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The Flirt by Booth Tarkington

Part 2 out of 4

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went on. "I want to bore you a little first, and then make your
fortune. No doubt that's an old story to you, but I happen to be
one of the adventurers whose argosies are laden with real
cargoes. Nobody knows who has or hasn't money to invest
nowadays, and of course I've no means of knowing whether YOU
have or not--you see what a direct chap I am--but if you have, or
can lay hold of some, I can show you how to make it bring you an
immense deal more."
"Naturally," said Richard pleasantly, "I shall be glad if you
can do that."
"Then I'll come to the point. It is exceedingly simple;
that's certainly one attractive thing about it." Corliss took
some papers and unmounted photographs from his pocket, and began
to spread them open on the bench between himself and Richard.
"No doubt you know Southern Italy as well as I do."
"Oh, I don't `know' it. I've been to Naples; down to
Paestum; drove from Salerno to Sorrentoby Amalfi; but that was
years ago."
"Here's a large scale map that will refresh your memory." He
unfolded it and laid it across their knees; it was frayed with
wear along the folds, and had been heavily marked and dotted with
red and blue pencillings. "My millions are in this large
irregular section," he continued. "It's the anklebone and instep
of Italy's boot; this sizable province called Basilicata, east of
Salerno, north of Calabria. And I'll not hang fire on the point,
Lindley. What I've got there is oil."
"Olives?" asked Richard, puzzled.
"Hardly!" Corliss laughed. "Though of course one doesn't
connect petroleum with the thought of Italy, and of all Italy,
Southern Italy. But in spite of the years I've lived there, I've
discovered myself to be so essentially American and commercial
that I want to drench the surface of that antique soil with
the brown, bad-smelling crude oil that lies so deep beneath it.
Basilicata is the coming great oil-field of the world--and that's
my secret. I dare to tell it here, as I shouldn't dare in
"Shouldn't `dare'?" Richard repeated, with growing interest,
and no doubt having some vague expectation of a tale of the
Camorra. To him Naples had always seemed of all cities the most
elusive and incomprehensible, a laughing, thieving, begging,
mandolin-playing, music-and-murder haunted metropolis, about
which anything was plausible; and this impression was not unique,
as no inconsiderable proportion of Mr. Lindley's
fellow-countrymen share it, a fact thoroughly comprehended by the
returned native.
"It isn't a case of not daring on account of any bodily
danger," explained Corliss.
"No," Richard smiled reminiscently. "I don't believe that
would have much weight with you if it were. You certainly showed
no symptoms of that sort in your extreme youth. I remember you
had the name of being about the most daring and foolhardy boy in
"I grew up to be cautious enough in business, though,"
said the other, shaking his head gravely. "I haven't been able
to afford not being careful." He adjusted the map--a prefatory
gesture. "Now, I'll make this whole affair perfectly clear to
you. It's a simple matter, as are most big things. I'll begin
by telling you of Moliterno--he's been my most intimate friend in
that part of the continent for a great many years; since I went
there as a boy, in fact."
He sketched a portrait of his friend, Prince Moliterno,
bachelor chief of a historic house, the soul of honour,
"land-poor"; owning leagues and leagues of land, hills and
mountains, broken towers and ruins, in central Basilicata, a
province described as wild country and rough, off the rails and
not easy to reach. Moliterno and the narrator had gone there to
shoot; Corliss had seen "surface oil" upon the streams and pools;
he recalled the discovery of oil near his own boyhood home in
America; had talked of it to Moliterno, and both men had become
more and more interested, then excited. They decided to sink a
Corliss described picturesquely the difficulties of this
enterprise, the hardships and disappointments; how they dragged
the big tools over the mountains by mule power; how they had
kept it all secret; how he and Moliterno had done everything with
the help of peasant labourers and one experienced man, who had
"seen service in the Persian oil-fields."
He gave the business reality, colouring it with details
relevant and irrelevant, anecdotes and wayside incidents: he was
fluent, elaborate, explicit throughout. They sank five wells, he
said, "at the angles of this irregular pentagon you see here on
the map, outlined in blue. These red circles are the wells."
Four of the wells "came in tremendous," but they had managed to
get them sealed after wasting--he was "sorry to think how many
thousand barrels of oil." The fifth well was so enormous that
they had not been able to seal it at the time of the speaker's
departure for America.
"But I had a cablegram this morning," he added, "letting me
know they've managed to do it at last. Here is, the cablegram."
He handed Richard a form signed "Antonio Moliterno."
"Now, to go back to what I said about not `daring' to speak
of this in Naples," he continued, smiling. "The fear is
financial, not physical."
The knowledge of the lucky strike, he explained, must be kept
from the "Neapolitan money-sharks." A third of the land so
rich in oil already belonged to the Moliterno estates, but it was
necessary to obtain possession of the other two thirds "before
the secret leaks into Naples." So far, it was safe, the peasants
of Basilicata being "as medieval a lot as one could wish." He
related that these peasants thought that the devils hiding inside
the mountains had been stabbed by the drills, and that the oil
was devils' blood.
"You can see some of the country people hanging about,
staring at a well, in this kodak, though it's not a very good
one." He put into Richard's hand a small, blurred photograph
showing a spouting well with an indistinct crowd standing in an
irregular semicircle before it.
"Is this the Basilicatan peasant costume? asked Richard,
indicating a figure in the foreground, the only one revealed at
all definitely. "It looks more oriental. Isn't the man wearing
a fez?"
"Let me see," responded Mr. Corliss very quickly. "Perhaps I
gave you the wrong picture. Oh, no," he laughed easily, holding
the kodak closer to his eyes; "that's all right: it is a fez.
That's old Salviati, our engineer, the man I spoke of who'd
worked in Persia, you know; he's always worn a fez since
then. Got in the habit of it out there and says he'll never
give it up. Moliterno's always chaffing him about it. He's a
faithful old chap, Salviati."
"I see." Lindley looked thoughtfully at the picture, which
the other carelessly returned to his hand. "There seems to be a
lot of oil there."
"It's one of the smaller wells at that. And you can see from
the kodak that it's just `blowing'--not an eruption from being
`shot,' or the people wouldn't stand so near. Yes; there's an
ocean of oil under that whole province; but we want a lot of
money to get at it. It's mountain country; our wells will all
have to go over fifteen-hundred feet, and that's expensive. We
want to pipe the oil to Salerno, where the Standard's ships will
take it from us, and it will need a great deal for that. But
most of all we want money to get hold of the land; we must
control the whole field, and it's big!"
"How did you happen to come here to finance it?"
"I was getting to that. Moliterno himself is as honourable a
man as breathes God's air. But my experience has been that
Neapolitan capitalists are about the cleverest and slipperiest
financiers in the world. We could have financed it twenty
times over in Naples in a day, but neither Moliterno nor I
was willing to trust them. The thing is enormous, you see--a
really colossal fortune--and Italian law is full of ins and outs,
and the first man we talked to confidentially would have given us
his word to play straight, and, the instant we left him, would
have flown post-haste for Basilicata and grabbed for himself the
two thirds of the field not yet in our hands. Moliterno and I
talked it over many, many times; we thought of going to Rome for
the money, to Paris, to London, to New York; but I happened to
remember the old house here that my aunt had left me--I wanted to
sell it, to add whatever it brought to the money I've already put
in--and then it struck me I might raise the rest here as well as
anywhere else."
The other nodded. "I understand."
"I suppose you'll think me rather sentimental," Corliss went
on, with a laugh which unexpectedly betrayed a little shyness.
"I've never forgotten that I was born here--was a boy here. In
all my wanderings I've always really thought of this as home."
His voice trembled slightly and his face flushed; he smiled
deprecatingly as though in apology for these symptoms of
emotion; and at that both listeners felt (perhaps with surprise)
the man's strong attraction. There was something very engaging
about him: in the frankness of his look and in the slight tremor
in his voice; there was something appealing and yet manly in the
confession, by this thoroughgoing cosmopolite, of his real
feeling for the home-town.
"Of course I know how very few people, even among the `old
citizens,' would have any recollection whatever of me," he went
on; "but that doesn't make any difference in my sentiment for the
place and its people. That street out yonder was named for my
grandfather: there's a statue of my great uncle in the State
House yard; all my own blood: belonged here, and though I have
been a wanderer and may not be remembered--naturally am NOT
remembered--yet the name is honoured here, and I--I----" He
faltered again, then concluded with quiet earnestness: "I
thought that if my good luck was destined to bring fortunes to
others, it might as well be to my own kind--that at least I'd
offer them the chance before I offered it to any one else." He
turned and looked Richard in the face. "That's why I'm here, Mr.
The other impulsively put out his hand. "I understand," he
said heartily.
"Thank you." Corliss changed his tone for one less serious.
"You've listened very patiently and I hope you'll be rewarded for
it. Certainly you will if you decide to come in with us. May I
leave the maps and descriptions with you?"
"Yes, indeed. I'll look them over carefully and have another
talk with you about it."
"Thank heaven, THAT'S over!" exclaimed the lounger in the
hammock, who had not once removed his fascinated stare from the
expressive face of Valentine Corliss. "If you have now concluded
with dull care, allow me to put a vital question: Mr. Corliss,
do you sing?"
The gentleman addressed favoured him with a quizzical glance
from between half-closed lids, and probably checking an impulse
to remark that he happened to know that his questioner sometimes
sang, replied merely, "No."
"It is a pity."
"Nothing," returned the other, inconsequently. It just
struck me that you ought to sing the Toreador song."
Richard Lindley, placing the notes and maps in his pocket,
dropped them, and, stooping, began to gather the scattered papers
with a very red face. Corliss, however, laughed good-naturedly.
"That's most flattering," he said; "though there are other
things in `Carmen' I prefer--probably because one doesn't hear
them so eternally."
Vilas pulled himself up to a sitting position and began to
swing again. "Observe our host, Mr. Corliss," he commanded
gayly. "He is a kind old Dobbin, much beloved, but cares damn
little to hear you or me speak of music. He'd even rather
discuss your oil business than listen to us talk of women,
whereas nothing except women ever really interests YOU, my
dear sir. He's not our kind of man," he concluded, mournfully;
"not at all our kind of man!"
"I hope," Corliss suggested, "he's going to be my kind of man
in the development of these oil-fields."
"How ridic"--Mr. Vilas triumphed over the word after a slight
struggle--"ulous! I shall review that: ridiculous of you to
pretend to be interested in oil-fields. You are not that sort of
person whatever. Nothing could be clearer than that you
would never waste the time demanded by fields of oil.
Groundlings call this `the mechanical age'--a vulgar error. My
dear sir, you and I know that it is the age of Woman! Even poets
have begun to see that she is alive. Formerly we did not speak
of her at all, but of late years she has become such a scandal
that she is getting talked about. Even our dramas, which used to
be all blood, have become all flesh. I wish I were dead--but
will continue my harangue because the thought is pellucid. Women
selecting men to mate with are of only two kinds, just as there
are but two kinds of children in a toy-shop. One child sets its
fancy on one partic"--the orator paused, then continued--"on one
certain toy and will make a distressing scene if she doesn't get
it: she will have that one; she will go straight to it, clasp it
and keep it; she won't have any other. The other kind of woman
is to be understood if you will make the experiment of taking the
other kind of child to a toy-shop and telling her you will buy
her any toy in the place, but that you will buy her only one. If
you do this in the morning, she will still be in the shop when it
is closing for the night, because, though she runs to each toy in
turn with excitement and delight, she sees another over her
shoulder, and the one she has not touched is always her
choice--until she has touched it! Some get broken in the
handling. For my part, my wires are working rather rustily, but
I must obey the Stage-Manager. For my requiem I wish somebody
would ask them to play Gounod's masterpiece."
"What's that?" asked Corliss, amused.
"`The Funeral March of a Marionette!'"
"I suppose you mean that for a cheerful way of announcing
that you are a fatalist."
"Fatalism? That is only a word, declared Mr. Vilas gravely.
"If I am not a puppet then I am a god. Somehow, I do not seem to
be a god. If a god is a god, one thinks he would know it
himself. I now yield the floor. Thanking you cordially, I
believe there is a lady walking yonder who commands salutation."
He rose to his feet, bowing profoundly. Cora Madison was
passing, strolling rather briskly down the street, not in the
direction of her home. She waved her parasol with careless
gayety to the trio under the trees, and, going on, was lost to
their sight.
"Hello!" exclaimed Corliss, looking at his watch with a
start of surprise. "I have two letters to write for the evening
mail. I must be off."
At this, Ray Vilas's eyes--still fixed upon him, as they had
been throughout the visit--opened to their fullest capacity, in a
gaze of only partially alcoholic wildness.
Entirely aware of this singular glare, but not in the least
disconcerted by it, the recipient proffered his easy farewells.
"I had no idea it was so late. Good afternoon. Mr. Vilas, I
have been delighted with your diagnosis. Lindley, I'm at your
disposal when you've looked over my data. My very warm thanks
for your patience, and--addio!"
Lindley looked after him as he strode quickly away across the
green lawn, turning, at the street, in the direction Cora had
taken; and the troubled Richard felt his heart sink with vague
but miserable apprehension. There was a gasp of desperation
beside him, and the sound of Ray Vilas's lips parting and closing
with little noises of pain.
"So he knows her," said the boy, his thin body shaking.
"Look at him, damn him! See his deep chest, that conqueror's
walk, the easy, confident, male pride of him: a true-born,
natural rake--the Toreador all over!"
His agitation passed suddenly; he broke into a loud laugh,
and flung a reckless hand to his companion's shoulder.
"You good old fool," he cried. "YOU'LL never play Don


Hedrick Madison, like too many other people, had never thought
seriously about the moon; nor ever had he encouraged it to become
his familiar; and he underwent his first experience of its
incomparable betrayals one brilliant night during the last week
of that hot month. The preface to this romantic evening was
substantial and prosaic: four times during dinner was he
copiously replenished with hash, which occasioned so rich a
surfeit within him that, upon the conclusion of the meal, he
found himself in no condition to retort appropriately to a
solicitous warning from Cora to keep away from the cat. Indeed,
it was half an hour later, and he was sitting--to his own
consciousness too heavily--upon the back fence, when belated
inspiration arrived. But there is no sound where there is no ear
to hear, and no repartee, alas! when the wretch who said the
first part has gone, so that Cora remained unscathed as from his
alley solitude Hedrick hurled in the teeth of the
rising moon these bitter words:
"Oh, no; OUR cat only eats SOFT meat!"
He renewed a morbid silence, and the moon, with its customary
deliberation, swung clear of a sweeping branch of the big elm in
the front yard and shone full upon him. Nothing warned the fated
youth not to sit there; no shadow of imminent catastrophe tinted
that brightness: no angel whisper came to him, bidding him
begone--and to go in a hurry and as far as possible. No; he sat
upon the fence an inoffensive lad, and--except for still feeling
his hash somewhat, and a gradually dispersing rancour concerning
the cat--at peace. It is for such lulled mortals that the
ever-lurking Furies save their most hideous surprises.
Chin on palms, he looked idly at the moon, and the moon
inscrutably returned his stare. Plausible, bright, bland, it
gave no sign that it was at its awful work. For the bride of
night is like a card-dealer whose fingers move so swiftly through
the pack the trickery goes unseen.
This moon upon which he was placidly gazing, because he had
nothing else to do, betokened nought to Hedrick: to him it was
the moon of any other night, the old moon; certainly no moon
of his delight. Withal, it may never be gazed upon so fixedly
and so protractedly--no matter how languidly--with entire
impunity. That light breeds a bug in the brain. Who can deny
how the moon wrought this thing under the hair of unconscious
Hedrick, or doubt its responsibility for the thing that happened?
It was a very soft, small voice, silky and queer; and at
first Hedrick had little suspicion that it could be addressing
him: the most rigid self-analysis could have revealed to him no
possibility of his fitting so ignominious a description.
"Oh, little boy!"
He looked over his shoulder and saw, standing in the alley
behind him, a girl of about his own age. She was daintily
dressed and had beautiful hair which was all shining in pale
"Little boy!"
She was smiling up at him, and once more she used that
wantonly inaccurate vocative:
"Little boy!"
Hedrick grunted unencouragingly. "Who you callin' `little
For reply she began to climb the fence. It was high,
but the young lady was astonishingly agile, and not even to be
deterred by several faint wails from tearing and ripping
fabrics--casualties which appeared to be entirely beneath her
notice. Arriving at the top rather dishevelled, and with
irregular pennons here and there flung to the breeze from her
attire, she seated herself cosily beside the dumbfounded Hedrick.
She turned her face to him and smiled--and there was
something about her smile which Hedrick did not like. It
discomforted him; nothing more. In sunlight he would have had
the better chance to comprehend; but, unhappily, this was
"Kiss me, little boy!" she said.
"I won't!" exclaimed the shocked and indignant Hedrick,
edging uneasily away from her.
"Let's play," she said cheerfully.
"Play what?"
"I like chickens. Did you know I like chickens?"
The rather singular lack of connection in her remarks struck
him as a misplaced effort at humour.
"You're having lots of fun with me, aren't you?" he
She instantly moved close to him and lifted her face to his.
"Kiss me, darling little boy!" she said.
There was something more than uncommonly queer about this
stranger, an unearthliness of which he was confusedly perceptive,
but she was not without a curious kind of prettiness, and her
pale gold hair was beautiful. The doomed lad saw the moon
shining through it.
"Kiss me, darling little boy!" she repeated.
His head whirled; for the moment she seemed divine.
George Washington used profanity at the Battle of Monmouth.
Hedrick kissed her.
He instantly pushed her away with strong distaste. "There!"
he said angrily. "I hope that'll satisfy you!" He belonged to
his sex.
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!" she cried, and flung
her arms about him.
With a smothered shout of dismay he tried to push her off,
and they fell from the fence together, into the yard, at the cost
of further and almost fatal injuries to the lady's apparel.
Hedrick was first upon his feet. "Haven't you got ANY
sense?" he demanded.
She smiled unwaveringly, rose (without assistance) and
repeated: "Kiss me some more, darling little boy!"
"No, I won't! I wouldn't for a thousand dollars!"
Apparently, she did not consider this discouraging. She
began to advance endearingly, while he retreated backward. "Kiss
me some----"
"I won't, I tell you!" Hedrick kept stepping away, moving in
a desperate circle. He resorted to a brutal formula: "You make
me sick!"
"Kiss me some more, darling lit----"
"I won't!" he bellowed. "And if you say that again I'll----"
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!" She flung herself
at him, and with a yell of terror he turned and ran at top-speed.
She pursued, laughing sweetly, and calling loudly as she ran,
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy! Kiss me some more,
darling little boy!"
The stricken Hedrick knew not whither to direct his flight:
he dared not dash for the street with this imminent tattered
incubus--she was almost upon him--and he frantically made for the
kitchen door, only to swerve with a gasp of despair as his
foot touched the step, for she was at his heels, and he was
sickeningly assured she would cheerfully follow him through the
house, shouting that damning refrain for all ears. A strangling
fear took him by the throat--if Cora should come to be a
spectator of this unspeakable flight, if Cora should hear that
horrid plea for love! Then farewell peace; indeed, farewell all
joy in life forever!
Panting sobbingly, he ducked under the amorous vampire's arm
and fled on. He zigzagged desperately to and fro across the
broad, empty backyard, a small hand ever and anon managing to
clutch his shoulder, the awful petition in his ears:
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!"
Emerging from the kitchen door, Laura stood and gazed in
wonder as the two eerie figures sped by her, circled, ducked,
dodged, flew madly on. This commonplace purlieu was become the
scene of a witch-chase; the moonlight fell upon the ghastly
flitting face of the pursued, uplifted in agony, white, wet, with
fay eyes; also it illumined the unreal elf following close, a
breeze-blown fantasy in rags.
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!"
Laura uttered a sharp exclamation. "Stand still, Hedrick!"
she called. "You must!"
Hedrick made a piteous effort to increase his speed.
"It's Lolita Martin," called Laura. "She must have her way
or nothing can be done with her. Stand STILL!"
Hedrick had never heard of Lolita Martin, but the added
information concerning her was not ineffective: it operated as a
spur; and Laura joined the hunt.
"Stand still!" she cried to the wretched quarry. She's run
away. She must be taken home. Stop, Hedrick! You MUST
Hedrick had no intention of stopping, but Laura was a runner,
and, as he dodged the other, caught and held him fast. The next
instant, Lolita, laughing happily, flung her arms round his neck
from behind.
"Lemme go!" shuddered Hedrick. "Lemme go!"
"Kiss me again, darl----"
"I--woof!" He became inarticulate.
"She isn't quite right," his sister whispered hurriedly in
his ear. "She has spells when she's weak mentally. You must be
kind to her. She only wants you to----"
"`ONLY'!" he echoed hoarsely. "I won't ki----" He was
unable to finish the word.
"We must get her home," said Laura anxiously. "Will you come
with me, Lolita, dear?"
Apparently Lolita had no consciousness whatever of Laura's
presence. Instead of replying, she tightened her grasp upon
Hedrick and warmly reiterated her request.
"Shut up, you parrot!" hissed the goaded boy.
"Perhaps she'll go if you let her walk with her arms round
your neck," suggested Laura.
"If I WHAT?"
"Let's try it. We've got to get her home; her mother must be
frantic about her. Come, let's see if she'll go with us that
With convincing earnestness, Hedrick refused to make the
experiment until Laura suggested that he remain with Lolita while
she summoned assistance; then, as no alternative appeared, his
spirit broke utterly, and he consented to the trial, stipulating
with a last burst of vehemence that the progress of the
unthinkable pageant should be through the alley.
"Come, Lolita," said Laura coaxingly. "We're going for a
nice walk." At the adjective, Hedrick's burdened shoulders
were racked with a brief spasm, which recurred as his sister
added: "Your darling little boy will let you keep hold of him."
Lolita seemed content. Laughing gayly, she offered no
opposition, but, maintaining her embrace with both arms and
walking somewhat sidewise, went willingly enough; and the three
slowly crossed the yard, passed through the empty stable and out
into the alley. When they reached the cross-street at the
alley's upper end, Hedrick balked flatly.
Laura expostulated, then entreated. Hedrick refused with
sincere loathing to be seen upon the street occupying his present
position in the group. Laura assured him that there was no one
to see; he replied that the moon was bright and the evening
early; he would die, and readily, but he would not set foot in
the street. Unfortunately, he had selected an unfavourable spot
for argument: they were already within a yard or two of the
street; and a strange boy, passing, stopped and observed, and
whistled discourteously.
"Ain't he the spooner!" remarked this unknown with hideous
"I'll thank you," returned Hedrick haughtily, "to go on about
your own business."
"Kiss me some more, darling little boy!" said Lolita.
The strange boy squawked, wailed, screamed with laughter,
howled the loving petition in a dozen keys of mockery, while
Hedrick writhed and Lolita clung. Enriched by a new and great
experience, the torturer trotted on, leaving viperish cachinna-
tions in his wake.
But the martyrdom was at an end. A woman, hurrying past,
bareheaded, was greeted by a cry of delight from Lolita, who
released Hedrick and ran to her with outstretched arms.
"We were bringing her home, Mrs. Martin," said Laura,
reassuringly. "She's all right; nothing's the matter except that
her dress got torn. We found her playing in our yard."
"I thank you a thousand times, Miss Madison," cried Lolita's
mother, and flutteringly plunged into a description of her
anxiety, her search for Lolita, and concluded with renewed
expressions of gratitude for the child's safe return, an
outpouring of thankfulness and joy wholly incomprehensible to
"Not at all," said Laura cheerfully. "Come, Hedrick. We'll
go home by the street, I think." She touched his shoulder, and
he went with her in stunned obedience. He was not able to
face the incredible thing that had happened to him: he walked in
a trance of horror.
"Poor little girl!" said Laura gently, with what seemed to
her brother an indefensibly misplaced compassion. "Usually they
have her live in an institution for people afflicted as she is,
but they brought her home for a visit last week, I believe. Of
course you didn't understand, but I think you should have been
more thoughtful. Really, you shouldn't have flirted with her."
Hedrick stopped short.
"`FLIRTED'!" His voice was beginning to show symptoms of
changing, this year; it rose to a falsetto wail, flickered and
went out.
With the departure of Lolita in safety, what had seemed
bizarre and piteous became obscured, and another aspect of the
adventure was presented to Laura. The sufferings of the arrogant
are not wholly depressing to the spectator; and of arrogance
Hedrick had ever been a master. She began to shake; a convulsion
took her, and suddenly she sat upon the curbstone without
dignity, and laughed as he had never seen her.
A horrid distrust of her rose within him: he began to
realize in what plight he stood, what terrors o'erhung.
"Look here," he said miserably, "are you--you aren't--you
don't have to go and--and TALK about this, do you?"
"No, Hedrick," she responded, rising and controlling herself
somewhat. "Not so long as you're good."
This was no reassuring answer.
"And politer to Cora," she added.
Seemingly he heard the lash of a slave-whip crack in the air.
The future grew dark.
"I know you'll try"--she said; and the unhappy lad felt that
her assurance was justified; but she had not concluded the
sentence--"darling little boy," she capped it, choking slightly.
"No other little girl ever fell in love with you, did there,
Hedrick?" she asked, and, receiving an incoherent but furious
reply, she was again overcome, so that she must lean against the
fence to recover. "It seems--so--so CURIOUS," she explained,
gasping, "that the first one--the--the only one--should be
an--a--an----" She was unable to continue.
Hedrick's distrust became painfully increased: he began to
feel that he disliked Laura.
She was still wiping her eyes and subject to recurrent
outbursts when they reached their own abode; and as he bitterly
flung himself into a chair upon the vacant front porch, he heard
her stifling an attack as she mounted the stairs to her own room.
He swung the chair about, with its back to the street, and sat
facing the wall. He saw nothing. There are profundities in the
abyss which reveal no glimpse of the sky.
Presently he heard his father coughing near by; and the sound
was hateful, because it seemed secure and unshamed. It was a
cough of moral superiority; and just then the son would have
liked to believe that his parent's boyhood had been one of
degradation as complete as his own; but no one with this
comfortable cough could ever have plumbed such depths: his
imagination refused the picture he was bitterly certain that Mr.
Madison had never kissed an idiot.
Hedrick had a dread that his father might speak to him; he
was in no condition for light conversation. But Mr. Madison was
unaware of his son's near presence, and continued upon his
purposeless way. He was smoking his one nightly cigar and en-
joying the moonlight. He drifted out toward the sidewalk
and was accosted by a passing acquaintance, a comfortable burgess
of sixty, leading a child of six or seven, by the hand.
"Out taking the air, are you, Mr. Madison? said the
pedestrian, pausing.
"Yes; just trying to cool off," returned the other. "How are
you, Pryor, anyway? I haven't seen you for a long time."
"Not since last summer," said Pryor. "I only get here once
or twice a year, to see my married daughter. I always try to
spend August with her if I can. She's still living in that
little house, over on the next street, I bought for her through
your real-estate company. I suppose you're still in the same
"Yes. Pretty slack, these days."
"I suppose so, I suppose so," responded Mr. Pryor, nodding.
"Summer, I suppose it usually is. Well, I don't know when I'll
be going out on the road again myself. Business is pretty slack
all over the country this year."
"Let's see--I've forgotten," said Madison ruminatively. "You
travel, don't you?"
"For a New York house," affirmed Mr. Pryor. He did not,
however, mention his "line." "Yes-sir," he added, merely as
a decoration, and then said briskly: "I see you have a fine
family, Mr. Madison; yes-sir, a fine family; I've passed here
several times lately and I've noticed 'em: fine family. Let's
see, you've got four, haven't you?"
"Three," said Madison. "Two girls and a boy."
"Well, sir, that's mighty nice," observed Mr. Pryor;
MIGHTY nice! I only have my one daughter, and of course me
living in New York when I'm at home, and her here, why, I don't
get to see much of her. You got both your daughters living with
you, haven't you?"
"Yes, right here at home."
"Let's see: neither of 'em's married, I believe?"
"No; not yet."
"Seems to me now," said Pryor, taking off his glasses and
wiping them, "seems to me I did hear somebody say one of 'em was
going to be married engaged, maybe."
"No," said Madison. "Not that I know of."
"Well, I suppose you'd be the first to know! Yes-sir." And
both men laughed their appreciation of this folly. "They're
mighty good-looking girls, THAT'S certain," continued Mr.
Pryor. "And one of 'em's as fine a dresser as you'll meet
this side the Rue de la Paix.
"You mean in Paris?" asked Madison, slightly surprised at
this allusion. "You've been over there, Pryor?"
"Oh, sometimes," was the response. "My business takes me
over, now and then. "I THINK it's one of your daughters I've
noticed dresses so well. Isn't one of 'em a mighty pretty girl
about twenty-one or two, with a fine head of hair sort of
lightish brown, beautiful figure, and carries a white parasol
with a green lining sometimes?"
"Yes, that's Cora, I guess."
"Pretty name, too," said Pryor approvingly. "Yes-sir. I saw
her going into a florist's, downtown, the other day, with a
fine-looking young fellow--I can't think of his name. Let's see:
my daughter was with me, and she'd heard his name--said his
family used to be big people in this town and----"
"Oh," said Madison, "young Corliss."
"Corliss!" exclaimed Mr. Pryor, with satisfaction. "That's
it, Corliss. Well, sir," he chuckled, "from the way he was
looking at your Miss Cora it struck me he seemed kind of anxious
for her name to be Corliss, too."
"Well, hardly I expect," said the other. "They just barely
know each other: he's only been here a few weeks; they haven't
had time to get much acquainted, you see."
"I suppose not," agreed Mr. Pryor, with perfect readiness.
"I suppose not. "I'll bet HE tries all he can to get
acquainted though; he looked pretty smart to me. Doesn't he come
about as often as the law allows?"
"I shouldn't be surprised," said Madison indifferently. "He
doesn't know many people about here any more, and it's lonesome
for him at the hotel. But I guess he comes to see the whole
family; I left him in the library a little while ago, talking to
my wife."
"That's the way! Get around the old folks first!" Mr. Pryor
chuckled cordially; then in a mildly inquisitive tone he said:
"Seems to be a fine, square young fellow, I expect?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Pretty name, `Cora'," said Pryor.
"What's this little girl's name?" Mr. Madison indicated the
child, who had stood with heroic patience throughout the
incomprehensible dialogue.
"Lottie, for her mother. She's a good little girl."
"She is SO! I've got a young son she ought to know,"
remarked Mr. Madison serenely, with an elderly father's total
unconsciousness of the bridgeless gap between seven and thirteen.
"He'd like to play with her. I'll call him."
"I expect we better be getting on," said Pryor. "It's near
Lottie's bedtime; we just came out for our evening walk."
"Well, he can come and shake hands with her anyway," urged
Hedrick's father. "Then they'll know each other, and they can
play some other time." He turned toward the house and called
There was no response. Behind the back of his chair Hedrick
could not be seen. He was still sitting immovable, his eyes
torpidly fixed upon the wall.
"Oh, HED-rick!" shouted his father. "Come out here! I
want you to meet a little girl! Come and see a nice little
Mr. Pryor's grandchild was denied the pleasure. At the
ghastly words "LITTLE GIRL," Hedrick dropped from his
chair flat upon the floor, crawled to the end of the porch,
wriggled through the railing, and immersed himself in deep shadow
against the side of the house.
Here he removed his shoes, noiselessly mounted to the sill of
one of the library windows, then reconnoitred through a slit in
the blinds before entering.
The gas burned low in the "drop-light"--almost too dimly to
reveal the two people upon a sofa across the room. It was a
faint murmur from one of them that caused Hedrick to pause and
peer more sharply. They were Cora and Corliss; he was bending
close to her; her face was lifting to his.
"Ah, kiss me! Kiss me!" she whispered.
Hedrick dropped from the sill, climbed through a window of
the kitchen, hurried up the back-stairs, and reached his own
apartment in time to be violently ill in seclusion.


Villages are scattered plentifully over the unstable buttresses
of Vesuvius, and the inhabitants sleep o' nights: Why not?
Quite unaware that he was much of their condition, Mr. Madison
bade his incidental gossip and the tiny Lottie good-night, and
sought his early bed. He maintained in good faith that Saturday
night was "a great night to sleep," because of the later hour for
rising; probably having also some factitious conviction that
there prevailed a hush preparative of the Sabbath. As a matter
of fact, in summer, the other members of his family always looked
uncommonly haggard at the Sunday breakfast-table. Accepting
without question his preposterous legend of additional matutinal
slumber, they postponed retiring to a late hour, and were
awakened--simultaneously with thousands of fellow-sufferers--at
about half-after five on Sunday morning, by a journalistic
uprising. Over the town, in these early hours, rampaged the
small vendors of the manifold sheets: local papers and
papers from greater cities, hawker succeeding hawker with yell
upon yell and brain-piercing shrillings in unbearable cadences.
No good burgher ever complained: the people bore it, as in winter
they bore the smoke that injured their health, ruined their
linen, spoiled their complexions, forbade all hope of beauty and
comfort in their city, and destroyed the sweetness of their homes
and of their wives. It is an incredibly patient citizenry and
exalts its persecutors.
Of the Madison family, Cora probably suffered most; and this
was the time when it was no advantage to have the front bedroom.
She had not slept until close upon dawn, and the hawkers woke her
irreparably; she could but rage upon her hot pillow. By and by,
there came a token that another anguish kept company with hers.
She had left her door open for a better circulation of the warm
and languid air, and from Hedrick's room issued an "OOF!" of
agonized disgust. Cora little suspected that the youth reeked
not of newsboys: Hedrick's miseries were introspective.
The cries from the street were interminable; each howler in
turn heard faintly in the distance, then in crescendo until he
had passed and another succeeded him, and all the while Cora
lay tossing and whispering between clenched teeth. Having ample
reason, that morning, to prefer sleep to thinking, sleep was
impossible. But she fought for it: she did not easily surrender
what she wanted; and she struggled on, with closed eyes, long
after she had heard the others go down to breakfast.
About a hundred yards from her windows, to the rear, were the
open windows of a church which fronted the next street, and stood
dos-a-dos to the dwelling of the Madisons. The Sunday-school
hour had been advanced for the hot weather, and, partly on this
account, and partly because of the summer absence of many
families, the attendants were few. But the young voices were
conducted, rather than accompanied, in pious melody by a
cornetist who worthily thought to amend, in his single person,
what lack of volume this paucity occasioned. He was a slender
young man in hot black clothes; he wore the unfacaded collar
fatally and unanimously adopted by all adam's-apple men of
morals; he was washed, fair, flat-skulled, clean-minded, and
industrious; and the only noise of any kind he ever made in the
world was on Sunday.
"Prashus joowuls, sweet joowuls, THEE jams off iz
crowowun," sang the little voices feebly. They were almost
unheard; but the young man helped them out: figuratively, he put
them out. And the cornet was heard: it was heard for blocks and
blocks; it was heard over all that part of the town--in the
vicinity of the church it was the only thing that could be heard.
In his daily walk this cornetist had no enemies: he was
kind-hearted; he would not have shot a mad dog; he gladly nursed
the sick. He sat upon the platform before the children; he
swelled, perspired and blew, and felt that it was a good blowing.
If other thoughts vapoured upon the borders of his mind, they
were of the dinner he would eat, soon after noon, at the house of
one of the frilled, white-muslin teachers. He was serene. His
eyes were not blasted; his heart was not instantly withered; his
thin, bluish hair did not fall from his head; his limbs were not
detached from his torso--yet these misfortunes had been desired
for him, with comprehension and sincerity, at the first flat blat
of his brassy horn.
It is impossible to imagine the state of mind of this young
cornetist, could he have known that he had caused the prettiest
girl in town to jump violently out of bed with what
petitions upon her lips regarding his present whereabouts and
future detention! It happened that during the course of his
Sunday walk on Corliss Street, that very afternoon, he saw
her--was hard-smitten by her beauty, and for weeks thereafter
laid unsuccessful plans to "meet" her. Her image was imprinted:
he talked about her to his boarding-house friends and office
acquaintances, his favourite description being, "the
sweetest-looking lady I ever laid eyes on."
Cora, descending to the breakfast-table rather white herself,
was not unpleasantly shocked by the haggard aspect of Hedrick,
who, with Laura and Mrs. Madison, still lingered.
"Good-morning, Cora," he said politely, and while she stared,
in suspicious surprise, he passed her a plate of toast with
ostentatious courtesy; but before she could take one of the
slices, "Wait," he said; "it's very nice toast, but I'm afraid it
isn't hot. I'll take it to the kitchen and have it warmed for
you." And he took the plate and went out, walking softly.
Cora turned to her mother, appalled. "He'll be sick!" she
Mrs. Madison shook her head and smiled sadly.
"He helped to wait on all of us: he must have been doing
something awful."
"More likely he wants permission to do something awful."
Laura looked out of the window.
"There, Cora," said Hedrick kindly, when he brought the
toast; "you'll find that nice and hot."
She regarded him steadfastly, but with modesty he avoided her
eye. "You wouldn't make such a radical change in your nature,
Hedrick," she said, with a puzzled frown, "just to get out of
going to church, would you?"
"I don't want to get out of going to church," he said. He
gulped slightly. "I like church."
And church-time found him marching decorously beside his
father, the three ladies forming a rear rank; a small company in
the very thin procession of fanning women and mopping men whose
destination was the gray stone church at the foot of Corliss
Street. The locusts railed overhead: Hedrick looked neither to
the right nor to the left.
They passed a club, of which a lower window was vacated
simultaneously with their coming into view; and a small but
ornate figure in pale gray crash hurried down the steps and
attached itself to the second row of Madisons.
"Good-morning," said Mr. Wade Trumble. "Thought I'd take a
look-in at church this morning myself."
Care of this encumbrance was usually expected of Laura and
Mrs. Madison, but to their surprise Cora offered a sprightly
rejoinder and presently dropped behind them with Mr. Trumble.
Mr. Trumble was also surprised and, as naively, pleased.
"What's happened?" he asked with cheerful frankness. "You
haven't given me a chance to talk to you for a long while."
"Haven't I?" she smiled enigmatically. "I don't think you've
tried very hard."
This was too careless; it did not quite serve, even for
Trumble. "What's up?" he asked, not without shrewdness. "Is
Richard Lindley out of town?"
"I don't know."
"I see. Perhaps it's this new chap, Corliss? Has he left?"
"What nonsense! What have they got to do with my being nice
to you?" She gave him a dangerous smile, and it wrought upon him
"Don't you ever be nice to me unless you mean it," he said
Cora looked grave and sweet; she seemed mysteriously
moved. "I never do anything I don't mean," she said in a low
voice which thrilled the little man. This was machine-work, easy
and accurate.
"Cora----" he began, breathlessly.
"There!" she exclaimed, shifting on the instant to a lively
brusqueness. "That's enough for you just NOW. We're on our
way to church!"
Trumble felt almost that she had accepted him.
"Have you got your penny for the contribution box?" she
smiled. "I suppose you really give a great deal to the church.
I hear you're richer and richer."
"I do pretty well," he returned, coolly. "You can know just
how well, if you like."
"Not on Sunday," she laughed; then went on, admiringly, "I
hear you're very dashing in your speculations."
"Then you've heard wrong, because I don't speculate," he
returned. "I'm not a gambler--except on certainties. I guess I
disappointed a friend of yours the other day because I wouldn't
back him on a thousand-to-one shot."
"Who was that?" she asked, with an expression entirely
"Corliss. He came to see me; wanted me to put real money
into an oil scheme. Too thin!"
"Why is it `too thin'?" she asked carelessly.
"Too far away, for one thing--somewhere in Italy. Anybody
who put up his cash would have to do it on Corliss's bare word
that he's struck oil."
"Well?" She turned her face to him, and a faint perturbation
was manifest in her tone. "Isn't Mr. Corliss's `bare word'
supposed to be perfectly good?"
"Oh, I suppose so, but I don't know. He isn't known here:
nobody really knows anything about him except that he was born
here. Besides, I wouldn't make an investment on my own father's
bare word, if he happened to be alive."
"Perhaps not!" Cora spoke impulsively, a sudden anger getting
the better of her, but she controlled it immediately. "Of course
I don't mean that," she laughed, sweetly. "But _I_ happen to
think Mr. Corliss's scheme a very handsome one, and I want my
friends to make their fortunes, of course. Richard Lindley and
papa are going into it."
"I'll bet they don't," said Trumble promptly. "Lindley told
me he'd looked it over and couldn't see his way to."
"He did?" Cora stiffened perceptibly and bit her lip.
Trumble began to laugh. "This is funny: you trying to talk
business! So Corliss has been telling you about it?"
"Yes, he has; and I understand it perfectly. I think there's
an enormous fortune in it, and you'd better not laugh at me: a
woman's instinct about such things is better than a man's
experience sometimes."
"You'll find neither Lindley nor your father are going to
think so," he returned skeptically.
She gave him a deep, sweet look. "But I mustn't be
disappointed in you," she said, with the suggestion of a tremor
in her voice, whatever THEY do! You'll take my advice, won't
"I'll take your advice in anything but business." He shook
his head ominously.
"And wouldn't you take my advice in business,--she asked very
slowly and significantly--"under ANY circumstances?"
"You mean," he said huskily, "if you were my wife?"
She looked away, and slightly inclined her head. "No," he
answered doggedly, "I wouldn't. You know mighty well that's
what I want you to be, and I'd give my soul for the tip of your
shoe, but business is an entirely different matter, and I----"
"WADE! she said, with wonderful and thrilling sweetness.
They had reached the church; Hedrick and his father had entered;
Mrs. Madison and Laura were waiting on the steps. Cora and
Trumble came to a stop some yards away. "Wade, I--I WANT you
to go into this."
"Can't do it," he said stubbornly. "If you ever make up your
mind to marry me, I'll spend all the money you like on YOU,
but you'll have to keep to the woman's side of the house."
"You make it pretty hard for me to be nice to you," she
returned, and the tremor now more evident in her voice was
perfectly genuine. "You positively refuse to do this--for me?"
"Yes I do. I wouldn't buy sight-unseen to please God
'lmighty, Cora Madison." He looked at her shrewdly, struck by a
sudden thought. "Did Corliss ask you to try and get me in?"
"He did not," she responded, icily. "Your refusal is final?"
"Certainly!" He struck the pavement a smart rap with his
walking-stick. "By George, I believe he DID ask you!
That spoils church for me this morning; I'll not go in. When you
quit playing games, let me know. You needn't try to work me any
more, because I won't stand for it, but if you ever get tired of
playing, come and tell me so." He uttered a bark of rueful
laughter. "Ha! I must say that gentleman has an interesting way
of combining business with pleasure!"
Under favourable circumstances the blow Cora dealt him might
have been physically more violent. "Good-morning," she laughed,
gayly. "I'm not bothering much about Mr. Corliss's oil in Italy.
I had a bet with Laura I could keep you from saying `I beg to
differ,' or talking about the weather for five minutes. She'll
have to pay me!"
Then, still laughing, she lowered her parasol, and with
superb impudence, brushed it smartly across his face; turned on
her heel, and, red with fury, joined her mother and sister, and
went into the church.
The service failed to occupy her attention: she had much in
her thoughts to distract her. Nevertheless, she bestowed some
wonderment upon the devotion with which her brother observed each
ceremonial rite. He joined in prayer with real fervour; he sang
earnestly and loudly; a great appeal sounded in his changing
voice; and during the sermon he sat with his eyes upon the
minister in a stricken fixity. All this was so remarkable that
Cora could not choose but ponder upon it, and, observing Hedrick
furtively, she caught, if not a clue itself, at least a glimpse
of one. She saw Laura's clear profile becoming subtly agitated;
then noticed a shimmer of Laura's dark eye as it wandered to
Hedrick and so swiftly away it seemed not to dare to remain.
Cora was quick: she perceived that Laura was repressing a
constant desire to laugh and that she feared to look at Hedrick
lest it overwhelm her. So Laura knew what had wrought the
miracle. Cora made up her mind to explore this secret passage.
When the service was over and the people were placidly
buzzing their way up the aisles, Cora felt herself drawn to look
across the church, and following the telepathic impulse, turned
her head to encounter the gaze of Ray Vilas. He was ascending
the opposite aisle, walking beside Richard Lindley. He looked
less pale than usual, though his thinness was so extreme it was
like emaciation; but his eyes were clear and quiet, and the look
he gave her was strangely gentle. Cora frowned and turned away
her head with an air of annoyance. They came near each
other in the convergence at the doors; but he made no effort to
address her, and, moving away through the crowd as quickly as
possible, disappeared.
Valentine Corliss was disclosed in the vestibule. He reached
her an instant in advance of Mr. Lindley, who had suffered
himself to be impeded; and Cora quickly handed the former her
parasol, lightly taking his arm. Thus the slow Richard found
himself walking beside Laura in a scattered group, its detached
portion consisting of his near-betrothed and Corliss; for
although the dexterous pair were first to leave the church, they
contrived to be passed almost at once, and, assuming the position
of trailers, lagged far behind on the homeward way.
Laura and Richard walked in the unmitigated glare of the sun;
he had taken her black umbrella and conscientiously held it
aloft, but over nobody. They walked in silence: they were quiet
people, both of them; and Richard, not "talkative" under any
circumstances, never had anything whatever to say to Laura
Madison. He had known her for many years, ever since her
childhood; seldom indeed formulating or expressing a definite
thought about her, though sometimes it was vaguely of his
consciousness that she played the piano nicely, and even
then her music had taken its place as but a colour of Cora's
background. For to him, as to every one else (including Laura),
Laura was in nothing her sister's competitor. She was a
neutral-tinted figure, taken-for-granted, obscured, and so near
being nobody at all, that, as Richard Lindley walked beside her
this morning, he glanced back at the lagging couple and uttered a
long and almost sonorous sigh, which he would have been ashamed
for anybody to hear; and then actually proceeded on his way
without the slightest realization that anybody had heard it.
She understood. And she did not disturb the trance; she did
nothing to make him observe that she was there. She walked on
with head, shoulders, and back scorching in the fierce sun, and
allowed him to continue shading the pavement before them with her
umbrella. When they reached the house she gently took the
umbrella from him and thanked him; and he mechanically raised his
They had walked more than a mile together; he had not spoken
a word, and he did not even know it.


Dinner on Sunday, the most elaborate feast of the week for the
Madisons, was always set for one o'clock in the afternoon, and
sometimes began before two, but not to-day: the escorts of both
daughters remained, and a change of costume by Cora occasioned a
long postponement. Justice demands the admission that her
reappearance in a glamour of lilac was reward for the delay;
nothing more ravishing was ever seen, she was warrantably
informed by the quicker of the two guests, in a moment's
whispered tete-a-tete across the banisters as she descended.
Another wait followed while she prettily arranged upon the table
some dozens of asters from a small garden-bed, tilled, planted,
and tended by Laura. Meanwhile, Mrs. Madison constantly turned
the other cheek to the cook. Laura assisted in the pacification;
Hedrick froze the ice-cream to an impenetrable solidity; and the
nominal head of the family sat upon the front porch with the two
young men, and wiped his wrists and rambled politically
till they were summoned to the dining-room.
Cora did the talking for the table. She was in high spirits;
no trace remained of a haggard night: there was a bloom upon
her--she was radiant. Her gayety may have had some inspiration
in her daring, for round her throat she wore a miraculously
slender chain of gold and enamel, with a pendant of minute pale
sapphires scrolled about a rather large and very white diamond.
Laura started when she saw it, and involuntarily threw a glance
almost of terror at Richard Lindley. But that melancholy and
absent-minded gentleman observed neither the glance nor the
jewel. He saw Cora's eyes, when they were vouchsafed to his
vision, and when they were not he apparently saw nothing at all.
With the general exodus from the table, Cora asked Laura to
come to the piano and play, a request which brought a snort from
Hedrick, who was taken off his guard. Catching Laura's eye, he
applied a handkerchief with renewed presence of mind, affecting
to have sneezed, and stared searchingly over it at Corliss. He
perceived that the man remained unmoved, evidently already in-
formed that it was Laura who was the musician. Cora must be
going it pretty fast this time: such was the form of her
brother's deduction.
When Laura opened the piano, Richard had taken a seat beside
Cora, and Corliss stood leaning in the doorway. The player lost
herself in a wandering medley, echoes from "Boheme" and
"Pagliacci"; then drifted into improvisation and played her heart
into it magnificently--a heart released to happiness. The still
air of the room filled with wonderful, golden sound: a song like
the song of a mother flying from earth to a child in the stars, a
torrential tenderness, unpent and glorying in freedom. The
flooding, triumphant chords rose, crashed--stopped with a
shattering abruptness. Laura's hands fell to her sides, then
were raised to her glowing face and concealed it for a moment.
She shivered; a quick, deep sigh heaved her breast; and she came
back to herself like a prisoner leaving a window at the warden's
She turned. Cora and Corliss had left the room. Richard was
sitting beside a vacant chair, staring helplessly at the open
If he had been vaguely conscious of Laura's playing, which is
possible, certainly he was unaware that it had ceased.
"The others have gone out to the porch," she said composedly,
and rose. "Shan't we join them?"
"What?" he returned, blankly. "I beg your pardon----"
"Let's go out on the porch with the others."
"No, I----" He got to his feet confusedly. "I was
thinking---- I believe I'd best be going home."
"Not `best,' I think," she said. "Not even better!"
"I don't see," he said, his perplexity only increased.
"Mr. Corliss would," she retorted quickly. "Come on: we'll
go and sit with them." And she compelled his obedience by
preceding him with such a confident assumption that he would
follow that he did.
The fugitive pair were not upon the porch, however; they were
discovered in the shade of a tree behind the house, seated upon a
rug, and occupied in a conversation which would not have
disturbed a sick-room. The pursuers came upon them, boldly sat
beside them; and Laura began to talk with unwonted fluency to
Corliss, but within five minutes found herself alone with
Richard Lindley upon the rug. Cora had promised to show Mr.
Corliss an "old print" in the library--so Cora said.
Lindley gave the remaining lady a desolate and faintly
reproachful look. He was kind, but he was a man; and Laura saw
that this last abandonment was being attributed in part to her.
She reddened, and, being not an angel, observed with
crispness: "Certainly. You're quite right: it's my fault!"
"What did you say?" he asked vacantly.
She looked at him rather fixedly; his own gaze had returned
to the angle of the house beyond which the other couple had just
disappeared. "I said," she answered, slowly, "I thought it
wouldn't rain this, afternoon."
His wistful eyes absently swept the serene sky which had been
cloudless for several days. "No, I suppose not," he murmured.
"Richard," she said with a little sharpness, "will you please
listen to me for a moment?"
"Oh--what?" He was like a diver coming up out of deep water.
"What did you say?" He laughed apologetically. "Wasn't I
listening? I beg your pardon. What is it, Laura?"
"Why do you let Mr. Corliss take Cora away from you like
that?" she asked gravely.
"He doesn't," the young man returned with a rueful shake of
the head. "Don't you see? It's Cora that goes."
"Why do you let her, then?"
He sighed. "I don't seem to be able to keep up with Cora,
especially when she's punishing me. I couldn't do something she
asked me to, last night----"
"Invest with Mr. Corliss?" asked Laura quickly.
"Yes. It seemed to trouble her that I couldn't. She's
convinced it's a good thing: she thinks it would make a great
fortune for us----"
"`Us'?" repeated Laura gently. "You mean for you and her?
When you're----"
"When we're married. Yes," he said thoughtfully, "that's the
way she stated it. She wanted me to put in all I have----"
"Don't do it!" said Laura decidedly.
He glanced at her with sharp inquiry. "Do you mean you would
distrust Mr. Corliss?'
"I wasn't thinking of that: I don't know whether I'd trust
him or not--I think I wouldn't; there's something veiled about
him, and I don't believe he is an easy man to know. What I
meant was that I don't believe it would really be a good thing
for you with Cora."
"It would please her, of course--thinking I deferred so much
to her judgment."
"Don't do it!" she said again, impulsively.
"I don't see how I can," he returned sorrowfully.
"It's my work for all the years since I got out of college,
and if I lost it I'd have to begin all over again. It would mean
postponing everything. Cora isn't a girl you can ask to share a
little salary, and if it were a question of years, perhaps--
perhaps Cora might not feel she could wait for me, you see."
He made this explanation with plaintive and boyish sincerity,
hesitatingly, and as if pleading a cause. And Laura, after a
long look at him, turned away, and in her eyes were actual tears
of compassion for the incredible simpleton.
"I see," she said. "Perhaps she might not."
"Of course," he went on, "she's fond of having nice things,
and she thinks this is a great chance for us to be millionaires;
and then, too, I think she may feel that it would please Mr.
Corliss and help to save him from disappointment. She seems to
have taken a great fancy to him."
Laura glanced at him, but did not speak.
"He IS attractive," continued Richard feebly. "I think
he has a great deal of what people call `magnetism': he's the
kind of man who somehow makes you want to do what he wants you
to. He seems a manly, straightforward sort, too--so far as one
can tell--and when he came to me with his scheme I was strongly
inclined to go into it. But it is too big a gamble, and I can't,
though I was sorry to disappoint him myself. He was perfectly
cheerful about it and so pleasant it made me feel small. I don't
wonder at all that Cora likes him so much. Besides, he seems to
understand her."
Laura looked very grave. "I think he does," she said slowly.
"And then he's `different,'" said Richard. "He's more a `man
of the world' than most of us here: she never saw anything just
like him before, and she's seen US all her life. She likes
change, of course. That's natural," he said gently. "Poor Vilas
says she wants a man to be different every day, and if he isn't,
then she wants a different man every day."
"You've rather taken Ray Vilas under your wing, haven't you?"
asked Laura.
"Oh, no," he answered deprecatingly. "I only try to
keep him with me so he'll stay away from downtown as much as
"Does he talk much of Cora?"
"All the time. There's no stopping him. I suppose he can't
help it, because he thinks of nothing else."
"Isn't that rather--rather queer for you?"
"`Queer'?" he repeated.
"No, I suppose not!" She laughed impatiently. "And probably
you don't think it's `queer' of you to sit here helplessly, and
let another man take your place----"
"But I don't `let' him, Laura," he protested.
"No, he just does it!"
"Well," he smiled, "you must admit my efforts to supplant him
"It won't take any effort now," she said, rising quickly.
Valentine Corliss came into their view upon the sidewalk in
front, taking his departure. Seeing that they observed him, he
lifted his hat to Laura and nodded a cordial good-day to Lindley.
Then he went on.
Just before he reached the corner of the lot, he encountered
upon the pavement a citizen of elderly and plain appearance,
strolling with a grandchild. The two men met and passed,
each upon his opposite way, without pausing and without
salutation, and neither Richard nor Laura, whose eyes were upon
the meeting, perceived that they had taken cognizance of each
other. But one had asked a question and the other had answered.
Mr. Pryor spoke in a low monotone, with a rapidity as
singular as the restrained but perceptible emphasis he put upon
one word of his question.
"I got you in the park," he said; and it is to be deduced
that "got" was argot. "You're not DOING anything here, are
"No!" answered Corliss with condensed venom, his back already
to the other. He fanned himself with his hat as he went on. Mr.
Pryor strolled up the street with imperturbable benevolence.
"Your coast is cleared," said Laura, "since you wouldn't
clear it yourself."
"Wish me luck," said Richard as he left her.
She nodded brightly.
Before he disappeared, he looked back to her again (which
profoundly surprised her) and smiled rather disconsolately,
shaking his head as in prophecy of no very encouraging reception
indoors. The manner of this glance recalled to Laura what
his mother had once said of him. "Richard is one of those sweet,
helpless men that some women adore and others despise. They fall
in love with the ones that despise them."
An ostentatious cough made her face about, being obviously
designed to that effect; and she beheld her brother in the act of
walking slowly across the yard with his back to her. He halted
upon the border of her small garden of asters, regarded it
anxiously, then spread his handkerchief upon the ground, knelt
upon it, and with thoughtful care uprooted a few weeds which were
beginning to sprout, and also such vagrant blades of grass as
encroached upon the floral territory. He had the air of a
virtuous man performing a good action which would never become
known. Plainly, he thought himself in solitude and all
It was a touching picture, pious and humble. Done into
coloured glass, the kneeling boy and the asters--submerged in
ardent sunshine--would have appropriately enriched a cathedral:
Boyhood of Saint Florus the Gardener.
Laura heartlessly turned her back, and, affecting an interest
in her sleeve, very soon experienced the sensation of being
stared at with some poignancy from behind. Unchanged in
attitude, she unravelled an imaginary thread, whereupon the cough
reached her again, shrill and loud, its insistence not lacking in
She approached him, driftingly. No sign that he was aware
came from the busied boy, though he coughed again, hollowly
now--a proof that he was an artist. "All right, Hedrick," she
said kindly. "I heard you the first time."
He looked up with utter incomprehension. "I'm afraid I've
caught cold," he said, simply. "I got a good many weeds out
before breakfast, and the ground was damp."
Hedrick was of the New School: everything direct, real, no
striving for effect, no pressure on the stroke. He did his work:
you could take it or leave it.
"You mustn't strain so, dear," returned his sister, shaking
her head. "It won't last if you do. You see this is only the
first day."
Struck to the heart by so brutal a misconception, he put all
his wrongs into one look, rose in manly dignity, picked up his
handkerchief, and left her.
Her eyes followed him, not without remorse: it was an exit
which would have moved the bass-violist of a theatre
orchestra. Sighing, she went to her own room by way of the
kitchen and the back-stairs, and, having locked her door, brought
the padlocked book from its hiding-place.
"I think I should not have played as I did, an hour ago," she
wrote. "It stirs me too greatly and I am afraid it makes me
inclined to self-pity afterward, and I must never let myself feel
THAT! If I once begin to feel sorry for myself. . . . But I
WILL not! No. You are here in the world. You exist. You
ARE! That is the great thing to know and it must be enough
for me. It is. I played to You. I played JUST LOVE to
you--all the yearning tenderness--all the supreme kindness I want
to give you. Isn't love really just glorified kindness? No,
there is something more. . . . I feel it, though I do not know
how to say it. But it was in my playing--I played it and played
it. Suddenly I felt that in my playing I had shouted it from the
housetops, that I had told the secret to all the world and
EVERYBODY knew. I stopped, and for a moment it seemed to me
that I was dying of shame. But no one understood. No one had
even listened. . . . Sometimes it seems to me that I am
like Cora, that I am very deeply her sister in some things. My
heart goes all to You--my revelation of it, my release of it, my
outlet of it is all here in these pages (except when I play as I
did to-day and as I shall not play again) and perhaps the writing
keeps me quiet. Cora scatters her own releasings: she is looking
for the You she may never find; and perhaps the penalty for scat-
tering is never finding. Sometimes I think the seeking has
reacted and that now she seeks only what will make her feel. I
hope she has not found it: I am afraid of this new man--not only
for your sake, dear. I felt repelled by his glance at me the
first time I saw him. I did not like it--I cannot say just why,
unless that it seemed too intimate. I am afraid of him for her,
which is a queer sort of feeling because she has alw----"
Laura's writing stopped there, for that day, interrupted by a
hurried rapping upon the door and her mother's voice calling her
with stress and urgency.
The opening of the door revealed Mrs. Madison in a state of
anxious perturbation, and admitted the sound of loud weeping and
agitated voices from below.
"Please go down," implored the mother. "You can do more with
her than I can. She and your father have been having a terrible
scene since Richard went home."
Laura hurried down to the library.


Oh, COME in, Laura!" cried her sister, as Laura appeared in
the doorway. "Don't STAND there! Come in if you want to
take part in a grand old family row!" With a furious and
tear-stained face, she was confronting her father who stood
before her in a resolute attitude and a profuse perspiration.
"Shut the door!" shouted Cora violently, adding, as Laura obeyed,
"Do you want that little Pest in here? Probably he's
eavesdropping anyway. But what difference does it make? I don't
care. Let him hear! Let anybody hear that wants to! They can
hear how I'm tortured if they like. I didn't close my eyes last
night, and now I'm being tortured. Papa!" She stamped her foot.
"Are you going to take back that insult to me?"
"`Insult'?" repeated her father, in angry astonishment.
"Pshaw," said Laura, laughing soothingly and coming to her.
"You know that's nonsense, Cora. Kind old papa
couldn't do that if he tried. Dear, you know he never insulted
anybody in his----"
"Don't touch me!" screamed Cora, repulsing her. "Listen, if
you've got to, but let me alone. He did too! He did! He
KNOWS what he said!"
"I do not!"
"He does! He does!" cried Cora. "He said that I was--I was
too much `interested' in Mr. Corliss."
"Is that an `insult'?" the father demanded sharply.
"It was the way he said it," Cora protested, sobbing. "He
meant something he didn't SAY. He did! He did! He MEANT
to insult me!"
"I did nothing of the kind," shouted the old man.
I don't know what you're talking about. I said I couldn't
understand your getting so excited about the fellow's affairs and
that you seemed to take a mighty sudden interest in him."
"Well, what if I DO?" she screamed. Haven't I a right to
be interested in what I choose? I've got to be interested in
SOMETHING, haven't I? YOU don't make life very
interesting, do you? Do you think it's interesting to spend the
summer in this horrible old house with the paper falling off the
walls and our rotten old furniture that I work my hands off
trying to make look decent and can't, and every other girl I know
at the seashore with motor-cars and motor-boats, or getting a
trip abroad and buying her clothes in Paris? What do YOU offer to
interest me?"
The unfortunate man hung his head. "I don't see what all
that has to do with it----"
She seemed to leap at him. "You DON'T? You DON'T?"
"No, I don't. And I don't see why you're so crazy to please
young Corliss about this business unless you're infatuated with
him. I had an idea--and I was pleased with it, too, because
Richard's a steady fellow--that you were just about engaged to
Richard Lindley, and----"
"Engaged!" she cried, repeating the word with bitter
contempt. "Engaged! You don't suppose I'll marry him unless I
want to, do you? I will if it suits me. I won't if it suits me
not to; understand that! I don't consider myself engaged to
anybody, and you needn't either. What on earth has that got to
do with your keeping Richard Lindley from doing what Mr. Corliss
wants him to?"
"I'm not keeping him from anything. He didn't say----"
"He did!" stormed Cora. "He said he would if you went into
it. He told me this afternoon, an hour ago."
"Now wait," said Madison. "I talked this over with Richard
two days ago----"
Cora stamped her foot again in frantic exasperation. "I'm
talking about this afternoon!"
"Two days ago," he repeated doggedly; "and we came to the
same conclusion: it won't do. He said he couldn't go into it
unless he went over there to Italy--and saw for himself just what
he was putting his money into, and Corliss had told him that it
couldn't be done; that there wasn't time, and showed him a
cablegram from his Italian partner saying the secret had leaked
out and that they'd have to form the company in Naples and sell
the stock over there if it couldn't be done here within the next
week. Corliss said he had to ask for an immediate answer, and so
Richard told him no, yesterday."
"Oh, my God!" groaned Cora. "What has that got to do with
YOUR going into it? You're not going to risk any money! I
don't ask you to SPEND anything, do I? You haven't got
it if I did. All Mr. Corliss wants is your name. Can't you give
even THAT? What importance is it?"
Well, if it isn't important, what difference does it make
whether I give it or not?"
She flung up her arms as in despairing appeal for patience.
"It IS important to him! Richard will do it if you will be
secretary of the company: he promised me. Mr. Corliss told me
your name was worth everything here: that men said downtown you
could have been rich long ago if you hadn't been so square.
Richard trusts you; he says you're the most trusted man in
"That's why I can't do it," he interrupted.
"No!" Her vehemence increased suddenly to its utmost. "No!
Don't you say that, because it's a lie. That isn't the reason
you won't do it. You won't do it because you think it would
please ME! You're afraid it might make me HAPPY!
Happy--happy--HAPPY!" She beat her breast and cast herself
headlong upon the sofa, sobbing wildly. "Don't come near me!"
she screamed at Laura, and sprang to her feet again, dishevelled
and frantic. "Oh, Christ in heaven! is there such a thing as
happiness in this beast of a world? I want to leave it. I
want to go away: I want SO to die: Why can't I? Why can't
I! Why can't I! Oh, God, why CAN'T I die? Why can't----"
Her passion culminated in a shriek: she gasped, was convulsed
from head to foot for a dreadful moment, tore at the bosom of her
dress with rigid bent fingers, swayed; then collapsed all at
once. Laura caught her, and got her upon the sofa. In the hall,
Mrs. Madison could be heard running and screaming to Hedrick to
go for the doctor. Next instant, she burst into the room with
brandy and camphor.
"I could only find these; the ammonia bottle's empty," she
panted; and the miserable father started hatless, for the
drug-store, a faint, choked wail from the stricken girl sounding
in his ears: "It's--it's my heart, mamma."
It was four blocks to the nearest pharmacy; he made what
haste he could in the great heat, but to himself he seemed double
his usual weight; and the more he tried to hurry, the less speed
appeared obtainable from his heavy legs. When he reached the
place at last, he found it crowded with noisy customers about the
"soda-fount"; and the clerks were stonily slow: they seemed to
know that they were "already in eternity." He got very
short of breath on the way home; he ceased to perspire and became
unnaturally dry; the air was aflame and the sun shot fire upon
his bare head. His feet inclined to strange disobediences: he
walked the last block waveringly. A solemn Hedrick met him at
the door.
"They've got her to bed," announced the boy. "The doctor's
up there."
"Take this ammonia up," said Madison huskily, and sat down
upon a lower step of the stairway with a jolt, closing his eyes.
"You sick, too?" asked Hedrick.
"No. Run along with that ammonia."
It seemed to Madison a long time that he sat there alone, and
he felt very dizzy. Once he tried to rise, but had to give it up
and remain sitting with his eyes shut. At last he heard Cora's
door open and close; and his wife and the doctor came slowly down
the stairs, Mrs. Madison talking in the anxious yet relieved
voice of one who leaves a sick-room wherein the physician
pronounces progress encouraging.
"And you're SURE her heart trouble isn't organic?" she
Her heart is all right," her companion assured her. "There's
nothing serious; the trouble is nervous. I think you'll find
she'll be better after a good sleep. Just keep her quiet.
Hadn't she been in a state of considerable excitement?"
"Ah! A little upset on account of opposition to a plan she'd
formed, perhaps?"
"Well--partly," assented the mother.
"I see," he returned, adding with some dryness: "I thought
it just possible."
Madison got to his feet, and stepped down from the stairs for
them to pass him. He leaned heavily against the wall.
"You think she's going to be all right, Sloane? he asked with
an effort.
"No cause to worry," returned the physician. "You can let
her stay in bed to-day if she wants to but----" He broke off,
looking keenly at Madison's face, which was the colour of
poppies. "Hello! what's up with YOU?"
"I'm all--right."
"Oh, you are?" retorted Sloane with sarcasm. "Sit down," he
commanded. "Sit right where you are--on the stairs, here," and,
having enforced the order, took a stethoscope from his
pocket. "Get him a glass of water," he said to Hedrick, who was
at his elbow.
"Doctor!" exclaimed Mrs. Madison. "HE isn't going to be
sick, is he? You don't think he's sick NOW?"
"I shouldn't call him very well," answered the physician
rather grimly, placing his stethoscope upon Madison's breast.
"Get his room ready for him." She gave him a piteous look,
struck with fear; then obeyed a gesture and ran flutteringly up
the stairs.
"I'm all right now," panted Madison, drinking the water
Hedrick brought him.
"You're not so darned all right," said Sloane coolly, as he
pocketed his stethoscope. "Come, let me help you up. We're
going to get you to bed."
There was an effort at protest, but the physician had his
way, and the two ascended the stairs slowly, Sloane's arm round
his new patient. At Cora's door, the latter paused.
"What's the matter?"
"I want," said Madison thickly--"I want--to speak to Cora."
"We'll pass that up just now," returned the other
brusquely, and led him on. Madison was almost helpless: he
murmured in a husky, uncertain voice, and suffered himself to be
put to bed. There, the doctor "worked" with him; cold
"applications" were ordered; Laura was summoned from the other
sick-bed; Hedrick sent flying with prescriptions, then to
telephone for a nurse. The two women attempted questions at
intervals, but Sloane replied with orders, and kept them busy.
"Do you--think I'm a---a pretty sick man, Sloane?" asked
Madison after a long silence, speaking with difficulty.
"Oh, you're sick, all right," the doctor conceded.
"I--I want to speak to Jennie."
His wife rushed to the bed, and knelt beside it.
"Don't you go to confessing your sins," said Doctor Sloane
crossly. "You're coming out of the woods all right, and you'll
be sorry if you tell her too, much. I'll begin a little
flirtation with you, Miss Laura, if you please." And he motioned
to her to follow him into the hall.
"Your father IS pretty sick, he told her, "and he may be
sicker before we get him into shape again. But you needn't be
worried right now; I think he's not in immediate danger." He
turned at the sound of Mrs. Madison's step, behind him, and
repeated to her what he had just said to Laura. "I hope your
husband didn't give himself away enough to be punished when we
get him on his feet again," he concluded cheerfully.
She shook her head, tried to smile through tears, and,
crossing the hall, entered Cora's room. She came back after a
moment, and, rejoining the other two at her husband's bedside,
found the sick man in a stertorous sleep. Presently the nurse
arrived, and upon the physician's pointed intimation that there
were "too many people around," Laura went to Cora's room. She
halted on the threshold in surprise. Cora was dressing.
"Mamma says the doctor says he's all right," said Cora
lightly, "and I'm feeling so much better myself I thought I'd put
on something loose and go downstairs. I think there's more air
down there."
"Papa isn't all right, dear," said Laura, staring perplexedly
at Cora's idea of "something loose," an equipment inclusive of
something particularly close. "The doctor says he is very sick."
"I don't believe it," returned Cora promptly. "Old Sloane
never did know anything. Besides, mamma told me he said
papa isn't in any danger."
"No `immediate' danger," corrected Laura. "And besides,
Doctor Sloane said you were to stay in bed until to-morrow."
"I can't help that." Cora went on with her lacing
impatiently. "I'm not going to lie and stifle in this heat when
I feel perfectly well again--not for an old idiot like Sloane!
He didn't even have sense enough to give me any medicine." She
laughed. "Lucky thing he didn't: I'd have thrown it out of the
window. Kick that slipper to me, will you, dear?"
Laura knelt and put the slipper on her sister's foot. "Cora,
dear," she said, "you're just going to put on a negligee and go
down and sit in the library, aren't you?"
"Laura!" The tone was more than impatient. "I wish I could
be let alone for five whole minutes some time in my life! Don't
you think I've stood enough for one day? I can't bear to be
questioned, questioned, questioned! What do you do it for?
Don't you see I can't stand anything more? If you can't let me
alone I do wish you'd keep out of my room.
Laura rose and went out; but as she left the door, Cora
called after her with a rueful laugh: "Laura, I know I'm a
little devil!"
Half an hour later, Laura, suffering because she had made no
reply to this peace-offering, and wishing to atone, sought Cora
downstairs and found no one. She decided that Cora must still be
in her own room; she would go to her there. But as she passed
the open front door, she saw Cora upon the sidewalk in front of
the house. She wore a new and elaborate motoring costume,
charmingly becoming, and was in the act of mounting to a seat
beside Valentine Corliss in a long, powerful-looking, white
"roadster" automobile. The engine burst into staccato thunder,
sobered down; the wheels began to move both Cora and Corliss were
laughing and there was an air of triumph about them--Cora's veil
streamed and fluttered: and in a flash they were gone.
Laura stared at the suddenly vacated space where they had
been. At a thought she started. Then she rushed upstairs to her
mother, who was sitting in the hall near her husband's door.
"Mamma," whispered Laura, flinging herself upon her knees
beside her, "when papa wanted to speak to you, was it a message
to Cora?"
"Yes, dear. He told me to tell her he was sorry he'd
made her sick, and that if he got well he'd try to do what she
asked him to."
Laura nodded cheerfully. "And he WILL get well, darling
mother," she said, as she rose. "I'll come back in a minute and
sit with you."
Her return was not so quick as she promised, for she lay a
long time weeping upon her pillow, whispering over and over:
"Oh, poor, poor papa! Oh, poor, poor Richard!"


Within a week Mr. Madison's illness was a settled institution in
the household; the presence of the nurse lost novelty, even to
Hedrick, and became a part of life; the day was measured by the
three regular visits of the doctor. To the younger members of
the family it seemed already that their father had always been
sick, and that he always would be; indeed, to Cora and Hedrick he
had become only a weak and querulous voice beyond a closed door.
Doctor Sloane was serious but reassuring, his daily announcement
being that his patient was in "no immediate danger."
Mrs. Madison did not share her children's sanguine
adaptability; and, of the three, Cora was the greatest solace to
the mother's troubled heart, though Mrs. Madison never recognized
this without a sense of injustice to Laura, for Laura now was
housewife and housekeeper--that is, she did all the work except
the cooking, and on "wash-day" she did that. But Cora's help was
to the very spirit itself, for she was sprightly in
these hours of trial: with indomitable gayety she cheered her
mother, inspiring in her a firmer confidence, and, most
stimulating of all, Cora steadfastly refused to consider her
father's condition as serious, or its outcome as doubtful.
Old Sloane exaggerated, she said; and she made fun of his
gravity, his clothes and his walk, which she mimicked till she
drew a reluctant and protesting laugh from even her mother. Mrs.
Madison was sure she "couldn't get through" this experience save
for Cora, who was indeed the light of the threatened house.
Strange perversities of this world: Cora's gayety was almost
unbearable to her brother. Not because he thought it either
unfeeling or out of place under the circumstances (an aspect he
failed to consider), but because years of warfare had so
frequently made him connect cheerfulness on her part with some
unworthily won triumph over himself that habit prevailed, and he
could not be a witness of her high spirits without a strong sense
of injury. Additionally, he was subject to a deeply implanted
suspicion of any appearance of unusual happiness in her as having
source, if not in his own defeat, then in something vaguely
"soft" and wholly distasteful. She grated upon him; he
chafed, and his sufferings reached the surface. Finally, in a
reckless moment, one evening at dinner, he broke out with a shout
and hurled a newly devised couplet concerning luv-a-ly slush at
his, sister's head. The nurse was present: Cora left the table;
and Hedrick later received a serious warning from Laura. She
suggested that it might become expedient to place him in Cora's
"Cora knows perfectly well that something peculiar happened
to you," she advised him. "And she knows that I know what it
was; and she says it isn't very sisterly of me not to tell her.
Now, Hedrick, there was no secret about it; you didn't CONFIDE
your--your trouble to me, and it would be perfectly
honourable of me to tell it. I wont{sic} unless you make me, but
if you can't be polite and keep peace with Cora--at least while
papa is sick I think it may be necessary. I believe," she
finished with imperfect gravity, "that it--it would keep things
The thoughts of a boy may be long, long thoughts, but he
cannot persistently remember to fear a threatened catastrophe.
Youth is too quickly intimate with peril. Hedrick had become
familiar with his own, had grown so accustomed to it he was
in danger of forgetting it altogether; therefore it was out of
perspective. The episode of Lolita had begun to appear as a
thing of the distant and clouded past: time is so long at
thirteen. Added to this, his late immaculate deportment had
been, as Laura suggested, a severe strain; the machinery of his
nature was out of adjustment and demanded a violent reaction
before it could get to running again at average speed. Also, it
is evident that his destruction had been planned on high, for he
was mad enough to answer flippantly:
"Tell her! Go on and tell her--_I_ give you leaf!
THAT wasn't anything anyway--just helped you get a little
idiot girl home. What is there to that? I never saw her before;
never saw her again; didn't have half as much to do with her as
you did yourself. She was a lot more YOUR friend than mine;
I didn't even know her. I guess you'll have to get something
better on me than that, before you try to boss THIS ranch,
Laura Madison!"
That night, in bed, he wondered if he had not been perhaps a
trifle rash; but the day was bright when he awoke, and no
apprehension shadowed his morning face as he appeared at the
breakfast table. On the contrary, a great weight had lifted
from him; clearly his defiance had been the proper thing; he had
shown Laura that her power over him was but imaginary.
Hypnotized by his own words to her, he believed them; and his
previous terrors became gossamer; nay, they were now merely
laughable. His own remorse and shame were wholly blotted from
memory, and he could not understand why in the world he had been
so afraid, nor why he had felt it so necessary to placate Laura.
She looked very meek this morning. THAT showed! The strong
hand was the right policy in dealing with women. He was tempted
to insane daring: the rash, unfortunate child waltzed on the lip
of the crater.
"Told Cora yet?" he asked, with scornful laughter.
"Told me what?" Cora looked quickly up from her plate.
"Oh, nothing about this Corliss," he returned scathingly.
"Don't get excited."
"Hedrick!" remonstrated his mother, out of habit.
"She never thinks of anything else these days, he retorted.
"Rides with him every evening in his pe-rin-sley hired machine,
doesn't she?'
"Really, you should be more careful about the way you handle
a spoon, Hedrick," said Cora languidly, and with at least a
foundation of fact. "It is not the proper implement for
decorating the cheeks. We all need nourishment, but it is SO
difficult when one sees a deposit of breakfast-food in the ear of
one's vis-a-vis."
Hedrick too impulsively felt of his ears and was but the
worse stung to find them immaculate and the latter half of the
indictment unjustified.
"Spoon!" he cried. "I wouldn't talk about spoons if I were
you, Cora-lee! After what I saw in the library the other night,
believe ME, you're the one of this family that better be
careful how you `handle a spoon'!"
Cora had a moment of panic. She let the cup she was lifting
drop noisily upon its saucer, and gazed whitely at the boy, her
mouth opening wide.
"Oh, no!" he went on, with a dreadful laugh. "I didn't hear
you asking this Corliss to kiss you! Oh, no!"
At this, though her mother and Laura both started, a faint,
odd relief showed itself in Cora's expression. She recovered
"You little liar!" she flashed, and, with a single quick look
at her mother, as of one too proud to appeal, left the room.
"Hedrick, Hedrick, Hedrick!" wailed Mrs. Madison. "And she
told me you drove her from the table last night too, right before
Miss Peirce!" Miss Peirce was the nurse, fortunately at this
moment in the sick-room.
"I DID hear her ask him that," he insisted, sullenly.
"Don't you believe it?"
"Certainly not!"
Burning with outrage, he also left his meal unfinished and
departed in high dignity. He passed through the kitchen,
however, on his way out of the house; but, finding an unusual
politeness to the cook nothing except its own reward, went on his
way with a bitter perception of the emptiness of the world and
other places.
"Your father managed to talk more last night," said Mrs.
Madison pathetically to Laura. "He made me understand that he
was fretting about how little we'd been able to give our
children; so few advantages; it's always troubled him terribly.
But sometimes I wonder if we've done right: we've neither of us
ever exercised any discipline. We just couldn't bear to. You
see, not having any money, or the things money could buy, to
give, I think we've instinctively tried to make up for it by
indulgence in other ways, and perhaps it's been a bad thing.
Not," she added hastily, "not that you aren't all three the best
children any mother and father ever had! HE said so. He
said the only trouble was that our children were too good for
us." She shook her head remorsefully throughout Laura's natural
reply to this; was silent a while; then, as she rose, she said
timidly, not looking at her daughter: "Of course Hedrick didn't
mean to tell an outright lie. They were just talking, and
perhaps he--perhaps he heard something that made him think what
he DID. People are so often mistaken in what they hear, even
when they're talking right to each other, and----"
"Isn't it more likely," said Laura, gravely, "that Cora was
telling some story or incident, and that Hedrick overheard that
part of it, and thought she was speaking directly to Mr.
"Of course!" cried the mother with instant and buoyant
relief; and when the three ladies convened, a little later, Cora
(unquestioned) not only confirmed this explanation, but repeated
in detail the story she had related to Mr. Corliss. Laura had
been quick.
Hedrick passed a variegated morning among comrades. He
obtained prestige as having a father like-to-die, but another boy
turned up who had learned to chew tobacco. Then Hedrick was
pronounced inferior to others in turning "cartwheels," but
succeeded in a wrestling match for an apple, which he needed.
Later, he was chased empty-handed from the rear of an ice-wagon,
but greatly admired for his retorts to the vociferous chaser: the
other boys rightly considered that what he said to the ice-man
was much more horrible than what the ice-man said to him. The
ice-man had a fair vocabulary, but it lacked pliancy; seemed
stiff and fastidious compared with the flexible Saxon in which
Hedrick sketched a family tree lacking, perhaps, some
plausibility as having produced even an ice-man, but curiously
interesting zoologically.
He came home at noon with the flush of this victory new upon
his brow. He felt equal to anything, and upon Cora's appearing
at lunch with a blithe, bright air and a new arrangement of her
hair, he opened a fresh campaign with ill-omened bravado.
"Ear-muffs in style for September, are they? he inquired in
allusion to a symmetrical and becoming undulation upon each side
of her head. "Too bad Ray Vilas can't come any more; he'd
like those, I know he would."
Cora, who was talking jauntily to her mother, went on without
heeding. She affected her enunciation at times with a slight
lisp; spoke preciously and over-exquisitely, purposely mincing
the letter R, at the same time assuming a manner of artificial
distinction and conscious elegance which never failed to produce
in her brother the last stage of exasperation. She did this now.
Charming woman, that dear Mrs. Villard, she prattled. "I met her
downtown this morning. Dear mamma, you should but have seen her
delight when she saw ME. She was but just returned from Bar
"`Baw-hawbaw'!" Poor Hedrick was successfully infuriated
immediately. "What in thunder is `Baw-hawbaw'? Mrs. Villawd!
Baw-hawbaw! Oh, maw!"
"She had no idea she should find ME in town, she said,"
Cora ran on, happily. "She came back early on account of the
children having to be sent to school. She has such adorable
children--beautiful, dimpled babes----"
"--And her dear son, Egerton Villard, he's grown to be such a
comely lad, and he has the most charming courtly manners: he
helped his mother out of her carriage with all the air of a man
of the world, and bowed to me as to a duchess. I think he might
be a great influence for good if the dear Villards would but
sometimes let him associate a little with our unfortunate
Hedrick. Egerton Villard is really distingue; he has a beautiful
head; and if he could be induced but to let Hedrick follow him
about but a little----"
"I'll beat his beautiful head off for him if he but butts in
on me but a little!" Hedrick promised earnestly. "Idiot!"
Cora turned toward him innocently. "What did you say,
"I said `Idiot'!"
"You mean Egerton Villard?"
"Both of you!"
"You think I'm an idiot, Hedrick?" Her tone was calm, merely
"Yes, I do!"
"Oh, no," she said pleasantly. "Don't you think if I were
REALLY an idiot I'd be even fonder of you than I am?"
It took his breath. In a panic he sat waiting he knew not
what; but Cora blandly resumed her interrupted remarks to her
mother, beginning a description of Mrs. Villard's dress; Laura
was talking unconcernedly to Miss Peirce; no one appeared to be
aware that anything unusual had been said. His breath came back,
and, summoning his presence of mind, he found himself able to
consider his position with some degree of assurance. Perhaps,
after all, Cora's retort had been merely a coincidence. He went
over and over it in his mind, making a pretence, meanwhile, to be
busy with his plate. "If I were REALLY an idiot." . . . It
was the "REALLY" that troubled him. But for that one word,
he could have decided that her remark was a coincidence; but
"REALLY" was ominous; had a sinister ring. "If I were
REALLY an idiot!" Suddenly the pleasant clouds that had
obscured his memory of the fatal evening were swept away as by a
monstrous Hand: it all came back to him with sickening clearness.
So is it always with the sinner with his sin and its threatened
discovery. Again, in his miserable mind, he sat beside Lolita on
the fence, with the moon shining through her hair; and he
knew--for he had often read it--that a man could be punished
his whole life through for a single moment's weakness. A man
might become rich, great, honoured, and have a large family, but
his one soft sin would follow him, hunt him out and pull him down
at last. "REALLY an idiot!" Did that relentless Comanche,
Cora, know this Thing? He shuddered. Then he fell back upon his
faith in Providence. It COOULD not be that she knew! Ah, no!
Heaven would not let the world be so bad as that! And yet it did
sometimes become negligent--he remembered the case of a baby-girl
cousin who fell into the bath-tub and was drowned. Providence
had allowed that: What assurance had he that it would not go a
step farther?
"Why, Hedrick," said Cora, turning toward him cheerfully,
"you're not really eating anything; you're only pretending to."
His heart sank with apprehension. Was it coming? "You really
must eat," she went on. "School begins so soon, you must be
strong, you know. How we shall miss you here at home during your
hours of work!"
With that, the burden fell from his shoulders, his increasing
terrors took wing. If Laura had told his ghastly secret to Cora,
the latter would not have had recourse to such weak satire as
this. Cora was not the kind of person to try a popgun on an
enemy when she had a thirteen-inch gun at her disposal; so he
reasoned; and in the gush of his relief and happiness, responded:
"You're a little too cocky lately, Cora-lee: I wish you were
MY daughter--just about five minutes!"
Cora looked upon him fondly. "What would you do to me," she
inquired with a terrible sweetness--"darling little boy?"
Hedrick's head swam. The blow was square in the face; it
jarred every bone; the world seemed to topple. His mother,
rising from her chair, choked slightly, and hurried to join the
nurse, who was already on her way upstairs. Cora sent an
affectionate laugh across the table to her stunned antagonist.
"You wouldn't beat me, would you, dear? she murmured. "I'm
almost sure you wouldn't; not if I asked you to kiss me some
All doubt was gone, the last hope fled! The worst had
arrived. A vision of the awful future flamed across his
staggered mind. The doors to the arena were flung open: the wild
beasts howled for hunger of him; the spectators waited.
Cora began lightly to sing:

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

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

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

Hedrick sprang to his feet with a yell of agony. "Laura
Madison, you tattle-tale," he bellowed, "I'll never forgive you
as long as I live! I'll get even with you if it takes a thousand
With that, and pausing merely to kick a rung out of a chair
which happened to be in his way, he rushed from the room.
His sisters had risen to go, and Cora flung her arms round
Laura in ecstacy. "You mean old viper!" she cried. "You could
have told me days ago! It's almost too good to be true: it's the
first time in my whole life I've felt safe from the Pest for a
Laura shook her head. "My conscience troubles me; it did
seem as if I ought to tell you--and mamma thought so, too; and I
gave him warning, but now that I have done it, it seems rather
mean and----"
"No!" exclaimed Cora. "You just gave me a chance to protect
myself for once, thank heaven!" And she picked up her skirts and
danced her way into the front hall.
"I'm afraid," said Laura, following, "I shouldn't have done
"Oh, Laura," cried the younger girl, "I am having the best
time, these days! This just caps it." She lowered her voice,
but her eyes grew even brighter. "I think I've shown a certain
gentleman a few things he didn't understand!"
"Who, dear?"
"Val," returned Cora lightly; "Valentine Corliss. I think he
knows a little more about women than he did when he first came
"You've had a difference with him?" asked Laura with eager
hopefulness. "You've broken with him?"
"Oh, Lord, no! Nothing like that." Cora leaned to her
confidentially. "He told me, once, he'd be at the feet of any
woman that could help put through an affair like his oil scheme,
and I decided I'd just show him what I could do. He'd talk about
it to me; then he'd laugh at me. That very Sunday when I got
papa to go in----"
"But he didn't," said Laura helplessly. "He only said he'd
try to----when he gets well."
"It's all the same--and it'll be a great thing for him, too,"
said Cora, gayly. "Well, that very afternoon before Val left, he
practically told me I was no good. Of course he didn't use just
those words--that isn't his way--but he laughed at me. And
haven't I shown him! I sent Richard a note that very night
saying papa had consented to be secretary of the company, and
Richard had said he'd go in if papa did that, and he couldn't
break his word----"
"I know," said Laura, sighing. "I know."
"Laura"--Cora spoke with sudden gravity--"did you ever know
anybody like me? I'm almost getting superstitious about it,
because it seems to me I ALWAYS get just what I set out to
get. I believe I could have anything in the world if I tried for
"I hope so, if you tried for something good for you," said
Laura sadly. "Cora, dear, you will--you will be a little easy on
Hedrick, won't you?"
Cora leaned against the newel and laughed till she was


Mr. Trumble's offices were heralded by a neat blazon upon the
principal door, "Wade J. Trumble, Mortgages and Loans"; and the
gentleman thus comfortably, proclaimed, emerging from that door
upon a September noontide, burlesqued a start of surprise at
sight of a figure unlocking an opposite door which exhibited the
name, "Ray Vilas," and below it, the cryptic phrase, "Probate
"Water!" murmured Mr. Trumble, affecting to faint. "You
ain't going in THERE, are you, Ray?" He followed the other
into the office, and stood leaning against a bookcase, with his
hands in his pockets, while Vilas raised the two windows, which
were obscured by a film of smoke-deposit: there was a thin coat
of fine sifted dust over everything. "Better not sit down, Ray,"
continued Trumble, warningly. "You'll spoil your clothes and you
might get a client. That word `Probate' on the door ain't going
to keep 'em out forever. You recognize the old place,
I s'pose? You must have been here at least twice since you moved
in. What's the matter? Dick Lindley hasn't missionaried you
into any idea of WORKING, has he? Oh, no, _I_ see: the
Richfield Hotel bar has closed--you've managed to drink it all at
"Have you heard how old man Madison is to-day? asked Ray,
dusting his fingers with a handkerchief.
"Somebody told me yesterday he was about the same. He's not
going to get well."
"How do you know?" Ray spoke quickly.
"Stroke too severe. People never recover----"
"Oh, yes, they do, too."
Trumble began hotly: "I beg to dif----" but checked himself,
manifesting a slight confusion. "That is, I know they don't.
Old Madison may live a while, if you call that getting well; but
he'll never be the same man he was. Doctor Sloane says it was a
bad stroke. Says it was `induced by heat prostration and
excitement.' `Excitement!'" he repeated with a sour laugh.
"Yep, I expect a man could get all the excitement he wanted in
THAT house, especially if he was her daddy. Poor old man, I
don't believe he's got five thousand dollars in the world, and
look how she dresses!"
Ray opened a compartment beneath one of the bookcases, and
found a bottle and some glasses. "Aha," he muttered, "our
janitor doesn't drink, I perceive. Join me?" Mr. Trumble
accepted, and Ray explained, cheerfully: "Richard Lindley's got
me so cowed I'm afraid to go near any of my old joints. You see,
he trails me; the scoundrel has kept me sober for whole days at a
time, and I've been mortified, having old friends see me in that
condition; so I have to sneak up here to my own office to drink
to Cora, now and then. You mustn't tell him. What's she been
doing to YOU, lately?"
The little man addressed grew red with the sharp, resentful
memory. "Oh, nothing! Just struck me in the face with her
parasol on the public street, that's all!" He gave an account of
his walk to church with Cora. "I'm through with that girl!" he
exclaimed vindictively, in conclusion. "It was the damnedest
thing you ever saw in your life: right in broad daylight, in
front of the church. And she laughed when she did it; you'd have
thought she was knocking a puppy out of her way. She can't do
that to me twice, I tell you. What the devil do you see to laugh
"You'll be around," returned his companion, refilling the
glasses, "asking for more, the first chance she gives you.
Here's her health!"
"I don't drink it!" cried Mr. Trumble angrily.
"And I'm through with her for good, I tell you! I'm not your
kind: I don't let a girl like that upset me till I can't think of
anything else, and go making such an ass of myself that the whole
town gabbles about it. Cora Madison's seen the last of me, I'll
thank you to notice. She's never been half-decent to me; cut
dances with me all last winter; kept me hanging round the
outskirts of every crowd she was in; stuck me with Laura and her
mother every time she had a chance; then has the nerve to try to
use me, so's she can make a bigger hit with a new man! You can

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