Part 3 out of 4
bet your head I'm through! She'll get paid though! Oh, she'll
get paid for it!"
"How?" laughed Ray.
It was a difficult question. "You wait and see," responded
the threatener, feebly. "Just wait and see. She's wild about
this Corliss, I tell you," he continued, with renewed vehemence.
"She's crazy about him; she's lost her head at last----"
"You mean he's going to avenge you?"
"No, I don't, though he might, if she decided to marry him."
"Do you know," said Ray slowly, glancing over his glass at
his nervous companion, "it doesn't strike me that Mr. Valentine
Corliss has much the air of a marrying man."
"He has the air to ME," observed Mr. Trumble, "of a darned
bad lot! But I have to hand it to him: he's a wizard. He's got
something besides his good looks--a man that could get Cora
Madison interested in `business'! In OIL! Cora Madison!
How do you suppose----"
His companion began to laugh again. "You don't really
suppose he talked his oil business to her, do you, Trumble?"
"He must have. Else how could she----"
"Oh, no, Cora herself never talks upon any subject but one;
she never listens to any other either."
"Then how in thunder did he----"
"If Cora asks you if you think it will rain," interrupted
Vilas, "doesn't she really seem to be asking: `Do you love me?
How much?' Suppose Mr. Corliss is an expert in the same line.
Of course he can talk about oil!"
"He strikes me," said Trumble, as just about the
slickest customer that ever hit this town. I like Richard
Lindley, and I hope he'll see his fifty thousand dollars again.
_I_ wouldn't have given Corliss thirty cents."
"Why do you think he's a crook?"
"I don't say that," returned Trumble. "All _I_ know about
him is that he's done some of the finest work to get fifty
thousand dollars put in his hands that I ever heard of. And all
anybody knows about him is that he lived here seventeen years
ago, and comes back claiming to know where there's oil in Italy.
He shows some maps and papers and gets cablegrams signed
`Moliterno.' Then he talks about selling the old Corliss house
here, where the Madisons live, and putting the money into his oil
company: he does that to sound plausible, but I have good reason
to know that house was mortgaged to its full value within a month
after his aunt left it to him. He'll not get a cent if it's
sold. That's all. And he's got Cora Madison so crazy over him
that she makes life a hell for poor old Lindley until he puts all
he's saved into the bubble. The scheme may be all right. How do
_I_ know? There's no way to tell, without going over there,
and Corliss won't let anybody do that--oh, he's got a
plausible excuse for it! But I'm sorry for Lindley: he's so
crazy about Cora, he's soft. And she's so crazy about Corliss
SHE'S soft! Well, I used to be crazy about her myself, but
I'm not soft--I'm not the Lindley kind of loon, thank heaven!"
"What kind are you, Trumble?" asked Ray, mildly.
"Not your kind either," retorted the other going to the door.
"She cut me on the street the other day; she's quit speaking to
me. If you've got any money, why don't you take it over to the
hotel and give it to Corliss? She might start speaking to
YOU again. I'm going to lunch!" He slammed the door behind
Ray Vilas, left alone, elevated his heels to the sill, and
stared out of the window a long time at a gravelled roof which
presented little of interest. He replenished his glass and his
imagination frequently, the latter being so stirred that when,
about three o'clock, he noticed the inroads he had made upon the
bottle, tears of self-pity came to his eyes. "Poor little
drunkard!" he said aloud. "Go ahead and do it. Isn't anything
YOU won't do!" And, having washed his face at a basin in a
corner, he set his hat slightly upon one side, picked up a
walking stick and departed jauntily, and, to the outward eye,
Mr. Valentine Corliss would be glad to see him, the clerk at
the Richfield Hotel reported, after sending up a card, and upon
Ray's following the card, Mr. Valentine Corliss in person
confirmed the message with considerable amusement and a
cordiality in which there was some mixture of the quizzical. He
was the taller; and the robust manliness of his appearance, his
splendid health and boxer's figure offered a sharp contrast to
the superlatively lean tippler. Corliss was humorously aware of
his advantage: his greeting seemed really to say, "Hello, my
funny bug, here you are again!" though the words of his
salutation were entirely courteous; and he followed it with a
"No," said Vilas; "I won't drink with you." He spoke so
gently that the form of his refusal, usually interpreted as
truculent, escaped the other's notice. He also declined a cigar,
apologetically asking permission to light one of his own
cigarettes; then, as he sank into a velour-covered chair, apolo-
gized again for the particular attention he was bestowing upon
the apartment, which he recognized as one of the suites de
luxe of the hotel.
"`Parlour, bedroom, and bath,'" he continued, with a
melancholy smile; "and `Lachrymae,' and `A Reading from Homer.'
Sometimes they have `The Music Lesson,' or `Winter Scene' or `A
Neapolitan Fisher Lad' instead of `Lachrymae,' but they always
have `A Reading from Homer.' When you opened the door, a moment
ago, I had a very strong impression that something extraordinary
would some time happen to me in this room."
"Well," suggested Corliss, "you refused a drink in it."
"Even more wonderful than that," said Ray, glancing about the
place curiously. "It may be a sense of something painful that
already has happened here--perhaps long ago, before your occu-
pancy. It has a pathos."
"Most hotel rooms have had something happen in them," said
Corliss lightly. "I believe the managers usually change the door
numbers if what happens is especially unpleasant. Probably they
change some of the rugs, also."
"I feel----" Ray paused, frowning. "I feel as if some one
had killed himself here."
"Then no doubt some of the rugs HAVE been changed."
"No doubt." The caller laughed and waved his hand in
dismissal of the topic. "Well, Mr. Corliss," he went on,
shifting to a brisker tone, "I have come to make my fortune, too.
You are Midas. Am I of sufficient importance to be touched?"
Valentine Corliss gave him sidelong an almost imperceptibly
brief glance of sharpest scrutiny--it was like the wink of a
camera shutter--but laughed in the same instant. "Which way do
you mean that?"
"You have been quick," returned the visitor, repaying that
glance with equal swiftness, "to seize upon the American idiom.
I mean: How small a contribution would you be willing to receive
toward your support!"
Corliss did not glance again at Ray; instead, he looked
interested in the smoke of his cigar. "`Contribution,'" he
repeated, with no inflection whatever. "`Toward my support.'"
"I mean, of course, how small an investment in your oil
"Oh, anything, anything," returned the promoter, with quick
amiability. "We need to sell all the stock we can."
"All the money you can get?"
"Precisely. It's really a colossal proposition, Mr. Vilas."
Corliss spoke with brisk enthusiasm. "It's a perfectly certain
enormous profit upon everything that goes in. Prince Moliterno
cables me later investigations show that the oil-field is more
than twice as large as we thought when I left Naples. He's on
the ground now, buying up what he can, secretly."
"I had an impression from Richard Lindley that the secret had
"Oh, yes; but only by a few, and those are trying to keep it
quiet from the others, of course."
"I see. Does your partner know of your success in raising a
"You mean Lindley's? Certainly." Corliss waved his hand in
light deprecation. "Of course that's something, but Moliterno
would hardly be apt to think of it as very large! You see he's
putting in about five times that much, himself, and I've already
turned over to him double it for myself. Still, it
counts--certainly; and of course it will be a great thing for
"I fear," Ray said hesitatingly, "you won't be much
interested in my drop for your bucket. I have twelve hundred
dollars in the world; and it is in the bank--I stopped there
on my way here. To be exact, I have twelve hundred and
forty-seven dollars and fifty-one cents. My dear sir, will you
allow me to purchase one thousand dollars' worth of stock? I
will keep the two hundred and forty-seven dollars and fifty-one
cents to live on--I may need an egg while waiting for you to make
me rich. Will you accept so small an investment?"
"Certainly," said Corliss, laughing. "Why not? You may as
well profit by the chance as any one. I'll send you the stock
certificates--we put them at par. I'm attending to that myself,
as our secretary, Mr. Madison, is unable to take up his duties."
Vilas took a cheque-book and a fountain-pen from his pocket.
"Oh, any time, any time," said Corliss cheerfully, observing
the new investor's movement.
"Now, I think," returned Vilas quietly. "How shall I make it
"Oh, to me, I suppose," answered Corliss indifferently.
"That will save a little trouble, and I can turn it over to
Moliterno, by cable, as I did Lindley's. I'll give you a
"You need not mind that," said Ray. "Really it is of no
"Of course the cheque itself is a receipt," remarked Corliss,
tossing it carelessly upon a desk. "You'll have some handsome
returns for that slip of paper, Mr. Vilas."
"In that blithe hope I came," said Ray airily.
"I am confident of it. I have my own ways of divination, Mr.
Corliss. I have gleams." He rose as if to go, but stood looking
thoughtfully about the apartment again. "Singular impression,"
he murmured. "Not exactly as if I'd seen it in a dream; and
"You have symptoms of clairvoyance at times, I take it." The
conscious, smooth superiority of the dexterous man playing with
an inconsequent opponent resounded in this speech, clear as the
humming of a struck bell; and Vilas shot him a single open glance
of fire from hectic eyes. For that instant, the frailer buck
trumpeted challenge. Corliss--broad-shouldered, supple of waist,
graceful and strong--smiled down negligently; yet the very air
between the two men seemed charged with an invisible explosive.
Ray laughed quickly, as in undisturbed good nature; then,
flourishing his stick, turned toward the door.
"Oh, no, it isn't clairvoyance--no more than when I told
you that your only real interest is women. He paused, his hand
upon the door-knob. "I'm a quaint mixture, however: perhaps I
should be handled with care."
"Very good of you," laughed Corliss--"this warning. The
afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting you I think I remember
your implying that you were a mere marionette."
"A haggard harlequin!" snapped Vilas, waving his hand to a
mirror across the room. "Don't I look it?" And the phrase
fitted him with tragic accuracy. "You see? What a merry
wedding-guest I'll be! I invite you to join me on the nuptial
"Thanks. Who's getting married: when the nuptial eve?"
Ray opened the door, and, turning, rolled his eyes
fantastically. "Haven't you heard?" he cried. "When Hecate
marries John Barleycorn!" He bowed low. "Mr. Midas, adieu."
Corliss stood in the doorway and watched him walk down the
long hall to the elevator. There, Ray turned and waved his hand,
the other responding with gayety which was not assumed: Vilas
might be insane, or drunk, or both, but the signature upon his
cheque was unassailable.
Corliss closed the door and began to pace his apartment
thoughtfully. His expression manifested a peculiar phenomenon.
In company, or upon the street, or when he talked with men, the
open look and frank eyes of this stalwart young man were
disarming and his most winning assets. But now, as he paced
alone in his apartment, now that he was not upon exhibition, now
when there was no eye to behold him, and there was no reason to
dissimulate or veil a single thought or feeling, his look was
anything but open; the last trace of frankness disappeared; the
muscles at mouth and eyes shifted; lines and planes intermingled
and altered subtly; there was a moment of misty
transformation--and the face of another man emerged. It was the
face of a man uninstructed in mercy; it was a shrewd and planning
face: alert, resourceful, elaborately perceptive, and flawlessly
hard. But, beyond all, it was the face of a man perpetually on
He had the air of debating a question, his hands in his
pockets, his handsome forehead lined with a temporary indecision.
His sentry-go extended the length of his two rooms, and each time
he came back into his bedroom his glance fell consideringly upon
a steamer-trunk of the largest size, at the foot of his bed.
The trunk was partially packed as if for departure. And, indeed,
it was the question of departure which he was debating.
He was a man of varied dexterities, and he had one faculty of
high value, which had often saved him, had never betrayed him; it
was intuitive and equal to a sixth sense: he always knew when it
was time to go. An inner voice warned him; he trusted to it and
obeyed it. And it had spoken now, and there was his trunk
half-packed in answer. But he had stopped midway in his packing,
because he had never yet failed to make a clean sweep where there
was the slightest chance for one; he hated to leave a big job
before it was completely finished--and Mr. Wade Trumble had
refused to invest in the oil-fields of Basilicata.
Corliss paused beside the trunk, stood a moment immersed in
thought; then nodded once, decisively, and, turning to a
dressing-table, began to place some silver-mounted brushes and
bottles in a leather travelling-case.
There was a knock at the outer door. He frowned, set down
what he had in his hands, went to the door and opened it to find
Mr. Pryor, that plain citizen, awaiting entrance.
Corliss remained motionless in an arrested attitude, his hand
upon the knob of the opened door. His position did not alter; he
became almost unnaturally still, a rigidity which seemed to
increase. Then he looked quickly behind him, over his shoulder,
and back again, with a swift movement of the head.
"No," said Pryor, at that. "I don't want you. I just
thought I'd have two minutes' talk with you. All right?"
"All right," said Corliss quietly. "Come in." He turned
carelessly, and walked away from the door keeping between his
guest and the desk. When he reached the desk, he turned again
and leaned against it, his back to it, but in the action of
turning his hand had swept a sheet of note-paper over Ray Vilas's
cheque--a too conspicuous oblong of pale blue. Pryor had come in
and closed the door.
"I don't know," he began, regarding the other through his
glasses, with steady eyes, "that I'm going to interfere with you
at all, Corliss. I just happened to strike you--I wasn't looking
for you. I'm on vacation, visiting my married daughter that
lives here, and I don't want to mix in if I can help it."
Corliss laughed, easily. "There's nothing for you to mix in.
You couldn't if you wanted to."
"Well, I hope that's true," said Pryor, with an air of
indulgence, curiously like that of a teacher for a pupil who
promises improvement. "I do indeed. There isn't anybody I'd
like to see turn straight more than you. You're educated and
cultured, and refined, and smarter than all hell. It would be a
big thing. That's one reason I'm taking the trouble to talk to
"I told you I wasn't doing anything," said Corliss with a
petulance as oddly like that of a pupil as the other's indulgence
was like that of a tutor. "This is my own town; I own property
here, and I came here to sell it. I can prove it in
half-a-minute's telephoning. Where do you come in?"
"Easy, easy," said Pryor, soothingly. "I've just told you I
don't want to come in at all."
"Then what do you want?"
"I came to tell you just one thing: to go easy up there at
Mr. Madison's house."
Corliss laughed contemptuously. "It's MY house. I own
it. That's the property I came here to sell."
"Oh, I know," responded Pryor. "That part of it's all right.
But I've seen you several times with that young lady, and
you looked pretty thick, to me. You know you haven't got any
business doing such things, Corliss. I know your record from
Buda Pesth to Copenhagen and----"
"See here, my friend," said the younger man, angrily, "you
may be a tiptop spotter for the government when it comes to
running down some poor old lady that's bought a string of pearls
in the Rue de la Paix----"
"I've been in the service twenty-eight years," remarked Pryor,
"All right," said the other with a gesture of impatience;
"and you got me once, all right. Well, that's over, isn't it?
Have I tried anything since?"
"Not in that line," said Pryor.
"Well, what business have you with any other line?" demanded
Corliss angrily. "Who made you general supervisor of public
morals? I want to know----"
"Now, what's the use your getting excited? I'm just here to
tell you that I'm going to keep an eye on you. I don't know many
people here, and I haven't taken any particular pains to look you
up. For all I know, you're only here to sell your house, as you
say. But I know old man Madison a little, and I kind of
took a fancy to him; he's a mighty nice old man, and he's got a
nice family. He's sick and it won't do to trouble him;
but--honest, Corliss--if you don't slack off in that neighbour-
hood a little, I'll have to have a talk with the young lady
A derisory light showed faintly in the younger man's eyes as
he inquired, softly: "That all, Mr. Pryor?"
"No. Don't try anything on out here. Not in ANY of your
"I don't mean to."
"That's right. Sell your house and clear out. You'll find
it healthy." He went to the door. "So far as I can see," he
observed, ruminatively, "you haven't brought any of that
Moliterno crowd you used to work with over to this side with
"I haven't seen Moliterno for two years," said Corliss,
"Well, I've said my say." Pryor gave him a last word as he
went out. "You keep away from that little girl."
"Ass!" exclaimed Corliss, as the door closed. He exhaled a
deep breath sharply, and broke into a laugh. Then he went
quickly into his bedroom and began to throw the things out of his
Hedrick Madison's eyes were not of marble; his heart was not
flint nor his skin steel plate: he was flesh and tender; he was a
vulnerable, breathing boy, with highly developed capacities for
pain which were now being taxed to their utmost. Once he had
loved to run, to leap, to disport himself in the sun, to drink
deep of the free air; he had loved life and one or two of his
fellowmen. He had borne himself buoyantly, with jaunty
self-confidence, even with some intolerance toward the weaknesses
of others, not infrequently displaying merriment over their
mischances; but his time had found him at last; the evil day had
come. Indian Summer was Indian for him, indeed: sweet death were
welcome; no charity was left in him. He leaped no more, but
walked broodingly and sought the dark places. And yet it could
not be said that times were dull for him: the luckless picket who
finds himself in an open eighty-acre field, under the eye of a
sharpshooter up a tree, would not be apt to describe the experience
as dull. And Cora never missed a shot; she
loved the work; her pleasure in it was almost as agonizing for
the target as was the accuracy of her fire.
She was ingenious: the horrible facts at her disposal were
damaging enough in all conscience: but they did not content her.
She invented a love-story, assuming that Hedrick was living it:
he was supposed to be pining for Lolita, to be fading,
day-by-day, because of enforced separation; and she contrived
this to such an effect of reality, and with such a diabolical
affectation of delicacy in referring to it, that the mere remark,
with gentle sympathy, "I think poor Hedrick is looking a little
better to-day," infallibly produced something closely resembling
a spasm. She formed the habit of never mentioning her brother in
his presence except as "poor Hedrick," a too obvious
commiseration of his pretended attachment--which met with like
success. Most dreadful of all, she invented romantic phrases and
expressions assumed to have been spoken or written by Hedrick in
reference to his unhappiness; and she repeated them so
persistently, yet always with such apparent sincerity of belief
that they were quotations from him, and not her inventions, that
the driven youth knew a fear, sometimes, that the horrid
things were actually of his own perpetration.
The most withering of these was, "Torn from her I love by the
ruthless hand of a parent. . . ." It was not completed; Cora
never got any further with it, nor was there need: a howl of fury
invariably assured her of an effect as satisfactory as could
possibly have been obtained by an effort less impressionistic.
Life became a series of easy victories for Cora, and she made
them somehow the more deadly for Hedrick by not seeming to look
at him in his affliction, nor even to be aiming his way: he never
could tell when the next shot was coming. At the table, the
ladies of his family might be deep in dress, or discussing Mr.
Madison's slowly improving condition, when Cora, with utter
irrelevance, would sigh, and, looking sadly into her coffee,
murmur, "Ah, FOND mem'ries!" or, "WHY am I haunted by the
dead past?" or, the dreadful, "Torn from her I love by the
ruthless hand of a parent. . . ."
There was compassion in Laura's eyes and in his mother's, but
Cora was irresistible, and they always ended by laughing in spite
of themselves; and though they pleaded for Hedrick in private,
their remonstrances proved strikingly ineffective. Hedrick was
the only person who had ever used the high hand with Cora:
she found repayment too congenial. In the daytime he could not
go in the front yard, but Cora's window would open and a tenderly
smiling Cora lean out to call affectionately, "Don't walk on the
grass--darling little boy!" Or, she would nod happily to him and
begin to sing:
"Oh come beloved, love let me press thee,
While I caress thee
In one long kiss, Lolita. . . . "
One terror still hung over him. If it fell--as it might at
any fatal moment--then the utmost were indeed done upon him; and
this apprehension bathed his soul in night. In his own circle of
congenial age and sex he was, by virtue of superior bitterness
and precocity of speech, a chief--a moral castigator, a satirist
of manners, a creator of stinging nicknames; and many nourished
unhealed grievances which they had little hope of satisfying
against him; those who attempted it invariably departing with
more to avenge than they had brought with them. Let these once
know what Cora knew. . . . The vision was unthinkable!
It was Cora's patent desire to release the hideous item, to
spread the scandal broadcast among his fellows--to ring it
from the school-bells, to send it winging on the hot winds of
Hades! The boys had always liked his yard and the empty stable
to play in, and the devices he now employed to divert their
activities elsewhere were worthy of a great strategist. His
energy and an abnormal ingenuity accomplished incredible things:
school had been in session several weeks and only one boy had
come within conversational distance of Cora;--him Hedrick bore
away bodily, in simulation of resistless high spirits, a
brilliant exhibition of stagecraft.
And then Cora's friend, Mrs. Villard, removed her son Egerton
from the private school he had hitherto attended, and he made his
appearance in Hedrick's class, one morning at the public school.
Hedrick's eye lighted with a savage gleam; timidly the first joy
he had known for a thousand years crept into his grim heart.
After school, Egerton expiated a part of Cora's cruelty. It was
a very small part, and the exploit no more than infinitesimally
soothing to the conqueror, but when Egerton finally got home he
was no sight for a mother.
Thus Hedrick wrought his own doom: Mrs. Villard telephoned
to Cora, and Cora went immediately to see her.
It happened to Hedrick that he was late leaving home the next
morning. His entrance into his classroom was an undeniable
sensation, and within ten minutes the teacher had lost all
control of the school. It became necessary to send for the prin-
cipal. Recess was a frantic nightmare for Hedrick, and his
homeward progress at noon a procession of such uproarious
screamers as were his equals in speed. The nethermost depths
were reached when an ignoble pigtailed person he had always
trodden upon flat-footed screamed across the fence from next
door, as he reached fancied sanctuary in his own backyard:
"Kiss me some MORE, darling little boy!"
This worm, established upon the fence opposite the
conservatory windows, and in direct view from the table in the
dining-room, shrieked the accursed request at short intervals
throughout the luncheon hour. The humour of childhood is
sometimes almost intrusive.
And now began a life for Hedrick which may be rather
painfully but truthfully likened to a prolongation of the
experiences of a rat that finds itself in the middle of a crowded
street in daylight: there is plenty of excitement but no
pleasure. He was pursued, harried, hounded from early
morning till nightfall, and even in his bed would hear shrill
shouts go down the sidewalk from the throats of juvenile
fly-by-nights: "Oh dar-ling lit-oh darling lit-oh LIT-le
boy, LIT-le boy, kiss me some MORE!" And one day he
overheard a remark which strengthened his growing conviction that
the cataclysm had affected the whole United States: it was a
teacher who spoke, explaining to another a disturbance in the
hall of the school. She said, behind her hand:
"HE KISSED AN IDIOT."
Laura had not even remotely foreseen the consequences of her
revelation, nor, indeed, did she now properly estimate their
effect upon Hedrick. She and her mother were both sorry for him,
and did what they could to alleviate his misfortunes, but there
was an inevitable remnant of amusement in their sympathy. Youth,
at war, affects stoicism but not resignation: in truth,
resignation was not much in Hedrick's line, and it would be far
from the fact to say that he was softened by his sufferings. He
brooded profoundly and his brightest thought was revenge. It was
not upon Cora that his chief bitterness turned. Cora had always
been the constant, open enemy: warfare between them was a
regular condition of life; and unconsciously, and without
"thinking it out," he recognized the naturalness of her seizing
upon the deadliest weapon against him that came to her hand.
There was nothing unexpected in that: no, the treachery, to his
mind, lay in the act of Laura, that non-combatant, who had
furnished the natural and habitual enemy with this scourge. At
all times, and with or without cause, he ever stood ready to do
anything possible for the reduction of Cora's cockiness, but now
it was for the taking-down of Laura and the repayment of her
uncalled-for and overwhelming assistance to the opposite camp
that he lay awake nights and kept his imagination hot. Laura was
a serene person, so neutral--outwardly, at least--and so little
concerned for herself in any matter he could bring to mind, that
for purposes of revenge she was a difficult proposition. And
then, in a desperate hour, he remembered her book.
Only once had he glimpsed it, but she had shown unmistakable
agitation of a mysterious sort as she wrote in it, and, upon
observing his presence, a prompt determination to prevent his
reading a word of what she had written. Therefore, it was some-
thing peculiarly sacred and intimate. This deduction was
proved by the care she exercised in keeping the book concealed
from all eyes. A slow satisfaction began to permeate him: he
made up his mind to find that padlocked ledger.
He determined with devoted ardour that when he found it he
would make the worst possible use of it: the worst, that is, for
Laura. As for consequences to himself, he was beyond them.
There is an Irish play in which an old woman finds that she no
longer fears the sea when it has drowned the last of her sons; it
can do nothing more to her. Hedrick no longer feared anything.
The book was somewhere in Laura's room, he knew that; and
there were enough opportunities to search, though Laura had a way
of coming in unexpectedly which was embarrassing; and he suffered
from a sense of inadequacy when--on the occasion of his first new
attempt--he answered the casual inquiry as to his presence by
saying that he "had a headache." He felt there was something
indirect in the reply; but Laura was unsuspicious and showed no
disposition to be analytical. After this, he took the precaution
to bring a school-book with him and she often found the boy
seated quietly by her west window immersed in study: he said he
thought his headaches came from his eyes and that the west
light "sort of eased them a little."
The ledger remained undiscovered, although probably there has
never been a room more thoroughly and painstakingly searched,
without its floor being taken up and its walls torn down. The
most mysterious, and, at the same time, the most maddening thing
about it was the apparent simplicity of the task. He was certain
that the room contained the book: listening, barefooted, outside
the door at night, he had heard the pen scratching. The room was
as plain as a room can be, and small. There was a scantily
filled clothes-press; he had explored every cubic inch of it.
There was the small writing table with one drawer; it held only
some note-paper and a box of pen-points. There was a bureau; to
his certain knowledge it contained no secret whatever. There
were a few giltless chairs, and a white "wash-stand," a mere
basin and slab with exposed plumbing. Lastly, there was the bed,
a very large and ugly "Eastlake" contrivance; he had acquired a
close acquaintance with all of it except the interior of the huge
mattress itself, and here, he finally concluded, must of
necessity be the solution. The surface of the mattress he knew
to be unbroken; nevertheless the book was there. He had
recently stimulated his deductive powers with a narrative of
French journalistic sagacity in a similar case; and he applied
French reasoning. The ledger existed. It was somewhere in the
room. He had searched everything except the interior of the
mattress. The ledger was in that interior.
The exploration thus become necessary presented some
difficulties. Detection in the act would involve explanations
hard to invent; it would not do to say he was looking for his
knife; and he could not think of any excuse altogether free from
a flavour of insincerity. A lameness beset them all and made
them liable to suspicion; and Laura, once suspicious, might be
petty enough to destroy the book, and so put it out of his power
forever. He must await the right opportunity, and, after a
racking exercise of patience, at last he saw it coming.
Doctor Sloane had permitted his patient to come down stairs
for an increasing interval each day. Mr. Madison crept, rather
than walked, leaning upon his wife and closely attended by Miss
Peirce. He spoke with difficulty and not clearly; still, there
was a perceptible improvement, and his family were falling into
the habit of speaking of him as almost well." On that
account, Mrs. Madison urged her daughters to accept an invitation
from the mother of the once courtly Egerton Villard. It was at
breakfast that the matter was discussed.
"Of course Cora must go," Laura began, but----"
"But nothing!" interrupted Cora. "How would it look if I
went and you didn't? Everybody knows papa's almost well, and
they'd think it silly for us to give up the first real dance
since last spring on that account; yet they're just spiteful
enough, if I went and you stayed home, to call me a `girl of no
heart.' Besides, she added sweetly, "we ought to go to show Mrs.
Villard we aren't hurt because Egerton takes so little notice of
Hedrick's lips moved silently, as in prayer.
"I'd rather not," said Laura. "I doubt if I'd have a very
"You would, too," returned her sister, decidedly. "The men
like to dance with you; you dance every bit as well as I do, and
that black lace is the most becoming dress you ever had. Nobody
ever remembers a black dress, anyway, unless it's cut very
conspicuously, and yours isn't. I can't go without you; they
love to say nasty things about me, and you're too good a
sister to give 'em this chance, you old dear." She laughed and
nodded affectionately across the table at Laura. "You've got to
"Yes, it would be nicer," said the mother. And so it was
settled. It was simultaneously settled in Hedrick's mind that
the night of the dance should mark his discovery of the ledger.
He would have some industrious hours alone with the mysterious
mattress, safe from intrusion.
Meekly he lifted his eyes from his plate. "I'm glad you're
going, sister Laura," he said in a gentle voice. "I think a
change will do you good."
"Isn't it wonderful, exclaimed Cora, appealing to the others
to observe him, "what an improvement a disappointment in love can
make in deportment?"
For once, Hedrick only smiled.
Laura had spent some thoughtful hours upon her black lace dress
with results that astonished her family: it became a
ball-gown--and a splendidly effective one. She arranged her dark
hair in a more elaborate fashion than ever before, in a close
coronal of faintly lustrous braids; she had no jewellery and
obviously needed none. Her last action but one before she left
her room was to dispose of the slender chain and key she always
wore round her neck; then her final glance at the mirror--which
fairly revealed a lovely woman--ended in a deprecatory little
"face" she made at herself. It meant: "Yes, old lady, you fancy
yourself very passable in here all by yourself, don't you? Just
wait: you'll be standing beside Cora in a moment!"
And when she did stand beside Cora, in the latter's room, a
moment later, her thought seemed warranted. Cora, radiant-eyed,
in high bloom, and exquisite from head to foot in a shimmering
white dancing-dress, a glittering crescent fastening
the silver fillet that bound her vivid hair, was a flame of
enchantment. Mrs. Madison, almost weeping with delight, led her
daughters proudly, an arm round the waist of each, into her
husband's room. Propped with pillows, he reclined in an armchair
while Miss Peirce prepared his bed, an occupation she gave over
upon this dazzling entrance, departing tactfully.
"Look at these," cried the mother; "--from our garden, Jim,
dear! Don't we feel rich, you and I?"
"And--and--Laura," said the sick man, with the slow and
imperfect enunication caused by his disease; "Laura looks
"Isn't she adorable!" Cora exclaimed warmly. "She decided to
be the portrait of a young duchess, you see, all stately
splendour--made of snow and midnight!"
"Hear! hear!" laughed Laura; but she blushed with pleasure,
and taking Cora's hand in hers lifted it to her lips.
"And do you see Cora's crescent?" demanded Mrs. Madison.
"What do you think of THAT for magnificence? She went down
town this morning with seven dollars, and came back with that and
her party gloves and a dollar in change! Isn't she a
bargainer? Even for rhinestones they are the cheapest things you
ever heard of. They look precisely like stones of the very
finest water." They did--so precisely, indeed, that if the
resemblance did not amount to actual identity, then had a
jeweller of the town been able to deceive the eye of Valentine
Corliss, which was an eye singularly learned in such matters.
"They're--both smart girls," said Madison, "both of them.
And they look--beautiful, to-night--both. Laura is--amazing!"
When they had gone, Mrs. Madison returned from the stairway,
and, kneeling beside her husband, put her arms round him gently:
she had seen the tear that was marking its irregular pathway down
his flaccid, gray cheek, and she understood.
"Don't. Don't worry, Jim," she whispered. "Those bright,
beautiful things!--aren't they treasures?"
"It's--it's Laura," he said. "Cora will be all right. She
looks out for--herself. I'm--I'm afraid for--Laura. Aren't
"No, no," she protested. "I'm not afraid for either of
them." But she was: the mother had always been afraid for Cora.
. . . . At the dance, the two girls, attended up the
stairway to the ballroom by a chattering covey of black-coats,
made a sensational entrance to a gallant fanfare of music, an
effect which may have been timed to the premonitory tuning of
instruments heard during the ascent; at all events, it was a
great success; and Cora, standing revealed under the wide gilt
archway, might have been a lithe and shining figure from the year
eighteen-hundred-and-one, about to dance at the Luxembourg. She
placed her hand upon the sleeve of Richard Lindley, and, glancing
intelligently over his shoulder into the eyes of Valentine
Corliss, glided rhythmically away.
People looked at her; they always did. Not only the
non-dancers watched her; eyes everywhere were upon her, even
though the owners gyrated, glided and dipped on distant orbits.
The other girls watched her, as a rule, with a profound, an
almost passionate curiosity; and they were prompt to speak well
of her to men, except in trustworthy intimacy, because they did
not enjoy being wrongfully thought jealous. Many of them kept
somewhat aloof from her; but none of them ever nowadays showed
"superiority" in her presence, or snubbed her: that had been
tried and proved disastrous in rebound. Cora never failed
to pay her score--and with a terrifying interest added, her
native tendency being to take two eyes for an eye and the whole
jaw for a tooth. They let her alone, though they asked and asked
among themselves the never-monotonous question: "Why do men fall
in love with girls like that?" a riddle which, solved, makes
wives condescending to their husbands.
Most of the people at this dance had known one another as
friends, or antagonists, or indifferent acquaintances, for years,
and in such an assembly there are always two worlds, that of the
women and that of the men. Each has its own vision, radically
different from that of the other; but the greatest difference is
that the men are unaware of the other world, only a few of
them--usually queer ones like Ray Vilas--vaguely perceiving that
there are two visions, while all the women understand both per-
fectly. The men splash about on the surface; the women keep
their eyes open under water. Or, the life of the assembly is
like a bright tapestry: the men take it as a picture and are not
troubled to know how it is produced; but women are weavers.
There was a Beauty of far-flung renown at Mrs. Villard's
to-night: Mary Kane, a creature so made and coloured that
young men at sight of her became as water and older men were apt
to wonder regretfully why all women could not have been made like
Mary. She was a kindly soul, and never intentionally outshone
her sisters; but the perfect sumptuousness of her had sometimes
tried the amiability of Cora Madison, to whom such success
without effort and without spark seemed unfair, as well as
bovine. Miss Kane was a central figure at the dance, shining
tranquilly in a new triumph: that day her engagement had been
announced to Mr. George Wattling, a young man of no special
attainments, but desirable in his possessions and suitable to his
happiness. The pair radiated the pardonable, gay importance of
newly engaged people, and Cora, who had never before bestowed any
notice upon Mr. Wattling, now examined him with thoughtful
Finding him at her elbow in a group about a punch bowl,
between dances, she offered warm felicitations. "But I don't
suppose you care whether _I_ care for you to be happy or not,"
she added, with a little plaintive laugh;--"you've always hated
Mr. Wattling was startled: never before had he imagined that
Cora Madison had given him a thought; but there was not only
thought, there was feeling, in this speech. She seemed to be
concealing with bravery an even deeper feeling than the one
inadvertently expressed. "Why, what on earth makes you think
that?" he exclaimed.
"Think it? I KNOW it!" She gave him a strange look,
luminous yet mysterious, a curtain withdrawn only to show a
shining mist with something undefined but dazzling beyond. "I've
always known it!" And she turned away from him abruptly.
He sprang after her. "But you're wrong. I've never----"
"Oh, yes, you have." They began to discuss it, and for
better consideration of the theme it became necessary for Cora to
"cut" the next dance, promised to another, and to give it to Mr.
Wattling. They danced several times together, and Mr. Wattling's
expression was serious. The weavers of the tapestry smiled and
whispered things the men would not have understood--nor believed.
Ray Vilas, seated alone in a recessed and softly lighted
gallery, did not once lose sight of the flitting sorceress. With
his elbows on the railing, he leaned out, his head swaying slowly
and mechanically as she swept up and down the tumultuously moving
room, his passionate eyes gaunt and brilliant with his
hunger. And something very like a general thrill passed over the
assembly when, a little later, it was seen that he was dancing
with her. Laura, catching a glimpse of this couple, started and
looked profoundly disturbed.
The extravagance of Vilas's passion and the depths he
sounded, in his absurd despair when discarded, had been matters
of almost public gossip; he was accounted a somewhat scandalous
and unbalanced but picturesque figure; and for the lady whose
light hand had wrought such havoc upon him to be seen dancing
with him was sufficiently startling to elicit the universal
remark--evidently considered superlative--that it was "just like
Cora Madison!" Cora usually perceived, with an admirably clear
head, all that went on about her; and she was conscious of
increasing the sensation, when after a few turns round the room,
she allowed her partner to conduct her to a secluding grove of
palms in the gallery. She sank into the chair he offered, and,
fixing her eyes upon a small lamp of coloured glass which hung
overhead, ostentatiously looked bored.
"At your feet, Cora," he said, seating himself upon a stool,
and leaning toward her. "Isn't it appropriate that we
should talk to music--we two? It shouldn't be that quick step
though--not dance-music--should it?"
"Don't know 'm sure," murmured Cora.
"You were kind to dance with me," he said huskily. "I dared
to speak to you----"
She did not change her attitude nor the direction of her
glance. "I couldn't cut you very well with the whole town
looking on. I'm tired of being talked about. Besides, I don't
care much who I dance with--so he doesn't step on me."
"Cora," he said, "it is the prelude to `L'Arlesienne' that
they should play for you and me. Yes, I think it should be
"Never heard of it."
"It's just a rustic tragedy, the story of a boy in the south
of France who lets love become his whole life, and then--it kills
"Sounds very stupid," she commented languidly.
"People do sometimes die of love, even nowadays," he said,
tremulously--"in the South."
She let her eyes drift indifferently to him and perceived
that he was trembling from head to foot; that his hands and knees
shook piteously; that his lips quivered and twitched; and, at
sight of this agitation, an expression of strong distaste
came to her face.
"I see." Her eyes returned to the lamp. "You're from the
South, and of course it's going to kill you."
"You didn't speak the exact words you had in your mind.'"
"Oh, what words did I have `in my mind'?" she asked
"What you really meant was: `If it does kill you, what of
She laughed, and sighed as for release.
"Cora," he said huskily, "I understand you a little because
you possess me. I've never--literally never--had another thought
since the first time I saw you: nothing but you. I think of
you--actually every moment. Drunk or sober, asleep or--awake,
it's nothing but you, you, YOU! It will never be different:
I don't know why I can't get over it--I only know I can't. You
own me; you burn like a hot coal in my heart. You're through
with me, I know. You drained me dry. You're like a child who
eats so heartily of what he likes that he never touches it again.
And I'm a dish you're sick of. Oh, it's all plain enough, I can
tell you. I'm not exciting any more--no, just a nauseous slave!
"Do you want people to hear you?" she inquired angrily, for
his voice had risen.
He tempered his tone. "Cora, when you liked me you went a
pretty clipping gait with me," he said, trembling even more than
before. "But you're infinitely more infatuated with this
Toreador of a Corliss than you were with me; you're lost in him;
you're slaving for him as I would for you. How far are you going
"Do you want me to walk away and leave you?" she asked,
suddenly sitting up straight and looking at him with dilating
eyes. "If you want a `scene'----"
"It's over," he said, more calmly. "I know now how dangerous
the man is. Of course you will tell him I said that." He
laughed quietly. "Well--between a dangerous chap and a desperate
one, we may look for some lively times! Do you know, I believe I
think about as continuously of him, lately, as I do of you.
That's why I put almost my last cent into his oil company, and
got what may be almost my last dance with you!"
"I wouldn't call it `almost' your last dance with me!" she
returned icily. "Not after what you've said. I had a foolish
idea you could behave--well, at least decently."
"Did Corliss tell you that I insulted him in his rooms at the
"You!" She laughed, genuinely. "I see him letting you!"
"He did, however. By manner and in speech I purposely and
deliberately insulted him. You'll tell him every word of this,
of course, and he'll laugh at it, but I give myself the pleasure
of telling you. I put the proposition of an `investment' to him
in a way nobody not a crook would have allowed to be smoothed
over--and he allowed it to be smoothed over. He ate it! I felt
he was a swindler when he was showing Richard Lindley his maps
and papers, and now I've proved it to myself, and it's worth the
price." Often, when they had danced, and often during this
interview, his eyes lifted curiously to the white flaming
crescent in her hair; now they fixed themselves upon it, and in a
flash of divination he cried: "You wear it for me!"
She did not understand. "Finished raving?" she inquired.
"I gave Corliss a thousand dollars," he said, slowly.
"Considering the fact that it was my last, I flatter myself it
was not unhandsomely done--though I may never need it. It has
struck me that the sum was about what a man who had just
cleaned up fifty thousand might regard as a sort of `extra'--`for
lagniappe'--and that he might have thought it an appropriate
amount to invest in a present some jewels perhaps--to place in
the hair of a pretty friend!"
She sprang to her feet, furious, but he stood in front of her
and was able to bar the way for a moment.
"Cora, I'll have a last word with you if I have to hold you,"
he said with great rapidity and in a voice which shook with the
intense repression he was putting upon himself. "We do one thing
in the South, where I came from. We protect our women----"
"This looks like it! Keeping me when----"
"I love you," he said, his face whiter than she had ever seen
it. "I love you! I'm your dog! You take care of yourself if
you want to take care of anybody else! As sure as----"
"My dance, Miss Madison." A young gentleman on vacation from
the navy had approached, and, with perfect unconsciousness of
what he was interrupting, but with well-founded certainty that he
was welcome to the lady, urged his claim in a confident voice.
"I thought it would never come, you know; but it's here at
last and so am I." He laughed propitiatingly.
Ray yielded now at once. She moved him aside with her gloved
forearm as if he were merely an awkward stranger who unwittingly
stood between her and the claiming partner. Carrying the gesture
farther, she took the latter's arm, and smilingly, and without a
backward glance, passed onward and left the gallery. The
lieutenant, who had met her once or twice before, was her partner
for the succeeding dance as well, and, having noted the
advantages of the place where he had discovered her, persuaded
her to return there to sit through the second. Then without any
fatiguing preamble, he proposed marriage. Cora did not accept,
but effected a compromise, which, for the present, was to consist
of an exchange of photographs (his to be in uniform) and letters.
She was having an evening to her heart. Ray's attack on
Corliss had no dimming effect; her thought of it being that she
was "used to his raving"; it meant nothing; and since Ray had
prophesied she would tell Corliss about it, she decided not to do
The naval young gentleman and Valentine Corliss were the
greatest of all the lions among ladies that night; she had easily
annexed the lieutenant, and Corliss was hers already; though, for
a purpose, she had not yet been seen in company with him. He was
visibly "making an impression." His name, as he had said to
Richard Lindley, was held in honour in the town; and there was a
flavour of fancied romance in his absence since boyhood in
unknown parts, and his return now with a `foreign air' and a bow
that almost took the breath of some of the younger recipients.
He was, too, in his way, the handsomest man in the room; and the
smiling, open frankness of his look, the ready cordiality of his
manner, were found very winning. He caused plenty of flutter.
Cora waited till the evening was half over before she gave
him any visible attention. Then, during a silence of the music,
between two dances, she made him a negligent sign with her hand,
the gesture of one indifferently beckoning a creature who is
certain to come, and went on talking casually to the man who was
with her. Corliss was the length of the room from her, chatting
gayly with a large group of girls and women; but he immediately
nodded to her, made his bow to individuals of the group, and
crossed the vacant, glistening floor to her. Cora gave him
no greeting whatever; she dismissed her former partner and
carelessly turned away with Corliss to some chairs in a corner.
"Do you see that?" asked Vilas, leaning over the balcony
railing with Richard Lindley. "Look! She's showing the other
girls--don't you see? He's the New Man; she let 'em hope she
wasn't going in for him; a lot of them probably didn't even know
that she knew him. She sent him out on parade till they're all
excited about him; now she shows 'em he's entirely her
property--and does it so matter-of-factly that it's rubbed in
twice as hard as if she seemed to take some pains about it. He
doesn't dance: she'll sit out with him now, till they all read
the tag she's put on him. She says she hates being talked about.
She lives on it!--so long as it's envious. And did you see her
with that chap from the navy? Neptune thinks he's dallying with
Venus perhaps, but he'll get----"
Lindley looked at him commiseratingly. "I think I never saw
prettier decorations. Have you noticed, Ray? Must have used a
"Toreador!" whispered the other between his teeth, looking at
Corliss; then, turning to his companion, he asked: "Has it
occurred to you to get any information about Basilicata, or about
the ancestral domain of the Moliterni, from our consul-general at
Richard hesitated. "Well--yes. Yes, I did think of that.
Yes, I thought of it."
"But you didn't do it."
"No. That is, I haven't yet. You see, Corliss explained to
His friend interrupted him with a sour laugh. "Oh,
certainly! He's one of the greatest explainers ever welcomed to
Richard said mildly: "And then, Ray, once I've gone into a
thing I--I don't like to seem suspicious."
"Poor old Dick!" returned Vilas compassionately. "You kind,
easy, sincere men are so conscientiously untruthful with
yourselves. You know in your heart that Cora would be furious
with you if you seemed suspicious, and she's been so nice to you
since you put in your savings to please her, that you can't bear
to risk offending her. She's twisted you around her little
finger, and the unnamed fear that haunts you is that you won't be
allowed to stay there--even twisted!"
"Pretty decorations, Ray," said Richard; but he grew very
"Do you know what you'll do," asked Ray, regarding him
keenly, "if this Don Giovanni from Sunny It' is shown up as a
plain get-rich-quick swindler?"
"I haven't considered----"
"You would do precisely, said Ray, "nothing! Cora'd see to
that. You'd sigh and go to work again, beginning at the
beginning where you were years ago, and doing it all over.
Admirable resignation, but not for me! I'm a stockholder in his
company and in shape to `take steps'! I don't know if I'd be
patient enough to make them legal--perhaps I should. He may be
safe on the legal side. I'll know more about that when I find
out if there is a Prince Moliterno in Naples who owns land in
"You don't doubt it?"
"I doubt everything! In this particular matter I'll have
less to doubt when I get an answer from the consul-general.
_I_'ve written, you see.
Lindley looked disturbed. "You have?"
Vilas read him at a glance. "You're afraid to find out!" he
cried. Then he set his hand on the other's shoulder. "If
there ever was a God's fool, it's you, Dick Lindley. Really, I
wonder the world hasn't kicked you around more than it has; you'd
never kick back! You're as easy as an old shoe. Cora makes you
unhappy," he went on, and with the very mention of her name, his
voice shook with passion,--"but on my soul I don't believe you
know what jealousy means: you don't even understand hate; you
don't eat your heart----"
"Let's go and eat something better," suggested Richard,
laughing. "There's a continuous supper downstairs and I hear
it's very good."
Ray smiled, rescued for a second from himself. "There isn't
anything better than your heart, you old window-pane, and I'm
glad you don't eat it. And if I ever mix it up with Don Giovanni
T. Corliss--`T' stands for Toreador--I do believe it'll be partly
on your----" He paused, leaving the sentence unfinished, as his
attention was caught by the abysmal attitude of a figure in
another part of the gallery: Mr. Wade Trumble, alone in a
corner, sitting upon the small of his small back, munching at an
unlighted cigar and otherwise manifesting a biting gloom. Ray
drew Lindley's attention to this tableau of pain. "Here's a
three of us!" he said. He turned to look down into the
rhythmic kaleidoscope of dancers. "And there goes the girl we
all OUGHT to be morbid about."
"Who is that?"
"Laura Madison. Why aren't we? What a self-respecting
creature she is, with that cool, sweet steadiness of hers--she's
like a mountain lake. She's lovely and she plays like an angel,
but so far as anybody's ever thinking about her is concerned she
might almost as well not exist. Yet she's really beautiful
to-night, if you can manage to think of her except as a sort of
retinue for Cora."
"She IS rather beautiful to-night. Laura's always a very
nice-looking girl," said Richard, and with the advent of an idea,
he added: "I think one reason she isn't more conspicuous and
thought about is that she is so quiet," and, upon his companion's
greeting this inspiration with a burst of laughter, "Yes, that
was a brilliant deduction," he said; "but I do think she's about
the quietest person I ever knew. I've noticed there are times
when she'll scarcely speak at all for half an hour, or even
"You're not precisely noisy yourself," said Ray. Have you
danced with her this evening?"
"Why, no," returned the other, in a tone which showed
this omission to be a discovery; "not yet. I must, of course."
"Yes, she's really `rather' beautiful. Also, she dances
`rather' better than any other girl in town. Go and perform your
"Perhaps I'd better," said Richard thoughtfully, not
perceiving the satire. "At any rate, I'll ask her for the next."
He found it unengaged. There came to Laura's face an April
change as he approached, and she saw he meant to ask her to
dance. And, as they swam out into the maelstrom, he noticed it,
and remarked that it WAS rather warm, to which she replied by
a cheerful nod. Presently there came into Richard's mind the
thought that he was really an excellent dancer; but he did not
recall that he had always formed the same pleasing estimate of
himself when he danced with Laura, nor realize that other young
men enjoyed similar self-help when dancing with her. And yet he
repeated to her what Ray had said of her dancing, and when she
laughed as in appreciation of a thing intended humorously, he
laughed, too, but insisted that she did dance "very well indeed."
She laughed again at that, and they danced on, not talking. He
had no sense of "guiding" her; there was no feeling of
effort whatever; she seemed to move spontaneously with his wish,
not to his touch; indeed, he was not sensible of touching her at
"Why, Laura," he exclaimed suddenly, "you dance
She stumbled and almost fell; saved herself by clutching at
his arm; he caught her; and the pair stopped where they were, in
the middle of the floor. A flash of dazed incredulity from her
dark eyes swept him; there was something in it of the child
dodging an unexpected blow.
"Did I trip you?" he asked anxiously.
"No," she laughed, quickly, and her cheeks grew even redder.
"I tripped myself. Wasn't that too bad--just when you were
thinking that I danced well! Let's sit down. May we?"
They went to some chairs against a wall. There, as they sat,
Cora swung by them, dancing again with her lieutenant, and
looking up trancedly into the gallant eyes of the triumphant and
intoxicated young man. Visibly, she was a woman with a suitor's
embracing arm about her. Richard's eyes followed them.
"Ah, don't!" said Laura in a low voice.
He turned to her. "Don't what?"
"I didn't mean to speak out loud," she said tremulously.
"But I meant: don't look so troubled. It doesn't mean anything
at all--her coquetting with that bird of passage. He's going
away in the morning."
"I don't think I was troubling about that."
"Well, whatever it was"--she paused, and laughed with a
plaintive timidity--"why, just don't trouble about it!"
"Do I look very much troubled?" he asked seriously.
"Yes. And you don't look very gay when you're not!" She
laughed with more assurance now. "I think you're always the
wistfulest looking man I ever saw."
"Everybody laughs at me, I believe," he said, with continued
seriousness. "Even Ray Vilas thinks I'm an utter fool. Am I, do
He turned as he spoke and glanced inquiringly into her eyes.
What he saw surprised and dismayed him.
"For heaven's sake, don't cry!" he whispered hurriedly.
She bent her head, turning her face from him.
"I've been very hopeful lately," he said. "Cora has
been so kind to me since I did what she wanted me to, that I----"
He gave a deep sigh. "But if you're THAT sorry for me, my
chances with her must be pretty desperate."
She did not alter her attitude, but with her down-bent face
still away from him, said huskily: "It isn't you I'm sorry for.
You mustn't ever give up; you must keep on trying and trying. If
you give up, I don't know what will become of her!"
A moment later she rose suddenly to her feet. "Let's finish
our dance," she said, giving him her hand. "I'm sure I won't
The two girls let themselves into the house noiselessly, and,
turning out the hall-light, left for them by their mother, crept
upstairs on tiptoe; and went through the upper hall directly to
Laura's room--Cora's being nearer the sick-room. At their age it
is proper that a gayety be used three times: in anticipation, and
actually, and in after-rehearsal. The last was of course now in
order: they went to Laura's room to "talk it over." There was no
gas-fixture in this small chamber; but they found Laura's
oil-lamp burning brightly upon her writing-table
"How queer!" said Laura with some surprise, as she closed the
door. "Mother never leaves the lamp lit for me; she's always so
afraid of lamps exploding."
"Perhaps Miss Peirce came in here to read, and forgot to turn
it out," suggested Cora, seating herself on the edge of the bed
and letting her silk wrap fall from her shoulders. "Oh, Laura,
wasn't he gorgeous. . . ."
She referred to the gallant defender of our seas, it
appeared, and while Laura undressed and got into a wrapper, Cora
recounted in detail the history of the impetuous sailor's
enthrallment;--a resume predicted three hours earlier by a
gleeful whisper hissed across the maritime shoulder as the
sisters swung near each other during a waltz: "PROPOSED!"
"I've always heard they're horribly inconstant," she said,
regretfully. "But, oh, Laura, wasn't he beautiful to look at!
Do you think he's more beautiful than Val? No--don't tell me if
you do. I don't want to hear it! Val was so provoking: he
didn't seem to mind it at all. He's nothing but a big brute
sometimes: he wouldn't even admit that he minded, when I asked
him. I was idiot enough to ask; I couldn't help it; he was so
tantalizing" and exasperating--laughing at me. I never knew
anybody like him; he's so sure of himself and he can be so cold.
Sometimes I wonder if he really cares about anything, deep down
in his heart--anything except himself. He seems so selfish:
there are times when he almost makes me hate him; but just when I
get to thinking I do, I find I don't--he's so deliciously strong,
and there's such a BIG luxury in being understood: I
always feel he KNOWS me clear to the bone, somehow! But,
oh," she sighed regretfully," doesn't a uniform become a man?
They ought to all wear 'em. It would look silly on such a little
goat as that Wade Trumble, though: nothing could make him look
like a whole man. Did you see him glaring at me? Beast! I was
going to be so nice and kittenish and do all my prettiest tricks
for him, to help Val with his oil company. Val thinks Wade would
come in yet, if I'D only get him in the mood to have another
talk with Val about it; but the spiteful little rat wouldn't come
near me. I believe that was one of the reasons Val laughed at me
and pretended not to mind my getting proposed to. He MUST
have minded; he couldn't have helped minding it, really. That's
his way; he's so MEAN--he won't show things. He knows
ME. I can't keep anything from him; he reads ME like a
signboard; and then about himself he keeps me guessing, and I
can't tell when I've guessed right. Ray Vilas behaved
disgustingly, of course; he was horrid and awful. I might have
expected it. I suppose Richard was wailing HIS tiresome
sorrows on your poor shoulder----"
"No," said Laura. "He was very cheerful. He seemed glad you
were having a good time."
"He didn't look particularly cheerful at me. I never saw so
slow a man: I wonder when he's going to find out about that
pendant. Val would have seen it the instant I put it on. And,
oh, Laura! isn't George Wattling funny? He's just SOFT!
He's good-looking though," she continued pensively, adding, "I
promised to motor out to the Country Club with him to-morrow for
"Oh, Cora,"protested Laura, "no! Please don't!"
"I've promised; so I'll have to, now." Cora laughed. "It'll
do Mary Kane good. Oh, I'm not going to bother much with
HIM--he makes me tired. I never saw anything so complacent
as that girl when she came in to-night, as if her little Georgie
was the greatest capture the world had ever seen. . . ."
She chattered on. Laura, passive, listened with a thoughtful
expression, somewhat preoccupied. The talker yawned at last.
"It must be after three," she said, listlessly, having gone
over her evening so often that the colours were beginning to
fade. She yawned again. "Laura," she remarked absently, "I
don't see how you can sleep in this bed; it sags so."
"I've never noticed it," said her sister. "It's a very
comfortable old bed."
Cora went to her to be unfastened, reverting to the
lieutenant during the operation, and kissing the tire-woman
warmly at its conclusion. "You're always so sweet to me, Laura,"
she said affectionately. "I don't know how you manage it.
You're so good"--she laughed--"sometimes I wonder how you stand
me. If I were you, I'm positive I couldn't stand me at all!"
Another kiss and a hearty embrace, and she picked up her wrap and
skurried silently through the hall to her own room.
It was very late, but Laura wrote for almost an hour in her
book (which was undisturbed) before she felt drowsy. Then she
extinguished the lamp, put the book away and got into bed.
It was almost as if she had attempted to lie upon the empty
air: the mattress sagged under her weight as if it had been a
hammock; and something tore with a ripping sound. There was a
crash, and a choked yell from a muffled voice somewhere, as the
bed gave way. For an instant, Laura fought wildly in an
entanglement of what she insufficiently perceived to be springs,
slats and bedclothes with something alive squirming underneath.
She cleared herself and sprang free, screaming, but even in her
fright she remembered her father and clapped her hand over
her mouth that she might keep from screaming again. She dove at
the door, opened it, and fled through the hall to Cora's room,
still holding her hand over her mouth.
"Cora! Oh, Cora!" she panted, and flung herself upon her
Cora was up instantly; and had lit the gas in a trice.
"There's a burglar!" Laura contrived to gasp. "In my room!
Under the bed!"
"I fell on him! Something's the matter with the bed. It
broke. I fell on him!"
Cora stared at her wide-eyed. "Why, it can't be. Think how
long I was in there. Your bed broke, and you just thought there
was some one there. You imagined it."
"No, no, no!" wailed Laura. I HEARD him: he gave a kind
of dreadful grunt."
"Are you sure?"
"SURE? He wriggled--oh! I could FEEL him!"
Cora seized a box of matches again. "I'm going to find out."
"Oh, no, no!" protested Laura, cowering."
"Yes, I am. If there's a burglar in the house I'm going to
"We mustn't wake papa."
"No, nor mamma either. You stay here if you want to----"
"Let's call Hedrick," suggested the pallid Laura; "or put our
heads out of the window and scream for----"
Cora laughed; she was not in the least frightened. "That
wouldn't wake papa, of course! If we had a telephone I'd send
for the police; but we haven't. I'm going to see if there's any
one there. A burglar's a man, I guess, and I can't imagine
myself being afraid of any MAN!"
Laura clung to her, but Cora shook her off and went through
the hall undaunted, Laura faltering behind her. Cora lighted
matches with a perfectly steady hand; she hesitated on the
threshold of Laura's room no more than a moment, then lit the
Laura stifled a shriek at sight of the bed. "Look, look!"
"There's no one under it now, that's certain," said Cora, and
boldly lifted a corner of it. "Why, it's been cut all to pieces
from underneath! You're right; there was some one here. It's
practically dismembered. Don't you remember my telling you
how it sagged? And I was only sitting on the edge of it! The
slats have all been moved out of place, and as for the mattress,
it's just a mess of springs and that stuffing stuff. He must
have thought the silver was hidden there."
"Oh, oh, oh!" moaned Laura. "He WRIGGLED----ugh!"
Cora picked up the lamp. "Well, we've got to go over the
"Hush! I'll go alone then."
"I will, though!"
The two girls had changed places in this emergency. In her
fright Laura was dependent, clinging: actual contact with the
intruder had unnerved her. It took all her will to accompany her
sister upon the tour of inspection, and throughout she cowered
behind the dauntless Cora. It was the first time in their lives
that their positions had been reversed. From the days of Cora's
babyhood, Laura had formed the habit of petting and shielding the
little sister, but now that the possibility became imminent of
confronting an unknown and dangerous man, Laura was so shaken
that, overcome by fear, she let Cora go first. Cora had not
boasted in vain of her bravery; in truth, she was not afraid of any
They found the fastenings of the doors secure and likewise
those of all the windows, until they came to the kitchen. There,
the cook had left a window up, which plausibly explained the
marauder's mode of ingress. Then, at Cora's insistence, and to
Laura's shivering horror, they searched both cellar and garret,
and concluded that he had escaped by the same means. Except
Laura's bed, nothing in the house had been disturbed; but this
eccentricity on the part of a burglar, though it indeed struck
the two girls as peculiar, was not so pointedly mysterious to
them as it might have been had they possessed a somewhat greater
familiarity with the habits of criminals whose crimes are
They finally retired, Laura sleeping with her sister, and
Cora had begun to talk of the lieutenant again, instead of the
burglar, before Laura fell asleep.
In spite of the short hours for sleep, both girls appeared at
the breakfast-table before the meal was over, and were naturally
pleased with the staccato of excitement evoked by their news.
Mrs. Madison and Miss Peirce were warm in admiration of their
bravery, but in the same breath condemned it as foolhardy.
"I never knew such wonderful girls!" exclaimed the mother,
almost tearfully. "You crazy little lions! To think of your not
even waking Hedrick! And you didn't have even a poker and were
in your bare feet--and went down in the CELLAR----"
"It was all Cora," protested Laura. "I'm a hopeless,
disgusting coward. I never knew what a coward I was before.
Cora carried the lamp and went ahead like a drum-major. I just
trailed along behind her, ready to shriek and run--or faint!"
"Could you tell anything about him when you fell on him?"
inquired Miss Peirce. "What was his voice like when he shouted?"
"Choked. It was a horrible, jolted kind of cry. It hardly
"Could you tell anything about whether he was a large man, or
"Only that he seemed very active. He seemed to be kicking.
They evolved a plausible theory of the burglar's motives and
line of reasoning. "You see," said Miss Peirce, much stirred, in
summing up the adventure, "he either jimmies the window, or finds
it open already, and Sarah's mistaken and she DID leave
it open! Then he searched the downstairs first, and didn't find
anything. Then he came upstairs, and was afraid to come into any
of the rooms where we were. He could tell which rooms had people
in them by hearing us breathing through the keyholes. He finds
two rooms empty, and probably he made a thorough search of Miss
Cora's first. But he isn't after silver toilet articles and
pretty little things like that. He wants really big booty or
none, so he decides that an out-of-the-way, unimportant room like
Miss Laura's is where the family would be most apt to hide
valuables, jewellery and silver, and he knows that mattresses
have often been selected as hiding-places; so he gets under the
bed and goes to work. Then Miss Cora and Miss Laura come in so
quietly--not wanting to wake anybody--that he doesn't hear them,
and he gets caught there. That's the way it must have been."
"But why," Mrs. Madison inquired of this authority, "why do
you suppose he lit the lamp?"
"To see by," answered the ready Miss Peirce. It was accepted
Further discussion was temporarily interrupted by the
discovery that Hedrick had fallen asleep in his chair.
"Don't bother him, Cora," said his mother. "He's finished
eating--let him sleep a few minutes, if he wants to, before he
goes to school. He's not at all well. He played too hard,
yesterday afternoon, and hurt his knee, he said. He came down
limping this morning and looking very badly. He oughtn't to run
and climb about the stable so much after school. See how utterly
exhausted he looks!--Not even this excitement can keep him
"I think we must be careful not to let Mr. Madison suspect
anything about the burglar," said Miss Peirce. "It would be bad
Laura began: "But we ought to notify the police----"
"Police!" Hedrick woke so abruptly, and uttered the word with
such passionate and vehement protest, that everybody started. "I
suppose you want to KILL your father, Laura Madison!"
"Do you suppose he wouldn't know something had happened with
a squad of big, heavy policemen tromping all over the house? The
first thing they'd do would be to search the whole place----"
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Madison quickly. "It wouldn't do at
"I should think not! I'm glad," continued Hedrick,
truthfully, "THAT idea's out of your head! I believe Laura
imagined the whole thing anyway."
"Have you looked at her mattress," inquired Cora, "darling
He gave her a concentrated look, and rose to leave. "Nothin'
on earth but imagina----" He stopped with a grunt as he
forgetfully put his weight on his left leg. He rubbed his knee,
swallowed painfully, and, leaving the word unfinished, limped
haughtily from the room.
He left the house, gloomily swinging his books from a spare
length of strap, and walking with care to ease his strains and
bruises as much as possible. He was very low in his mind, that
boy. His fortunes had reached the ebb-tide, but he had no hope
of a rise. He had no hope of anything. It was not even a
consolation that, through his talent for surprise in waylayings,
it had lately been thought necessary, by the Villard family, to
have Egerton accompanied to and from school by a man-servant.
Nor was Hedrick more deeply depressed by the certainty that both
public and domestic scandal must soon arise from the
inevitable revelation of his discontinuing his attendance at
school without mentioning this important change of career at
home. He had been truant a full fortnight, under brighter
circumstances a matter for a lawless pride--now he had neither
fear nor vainglory. There was no room in him for anything but
He walked two blocks in the direction of his school; turned a
corner; walked half a block; turned north in the alley which ran
parallel to Corliss Street, and a few moments later had
cautiously climbed into an old, disused refuse box which stood
against the rear wall of the empty stable at his own home. He
pried up some loose boards at the bottom of the box, and entered
a tunnel which had often and often served in happier days--when
he had friends--for the escape of Union officers from Libby
Prison and Andersonville. Emerging, wholly soiled, into a
box-stall, he crossed the musty carriage house and ascended some
rickety steps to a long vacant coachman's-room, next to the
hayloft. He closed the door, bolted it, and sank moodily upon a
broken, old horsehair sofa.
This apartment was his studio. In addition to the sofa, it
contained an ex-bureau, three chair-like shapes, a once
marble-topped table, now covered with a sheet of zinc, two empty
bird cages, and a condemned whatnot. The walls were rather
over-decorated in coloured chalks, the man-headed-snake motive
predominating; they were also loopholed for firing into the
hayloft. Upon the table lay a battered spy-glass, minus lenses,
and, nearby, two boxes, one containing dried corn-silk, the other
hayseed, convenient for the making of amateur cigarettes; the
smoker's outfit being completed by a neat pile of rectangular
clippings from newspapers. On the shelves of the whatnot were
some fragments of a dead pie, the relics of a "Fifteen-Puzzle," a
pink Easter-egg, four seashells, a tambourine with part of a
girl's face still visible in aged colours, about two thirds of a
hot-water bag, a tintype of Hedrick, and a number of books:
several by Henty, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," "100
Practical Jokes, Easy to Perform," "The Jungle Book," "My Lady
Rotha," a "Family Atlas," "Three Weeks," "Pilgrim's Progress,"
"A Boy's Life in Camp," and "The Mystery of the Count's Bedroom."
The gloomy eye of Hedrick wandered to "The Mystery of the
Count's Bedroom," and remained fixed upon it moodily and
contemptuously. His own mystery made that one seem tame and
easy: Laura's bedroom laid it all over the Count's, in his
conviction; and with a soul too weary of pain to shudder, he
reviewed the bafflements and final catastrophe of the preceding
He had not essayed the attempt upon the mattress until
assured that the house was wrapped in slumber. Then, with hope
in his heart, he had stolen to Laura's room, lit the lamp,
feeling safe from intrusion, and set to work. His implement at
first was a long hatpin of Cora's. Lying on his back beneath the
bed, and, moving the slats as it became necessary, he sounded
every cubic inch of the mysterious mattress without encountering
any obstruction which could reasonably be supposed to be the
ledger. This was not more puzzling than it was infuriating,
since by all processes of induction, deduction, and pure logic,
the thing was necessarily there. It was nowhere else. Therefore
it was there. It HAD to be there! With the great blade of
his Boy Scout's knife he began to disembowel the mattress
For a time he had worked furiously and effectively, but the
position was awkward, the search laborious, and he was obliged to
rest frequently. Besides, he had waited to a later hour
than he knew, for his mother to go to bed, and during one of his
rests he incautiously permitted his eyes to close. When he woke,
his sisters were in the room, and he thought it advisable to
remain where he was, though he little realized how he had
weakened his shelter. When Cora left the room, he heard Laura
open the window, sigh, and presently a tiny clinking and a click
set him a-tingle from head to foot: she was opening the padlocked
book. The scratching sound of a pen followed. And yet she had
not come near the bed. The mattress, then, was a living lie.
With infinite caution he had moved so that he could see her,
arriving at a coign of vantage just as she closed the book. She
locked it, wrapped it in an oilskin cover which lay beside it on
the table, hung the key-chain round her neck, rose, yawned, and,
to his violent chagrin, put out the light. He heard her moving
but could not tell where, except that it was not in his part of
the room. Then a faint shuffling warned him that she was
approaching the bed, and he withdrew his head to avoid being
stepped upon. The next moment the world seemed to cave in upon
Laura's flight had given him opportunity to escape to
his own room unobserved; there to examine, bathe and bind his
wounds, and to rectify his first hasty impression that he had
been fatally mangled.
Hedrick glared at "The Mystery of the Count's Bedroom."
By and by he got up, brought the book to the sofa and began
to read it over.
The influence of a familiar and sequestered place is not only
soothing; the bruised mind may often find it restorative. Thus
Hedrick, in his studio, surrounded by his own loved bric-a-brac,
began to feel once more the stir of impulse. Two hours' reading
inspired him. What a French reporter (in the Count's bedroom)
could do, an American youth in full possession of his
powers--except for a strained knee and other injuries--could do.
Yes, and would!
He evolved a new chain of reasoning. The ledger had been
seen in Laura's room; it had been heard in her room; it appeared
to be kept in her room. But it was in no single part of the
room. All the parts make a whole. Therefore, the book was not
in the room.
On the other hand, Laura had not left the room when she took
the book from its hiding-place. This was confusing; therefore he
determined to concentrate logic solely upon what she had done
with the ledger when she finished writing in it. It
was dangerous to assume that she had restored it to the place
whence she obtained it, because he had already proved that place
to be both in the room and out of the room. No; the question he
must keep in was: What did she do with it?
Laura had not left the room. But the book had left the room.
Arrived at this inevitable deduction, he sprang to his feet
in a state of repressed excitement and began to pace the
floor--like a hound on the trail. Laura had not left the room,
but the book had left the room: he must keep his mind upon this
point. He uttered a loud exclamation and struck the zinc
table-top a smart blow with his clenched fist.
Laura had thrown the book out of the window!
In the exaltation of this triumph, he forgot that it was not
yet the hour for a scholar's reappearance, and went forth in
haste to search the ground beneath the window--a disappointing
quest, for nowhere in the yard was there anything but withered
grass, and the rubbish of other frost-bitten vegetation. His
mother, however, discovered something else, and, opening the
kitchen window, she asked, with surprise:
"Why, Hedrick, what on earth are you doing here?"
"Me?" inquired Hedrick.
"What are you doing here?"
"Here?" Evidently she puzzled him.
She became emphatic. "I want to know what you are doing."
"Just standing here," he explained in a meek, grieved way.
"But why aren't you at school?"
This recalled what he had forgotten, and he realized the
insecurity of his position. "Oh, yes," he said--"school. Did
you ask me----"
"Didn't you go to school?"
He began to speak rapidly. "Didn't I go to SCHOOL?
Well, where else could I go? Just because I'm here now doesn't
mean I didn't GO, does it? Because a person is in China
right now wouldn't have to mean he'd never been in South America,
"Then what's the matter?"
"Well, I was going along, and you know I didn't feel very
well and----" He paused, with the advent of a happier idea, then
continued briskly: "But that didn't stop me, because I thought I
ought to go if I dropped, so I went ahead, but the teacher
was sick and they couldn't get a substitute. She must have been
pretty sick, she looked so pale----"
"They dismissed the class?"
"And I don't have to go to-morrow either."
"I see," said his mother. "But if you feel ill, Hedrick,
hadn't you better come in and lie down?"
"I think it's kind of passing off. The fresh air seems to be
doing me good."
"Be careful of your sore knee, dear." She closed the window,
and he was left to continue his operations in safety.
Laura had thrown the ledger out of the window; that was
proved absolutely. Obviously, she had come down before daylight
and retrieved it. Or, she had not. Proceeding on the assumption
that she had not, he lifted his eyes and searched the air. Was
it possible that the book, though thrown from the window, had
never reached the ground? The branches of an old and stalwart
maple, now almost divested of leaves, extended in rough symmetry
above him, and one big limb, reaching out toward the house, came
close to Laura's windows. Triumph shown again from the shrewd
countenance of the sleuth: Laura must have slid the ledger along
a wire into a hollow branch. However, no wire was to be
seen--and the shrewd countenance of the sleuth fell. But perhaps
she had constructed a device of silk threads, invisible from
below, which carried the book into the tree. Action!
He climbed carefully but with many twinges, finally pausing
in a parlous situation not far from the mysterious window which
Laura had opened the night before. A comprehensive survey of the
tree revealed only the very patent fact that none of the branches
was of sufficient diameter to conceal the ledger. No silk
threads came from the window. He looked and looked and looked at
that window; then his eye fell a little, halted less than three
feet below the window-ledge, and the search was ended.
The kitchen window which his mother had opened was directly
beneath Laura's, and was a very long, narrow window, in the style
of the house, and there was a protecting stone ledge above it.
Upon this ledge lay the book, wrapped in its oil-skin covering
and secured from falling by a piece of broken iron hooping, stuck
in the mortar of the bricks. It could be seen from nowhere save
an upper window of the house next door, or from the tree itself,
and in either case only when the leaves had fallen.
Laura had felt very safe. No one had ever seen the book
except that night, early in August, when, for a better
circulation of air, she had left her door open as she wrote, and
Hedrick had come upon her. He had not spoken of it again; she
perceived that he had forgotten it; and she herself forgot that
the memory of a boy is never to be depended on; its forgettings
are too seldom permanent in the case of things that ought to stay
To get the book one had only to lean from the window.
Hedrick seemed so ill during lunch that his mother spoke of
asking Doctor Sloane to look at him, if he did not improve before
evening. Hedrick said meekly that perhaps that would be best--if
he did not improve. After a futile attempt to eat, he cour-
teously excused himself from the table--a ceremony which made
even Cora fear that his case might be serious--and, going feebly
to the library, stretched himself upon the sofa. His mother put
a rug over him; Hedrick, thanking her touchingly, closed his
eyes; and she went away, leaving him to slumber.
After a time, Laura came into the room on an errand,
walking noiselessly, and, noticing that his eyes were open,
apologized for waking him.
"Never mind," he returned, in the tone of an invalid. "I
didn't sleep sound. I think there's something the matter inside
my head: I have such terrible dreams. I guess maybe it's better
for me to keep awake. I'm kind of afraid to go to sleep. Would
you mind staying here with me a little while?"
"Certainly I'll stay," she said, and, observing that his
cheeks were flushed, and his eyes unusually bright, she laid a
cool hand on his forehead. "You haven't any fever, dear; that's
good. You'll be all right to-morrow. Would you like me to read
"I believe," he answered, plaintively, "reading might kind of
disturb my mind: my brain feels so sort of restless and queer.
I'd rather play some kind of game."
"No, not cards exactly. Something' I can do lying down. Oh,
I know! You remember the one where we drew pictures and the
others had to guess what they were? Well, I've invented a game
like that. You sit down at the desk over there and take some
sheets of paper. I'll tell you the rest."
She obeyed. "What next?"
"Now, I'll describe some people and where they live and not
tell who they are, and you see if you can guess their names and
"Yes, because I'm going to describe the way their houses
look. Write each name on a separate sheet of paper, and the
number of their house below it if you know it, and if you don't
know it, just the street. If it's a woman: put `Miss' or `Mrs.'
before their name and if it's a man write `Esquire' after it."
"Is all that necessary for the game?"
"It's the way I invented it and I think you might----"
"Oh, all right," she acquiesced, good-naturedly. "It shall
be according to your rules."
"Then afterward, you give me the sheets of paper with the
names and addresses written on 'em, and we--we----" He hesitated.
"Yes. What do we do then?"
"I'll tell you when we come to it." But when that stage of
his invention was reached, and Laura had placed the inscribed
sheets in his hand, his interest had waned, it appeared. Also,
his condition had improved.
"Let's quit. I thought this game would be more exciting," he
said, sitting up. "I guess," he added with too much modesty,
"I'm not very good at inventing games. I b'lieve I'll go out to
the barn; I think the fresh air----"
"Do you feel well enough to go out?" she asked. "You do seem
to be all right, though."
"Yes, I'm a lot better, I think." He limped to the door."
The fresh air will be the best thing for me."
She did not notice that he carelessly retained her
contributions to the game, and he reached his studio with them in
his hand. Hedrick had entered the 'teens and he was a reader:
things in his head might have dismayed a Borgia.
No remotest glimpse entered that head of the enormity of what
he did. To put an end to his punishing of Cora, and, to render
him powerless against that habitual and natural enemy, Laura had
revealed a horrible incident in his career--it had become a
public scandal; he was the sport of fools; and it might be months
before the thing was lived down. Now he had the means, as he
believed, to even the score with both sisters at a stroke. To
him it was turning a tremendous and properly scathing joke
upon them. He did not hesitate.
That evening, as Richard Lindley sat at dinner with his
mother, Joe Varden temporarily abandoned his attendance at the
table to answer the front doorbell. Upon his return, he
"Messenger-boy mus' been in big hurry. Wouldn' wait till I
git to door."
"What was it?" asked Richard.
"Boy with package. Least, I reckon it were a boy. Call'
back from the front walk, say he couldn' wait. Say he lef'
package in vestibule."
"What sort of a package?"
"Middle-size kind o' big package."
"Why don't you see what it is, Richard?" Mrs. Lindley asked
of her son. "Bring it to the table, Joe."
When it was brought, Richard looked at the superscription
with surprise. The wrapper was of heavy brown paper, and upon it
a sheet of white notepaper had been pasted, with the address:
"Richard Lindley, Esq.,
1218 Corliss Street."
"It's from Laura Madison," he said, staring at this writing.
"What in the world would Laura be sending me?"
"You might possibly learn by opening it," suggested his
mother. "I've seen men puzzle over the outside of things quite
as often as women. Laura Madison is a nice girl." She never
volunteered similar praise of Laura Madison's sister. Mrs.
Lindley had submitted to her son's plans concerning Cora, lately
confided; but her submission lacked resignation.
"It's a book," said Richard, even more puzzled, as he took
the ledger from its wrappings. "Two little torn places at the
edge of the covers. Looks as if it had once had clasps----"
"Perhaps it's the Madison family album," Mrs. Lindley
suggested. "Pictures of Cora since infancy. I imagine she's had
"No." He opened the book and glanced at the pages covered in
Laura's clear, readable hand. "No, it's about half full of
writing. Laura must have turned literary." He read a line or
two, frowning mildly. "My soul! I believe it's a novel! She
must think I'm a critic--to want me to read it." Smiling at the
idea, he closed the ledger. "I'll take it upstairs to my
hang-out after dinner, and see if Laura's literary manner has my
august approval. Who in the world would ever have thought she'd
decide to set up for a writer?"
"I imagine she might have something to write worth reading,"
said his mother. "I've always thought she was an
"Yes, she is. She dances well, too."
"Of course," continued Mrs. Lindley, thoughtfully, "she
seldom SAYS anything interesting, but that may be because she
so seldom has a chance to say anything at all."
Richard refused to perceive this allusion. "Curious that
Laura should have sent it to me," he said. "She's never seemed
interested in my opinion about anything. I don't recall her ever
speaking to me on any subject whatever--except one."
He returned his attention to his plate, but his mother did
not appear to agree with him that the topic was exhausted.
"`Except one'?" she repeated, after waiting for some time.
"Yes," he replied, in his habitual preoccupied and
casual tone. "Or perhaps two. Not more than two, I should
say--and in a way you'd call that only one, of course. Bread,
"What two, Richard?"
"Cora," he said, with gentle simplicity, "and me."
Mrs. Lindley had arranged for her son a small apartment on the
second floor, and it was in his own library and smoking-room that
Richard, comfortable in a leather-chair by a reading-lamp, after
dinner, opened Laura's ledger.
The first page displayed no more than a date now eighteen
months past, and the line:
"Love came to me to-day."
The next page was dated the next day, and, beneath, he read:
"That was all I COULD write, yesterday. I think I was
too excited to write. Something seemed to be singing in my
breast. I couldn't think in sentences--not even in words. How
queer it is that I had decided to keep a diary, and bound this
book for it, and now the first thing I have written in it
was THAT! It will not be a diary. It shall be YOUR
book. I shall keep it sacred to You and write to You in it. How
strange it will be if the day ever comes when I shall show it to
You! If it should, you would not laugh at it, for of course the
day couldn't come unless you understood. I cannot think it will
ever come--that day! But maybe---- No, I mustn't let myself
hope too much that it will, because if I got to hoping too much,
and you didn't like me, it would hurt too much. People who
expect nothing are never disappointed--I must keep that in mind.
Yet EVERY girl has a RIGHT to hope for her own man to
come for her some time, hasn't she? It's not easy to discipline
the wanting to hope--since YESTERDAY!
"I think I must always have thought a great deal about you
without knowing it. We really know so little what we think: our
minds are going on all the time and we hardly notice them. It is
like a queer sort of factory--the owner only looks in once in a
while and most of the time hasn't any idea what sort of goods his
spindles are turning out.
"I saw You yesterday! It seems to me the strangest thing in
the world. I've seen you by chance, probably two or three times
a month nearly all my life, though you so seldom come here
to call. And this time wasn't different from dozens of other
times--you were just standing on the corner by the Richfield,
waiting for a car. The only possible difference is that you had
been out of town for several months--Cora said so this
morning--and how ridiculous it seems now, didn't even know it! I
hadn't noticed it--not with the top part of my mind, but perhaps
the deep part that does the real thinking had noticed it and had
mourned your absence and was so glad to see you again that it
made the top part suddenly see the wonderful truth!"
Lindley set down the ledger to relight his cigar. It struck
him that Laura had been writing "very odd Stuff," but
interesting; and certainly it was not a story. Vaguely he
recalled Marie Bashkirtseff: hadn't she done something like this?
He resumed the reading:
"You turned and spoke to me in that lovely, cordial,
absent-minded way of yours--though I'd never thought (with the
top part) what a lovely way it was; and for a moment I only
noticed how nice you looked in a light gray suit, because
I'd only seen you in black for so long, while you'd been in
mourning for your brother."
Richard, disturbed by an incredible idea, read these last
words over and then dismissed the notion as nonsense.
". . . While you'd been in mourning for your brother--and it
struck me that light gray was becoming to you. Then such a queer
thing happened: I felt the great kindness of your eyes. I
thought they were full of--the only word that seems to express it
at all is CHARITY--and they had a sweet, faraway look, too,
and I've ALWAYS thought that a look of wistful kindness was
the loveliest look in the world--and you had it, and I saw it and
then suddenly, as you held your hat in your hand, the sunshine on
your hair seemed brighter than any sunshine I had ever seen--and
I began to tremble all over. I didn't understand what was the
matter with me or what had made me afraid with you not of
you--all at once, but I was so hopelessly rattled that instead of
waiting for the car, as I'd just told you I meant to, I said I'd
decided to walk, and got away--without any breath left to
breathe with! I COULDN'T have gotten on the car with you---
and I couldn't have spoken another word.
"And as I walked home, trembling all the way, I saw that
strange, dazzling sunshine on your hair, and the wistful, kind
look in your eyes--you seemed not to have taken the car but to
have come with me--and I was uplifted and exalted oh, so
strangely--oh, how the world was changing for me! And when I got
near home, I began to walk faster, and on the front path I broke
into a run and rushed in the house to the piano--and it was as if
my fingers were thirsty for the keys! Then I saw that I was
playing to you and knew that I loved you.
"I love you!
"How different everything is now from everything before.
Music means what it never did: Life has leaped into blossom for
me. Everywhere there is colour and radiance that I had never
seen--the air is full of perfume. Dear, the sunshine that fell
upon your head has spread over the world!
"I understand, as I never understood, that the world--so
dazzling to me now--was made for love and is meaningless without
it. The years until yesterday are gray--no, not gray, because
that was the colour You were wearing--not gray, because
that is a beautiful colour. The empty years until yesterday had
no colour at all. Yes, the world has meaning only through
loving, and without meaning there is no real life. We live only
by loving, and now that this gift of life has come to me I love
ALL the world. I feel that I must be so kind, kind, KIND
to EVERYBODY! Such an odd thing struck me as my greatest
wish. When I was little, I remember grandmother telling me how,
when she was a child in pioneer days, the women made the men's
clothes--homespun--and how a handsome young Circuit Rider, who
was a bachelor, seemed to her the most beautifully dressed man
she had ever seen. The women of the different churches made his
clothes, as they did their husbands' and brothers.' you see--only
better! It came into my head that that would be the divinest
happiness that I could know--to sew for you! If you and I lived
in those old, old times--you LOOK as if you belonged to them,
you know, dear--and You were the young minister riding into the
settlement on a big bay horse--and all the girls at the window,
of course!--and I sewing away at the homespun for you!--I think
all the angels of heaven would be choiring in my heart--and
what thick, warm clothes I'd make you for winter! Perhaps in
heaven they'll let some of the women sew for the men they love--I
"I hear Cora's voice from downstairs as I write. She's often
so angry with Ray, poor girl. It does not seem to me that she
and Ray really belong to each other, though they SAY so often
that they do."
Richard having read thus far with a growing, vague
uneasiness, looked up, frowning. He hoped Laura had no Marie
Bashkirtseff idea of publishing this manuscript. It was too
intimate, he thought, even if the names in it were to be
. . . "Though they SAY so often that they do. I think Ray
is in love with HER, but it can't be like THIS. What he
feels must be something wholly different--there is violence and
wildness in it. And they are bitter with each other so often -
always `getting even' for something. He does care--he is
frantically "IN love" with her, undoubtedly, but so insanely
jealous. I suppose all jealousy is insane. But love is the only
sanity. How can what is insane be part of it? I could not be
jealous of You. I owe life to you--I have never lived till
The next writing was two days later:
. . . . "To-day as I passed your house with Cora, I kept
looking at the big front door at which you go in and out so
often--YOUR door! I never knew that just a door could look
so beautiful! And unconsciously I kept my eyes on it, as we
walked on, turning my head and looking and looking back at it,
till Cora suddenly burst out laughing, and said: `Well,
LAURA!' And I came to myself--and found her looking at me.
It was like getting back after a journey, and for a second I was
a little dazed, and Cora kept on laughing at me, and I felt
myself getting red. I made some silly excuse about thinking your
house had been repainted--and she laughed louder than ever. I
was afraid then that she understood--I wonder if she could have?
I hope not, though I love her so much I don't know why I would
rather she didn't know, unless it is just my FEELING about
it. It is a GUARDIAN feeling--that I must keep for myself,
the music of these angels singing in my heart--singing of You. I
hope she did not understand--and I so fear she did. Why
should I be so AFRAID?" . . .
. . . . "Two days since I have talked to You in your book
after Cora caught me staring at your door and laughed at me--and
ten minutes ago I was sitting beside the ACTUAL You on the
porch! I am trembling yet. It was the first time you'd come for
months and months; and yet you had the air of thinking it rather
a pleasant thing to do as you came up the steps! And a dizzy
feeling came over me, because I wondered if it was seeing me on
the street THAT day that put it into your head to come. It
seemed too much happiness--and risking too much--to let myself
BELIEVE it, but I couldn't help just wondering. I began to
tremble as I saw you coming up our side of the street in the
moonlight--and when you turned in here I was all panic--I nearly
ran into the house. I don't know how I found voice to greet you.
I didn't seem to have any breath left at all. I was so relieved
when Cora took a chair between us and began to talk to you,
because I'm sure I couldn't have. She and poor Ray had been
having one of their quarrels and she was punishing him. Poor
boy, he seemed so miserable--though he tried to talk to me--about
politics, I think, though I'm not sure, because I couldn't
listen much better than either of us could talk. I could only
hear Your voice--such a rich, quiet voice, and it has a sound
like the look you have--friendly and faraway and wistful. I have
thought and thought about what it is that makes you look wistful.
You have less to wish for than anybody else in the world because
you have Yourself. So why are you wistful? I think it's just
because you ARE!
"I heard Cora asking you why you hadn't come to see us for so
long, and then she said: `Is it because you dislike me? You
look at me, sometimes, as if you dislike me!' And I wished she
hadn't said it. I had a feeling you wouldn't like that
`personal' way of talking that she enjoys--and that--oh, it
didn't seem to be in keeping with the dignity of You! And I love
Cora so much I wanted her to be finer--with You. I wanted her to
understand you better than to play those little charming tricks
at you. You are so good, so HIGH, that if she could make a
real friend of you I think it would be the best thing for her
that could happen. She's never had a man-FRIEND. Perhaps
she WAS trying to make one of you and hasn't any other
way to go about it. She can be so REALLY sweet, I wanted you
to see that side of her.
"Afterwhile, when Ray couldn't bear it any longer to talk to
me, and in his desperation brazenly took Cora to the other end of
the porch almost by force, and I was left, in a way, alone with
you what did you think of me? I was tongue-tied! Oh, oh, oh!
You were quiet--but I_ was DUMB! My heart wasn't dumb--it
hammered! All the time I kept saying to myself such a jumble of
things. And into the jumble would come such a rapture that You
were there--it was like a paean of happiness--a chanting of the
glory of having You near me--I WAS mixed up! I could
PLAY all those confused things, but writing them doesn't tell
it. Writing them would only be like this: `He's here, he's
HERE! Speak, you little fool! He's here, he's here! He's
sitting beside you! SPEAK, idiot, or he'll never come back!
He's here, he's beside you you could put out your hand and touch
him! Are you dead, that you can't speak? He's here, he's here,
"Ah, some day I shall be able to talk to you--but not till I
get more used to this inner song. It seems to WILL that
nothing else shall come from my lips till IT does!
"In spite of my silence--my outward woodenness--you said, as
you went away, that you would come again! You said `soon'! I
could only nod but Cora called from the other end of the porch
and asked: `HOW soon?' Oh, I bless her for it, because you
said, `Day after to-morrow.' Day after tomorrow! Day after
to-morrow! DAY AFTER TOMORROW!
. . . . "Twenty-one hours since I wrote--no, SANG--`Day
after to-morrow!' And now it is `To-morrow!' Oh, the slow,
golden day that this has been! I could not stay in the house--I
walked--no, I WINGED! I was in the open country before I
knew it--with You! For You are in everything. I never knew the
sky was blue, before. Until now I just thought it was the sky.
The whitest clouds I ever saw sailed over that blue, and I stood
upon the prow of each in turn, then leaped in and swam to the
next and sailed with IT! Oh, the beautiful sky, and kind,
green woods and blessed, long, white, dusty country road! Never
in my life shall I forget that walk--this day in the open with my
love--You! To-morrow! To-morrow! To-morrow! TOMORROW!"
The next writing in Laura's book was dated more than two
. . . . "I have decided to write again in this book. I have
thought it all out carefully, and I have come to the conclusion
that it can do no harm and may help me to be steady and sensible.
It is the thought, not its expression, that is guilty, but I do
not believe that my thoughts are guilty: I believe that they are
good. I know that I wish only good. I have read that when
people suffer very much the best thing is for them to cry. And
so I'll let myself WRITE out my feelings--and perhaps get rid
of some of the silly self-pity I'm foolish enough to feel,
instead of going about choked up with it. How queer it is that
even when we keep our thoughts respectable we can't help having
absurd FEELINGS like self-pity, even though we know how
rotten stupid they are! Yes, I'll let it all out here, and then,
some day, when I've cured myself all whole again, I'll burn this
poor, silly old book. And if I'm not cured before the wedding,
I'll burn it then, anyhow.
"How funny little girls are! From the time they're little
bits of things they talk about marriage--whom they are going to
marry, what sort of person it will be. I think Cora and I
began when she was about five and I not seven. And as girls grow
up, I don't believe there was ever one who genuinely expected to
be an old maid. The most unattractive young girls discuss and
plan and expect marriage just as much as the prettier and gayer
ones. The only way we can find out that men don't want to marry
us is by their not asking us. We don't see ourselves very well,
and I honestly believe we all think--way deep down--that we're
pretty attractive. At least, every girl has the idea, sometimes,
that if men only saw the whole truth they'd think her as nice as
any other girl, and really nicer than most others. But I don't
believe I have any hallucinations of that sort about myself left.
I can't imagine--now--ANY man seeing anything in me that
would make him care for me. I can't see anything about me to
care for, myself. Sometimes I think maybe I could make a man get
excited about me if I could take a startlingly personal tone with
him from the beginning, making him wonder all sorts of you-and-I
perhapses--but I couldn't do it very well probably--oh, I
couldn't make myself do it if I could do it well! And I
shouldn't think it would have much effect except upon very
inexperienced men--yet it does! Now, I wonder if this is a
streak of sourness coming out; I don't feel bitter--I'm just
thinking honestly, I'm sure.
"Well, here I am facing it: all through my later childhood,
and all through my girlhood, I believe what really occupied me
most--with the thought of it underlying all things else, though
often buried very deep--was the prospect of my marriage. I
regarded it as a certainty: I would grow up, fall in love, get
engaged, and be married--of course! So I grew up and fell in
love with You--but it stops there, and I must learn how to be an
Old Maid and not let anybody see that I mind it. I know this is
the hardest part of it, the beginning: it will get easier
by-and-by, of course. If I can just manage this part of it, it's
bound not to hurt so much later on.
"Yes, I grew up and fell in love with You--for you will
always be You. I'll never, never get over THAT, my dear!
You'll never, never know it; but I shall love You always till I
die, and if I'm still Me after that, I shall keep right on loving
you then, of course. You see, I didn't fall in love with you
just to have you for myself. I fell in love with You! And that
can never bother you at all nor ever be a shame to me that I
love unsought, because you won't know, and because it's just an
ocean of good-will, and every beat of my heart sends a new great
wave of it toward you and Cora. I shall find happiness, I
believe, in service--I am sure there will be times when I can
serve you both. I love you both and I can serve her for You and
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