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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 8
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The Portygee - Chapter 8 Post by :leonard063083 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1798

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The Portygee - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

So the game under the "new deal" began. At first it was much easier than the old. And, as a matter of fact, it was never as hard as before. The heart to heart talk between Captain Zelotes and his grandson had given each a glimpse of the other's inner self, a look from the other's point of view, and thereafter it was easier to make allowances. But the necessity for the making of those allowances was still there and would continue to be there. At first Albert made almost no mistakes in his bookkeeping, was almost painfully careful. Then the carefulness relaxed, as it was bound to do, and some mistakes occurred. Captain Lote found little fault, but at times he could not help showing some disappointment. Then his grandson would set his teeth and buckle down to painstaking effort again. He was resolved to live up to the very letter of the agreement.

In his spare time he continued to write and occasionally he sold something. Whenever he did so there was great rejoicing among the feminine members of the Snow household; his grandmother and Rachel Ellis were enraptured. It was amusing to see Captain Zelotes attempt to join the chorus. He evidently felt that he ought to praise, or at least that praise was expected from him, but it was also evident that he did not approve of what he was praising.

"Your grandma says you got rid of another one of your poetry pieces, Al," he would say. "Pay you for it, did they?"

"Not yet, but they will, I suppose."

"I see, I see. How much, think likely?"

"Oh, I don't know. Ten dollars, perhaps."

"Um-hm . . . I see. . . . Well, that's pretty good, considerin', I suppose. . . . We did first-rate on that Hyannis school-house contract, didn't we. Nigh's I can figger it we cleared over fourteen hundred and eighty dollars on that."

He invariably followed any reference to the profit from the sale of verses by the casual mention of a much larger sum derived from the sale of lumber or hardware. This was so noticeable that Laban Keeler was impelled to speak of it.

"The old man don't want you to forget that you can get more for hard pine than you can for soft sonnets, sellin' 'em both by the foot," observed Labe, peering over his spectacles. "More money in shingles than there is in jingles, he cal'lates. . . . Um. . . . Yes, yes. . . . Consider'ble more, consider'ble."

Albert smiled, but it astonished him to find that Mr. Keeler knew what a sonnet was. The little bookkeeper occasionally surprised him by breaking out unexpectedly in that way.

From the indiscriminate praise at home, or the reluctant praise of his grandfather, he found relief when he discussed his verses with Helen Kendall. Her praise was not indiscriminate, in fact sometimes she did not praise at all, but expressed disapproval. They had some disagreements, marked disagreements, but it did not affect their friendship. Albert was a trifle surprised to find that it did not.

So as the months passed he ground away at the books of Z. Snow and Company during office hours and at the poetry mill between times. The seeing of his name in print was no longer a novelty and he poetized not quite as steadily. Occasionally he attempted prose, but the two or three short stories of his composition failed to sell. Helen, however, urged him to try again and keep trying. "I know you can write a good story and some day you are going to," she said.

His first real literary success, that which temporarily lifted him into the outer circle of the limelight of fame, was a poem written the day following that upon which came the news of the sinking of the Lusitania. Captain Zelotes came back from the post-office that morning, a crumpled newspaper in his hand, and upon his face the look which mutinous foremast hands had seen there just before the mutiny ended. Laban Keeler was the first to notice the look. "For the land sakes, Cap'n, what's gone wrong?" he asked. The captain flung the paper upon the desk. "Read that," he grunted. Labe slowly spread open the paper; the big black headlines shrieked the crime aloud.

"Good God Almighty!" exclaimed the little bookkeeper. Captain Zelotes snorted. "He didn't have anything to do with it," he declared. "The bunch that pulled that off was handled from the other end of the line. And I wish to thunder I was young enough to help send 'em back there," he added, savagely.

That evening Albert wrote his poem. The next day he sent it to a Boston paper. It was published the following morning, spread across two columns on the front page, and before the month was over had been copied widely over the country. Within the fortnight its author received his first request, a bona fida request for verse from a magazine. Even Captain Lote's praise of the Lusitania poem was whole-hearted and ungrudging.

That summer was a busy one in South Harniss. There was the usual amount of summer gaiety, but in addition there were the gatherings of the various committees for war relief work. Helen belonged to many of these committees. There were dances and theatrical performances for the financial benefit of the various causes and here Albert shone. But he did not shine alone. Helen Kendall was very popular at the social gatherings, popular not only with the permanent residents but with the summer youth as well. Albert noticed this, but he did not notice it so particularly until Issy Price called his attention to it.

"Say, Al," observed Issy, one afternoon in late August of that year, "how do YOU like that Raymond young feller?"

Albert looked up absently from the page of the daybook.

"Eh? What?" he asked.

"I say how do YOU like that Eddie Raymond, the Down-at-the-Neck one?"

"Down at the neck? There's nothing the matter with his neck that I know of."

"Who said there was? He LIVES down to the Neck, don't he? I mean that young Raymond, son of the New York bank man, the ones that's had the Cahoon house all summer. How do you like him?"

Albert's attention was still divided between the day-book and Mr. Price. "Oh, I guess he's all right," he answered, carelessly. "I don't know him very well. Don't bother me, Issy, I'm busy."

Issachar chuckled. "He's busy, too," he observed. "He, he, he! He's busy trottin' after Helen Kendall. Don't seem to have time for much else these days. Noticed that, ain't you, Al? He, he!"

Albert had not noticed it. His attention left the day-book altogether. Issachar chuckled again.

"Noticed it, ain't you, Al?" he repeated. "If you ain't you're the only one. Everybody's cal'latin' you'll be cut out if you ain't careful. Folks used to figger you was Helen's steady comp'ny, but it don't look as much so as it did. He, he! That's why I asked you how you liked the Raymond one. Eh? How do you, Al? Helen, SHE seems to like him fust-rate. He, he, he!"

Albert was conscious of a peculiar feeling, partly of irritation at Issachar, partly something else. Mr. Price crowed delightedly.

"Hi!" he chortled. "Why, Al, your face is gettin' all redded up. Haw, haw! Blushin', ain't you, Al? Haw, haw, haw! Blushin', by crimustee!"

Albert laid down his pen. He had learned by experience that, in Issy's case, the maxim of the best defensive being a strong offensive was absolutely true. He looked with concern about the office.

"There's a window open somewhere, isn't there, Is?" he inquired. "There's a dreadful draught anyhow."

"Eh? Draught? I don't feel no draught. Course the window's open; it's generally open in summer time, ain't it. Haw, haw!"

"There it is again! Where--Oh, _I see! It's your mouth that's open, Issy. That explains the draught, of course. Yes, yes, of course."

"Eh? My mouth! Never you mind my mouth. What you've got to think about is that Eddie Raymond. Yes sir-ee! Haw, haw!"

"Issy, what makes you make that noise?"

"What noise?"

"That awful cawing. If you're trying to make me believe you're a crow you're wasting your time."

"Say, look here, Al Speranzy, be you crazy?"

"No-o, I'M not. But in your case--well, I'll leave it to any fair-minded person--"

And so on until Mr. Price stamped disgustedly out of the office. It was easy enough, and required nothing brilliant in the way of strategy or repartee, to turn Issachar's attack into retreat. But all the rest of that afternoon Albert was conscious of that peculiar feeling of uneasiness. After supper that night he did not go down town at once but sat in his room thinking deeply. The subjects of his thoughts were Edwin Raymond, the young chap from New York, Yale, and "The Neck"--and Helen Kendall. He succeeded only in thinking himself into an even more uneasy and unpleasant state of mind. Then he walked moodily down to the post-office. He was a little late for the mail and the laughing and chatting groups were already coming back after its distribution. One such group he met was made up of half a dozen young people on their way to the drug store for ices and sodas. Helen was among them and with her was young Raymond. They called to him to join them, but he pretended not to hear.

Now, in all the years of their acquaintance it had not once occurred to Albert Speranza that his interest in Helen Kendall was anything more than that of a friend and comrade. He liked her, had enjoyed her society--when he happened to be in the mood to wish society--and it pleased him to feel that she was interested in his literary efforts and his career. She was the only girl in South Harniss who would have "talked turkey" to him as she had on the day of their adventure at High Point Light and he rather admired her for it. But in all his dreams of romantic attachments and sentimental adventure, and he had such dreams of course, she had never played a part. The heroines of these dreams were beautiful and mysterious strangers, not daughters of Cape Cod clergymen.

But now, thanks to Issy's mischievous hints, his feelings were in a puzzled and uncomfortable state. He was astonished to find that he did not relish the idea of Helen's being particularly interested in Ed Raymond. He, himself, had not seen her as frequently of late, she having been busy with her war work and he with his own interests. But that, according to his view, was no reason why she should permit Raymond to become friendly to the point of causing people to talk. He was not ready to admit that he himself cared, in a sentimental way, for Helen, but he resented any other fellow's daring to do so. And she should not have permitted it, either. As a matter of fact, Alberto Miguel Carlos Speranza, hitherto reigning undisputed king of hearts in South Harniss, was for the first time in his imperial life feeling the pangs of jealousy.

He stalked gloomily on to the post-office. Gertie Kendrick, on the arm of Sam Thatcher, passed him and he did not even notice her. Gertie whispered to Sam that he, Albert, was a big stuck-up nothing, but she looked back over Sam's shoulder, nevertheless. Albert climbed the post-office steps and walked over to the rack of letter boxes. The Snow box contained little of interest to him, and he was turning away when he heard his name spoken.

"Good evening, Mr. Speranza," said a feminine voice.

Albert turned again, to find Jane Kelsey and another young lady, a stranger, standing beside him. Miss Kelsey was one of South Harniss's summer residents. The Kelsey "cottage," which was larger by considerable than the Snow house, was situated on the Bay Road, the most exclusive section of the village. Once, and not so many years before, the Bay Road was contemptuously referred to as "Poverty Lane" and dwellers along its winding, weed-grown track vied with one another in shiftless shabbiness. But now all shabbiness had disappeared and many-gabled "cottages" proudly stood where the shanties of the Poverty Laners once humbly leaned.

Albert had known Jane Kelsey for some time. They had met at one of the hotel tea-dances during his second summer in South Harniss. He and she were not intimate friends exactly, her mother saw to that, but they were well acquainted. She was short and piquant, had a nose which freckled in the Cape Cod sunshine, and she talked and laughed easily.

"Good evening, Mr. Speranza," she said, again. "You looked so very forlorn I couldn't resist speaking. Do tell us why you are so sad; we're dying to know."

Albert, taken by surprise, stammered that he didn't know that he was sad. Miss Kelsey laughed merrily and declared that everyone who saw him knew it at once. "Oh, excuse me, Madeline," she added. "I forgot that you and Mr. Speranza had not met. Of course as you're going to live in South Harniss you must know him without waiting another minute. Everybody knows everybody down here. He is Albert Speranza--and we sometimes call him Albert because here everybody calls everyone else by their first names. There, now you know each other and it's all very proper and formal."

The young lady who was her companion smiled. The smile was distinctly worth looking at, as was the young lady herself, for that matter.

"I doubt if Mr. Speranza knows me very well, Jane," she observed.

"Doesn't know you! Why, you silly thing, haven't I just introduced you?"

"Well, I don't know much about South Harniss introductions, but isn't it customary to mention names? You haven't told him mine."

Miss Kelsey laughed in high delight. "Oh, how perfectly ridiculous!" she exclaimed. "Albert--Mr. Speranza, I mean--this is my friend Miss Madeline Fosdick. She is from New York and she has decided to spend her summers in South Harniss--which _I consider very good judgment. Her father is going to build a cottage for her to spend them in down on the Bay Road on the hill at the corner above the Inlet. But of course you've heard of THAT!"

Of course he had. The purchase of the Inlet Hill land by Fletcher Fosdick, the New York banker, and the price paid Solomon Dadgett for that land, had been the principal topics of conversation around South Harniss supper tables for the past ten days. Captain Lote Snow had summed up local opinion of the transaction when he said: "We-ll, Sol Dadgett's been talkin' in prayer-meetin' ever since I can remember about the comin' of Paradise on earth. Judgin' by the price he got for the Inlet Hill sand heap he must have cal'lated Paradise had got here and he was sellin' the golden streets by the runnin' foot." Or, as Laban Keeler put it: "They say King Soloman was a wise man, but I guess likely 'twas a good thing for him that Sol Dadgett wasn't alive in his time. King Sol would have needed all his wisdom to keep Dadgett from talkin' him into buying the Jerusalem salt-ma'sh to build the temple on. . . . Um. . . . Yes--yes--yes."

So Albert, as he shook hands with Miss Fosdick, regarded her with unusual interest. And, judging by the way in which she looked at him, she too was interested. After some minutes of the usual conventional summer-time chat the young gentleman suggested that they adjourn to the drug store for refreshments. The invitation was accepted, the vivacious Miss Kelsey acting as spokesman--or spokeswoman--in the matter.

"I think you must be a mind-reader, Mr. Speranza," she declared. "I am dying for a sundae and I have just discovered that I haven't my purse or a penny with me. I should have been reduced to the humiliation of borrowing from Madeline here, or asking that deaf old Burgess man to trust me until to-morrow. And he is so frightfully deaf," she added in explanation, "that when I asked him the last time he made me repeat it until I thought I should die of shame, or exhaustion, one or the other. Every time I shouted he would say 'Hey?' and I was obliged to shout again. Of course, the place was crowded, and--Oh, well, I don't like to even think about it. Bless you, bless you, Albert Speranza! And do please let's hurry!"

When they entered the drug store--it also sold, according to its sign, "Cigars, soda, ice-cream, patent medicines, candy, knick-knacks, chewing gum, souvenirs and notions"--the sextette of which Helen Kendall made one was just leaving. She nodded pleasantly to Albert and he nodded in return, but Ed Raymond's careless bow he did not choose to see. He had hitherto rather liked that young gentleman; now he felt a sudden but violent detestation for him.

Sundaes pleasant to the palate and disastrous to all but youthful digestions were ordered. Albert's had a slight flavor of gall and wormwood, but he endeavored to counterbalance this by the sweetness derived from the society of Jane Kelsey and her friend. His conversation was particularly brilliant and sparkling that evening. Jane laughed much and chatted more. Miss Fosdick was quieter, but she, too, appeared to be enjoying herself. Jane demanded to know how the poems were developing. She begged him to have an inspiration now--"Do, PLEASE, so that Madeline and I can see you." It seemed to be her idea that having an inspiration was similar to having a fit. Miss Fosdick laughed at this, but she declared that she adored poetry and specified certain poems which were objects of her especial adoration. The conversation thereafter became what Miss Kelsey described as "high brow," and took the form of a dialogue between Miss Fosdick and Albert. It was interrupted by the arrival of the Kelsey limousine, which rolled majestically up to the drug store steps. Jane spied it first.

"Oh, mercy me, here's mother!" she exclaimed. "And your mother, too, Madeline. We are tracked to our lair. . . . No, no, Mr. Speranza, you mustn't go out. No, really, we had rather you wouldn't. Thanks, ever so much, for the sundaes. Come, Madeline."

Miss Fosdick held out her hand.

"Thank you, Mr. Speranza," she said. "I have enjoyed our poetry talk SO much. It must be wonderful to write as you do. Good night."

She looked admiringly into his eyes as she said it. In spite of the gall and wormwood Albert found it not at all unpleasant to be looked at in that way by a girl like Madeline Fosdick. His reflections on that point were interrupted by a voice from the car.

"Come, Madeline, come," it said, fussily. "What ARE you waiting for?"

Albert caught a glimpse of a majestic figure which, seated beside Mrs. Kelsey on the rear seat of the limousine, towered above that short, plump lady as a dreadnaught towers above a coal barge. He surmised this figure to be that of the maternal Fosdick. Madeline climbed in beside her parent and the limousine rolled away.

Albert's going-to-bed reflections that evening were divided in flavor, like a fruit sundae, a combination of sweet and sour. The sour was furnished by thoughts of Edwin Raymond and Helen Kendall, the former's presumption in daring to seek her society as he did, and Helen's amazing silliness in permitting such a thing. The sweet, of course, was furnished by a voice which repeated to his memory the words, "It must be wonderful to write as you do." Also the tone of that voice and the look in the eyes.

Could he have been privileged to hear the closing bits of a conversation which was taking place at that moment his reflections might have been still further saccharined. Miss Jane Kelsey was saying: "And NOW what do you think of our Cape Cod poet? Didn't I promise you to show you something you couldn't find on Fifth Avenue?" And to this Miss Madeline Fosdick made reply: "I think he is the handsomest creature I ever saw. And so clever! Why, he is wonderful, Jane! How in the world does he happen to be living here--all the time?"

It is perhaps, on the whole, a good thing that Albert Speranza could not hear this. It is certainly a good thing that Captain Zelotes Snow did not hear it.

And although the balance of sweet and sour in Albert's mind that night was almost even, the sour predominated next day and continued to predominate. Issachar Price had sowed the seed of jealousy in the mind of the assistant bookkeeper of Z. Snow and Company, and that seed took root and grew as it is only too likely to do under such circumstances. That evening Albert walked again to the post-office. Helen was not there, neither was Miss Kelsey or Miss Fosdick. He waited for a time and then determined to call at the Kendall home, something he had not done for some time. As he came up to the front walk, between the arbor-vitae hedges, he saw that the parlor windows were alight. The window shade was but partially drawn and beneath it he could see into the room. Helen was seated at the piano and Edwin Raymond was standing beside her, ready to turn the page of her music.

Albert whirled on his heel and walked out of the yard and down the street toward his own home. His attitude of mind was a curious one. He had a mind to wait until Raymond left and then go into the Kendall parlor and demand of Helen to know what she meant by letting that fellow make such a fool of himself. What right had he--Raymond--to call upon her, and turn her music and--and set the whole town talking? Why--Oh, he could think of many things to ask and say. The trouble was that the saying of them would, he felt sure, be distinctly bad diplomacy on his part. No one--not even he--could talk to Helen Kendall in that fashion; not unless he wished it to be their final conversation.

So he went home, to fret and toss angrily and miserably half the night. He had never before considered himself in the slightest degree in love with Helen, but he had taken for granted the thought that she liked him better than anyone else. Now he was beginning to fear that perhaps she did not, and, with his temperament, wounded vanity and poetic imagination supplied the rest. Within a fortnight he considered himself desperately in love with her.

During this fortnight he called at the parsonage, the Kendall home, several times. On the first of these occasions the Reverend Mr. Kendall, having just completed a sermon dealing with the war and, being full of his subject, read the said sermon to his daughter and to Albert. The reading itself lasted for three-quarters of an hour and Mr. Kendall's post-argument and general dissertation on German perfidy another hour after that. By that time it was late and Albert went home. The second call was even worse, for Ed Raymond called also and the two young men glowered at each other until ten o'clock. They might have continued to glower indefinitely, for neither meant to leave before the other, but Helen announced that she had some home-study papers to look over and she knew they would excuse her under the circumstances. On that hint they departed simultaneously, separating at the gate and walking with deliberate dignity in opposite directions.

At his third attempt, however, Albert was successful to the extent that Helen was alone when he called and there was no school work to interrupt. But in no other respect was the interview satisfactory. All that week he had been boiling with the indignation of the landed proprietor who discovers a trespasser on his estate, and before this call was fifteen minutes old his feelings had boiled over.

"What IS the matter with you, Al?" asked Helen. "Do tell me and let's see if I can't help you out of your trouble."

Her visitor flushed. "Trouble?" he repeated, stiffly. "I don't know what you mean."

"Oh yes, do. You must. What IS the matter?"

"There is nothing the matter with me."

"Nonsense! Of course there is. You have scarcely spoken a word of your own accord since you came, and you have been scowling like a thundercloud all the time. Now what is it? Have I done something you don't like?"

"There is nothing the matter, I tell you."

"Please don't be so silly. Of course there is. I thought there must be something wrong the last time you were here, that evening, when Ed called, too. It seemed to me that you were rather queer then. Now you are queerer still. What is it?"

This straightforward attack, although absolutely characteristic of Helen, was disconcerting. Albert met it by an attack of his own.

"Helen," he demanded, "what does that Raymond fellow mean by coming to see you as he does?"

Now whether or not Helen was entirely in the dark as to the cause of her visitor's "queerness" is a question not to be answered here. She was far from being a stupid young person and it is at least probable that she may have guessed a little of the truth. But, being feminine, she did not permit Albert to guess that she had guessed. If her astonishment at the question was not entirely sincere, it certainly appeared to be so.

"What does he mean?" she repeated. "What does he mean by coming to see me? Why, what do YOU mean? I should think that was the question. Why shouldn't he come to see me, pray?"

Now Albert has a dozen reasons in his mind, each of which was to him sufficiently convincing. But expressing those reasons to Helen Kendall he found singularly difficult. He grew confused and stammered.

"Well--well, because he has no business to come here so much," was the best he could do. Helen, strange to say, was not satisfied.

"Has no business to?" she repeated. "Why, of course he has. I asked him to come."

"You did? Good heavens, you don't LIKE him, do you?"

"Of course I like him. I think he is a very nice fellow. Don't you?"

"No, I don't."

"Why not?"

"Well--well, because I don't, that's all. He has no business to monopolize you all the time. Why, he is here about every night in the week, or you're out with him, down town, or--or somewhere. Everybody is talking about it and--"

"Wait a minute, please. You say everybody is talking about Ed Raymond and me. What do you mean by that? What are they saying?"

"They're saying. . . . Oh, they're saying you and he are--are--"

"Are what?"

"Are--are--Oh, they're saying all sorts of things. Look here, Helen, I--"

"Wait! I want to know more about this. What have you heard said about me?"

"Oh, a lot of things. . . . That is--er--well, nothing in particular, perhaps, but--"

"Wait! Who have you heard saying it?"

"Oh, never mind! Helen--"

"But I do mind. Who have you heard saying this 'lot of things' about me?"

"Nobody, I tell you. . . . Oh, well, if you must know, Issy Price said--well, he said you and this Raymond fellow were what he called 'keeping company' and--and that the whole town was talking about it."

She slowly shook her head.

"Issy Price!" she repeated. "And you listened to what Issy Price said. Issy Price, of all people!"

"Well--well, he said everyone else said the same thing."

"Did he say more than that?"

"No, but that was enough, wasn't it. Besides, the rest was plain. I could see it myself. He is calling here about every night in the week, and--and being around everywhere with you and--and--Oh, anyone can see!"

Helen's usually placid temper was beginning to ruffle.

"Very well," she said, "then they may see. Why shouldn't he call here if he wishes--and I wish? Why shouldn't I be 'around with him,' as you say? Why not?"

"Well, because I don't like it. It isn't the right thing for you to do. You ought to be more careful of--of what people say."

He realized, almost as soon as this last sentence was blurted out, the absolute tactlessness of it. The quiet gleam of humor he had so often noticed in Helen's eyes was succeeded now by a look he had never before seen there.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he added, hastily. "I beg your pardon, Helen. I didn't mean to say that. Forgive me, will you?"

She did not answer immediately. Then she said, "I don't know whether I shall or not. I think I shall have to think it over. And perhaps you had better go now."

"But I'M sorry, Helen. It was a fool thing to say. I don't know why I was such an idiot. Do forgive me; come!"

She slowly shook her head. "I can't--yet," she said. "And this you must understand: If Ed Raymond, or anyone else, calls on me and I choose to permit it, or if I choose to go out with him anywhere at any time, that is my affair and not 'everyone else's'--which includes Issachar Price. And my FRIENDS--my real friends--will not listen to mean, ridiculous gossip. Good night."

So that was the end of that attempt at asserting the Divine Right by the South Harniss king of hearts. Albert was more miserable than ever, angrier than ever--not only at Raymond and Helen, but at himself--and his newly-discovered jealousy burned with a brighter and greener flame. The idea of throwing everything overboard, going to Canada and enlisting in the Canadian Army--an idea which had had a strong and alluring appeal ever since the war broke out--came back with redoubled force. But there was the agreement with his grandfather. He had given his word; how could he break it? Besides, to go away and leave his rival with a clear field did not appeal to him, either.

On a Wednesday evening in the middle of September the final social event of the South Harniss summer season was to take place. The Society for the Relief of the French Wounded was to give a dance in the ballroom of the hotel, the proceeds from the sale of tickets to be devoted to the purpose defined by the name of this organization. Every last member of the summer colony was to attend, of course, and all those of the permanent residents who aspired to social distinction and cared to pay the high price of admission.

Albert was going, naturally. That is, he had at first planned to go, then--after the disastrous call at the parsonage--decided that he would go under no circumstances, and at the last changed his mind once more to the affirmative. Miss Madeline Fosdick, Jane Kelsey's friend, was responsible for the final change. She it was who had sold him his ticket and urged him to be present. He and she had met several times since the first meeting at the post-office. Usually when they met they talked concerning poetry and kindred lofty topics. Albert liked Miss Fosdick. It is hard not to like a pretty, attractive young lady who takes such a flattering interest in one's aspirations and literary efforts. The "high brow chit-chats"--quoting Miss Kelsey again--were pleasant in many ways; for instance, they were in the nature of a tonic for weakened self-esteem, and the Speranza self-esteem was suffering just at this time, from shock.

Albert had, when he first heard that the dance was to take place, intended inviting Helen to accompany him. He had taken her acceptance for granted, he having acted as her escort to so many dances and social affairs. So he neglected inviting her and then came Issy's mischief-making remarks and the trouble which followed. So, as inviting her was out of the question, he resolved not to attend, himself. But Miss Fosdick urged so prettily that he bought his ticket and promised to be among those present.

"Provided, of course," he ventured, being in a reckless mood, "that you save me at least four dances." She raised her brows in mock dismay.

"Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed. "I'm afraid I couldn't do that. Four is much too many. One I will promise, but no more."

However, as he persisted, she yielded another. He was to have two dances and, possibly an "extra."

"And you are a lucky young man," declared Jane Kelsey, who had also promised two. "If you knew how many fellows have begged for just one. But, of course," she added, "THEY were not poets, second editions of Tennyson and Keats and all that. It is Keats who was the poet, isn't it, Madeline?" she added, turning to her friend. "Oh, I'm so glad I got it right the first time. I'm always mixing him up with Watts, the man who invented the hymns and wrote the steam-engine--or something."

The Wednesday evening in the middle of September was a beautiful one and the hotel was crowded. The Item, in its account the following week, enumerating those present, spoke of "Our new residents, Mrs. Fletcher Story Fosdick and Miss Madeline Fosdick, who are to occupy the magnificent residence now about being built on the Inlet Hill by their husband and father, respectively, Fletcher Story Fosdick, Esquire, the well-known New York banker." The phrasing of this news note caused much joy in South Harniss, and the Item gained several new and hopeful subscribers.

But when the gushing reporter responsible for this added that "Miss Fosdick was a dream of loveliness on this occasion" he was stating only the truth. She was very beautiful indeed and a certain young man who stepped up to claim his first dance realized the fact. The said young man was outwardly cool, but red-hot within, the internal rise in temperature being caused by the sight of Helen Kendall crossing the floor arm in arm with Edwin Raymond. Albert's face was white with anger, except for two red spots on his cheeks, and his black eyes flashed. Consequently he, too, was considered quite worth the looking at and feminine glances followed him.

"Who is that handsome, foreign-looking fellow your friend is dancing with?" whispered one young lady, a guest at the hotel, to Miss Kelsey. Jane told her.

"But he isn't a foreigner," she added. "He lives here in South Harniss all the year. He is a poet, I believe, and Madeline, who knows about such things--inherits it from her mother, I suppose--says his poetry is beautiful."

Her companion watched the subject of their conversation as, with Miss Fosdick, he moved lightly and surely through the crowd on the floor.

"He LOOKS like a poet," she said, slowly. "He is wonderfully handsome, so distinguished, and SUCH a dancer! But why should a poet live here--all the year? Is that all he does for a living--write poetry?"

Jane pretended not to hear her and, a masculine friend coming to claim his dance, seized the opportunity to escape. However, another "sitter out" supplied the information.

"He is a sort of assistant bookkeeper at the lumber yard by the railroad station," said this person. "His grandfather owns the place, I believe. One would never guess it to look at him now. . . . Humph! I wonder if Mrs. Fosdick knows. They say she is--well, not democratically inclined, to say the least."

Albert had his two promised dances with Madeline Fosdick, but the "extra" he did not obtain. Mrs. Fosdick, the ever watchful, had seen and made inquiries. Then she called her daughter to her and issued an ultimatum.

"I am SO sorry," said the young lady, in refusing the plea for the "extra." "I should like to, but I--but Mother has asked me to dance with a friend of ours from home. I--I AM sorry, really."

She looked as if she meant it. Albert was sorry, too. This had been a strange evening, another combination of sweet and sour. He glanced across the floor and saw Helen and the inevitable Raymond emerge together from the room where the refreshments were served. Raging jealousy seized him at the sight. Helen had not been near him, had scarcely spoken to him since his arrival. He forgot that he had not been near nor spoken to her.

He danced twice or thrice more with acquaintances, "summer" or permanent, and then decided to go home. Madeline Fosdick he saw at the other end of the room surrounded by a group of young masculinity. Helen he could not see at the moment. He moved in the direction of the coatroom. Just as he reached the door he was surprised to see Ed Raymond stride by him, head down and looking anything but joyful. He watched and was still more astonished to see the young man get his coat and hat from the attendant and walk out of the hotel. He saw him stride away along the drive and down the moonlit road. He was, apparently, going home--going home alone.

He got his own coat and hat and, before putting them on, stepped back for a final look at the ballroom. As he stood by the cloakroom door someone touched his arm. Turning he saw Helen.

"Why--why, Helen!" he exclaimed, in surprise.

"Are you going home?" she asked, in a low tone.

"Yes, I--"

"And you are going alone?"

"Yes."

"Would you mind--would it trouble you too much to walk with me as far as our house?"

"Why--why of course not. I shall be delighted. But I thought you--I thought Ed Raymond--"

"No, I'm alone. Wait here; I will be ready in just a minute."

She hurried away. He gazed after her in bewilderment. She and he had scarcely exchanged a word during the evening, and now, when the evening was almost over, she came and asked him to be her escort. What in the wide world--?

The minute she had specified had hardly elapsed when she reappeared, ready for out of doors. She took his arm and they walked down the steps of the hotel, past the group of lights at the head of the drive and along the road, with the moon shining down upon it and the damp, salt breeze from the ocean blowing across it. They walked for the first few minutes in silence. There were a dozen questions he would have liked to ask, but his jealous resentment had not entirely vanished and his pride forbade. It was she who spoke first.

"Albert," she said, "you must think this very odd."

He knew what she meant, but he did not choose to admit it.

"What?" he asked.

"Why, my asking you to walk home with me, after--after our trouble. It is strange, I suppose, particularly as you had not spoken before this whole evening."

"_I_--spoken to YOU? Why, you bowed to me when I came into the room and that was the only sign of recognition you gave me until just now. Not a dance--not one."

"Did you expect me to look you up and beg you to dance with me?"

"Did you expect me to trot at that fellow's heels and wait my chance to get a word with you, to take what he left? I should say not! By George, Helen, I--"

She interrupted him. "Hush, hush!" she pleaded. "This is all so silly, so childish. And we mustn't quarrel any more. I have made up my mind to that. We mustn't."

"Humph! All right, _I had no thought of quarreling in the beginning. But there are some things a self-respecting chap can't stand. I have SOME pride, I hope."

She caught her breath quickly. "Do you think," she asked, "that it was no sacrifice to my pride to beg you to walk home with me? After--after the things you said the other evening? Oh, Albert, how could you say them!"

"Well--" he hesitated, and then added, "I told you I was sorry."

"Yes, but you weren't really sorry. You must have believed the things that hateful Issachar Price said or you wouldn't have repeated them. . . . Oh, but never mind that now, I didn't mean to speak of it at all. I asked you to walk home with me because I wanted to make up our quarrel. Yes, that was it. I didn't want to go away and feel that you and I were not as good friends as ever. So, you see, I put all MY pride to one side--and asked."

One phrase in one sentence of this speech caught and held the young man's attention. He forgot the others.

"You are going away?" he repeated. "What do you mean? Where are you going?"

"I am going to Cambridge to study. I am going to take some courses at Radcliffe. You know I told you I hoped to some day. Well, it has been arranged. I am to live with my cousin, father's half sister in Somerville. Father is well enough to leave now and I have engaged a capable woman, Mrs. Peters, to help Maria with the housework. I am going Friday morning, the day after to-morrow."

He stopped short to stare at her.

"You are going away?" he asked, again. "You are going to do that and--and--Why didn't you tell me before?"

It was a characteristic return to his attitude of outraged royalty. She had made all these plans, had arranged to do this thing, and he had not been informed. At another time Helen might have laughed at him; she generally did when he became what she called the "Grand Bashaw." She did not laugh now, however, but answered quietly.

"I didn't know I was going to do it until a little more than a week ago," she said. "And I have not seen you since then."

"No, you've been too busy seeing someone else."

She lost patience for the instant. "Oh, don't, don't, don't!" she cried. "I know who you mean, of course. You mean Ed Raymond. Don't you know why he has been at the house so much of late? Why he and I have been so much together? Don't you really know?"

"What? . . . No, I don't--except that you and he wanted to be together."

"And it didn't occur to you that there might be some other reason? You forgot, I suppose, that he and I were appointed on the Ticket Committee for this very dance?"

He had forgotten it entirely. Now he remembered perfectly the meeting of the French Relief Society at which the appointment had been made. In fact Helen herself had told him of it at the time. For the moment he was staggered, but he rallied promptly.

"Committee meetings may do as an excuse for some things," he said, "but they don't explain the rest--his calls here every other evening and--and so on. Honest now, Helen, you know he hasn't been running after you in this way just because he is on that committee with you; now don't you?"

They were almost at the parsonage. The light from Mr. Kendall's study window shone through the leaves of the lilac bush behind the white fence. Helen started to speak, but hesitated. He repeated his question.

"Now don't you?" he urged.

"Why, why, yes, I suppose I do," she said, slowly. "I do know--now. But I didn't even think of such a thing until--until you came that evening and told me what Issy Price said."

"You mean you didn't guess at all?"

"Well--well, perhaps I--I thought he liked to come--liked to--Oh, what is the use of being silly! I did think he liked to call, but only as a friend. He was jolly and lots of fun and we were both fond of music. I enjoyed his company. I never dreamed that there was anything more than that until you came and were so--disagreeable. And even then I didn't believe--until to-night."

Again she hesitated. "To-night?" he repeated. "What happened to-night?"

"Oh nothing. I can't tell you. Oh, why can't friends be friends and not. . . . That is why I spoke to you, Albert, why I wanted to have this talk with you. I was going away so soon and I couldn't bear to go with any unfriendliness between us. There mustn't be. Don't you see?"

He heard but a part of this. The memory of Raymond's face as he had seen it when the young man strode out of the cloakroom and out of the hotel came back to him and with it a great heart-throbbing sense of relief, of triumph. He seized her hand.

"Helen," he cried, "did he--did you tell him--Oh, by George, Helen, you're the most wonderful girl in the world! I'm--I--Oh, Helen, you know I--I--"

It was not his habit to be at a loss for words, but he was just then. He tried to retain her hand, to put his arm about her.

"Oh, Helen!" he cried. "You're wonderful! You're splendid! I'm crazy about you! I really am! I--"

She pushed him gently away. "Don't! Please don't!" she said. "Oh, don't!"

"But I must. Don't you see I. . . . Why, you're crying!"

Her face had, for a moment, been upturned. The moon at that moment had slipped behind a cloud, but the lamplight from the window had shown him the tears in her eyes. He was amazed. He could have shouted, have laughed aloud from joy or triumphant exultation just then, but to weep! What occasion was there for tears, except on Ed Raymond's part?

"You're crying!" he repeated. "Why, Helen--!"

"Don't!" she said, again. "Oh, don't! Please don't talk that way."

"But don't you want me to, Helen? I--I want you to know how I feel. You don't understand. I--"

"Hush! . . . Don't, Al, don't, please. Don't talk in that way. I don't want you to."

"But why not?"

"Oh, because I don't. It's--it is foolish. You're only a boy, you know."

"A boy! I'm more than a year older than you are."

"Are you? Why yes, I suppose you are, really. But that doesn't make any difference. I guess girls are older than boys when they are our age, lots older."

"Oh, bother all that! We aren't kids, either of us. I want you to listen. You don't understand what I'm trying to say."

"Yes, I do. But I'm sure you don't. You are glad because you have found you have no reason to be jealous of Ed Raymond and that makes you say--foolish things. But I'm not going to have our friendship spoiled in that way. I want us to be real friends, always. So you mustn't be silly."

"I'm not silly. Helen, if you won't listen to anything else, will you listen to this? Will you promise me that while you are away you won't have other fellows calling on you or--or anything like that? And I'll promise you that I'll have nothing to say to another girl--in any way that counts, I mean. Shall we promise each other that, Helen? Come!"

She paused for some moment before answering, but her reply, when it came, was firm.

"No," she said, "I don't think we should promise anything, except to remain friends. You might promise and then be sorry, later."

"_I might? How about you?"

"Perhaps we both might. So we won't take the risk. You may come and see me to-morrow evening and say good-by, if you like. But you mustn't stay long. It is my last night with father for some time and I mustn't cheat him out of it. Good night, Albert. I'm so glad our misunderstanding is over, aren't you?"

"Of course I am. But, Helen--"

"I must go in now. Good night."

The reflections of Alberto Speranza during his walk back to the Snow place were varied but wonderful. He thought of Raymond's humiliation and gloried in it. He thought of Helen and rhapsodized. And if, occasionally, he thought also of the dance and of Madeline Fosdick, forgive him. He was barely twenty-one and the moon was shining.

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CHAPTER VIIIt was Rachel who first discovered "To My Lady's Spring Hat" in the Item three weeks later. She came rushing into the sitting room brandishing the paper. "My soul! My soul! My soul!" she cried. Olive, sitting sewing by the window, was, naturally, somewhat startled. "Mercy on us, Rachel!" she exclaimed. "What IS it?" "Look!" cried the housekeeper, pointing to the contribution in the "Poets' Corner" as Queen Isabella may have pointed at the evidence of her proteges discovery of a new world. "LOOK!" Mrs. Snow looked, read the verses to herself, and then aloud. "Why, I declare, they're real
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