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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 18
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The Portygee - Chapter 18 Post by :Norman Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1107

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The Portygee - Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIII

The next morning Albert met old Mr. Kendall. After breakfast Captain Zelotes had gone, as usual, directly to the office. His grandson, however, had not accompanied him.

"What are you cal'latin' to do this mornin', Al?" inquired the captain.

"Oh, I don't know exactly, Grandfather. I'm going to look about the place a bit, write a letter to my publishers, and take a walk, I think. You will probably see me at the office pretty soon. I'll look in there by and by."

"Ain't goin' to write one or two of those five hundred dollar stories before dinner time, are you?"

"I guess not, sir. I'm afraid they won't be written as quickly as all that."

Captain Lote shook his head. "Godfreys!" he exclaimed; "it ain't the writin' of 'em I'd worry about so much as the gettin' paid for 'em. You're sure that editor man ain't crazy, you say?"

"I hope he isn't. He seemed sane enough when I saw him."

"Well, I don't know. It's live and learn, I suppose, but if anybody but you had told me that magazine folks paid as much as five hundred dollars a piece for yarns made up out of a feller's head without a word of truth in 'em, I'd--well, I should have told the feller that told me to go to a doctor right off and have HIS head examined. But--well, as 'tis I cal'late I'd better have my own looked at. So long, Al. Come in to the office if you get a chance."

He hurried out. Albert walked to the window and watched the sturdy figure swinging out of the yard. He wondered if, should he live to his grandfather's age, his step would be as firm and his shoulders as square.

Olive laid a hand on his arm.

"You don't mind his talkin' that way about your writin' those stories, do you, Albert?" she asked, a trace of anxiety in her tone. "He don't mean it, you know. He don't understand it--says he don't himself--but he's awful proud of you, just the same. Why, last night, after you and he had finished talkin' and he came up to bed--and the land knows what time of night or mornin' THAT was--he woke me out of a sound sleep to tell me about that New York magazine man givin' you a written order to write six stories for his magazine at five hundred dollars a piece. Zelotes couldn't seem to get over it. 'Think of it, Mother,' he kept sayin'. 'Think of it! Pretty nigh twice what I pay as good a man as Labe Keeler for keepin' books a whole year. And Al says he ought to do a story every forni't. I used to jaw his head off, tellin' him he was on the road to starvation and all that. Tut, tut, tut! Mother, I've waited a long time to say it, but it looks as if you married a fool.' . . . That's the way he talked, but he's a long ways from bein' a fool, your grandfather is, Albert."

Albert nodded. "No one knows that better than I," he said, with emphasis.

"There's one thing," she went on, "that kind of troubled me. He said you was goin' to insist on payin' board here at home. Now you know this house is yours. And we love to--"

He put his arm about her. "I know it, Grandmother," he broke in, quickly. "But that is all settled. I am going to try to make my own living in my own way. I am going to write and see what I am really worth. I have my royalty money, you know, most of it, and I have this order for the series of stories. I can afford to pay for my keep and I shall. You see, as I told Grandfather last night, I don't propose to live on his charity any more than on Mr. Fosdick's."

She sighed.

"So Zelotes said," she admitted. "He told me no less than three times that you said it. It seemed to tickle him most to death, for some reason, and that's queer, too, for he's anything but stingy. But there, I suppose you can pay board if you want to, though who you'll pay it to is another thing. _I shan't take a cent from the only grandson I've got in the world."

It was while on his stroll down to the village that Albert met Mr. Kendall. The reverend gentleman was plodding along carrying a market basket from the end of which, beneath a fragment of newspaper, the tail and rear third of a huge codfish drooped. The basket and its contents must have weighed at least twelve pounds and the old minister was, as Captain Zelotes would have said, making heavy weather of it. Albert went to his assistance.

"How do you do, Mr. Kendall," he said; "I'm afraid that basket is rather heavy, isn't it. Mayn't I help you with it?" Then, seeing that the old gentleman did not recognize him, he added, "I am Albert Speranza."

Down went the basket and the codfish and Mr. Kendall seized him by both hands.

"Why, of course, of course," he cried. "Of course, of course. It's our young hero, isn't it. Our poet, our happy warrior. Yes,--yes, of course. So glad to see you, Albert. . . . Er . . . er . . . How is your mother?"

"You mean my grandmother? She is very well, thank you."

"Yes--er--yes, your grandmother, of course. . . . Er . . . er. . . . Did you see my codfish? Isn't it a magnificent one. I am very fond of codfish and we almost never have it at home. So just now, I happened to be passing Jonathan Howes'--he is the--er--fishdealer, you know, and . . . Jonathan is a very regular attendant at my Sunday morning services. He is--is. . . . Dear me. . . . What was I about to say?"

Being switched back to the main track by Albert he explained that he had seen a number of cod in Mr. Howes' possession and had bought this specimen. Howes had lent him the basket.

"And the newspaper," he explained; adding, with triumph, "I shall dine on codfish to-day, I am happy to say." Judging by appearances he might dine and sup and breakfast on codfish and still have a supply remaining. Albert insisted on carrying the spoil to the parsonage. He was doing nothing in particular and it would be a pleasure, he said. Mr. Kendall protested for the first minute or so but then forgot just what the protest was all about and rambled garrulously on about affairs in the parish. He had failed in other faculties, but his flow of language was still unimpeded. They entered the gate of the parsonage. Albert put the basket on the upper step.

"There," he said; "now I must go. Good morning, Mr. Kendall."

"Oh, but you aren't going? You must come in a moment. I want to give you the manuscript of that sermon of mine on the casting down of Baal, that is the one in which I liken the military power of Germany to the brazen idol which. . . . Just a moment, Albert. The manuscript is in my desk and. . . . Oh, dear me, the door is locked. . . . Helen, Helen!"

He was shaking the door and shouting his daughter's name. Albert was surprised and not a little disturbed. It had not occurred to him that Helen could be at home. It is true that before he left for New York his grandmother had said that she was planning to return home to be with her father, but since then he had heard nothing more concerning her. Neither of his grandparents had mentioned her name in their letters, nor since his arrival the day before had they mentioned it. And Mr. Kendall had not spoken of her during their walk together. Albert was troubled and taken aback. In one way he would have liked to meet Helen very much indeed. They had not met since before the war. But he did not, somehow, wish to meet her just then. He did not wish to meet anyone who would speak of Madeline, or ask embarrassing questions. He turned to go.

"Another time, Mr. Kendall," he said. "Good morning."

But he had gone only a few yards when the reverend gentleman was calling to him to return.

"Albert! Albert!" called Mr. Kendall.

He was obliged to turn back, he could do nothing else, and as he did so the door opened. It was Helen who opened it and she stood there upon the threshold and looked down at him. For a moment, a barely perceptible interval, she looked, then he heard her catch her breath quickly and saw her put one hand upon the door jamb as if for support. The next, and she was running down the steps, her hands outstretched and the light of welcome in her eyes.

"Why, Albert Speranza!" she cried. "Why, ALBERT!"

He seized her hands. "Helen!" he cried, and added involuntarily, "My, but it's good to see you again!"

She laughed and so did he. All his embarrassment was gone. They were like two children, like the boy and girl who had known each other in the old days.

"And when did you get here?" she asked. "And what do you mean by surprising us like this? I saw your grandfather yesterday morning and he didn't say a word about your coming."

"He didn't know I was coming. I didn't know it myself until the day before. And when did you come? Your father didn't tell me you were here. I didn't know until I heard him call your name."

He was calling it again. Calling it and demanding attention for his precious codfish.

"Yes, Father, yes, in a minute," she said. Then to Albert, "Come in. Oh, of course you'll come in."

"Why, yes, if I won't be interfering with the housekeeping."

"You won't. Yes, Father, yes, I'm coming. Mercy, where did you get such a wonderful fish? Come in, Albert. As soon as I get Father's treasure safe in the hands of Maria I'll be back. Father will keep you company. No, pardon me, I am afraid he won't, he's gone to the kitchen already. And I shall have to go, too, for just a minute. I'll hurry."

She hastened to the kitchen, whither Mr. Kendall, tugging the fish basket, had preceded her. Albert entered the little sitting-room and sat down in a chair by the window. The room looked just as it used to look, just as neat, just as homelike, just as well kept. And when she came back and they began to talk, it seemed to him that she, too, was just as she used to be. She was a trifle less girlish, more womanly perhaps, but she was just as good to look at, just as bright and cheerful and in her conversation she had the same quietly certain way of dealing directly with the common-sense realities and not the fuss and feathers. It seemed to him that she had not changed at all, that she herself was one of the realities, the wholesome home realities, like Captain Zelotes and Olive and the old house they lived in. He told her so. She laughed.

"You make me feel as ancient as the pyramids," she said.

He shook his head. "I am the ancient," he declared. "This war hasn't changed you a particle, Helen, but it has handed me an awful jolt. At times I feel as if I must have sailed with Noah. And as if I had wasted most of the time since."

She smiled. "Just what do you mean by that?" she asked.

"I mean--well, I don't know exactly what I do mean, I guess. I seem to have an unsettled feeling. I'm not satisfied with myself. And as I remember myself," he added, with a shrug, "that condition of mind was not usual with me."

She regarded him for a moment without speaking, with the appraising look in her eyes which he remembered so well, which had always reminded him of the look in his grandfather's eyes, and which when a boy he resented so strongly.

"Yes," she said slowly, "I think you have changed. Not because you say you feel so much older or because you are uneasy and dissatisfied. So many of the men I talked with at the camp hospital, the men who had been over there and had been wounded, as you were, said they felt the same way. That doesn't mean anything, I think, except that it is dreadfully hard to get readjusted again and settle down to everyday things. But it seems to me that you have changed in other ways. You are a little thinner, but broader, too, aren't you? And you do look older, especially about the eyes. And, of course--well, of course I think I do miss a little of the Albert Speranza I used to know, the young chap with the chip on his shoulder for all creation to knock off."

"Young jackass!"

"Oh, no indeed. He had his good points. But there! we're wasting time and we have so much to talk about. You--why, what am I thinking of! I have neglected the most important thing in the world. And you have just returned from New York, too. Tell me, how is Madeline Fosdick?"

"She is well. But tell me about yourself. You have been in all sorts of war work, haven't you. Tell me about it."

"Oh, my work didn't amount to much. At first I 'Red Crossed' in Boston, then I went to Devens and spent a long time in the camp hospital there."

"Pretty trying, wasn't it?"

"Why--yes, some of it was. When the 'flu' epidemic was raging and the poor fellows were having such a dreadful time it was bad enough. After that I was sent to Eastview. In the hospital there I met the boys who had been wounded on the other side and who talked about old age and dissatisfaction and uneasiness, just as you do. But MY work doesn't count. You are the person to be talked about. Since I have seen you you have become a famous poet and a hero and--"

"Don't!"

She had been smiling; now she was very serious.

"Forgive me, Albert," she said. "We have been joking, you and I, but there was a time when we--when your friends did not joke. Oh, Albert, if you could have seen the Snow place as I saw it then. It was as if all the hope and joy and everything worth while had been crushed out of it. Your grandmother, poor little woman, was brave and quiet, but we all knew she was trying to keep up for Captain Zelotes' sake. And he--Albert, you can scarcely imagine how the news of your death changed him. . . . Ah! well, it was a hard time, a dreadful time for--for every one."

She paused and he, turning to look at her, saw that there were tears in her eyes. He knew of her affection for his grandparents and theirs for her. Before he could speak she was smiling again.

"But now that is all over, isn't it?" she said. "And the Snows are the happiest people in the country, I do believe. AND the proudest, of course. So now you must tell me all about it, about your experiences, and about your war cross, and about your literary work--oh, about everything."

The all-inclusive narrative was not destined to get very far. Old Mr. Kendall came hurrying in, the sermon on the casting down of Baal in his hand. Thereafter he led, guided, and to a large extent monopolized the conversation. His discourse had proceeded perhaps as far as "Thirdly" when Albert, looking at his watch, was surprised to find it almost dinner time. Mr. Kendall, still talking, departed to his study to hunt for another sermon. The young people said good-by in his absence.

"It has been awfully good to see you again, Helen," declared Albert. "But I told you that in the beginning, didn't I? You seem like--well, like a part of home, you know. And home means something to me nowadays."

"I'm glad to hear you speak of South Harniss as home. Of course I know you don't mean to make it a permanent home--I imagine Madeline would have something to say about that--but it is nice to have you speak as if the old town meant something to you."

He looked about him.

"I love the place," he said simply.

"I am glad. So do I; but then I have lived here all my life. The next time we talk I want to know more about your plans for the future--yours and Madeline's, I mean. How proud she must be of you."

He looked up at her; she was standing upon the upper step and he on the walk below.

"Madeline and I--" he began. Then he stopped. What was the use? He did not want to talk about it. He waved his hand and turned away.

After dinner he went out into the kitchen to talk to Mrs. Ellis, who was washing dishes. She was doing it as she did all her share of the housework, with an energy and capability which would have delighted the soul of a "scientific management" expert. Except when under the spell of a sympathetic attack Rachel was ever distinctly on the job.

And of course she was, as always, glad to see her protege, her Robert Penfold. The proprietary interest which she had always felt in him was more than ever hers now. Had not she been the sole person to hint at the possibility of his being alive, when every one else had given him up for dead? Had not she been the only one to suggest that he might have been taken prisoner? Had SHE ever despaired of seeing him again--on this earth and in the flesh? Indeed, she had not; at least, she had never admitted it, if she had. So then, hadn't she a RIGHT to feel that she owned a share in him? No one ventured to dispute that right.

She turned and smiled over one ample shoulder when he entered the kitchen.

"Hello," she hailed cheerfully. "Come callin', have you, Robert--Albert, I mean? It would have been a great help to me if you'd been christened Robert. I call you that so much to myself it comes almost more natural than the other. On account of you bein' so just like Robert Penfold in the book, you know," she added.

"Yes, yes, of course, Rachel, I understand," put in Albert hastily. He was not in the mood to listen to a dissertation on a text taken from Foul Play. He looked about the room and sighed happily.

"There isn't a speck anywhere, is there?" he observed. "It is just as it used to be, just as I used to think of it when I was laid up over there. When I wanted to try and eat a bit, so as to keep what strength I had, I would think about this kitchen of yours, Rachel. It didn't do to think of the places where the prison stuff was cooked. They were not--appetizing."

Mrs. Ellis nodded. "I presume likely not," she observed. "Well, don't tell me about 'em. I've just scrubbed this kitchen from stem to stern. If I heard about those prison places, I'd feel like startin' right in and scrubbin' it all over again, I know I should. . . . Dirty pigs! I wish I had the scourin' of some of those Germans! I'd--I don't know as I wouldn't skin 'em alive."

Albert laughed. "Some of them pretty nearly deserved it," he said.

Rachel smiled grimly. "Well, let's talk about nice things," she said. "Oh, Issy Price was here this forenoon; Cap'n Lote sent him over from the office on an errand, and he said he saw you and Mr. Kendall goin' down street together just as he was comin' along. He hollered at you, but you didn't hear him. 'Cordin' to Issachar's tell, you was luggin' a basket with Jonah's whale in it, or somethin' like that."

Albert described his encounter with the minister. Rachel was much interested.

"Oh, so you saw Helen," she said. "Well, I guess she was surprised to see you."

"Not more than I was to see her. I didn't know she was in town. Not a soul had mentioned it--you nor Grandfather nor Grandmother."

The housekeeper answered without turning her head. "Guess we had so many things to talk about we forgot it," she said. "Yes, she's been here over a week now. High time, from what I hear. The poor old parson has failed consider'ble and Maria Price's housekeepin' and cookin' is enough to make a well man sick--or wish he was. But he'll be looked after now. Helen will look after him. She's the most capable girl there is in Ostable County. Did she tell you about what she done in the Red Cross and the hospitals?"

"She said something about it, not very much."

"Um-hm. She wouldn't, bein' Helen Kendall. But the Red Cross folks said enough, and they're sayin' it yet. Why--"

She went on to tell of Helen's work in the Red Cross depots and in the camp, and hospitals. It was an inspiring story.

"There they was," said Rachel, "the poor things, just boys most of 'em, dyin' of that dreadful influenza like rats, as you might say. And, of course it's dreadful catchin', and a good many was more afraid of it than they would have been of bullets, enough sight. But Helen Kendall wa'n't afraid--no, siree! Why--"

And so on. Albert listened, hearing most of it, but losing some as his thoughts wandered back to the Helen he had known as a boy and the Helen he had met that forenoon. Her face, as she had welcomed him at the parsonage door--it was surprising how clearly it showed before his mind's eye. He had thought at first that she had not changed in appearance. That was not quite true--she had changed a little, but it was merely the fulfillment of a promise, that was all. Her eyes, her smile above a hospital bed--he could imagine what they must have seemed like to a lonely, homesick boy wrestling with the "flu."

"And, don't talk!" he heard the housekeeper say, as he drifted out of his reverie, "if she wa'n't popular around that hospital, around both hospitals, fur's that goes! The patients idolized her, and the other nurses they loved her, and the doctors--"

"Did they love her, too?" Albert asked, with a smile, as she hesitated.

She laughed. "Some of 'em did, I cal'late," she answered. "You see, I got most of my news about it all from Bessie Ryder, Cornelius Ryder's niece, lives up on the road to the Center; you used to know her, Albert. Bessie was nursin' in that same hospital, the one Helen was at first. 'Cordin' to her, there was some doctor or officer tryin' to shine up to Helen most of the time. When she was at Eastview, so Bessie heard, there was a real big-bug in the Army, a sort of Admiral or Commodore amongst the doctors he was, and HE was trottin' after her, or would have been if she'd let him. 'Course you have to make some allowances for Bessie--she wouldn't be a Ryder if she didn't take so many words to say so little that the truth gets stretched pretty thin afore she finished--but there must have been SOMETHIN' in it. And all about her bein' such a wonderful nurse and doin' so much for the Red Cross I KNOW is true. . . . Eh? Did you say anything, Albert?"

Albert shook his head. "No, Rachel," he replied. "I didn't speak."

"I thought I heard you or somebody say somethin'. I--Why, Laban Keeler, what are you doin' away from your desk this time in the afternoon?"

Laban grinned as he entered the kitchen.

"Did I hear you say you thought you heard somebody sayin' somethin', Rachel?" he inquired. "That's queer, ain't it? Seemed to me _I heard somebody sayin' somethin' as I come up the path just now. Seemed as if they was sayin' it right here in the kitchen, too. 'Twasn't your voice, Albert, and it couldn't have been Rachel's, 'cause she NEVER talks--'specially to you. It's too bad, the prejudice she's got against you, Albert," he added, with a wink. "Um-hm, too bad--yes, 'tis--yes, yes."

Mrs. Ellis sniffed.

"And that's what the newspapers in war time used to call--er--er--oh, dear, what was it?--camel--seems's if 'twas somethin' about a camel--"

"Camouflage?" suggested Albert.

"That's it. All that talk about me is just camouflage to save him answerin' my question. But he's goin' to answer it. What are you doin' away from the office this time in the afternoon, I want to know?"

Mr. Keeler perched his small figure on the corner of the kitchen table.

"Well, to tell you the truth, Rachel," he said solemnly. "I'm here to do what the folks in books call demand an explanation. You and I, Rachel, are just as good as engaged to be married, ain't we? I've been keepin' company with you for the last twenty, forty or sixty years, some such spell as that. Now, just as I'm gettin' used to it and beginnin' to consider it a settled arrangement, as you may say, I come into this house and find you shut up in the kitchen with another man. Now, what--"

The housekeeper advanced toward him with the dripping dishcloth.

"Laban Keeler," she threatened, "if you don't stop your foolishness and answer my question, I declare I'll--"

Laban slid from his perch and retired behind the table.

"Another man," he repeated. "And SOME folks--not many, of course, but some--might be crazy enough to say he was a better-lookin' man than I am. Now, bein' ragin' jealous,--All right, Rachel, all right, I surrender. Don't hit me with all those soapsuds. I don't want to go back to the office foamin' at the mouth. The reason I'm here is that I had to go down street to see about the sheathin' for the Red Men's lodge room. Issy took the order, but he wasn't real sure whether 'twas sheathin' or scantlin' they wanted, so I told Cap'n Lote I'd run down myself and straighten it out. On the way back I saw you two through the window and I thought I'd drop in and worry you. So here I am."

Mrs. Ellis nodded. "Yes," she sniffed. "And all that camel--camel--Oh, DEAR, what DOES ail me? All that camel--No use, I've forgot it again."

"Never mind, Rachel," said Mr. Keeler consolingly. "All the--er--menagerie was just that and nothin' more. Oh, by the way, Al," he added, "speakin' of camels--don't you think I've done pretty well to go so long without any--er--liquid nourishment? Not a drop since you and I enlisted together. . . . Oh, she knows about it now," he added, with a jerk of his head in the housekeeper's direction. "I felt 'twas fairly safe and settled, so I told her. I told her. Yes, yes, yes. Um-hm, so I did."

Albert turned to the lady.

"You should be very proud of him, Rachel," he said seriously. "I think I realize a little something of the fight he has made, and it is bully. You should be proud of him."

Rachel looked down at the little man.

"I am," she said quietly. "I guess likely he knows it."

Laban smiled. "The folks in Washington are doin' their best to help me out," he said. "They're goin' to take the stuff away from everybody so's to make sure _I don't get any more. They'll probably put up a monument to me for startin' the thing; don't you think they will, Al? Eh? Don't you, now?"

Albert and he walked up the road together. Laban told a little more of his battle with John Barleycorn.

"I had half a dozen spells when I had to set my teeth, those I've got left, and hang on," he said. "And the hangin'-on wa'n't as easy as stickin' to fly-paper, neither. Honest, though, I think the hardest was when the news came that you was alive, Al. I--I just wanted to start in and celebrate. Wanted to whoop her up, I did." He paused a moment and then added, "I tried whoopin' on sass'parilla and vanilla sody, but 'twa'n't satisfactory. Couldn't seem to raise a real loud whisper, let alone a whoop. No, I couldn't--no, no."

Albert laughed and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You're all right, Labe," he declared. "I know you, and I say so."

Laban slowly shook his head. His smile, as he answered, was rather pathetic.

"I'm a long, long ways from bein' all right, Al," he said. "A long ways from that, I am. If I'd made my fight thirty year ago, I might have been nigher to amountin' to somethin'. . . . Oh, well, for Rachel's sake I'm glad I've made it now. She's stuck to me when everybody would have praised her for chuckin' me to Tophet. I was readin' one of Thackeray's books t'other night--Henry Esmond, 'twas; you've read it, Al, of course; I was readin' it t'other night for the ninety-ninth time or thereabouts, and I run across the place where it says it's strange what a man can do and a woman still keep thinkin' he's an angel. That's true, too, Al. Not," with the return of the slight smile, "that Rachel ever went so far as to call me an angel. No, no. There's limits where you can't stretch her common-sense any farther. Callin' me an angel would be just past the limit. Yes, yes, yes. I guess SO."

They spoke of Captain Zelotes and Olive and of their grief and discouragement when the news of Albert's supposed death reached them.

"Do you know," said Labe, "I believe Helen Kendall's comin' there for a week did 'em more good than anything else. She got away from her soldier nursin' somehow--must have been able to pull the strings consider'ble harder'n the average to do it--and just came down to the Snow place and sort of took charge along with Rachel. Course she didn't live there, her father thought she was visitin' him, I guess likely, but she was with Cap'n Lote and Olive most of the time. Rachel says she never made a fuss, you understand, just was there and helped and was quiet and soft-spoken and capable and--and comfortin', that's about the word, I guess. Rachel always thought a sight of Helen afore that, but since then she swears by her."

That evening--or, rather, that night, for they did not leave the sitting room until after twelve--Mrs. Snow heard her grandson walking the floor of his room, and called to ask if he was sick.

"I'm all right, Grandmother," he called in reply. "Just taking a little exercise before turning in, that's all. Sorry if I disturbed you."

The exercise was, as a matter of fact, almost entirely mental, the pacing up and down merely an unconscious physical accompaniment. Albert Speranza was indulging in introspection. He was reviewing and assorting his thoughts and his impulses and trying to determine just what they were and why they were and whither they were tending. It was a mental and spiritual picking to pieces and the result was humiliating and in its turn resulted in a brand-new determination.

Ever since his meeting with Helen, a meeting which had been quite unpremeditated, he had thought of but little except her. During his talk with her in the parsonage sitting room he had been--there was no use pretending to himself that it was otherwise--more contented with the world, more optimistic, happier, than he had been for months, it seemed to him for years. Even while he was speaking to her of his uneasiness and dissatisfaction he was dimly conscious that at that moment he was less uneasy and less dissatisfied, conscious that the solid ground was beneath his feet at last, that here was the haven after the storm, here was--

He pulled up sharply. This line of thought was silly, dangerous, wicked. What did it mean? Three days before, only three days, he had left Madeline Fosdick, the girl whom he had worshiped, adored, and who had loved him. Yes, there was no use pretending there, either; he and Madeline HAD loved each other. Of course he realized now that their love had nothing permanently substantial about it. It was the romance of youth, a dream which they had shared together and from which, fortunately for both, they had awakened in time. And of course he realized, too, that the awakening had begun long, long before the actual parting took place. But nevertheless only three days had elapsed since that parting, and now--What sort of a man was he?

Was he like his father? Was it what Captain Zelotes used to call the "Portygee streak" which was now cropping out? The opera singer had been of the butterfly type--in his later years a middle-aged butterfly whose wings creaked somewhat--but decidedly a flitter from flower to flower. As a boy, Albert had been aware, in an uncertain fashion, of his father's fondness for the sex. Now, older, his judgment of his parent was not as lenient, was clearer, more discerning. He understood now. Was his own "Portygee streak," his inherited temperament, responsible for his leaving one girl on a Tuesday and on Friday finding his thoughts concerned so deeply with another?

Well, no matter, no matter. One thing was certain--Helen should never know of that feeling. He would crush it down, he would use his common-sense. He would be a decent man and not a blackguard. For he had had his chance and had tossed it away. What would she think of him now if he came to her after Madeline had thrown him over--that is what Mrs. Fosdick would say, would take pains that every one else should say, that Madeline had thrown him over--what would Helen think of him if he came to her with a second-hand love like that?

And of course she would not think of him as a lover at all. Why should she? In the boy and girl days she had refused to let him speak of such a thing. She was his friend, a glorious, a wonderful friend, but that was all, all she ever dreamed of being.

Well, that was right; that was as it should be. He should be thankful for such a friend. He was, of course. And he would concentrate all his energies upon his work, upon his writing. That was it, that was it. Good, it was settled!

So he went to bed and, eventually, to sleep.

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CHAPTER XIXWhile dressing in the cold light of dawn his perturbations of the previous night appeared in retrospect as rather boyish and unnecessary. His sudden and unexpected meeting with Helen and their talk together had tended to make him over-sentimental, that was all. He and she were to be friends, of course, but there was no real danger of his allowing himself to think of her except as a friend. No, indeed. He opened the bureau drawer in search of a tie, and there was the package of "snapshots" just where he had tossed them that night when he first returned
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CHAPTER XIVThe telegram from the War Department was brief, as all such telegrams were perforce obliged to be. The Secretary of War, through his representative, regretted to inform Captain Zelotes Snow that Sergeant Albert Speranza had been killed in action upon a certain day. It was enough, however--for the time quite enough. It was not until later that the little group of South Harniss recovered sufficiently from the stunning effect of those few words to think of seeking particulars. Albert was dead; what did it matter, then, to know how he died? Olive bore the shock surprisingly well. Her husband's fears
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