Part 1 out of 4
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Valentine Corliss walked up Corliss Street the hottest afternoon
of that hot August, a year ago, wearing a suit of white serge
which attracted a little attention from those observers who were
able to observe anything except the heat. The coat was shaped
delicately; it outlined the wearer, and, fitting him as women's
clothes fit women, suggested an effeminacy not an attribute of
the tall Corliss. The effeminacy belonged all to the tailor, an
artist plying far from Corliss Street, for the coat would have
encountered a hundred of its fellows at Trouville or Ostende this
very day. Corliss Street is the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, the
Park Lane, the Fifth Avenue, of Capitol City, that smoky
illuminant of our great central levels, but although it esteems
itself an established cosmopolitan thoroughfare, it is still
provincial enough to be watchful; and even in its torrid languor
took some note of the alien garment.
Mr. Corliss, treading for the first time in seventeen years
the pavements of this namesake of his grandfather, mildly repaid
its interest in himself. The street, once the most peaceful in
the world, he thought, had changed. It was still long and
straight, still shaded by trees so noble that they were be-
trothed, here and there, high over the wide white roadway, the
shimmering tunnels thus contrived shot with gold and blue; but
its pristine complete restfulness was departed: gasoline had
arrived, and a pedestrian, even this August day of heat, must
glance two ways before crossing.
Architectural transformations, as vital, staggered the
returned native. In his boyhood that posthumously libelled
sovereign lady, Anne, had terribly prevailed among the dwellings
on this highway; now, however, there was little left of the
jig-saw's hare-brained ministrations; but the growing pains of
the adolescent city had wrought some madness here. There had
been a revolution which was a riot; and, plainly incited by a new
outbreak of the colonies, the Goth, the Tudor, and the Tuscan had
harried the upper reaches to a turmoil attaining its climax in a
howl or two from the Spanish Moor.
Yet it was a pleasant street in spite of its improvements;
in spite, too, of a long, gray smoke-plume crossing the summer
sky and dropping an occasional atomy of coal upon Mr. Corliss's
white coat. The green continuous masses of tree-foliage, lawn,
and shrubbery were splendidly asserted; there was a faint
wholesome odour from the fine block pavement of the roadway,
white, save where the snailish water-wagon laid its long strips
of steaming brown. Locusts, serenaders of the heat, invisible
among the branches, rasped their interminable cadences, competing
bitterly with the monotonous chattering of lawn-mowers propelled
by glistening black men over the level swards beneath. And
though porch and terrace were left to vacant wicker chairs and
swinging-seats, and to flowers and plants in jars and green
boxes, and the people sat unseen--and, it might be guessed,
unclad for exhibition, in the dimmer recesses of their
houses--nevertheless, a summery girl under an alluring parasol
now and then prettily trod the sidewalks, and did not altogether
suppress an ample consciousness of the white pedestrian's stal-
wart grace; nor was his quick glance too distressingly modest to
be aware of these faint but attractive perturbations.
A few of the oldest houses remained as he remembered them,
and there were two or three relics of mansard and cupola days;
but the herd of cast-iron deer that once guarded these lawns,
standing sentinel to all true gentry: Whither were they fled?
In his boyhood, one specimen betokened a family of position and
affluence; two, one on each side of the front walk, spoke of a
noble opulence; two and a fountain were overwhelming. He
wondered in what obscure thickets that once proud herd now
grazed; and then he smiled, as through a leafy opening of
shrubbery he caught a glimpse of a last survivor, still loyally
alert, the haughty head thrown back in everlasting challenge and
one foreleg lifted, standing in a vast and shadowy backyard with
a clothesline fastened to its antlers.
Mr. Corliss remembered that backyard very well: it was an old
battlefield whereon he had conquered; and he wondered if "the
Lindley boys" still lived there, and if Richard Lindley would
hate him now as implacably as then.
A hundred yards farther on, he paused before a house more
familiar to him than any other, and gave it a moment's whimsical
attention, without emotion.
It was a shabby old brick structure, and it stood among the
gayest, the most flamboyant dwellings of all Corliss Street
like a bewildered tramp surrounded by carnival maskers. It held
place full in the course of the fury for demolition and
rebuilding, but remained unaltered--even unrepaired, one might
have thought--since the early seventies, when it was built.
There was a sagging cornice, and the nauseous brown which the
walls had years ago been painted was sooted to a repellent dinge,
so cracked and peeled that the haggard red bricks were exposed,
like a beggar through the holes in his coat. It was one of those
houses which are large without being commodious; its very tall,
very narrow windows, with their attenuated, rusty inside
shutters, boasting to the passerby of high ceilings but betraying
the miserly floor spaces. At each side of the front door was a
high and cramped bay-window, one of them insanely culminating in
a little six-sided tower of slate, and both of them girdled above
the basement windows by a narrow porch, which ran across the
front of the house and gave access to the shallow vestibule.
However, a pleasant circumstance modified the gloom of this
edifice and assured it a remnant of reserve and dignity in its
ill-considered old age: it stood back a fine hundred feet from
the highway, and was shielded in part by a friendly group of
maple trees and one glorious elm, hoary, robust, and majestic, a
veteran of the days when this was forest ground.
Mr. Corliss concluded his momentary pause by walking up the
broken cement path, which was hard beset by plantain-weed and the
long grass of the ill-kept lawn. Ascending the steps, he was
assailed by an odour as of vehement bananas, a diffusion from
some painful little chairs standing in the long, high, dim,
rather sorrowful hall disclosed beyond the open double doors.
They were stiff little chairs of an inconsequent, mongrel
pattern; armless, with perforated wooden seats; legs tortured by
the lathe to a semblance of buttons strung on a rod; and they had
that day received a streaky coat of a gilding preparation which
exhaled the olfactory vehemence mentioned. Their present station
was temporary, their purpose, as obviously, to dry; and they were
doing some incidental gilding on their own account, leaving blots
and splashes and sporadic little round footprints on the hardwood
The old-fashioned brass bell-handle upon the caller's right
drooped from its socket in a dead fag, but after comprehensive
manipulation on the part of the young man, and equal complaint on
its own, it was constrained to permit a dim tinkle remotely.
Somewhere in the interior a woman's voice, not young, sang a
repeated fragment of "Lead, Kindly Light," to the accompaniment
of a flapping dust-cloth, sounds which ceased upon a second
successful encounter with the bell. Ensued a silence, probably
to be interpreted as a period of whispered consultation out of
range; a younger voice called softly and urgently, "Laura!" and a
dark-eyed, dark-haired girl of something over twenty made her
appearance to Mr. Corliss.
At sight of her he instantly restored a thin gold card-case
to the pocket whence he was in the act of removing it. She
looked at him with only grave, impersonal inquiry; no
appreciative invoice of him was to be detected in her quiet eyes,
which may have surprised him, possibly the more because he was
aware there was plenty of appreciation in his own kindling
glance. She was very white and black, this lady. Tall, trim,
clear, she looked cool in spite of the black winter skirt she
wore, an effect helped somewhat, perhaps, by the crisp freshness
of her white waist, with its masculine collar and slim black tie,
and undoubtedly by the even and lustreless light ivory of her
skin, against which the strong black eyebrows and undulated
black hair were lined with attractive precision; but, most of
all, that coolness was the emanation of her undisturbed and
tranquil eyes. They were not phlegmatic: a continuing spark
glowed far within them, not ardently, but steadily and
inscrutably, like the fixed stars in winter.
Mr. Valentine Corliss, of Paris and Naples, removed his
white-ribboned straw hat and bowed as no one had ever bowed in
that doorway. This most vivid salutation--accomplished by adding
something to a rather quick inclination of the body from the
hips, with the back and neck held straight expressed deference
without affecting or inviting cordiality. It was an elaborate
little formality of a kind fancifully called "foreign," and
evidently habitual to the performer.
It produced no outward effect upon the recipient. Such
self-control is unusual.
"Is Mr. Madison at home? My name is Valentine Corliss."
"He is at home." She indicated an open doorway upon her
right. "Will you wait in there?"
"Thank you," said Mr. Corliss, passing within. "I shall
be----" He left the sentence unfinished, for he was already
alone, and at liberty to reflect upon the extraordinary
coolness of this cool young woman.
The room, with its closed blinds, was soothingly dark after
the riotous sun without, a grateful obscurity which was one of
two attractions discovered in it by Mr. Corliss while he waited.
It was a depressing little chamber, disproportionately high,
uncheered by seven chairs (each of a different family, but all
belonging to the same knobby species, and all upholstered a
repellent blue), a scratched "inlaid table," likewise knobby, and
a dangerous looking small sofa--turbulent furniture, warmly
harmonious, however, in a common challenge to the visitor to take
comfort in any of it. A once-gilt gas chandelier hung from the
distant ceiling, with three globes of frosted glass, but
undeniable evidence that five were intended; and two of the three
had been severely bitten. There was a hostile little coal-grate,
making a mouth under a mantel of imitation black marble, behind
an old blue-satin fire-screen upon which red cat-tails and an owl
over a pond had been roughly embroidered in high relief, this owl
motive being the inspiration of innumerable other owls reflected
in innumerable other ponds in the formerly silver moonlight with
which the walls were papered. Corliss thought he remembered
that in his boyhood, when it was known as "the parlour" (though
he guessed that the Madison family called it "the reception
room," now) this was the place where his aunt received callers
who, she justifiably hoped, would not linger. Altogether, it
struck him that it might be a good test-room for an alienist: no
incipient lunacy would remain incipient here.
There was one incongruity which surprised him--a wicker
waste-paper basket, so nonsensically out of place in this arid
cell, where not the wildest hare-brain could picture any one
coming to read or write, that he bestowed upon it a particular,
frowning attention, and so discovered the second attractive
possession of the room. A fresh and lovely pink rose, just
opening full from the bud, lay in the bottom of the basket.
There was a rustling somewhere in the house and a murmur,
above which a boy's voice became audible in emphatic but
undistinguishable complaint. A whispering followed, and a woman
exclaimed protestingly, "Cora!" And then a startlingly pretty
girl came carelessly into the room through the open door.
She was humming "Quand I' Amour Meurt" in a gay
preoccupation, and evidently sought something upon the table in
the centre of the room, for she continued her progress toward it
several steps before realizing the presence of a visitor. She
was a year or so younger than the girl who had admitted him,
fairer and obviously more plastic, more expressive, more
perishable, a great deal more insistently feminine; though it was
to be seen that they were sisters. This one had eyes almost as
dark as the other's, but these were not cool; they were sweet,
unrestful, and seeking; brilliant with a vivacious hunger: and
not Diana but huntresses more ardent have such eyes. Her hair
was much lighter than her sister's; it was the colour of dry
corn-silk in the sun; and she was the shorter by a head, rounder
everywhere and not so slender; but no dumpling: she was
exquisitely made. There was a softness about her: something of
velvet, nothing of mush. She diffused with her entrance a
radiance of gayety and of gentleness; sunlight ran with her. She
seemed the incarnation of a caressing smile.
She was point-device. Her close, white skirt hung from a
plainly embroidered white waist to a silken instep; and from the
crown of her charming head to the tall heels of her graceful
white suede slippers, heels of a sweeter curve than the waist
of a violin, she was as modern and lovely as this dingy old house
was belated and hideous.
Mr. Valentine Corliss spared the fraction of a second for
another glance at the rose in the waste-basket.
The girl saw him before she reached the table, gave a little
gasp of surprise, and halted with one hand carried prettily to
"Oh!" she said impulsively; "I BEG your pardon. I didn't
know there was---- I was looking for a book I thought I----"
She stopped, whelmed with a breath-taking shyness, her eyes,
after one quick but condensed encounter with those of Mr.
Corliss, falling beneath exquisite lashes. Her voice was one to
stir all men: it needs not many words for a supremely beautiful
"speaking-voice" to be recognized for what it is; and this girl's
was like herself, hauntingly lovely. The intelligent young man
immediately realized that no one who heard it could ever forget
"I see," she faltered, turning to leave the room; "it isn't
"There's something else of yours here," said Corliss.
"Is there?" She paused, hesitating at the door, looking at
him over her shoulder uncertainly.
"You dropped this rose." He lifted the rose from the
waste-basket and repeated the bow he had made at the front door.
This time it was not altogether wasted.
"Yes. You lost it. It belongs to you."
"Yes--it does. How curious!" she said slowly. "How curious
it happened to be THERE!" She stepped to take it from him,
her eyes upon his in charming astonishment. "And how odd
that----" She stopped; then said quickly:
"How did you know it was MY rose?"
"Any one would know!"
Her expression of surprise was instantaneously merged in a
flash of honest pleasure and admiration, such as only an artist
may feel in the presence of a little masterpiece by a
Happily, anticlimax was spared them by the arrival of the
person for whom the visitor had asked at the door, and the young
man retained the rose in his hand.
Mr. Madison, a shapeless hillock with a large, harassed, red
face, evidently suffered from the heat: his gray hair was rumpled
back from a damp forehead; the sleeves of his black alpaca coat
were pulled up to the elbow above his uncuffed white
shirtsleeves; and he carried in one mottled hand the ruins of a
palm-leaf fan, in the other a balled wet handkerchief which
released an aroma of camphor upon the banana-burdened air. He
bore evidences of inadequate adjustment after a disturbed siesta,
but, exercising a mechanical cordiality, preceded himself into
the room by a genial half-cough and a hearty, "Well-well-well,"
as if wishing to indicate a spirit of polite, even excited,
"I expected you might be turning up, after your letter," he
said, shaking hands. "Well, well, well! I remember you as a
boy. Wouldn't have known you, of course; but I expect you'll
find the town about as much changed as you are."
With a father's blindness to all that is really vital, he
concluded his greeting inconsequently: "Oh, this is my little
"Run along, little girl," said the fat father.
His little girl's radiant glance at the alert visitor
imparted her thorough comprehension of all the old man's
absurdities, which had reached their climax in her dismissal.
Her parting look, falling from Corliss's face to the waste-basket
at his feet, just touched the rose in his hand as she passed
through the door.
Cora paused in the hall at a point about twenty feet from the
door, a girlish stratagem frequently of surprising advantage to
the practitioner; but the two men had begun to speak of the
weather. Suffering a momentary disappointment, she went on,
stepping silently, and passed through a door at the end of the
hall into a large and barren looking dining-room, stiffly and
skimpily furnished, but well-lighted, owing to the fact that one
end of it had been transformed into a narrow "conservatory," a
glass alcove now tenanted by two dried palms and a number of
vacant jars and earthen crocks.
Here her sister sat by an open window, repairing masculine
underwear; and a handsome, shabby, dirty boy of about thirteen
sprawled on the floor of the "conservatory" unloosing upon its
innocent, cracked, old black and white tiles a ghastly family of
snakes, owls, and visaged crescent moons, in orange, green, and
other loathsome chalks. As Cora entered from the hall, a
woman of fifty came in at a door opposite, and, a dust-cloth
retained under her left arm, an unsheathed weapon ready for
emergency, leaned sociably against the door-casing and continued
to polish a tablespoon with a bit of powdered chamois-skin. She
was tall and slightly bent; and, like the flat, old, silver spoon
in her hand, seemed to have been worn thin by use; yet it was
plain that the three young people in the room "got their looks"
from her. Her eyes, if tired, were tolerant and fond; and her
voice held its youth and something of the music of Cora's.
"What is he like?" She addressed the daughter by the window.
"Why don't you ask Coralie?" suggested the sprawling artist,
relaxing his hideous labour. He pronounced his sister's name
with intense bitterness. He called it "Cora-LEE," with an
implication far from subtle that his sister had at some time thus
Gallicized herself, presumably for masculine favour; and he was
pleased to receive tribute to his satire in a flash of dislike
from her lovely eyes.
"I ask Laura because it was Laura who went to the door, "Mrs.
Madison answered. "I do not ask Cora because Cora hasn't
seen him. Do I satisfy you, Hedrick?"
"`Cora hasn't seen him!'" the boy hooted mockingly. "She
hasn't? She was peeking out of the library shutters when he came
up the front walk, and she wouldn't let me go to the door; she
told Laura to go, but first she took the library waste-basket and
laid one o' them roses----"
"THOSE roses," said Cora sharply. "He WILL hang
around the neighbours' stables. I think you ought to do
something about it, mother."
"THEM roses!" repeated Hedrick fiercely. "One o' them
roses Dick Lindley sent her this morning. Laid it in the
waste-basket and sneaked it into the reception room for an excuse
to go galloping in and----"
"`Galloping'?" said Mrs. Madison gravely.
"It was a pretty bum excuse," continued the unaffected youth,
"but you bet your life you'll never beat our Cora-LEE when
there's a person in pants on the premises! It's sickening." He
rose, and performed something like a toe-dance, a supposed
imitation of his sister's mincing approach to the visitor. "Oh,
dear, I am such a little sweety! Here I am all alone just
reeking with Browning-and-Tennyson and thinking to myself about
such lovely things, and
walking around looking for my nice, pretty rose. Where can it
be? Oh heavens, Mister, are YOU here? Oh my, I never, never
thought that there was a MAN here! How you frighten me! See
what a shy little thing I am? You DO SEE, DON'T you, old
sweeticums? Ta, ta, here's papa. Remember me by that rose,
'cause it's just like me. Me and it's twins, you see,
cutie-sugar!" The diabolical boy then concluded with a reversion
to the severity of his own manner: "If she was MY daughter
I'd whip her!"
His indignation was left in the air, for the three ladies had
instinctively united against him, treacherously including his
private feud in the sex-war of the ages: Cora jumped lightly
upon the table and sat whistling and polishing the nails of one
hand upon the palm of another; Laura continued to sew without
looking up, and Mrs. Madison, conquering a tendency to laugh,
preserved a serene countenance and said ruminatively:
"They were all rather queer, the Corlisses."
Hedrick stared incredulously, baffled; but men must expect
these things, and this was no doubt a helpful item in his
"I wonder if he wants to sell the house, said Mrs. Madison.
"I wish he would. Anything that would make father get out of
it!" Cora exclaimed. "I hope Mr. Corliss will burn it if he
doesn't sell it."
"He might want to live here himself."
"He!" Cora emitted a derisive outcry.
Her mother gave her a quick, odd look, in which there was a
real alarm. "What is he like, Cora?"
"Awfully foreign and distinguished!"
This brought Hedrick to confront her with a leap as of some
wild animal under a lash. He landed close to her; his face
"Princely, I should call him," said Cora, her enthusiasm
undaunted. "Distinctly princely!"
"Princely," moaned Hedrick. "Pe-rin-sley!"
"Hedrick!" Mrs. Madison reproved him automatically. "In what
way is he `foreign,' Cora?"
"Oh, every way." Cora let her glance rest dreamily upon the
goaded boy. "He has a splendid head set upon a magnificent
"TORSO!" Hedrick whispered hoarsely.
"Tall, a glorious figure--like a young guardsman's." Madness
was gathering in her brother's eyes; and observing it with
quiet pleasure, she added: "One sees immediately he has the
grand manner, the bel air."
Hedrick exploded. "`BEL AIR'!" he screamed, and began to
jump up and down, tossing his arms frantically, and gasping with
emotion. "Oh, bel air! Oh, blah! `Henry Esmond!' Been readin'
`Henry Esmond!' Oh, you be-yoo-tiful Cora-Beatrix-a-LEE!
Magganifisent torso! GullO-rious figgi-your! Bel air! Oh,
slush! Oh, luv-a-ly slush!" He cast himself convulsively upon
the floor, full length. "Luv-a-ly, LUV-a-ly slush!"
"He is thirty, I should say," continued Cora, thoughtfully.
"Yes--about thirty. A strong, keen face, rather tanned. He's
between fair and dark----"
Hedrick raised himself to the attitude of the "Dying Gaul."
"And with `hair slightly silvered at the temples!' AIN'T his
hair slightly silvered at the temples?" he cried imploringly.
"Oh, sister, in pity's name let his hair be slightly silvered at
the temples? Only three grains of corn, your Grace; my children
He collapsed again, laid his face upon his extended arms, and
"He has rather wonderful eyes," said Cora. "They seem to
look right through you."
"Slush, slush, luv-a-ly slush," came in muffled tones from
"And he wears his clothes so well--so differently! You feel
at once that he's not a person, but a personage."
Hedrick sat up, his eyes closed, his features contorted as
with agony, and chanted, impromptu:
"Slush, slush, luv-a-ly, slush!
Le'ss all go a-swimmin' in a dollar's worth o' mush.
Slush in the morning, slush at night,
If I don't get my slush I'm bound to get tight!"
"Hedrick!" said his mother.
"Altogether I should say that Mr. Valentine Corliss looks as
if he lived up to his name," Cora went on tranquilly. "Valentine
Corliss of Corliss Street--I think I rather like the sound of
that name." She let her beautiful voice linger upon it,
caressingly. "Valentine Corliss."
Hedrick opened his eyes, allowed his countenance to resume
its ordinary proportions, and spoke another name slowly and with
This was the shot that told. Cora sprang down from the table
with an exclamation.
Hedrick, subduing elation, added gently, in a mournful
"POOR old Dick Lindley!"
His efforts to sting his sister were completely successful at
last: Cora was visibly agitated, and appealed hotly to her
mother. "Am I to bear this kind of thing all my life? Aren't
you EVER going to punish his insolence?"
"Hedrick, Hedrick!" said Mrs. Madison sadly.
Cora turned to the girl by the window with a pathetic
gesture. "Laura----" she said, and hesitated.
Laura Madison looked up into her sister's troubled eyes.
"I feel so morbid," said Cora, flushing a little and glancing
away. "I wish----" She stopped.
The silent Laura set aside her work, rose and went out of the
room. Her cheeks, too, had reddened faintly, a circumstance
sharply noted by the terrible boy. He sat where he was, asprawl,
propped by his arms behind him, watching with acute concentration
the injured departure of Cora, following her sister. At the
door, Cora, without pausing, threw him a look over her
shoulder: a full-eyed shot of frankest hatred.
A few moments later, magnificent chords sounded through the
house. The piano was old, but tuned to the middle of the note,
and the keys were swept by a master hand. The wires were not
hammered; they were touched knowingly as by the player's own
fingers, and so they sang--and from out among the chords there
stole an errant melody. This was not "piano-playing" and not a
pianist's triumphant nimbleness--it was music. Art is the
language of a heart that knows how to speak, and a heart that
knew how was speaking here. What it told was something
immeasurably wistful, something that might have welled up in the
breast of a young girl standing at twilight in an April orchard.
It was the inexpressible made into sound, an improvisation by a
"You hear what she's up to?" said Hedrick, turning his head
at last. But his mother had departed.
He again extended himself flat upon the floor, face downward,
this time as a necessary preliminary to rising after a manner of
his own invention. Mysteriously he became higher in the middle,
his body slowly forming first a round and then a pointed
arch, with forehead, knees, and elbows touching the floor. A
brilliantly executed manoeuvre closed his Gothic period, set him
upright and upon his feet; then, without ostentation, he pro-
ceeded to the kitchen, where he found his mother polishing a
He challenged her with a damnatory gesture in the direction
of the music. "You hear what Cora's up to? "
Mrs. Madison's expression was disturbed; she gave her son a
look almost of appeal, and said, gently:
"I believe there's nothing precisely criminal in her getting
Laura to play for her. Laura's playing always soothes her when
she feels out of sorts--and--you weren't very considerate of her,
Hedrick. You upset her."
"Mentioning Ray Vilas, you mean?" he demanded.
"You weren't kind."
"She deserves it. Look at her! YOU know why she's got
Laura at the piano now."
"It's--it's because you worried her," his mother faltered
evasively. "Besides, it is very hot, and Cora isn't as strong as
she looks. She said she felt morbid and----"
"Morbid? Blah!" interrupted the direct boy. "She's started
after this Corliss man just like she did for Vilas. If I was
Dick Lindley I wouldn't stand for Cora's----"
"Hedrick!" His mother checked his outburst pleadingly.
"Cora has so much harder time than the other girls; they're all
so much better off. They seem to get everything they want, just
by asking: nice clothes and jewellery--and automobiles. That
seems to make a great difference nowadays; they all seem to have
automobiles. We're so dreadfully poor, and Cora has to struggle
so for what good times she----"
"Her?" the boy jibed bitterly. "I don't see her doing any
particular struggling." He waved his hand in a wide gesture.
"She takes it ALL!"
"There, there!" the mother said, and, as if feeling the need
of placating this harsh judge, continued gently: "Cora isn't
strong, Hedrick, and she does have a hard time. Almost every one
of the other girls in her set is at the seashore or somewhere
having a gay summer. You don't realize, but it's mortifying to
have to be the only one to stay at home, with everybody knowing
it's because your father can't afford to send her. And this
house is so hopeless," Mrs. Madison went on, extending her
plea hopefully; "it's impossible to make it attractive, but Cora
keeps trying and trying: she was all morning on her knees gilding
those chairs for the music-room, poor child, and----"
"`Music-room'!" sneered the boy. "Gilt chairs! All
show-off! That's all she ever thinks about. It's all there is
to Cora, just show-off, so she'll get a string o' fellows chasin'
after her. She's started for this Corliss just exactly the way
she did for Ray Vilas!"
"Just look at her!" he cried vehemently. "Don't you know
she's tryin' to make this Corliss think it's HER playin' the
piano right now?"
"Didn't she do that with Ray Vilas?" he demanded quickly.
"Wasn't that exactly what she did the first time he ever came
here--got Laura to play and made him think it was HER?
"Oh--just in fun." Mrs. Madison's tone lacked conviction;
she turned, a little confusedly, from the glaring boy and fumbled
among the silver on the kitchen table. "Besides--she told him
afterward that it was Laura."
"He walked in on her one day when she was battin' away at the
piano herself with her back to the door. Then she pretended it
had been a joke, and he was so far gone by that time he didn't
care. He's crazy, anyway," added the youth, casually. "Who is
"He owns this house. His family were early settlers and used
to be very prominent, but they're all dead except this one. His
mother was a widow; she went abroad to live and took him with her
when he was about your age, and I don't think he's ever been back
"Did he use to live in this house?"
"No; an aunt of his did. She left it to him when she died,
two years ago. Your father was agent for her."
"You think this Corliss wants to sell it?"
"It's been for sale all the time he's owned it. That's why
we moved here; it made the rent low."
"Is he rich?"
"They used to have money, but maybe it's all spent. It
seemed to me he might want to raise money on the house, because I
don't see any other reason that could bring him back here. He's
already mortgaged it pretty heavily, your father told me. I
don't----" Mrs. Madison paused abruptly, her eyes widening at a
dismaying thought. "Oh, I do hope your father will know better
than to ask him to stay to dinner!"
Hedrick's expression became cryptic. "Father won't ask him,"
he said. "But I'll bet you a thousand dollars he stays!"
The mother followed her son's thought and did not seek to
elicit verbal explanation of the certainty which justified so
large a venture. "Oh, I hope not," she said. "Sarah's
threatening to leave, anyway; and she gets so cross if there's
extra cooking on wash-days."
"Well, Sarah'll have to get cross," said the boy grimly; "and
_I_'ll have to plug out and go for a quart of brick ice-cream
and carry it home in all this heat; and Laura and you'll have to
stand over the stove with Sarah; and father'll have to change his
shirt; and we'll all have to toil and moil and sweat and suffer
while Cora-lee sits out on the front porch and talks
toodle-do-dums to her new duke. And then she'll have YOU go
out and kid him along while----"
"Yes, you will!--while she gets herself all dressed and
powdered up again. After that, she'll do her share of the work:
she'll strain her poor back carryin' Dick Lindley's flowers down
the back stairs and stickin' 'em in a vase over a hole in the
tablecloth that Laura hasn't had time to sew up. You wait and
The gloomy realism of this prophecy was not without effect
upon the seer's mother. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed, protestingly.
"We really can't manage it. I'm sure Cora won't want to ask
"No; I'm sure she wouldn't think of it, but if she does I'll
tell her we can't. We really can't, to-day."
Her son looked pityingly upon her. "She ought to be MY
daughter," he said, the sinister implication all too
plain;--"just about five minutes!"
With that, he effectively closed the interview and left her.
He returned to his abandoned art labours in the
"conservatory," and meditatively perpetrated monstrosities upon
the tiles for the next half-hour, at the end of which he
concealed his box of chalks, with an anxiety possibly not
unwarranted, beneath the sideboard; and made his way toward the
front door, first glancing, unseen, into the kitchen where
his mother still pursued the silver. He walked through the hall
on tiptoe, taking care to step upon the much stained and worn
strip of "Turkish" carpet, and not upon the more resonant wooden
floor. The music had ceased long since.
The open doorway was like a brilliantly painted picture hung
upon the darkness of the hall, though its human centre of
interest was no startling bit of work, consisting of Mr. Madison
pottering aimlessly about the sun-flooded, unkempt lawn, fanning
himself, and now and then stooping to pull up one of the
thousands of plantain-weeds that beset the grass. With him the
little spy had no concern; but from a part of the porch out of
sight from the hall came Cora's exquisite voice and the light and
pleasant baritone of the visitor. Hedrick flattened himself in a
corner just inside the door.
"I should break any engagement whatsoever if I had one," Mr.
Corliss was saying with what the eavesdropper considered an
offensively "foreign" accent and an equally unjustifiable
gallantry; "but of course I haven't: I am so utterly a stranger
here. Your mother is immensely hospitable to wish you to ask me,
and I'll be only too glad to stay. Perhaps after dinner
you'll be very, very kind and play again? Of course you know how
"Oh, just improvising," Cora tossed off, carelessly, with a
deprecatory ripple of laughter. "It's purely with the mood, you
see. I can't make myself do things. No; I fancy I shall not
play again today."
There was a moment's silence.
"Shan't I fasten that in your buttonhole for you," said Cora.
"You see how patiently I've been awaiting the offer!"
There was another little silence; and the listener was able
to construct a picture (possibly in part from an active memory)
of Cora's delicate hands uplifted to the gentleman's lapel and
Cora's eyes for a moment likewise uplifted.
"Yes, one has moods," she said, dreamily. "I am ALL
moods. I think you are too, Mr. Corliss. You LOOK moody.
A horrible grin might have been seen to disfigure the shadow
in the corner just within the doorway.
It was cooler outdoors, after dinner, in the dusk of that
evening; nevertheless three members of the Madison family denied
themselves the breeze, and, as by a tacitly recognized and
habitual house-rule, so disposed themselves as to afford the most
agreeable isolation for the younger daughter and the guest, who
occupied wicker chairs upon the porch. The mother and father sat
beneath a hot, gas droplight in the small "library"; Mrs. Madison
with an evening newspaper, her husband with "King Solomon's
Mines"; and Laura, after crisply declining an urgent request from
Hedrick to play, had disappeared upstairs. The inimical lad
alone was inspired for the ungrateful role of duenna.
He sat upon the topmost of the porch steps with the air of
being permanently implanted; leaning forward, elbows on knees,
cheeks on palms, in a treacherous affectation of profound
reverie; and his back (all of him that was plainly visible in
the hall light) tauntingly close to a delicate foot which
would, God wot! willingly have launched him into the darkness
beyond. It was his dreadful pleasure to understand wholly the
itching of that shapely silk and satin foot.
The gas-light from the hall laid a broad orange path to the
steps--Cora and her companion sat just beyond it, his whiteness
gray, and she a pale ethereality in the shadow. She wore an
evening gown that revealed a vague lilac through white, and
shimmered upon her like a vapour. She was very quiet; and there
was a wan sweetness about her, an exhalation of wistfulness.
Cora, in the evening, was more like a rose than ever. She was
fragrant in the dusk. The spell she cast was an Undine's: it was
not to be thought so exquisite a thing as she could last. And
who may know how she managed to say what she did in the silence
and darkness? For it was said--without words, without touch,
even without a look--as plainly as if she had spoken or written
the message: "If I am a rose, I am one to be worn and borne
away. Are you the man?"
With the fall of night, the street they faced had become
still, save for an infrequent squawk of irritation on the
part of one of the passing automobiles, gadding for the most part
silently, like fireflies. But after a time a strolling trio of
negroes came singing along the sidewalk.
"In the evening, by the moonlight, you could hear
those banjos ringing;
In the evening, by the moonlight, you could hear
those darkies singing.
How the ole folks would injoy it; they would sit
all night an' lis-sun,
As we sang I-I-N the evening BY-Y-Y the
"Ah, THAT takes me back!" exclaimed Corliss. "That's as
it used to be. I might be a boy again."
"And I suppose this old house has many memories for you?"
said Cora, softly.
"Not very many. My, old-maid aunt didn't like me overmuch, I
believe; and I wasn't here often. My mother and I lived far down
the street. A big apartment-house stands there now, I noticed as
I was walking out here this afternoon--the `Verema,' it is
called, absurdly enough!"
"Ray Vilas lives there," volunteered Hedrick, not altering
"Vilas?" said the visitor politely, with a casual
recollection that the name had been once or twice emphasized
by the youth at dinner. "I don't remember Vilas among the old
"It wasn't, I guess," said Hedrick. "Ray Vilas has only been
here about two years. He came from Kentucky."
"A great friend of yours, I suppose."
"He ain't a boy," said Hedrick, and returned to silence
without further explanation.
"How cool and kind the stars are to-night," said Cora, very
She leaned forward from her chair, extending a white arm
along the iron railing of the porch; bending toward Corliss, and
speaking toward him and away from Hedrick in as low a voice as
possible, probably entertaining a reasonable hope of not being
"I love things that are cool and kind," she said. I love
things that are cool and strong. I love iron." She moved her
arm caressingly upon the railing. "I love its cool, smooth
touch. Any strong life must have iron in it. I like iron in
She leaned a very little closer to him.
"Have you iron in you, Mr. Corliss?" she asked.
At these words the frayed edge of Hedrick's broad white
collar was lifted perceptibly from his coat, as if by a
shudder passing over the back and shoulders beneath.
"If I have not," answered Corliss in a low voice, I will
"Tell me about yourself," she said.
"Dear lady," he began--and it was an effective beginning, for
a sigh of pleasure parted her lips as he spoke--"there is nothing
interesting to tell. I have spent a very commonplace life."
"I think not. You shouldn't call any life commonplace that
has escaped THIS!" The lovely voice was all the richer for
the pain that shook it now. "This monotony, this unending desert
of ashes, this death in life!"
"This town, you mean?"
"This prison, I mean! Everything. Tell me what lies outside
of it. You can."
"What makes you think I can?"
"I don't need to answer that. You understand perfectly."
Valentine Corliss drew in his breath with a sound murmurous
of delight, and for a time they did not speak.
"Yes," he said, finally, "I think I do."
"There are meetings in the desert," he went on, slowly.
"A lonely traveller finds another at a spring, sometimes."
"And sometimes they find that they speak the same language?"
His answer came, almost in a whisper:
"`Even as you and I.'"
"`Even as you and I,'" she echoed, even more faintly.
Cora breathed rapidly in the silence that followed; she had
every appearance of a woman deeply and mysteriously stirred. Her
companion watched her keenly in the dusk, and whatever the
reciprocal symptoms of emotion he may have exhibited, they were
far from tumultuous, bearing more likeness to the quiet
satisfaction of a good card-player taking what may prove to be a
After a time she leaned back in her chair again, and began to
fan herself slowly.
"You have lived in the Orient, haven't you, Mr. Corliss?" she
said in an ordinary tone.
"Not lived. I've been East once or twice. I spend a greater
part of the year at Posilipo."
"Where is that?"
"On the fringe of Naples."
"Do you live in a hotel?"
"No." A slight surprise sounded in his voice. "I have a
"Do you know what that seems to me?" Cora asked gravely,
after a pause; then answered herself, after another: "Like
magic. Like a strange, beautiful dream."
"Yes, it is beautiful," he said.
"Then tell me: What do you do there?"
"I spend a lot of time on the water in a boat."
"On sapphires and emeralds and turquoises and rubies, melted
and blown into waves."
"And you go yachting over that glory?"
"Fishing with my crew--and loafing."
"But your boat is really a yacht, isn't it?"
"Oh, it might be called anything," he laughed.
"And your sailors are Italian fishermen?"
Hedrick slew a mosquito upon his temple, smiting himself
hard. "No, they're Chinese!" he muttered hoarsely.
"They're Neapolitans," said Corliss.
"Do they wear red sashes and earrings?" asked Cora.
"One of them wears earrings and a derby hat!"
"Ah!" she protested, turning to him again. "You don't tell
me. You let me cross-question you, but you don't tell me things!
Don't you see? I want to know what LIFE is! I want to know
of strange seas, of strange people, of pain and of danger, of
great music, of curious thoughts! What are the Neapolitan women
"They fade early."
She leaned closer to him. "Before the fading have you--have
"All the pretty ones I ever saw, he answered gayly, but with
something in his tone (as there was in hers) which implied that
all the time they were really talking of things other than those
spoken. Yet here this secret subject seemed to come near the
She let him hear a genuine little snap of her teeth. I
THOUGHT you were like that!"
He laughed. "Ah, but you were sure to see it!"
"You could 'a' seen a Neapolitan woman yesterday, Cora," said
Hedrick, obligingly, "if you'd looked out the front window. She
was working a hurdy-gurdy up and down this neighbourhood all
afternoon." He turned genially to face his sister, and
added: "Ray Vilas used to say there were lots of pretty girls in
Cora sprang to her feet. "You're not smoking," she said to
Corliss hurriedly, as upon a sudden discovery. "Let me get you
She had entered the house before he could protest, and
Hedrick, looking down the hall, was acutely aware that she dived
desperately into the library. But, however tragic the cry for
justice she uttered there, it certainly was not prolonged; and
the almost instantaneous quickness of her reappearance upon the
porch, with matches in her hand, made this one of the occasions
when her brother had to admit that in her own line Cora was a
"So thoughtless of me," she said cheerfully, resuming her
seat. She dropped the matches into Mr. Corliss's hand with a
fleeting touch of her finger-tips upon his palm. "Of course you
wanted to smoke. I can't think why I didn't realize it before.
I must have----"
A voice called from within, commanding in no, uncertain
"Hedrick! I should like to see you! Hedrick rose, and,
looking neither to the right nor, to the left, went stonily
into the house, and appeared before the powers.
"Call me?" he inquired with the air of cheerful readiness to
proceed upon any errand, no matter how difficult.
Mr. Madison countered diplomacy with gloom.
"I don't know what to do with you. Why can't you let your
"Has Laura been complaining of me?"
"Oh, Hedrick!" said Mrs. Madison.
Hedrick himself felt the justice of her reproof: his
reference to Laura was poor work, he knew. He hung his head and
began to scrape the carpet with the side of his shoe.
"Well, what'd Cora say I been doing to her?"
"You know perfectly well what you've been doing," said Mr.
"Nothing at all; just sitting on the steps. What'd she
His father evidently considered it wiser not to repeat the
text of accusation. "You know what you did," he said heavily.
"Oho!" Hedrick's eyes became severe, and his sire's evasively
shifted from them.
"You keep away from the porch," said the, father, uneasily.
"You mean what I said about Ray Vilas?" asked the boy.
Both parents looked uncomfortable, and Mr. Madison, turning a
leaf in his book, gave a mediocre imitation of an austere person
resuming his reading after an impertinent interruption.
"That's what you mean," said the boy accusingly. "Ray
"Just you keep away from that porch."
"Because I happened to mention Ray Vilas?" demanded Hedrick.
"You let your sister alone."
"I got a right to know what she said, haven't I?"
There was no response, which appeared to satisfy Hedrick
perfectly. Neither parent met his glance; the mother troubled
and the father dogged, while the boy rejoiced sternly in some
occult triumph. He inflated his scant chest in pomp and hurled
at the defeated pair the well-known words:
"I wish she was MY daughter--about five minutes!"
New sounds from without--men's voices in greeting, and a
ripple of response from Cora somewhat lacking in
enthusiasm--afforded Mr. Madison unmistakable relief, and an
errand upon which to send his deadly offspring.
Hedrick, after a reconnaissance in the hall, obeyed at
leisure. Closing the library door nonchalantly behind him, he
found himself at the foot of a flight of unillumined back stairs,
where his manner underwent a swift alteration, for here was an
adventure to be gone about with ceremony. "Ventre St. Gris!" he
muttered hoarsely, and loosened the long rapier in the shabby
sheath at his side. For, with the closing of the door, he had
become a Huguenot gentleman, over forty and a little grizzled
perhaps, but modest and unassuming; wiry, alert, lightning-quick,
with a wrist of steel and a heart of gold; and he was about to
ascend the stairs of an unknown house at Blois in total darkness.
He went up, crouching, ready for anything, without a footfall,
not even causing a hideous creak; and gained the top in safety.
Here he turned into an obscure passage, and at the end of it
beheld, through an open door, a little room in which a dark-eyed
lady sat writing in a book by the light of an oil lamp.
The wary Huguenot remained in the shadow and observed her.
Laura was writing in an old ledger she had found in the
attic, blank and unused. She had rebound it herself in heavy
gray leather; and fitted it with a tiny padlock and key. She
wore the key under her dress upon a very thin silver chain round
her neck. Upon the first page of the book was written a date,
now more than a year past, the month was June--and beneath it:
"Love came to me to-day."
Nothing more was written upon that page.
Laura, at this writing, looked piquantly unfamiliar to her
brother: her eyes were moist and bright; her cheeks were flushed
and as she bent low, intently close to the book, a loosened wavy
strand of her dark hair almost touched the page. Hedrick had
never before seen her wearing an expression so "becoming" as the
eager and tremulous warmth of this; though sometimes, at the
piano, she would play in a reverie which wrought such glamour
about her that even a brother was obliged to consider her rather
handsome. She looked more than handsome now, so strangely
lovely, in fact, that his eyes watered painfully with the
protracted struggle to read a little of the writing in her book
before she discovered him.
He gave it up at last, and lounged forward blinking, with the
air of finding it sweet to do nothing.
"Whatch' writin'?" he asked in simple carelessness.
At the first sound of his movement she closed the book in a
flash; then, with a startled, protective gesture,
extended her arms over it, covering it.
"What is it, Hedrick?" she asked, breathlessly.
"What's the padlock for?"
"Nothing," she panted. "What is it you want?"
"You writin' poetry?"
Laura's eyes dilated; she looked dangerous.
"Oh, I don't care about your old book," said Hedrick, with an
amused nonchalance Talleyrand might have admired. "There's
callers, and you have to come down."
"Who sent you?"
"A man I've often noticed around the house," he replied
blightingly. "You may have seen him--I think his name's Madison.
His wife and he both sent for you."
One of Laura's hands instinctively began to arrange her hair,
but the other remained upon the book. "Who is it calling?"
"Richard Lindley and that Wade Trumble."
Laura rose, standing between her brother and the table.
"Tell mother I will come down."
Hedrick moved a little nearer, whereupon, observing his eye,
she put her right hand behind her upon the book. She was not
deceived, and boys are not only superb strategic actors
sometimes, but calamitously quick. Appearing to be unaware of
her careful defence, he leaned against the wall and crossed his
feet in an original and interesting manner.
"Of course YOU understand," he said cosily. "Cora wants
to keep this Corliss in a corner of the porch where she can coo
at him; so you and mother'll have to raise a ballyhoo for Dick
Lindley and that Wade Trumble. It'd been funny if Dick hadn't
noticed anybody was there and kissed her. What on earth does he
want to stay engaged to her for, anyway?"
"You don't know that she is engaged to Mr. Lindley, Hedrick."
"Get out!" he hooted. "What's the use talking like that to
me? A blind mackerel could see she's let poor old Lindley think
he's High Man with her these last few months; but he'll have to
hit the pike now, I reckon, 'cause this Corliss is altogether too
pe-rin-sley for Dick's class. Lee roy est mort. Vive lee roy!"
"Hedrick, won't you please run along? I want to change my
"What for? There was company for dinner and you didn't
Laura's flushed cheeks flushed deeper, and in her confusion
she answered too quickly. "I only have one evening gown. I--of
course I can't wear it every night."
"Well, then," he returned triumphantly, "what do you want to
put it on now for?"
"PLEASE run along, Hedrick," she pleaded.
"You didn't for this Corliss," he persisted sharply. You
know Dick Lindley couldn't see anybody but Cora to save his life,
and I don't suppose there's a girl on earth fool enough to dress
up for that Wade Trum----"
"Hedrick!" Laura's voice rang with a warning which he
remembered to have heard upon a few previous occasions when she
had easily proved herself physically stronger than he. "Go and
tell mother I'm coming," she said.
He began to whistle "Beulah Land" as he went, but, with the
swift closing of the door behind him, abandoned that pathetically
optimistic hymn prematurely, after the third bar.
Twenty minutes later, when Laura came out and went
downstairs, a fine straight figure in her black evening gown, the
Sieur de Marsac--that hard-bitten Huguenot, whose middle-aged
shabbiness was but the outward and deceptive seeming of the
longest head and the best sword in France--emerged cautiously
from the passageway and stood listening until her footsteps were
heard descending the front stairs. Nevertheless, the most
painstaking search of her room, a search as systematic as it was
feverish, failed to reveal where she had hidden the book.
He returned wearily to the porch.
A prophet has always been supposed to take some pleasure,
perhaps morbid, in seeing his predictions fulfilled; and it may
have been a consolation to the gloomy heart of Hedrick, sorely
injured by Laura's offensive care of her treasure, to find the
grouping upon the porch as he had foretold: Cora and Mr. Corliss
sitting a little aloof from the others, far enough to permit
their holding an indistinct and murmurous conversation of their
own. Their sequestration, even by so short a distance, gave them
an appearance of intimacy which probably accounted for the rather
absent greeting bestowed by Mr. Lindley upon the son of the
house, who met him with some favour.
This Richard Lindley was a thin, friendly looking young man
with a pleasing, old-fashioned face which suggested that if
he were minded to be portrayed it should be by the daguerreotype,
and that a high, black stock would have been more suitable to him
than his businesslike, modern neck-gear. He had fine eyes, which
seemed habitually concerned with faraway things, though when he
looked at Cora they sparkled; however, it cannot be said that the
sparkling continued at its brightest when his glance wandered (as
it not infrequently did this evening) from her lovely head to the
rose in Mr. Corliss's white coat.
Hedrick, resuming a position upon the top step between the
two groups, found the conversation of the larger annoying because
it prevented him from hearing that of the smaller. It was
carried on for the greater part by his mother and Mr. Trumble;
Laura sat silent between these two; and Lindley's mood was
obviously contemplative. Mr. Wade Trumble, twenty-six, small,
earnest, and already beginning to lose his hair, was talkative
He was one of those people who are so continuously aggressive
that they are negligible. "What's the matter here? Nobody pays
any attention to me. I'M important!" He might have had that
legend engraved on his card, it spoke from everything else
that was his: face, voice, gesture--even from his clothes,
for they also clamoured for attention without receiving it. Worn
by another man, their extravagance of shape and shade might have
advertised a self-sacrificing effort for the picturesque; but
upon Mr. Trumble they paradoxically confirmed an impression that
he was well off and close. Certainly this was the impression
confirmed in the mind of the shrewdest and most experienced
observer on that veranda. The accomplished Valentine Corliss was
quite able to share Cora's detachment satisfactorily, and be very
actively aware of other things at the same time. For instance:
Richard Lindley's preoccupation had neither escaped him nor
remained unconnected in his mind with that gentleman's somewhat
attentive notice of the present position of a certain rose.
Mr. Trumble took up Mrs. Madison's placid weather talk as if
it had been a flaunting challenge; he made it a matter of
conscience and for argument; for he was a doughty champion, it
appeared, when nothings were in question, one of those stern men
who will have accuracy in the banal, insisting upon portent in
talk meant to be slid over as mere courteous sound.
"I don't know about that, now," he said with severe emphasis.
"I don't know about that at all. I can't say I agree with you.
In fact, I do not agree with you: it was hotter in the early part
of July, year before last, than it has been at any time this
summer. Several degrees hotter--several degrees."
"I fear I must beg to differ with you," he said, catching the
poor lady again, a moment later. "I beg to differ decidedly.
Other places get a great deal more heat. Look at Egypt."
"Permit me to disagree, he interrupted her at once, when she
pathetically squirmed to another subject. "There's more than
one side to this matter. You are looking at this matter from a
totally wrong angle. . . . Let me inform you that
statistics. . . ." Mrs. Madison's gentle voice was no more than
just audible in the short intervals he permitted; a blind
listener would have thought Mr. Trumble at the telephone.
Hedrick was thankful when his mother finally gave up altogether
the display of her ignorance, inaccuracy, and general
misinformation, and Trumble talked alone. That must have been
the young man's object; certainly he had struggled for it; and so
it must have pleased him. He talked on and on and on; he
passed from one topic to another with no pause; swinging over the
gaps with a "Now you take," or, "And that reminds me," filling
many a vacancy with "So-and-so and so-and-so," and other
stencils, while casting about for material to continue.
Everything was italicized, the significant and the trivial, to
the same monotone of emphasis. Death and shoe-laces were all the
same to him.
Anything was all the same to him so long as he talked.
Hedrick's irritation was gradually dispelled; and, becoming
used to the sound, he found it lulling; relaxed his attitude and
drowsed; Mr. Lindley was obviously lost in a reverie; Mrs.
Madison, her hand shading her eyes, went over her market-list for
the morrow and otherwise set her house in order; Laura alone sat
straight in her chair; and her face was toward the vocalist, but
as she was in deep shadow her expression could not be guessed.
However, one person in that group must have listened with genuine
pleasure--else why did he talk?
It was the returned native whose departure at last rang the
curtain on the monologue. The end of the long sheltered
seclusion of Cora and her companion was a whispered word. He
spoke it first:
Cora gave a keen, quick, indrawn sigh--not of sorrow--and
sank back in her chair, as he touched her hand in farewell and
rose to go. She remained where she was, motionless and silent in
the dark, while he crossed to Mrs. Madison, and prefaced a
leave-taking unusually formal for these precincts with his
mannered bow. He shook hands with Richard Lindley, asking
"Do you still live where you did--just below here?"
"When I passed by there this afternoon, said Corliss, "it
recalled a stupendous conflict we had, once upon a time; but I
couldn't remember the cause."
"I remember the cause," said Mr. Lindley, but, stopping
rather short, omitted to state it. "At all events, it was
"Yes," said the other quietly. "You whipped me."
"Did I so?" Corliss laughed gayly. "We mustn't let it happen
Mr. Trumble joined the parting guest, making simultaneous
adieus with unmistakable elation. Mr. Trumble's dreadful
entertainment had made it a happy evening for him.
As they went down the steps together, the top of his head
just above the level of his companion's shoulder, he lifted to
Corliss a searching gaze like an actor's hopeful scrutiny of a
new acquaintance; and before they reached the street his bark
rang eagerly on the stilly night: "Now THERE is a point on
which I beg to differ with you. . . ."
Mrs. Madison gave Lindley her hand. "I think I'll go in.
Good-night, Richard. Come, Hedrick!"
Hedrick rose, groaning, and batted his eyes painfully as he
faced the hall light. "What'd you and this Corliss fight about?"
he asked, sleepily.
"Nothing," said Lindley.
"You said you remembered."
"Oh, I remember a lot of useless things."
"Well, what was it? I want to know what you fought about."
"Come, Hedrick," repeated his mother, setting a gently urgent
hand on his shoulder."
"I won't," said the boy impatiently, shaking her off and
growing suddenly very wideawake and determined. "I won't
move a step till he tells me what they fought about. Not a
"Well--it was about a `show.' We were only boys, you
know--younger than you, perhaps."
"A boy-circus he and my brother got up in our yard. I wasn't
"Well, what did you fight about?"
"I thought Val Corliss wasn't quite fair to my brother.
"No, it isn't! How wasn't he fair?"
"They sold tickets to the other boys; and I thought my
brother didn't get his share."
"This Corliss kept it all?"
"Oh, something like that," said Lindley, laughing.
"Probably I was in the wrong."
"And he licked you?"
"All over the place!"
"I wish I'd seen it," said Hedrick, not unsympathetically,
but as a sportsman. And he consented to be led away.
Laura had been standing at the top of the steps looking down
the street, where Corliss and his brisk companion had emerged
momentarily from deep shadows under the trees into the
illumination of a swinging arc-lamp at the corner. They dis-
appeared; and she turned, and, smiling, gave the delaying guest
her hand in good-night.
His expression, which was somewhat troubled, changed to one
of surprise as her face came into the light, for it was
transfigured. Deeply flushed, her eyes luminous, she wore that
shining look Hedrick had seen as she wrote in her secret book.
"Why, Laura!" said Lindley, wondering.
She said good-night again, and went in slowly. As she
reached the foot of the stairs, she heard him moving a chair upon
the porch, and Cora speaking sharply:
"Please don't sit close to me!" There was a sudden
shrillness in the voice of honey, and the six words were run so
rapidly together they seemed to form but one. After a moment
Cora added, with a deprecatory ripple of laughter not quite free
from the same shrillness:
"You see, Richard, it's so--it's so hot, to-night.
Half an hour later, when Lindley had gone, Cora closed the front
doors in a manner which drew an immediate cry of agony from the
room where her father was trying to sleep. She stood on tiptoe
to turn out the gas-light in the hall; but for a time the key
resisted the insufficient pressure of her finger-tips: the little
orange flame, with its black-green crescent over the armature, so
maliciously like the "eye" of a peacock feather, limned the
exquisite planes of the upturned face; modelled them with soft
and regular shadows; painted a sullen loveliness. The key turned
a little, but not enough; and she whispered to herself a
monosyllable not usually attributed to the vocabulary of a damsel
of rank. Next moment, her expression flashed in a brilliant
change, like that of a pouting child suddenly remembering that
tomorrow is Christmas. The key surrendered instantly, and she
ran gayly up the familiar stairs in the darkness.
The transom of Laura's door shone brightly; but the knob,
turning uselessly in Cora's hand, proved the door itself not so
hospitable. There was a brief rustling within the room; the bolt
snapped, and Laura opened the door.
"Why, Laura," said Cora, observing her sister with transient
curiosity, "you haven't undressed. What have you been doing?
Something's the matter with you. I know what it is," she added,
laughing, as she seated herself on the edge of the old
black-walnut bed. "You're in love with Wade Trumble!"
"He's a strong man," observed Laura. "A remarkable throat."
"Horrible little person!" said Cora, forgetting what she owed
the unfortunate Mr. Trumble for the vocal wall which had so
effectively sheltered her earlier in the evening. "He's like one
of those booming June-bugs, batting against the walls, falling
"He doesn't get very near the light he wants," said Laura.
"Me? Yes, he would like to, the rat! But he's consoled when
he can get any one to listen to his awful chatter. He makes up
to himself among women for the way he gets sat on at the
club. But he has his use: he shows off the other men so, by
contrast. Oh, Laura!" She lifted both hands to her cheeks,
which were beautiful with a quick suffusion of high colour.
"Isn't he gorgeous!"
"Yes," said Laura gently, "I've always thought so.
"Now what's the use of that?" asked Cora peevishly, "with
ME? I didn't mean Richard Lindley. You KNOW what I
"Yes--of course--I do," Laura said.
Cora gave her a long look in which a childlike pleading
mingled with a faint, strange trouble; then this glance wandered
moodily from the face of her sister to her own slippers, which
she elevated to meet her descending line of vision.
"And you know I can't help it," she said, shifting quickly to
the role of accuser. "So what's the use of behaving like the
Pest?" She let her feet drop to the floor again, and her voice
trembled a little as she went on: "Laura, you don't know what I
had to endure from him to-night. I really don't think I can
stand it to live in the same house any longer with that frightful
little devil. He's been throwing Ray Vilas's name at me
until--oh, it was ghastly to-night! And then--then----" Her
tremulousness increased. "I haven't said anything about it all
day, but I MET him on the street downtown, this morning----"
"You met Vilas?" Laura looked startled. "Did he speak to
"`Speak to me!'" Cora's exclamation shook with a half-laugh
of hysteria. "He made an awful SCENE! He came out of the
Richfield Hotel barroom on Main Street just as I was going into
the jeweller's next door, and he stopped and bowed like a monkey,
square in front of me, and--and he took off his hat and set it on
the pavement at my feet and told me to kick it into the gutter!
Everybody stopped and stared; and I couldn't get by him. And he
said--he said I'd kicked his heart into the gutter and he didn't
want it to catch cold without a hat! And wouldn't I please be so
kind as to kick----" She choked with angry mortification. "It
was horrible! People were stopping and laughing, and a rowdy
began to make fun of Ray, and pushed him, and they got into a
scuffle, and I ran into the jeweller's and almost fainted."
"He is insane!" said Laura, aghast.
"He's nothing of the kind; he's just a brute. He does it to
make people say I'm the cause of his drinking; and everybody in
this gossipy old town DOES say it--just because I got bored
to death with his everlasting
do-you-love-me-to-day-as-well-as-yesterday style of torment, and
couldn't help liking Richard better. Yes, every old cat in town
says I ruined him, and that's what he wants them to say. It's so
unmanly! I wish he'd die! Yes, I DO wish he would! Why
doesn't he kill himself?"
"Ah, don't say that," protested Laura.
"Why not? He's threatened to enough. And I'm afraid to go
out of the house because I can't tell when I'll meet him or what
he'll do. I was almost sick in that jeweller's shop, this
morning, and so upset I came away without getting my pendant.
There's ANOTHER thing I've got to go through, I suppose!"
She pounded the yielding pillow desperately. "Oh, oh, oh! Life
isn't worth living--it seems to me sometimes as if everybody in
the world spent his time trying to think up ways to make it
harder for me! I couldn't have worn the pendant, though, even if
I'd got it," she went on, becoming thoughtful. "It's Richard's
silly old engagement ring, you know," she explained, lightly.
"I had it made up into a pendant, and heaven knows how I'm going
to get Richard to see it the right way. He was so unreasonable
"Was he cross about Mr. Corliss monopolizing you?"
"Oh, you know how he is," said Cora. "He didn't speak of it
exactly. But after you'd gone, he asked me----" She stopped
with a little gulp, an expression of keen distaste about her
"Oh, he wants me to wear my ring," she continued, with sudden
rapidity: "and how the dickens CAN I when I can't even tell
him it's been made into a pendant! He wants to speak to father;
he wants to ANNOUNCE it. He's sold out his business for what
he thinks is a good deal of money, and he wants me to marry him
next month and take some miserable little trip, I don't know
where, for a few weeks, before he invests what he's made in
another business. Oh!" she cried. "It's a HORRIBLE thing to
ask a girl to do: to settle down--just housekeeping, house-
keeping, housekeeping forever in this stupid, stupid town! It's
so unfair! Men are just possessive; they think it's loving
you to want to possess you themselves. A beautiful `love'! It's
so mean! Men!" She sprang up and threw out both arms in a
vehement gesture of revolt. "Damn 'em, I wish they'd let me
Laura's eyes had lost their quiet; they showed a glint of
tears, and she was breathing quickly. In this crisis of emotion
the two girls went to each other silently; Cora turned, and Laura
began to unfasten Cora's dress in the back.
"Poor Richard!" said Laura presently, putting into her mouth
a tiny pearl button which had detached itself at her touch.
"This was his first evening in the overflow. No wonder he was
"Pooh!" said Cora. "As if you and mamma weren't good enough
for him to talk to! He's spoiled. He's so used to being called
`the most popular man in town' and knowing that every girl on
Corliss Street wanted to marry him----" She broke off, and
exclaimed sharply: "I wish they would!
"Oh, I suppose you mean that's the reason _I_ went in for
"No, no," explained Laura hurriedly. "I only meant, stand
"Well, it was!" And Cora's abrupt laugh had the glad, free
ring fancy attaches to the merry confidences of a buccaneer in
Laura knelt to continue unfastening the dress; and when it
was finished she extended three of the tiny buttons in her hand.
"They're always loose on a new dress," she said. "I'll sew them
all on tight, to-morrow."
Cora smiled lovingly. "You good old thing," she said. "You
looked pretty to-night."
"That's nice!" Laura laughed, as she dropped the buttons
into a little drawer of her bureau. It was an ugly, cheap, old
bureau, its veneer loosened and peeling, the mirror small and
flawed--a piece of furniture in keeping with the room, which was
small, plain and hot, its only ornamental adjunct being a
silver-framed photograph of Mrs. Madison, with Cora, as a child
of seven or eight, upon her lap.
"You really do look ever so pretty," asserted Cora.
"I wonder if I look as well as I did the last time I heard I
was pretty," said the other. "That was at the Assembly in March.
Coming down the stairs, I heard a man from out of town say,
`That black-haired Miss Madison is a pretty girl.' And some one
with him said, `Yes; you'll think so until you meet her sister!'"
"You are an old dear!" Cora enfolded her delightedly; then,
drawing back, exclaimed: "You KNOW he's gorgeous!" And with
a feverish little ripple of laughter, caught her dress together
in the back and sped through the hall to her own room.
This was a very different affair from Laura's, much cooler
and larger; occupying half the width of the house; and a rather
expensive struggle had made it pretty and even luxurious. The
window curtains and the wall-paper were fresh, and of a quiet
blue; there was a large divan of the same colour; a light desk,
prettily equipped, occupied a corner; and between two gilt
gas-brackets, whose patent burners were shielded by fringed silk
shades, stood a cheval-glass six feet high. The door of a very
large clothes-pantry stood open, showing a fine company of
dresses, suspended from forms in an orderly manner; near by, a
rosewood cabinet exhibited a delicate collection of shoes and
slippers upon its four shelves. A dressing-table, charmingly
littered with everything, took the place of a bureau; and
upon it, in a massive silver frame, was a large photograph of Mr.
Richard Lindley. The frame was handsome, but somewhat battered:
it had seen service. However, the photograph was quite new.
There were photographs everywhere photographs framed and
unframed; photographs large and photographs small, the fresh and
the faded; tintypes, kodaks, "full lengths," "cabinets,"
groups--every kind of photograph; and among them were several of
Cora herself, one of her mother, one of Laura, and two others of
girls. All the rest were sterner. Two or three were seamed
across with cracks, hastily recalled sentences to destruction;
and here and there remained tokens of a draughtsman's
over-generous struggle to confer upon some of the smooth-shaven
faces additional manliness in the shape of sweeping moustaches,
long beards, goatees, mutton-chops, and, in the case of one gen-
tleman of a blond, delicate and tenor-like beauty,
neck-whiskers;--decorations in many instances so deeply and
damply pencilled that subsequent attempts at erasure had failed
of great success. Certainly, Hedrick had his own way of
relieving dull times.
Cora turned up the lights at the sides of the
cheval-glass, looked at herself earnestly, then absently, and
began to loosen her hair. Her lifted hands hesitated; she
re-arranged the slight displacement of her hair already effected;
set two chairs before the mirror, seated herself in one; pulled
up her dress, where it was slipping from her shoulder, rested an
arm upon the back of the other chair as, earlier in the evening,
she had rested it upon the iron railing of the porch, and,
leaning forward, assumed as exactly as possible the attitude in
which she had sat so long beside Valentine Corliss. She leaned
very slowly closer and yet closer to the mirror; a rich colour
spread over her; her eyes, gazing into themselves, became dreamy,
inexpressibly wistful, cloudily sweet; her breath was tumultuous.
"`Even as you and I'?" she whispered.
Then, in the final moment of this after-the-fact rehearsal,
as her face almost touched the glass, she forgot how and what she
had looked to Corliss; she forgot him; she forgot him utterly:
she leaped to her feet and kissed the mirrored lips with a sort
"You DARLING!" she cried. Cora's christening had been
unimaginative, for the name means only, "maiden." She should
have been called Narcissa.
The rhapsody was over instantly, leaving an emotional vacuum
like a silence at the dentist's. Cora yawned, and resumed the
loosening of her hair.
When she had put on her nightgown, she went from one window
to another, closing the shutters against the coming of the
morning light to wake her. As she reached the last window, a
sudden high wind rushed among the trees outside; a white flare
leaped at her face, startling her; there was a boom and rattle as
of the brasses, cymbals, and kettle-drums of some fatal
orchestra; and almost at once it began to rain.
And with that, from the distance came a voice, singing; and
at the first sound of it, though it was far away and almost
indistinguishable, Cora started more violently than at the
lightning; she sprang to the mirror lights, put them out; threw
herself upon the bed, and huddled there in the darkness.
The wind passed; the heart of the storm was miles away; this
was only its fringe; but the rain pattered sharply upon the thick
foliage outside her windows; and the singing voice came
slowly up the street.
It was a strange voice: high-pitched and hoarse--and not
quite human, so utter was the animal abandon of it.
"I love a lassie, a bonnie, bonnie lassie," it wailed and
piped, coming nearer; and the gay little air--wrought to a
grotesque of itself by this wild, high voice in the rain--might
have been a banshee's love-song.
"I love a lassie, a bonnie, bonnie lassie.
She's as pure as the lily in the dell----"
The voice grew louder; came in front of the house; came into
the yard; came and sang just under Cora's window. There it fell
silent a moment; then was lifted in a long peal of imbecile
laughter, and sang again:
"Then slowly, slowly rase she up
And slowly she came nigh him,
And when she drew the curtain by--
`Young man I think you're dyin'.'"
Cora's door opened and closed softly, and Laura, barefooted,
stole to the bed and put an arm about the shaking form of her
"The drunken beast!" sobbed Cora. "It's to disgrace me!
That's what he wants. He'd like nothing better than headlines in
the papers: `Ray Vilas arrested at the Madison residence'!" She
choked with anger and mortification. "The neighbours----"
"They're nearly all away," whispered Laura. "You needn't
The voice stopped singing, and began to mumble incoherently;
then it rose again in a lamentable outcry:
"Oh, God of the fallen, be Thou merciful to me! Be Thou
merciful--merciful--MERCIFUL" . . .
"MERCIFUL, MERCIFUL, MERCIFUL!" it shrieked, over and
over, with increasing loudness, and to such nerve-racking effect
that Cora, gasping, beat the bedclothes frantically with her
hands at each iteration.
The transom over the door became luminous; some one had
lighted the gas in the upper hall. Both girls jumped from the
bed, ran to the door, and opened it. Their mother, wearing a red
wrapper, was standing at the head of the stairs, which Mr.
Madison, in his night-shirt and slippers, was slowly and heavily
Before he reached the front door, the voice outside ceased
its dreadful plaint with the abrupt anti-climax of a phonograph
stopped in the middle of a record. There was the sound of a
struggle and wrestling, a turmoil in the wet shrubberies,
"Let me go, da----" cried the voice, drowned again at half a
word, as by a powerful hand upon a screaming mouth.
The old man opened the front door, stepped out, closing it
behind him; and the three women looked at each other wanly during
a hushed interval like that in a sleeping-car at night when the
train stops. Presently he came in again, and started up the
stairs, heavily and slowly, as he had gone down.
"Richard Lindley stopped him," he said, sighing with the
ascent, and not looking up. "He heard him as he came along the
street, and dressed as quick as he could, and ran up and got him.
Richard's taken him away."
He went to his own room, panting, mopping his damp gray hair
with his fat wrist, and looking at no one.
Cora began to cry again. It was an hour before any of this
family had recovered sufficient poise to realize, with the
shuddering gratitude of adventurers spared from the abyss, that,
under Providence, Hedrick had not wakened!
Much light shatters much loveliness; but a pretty girl who looks
pretty outdoors on a dazzling hot summer morning is prettier then
than ever. Cora knew it; of course she knew it; she knew exactly
how she looked, as she left the concrete bridge behind her at the
upper end of Corliss Street and turned into a shrub-bordered
bypath of the river park. In imagination she stood at the turn
of the path just ahead, watching her own approach: she saw
herself as a picture--the white-domed parasol, with its cheerful
pale-green lining, a background for her white hat, her corn-silk
hair, and her delicately flushed face. She saw her pale, live
arms through their thin sleeves, and the light grasp of her
gloved fingers upon the glistening stick of the parasol; she saw
the long, simple lines of her close white dress and their
graceful interchanging movements with the alternate advance of
her white shoes over the fine gravel path; she saw the dazzling
splashes of sunshine playing upon her through the
changeful branches overhead. Cora never lacked a gallery: she
sat there herself.
She refreshed the eyes of a respectable burgess of sixty, a
person so colourless that no one, after passing him, could have
remembered anything about him except that he wore glasses and
some sort of moustache; and to Cora's vision he was as near
transparent as any man could be, yet she did not miss the almost
imperceptible signs of his approval, as they met and continued on
their opposite ways. She did not glance round, nor did he pause
in his slow walk; neither was she clairvoyant; none the less, she
knew that he turned his head and looked back at her.
The path led away from the drives and more public walks of
the park, to a low hill, thoughtfully untouched by the gardener
and left to the shadowy thickets and good-smelling underbrush of
its rich native woodland. And here, by a brown bench, waited a
tall gentleman in white.
They touched hands and sat without speaking. For several
moments they continued the silence, then turned slowly and looked
at each other; then looked slowly and gravely away, as if to an
audience in front of them. They knew how to do it; but
probably a critic in the first row would have concluded that
Cora felt it even more than Valentine Corliss enjoyed it.
"I suppose this is very clandestine," she said, after a deep
breath. "I don't think I care, though."
"I hope you do," he smiled, "so that I could think your
coming means more."
"Then I'll care," she said, and looked at him again.
"You dear!" he exclaimed deliberately.
She bit her lip and looked down, but not before he had seen
the quick dilation of her ardent eyes. "I wanted to be out of
doors," she said. "I'm afraid there's one thing of yours I don't
like, Mr. Corliss."
"I'll throw it away, then. Tell me."
"Your house. I don't like living in it, very much. I'm
sorry you CAN'T throw it away."
"I'm thinking of doing that very thing," he laughed. "But
I'm glad I found the rose in that queer old waste-basket first."
"Not too much like a rose, sometimes," she said. "I think
this morning I'm a little like some of the old doors up on the
third floor: I feel rather unhinged, Mr. Corliss."
"You don't look it, Miss Madison!"
"I didn't sleep very well." She bestowed upon him a glance
which transmuted her actual explanation into, "I couldn't sleep
for thinking of you." It was perfectly definite; but the acute
gentleman laughed genially.
"Go on with you!" he said.
Her eyes sparkled, and she joined laughter with him. "But
it's true: you did keep me awake. Besides, I had a serenade."
"Serenade? I had an idea they didn't do that any more over
here. I remember the young men going about at night with an
orchestra sometimes when I was a boy, but I supposed----"
"Oh, it wasn't much like that," she interrupted, carelessly.
"I don't think that sort of thing has been done for years and
years. It wasn't an orchestra--just a man singing under my
"With a guitar?"
"No." She laughed a little. "Just singing."
"But it rained last night," said Corliss, puzzled.
"Oh, HE wouldn't mind that!"
"How stupid of me! Of course, he wouldn't.
Was it Richard Lindley?"
"I see. Yes, that was a bad guess: I'm sure Lindley's just
the same steady-going, sober, plodding old horse he was as a boy.
His picture doesn't fit a romantic frame--singing under a lady's
window in a thunderstorm! Your serenader must have been very
"He is," said Cora. "I suppose he's about twenty-three; just
a boy--and a very annoying one, too!"
Her companion looked at her narrowly. "By any chance, is he
the person your little brother seemed so fond of mentioning--Mr.
Cora gave a genuine start. "Good heavens! What makes you
think that?" she cried, but she was sufficiently disconcerted to
confirm his amused suspicion.
"So it was Mr. Vilas," he said. "He's one of the jilted, of
"Oh, `jilted'!" she exclaimed. "All the wild boys that a
girl can't make herself like aren't `jilted,' are they?"
"I believe I should say--yes," he returned. "Yes, in this
instance, just about all of them."
"Is every woman a target for you, Mr. Corliss? I suppose you
know that you have a most uncomfortable way of shooting up
the landscape." She stirred uneasily, and moved away from him to
the other end of the bench.
"I didn't miss that time," he laughed. "Don't you ever
He leaned quickly toward her and answered in a low voice:
"You can be sure I'm not going to miss anything about YOU."
It was as if his bending near her had been to rouge her. But
it cannot be said that she disliked his effect upon her; for the
deep breath she drew in audibly, through her shut teeth, was a
signal of delight; and then followed one of those fraught
silences not uncharacteristic of dialogues with Cora.
Presently, she gracefully and uselessly smoothed her hair
from the left temple with the backs of her fingers, of course
finishing the gesture prettily by tucking in a hairpin tighter
above the nape of her neck. Then, with recovered coolness, she
"Did you come all the way from Italy just to sell our old
house, Mr. Corliss?"
"Perhaps that was part of why I came," he said, gayly. "I
need a great deal of money, Miss Cora Madison."
"For your villa and your yacht?"
"No; I'm a magician, dear lady----"
"Yes," she said, almost angrily. "Of course you know it!"
"You mock me! No; I'm going to make everybody rich who will
trust me. I have a secret, and it's worth a mountain of gold.
I've put all I have into it, and will put in everything else I
can get for myself, but it's going to take a great deal more than
that. And everybody who goes into it will come out on Monte
"Then I'm sorry papa hasn't anything to put in," she said.
"But he has: his experience in business and his integrity. I
want him to be secretary of my company. Will you help me to get
him?" he laughed.
"Do you want me to?" she asked with a quick, serious glance
straight in his eyes, one which he met admirably.
"I have an extremely definite impression," he said lightly,
"that you can make anybody you know do just what you want him
"And I have another that you have still another `extremely
definite impression' that takes rank over that," she said, but
not with his lightness, for her tone was faintly rueful. "It
is that you can make ME do just what you want me to."
Mr. Valentine Corliss threw himself back on the bench and
laughed aloud. "What a girl!" he cried. Then for a fraction of
a second he set his hand over hers, an evanescent touch at which
her whole body started and visibly thrilled.
She lifted her gloved hand and looked at it with an odd
wonder; her alert emotions, always too ready, flinging their
banners to her cheeks again.
"Oh, I don't think it's soiled," he said, a speech which she
punished with a look of starry contempt. For an instant she made
him afraid that something had gone wrong with his measuring tape;
but with a slow movement she set her hand softly against her hot
cheek; and he was reassured: it was not his touching her that had
offended her, but the allusion to it.
"Thanks," he said, very softly.
She dropped her hand to her parasol, and began, musingly, to
dig little holes in the gravel of the path. "Richard Lindley is
looking for investments," she said.
"I'm glad to hear he's been so successful," returned Corliss.
"He might like a share in your gold-mine."
"Thank heaven it isn't literally a gold-mine," he exclaimed.
"There have been so many crooked ones exploited I don't believe
you could get anybody nowadays to come in on a real one. But I
think you'd make an excellent partner for an adventurer who had
discovered hidden treasure; and I'm that particular kind of
adventurer. I think I'll take you in."
"How would you like to save a man from being ruined?"
"Ruined? You don't mean it literally?"
"Literally!" He laughed gayly. "If I don't `land' this I'm
gone, smashed, finished--quite ended! Don't bother, I'm going to
`land' it. And it's rather a serious compliment I'm paying you,
thinking you can help me. I'd like to see a woman--just once in
the world--who could manage a thing like this." He became
suddenly very grave. "Good God! wouldn't I be at her feet!"
Her eyes became even more eager. "You think I--I MIGHT
be a woman who could?"
"Who knows, Miss Madison? I believe----" He stopped
abruptly, then in a lowered, graver voice asked: "Doesn't it
somehow seem a little queer to you when we call each other, `Miss
Madison' and `Mr. Corliss'?"
"Yes," she answered slowly; "it does."
"Doesn't it seem to you," he went on, in the same tone, "that
we only `Miss' and `Mister' each other in fun? That though you
never saw me until yesterday, we've gone pretty far beyond mere
surfaces? That we did in our talk, last night?"
"Yes," she repeated; "it does."
He let a pause follow, and then said huskily:
"How far are we going?"
"I don't know." She was barely audible; but she turned
deliberately, and there took place an eager exchange of looks
which continued a long while. At last, and without ending this
serious encounter, she whispered:
"How far do YOU think?"
Mr. Corliss did not answer, and a peculiar phenomenon became
vaguely evident to the girl facing him: his eyes were still fixed
full upon hers, but he was not actually looking at her;
nevertheless, and with an extraordinarily acute attention, he
was unquestionably looking at something. The direct front of
pupil and iris did not waver from her; but for the time he was
not aware of her; had not even heard her question. Something in
the outer field of his vision had suddenly and completely
engrossed him; something in that nebulous and hazy background
which we see, as we say, with the white of the eye. Cora
instinctively turned and looked behind her, down the path.
There was no one in sight except a little girl and the
elderly burgess who had glanced over his shoulder at Cora as she
entered the park; and he was, in face, mien, and attire, so
thoroughly the unnoticeable, average man-on-the-street that she
did not even recall him as the looker-round of a little while
ago. He was strolling benevolently, the little girl clinging to
one of his hands, the other holding an apple; and a composite
photograph of a thousand grandfathers might have resulted in this
As the man and little girl came slowly up the walk toward the
couple on the bench there was a faint tinkle at Cora's feet: her
companion's scarfpin, which had fallen from his tie. He was
maladroit about picking it up, trying with thumb and forefinger
to seize the pin itself, instead of the more readily grasped
design of small pearls at the top, so that he pushed it a little
deeper into the gravel; and then occurred a tiny coincidence: the
elderly man, passing, let fall the apple from his hand, and it
rolled toward the pin just as Corliss managed to secure the
latter. For an instant, though the situation was so absolutely
commonplace, so casual, Cora had a wandering consciousness of
some mysterious tensity; a feeling like the premonition of a
crisis very near at hand. This sensation was the more curious
because nothing whatever happened. The man got his apple, joined
in the child's laughter, and went on.
"What was it you asked me?" said Corliss, lifting his head
again and restoring the pin to his tie. He gazed carelessly at
the back of the grandsire, disappearing beyond a bush at a bend
in the path.
"Who was that man?" said Cora with some curiosity.
"That old fellow? I haven't an idea. You see I've been away
from here so many years I remember almost no one. Why?"
"I don't know, unless it was because I had an idea you
were thinking of him instead of me. You didn't listen to what I
"That was because I was thinking so intensely of you," he
began instantly. "A startlingly vivid thought of you came to me
just then. Didn't I look like a man in a trance?"
"What was the thought?"
"It was a picture: I saw you standing under a great bulging
sail, and the water flying by in moonlight; oh, a moon and a
night such as you have never seen! and a big blue headland
looming up against the moon, and crowned with lemon groves and
vineyards, all sparkling with fireflies--old watch-towers and the
roofs of white villas gleaming among olive orchards on the
slopes--the sound of mandolins----"
"Ah!" she sighed, the elderly man, his grandchild, and his
"Do you think it was a prophecy?" he asked.
"What do YOU think?" she breathed. "That was really what
I asked you before."
"I think," he said slowly, "that I'm in danger of forgetting
that my `hidden treasure' is the most important thing in the
"In great danger?" The words were not vocal.
He moved close to her; their eyes met again, with increased
eagerness, and held fast; she was trembling, visibly; and her
lips--parted with her tumultuous breathing--were not far from
"Isn't any man in great danger," he said, "if he falls in
love with you?"
Toward four o'clock that afternoon, a very thin, fair young man
shakily heaved himself into a hammock under the trees in that
broad backyard wherein, as Valentine Corliss had yesterday
noticed, the last iron monarch of the herd, with unabated
arrogance, had entered domestic service as a clothes-prop. The
young man, who was of delicate appearance and unhumanly pale,
stretched himself at full length on his back, closed his eyes,
moaned feebly, cursed the heat in a stricken whisper. Then, as a
locust directly overhead violently shattered the silence, and
seemed like to continue the outrage forever, the shaken lounger
stopped his ears with his fingers and addressed the insect in old
A white jacketed mulatto came from the house bearing
something on a silver tray.
"Julip, Mist' Vilas?" he said sympathetically.
Ray Vilas rustily manoeuvred into a sitting position; and,
with eyes still closed, made shift to accept the julep in
both hands, drained half of it, opened his eyes, and thanked the
cup-bearer feebly, in a voice and accent reminiscent of the
"And I wonder," he added, "if you can tell me----"
"I'm Miz William Lindley's house-man, Joe Vaxdens," said the
mulatto, in the tone of an indulgent nurse. "You in Miz
Lindley's backyard right now, sittin' in a hammick."
"I seem to gather almost that much for myself," returned the
patient. "But I should like to know how I got here."
"Jes' come out the front door an' walk' aroun' the house an'
set down. Mist' Richard had to go downtown; tole me not to wake
you; but I heerd you splashin' in the bath an' you tole me you
din' want no breakfuss----"
"Yes, Joe, I'm aware of what's occurred since I woke," said
Vilas, and, throwing away the straws, finished the julep at one
draught. "What I want to know is how I happened to be here at
"Mist' Richard brought you las' night, suh. I don' know
where he got you, but I heered a considerable thrashum
aroun', up an' down the house, an' so I come help him git you to
bed in one vem spare-rooms." Joe chuckled ingratiatingly. "Lord
name! You cert'n'y wasn't askin' fer no BED!"
He took the glass, and the young man reclined again in the
hammock, a hot blush vanquishing his pallor. "Was I--was I very
"Oh, you was all RIGHT," Joe hastened to reassure him.
"You was jes' on'y a little bit tight."
"Did it really seem only a little?" the other asked
"Yessuh," said Joe promptly. "Nothin' at all. You jes'
wanted to rare roun' little bit. Mist' Richard took gun away
"Oh, I tole him you wasn' goin' use it!" Joe laughed. "But
you so wile be din' know what you do. You cert'n'y was drunkes'
man _I_ see in LONG while," he said admiringly. "You pert
near had us bofe wore out 'fore you give up, an' Mist' Richard
an' me, we USE' to han'lin' drunkum man, too--use' to have
big times week-in, week-out 'ith Mist' Will--at's Mist' Richard's
brother, you know, suh, what died o' whiskey." He laughed again
in high good-humour. "You cert'n'y laid it all over any vem
ole times we had 'ith Mist' Will!"
Mr. Vilas shifted his position in the hammock uneasily; Joe's
honest intentions to be of cheer to the sufferer were not wholly
"I tole Mist' Richard," the kindly servitor continued, "it
was a mighty good thing his ma gone up Norf endurin' the hot
spell. Sence Mist' Will die she can't hardly bear to see drunkum
man aroun' the house. Mist' Richard hardly ever tech nothin'
himself no more. You goin' feel better, suh, out in the f'esh
air," he concluded, comfortingly as he moved away.
Mr. Vilas pulled himself upright for a moment. "What use in
the world do you reckon one julep is to me? "
"Mist' Richard say to give you one drink ef you ask' for it,
suh," answered Joe, looking troubled.
"Well, you've told me enough now about last night to make any
man hang himself, and I'm beginning to remember enough more----"
"Pshaw, Mist' Vilas," the coloured man interrupted,
deprecatingly, "you din' broke nothin'! You on'y had couple
glass' wine too much. You din' make no trouble at all; jes' went
right off to bed. You ought seen some vem ole times me an Mist'
Richard use to have 'ith Mist' Will----"
"I want three more juleps and I want them right away."
The troubled expression upon the coloured man's face
deepened. "Mist' Richard say jes' one, suh," he said
reluctantly. "I'm afraid----"
"I don't know," said Ray Vilas slowly, "whether or not you
ever heard that I was born and raised in Kentucky."
"Yessuh," returned Joe humbly. "I heerd so."
"Well, then," said the young man in a quiet voice, "you go
and get me three juleps. I'll settle it with Mr. Richard."
But it was with a fifth of these renovators that Lindley
found his guest occupied, an hour later, while upon a small table
nearby a sixth, untouched, awaited disposal beside an emptied
coffee-cup. Also, Mr. Vilas was smoking a cigarette with
unshadowed pleasure; his eye was bright, his expression
care-free; and he was sitting up in the hammock, swinging
cheerfully, and singing the "Marseillaise." Richard approached
through the yard, coming from the street without entering the
house; and anxiety was manifest in the glance he threw at the
green-topped glass upon the table, and in his greeting.
"Hail, gloom!" returned Mr. Vilas, cordially, and, observing
the anxious glance, he swiftly removed the untouched goblet from
the table to his own immediate possession. "Two simultaneous
juleps will enhance the higher welfare, he explained airily.
"Sir, your Mr. Varden was induced to place a somewhat larger
order with us than he protested to be your intention. Trusting
you to exonerate him from all so-and-so and that these few words,
etcetera!" He depleted the elder glass of its liquor, waved it
in the air, cried, "Health, host!" and set it upon the table. "I
believe I do not err in assuming my cup-bearer's name to be
Varden, although he himself, in his simple Americo-Africanism, is
pleased to pluralize it. Do I fret you, host?"
"Not in the least," said Richard, dropping upon a rustic
bench, and beginning to fan himself with his straw hat. "What's
the use of fretting about a boy who hasn't sense enough to fret
"`Boy?'" Mr. Vilas affected puzzlement. "Do I hear aright?
Sir, do you boy me? Bethink you, I am now the shell of five
mint-juleps plus, and am pot-valiant. And is this mere capacity
itself to be lightly BOYED? Again, do I not wear a man's
garment, a man's garnitures? Heed your answer; for this serge,
these flannels, and these silks are yours, and though I may not
fill them to the utmost, I do to the longmost, precisely. I am
the stature of a man; had it not been for your razor I should
wear the beard of a man; therefore I'll not be boyed. What have
you to say in defence?"
"Hadn't you better let me get Joe to bring you something to
eat?" asked Richard.
"Eat?" Mr. Vilas disposed of the suggestion with mournful
hauteur. "There! For the once I forgive you. Let the subject
never be mentioned between us again. We will tactfully turn to a
topic of interest. My memories of last evening, at first hazy
and somewhat disconcerting, now merely amuse me. Following the
pleasant Spanish custom, I went a-serenading, but was
kidnapped from beneath the precious casement by--by a zealous
arrival. Host, `zealous arrival' is not the julep in action: it
is a triumph of paraphrase."
"I wish you'd let Joe take you back to bed," said Richard.
"Always bent on thoughts of the flesh," observed the other
sadly. "Beds are for bodies, and I am become a thing of spirit.
My soul is grateful a little for your care of its casing. You
behold, I am generous: I am able to thank my successor to
Lindley's back stiffened. "Vilas!"
"Spare me your protests." The younger man waved his hand
languidly. You wish not to confer upon this subject----"
"It's a subject we'll omit," said Richard.
His companion stopped swinging, allowed the hammock to come
to rest; his air of badinage fell from him; for the moment he
seemed entirely sober; and he spoke with gentleness. "Mr.
Lindley, if you please, I am still a gentleman--at times."
"I beg your pardon," said Richard quickly.
"No need of that!" The speaker's former careless and
boisterous manner instantly resumed possession. "You must
permit me to speak of a wholly fictitious lady, a creature of my
wanton fancy, sir, whom I call Carmen. It will enable me to
relieve my burdened soul of some remarks I have long wished to
address to your excellent self."
"Oh, all right," muttered Richard, much annoyed.
"Let us imagine," continued Mr. Vilas, beginning to swing
again, "that I thought I had won this Carmen----"
Lindley uttered an exclamation, shifted his position in his
chair, and fixed a bored attention upon the passing vehicles in
the glimpse of the street afforded between the house and the
shrubberies along the side fence. The other, without appearing
to note his annoyance, went on, cheerfully:
"She was a precocious huntress: early in youth she passed
through the accumulator stage, leaving it to the crude or village
belle to rejoice in numbers and the excitement of teasing cubs in
the bear-pit. It is the nature of this imagined Carmen to play
fiercely with one imitation of love after another: a man thinks
he wins her, but it is merely that she has chosen him--for a
while. And Carmen can have what she chooses; if the man
exists who could show her that she cannot, she would follow him
through the devil's dance; but neither you nor I would be that
man, my dear sir. We assume that Carmen's eyes have been
mine--her heart is another matter--and that she has grown weary
of my somewhat Sicilian manner of looking into them, and,
following her nature and the law of periodicity which Carmens
must bow to, she seeks a cooler gaze and calls Mr. Richard
Lindley to come and take a turn at looking. Now, Mr. Richard
Lindley is straight as a die: he will not even show that he hears
the call until he is sure that I have been dismissed: therefore,
I have no quarrel with him. Also, I cannot even hate him, for in
my clearer julep vision I see that he is but an interregnum. Let
me not offend my friend: chagrin is to be his as it is mine. I
was a strong draught, he but the quieting potion our Carmen took
to settle it. We shall be brothers in woe some day. Nothing in
the universe lasts except Hell: Life is running water; Love, a
looking-glass; Death, an empty theatre! That reminds me: as you
are not listening I will sing."
He finished his drink and lifted his voice hilariously:
"The heavenly stars far above her,
The wind of the infinite sea,
Who know all her perfidy, love her,
So why call it madness in me?
Ah, why call it madness----"
He set his glass with a crash upon the table, staring over
his companion's shoulder.
"WHAT, if you please, is the royal exile who thus seeks
refuge in our hermitage?
His host had already observed the approaching visitor with
some surprise, and none too graciously. It was Valentine
Corliss: he had turned in from the street and was crossing the
lawn to join the two young men. Lindley rose, and, greeting him
with sufficient cordiality, introduced Mr. Vilas, who bestowed
upon the newcomer a very lively interest.
"You are as welcome, Mr. Corliss," said this previous guest,
earnestly, "as if these sylvan shades were mine. I hail you, not
only for your own sake, but because your presence encourages a
hope that our host may offer refreshment to the entire company."
Corliss smilingly declined to be a party to this diplomacy,
and seated himself beside Richard Lindley on the bench.
"Then I relapse!" exclaimed Mr. Vilas, throwing himself
back full-length in the hammock. "I am not replete, but content.
I shall meditate. Gentlemen, speak on!"
He waved his hand in a gracious gesture, indicating his
intention to remain silent, and lay quiet, his eyes fixed
steadfastly upon Corliss.
"I was coming to call on you," said the latter to Lindley,
"but I saw you from the street and thought you mightn't mind my
being as informal as I used to be, so many years ago."
"Of course," said Richard.
"I have a sinister purpose in coming," Mr. Corliss laughingly