The fine old gentleman revealed when she opened the door was probably the last great merchant in America to wear the chin beard. White as white frost, it was trimmed short with exquisite precision, while his upper lip and the lower expanses of his cheeks were clean and rosy from fresh shaving. With this trim white chin beard, the white waistcoat, the white tie, the suit of fine gray cloth, the broad and brilliantly polished black shoes, and the wide-brimmed gray felt hat, here was a man who had found his style in the seventies of the last century, and thenceforth kept it. Files of old magazines of that period might show him, in woodcut, as, “Type of Boston Merchant”; Nast might have drawn him as an honest statesman. He was eighty, hale and sturdy, not aged; and his quick blue eyes, still unflecked, and as brisk as a boy's, saw everything.
“Well, well, well!” he said, heartily. “You haven't lost any of your good looks since last week, I see, Miss Alice, so I guess I'm to take it you haven't been worrying over your daddy. The young feller's getting along all right, is he?”
“He's much better; he's sitting up, Mr. Lamb. Won't you come in?”
“Well, I don't know but I might.” He turned to call toward twin disks of light at the curb, “Be out in a minute, Billy”; and the silhouette of a chauffeur standing beside a car could be seen to salute in response, as the old gentleman stepped into the hall. “You don't suppose your daddy's receiving callers yet, is he?”
“He's a good deal stronger than he was when you were here last week, but I'm afraid he's not very presentable, though.”
“'Presentable?'” The old man echoed her jovially. “Pshaw! I've seen lots of sick folks. I know what they look like and how they love to kind of nest in among a pile of old blankets and wrappers. Don't you worry about THAT, Miss Alice, if you think he'd like to see me.”
“Of course he would—if——” Alice hesitated; then said quickly, “Of course he'd love to see you and he's quite able to, if you care to come up.”
She ran up the stairs ahead of him, and had time to snatch the crocheted wrap from her father's shoulders. Swathed as usual, he was sitting beside a table, reading the evening paper; but when his employer appeared in the doorway he half rose as if to come forward in greeting.
“Sit still!” the old gentleman shouted. “What do you mean? Don't you know you're weak as a cat? D'you think a man can be sick as long as you have and NOT be weak as a cat? What you trying to do the polite with ME for?”
Adams gratefully protracted the handshake that accompanied these inquiries. “This is certainly mighty fine of you, Mr. Lamb,” he said. “I guess Alice has told you how much our whole family appreciate your coming here so regularly to see how this old bag o' bones was getting along. Haven't you, Alice?”
“Yes, papa,” she said; and turned to go out, but Lamb checked her.
“Stay right here, Miss Alice; I'm not even going to sit down. I know how it upsets sick folks when people outside the family come in for the first time.”
“You don't upset me,” Adams said. “I'll feel a lot better for getting a glimpse of you, Mr. Lamb.”
The visitor's laugh was husky, but hearty and re-assuring, like his voice in speaking. “That's the way all my boys blarney me, Miss Alice,” he said. “They think I'll make the work lighter on 'em if they can get me kind of flattered up. You just tell your daddy it's no use; he doesn't get on MY soft side, pretending he likes to see me even when he's sick.”
“Oh, I'm not so sick any more,” Adams said. “I expect to be back in my place ten days from now at the longest.”
“Well, now, don't hurry it, Virgil; don't hurry it. You take your time; take your time.”
This brought to Adams's lips a feeble smile not lacking in a kind of vanity, as feeble. “Why?” he asked. “I suppose you think my department runs itself down there, do you?”
His employer's response was another husky laugh. “Well, well, well!” he cried, and patted Adams's shoulder with a strong pink hand. “Listen to this young feller, Miss Alice, will you! He thinks we can't get along without him a minute! Yes, sir, this daddy of yours believes the whole works 'll just take and run down if he isn't there to keep 'em wound up. I always suspected he thought a good deal of himself, and now I know he does!”
Adams looked troubled. “Well, I don't like to feel that my salary's going on with me not earning it.”
“Listen to him, Miss Alice! Wouldn't you think, now, he'd let me be the one to worry about that? Why, on my word, if your daddy had his way, I wouldn't be anywhere. He'd take all my worrying and everything else off my shoulders and shove me right out of Lamb and Company! He would!”
“It seems to me I've been soldiering on you a pretty long while, Mr. Lamb,” the convalescent said, querulously. “I don't feel right about it; but I'll be back in ten days. You'll see.”
The old man took his hand in parting. “All right; we'll see, Virgil. Of course we do need you, seriously speaking; but we don't need you so bad we'll let you come down there before you're fully fit and able.” He went to the door. “You hear, Miss Alice? That's what I wanted to make the old feller understand, and what I want you to kind of enforce on him. The old place is there waiting for him, and it'd wait ten years if it took him that long to get good and well. You see that he remembers it, Miss Alice!”
She went down the stairs with him, and he continued to impress this upon her until he had gone out of the front door. And even after that, the husky voice called back from the darkness, as he went to his car, “Don't forget, Miss Alice; let him take his own time. We always want him, but we want him to get good and well first. Good-night, good-night, young lady!”
When she closed the door her mother came from the farther end of the “living-room,” where there was no light; and Alice turned to her.
“I can't help liking that old man, mama,” she said. “He always sounds so—well, so solid and honest and friendly! I do like him.”
But Mrs. Adams failed in sympathy upon this point. “He didn't say anything about raising your father's salary, did he?” she asked, dryly.
“No. I thought not.”
She would have said more, but Alice, indisposed to listen, began to whistle, ran up the stairs, and went to sit with her father. She found him bright-eyed with the excitement a first caller brings into a slow convalescence: his cheeks showed actual hints of colour; and he was smiling tremulously as he filled and lit his pipe. She brought the crocheted scarf and put it about his shoulders again, then took a chair near him.
“I believe seeing Mr. Lamb did do you good, papa,” she said. “I sort of thought it might, and that's why I let him come up. You really look a little like your old self again.”
Adams exhaled a breathy “Ha!” with the smoke from his pipe as he waved the match to extinguish it. “That's fine,” he said. “The smoke I had before dinner didn't taste the way it used to, and I kind of wondered if I'd lost my liking for tobacco, but this one seems to be all right. You bet it did me good to see J. A. Lamb! He's the biggest man that's ever lived in this town or ever will live here; and you can take all the Governors and Senators or anything they've raised here, and put 'em in a pot with him, and they won't come out one-two-three alongside o' him! And to think as big a man as that, with all his interests and everything he's got on his mind—to think he'd never let anything prevent him from coming here once every week to ask how I was getting along, and then walk right upstairs and kind of CALL on me, as it were well, it makes me sort of feel as if I wasn't so much of a nobody, so to speak, as your mother seems to like to make out sometimes.”
“How foolish, papa! Of COURSE you're not 'a nobody.'”
Adams chuckled faintly upon his pipe-stem, what vanity he had seeming to be further stimulated by his daughter's applause. “I guess there aren't a whole lot of people in this town that could claim J. A. showed that much interest in 'em,” he said. “Of course I don't set up to believe it's all because of merit, or anything like that. He'd do the same for anybody else that'd been with the company as long as I have, but still it IS something to be with the company that long and have him show he appreciates it.”
“Yes, indeed, it is, papa.”
“Yes, sir,” Adams said, reflectively. “Yes, sir, I guess that's so. And besides, it all goes to show the kind of a man he is. Simon pure, that's what that man is, Alice. Simon pure! There's never been anybody work for him that didn't respect him more than they did any other man in the world, I guess. And when you work for him you know he respects you, too. Right from the start you get the feeling that J. A. puts absolute confidence in you; and that's mighty stimulating: it makes you want to show him he hasn't misplaced it. There's great big moral values to the way a man like him gets you to feeling about your relations with the business: it ain't all just dollars and cents—not by any means!”
He was silent for a time, then returned with increasing enthusiasm to this theme, and Alice was glad to see so much renewal of life in him; he had not spoken with a like cheerful vigour since before his illness. The visit of his idolized great man had indeed been good for him, putting new spirit into him; and liveliness of the body followed that of the spirit. His improvement carried over the night: he slept well and awoke late, declaring that he was “pretty near a well man and ready for business right now.” Moreover, having slept again in the afternoon, he dressed and went down to dinner, leaning but lightly on Alice, who conducted him.
“My! but you and your mother have been at it with your scrubbing and dusting!” he said, as they came through the “living-room.” “I don't know I ever did see the house so spick and span before!” His glance fell upon a few carnations in a vase, and he chuckled admiringly. “Flowers, too! So THAT'S what you coaxed that dollar and a half out o 'me for, this morning!”
Other embellishments brought forth his comment when he had taken his old seat at the head of the small dinner-table. “Why, I declare, Alice!” he exclaimed. “I been so busy looking at all the spick-and-spanishness after the house-cleaning, and the flowers out in the parlour—'living room' I suppose you want me to call it, if I just GOT to be fashionable—I been so busy studying over all this so-and-so, I declare I never noticed YOU till this minute! My, but you ARE all dressed up! What's goin' on? What's it about: you so all dressed up, and flowers in the parlour and everything?”
“Don't you see, papa? It's in honour of your coming downstairs again, of course.”
“Oh, so that's it,” he said. “I never would 'a' thought of that, I guess.”
But Walter looked sidelong at his father, and gave forth his sly and knowing laugh. “Neither would I!” he said.
Adams lifted his eyebrows jocosely. “You're jealous, are you, sonny? You don't want the old man to think our young lady'd make so much fuss over him, do you?”
“Go on thinkin' it's over you,” Walter retorted, amused. “Go on and think it. It'll do you good.”
“Of course I'll think it,” Adams said. “It isn't anybody's birthday. Certainly the decorations are on account of me coming downstairs. Didn't you hear Alice say so?”
“Sure, I heard her say so.”
Walter interrupted him with a little music. Looking shrewdly at Alice, he sang:
“I was walkin' out on Monday with my sweet thing. She's my neat thing, My sweet thing: I'll go round on Tuesday night to see her. Oh, how we'll spoon——” “Walter!” his mother cried. “WHERE do you learn such vulgar songs?” However, she seemed not greatly displeased with him, and laughed as she spoke.
“So that's it, Alice!” said Adams. “Playing the hypocrite with your old man, are you? It's some new beau, is it?”
“I only wish it were,” she said, calmly. “No. It's just what I said: it's all for you, dear.”
“Don't let her con you,” Walter advised his father. “She's got expectations. You hang around downstairs a while after dinner and you'll see.”
But the prophecy failed, though Adams went to his own room without waiting to test it. No one came.
Alice stayed in the “living-room” until half-past nine, when she went slowly upstairs. Her mother, almost tearful, met her at the top, and whispered, “You mustn't mind, dearie.”
“Mustn't mind what?” Alice asked, and then, as she went on her way, laughed scornfully. “What utter nonsense!” she said.
Next day she cut the stems of the rather scant show of carnations and refreshed them with new water. At dinner, her father, still in high spirits, observed that she had again “dressed up” in honour of his second descent of the stairs; and Walter repeated his fragment of objectionable song; but these jocularities were rendered pointless by the eventless evening that followed; and in the morning the carnations began to appear tarnished and flaccid.
Alice gave them a long look, then threw them away; and neither Walter nor her father was inspired to any rallying by her plain costume for that evening. Mrs. Adams was visibly depressed.
When Alice finished helping her mother with the dishes, she went outdoors and sat upon the steps of the little front veranda. The night, gentle with warm air from the south, surrounded her pleasantly, and the perpetual smoke was thinner. Now that the furnaces of dwelling-houses were no longer fired, life in that city had begun to be less like life in a railway tunnel; people were aware of summer in the air, and in the thickened foliage of the shade-trees, and in the sky. Stars were unveiled by the passing of the denser smoke fogs, and to-night they could be seen clearly; they looked warm and near. Other girls sat upon verandas and stoops in Alice's street, cheerful as young fishermen along the banks of a stream.
Alice could hear them from time to time; thin sopranos persistent in laughter that fell dismally upon her ears. She had set no lines or nets herself, and what she had of “expectations,” as Walter called them, were vanished. For Alice was experienced; and one of the conclusions she drew from her experience was that when a man says, “I'd take you for anything you wanted me to,” he may mean it or, he may not; but, if he does, he will not postpone the first opportunity to say something more. Little affairs, once begun, must be warmed quickly; for if they cool they are dead.
But Alice was not thinking of Arthur Russell. When she tossed away the carnations she likewise tossed away her thoughts of that young man. She had been like a boy who sees upon the street, some distance before him, a bit of something round and glittering, a possible dime. He hopes it is a dime, and, until he comes near enough to make sure, he plays that it is a dime. In his mind he has an adventure with it: he buys something delightful. If he picks it up, discovering only some tin-foil which has happened upon a round shape, he feels a sinking. A dulness falls upon him.
So Alice was dull with the loss of an adventure; and when the laughter of other girls reached her, intermittently, she had not sprightliness enough left in her to be envious of their gaiety. Besides, these neighbours were ineligible even for her envy, being of another caste; they could never know a dance at the Palmers', except remotely, through a newspaper. Their laughter was for the encouragement of snappy young men of the stores and offices down-town, clerks, bookkeepers, what not—some of them probably graduates of Frincke's Business College.
Then, as she recalled that dark portal, with its dusty stairway mounting between close walls to disappear in the upper shadows, her mind drew back as from a doorway to Purgatory. Nevertheless, it was a picture often in her reverie; and sometimes it came suddenly, without sequence, into the midst of her other thoughts, as if it leaped up among them from a lower darkness; and when it arrived it wanted to stay. So a traveller, still roaming the world afar, sometimes broods without apparent reason upon his family burial lot: “I wonder if I shall end there.”
The foreboding passed abruptly, with a jerk of her breath, as the street-lamp revealed a tall and easy figure approaching from the north, swinging a stick in time to its stride. She had given Russell up—and he came.
“What luck for me!” he exclaimed. “To find you alone!”
Alice gave him her hand for an instant, not otherwise moving. “I'm glad it happened so,” she said. “Let's stay out here, shall we? Do you think it's too provincial to sit on a girl's front steps with her?”
“'Provincial?' Why, it's the very best of our institutions,” he returned, taking his place beside her. “At least, I think so to-night.”
“Thanks! Is that practice for other nights somewhere else?”
“No,” he laughed. “The practicing all led up to this. Did I come too soon?”
“No,” she replied, gravely. “Just in time!”
“I'm glad to be so accurate; I've spent two evenings wanting to come, Miss Adams, instead of doing what I was doing.”
“What was that?”
“Dinners. Large and long dinners. Your fellow-citizens are immensely hospitable to a newcomer.”
“Oh, no,” Alice said. “We don't do it for everybody. Didn't you find yourself charmed?”
“One was a men's dinner,” he explained. “Mr. Palmer seemed to think I ought to be shown to the principal business men.”
“What was the other dinner?”
“My cousin Mildred gave it.”
“Oh, DID she!” Alice said, sharply, but she recovered herself in the same instant, and laughed. “She wanted to show you to the principal business women, I suppose.”
“I don't know. At all events, I shouldn't give myself out to be so much feted by your 'fellow-citizens,' after all, seeing these were both done by my relatives, the Palmers. However, there are others to follow, I'm afraid. I was wondering—I hoped maybe you'd be coming to some of them. Aren't you?”
“I rather doubt it,” Alice said, slowly. “Mildred's dance was almost the only evening I've gone out since my father's illness began. He seemed better that day; so I went. He was better the other day when he wanted those cigars. He's very much up and down.” She paused. “I'd almost forgotten that Mildred is your cousin.”
“Not a very near one,” he explained. “Mr. Palmer's father was my great-uncle.”
“Still, of course you are related.”
“Yes; that distantly.”
Alice said placidly, “It's quite an advantage.”
He agreed. “Yes. It is.”
“No,” she said, in the same placid tone. “I mean for Mildred.”
“I don't see——”
She laughed. “No. You wouldn't. I mean it's an advantage over the rest of us who might like to compete for some of your time; and the worst of it is we can't accuse her of being unfair about it. We can't prove she showed any trickiness in having you for a cousin. Whatever else she might plan to do with you, she didn't plan that. So the rest of us must just bear it!”
“The 'rest of you!'” he laughed. “It's going to mean a great deal of suffering!”
Alice resumed her placid tone. “You're staying at the Palmers', aren't you?”
“No, not now. I've taken an apartment. I'm going to live here; I'm permanent. Didn't I tell you?”
“I think I'd heard somewhere that you were,” she said. “Do you think you'll like living here?”
“How can one tell?”
“If I were in your place I think I should be able to tell, Mr. Russell.”
“Why, good gracious!” she cried. “Haven't you got the most perfect creature in town for your—your cousin? SHE expects to make you like living here, doesn't she? How could you keep from liking it, even if you tried not to, under the circumstances?”
“Well, you see, there's such a lot of circumstances,” he explained; “I'm not sure I'll like getting back into a business again. I suppose most of the men of my age in the country have been going through the same experience: the War left us with a considerable restlessness of spirit.”
“You were in the War?” she asked, quickly, and as quickly answered herself, “Of course you were!”
“I was a left-over; they only let me out about four months ago,” he said. “It's quite a shake-up trying to settle down again.”
“You were in France, then?”
“Oh, yes; but I didn't get up to the front much—only two or three times, and then just for a day or so. I was in the transportation service.”
“You were an officer, of course.”
“Yes,” he said. “They let me play I was a major.”
“I guessed a major,” she said. “You'd always be pretty grand, of course.”
Russell was amused. “Well, you see,” he informed her, “as it happened, we had at least several other majors in our army. Why would I always be something 'pretty grand?'”
“You're related to the Palmers. Don't you notice they always affect the pretty grand?”
“Then you think I'm only one of their affectations, I take it.”
“Yes, you seem to be the most successful one they've got!” Alice said, lightly. “You certainly do belong to them.” And she laughed as if at something hidden from him. “Don't you?”
“But you've just excused me for that,” he protested. “You said nobody could be blamed for my being their third cousin. What a contradictory girl you are!”
Alice shook her head. “Let's keep away from the kind of girl I am.”
“No,” he said. “That's just what I came here to talk about.”
She shook her head again. “Let's keep first to the kind of man you are. I'm glad you were in the War.”
“Oh, I don't know.” She was quiet a moment, for she was thinking that here she spoke the truth: his service put about him a little glamour that helped to please her with him. She had been pleased with him during their walk; pleased with him on his own account; and now that pleasure was growing keener. She looked at him, and though the light in which she saw him was little more than starlight, she saw that he was looking steadily at her with a kindly and smiling seriousness. All at once it seemed to her that the night air was sweeter to breathe, as if a distant fragrance of new blossoms had been blown to her. She smiled back to him, and said, “Well, what kind of man are you?”
“I don't know; I've often wondered,” he replied. “What kind of girl are you?”
“Don't you remember? I told you the other day. I'm just me!”
“But who is that?”
“You forget everything;” said Alice. “You told me what kind of a girl I am. You seemed to think you'd taken quite a fancy to me from the very first.”
“So I did,” he agreed, heartily.
“But how quickly you forgot it!”
“Oh, no. I only want YOU to say what kind of a girl you are.”
She mocked him. “'I don't know; I've often wondered!' What kind of a girl does Mildred tell you I am? What has she said about me since she told you I was 'a Miss Adams?'”
“I don't know; I haven't asked her.”
“Then DON'T ask her,” Alice said, quickly.
“Because she's such a perfect creature and I'm such an imperfect one. Perfect creatures have the most perfect way of ruining the imperfect ones.”
“But then they wouldn't be perfect. Not if they——”
“Oh, yes, they remain perfectly perfect,” she assured him. “That's because they never go into details. They're not so vulgar as to come right out and TELL that you've been in jail for stealing chickens. They just look absent-minded and say in a low voice, 'Oh, very; but I scarcely think you'd like her particularly'; and then begin to talk of something else right away.”
His smile had disappeared. “Yes,” he said, somewhat ruefully. “That does sound like Mildred. You certainly do seem to know her! Do you know everybody as well as that?”
“Not myself,” Alice said. “I don't know myself at all. I got to wondering about that—about who I was—the other day after you walked home with me.”
He uttered an exclamation, and added, explaining it, “You do give a man a chance to be fatuous, though! As if it were walking home with me that made you wonder about yourself!”
“It was,” Alice informed him, coolly. “I was wondering what I wanted to make you think of me, in case I should ever happen to see you again.”
This audacity appeared to take his breath. “By George!” he cried.
“You mustn't be astonished,” she said. “What I decided then was that I would probably never dare to be just myself with you—not if I cared to have you want to see me again—and yet here I am, just being myself after all!”
“You ARE the cheeriest series of shocks,” Russell exclaimed, whereupon Alice added to the series.
“Tell me: Is it a good policy for me to follow with you?” she asked, and he found the mockery in her voice delightful. “Would you advise me to offer you shocks as a sort of vacation from suavity?”
“Suavity” was yet another sketch of Mildred; a recognizable one, or it would not have been humorous. In Alice's hands, so dexterous in this work, her statuesque friend was becoming as ridiculous as a fine figure of wax left to the mercies of a satirist.
But the lively young sculptress knew better than to overdo: what she did must appear to spring all from mirth; so she laughed as if unwillingly, and said, “I MUSTN'T laugh at Mildred! In the first place, she's your—your cousin. And in the second place, she's not meant to be funny; it isn't right to laugh at really splendid people who take themselves seriously. In the third place, you won't come again if I do.”
“Don't be sure of that,” Russell said, “whatever you do.”
“'Whatever I do?'” she echoed. “That sounds as if you thought I COULD be terrific! Be careful; there's one thing I could do that would keep you away.”
“I could tell you not to come,” she said. “I wonder if I ought to.”
“Why do you wonder if you 'ought to?'”
“Don't you guess?”
“Then let's both be mysteries to each other,” she suggested. “I mystify you because I wonder, and you mystify me because you don't guess why I wonder. We'll let it go at that, shall we?”
“Very well; so long as it's certain that you DON'T tell me not to come again.”
“I'll not tell you that—yet,” she said. “In fact——” She paused, reflecting, with her head to one side. “In fact, I won't tell you not to come, probably, until I see that's what you want me to tell you. I'll let you out easily—and I'll be sure to see it. Even before you do, perhaps.”
“That arrangement suits me,” Russell returned, and his voice held no trace of jocularity: he had become serious. “It suits me better if you're enough in earnest to mean that I can come—oh, not whenever I want to; I don't expect so much!—but if you mean that I can see you pretty often.”
“Of course I'm in earnest,” she said. “But before I say you can come 'pretty often,' I'd like to know how much of my time you'd need if you did come 'whenever you want to'; and of course you wouldn't dare make any answer to that question except one. Wouldn't you let me have Thursdays out?”
“No, no,” he protested. “I want to know. Will you let me come pretty often?”
“Lean toward me a little,” Alice said. “I want you to understand.” And as he obediently bent his head near hers, she inclined toward him as if to whisper; then, in a half-shout, she cried,
He clapped his hands. “By George!” he said. “What a girl you are!”
“Well, for the first reason, because you have such gaieties as that one. I should think your father would actually like being ill, just to be in the house with you all the time.”
“You mean by that,” Alice inquired, “I keep my family cheerful with my amusing little ways?”
“Yes. Don't you?”
“There were only boys in your family, weren't there, Mr. Russell?”
“I was an only child, unfortunately.”
“Yes,” she said. “I see you hadn't any sisters.”
For a moment he puzzled over her meaning, then saw it, and was more delighted with her than ever. “I can answer a question of yours, now, that I couldn't a while ago.”
“Yes, I know,” she returned, quietly.
“But how could you know?”
“It's the question I asked you about whether you were going to like living here,” she said. “You're about to tell me that now you know you WILL like it.”
“More telepathy!” he exclaimed. “Yes, that was it, precisely. I suppose the same thing's been said to you so many times that you——”
“No, it hasn't,” Alice said, a little confused for the moment. “Not at all. I meant——” She paused, then asked in a gentle voice, “Would you really like to know?”
“Well, then, I was only afraid you didn't mean it.”
“See here,” he said. “I did mean it. I told you it was being pretty difficult for me to settle down to things again. Well, it's more difficult than you know, but I think I can pull through in fair spirits if I can see a girl like you 'pretty often.'”
“All right,” she said, in a business-like tone. “I've told you that you can if you want to.”
“I do want to,” he assured her. “I do, indeed!”
“How often is 'pretty often,' Mr. Russell?”
“Would you walk with me sometimes? To-morrow?”
“Sometimes. Not to-morrow. The day after.”
“That's splendid!” he said. “You'll walk with me day after to-morrow, and the night after that I'll see you at Miss Lamb's dance, won't I?”
But this fell rather chillingly upon Alice. “Miss Lamb's dance? Which Miss Lamb?” she asked.
“I don't know—it's the one that's just coming out of mourning.”
“Oh, Henrietta—yes. Is her dance so soon? I'd forgotten.”
“You'll be there, won't you?” he asked. “Please say you're going.”
Alice did not respond at once, and he urged her again: “Please do promise you'll be there.”
“No, I can't promise anything,” she said, slowly. “You see, for one thing, papa might not be well enough.”
“But if he is?” said Russell. “If he is you'll surely come, won't you? Or, perhaps——” He hesitated, then went on quickly, “I don't know the rules in this place yet, and different places have different rules; but do you have to have a chaperone, or don't girls just go to dances with the men sometimes? If they do, would you—would you let me take you?”
Alice was startled. “Good gracious!”
“What's the matter?”
“Don't you think your relatives——Aren't you expected to go with Mildred—and Mrs. Palmer?”
“Not necessarily. It doesn't matter what I might be expected to do,” he said. “Will you go with me?”
“I——No; I couldn't.”
“I can't. I'm not going.”
“Papa's not really any better,” Alice said, huskily. “I'm too worried about him to go to a dance.” Her voice sounded emotional, genuinely enough; there was something almost like a sob in it. “Let's talk of other things, please.”
He acquiesced gently; but Mrs. Adams, who had been listening to the conversation at the open window, just overhead, did not hear him. She had correctly interpreted the sob in Alice's voice, and, trembling with sudden anger, she rose from her knees, and went fiercely to her husband's room.