"People do!" said Kitty,
"Do what?" asked Dan in an affectionate sniff. "Give a person an apple?"
"Yes, my Angel Poppet!"
Kitty reached for an apple—John Tucker kept a shelf of them handy by the stalls—gave it to Dan and ate one herself for company.
(There should be a digression here on Kitty eating an apple; how she succeeded in looking prettier than usual during the—as a rule—unbecoming process; how daintily she set her teeth into it, taking little pretty bites; how well her teeth matched the clear white as it broke crisply from the red. If Dan were writing this story, he would make such digression!)
"There is no need of snorting and sneezing over every crunch, Beloved! I know it is good: apples in May! John Tucker is very extravagant. But I meant matchmaking, Daniel dear. Do you think it is ever allowable?"
Daniel refused to commit himself; hinted delicately that another apple might aid him in forming an opinion.
"You see—" Kitty did not speak aloud; she was [pg 213] sure Dan understood pats just as well—"you see, Beloved, there is no sense in Bobby's going about looking sorrowful, when there is a perfectly dear, sweet girl, worth three of me, who—well, I know what I think, Dan dear! and I won't say I am probably mistaken as her mother does—and is!—and they are both just as nice as they can be, you know they are, and just the right age for each other, and he two inches taller and all; and I do think she has a rather horrid time at home, Dan dear! Just think of having to live perpetually with the tenth and last Wilson Wimberley Wibird! Poor creature; I wonder what Mr. Jordano said to him that day! He has not been near me since. And Mrs. Wibird is pretty lamenting, somehow; oh dear! and I'm afraid they haven't much to do with, Dan dear!"
Dan nodded thrice at this, whereupon Kitty told him he was a gossip, and she wondered at him; kissed his velvet nose and departed, thoughtful. She was on her way to the Library, to get books for Aunt Johanna, that lady being in frivolous mood, and demanding certain mid-Victorian novels which, when published, had caused Shudders. It was natural to step into the stable; she almost always did, whenever she was going out, in whatever direction. It seemed also natural (at least it had grown to be no uncommon thing) that Bobby Chanter should join her at the corner and be going to the Library, too. Wednesday, he explained, looking rather sheepish; funny thing, but there were some books they had here that the college library did not possess. They paced along [pg 214] together, the two young creatures, talking quietly of books. Bobby did not care much for books, but Kitty liked them, he knew. What had he been reading? she asked. Besides study books, of course! They took most of his time, no doubt, but one had always to have a book on hand.
"Oh, yes!" said Bobby rather forlornly. "I've got a book; Mother gave it to me at Christmas. I've read quite a lot of it. I don't remember its name. I'm not sure who wrote it; think it was a chap—oh! here we are!"
Could it be possible that Bobby felt for once the slightest shade of relief on arriving at the Library? Kitty knew such an awful lot! he reflected ruefully, and he was such a duffer!
At sight of the pair, Melissa looked up, and blushed as pink as the ribbon at her neat collar. Melissa was very pretty when she blushed, Kitty thought; a little color was all she needed; how unreasonable that one could not paint without immediately adding "Jezebel" to one's name!
"'Breaking a Butterfly,' Lissy, please! Now don't tell me you never heard of it, because I am perfectly sure Bobby never did, and that makes three of us."
"I never did, Kitty, honestly I didn't. I don't believe it's in the library, unless it is one of those old, old ones that haven't been catalogued yet. Old Mrs. Spooner left them to us, you know. They are in the inner room, waiting to be catalogued. I can't seem to get time——"
"I'll go look; may I? And, oh, Bobby, do you [pg 215] want to be a perfect angel and look up Orchis Spectabilis in Gray? We had such a dispute last night, Aunt Johanna and I! She says its habitat is—well, find out for me, there's a dear!"
Kitty vanished into the inner room, leaving the other two staring blankly at each other.
"Spec—what did she say, Bobby?"
"Spectabilis!" Bobby spoke hardily, as became a Corona senior, though he had not "taken" Latin since his first year in High School. "Respectable, I think it means; something bound in gray, she said. Let's see what there is in gray, Lissy! Here's the Life of Hannah More; that would be respectable, what?"
"I don't believe she means that!"
Melissa was fluttering very prettily. It was a most wonderful thing to be alone with Bobby in the Library, where she so often dreamed of him, little wistful gray dreams with only here and there a gleam of rose-color! How tall he was, how handsome, how strong! how like that beautiful bust! and Melissa glanced at the Olympian Hermes. Well, Bobby's hair did curl, but otherwise——
"I don't believe she means that," Melissa repeated. "Nobody has ever taken that out since I've been here. I looked into it once, dusting, you know; it looked awfully poky. Perhaps——" Melissa put forth the suggestion timidly, "she meant Gray was the person who wrote it. There's the Elegy, you know!"
"Of course!" Bobby responded heartily. "Sure thing! 'Curfew shall not ring to-night!' We learned that at High School, didn't we, Lissy?" He smiled [pg 216] kindly on the girl. "Gray's the chap; trot him out!"
Melissa had not the heart to correct him. How could she? Why should she? Men didn't have to know poetry, except ministers, she supposed, and the like of that. She meekly brought the works of Thomas Gray, and they looked through them together, making a very pretty picture, Kitty thought, as she peeped through the crack of the door. Bobby's fair hair—all men ought to have fair hair, of course—was bent over Melissa's little dark head, both looking at the same page. He sighed, which Kitty thought distinctly encouraging.
"Seems rather piffle, doesn't it?" asked the youth dolefully, looking up from "The Progress of Poesy." "Kitty knows an awful lot about books, doesn't she, Lissy? I suppose you do, too!"
"Oh, no!" Melissa replaced Gray with a look of relief. "I ought to, Bobby, but I don't. I love a good story, and I read travels some, and the like of that, but—oh, no! I don't begin—why, Kitty ought to be librarian here, by good rights. She knows an awful lot, simply awful. Why, she takes out books that no one else ever looks at, and reads 'em same as she would a detective story. Have you read 'The Hollow Needle,' Bobby?"
"Yes! Great, isn't it? Say, have you got any of his stuff? You never can get hold of one at Corona; they're out all the time. That chap is top-hole, no mistake."
When Kitty next peeped out, the two were surrounded by the works of a certain popular author. [pg 217] Bobby was discoursing upon their various merits, Melissa hanging on his words. Should she slip away and leave them together? Perhaps hardly, the first time. A glance at the clock showed that it was nearly closing time; at the same moment voices were heard in the entrance hall. Kitty slipped back into the main room and joined her two companions in time to greet Nelly Chanter and an attendant swain, also a Corona student, who came in quest of "something good to read!" Nelly fell instantly into what Kitty and I called Chanterics, embracing her friend with an ardor which made the two youths blink and blush.
"You darling Thing! I haven't seen you for forty years! Between my teaching and your driving, Kitty, I never see you! Except when you pick me up and give me a delicious turn, like an Angel, as you did the other day. How do, Lissy? How do, Bobby? Kitty, this is Mr. Myers, Bobby's roommate. He was at the Party, you know. Oh, and let me introduce Miss Wibird, Joe! I never do know how to introduce, do you? he! he! I should have introduced him to her, shouldn't I, Kitty?"
"We might all begin over again," said Kitty. "I am sure Mr. Chanter has never been introduced to me! Mr. Chanter, I am glad to have the honor of making your acquaintance!"
It takes little to amuse Youth. The Library, fortunately empty of readers, rang with shouts of glee.
"Isn't she killing?" whispered Nelly to her companion. "She's just as witty as she can be, all the time. She knows a most terrible lot, too, but you'd [pg 218] never know it, she's so darling and nice. Kitty, do tell us something good to read! Not deep things, you know. Mr. Myers has to read enough deep things at Corona, don't you, Mr. Myers? Ha! ha!"
Kitty laughed bravely with them, wondering why she was not amused. She must be growing old. She named at random the latest work of a great English novelist. Nelly exclaimed in dismay.
"Oh, Kitty, that's awfully deep, you know it is. Why, it's just full of religion and politics. Isn't there anything of Summer Sweeting's in? Don't you love her books? I cried quarts over 'My Burnished Dove': perfect quarts! Do you think Summer Sweeting is her own name or a nom de plume?"
"Too much sweetening for me!" said Bobby gruffly: one didn't have to make believe when it was one's sister. "I wouldn't give one of Sherlock Holmes for all she ever wrote."
"That's right!" chimed in Mr. Myers. "I don't stand for crying when you don't have to, what?"
"Oh, Joe! I love a sweet, sad book! Don't you love a sweet, sad book, Kitty? Who is your favorite author, Joe? I've often meant to ask you."
Unconsciously, Nelly's voice dropped a little; her blue eyes rested tenderly on the open countenance of Mr. Myers, known to his mates as "Jometry Joe," owing to certain exploits of his in the region of higher mathematics. Mr. Myers looked thoughtful.
"Of course, Ralph Henry Barbour used to be," he said, "and they're ripping good books still, but I suppose I read more novels now. I guess there's no one [pg 219] to beat old Sherlock, though Fu Manchu runs him close."
The talk ranged far and wide through the realm of "Thrillers." At five o'clock, Kitty proposed that they should all come home with her for a cup of tea and some of Sarepta's scones, which she had just been baking.
Accordingly, they closed the Library, with much merriment of mock formality and many friendly gibes from the lads at the Learned Ladies of Cyrus. Nelly's swain understood that Miss Wibird read the Encyclopedia through every year; was that so? Yes, Bobby assured him; but Miss Ross went her one better, and read it in French. Haw! haw! New shouts of mirth from both gentlemen at these subtle witticisms; tinkling peals of laughter from Melissa and Nelly. Kitty laughed, too, feeling motherly and benignant. What babes they were!
"But I keep my accounts in Russian," she said gravely, "and say my prayers in Siamese."
"Haw, haw! Oh, I say!" gasped the collegians. "That is rich! Russian and Siamese! I bet she does, what?"
Crossing the Common, the path narrowed, so that only two could walk abreast. Half consciously, Kitty stepped ahead; the others followed, two by two. This being seen of John Tucker, who chanced to be exercising Pilot at the moment, that calm personage straigthway seemed to fall into a rage. He muttered a pious execration and unconsciously tightened the [pg 220] reins; Pilot shot ahead like a rocket, demanding with ears and voice to know what was the matter.
"Stiddy, boy! stiddy!" muttered John Tucker. "Ca'm down, now. I didn't mean to rouse ye up. Them young idjits! lettin' her walk alone, and struttin' an' gigglin' along with Lissy Wibird and Nell Chanter—great hemlock! Well, stretch out a bit if you're a mind to; do us both good, I expect."
Sarepta Darwin, paring apples at the kitchen window, saw the little procession coming across the Common. A spark crept into her pale blue eyes; she dropped her knife and hastened to the front of the house. When Kitty, still motherly and benignant, led her guests up the front garden path, the door opened; Sarepta stood there, erect, austere, as if she opened the door invariably, instead of on the rare occasions when she happened to feel like it.
"Why, Sarepta, how nice of you!" said Kitty, surprised "Did you see us coming? This way, boys and girls!"
She was about to enter the sitting-room, but Sarepta intervened.
"This way!" she said briefly, and indicated the Other Parlor, across the hall. Now the Other Parlor was a charming room in itself: with delicate moldings, and hangings of rose-color and pale gray; with cases of family miniatures, and delightful old pastels; but somehow, one did not sit there often; it was just a shade formal, a trifle austere. And after all, why should one ever sit anywhere except in the Sitting Room? Kitty opened her eyes wide with, "Why, [pg 221] Sarepta?" but encountered a glance of such icy command that as she told Nelly afterward, she could hear the ice crackling in her spinal marrow.
"This way!" repeated Sarepta. "Your aunt has company in there!" And as Kitty, wondering more and more, shepherded the young people meekly into the Other Parlor, a steely whisper hissed in her ear, "Judge Peters—on business!"