Chapter XVI - Pretty Marquise
The two friends walked through a sort of opera-bouffe to find her; music playing, a swaying crowd, bright lights, bright eyes, pretty women, a glimpse of dancers footing it over a polished floor in a room beyond--a hundred colors flashing and changing, as the groups shifted, before the eye could take in the composition of the picture. A sudden thrill of exhilaration rioted in John's pulses, and he trembled like a child before the gay disclosure of a Christmas tree. Meredith swore to himself that he would not have known him for the man of five minutes agone. Two small, bright red spots glowed in his cheeks; he held himself erect with head thrown back and shoulders squared, and the idolizing Tom thought he looked as a king ought to look at the acme of power and dominion. Miss Hinsdale's word in the hallway was the geniuses touch: a bent, gray man of years--a word--and behold the Great John Harkless, the youth of elder days ripened to his prime of wisdom and strength! People made way for them and whispered as they passed. It had been years since John Harkless had been in the midst of a crowd of butterfly people; everything seemed unreal, or like a ball in a play; presently the curtain would fall and close the lights and laughter from his view, leaving only the echo of music. It was like a kaleidoscope for color: the bouquets of crimson or white or pink or purple; the profusion of pretty dresses, the brilliant, tender fabrics, and the handsome, foreshortened faces thrown back over white shoulders in laughter; glossy raven hair and fair tresses moving in quick salutations; and the whole gay shimmer of festal tints and rich artificialities set off against the brave green of out-doors, for the walls were solidly adorned with forest branches, with, here and there amongst them, a blood-red droop of beech leaves, stabbed in autumn's first skirmish with summer. The night was cool, and the air full of flower smells, while harp, violin, and 'cello sent a waltz-throb through it all.
They looked rapidly through several rooms and failed to find her indoors, and they went outside, not exchanging a word, and though Harkless was a little lame, Tom barely kept up with his long stride. On the verandas there were fairy lamps and colored incandescents over little tables, where people sat chatting. She was not there. Beyond was a terrace, where a myriad of Oriental lanterns outlined themselves clearly in fantastically shaped planes of scarlet and orange and green against the blue darkness. Many couples and groups were scattered over the terrace, and the young men paused on the steps, looking swiftly from group to group. She was not there.
"We haven't looked in the dancing-room," said Tom, looking at his companion rather sorrowfully. John turned quickly and they reentered the house.
He had parted from her in the blackness of storm with only the flicker of lightning to show her to him, but it was in a blaze of lights that he saw her again. The dance was just ended, and she stood in a wide doorway, half surrounded by pretty girls and young men, who were greeting her. He had one full look at her. She was leaning to them all, her arms full of flowers, and she seemed the radiant centre of all the light and gaiety of the place. Even Meredith stopped short and exclaimed upon her; for one never got used to her; and he remembered that whenever he saw her after absence the sense of her beauty rushed over him anew. And he believed the feeling on this occasion was keener than ever before, for she was prettier than he had ever seen her.
"No wonder!" he cried; but Harkless did not understand. As they pressed forward, Meredith perceived that they were only two more radii of a circle of youths, sprung from every direction as the waltz ended, bearing down upon the common focus to secure the next dance. Harkless saw nothing but that she stood there before him. He feared a little that every one might notice how he was trembling, and he was glad of the many voices that kept them from hearing his heart knock against his ribs. She saw him coming toward her, and nodded to him pleasantly, in just the fashion in which she was bowing to half a dozen others, and at that a pang of hot pain went through him like an arrow--an arrow poisoned with cordial, casual friendliness.
She extended her hand to him and gave him a smile that chilled him--it, was so conventionally courteous and poised so nicely in the manner of society. He went hot and cold fast enough then, for not less pleasantly in that manner did she exclaim: "I am very glad to see you, Mr. Harkless, so extremely glad! And so delighted to find you looking strong again! Do tell me about all our friends in Plattville. I should like to have a little chat with you some time. So good of you to find me in this melee."
And with that she turned from the poor fellow to Meredith. "How do you do. Cousin Tom? I've saved the next dance for you." Then she distributed words here and there and everywhere, amongst the circle about her--pretty Marquise with a vengeance! "No, Mr. Swift, I shall not make a card; you must come at the beginning of a dance if you want one. I cannot promise the next; it is quite impossible. No, I did not go as far north as Mackinac. How do you do, Mr. Burlingame?--Yes, quite an age;--no, not the next, I am afraid; nor the next;--I'm not keeping a card. Good evening, Mr. Baird. No, not the next. Oh, thank you, Miss Hinsdale!--No, Mr. Swift, it is quite impossible--I'm so sorry. Cousin, the music is commencing; this is ours."
As she took Meredith's arm, she handed her flowers to a gentleman beside her with the slightest glance at the recipient; and the gesture and look made her partner heartsick for his friend; it was so easy and natural and with the air of habit, and had so much of the manner with which a woman hands things to a man who partakes of her inner confidences. Tom knew that Harkless divined the gesture, as well as the identity of the gentleman. They started away, but she paused, and turned to the latter. "Mr. Macauley, you must meet Mr. Harkless. We leave him in your care, and you must see that he meets all the pretty girls--you are used to being nice to distinguished strangers, you know."
Tom put his arm about her, and whirled her away, and Harkless felt as if a soft hand had dealt him blow after blow in the face. Was this lady of little baffling forms and small cold graces the girl who had been his kind comrade, the girl who stood with him by the blue tent-pole, she who had run to him to save his life, she who walked at his side along the pike? The contrast of these homely scenes made him laugh grimly. Was this she who had wept before him--was it she who had been redolent of kindness so fragrantly natural and true--was it she who said she "loved all these people very much, in spite of having known them only two days"?
He cried out upon himself for a fool. What was he in her eyes but a man who had needed to be told that she did not love him! Had he not better-- and more courteously to her--have avoided the meeting which was necessarily an embarrassment to her? But no; he must rush like a Mohawk till he found her and forced her to rebuff him, to veil her kindness in little manners, to remind him that he put himself in the character of a rejected importunate. She had punished him enough, perhaps a little too cruelly enough, in leaving him with the man to whom she handed bouquets as a matter of course. And this man was one whose success had long been a trumpet at his ear, blaring loudly of his own failure in the same career.
It had been several years since he first heard of the young editor of the Rouen "Journal," and nowadays almost everybody knew about Brainard Macauley. Outwardly, he was of no unusual type: an American of affairs; slight, easy, yet alert; relaxed, yet sharp; neat, regular, strong; a quizzical eye, a business chin, an ambitious head with soft, straight hair outlining a square brow; and though he was "of a type," he was not commonplace, and one knew at once that he would make a rattling fight to arrive where he was going.
It appeared that he had heard of Harkless, as well as the Carlow editor of him. They had a few moments of shop, and he talked to Harkless as a brother craftsman, without the offense of graciousness, and spoke of his pleasure in the meeting and of his relief at Harkless's recovery, for, aside from the mere human feeling, the party needed him in Carlow--even if he did not always prove himself "quite a vehement partisan." Macauley laughed. "But I'm not doing my duty," he said presently; "I was to present you to the pretty ones only, I believe. Will you designate your preferred fashion of beauty? We serve all styles."
"Thank you," the other answered, hurriedly. "I met a number last night-- quite a number, indeed." He had seen them only in dim lights, however, and except Miss Hinsdale and the widower, had not the faintest recognition of any of them, and he cut them all, except those two, one after the other, before the evening was over; and this was a strange thing for a politician to do; but he did it with such an innocent eye that they remembered the dark porch and forgave him.
"Shall we watch the dancing, then?" asked Macauley. Harkless was already watching part of it.
"If you will. I have not seen this sort for more than five years."
"It is always a treat, I think, and a constant proof that the older school of English caricaturists didn't overdraw."
"Yes; one realizes they couldn't."
Harkless remembered Tom Meredith's fine accomplishment of dancing; he had been the most famous dancer of college days, and it was in the dancer that John best saw his old friend again as he had known him, the light lad of the active toe. Other couples flickered about the one John watched, couples that plodded, couples that bobbed, couples that galloped, couples that slid, but the cousins alone passed across the glistening reflections as lightly as October leaves blown over the forest floor. In the midst of people who danced with fixed, glassy eyes, or who frowned with determination to do their duty or to die, and seemed to expect the latter, or who were pale with the apprehension of collision, or who made visible their anxiety to breathe through the nose and look pleased at the same time, these two floated and smiled easily upon life. Three or four steep steps made the portly and cigarette-smoking Meredith pant like an old man, but a dance was a cooling draught to him. As for the little Marquise--when she danced, she danced away with all those luckless hearts that were not hers already. The orchestra launched the jubilant measures of the deuxtemps with a torrent of vivacity, and the girl's rhythmic flight answered like a sail taking the breeze.
There was one heart she had long since won which answered her every movement. Flushed, rapturous, eyes sparkling, cheeks aglow, the small head weaving through the throng like a golden shuttle--ah, did she know how adorable she was! Was Tom right: is it the attainable unattainable to one man and given to some other that leaves a deeper mark upon him than success? At all events the unattainable was now like a hot sting in the heart, but yet a sting more precious than a balm. The voice of Brainard Macauley broke in:
"A white brow and a long lash, a flushing cheek and a soft eye, a voice that laughs and breaks and ripples in the middle of a word, a girl you could put in your hat, Mr. Harkless--and there you have a strong man prone! But I congratulate you on the manner your subordinates operate the 'Herald' during your absence. I understand you are making it a daily."
Macauley was staring at him quizzically, and Harkless, puzzled, but without resentment of the other's whimsey, could only decide that the editor of the Rouen "Journal" was an exceedingly odd young man. All at once he found Meredith and the girl herself beside him; they had stopped before the dance was finished. He had the impulse to guard himself from new blows as a boy throws up his elbow to ward a buffet, and, although he could not ward with his elbow, for his heart was on his sleeve--where he began to believe that Macauley had seen it--he remembered that he could smile with as much intentional mechanism as any wornout rounder of afternoons. He stepped aside for her, and she saw what she had known but had not seen before, for the thickness of the crowd, and this was that he limped and leaned upon his stick.
"Do let me thank you," he said, with a louder echo of her manner of greeting him, a little earlier. "It has been such a pleasure to watch you dance. It is really charming to meet you here. If I return to Plattville I shall surely remember to tell Miss Briscoe."
At this she surprised him with a sudden, clear look in the eyes, so reproachful, so deep, so sad, that he started. She took her flowers from Macauley, who had the air of understanding the significance of such ceremonies very well, and saying, "Shan't we all go out on the terrace?" placed her arm in Harkless's, and conducted him (and not the others) to the most secluded corner of the terrace, a nook illumined by one Japanese lantern; to which spot it was his belief that he led her. She sank into a chair, with the look of the girl who had stood by the blue tent-pole. He could only stare at her, amazed by her abrupt change to this dazzling, if reproachful, kindness, confused by his good fortune.
"'If you go back to Plattville!'" she said in a low voice. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know. I've been dull lately, and I thought I might go somewhere else." Caught in a witchery no lack of possession could dispel, and which the prospect of loss made only stronger while it lasted, he took little thought of what he said; little thought of anything but of the gladness it was to be with her again.
"'Somewhere else?' Where?"
"Have you no sense of responsibility? What is to become of your paper?"
"The 'Herald'? Oh, it will potter along, I think."
"But what has become of it in your absence, already? Has it not deteriorated very much?"
"No," he said; "it's better than it ever was before."
"What!" she cried, with a little gasp.
"You're so astounded at my modesty?"
"But please tell me what you mean," she said quickly. "What happened to it?"
"Isn't the 'Herald' rather a dull subject? I'll tell you how well Judge Briscoe looked when he came to see me; or, rather, tell me of your summer in the north."
"No," she answered earnestly. "Don't you remember my telling you that I am interested in newspaper work?"
"I have even heard so from others," he said, with an instant of dryness.
"Please tell me about the 'Herald'?"
"It is very simple. Your friend, Mr. Fisbee, found a substitute, a relative six feet high with his coat off, a traction engine for energy and a limited mail for speed. He writes me letters on a type writer suffering from an impediment in its speech; and in brief, he is an enterprising idiot with a mania for work-baskets."
Her face was in the shadow.
"You say the--idiot--is enterprising?" she inquired.
"Far more enterprising and far less idiot than I. They are looking for oil down there, and when he came he knew less about oil than a kindergarten babe, and spoke of 'boring for kerosene' in his first letter to me; but he knows it all now, and writes long and convincing geological arguments. If a well comes in, he is prepared to get out an extra! Perhaps you may understand what that means in Plattville, with the 'Herald's' numerous forces. I owe him everything, even the shares in the oil company, which he has persuaded me to take. And he is going to dare to make the 'Herald' a daily. Do you remember asking me why I had never done that? It seemed rather a venture to try to compete with the Rouen papers in offering State and foreign news, but this young Gulliver has tacked onto the Associated Press, and means to print a quarto--that's eight pages, you know--once a week, Saturday, and a double sheet, four pages, on other mornings. The daily venture begins next Monday."
"Will it succeed?"
"Oh, no!" he laughed.
"You think not?" Her interest in this dull business struck him as astonishing, and yet in character with her as he had known her in Plattville. Then he wondered unhappily if she thought that talking of the "Herald" and learning things about the working of a country newspaper would help her to understand Brainard Macauley.
"Why have you let him go on with it?" she asked. "I suppose you have encouraged him?"
"Oh, yes, I encouraged him. The creature's recklessness fascinated me. A dare-devil like that is always charming.'"
"You think there is no chance for the creature's succeeding with the daily?"
"None," he replied indifferently.
"You mentioned work-baskets, I think?"
He laughed again. "I believe him to be the original wooden-nutmeg man. Once a week he produces a 'Woman's Page,' wherein he presents to the Carlow female public three methods for making currant jelly, three receipts for the concoction of salads, and directs the ladies how to manufacture a pretty work-basket out of odd scraps in twenty minutes. The astonishing part of it is that he has not yet been mobbed by the women who have followed his directions."
"So you think the daily is a mistake and that your enterprising idiot should be mobbed? Why?" She seemed to be taking him very seriously.
"I think he may be--for his 'Woman's Page.'"
"It is all wrong, you think?"
"What could a Yankee six-footer cousin of old Fisbee's know about currant jelly and work-baskets?"
"You know about currant jelly and work-baskets yourself?"
"Heaven defend the right, I do not!"
"You are sure he is six feet?"
"You should see his signature; that leaves no doubt. And, also, his ability denotes his stature."
"You believe that ability is in proportion to height, do you not?" There was a dangerous luring in her tone.
His memory recalled to him that he was treading on undermined ground, so he hastened to say: "In inverse proportion."
"Then your substitute is a failure. I see," she said, slowly.
What muffled illumination there was in their nook fell upon his face; her back was toward it, so that she was only an outline to him, and he would have been startled and touched to the quick, could he have known that her lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears as she spoke the last words. He was happy as he had not been since his short June day; it was enough to be with her again. Nothing, not even Brainard Macauley, could dull his delight. And, besides, for a few minutes he had forgotten Brainard Macauley. What more could man ask than to sit in the gloom with her, to know that he was near her again for a little while, and to talk about anything--if he talked at all? Nonsense and idle exaggeration about young Fisbee would do as well as another thing.
"The young gentleman is an exception," he returned. "I told you I owed everything to him; my gratitude will not allow me to admit that his ability is less than his stature. He suggested my purchase of a quantity of Mr. Watts's oil stock when it was knocked flat on its back by two wells turning out dry; but if Mr. Watts's third well comes in, and young Fisbee has convinced me that it will, and if my Midas's extra booms the stock and the boom develops, I shall oppose the income tax. Poor old Plattville will be full of strangers and speculators, and the 'Herald' will advocate vast improvements to impress the investor's eye. Stagnation and picturesqueness will flee together; it is the history of the Indiana town. Already the 'Herald' is clamoring with Schofields' Henry--you remember the bellringer?--for Main Street to be asphalted. It will all come. The only trouble with young Fisbee is that he has too much ability."
"And yet the daily will not succeed?"
"No. That's too big a jump, unless my young man's expressions on the tariff command a wide sale amongst curio-hunters."
"Then he is quite a fool about political matters?"
"Far from it; he is highly ingenious. His editorials are often the subtlest cups of flattery I ever sipped, many of them showing assiduous study of old files to master the method and notions of his eagle-eyed predecessor. But the tariff seems to have got him. He is a very masculine person, except for this one feminine quality, for, if I may say it without ungallantry, there is a legend that no woman has ever understood the tariff. Young Fisbee must be an extremely travelled person, because the custom-house people have made an impression upon him which no few encounters with them could explain, and he conceives the tariff to be a law which discommodes a lady who has been purchasing gloves in Paris. He thinks smuggling the great evil of the present tariff system; it is such a temptation, so insidious a break-down of moral fibre. His views must edify Carlow."
She gave a quick, stifled cry. "Oh! there isn't a word of truth in what you say! Not a word! I did not think you could be so cruel!"
He bent forward, peering at her in astonishment.
"You know it is a hateful distortion--an exaggeration!" she exclaimed passionately. "No man living could have so little sense as you say he has. The tariff is perfectly plain to any child. When you were in Plattville you weren't like this--I didn't know you were unkind!"
"I--I don't understand, please----"
"Miss Hinsdale has been talking--raving--to me about you! You may not know it--though I suppose you do--but you made a conquest last night. It seems a little hard on the poor young man who is at work for you in Plattville, doing his best for you, plodding on through the hot days, and doing all he knows how, while you sit listening to music in the evenings with Clara Hinsdale, and make a mock of his work and his trying to please you----"
"But I didn't mention him to Miss Hinsdale. In fact, I didn't mention anything to Miss Hinsdale. What have I done? The young man is making his living by his work--and my living, too, for that matter. It only seems to me that his tariff editorials are rather humorous."
She laughed suddenly--ringingly. "Of course they are! How should I know? Immensely humorous! And the good creature knows nothing beyond smuggling and the custom-house and chalk marks? Why, even I--ha, ha, ha!--even I--should have known better than that. What a little fool your enterprising idiot must be!--with his work-baskets and currant jelly and his trying to make the 'Herald' a daily!--It will be a ludicrous failure, of course. No doubt he thought he was being quite wise, and was pleased over his tariff editorials--his funny, funny editorials--his best--to please you! Ha, ha, ha! How immensely funny!"
"Do you know him?" he asked abruptly.
"I have not the honor of the gentleman's acquaintance. Ah," she rejoined bitterly, "I see what you mean; it is the old accusation, is it? I am a woman, and I 'sound the personal note.' I could not resent a cruelty for the sake of a man I do not know. But let it go. My resentment is personal, after all, since it is against a man I do know--you!"
He leaned toward her because he could not help it. "I'd rather have resentment from you than nothing."
"Then I will give you nothing," she answered quickly.
"You flout me!" he cried. "That is better than resentment."
"I hate you most, I think," she said with a tremulousness he did not perceive, "when you say you do not care to go back to Plattville."
"Did I say it?"
"It is in every word, and it is true; you don't care to go back there."
"Yes, it is true; I don't."
"You want to leave the place where you do good; to leave those people who love you, who were ready to die to avenge your hurt!" she exclaimed vehemently. "Oh, I say that is shameful!"
"Yes, I know," he returned gravely. "I am ashamed."
"Don't say that!" she cried. "Don't say you are ashamed of it. Do you suppose I do not understand the dreariness it has been for you? Don't you know that I see it is a horror to you, that it brings back your struggle with those beasts in the dark, and revivifies all your suffering, merely to think of it?" Her turns and sudden contradictions left him tangled in a maze; he could not follow, but must sit helpless to keep pace with her, while the sheer happiness of being with her tingled through his veins. She rose and took a step aside, then spoke again: "Well, since you want to leave Carlow, you shall; since you do not wish to return, you need not.-- Are you laughing at me?" She leaned toward him, and looked at him steadily, with her face close to his. He was not laughing; his eyes shone with a deep fire; in that nearness he hardly comprehended what she said. "Thank you for not laughing," she whispered, and leaned back from him. "I suppose you think my promises are quite wild, and they are. I do not know what I was talking about, or what I meant, any better than you do. You may understand some day. It is all--I mean that it hurts one to hear you say you do not care for Carlow." She turned away. "Come."
"It is my turn to conclude the interview. You remember, the last time it was you who--" She broke off, shuddering, and covered her face with her hands. "Ah, that!" she exclaimed. "I did not think--I did not mean to speak of that miserable, miserable night. And I to be harsh with you for not caring to go back to Carlow!"
"Your harshness," he laughed. "A waft of eider."
"We must go," she said. He did not move, but sat staring at her like a thirsty man drinking. With an impulsive and pretty gesture she reached out her hand to him. Her little, white glove trembled in the night before his eyes, and his heart leaped to meet its sudden sweet generosity; his thin fingers closed over it as he rose, and then that hand he had likened to a white butterfly lay warm and light and quiet in his own. And as they had so often stood together in their short day and their two nights of the moon, so now again they stood with a serenading silence between them. A plaintive waltz-refrain from the house ran through the blue woof of starlit air as a sad-colored thread through the tapestry of night; they heard the mellow croon of the 'cello and the silver plaints of violins, the chiming harp, and the triangle bells, all woven into a minor strain of dance-music that beat gently upon their ears with such suggestion of the past, that, as by some witchcraft of hearing, they listened to music made for lovers dancing, and lovers listening, a hundred years ago.
"I care for only one thing in this world," he said, tremulously. "Have I lost it? I didn't mean to ask you, that last night, although you answered. Have I no chance? Is it still the same? Do I come too late?"
The butterfly fluttered in his hand and then away.
She drew back and looked at him a moment.
"There is one thing you must always understand," she said gently, "and that is that a woman can be grateful. I give you all the gratitude there is in me, and I think I have a great deal; it is all yours. Will you always remember that?"
"Gratitude? What can there--"
"You do not understand now, but some day you will. I ask you to remember that my every act and thought which bore reference to you--and there have been many--came from the purest gratitude. Although you do not see it now, will you promise to believe it?"
"Yes," he said simply.
"For the rest--" She paused. "For the rest--I do not love you."
He bowed his head and did not lift it.
"Do you understand?" she asked.
"I understand," he answered, quietly.
She looked at him long, and then, suddenly, her hand to her heart, gave a little, pitying, tender cry and moved toward him. At this he raised his head and smiled sadly. "No; don't you mind," he said. "It's all right. I was such a cad the other time I needed to be told; I was so entirely silly about it, I couldn't face the others to tell them good-night, and I left you out there to go in to them alone. I didn't realize, for my manners were all gone. I'd lived in a kind of stupor, I think, for a long time; then being with you was like a dream, and the sudden waking was too much for me. I've been ashamed often, since, in thinking of it--and I was well punished for not taking you in. I thought only of myself, and I behaved like a whining, unbalanced boy. But I had whined from the moment I met you, because I was sickly with egoism and loneliness and self-pity. I'm keeping you from the dancing. Won't you let me take you back to the house?"
A commanding and querulous contralto voice was heard behind them, and a dim, majestic figure appeared under the Japanese lantern.
The girl turned quickly. "Yes, mamma."
"May I ask you to return to the club-house for supper with me? Your father has been very much worried about you. We have all been looking for you."
"Mamma, this is Mr. Harkless."
"How do you do?" The lady murmured this much so far under her breath that the words might have been mistaken for anything else--most plausibly, perhaps, for, "Who cares if it is?"--nor further did she acknowledge John's profound inclination. Frigidity and complaint of ill-usage made a glamour in every fold of her expensive garments; she was large and troubled and severe. A second figure emerged from behind her and bowed with the suave dignity that belonged to Brainard Macauley. "Mr. Macauley has asked to sit at our table," Mrs. Sherwood said to Helen. "May I beg you to come at once? Your father is holding places for us."
"Certainly," she answered. "I will follow you with Mr. Harkless."
"I think Mr. Harkless will excuse you," said the elder lady. "He has an engagement. Mr. Meredith has been looking everywhere for him to take Miss Hinsdale out to supper."
"Good-night, Miss Sherwood," said John in a cheerful voice. "I thank you for sitting out the dance with me."
"Good-night," she said, and gave him her hand. "I'm so sorry I shan't see you again; I am only in Rouen for this evening, or I should ask you to come to see me. I am leaving to-morrow morning. Good-night.--Yes, mamma."
The three figures went toward the bright lights of the club-house. She was leaning on Macauley's arm and chatting gaily, smiling up at him brightly. John watched her till she was lost in the throng on the veranda. There, in the lights, where waiters were arranging little tables, every one was talking and moving about, noisily, good-humored and happy. There was a flourish of violins, and then the orchestra swung into a rampant march that pranced like uncurbed cavalry; it stirred the blood of old men with militant bugle calls and blast of horns; it might have heralded the chariot of a flamboyant war god rioting out of sunrise, plumed with youth. Some quite young men on the veranda made as if they were restive horses champing at the bit and heading a procession, and, from a group near by, loud laughter pealed.
John Harkless lifted to his face the hand that had held hers; there was the faint perfume of her glove. He kissed his own hand. Then he put that hand and the other to his forehead, and sank into her chair.
"Let me get back," he said. "Let me get back to Plattville, where I belong."
Tom Meredith came calling him. "Harkless? John Harkless?"
"Here I am, Tom."
"Come along, boy. What on earth are you doing out here all alone? I thought you were with--I thought some people were with you. You're bored to death, I know; but come along and be bored some more, because I promised to bring you in for supper. Then we'll go home. They've saved a place for you by Miss Hinsdale."
"Very well, lad," answered Harkless, and put his hand on the other's shoulder. "Thank you."
The next day he could not leave his bed; his wounds were feverish and his weakness had returned. Meredith was shaken with remorse because he had let him wander around in the damp night air with no one to look after him.