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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
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    Noble Dill came from his father's house, after dinner that evening, a youth in blossom, like the shrubberies and garden beds in the dim yards up and down Julia's Street. All cooled and bathed and in new clothes of white, he took his thrilled walk through the deep summer twilight, on his way to that ineffable Front Porch where sat Julia, misty in the dusk. The girlish little new moon had perished naively out of the sky; the final pinkness of the west was gone; blue evening held the quiet world; and overhead, between the branches of the maple trees, were powdered all those bright pin points of light that were to twinkle on generations of young lovers after Noble Dill, each one, like Noble, walking the same fragrant path in summer twilights to see the Prettiest Girl of All.

    Now and then there came to the faintly throbbing ears of the pedestrian a murmur of voices from lawns where citizens sat cooling after the day's labour, or a tinkle of laughter from where maidens dull (not being Julia) sat on verandas vacant of beauty and glamour. For these poor things, Noble felt a wondering and disdainful pity; he pitied everything in the world that was not on the way to starry Julia.

    Eight nights had passed since he, himself, had seen her, but to-day she had replied (over the telephone) that Mr. Atwater seemed to have settled down again, and she believed it might be no breach of tact for Noble to call that evening--especially as she would be on the veranda, and he needn't ring the bell. Would she be alone--for once? It was improbable, yet it could be hoped.

    But as he came hoping up the street, another already sat beside Julia, sharing with her the wicker settee on the dim porch, and this was the horn-rimmed young poet. Newland had, as usual, a new poem with him; and as others had proved of late that they could sit on Julia's veranda as long as he could, he had seized the first opportunity to familiarize her with this latest work.

    The veranda was dark, and to go indoors to the light might have involved too close a juxtaposition to peculiar old Mr. Atwater who was in the library; but the resourceful Newland, foreseeing everything, had brought with him a small pocket flashlight to illumine his manuscript. "It's vers libre, of course," he said as he moved the flashlight over the sheets of scribbled paper. "I think I told you I was beginning to give all the old forms up. It's the one new movement, and I felt I ought to master it."

    "Of course," she said sympathetically, though with a little nervousness. "Be just a wee bit careful with the flashlight--about turning it toward the window, I mean--and read in your nice low voice. I always like poetry best when it's almost whispered. I think it sounds more musical that way, I mean."

    Newland obeyed. His voice was hushed and profoundly appreciative of the music in itself and in his poem, as he read:

    "I--And Love! Lush white lilies line the pool Like laces limned on looking-glasses! I tread the lilies underfoot, Careless how they love me! Still white maidens woo me, Win me not! But thou! Thou art a cornflower Sapphire-eyed! I bend! Cornflower, I ask a question. O flower, speak----"

    Julia spoke. "I'm afraid," she said, while Newland's spirit filled with a bitterness extraordinary even in an interrupted poet;--"I'm afraid it's Mr. Dill coming up the walk. We'll have to postpone----" She rose and went to the steps to greet the approaching guest. "How nice of you to come!"

    Noble, remaining on the lowest step, clung to her hand in a fever. "Nice to come!" he said hoarsely. "It's eight days--eight days--eight days since----"

    "Mr. Sanders is here," she said. "It's so dark on this big veranda people can hardly see each other. Come up and sit with us. I don't have to introduce you two men to each other."

    She did not, indeed. They said "H'lo, Dill" and "H'lo Sanders" in a manner of such slighting superiority that only the utmost familiarity could have bred a contempt so magnificent. Then, when the three were seated, Mr. Sanders thought well to add: "How's rent collecting these days, Dill? Still hustling around among those darky shanties over in Bucktown?"

    In the dark Noble moved convulsively, but contrived to affect a light laugh, or a sound meant for one, as he replied, in a voice not entirely under control: "How's the ole poetry, Sanders?"

    "What?" Newland demanded sharply. "What did you say?"

    "I said: 'How's the ole poetry?' Do you read it to all your relations the way you used to?"

    "See here, Dill!"

    "Well, what you want, Sanders?"

    "You try to talk about things you understand," said Newland. "You better keep your mind on collecting four dollars a week from some poor coloured widow, and don't----"

    "I'd rather keep my mind on that!" Noble was inspired to retort. "Your Aunt Georgina told my mother that ever since you began thinkin' you could write poetry the life your family led was just----"

    Newland interrupted. He knew the improper thing his Aunt Georgina had said, and he was again, and doubly, infuriated by the prospect of its repetition here. He began fiercely:

    "Dill, you see here----"

    "Your Aunt Georgina said----"

    Both voices had risen. Plainly it was time for someone to say: "Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" Julia glanced anxiously through the darkness of the room beyond the open window beside her, to where the light of the library lamp shone upon a door ajar; and she was the more nervous because Noble, to give the effect of coolness, had lit an Orduma cigarette.

    She laughed amiably, as if the two young gentlemen were as amiable as she. "I've thought of something," she said. "Let's take the settee and some chairs down on the lawn where we can sit and see the moon."

    "There isn't any," Noble remarked vacantly.

    "Let's go, anyhow," she said cheerily. "Come on."

    Her purpose was effected; the belligerents were diverted, and Noble lifted the light wicker settee. "I'll carry this," he said. "It's no trouble. Sanders can carry a chair--I guess he'd be equal to that much." He stumbled, dropped the settee, and lifted a basket, its contents covered with a newspaper. "Somebody must have----"

    "What is it?"

    "It's a basket," said Noble.

    "How curious!"

    Julia peered through the darkness. "I wonder who could have left that market basket out here. I suppose----" She paused. "Our cook does do more idiotic things than--I'll go ask her if it's ours."

    She stepped quickly into the house, leaving two concentrations of inimical silence behind her, but she returned almost immediately, followed by Kitty Silver.

    "It's no use to argue," Julia was saying as they came. "You did your marketing and simply and plainly left it out there because you were too shiftless to----"

    "No'm," Mrs. Silver protested in a high voice of defensive complaint. "No'm, Miss Julia, I ain' lef no baskit on no front po'che! I got jus' th'ee markit baskits in the livin' worl' an' they ev'y las' one an' all sittin' right where I kin lay my han's on 'em behime my back do'. No'm, Miss Julia, I take my solemn oaf I ain' lef no----" But here she debouched upon the porch, and in spite of the darkness perceived herself to be in the presence of distinguished callers. "Pahdon me," she said loftily, her tone altering at once, "I beg leaf to insis' I better take thishere baskit back to my kitchen an' see whut-all's insiden of it."

    With an elegant gesture she received the basket from Noble Dill and took the handle over her ample forearm. "Hum!" she said. "Thishere ole basket kine o' heavy, too. I wunner whut-all she is got in her!" And she groped within the basket, beneath the newspaper.

    Now, it was the breath of Kitty Silver's life to linger, when she could, in a high atmosphere; and she was a powerful gossip, exorbitantly interested in her young mistress's affairs and all callers. Therefore it was beyond her not to seize upon any excuse that might detain her for any time whatever in her present surroundings.

    "Pusserve jugs," she said. "Pusserve or pickle. Cain't tell which."

    "You can in the kitchen," Julia said, with pointed suggestion. "Of course you can't in the dark."

    But still Mrs. Silver snatched at the fleeting moment and did not go. "Tell by smellin' 'em," she murmured, seemingly to herself.

    With ease she unscrewed the top of one of the jars; then held the open jar to her nose. "Don't smell to me exackly like no pusserves," she said. "Nor yit like no pickles. Don't smell to me----" She hesitated, sniffed the jar again, and then inquired in a voice quickly grown anxious: "Whut is all thishere in thishere jug? Seem like to me----"

    But here she interrupted herself to utter a muffled exclamation, not coherent. Instantly she added some words suitable to religious observances, but in a voice of passion. At the same time, with a fine gesture, she hurled the jar and the basket from her, and both came in contact with the wall, not far away, with a sound of breakage.

    "Why, what----" Julia began. "Kitty Silver, are you crazy?"

    But Kitty Silver was moving hurriedly toward the open front door, where appeared, at that moment, Mr. Atwater in his most irascible state of peculiarity.

    He began: "What was that heathenish----"

    Shouting, Mrs. Silver jostled by him, and, though she disappeared into the house, a trail of calamitous uproar marked her passage to the kitchen.

    "What thing has happened?" Mr. Atwater demanded. "Is she----?"

    His daughter interrupted him.

    "Oh!" was all she said, and sped by him like a bit of blown thistledown, into the house. He grasped at her as she passed him; then suddenly he made other gestures, and, like Kitty Silver, used Jacobean phrases. But now there were no auditors, for Noble Dill and Newland Sanders, after thoughtlessly following a mutual and natural impulse to step over and examine the fallen basket, had both gone out to the street, where they lingered a while, then decided to go home.

    ... Later, that evening, Florence and Herbert remembered the c'lection; so they came for it, a mistake. Discovering the fragments upon the veranda, they made the much more important mistake of entering the house to demand an explanation, which they received immediately. It was delivered with so much vigour, indeed, that Florence was surprised and hurt. And yet, the most important of her dreamy wishes of the afternoon had been fulfilled: the c'lection had been useful to Noble Dill, for Mr. Atwater had smelled the smell of an Orduma cigarette and was just on the point of coming out to say some harsh things, when the c'lection interfered. And as Florence was really responsible for its having been in a position to interfere, so to say, she had actually in a manner protected her protege and also shown some of that power of which she had boasted when she told him that sometimes she made members of her family "step around pretty lively."

    Another of her wishes appeared to be on the way to fulfilment, too. She had hoped that something memorable might be done with the c'lection, and the interview with her grandfather, her Aunt Julia, and Kitty Silver seemed to leave this beyond doubt.
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