness. I've had a nice bit of luck lately and got a second
furlough, so I came out to spend a couple of weeks and
Thanksgiving with my married daughter."
Cora supposed that it must be very pleasant.
"Yes," he returned. "But I was mighty sorry to hear your father
wasn't much better than when I left. The truth is, I wanted to
have a talk with him, and I've been reproaching myself a good deal
that I didn't go ahead with it last summer, when he was well, only
I thought then it mightn't be necessary--might be disturbing
things without much reason."
"I'm afraid you can't have a talk with him now," she said. "The
"I know, I know," said Pryor, "of course. I wonder"--he hesitated,
smiling faintly--"I wonder if I could have it with you instead."
"Oh, it isn't business," he laughed, observing her expression.
"That is, not exactly." His manner became very serious. "It's
about a friend of mine--at least, a man I know pretty well. Miss
Madison, I saw you driving out through the park with him,
yesterday noon, in an automobile. Valentine Corliss."
Cora stared at him. Honesty, friendliness, and grave concern were
disclosed to her scrutiny. There was no mistaking him: he was a
good man. Her mouth opened, and her eyelids flickered as from a
too sudden invasion of light--the look of one perceiving the close
approach of a vital crisis. But there was no surprise in her face.
"Come in," she said.
* * *
. . . . When Corliss arrived, at about eleven o'clock that
morning, Sarah brought him to the library, where he found Cora
waiting for him. He had the air of a man determined to be cheerful
under adverse conditions: he came in briskly, and Cora closed the
door behind him.
"Keep away from me," she said, pushing him back sharply, the next
instant. "I've had enough of that for a while I believe."
He sank into a chair, affecting desolation. "Caresses blighted in
the bud! Cora, one would think us really married."
She walked across the floor to a window, turned there, with her
back to the light, and stood facing him, her arms folded.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, noting this attitude. "Is it the
trial scene from a faded melodrama?" She looked steadily at him
without replying. "What's it all about to-day?" he asked lightly.
"I'll try to give you the proper cues if you'll indicate the
general nature of the scene, Cora mine."
She continued to look at him in silence.
"It's very effective," he observed. "Brings out the figure, too.
Do forgive me if you're serious, dear lady, but never in my life
was I able to take the folded-arms business seriously. It was used
on the stage of all countries so much that I believe most
new-school actors have dropped it. They think it lacks
Cora waited a moment longer, then spoke. "How much chance have I
to get Richard Lindley's money back from you?"
He was astounded. "Oh, I say!"
"I had a caller, this morning," she said, slowly. "He talked about
you--quite a lot! He's told me several things about you."
"Mr. Vilas?" he asked, with a sting in his quick smile.
"No," she answered coolly. "Much older."
At that he jumped up, stepped quickly close to her, and swept her
with an intense and brilliant scrutiny.
"Pryor, by God!" he cried.
"He knows you pretty well," she said. "So do I now!"
He swung away from her, back to his chair, dropped into it and
began to laugh. "Old Pryor! Doddering old Pryor! Doddering old ass
of a Pryor! So he did! Blood of an angel! what a stew, what a
stew!" He rose again, mirthless. "Well, what did he say?"
She had begun to tremble, not with fear. "He said a good deal."
"Well, what was it? What did he tell you?"
"I think you'll find it plenty!"
"_You_!" She pointed at him.
"Let's have it."