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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    A week later, on a hot July afternoon, Miss Florence Atwater, recovered from her cold, stood in the shady back yard of her place of residence and yawned more extensively than any one would have believed possible, judging by her face in repose. Three of her friends, congenial in age and sex, were out of town for the summer; two had been ascertained, by telephonic inquiries, to be taking commanded siestas; and neither the other one nor Florence had yet forgotten that yesterday, although they were too religious to commit themselves to a refusal to meet as sisters in the Great Beyond, they had taken the expurgated oath that by Everything they would never speak to each other again so long as they both should live.

    Florence was at the end of her resources. She had sought distraction in experimental cookery; but, having scorched a finger, and having been told by the cook that a person's own kitchen wasn't worth the price at eleven dollars a week if it had to git all smelled up with broiled rubber when the femometer stood at ninety-sevvum degrees in the shade, the experimenter abusedly turned her back on the morose woman and went out to the back yard for a little peace.

    After an interval of torpor, she decided to go and see what Herbert was doing--a move not short of desperation, on account of Herbert's new manner toward her. For a week Herbert had steadily pursued his scientific career, and he seemed to feel that in it he had attained a distinction beyond the reach of Florence. What made it ridiculous for her to hope was, of course, the fact that she was a girl, and Herbert had explained this to her in a cold, unpleasant way; for it is true that what is called "feminism" must be acquired by men, and is not a condition, or taste, natural to them. At thirteen it has not been acquired.

    She found him at home. He was importantly engaged in a room in the cellar, where were loosely stored all manner of incapacitated household devices; two broken clothes-wringers, a crippled and rusted sewing-machine, an ice-cream freezer in like condition, a cracked and discarded marble mantelpiece, chipped porcelain and chinaware of all sorts, rusted stove lids and flatirons, half a dozen dead mops and brooms. This was the laboratory, and here, in congenial solitude, Herbert conducted his investigations. That is to say, until Florence arrived he was undisturbed by human intrusion, but he was not alone--far from it! There was, in fact, almost too much life in the place.

    Where the light fell clearest from the cobwebby windows at the ground level overhead, he had placed a long deal table, once a helpmate in the kitchen, but now a colourless antique on three legs and two starch boxes. Upon the table were seven or eight glass jars, formerly used for preserves and pickles, and a dozen jelly glasses (with only streaks and bits of jelly in them now) and five or six small round pasteboard pill-boxes. The jars were covered, some with their own patent tops, others with shingles or bits of board, and one with a brick. The jelly glasses stood inverted, and were inhabited; so were the preserve jars and pickle jars; and so were the pill-boxes, which evidently contained star boarders, for they were pierced with "breathing holes," and one of them, standing upon its side like a little wheel, now and then moved in a faint, ghostly manner as if about to start rolling on its own account--whereupon Herbert glanced up and addressed it sternly, though somewhat inconsistently: "You shut up!"

    In the display of so much experimental paraphernalia, there may have been a hint that Herbert's was a scientific nature craving rather quantity than quality; his collection certainly possessed the virtue of multitudinousness, if that be a virtue; and the birds in the neighbourhood must have been undergoing a great deal of disappointment. In brief, as many bugs as Herbert now owned have seldom been seen in the custody of any private individual. And nearly all of them were alive, energetic and swearing, though several of the preserve jars had been imperfectly drained of their heavy syrups, and in one of them a great many spiders seemed to be having, of the whole collection, the poorest time; being pretty well mired down and yet still subject to disagreements among themselves. The habits of this group, under such unusual surroundings, formed the subject of Herbert's special study at the moment of Florence's arrival. He was seated at the table and frowning with science as he observed the unfortunates through that magnifying-glass, his discovery of which was responsible for their present condition and his own choice of a career.

    Florence paused in the doorway, but he gave no sign of recognition, unless his intensified preoccupation was a sign, and Florence, perceiving what line of conduct he meant to adopt, instinctively selected a reciprocal one for herself. "Herbert Atwater, you ought to be punished! I'm goin' to tell your father and mother."

    "You g'way," Herbert returned, unmoved; and, without condescending to give her a glance, he set down the magnifying-glass, and with a pencil wrote something profoundly entomological in a soiled memorandum book upon the table. "Run away, Flor'nce. Run away somewheres and play."

    Florence approached. "'Play'!" she echoed tartly. "I should think you wouldn't talk much about 'playin',' the way you're teasing those poor, poor little bugs!"

    "'Teasing'!" Herbert exclaimed: "That shows! That shows!"

    "Shows what?"

    "How much you know!" He became despondent about her. "See here, Florence; it does look to me as though at your age a person ought to know anyway enough not to disturb me when I'm expairamenting, and everything. I should think----"

    But she did not prove so meek as to await the conclusion of his remonstrance. "I never saw anything as wicked in my whole born days! What did any of those poor, poor little bugs ever do to you, I'd like to know, you got to go and confine 'em like this! And look how dirty your hands are!"

    This final charge, wandering so far from her previous specifications of his guilt, was purely automatic and conventional; Florence often interjected it during the course of any cousinly discussion, whatever the subject in dispute, and she had not even glanced at Herbert's hands to assure herself that the accusation was warranted. But, as usual, the facts supported her; and they also supported Herbert in his immediate mechanical retort: "So're yours!"

    "Not either!" But here Florence, after instinctively placing her hands behind her, brought forth the right one to point, and simultaneously uttered a loud cry: "Oh, look at your hands!" For now she did look at Herbert's hands, and was amazed.

    "Well, what of it?"

    "They're all lumpy!" she cried, and, as her gaze rose to his cheek, her finger followed her eyes and pointed to strange appearances there. "Look at your face!"

    "Well, what of it?" he demanded, his tone not entirely free from braggadocio. "A girl can't make expairaments the way I do, because if one of these good ole bumblebees or hornets of mine was to give 'em a little sting, once in a while, while they was catchin' 'em and puttin' 'em in a jar, all they'd know how to do'd be to holler and run home to their mamma. Nobody with any gumption minds a few little stings after you put mud on 'em."

    "I guess it serves you right," Florence said, "for persecutin' these poor, poor little bugs."

    Herbert became plaintive. "Look here, Florence; I do wish you'd go on back home where you belong."

    But Florence did not reply; instead she picked up the magnifying-glass, and, gazing through it at a pickle jar of mixed beetles, caterpillars, angleworms, and potato bugs, permitted herself to shudder. "Vile things!" she said.

    "They are not, either!" Herbert retorted hotly. "They're about the finest insecks that you or anybody else ever saw, and you ought to be ashamed----"

    "I ought?" his cousin cried. "Well, I should think you're the one ought to be ashamed, if anybody ought! Down here in the cellar playin' with all these vile bugs that ought to be given their liberty, or thrown down the sewer, or somep'n!" Again, as she peered through the lens, she shuddered. "Vile----"

    "Florence," he said sternly, "you lay down that magnifying-glass."

    "Why?"

    "Because you don't know how to handle it. A magnifying-glass has got to be handled in just the right way, and you couldn't learn if you tried a thousand years. That's a mighty fine magnifying-glass, and I don't intend to have it ruined."

    "Why, just lookin' through it can't spoil it, can it?" she inquired, surprised.

    "You lay it down," said Herbert darkly. "Lookin' through it the wrong way isn't going to do it any good."

    "Why, how could just lookin' through it----"

    "Lookin' through it the wrong way isn't goin' to help it any, I tell you!" he insisted. "You're old enough to know that, and I'm not goin' to have my magnifying-glass spoiled and all my insecks wasted just because of a mere whin of yours!"

    "A what?"

    "A mere whin, I said!"

    "What's a whin?"

    "Never you mind," said Herbert ominously. "You'll proba'ly find out some day when you aren't expectin' to!"

    Undeniably, Florence was somewhat impressed: she replaced the magnifying-glass upon the table and picked up the notebook.

    "You lay that down, too," said Herbert instantly.

    "Oh, maybe it's somep'n you're 'shamed to----"

    "Go on and read it, then," he said, suddenly changing his mind, for he was confident that she would find matter here that might cause her to appreciate at least a little of her own inferiority.

    "'Nots'," Florence began. "'Nots'----"

    "Notes!" he corrected her fiercely.

    "'Notes'," she read. "'Notes on our inseck friends. The spidder----'"

    "Spider!"

    "'The spider spends his time mostly in cobwebs which he digilently spins between posts and catches flies to eat them. They are different coloured and sizes and have legs in pairs. Spiders also spin their webs in corners or in weeds or on a fence and sometimes in the grass. They are more able to get about quicker than catapillars or fishing worms, but cannot fly such as pinching bugs, lightning bugs, and birds because having no wings, nor jump as far as the grass hoper----'"

    "Grasshopper!" Herbert shouted.

    "I'm readin' it the way it's spelled," Florence explained. "Anyway, it don't make much sense."

    Herbert was at least enough of an author to be furious. "Lay it down!" he said bitterly. "And go on back home to your dolls."

    "Dolls certainly would be cleaner than vile bugs," Florence retorted, tossing the book upon the table. "But in regards to that, I haven't had any," she went on, airily--"not for years and years and years and----"

    He interrupted her, his voice again plaintive. "See here, Florence, how do you expect me to get my work done, with you everlastin'ly talkin' and goin' on around here like this? Can't you see I've got somep'n pretty important on my hands?"

    Florence became thoughtful. "I never did see as many bugs before, all together this way," she said. "What you goin' to do with 'em, Herbert?"

    "I'm makin' my expairaments."

    But her thoughtfulness increased. "It seems to me," she said slowly:--"Herbert, it seems to me there must be some awful inter'sting thing we could do with so many bugs all together like this."

    "'We'!" he cried. "My goodness, whose insecks do you think these insecks are?"

    "I just know there's somep'n," she went on, following her own line of thought, and indifferent to his outburst. "There's somep'n we could do with 'em that we'd never forget, if we could only think of it."

    In spite of himself, Herbert was interested. "Well, what?" he asked. "What could we do with 'em we'd never forget?"

    In her eyes there was a far-away light as of a seeress groping. "I don't just know exackly, but I know there's somep'n--if we could only think of it--if we could just----" And her voice became inaudible, as in dreamy concentration she seated herself upon the discarded ice-cream freezer, and rested her elbows upon her knees and her chin upon the palms of her hands.

    In silence then, she thought and thought. Herbert also was silent, for he, too, was trying to think, not knowing that already he had proved himself to be wax in her hands, and that he was destined further to show himself thus malleable. Like many and many another of his sex, he never for an instant suspected that he spent the greater part of his time carrying out ideas implanted within him by a lady-friend. Florence was ever the imaginative one of those two, a maiden of unexpected fancies and inexplicable conceptions, a mind of quicksilver and mist. There was within her the seedling of a creative artist, and as she sat there, on the ice-cream freezer in Herbert's cellar, with the slowly growing roseate glow of deep preoccupation upon her, she looked strangely sweet and good, and even almost pretty.
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