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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 12
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    He went outdoors and smoked Orduma cigarettes, one after the other. Dances and intermissions succeeded each other but Noble had "enough of that, for one while!" So he muttered.

    And remembering how Julia had told him that he was killing himself with cigarettes, "All right," he said now, as he bitterly lighted his fifth at the spark of the fourth;--"I hope I will!"

    "Lot o' difference it'd make!" he said, as he lighted the eighth of a series that must, all told, have contained nearly as much tobacco as a cigar. And, leaning back against the trunk of one of the big old walnut trees in the yard, he gazed toward the house, where the open window nearest him splashed with colour like a bright and crowded aquarium. "To her, anyway!" he added, with a slight remorse, remembering that his mother had frequently shown him evidences of affection.

    Yes, his mother would care, and his father and sisters would be upset, but Julia--when the friends of the family were asked to walk by for a last look, would she be one? What optimism remained to him presented a sketch of Julia, in black, borne from the room in the arms of girl friends who tried in vain to hush her; but he was unable to give this more hopeful fragment an air of great reality. Much more probably, when word came to her that he had smoked himself to death, she would be a bride, dancing at Niagara Falls with her bald old husband--and she would only laugh and pause to toss a faded rose out of the window, and then go right on dancing. But perhaps, some day, when tears had taught her the real meaning of life with such a man----

    "You--wow!"

    Noble jumped. From the darkness of the yard beside the house there came a grievous howl, distressful to the spinal marrow, a sound of animal pain. It was repeated even more passionately, and another voice was also heard, one both hoarsely bass and falsetto in the articulation of a single syllable. "Ouch!" There were sounds of violent scuffing, and the bass-falsetto voice cried: "What's that you stuck me with?" and another: "Drag her! Drag her back by her feet!"

    These alarms came from the almost impenetrable shadows of the small orchard beside the house; and from the same quarter was heard the repeated contact of a heavy body, seemingly wooden or metallic, with the ground; but high over this there rose a shrieking: "Help! Help! Oh, hay-yulp!" This voice was girlish. "Hay-yulp!"

    Noble dashed into the orchard, and at once fell prostrate upon what seemed a log, but proved to be a large and solidly packed ice-cream freezer lying on its side.

    Dark forms scrambled over the fence and vanished, but as Noble got to his feet he was joined by a dim and smallish figure in white--though more light would have disclosed a pink sash girdling its middle. It was the figure of Miss Florence Atwater, seething with furious agitations.

    "Vile thieves!" she panted.

    "Who?" Noble asked, brushing at his knees, while Florence made some really necessary adjustments of her own attire. "Who were they?"

    "It was my own cousin, Herbert, and that nasty little Henry Rooter and their gang. Herbert thinks he hass to act perfectly horrable all the time, now his voice is changing!" said Florence, her emotion not abated. "Tried to steal this whole ice-cream freezer off the back porch and sneak it over the fence and eat it! I stuck a pretty long pin in Herbert and two more of 'em, every bit as far as it would go." And in the extremity of her indignation, she added: "The dirty robbers!"

    "Did they hurt you?"

    "You bet your life they didn't!" the child responded. "Tried to drag me back to the house! By the feet! I guess I gave 'em enough o' that!"

    Then, tugging the prostrate freezer into an upright position, she exclaimed darkly: "I expect I gave ole Mister Herbert and some of the others of 'em just a few kicks they won't be in such a hurry to forget!" And in spite of his own gloomy condition, Noble was able, upon thinking over matters, to spare some commiseration for Herbert and his friend, that nasty little Henry Rooter and their gang. They seemed to have been at a disadvantage.

    "I suppose I'd better carry the freezer back to the kitchen porch," he said. "Somebody may want it."

    "'Somebody'!" Florence exclaimed. "Why, there's only two of these big freezers, and if I hadn't happened to suspeck somep'n and be layin' for those vile thieves, half the party wouldn't get any!" And as an afterthought, when Noble had pantingly restored the heavy freezer to its place by the kitchen door, she said: "Or else they'd had to have such little saucers of it nobody would of been any way like satisfied, and prob'ly all the fam'ly that's here assisting would of had to go without any at all. That'd 'a' been the worst of it!"

    She opened the kitchen door, and to those within explained loudly what dangers had been averted, directing that both freezers be placed indoors under guard; then she rejoined Noble, who was walking slowly back to the front yard.

    "I guess it's pretty lucky you happened to be hangin' around out here," she said. "I guess that's about the luckiest thing ever happened to me. The way it looks to me, I guess you saved my life. If you hadn't chased 'em away, I wouldn't been a bit surprised if that gang would killed me!"

    "Oh, no!" said Noble. "They wouldn't----"

    "You don't know 'em like I do," the romantic child assured him. "I know that gang pretty well, and I wouldn't been a bit surprised. I wouldn't been!"

    "But----"

    She tossed her head, signifying recklessness.

    "Guess 'twouldn't make much difference to anybody particular, whether they did or not," said this strange Florence.

    Noble regarded her with astonishment; they had reached the front yard, and paused under the trees where the darkness was mitigated by the light from the shining windows. "Why, you oughtn't to talk that way, Florence," he said. "Think of your mamma and papa and your--and your Aunt Julia."

    She tossed her head again. "Pooh! They'd all of 'em just say: 'Good ribbons to bad rubbish,' I guess!" However, she seemed far from despondent about this; in fact, she was naturally pleased with her position as a young girl saved from the power of ruffians by a rescuer who was her Very Ideal. "I bet if I died, they wouldn't even have a funeral," she said cheerfully. "They'd proba'ly just leave me lay."

    The curiosities of the human mind are found not in high adventure: they are everywhere in the commonplace. Never for a moment did it strike Noble Dill that Florence's turn to the morbid bore any resemblance to his recent visions of his own funeral. He failed to perceive that the two phenomena were produced out of the same laboratory jar and were probably largely chemical, at that.

    "Why, Florence!" he exclaimed. "That's a dreadful way to feel. I'm sure your--your Aunt Julia loves you."

    "Oh, well," Florence returned lightly;--"maybe she does. I don't care whether she does or not." And now she made a deduction, the profundity of which his condition made him unable to perceive. "It makes less difference to anybody whether their aunts love 'em or not than whether pretty near anybody else at all does."

    "But not your Aunt Julia" he urged. "Your Aunt Julia----"

    "I don't care whether she does than any other aunt I got," said Florence. "All of 'em's just aunts, and that's all there is to it."

    "But, Florence, your Aunt Julia----"

    "She's nothin' in the world but my aunt," Florence insisted, and her emphasis showed that she was trying hard to make him understand. "She's just the same as all of 'em. I don't get anything more from her than I do from any the rest of 'em."

    Her auditor was dumfounded, but not by Florence's morals. The cold-blooded calculation upon which her family affections seemed to be founded, this aboriginal straightforwardness of hers, passed over him. What shocked him was her appearing to see Julia as all of a piece with a general lot of ordinary aunts. Helplessly, he muttered again:

    "But your Aunt Julia----"

    "There she is now," said Florence, pointing to the window nearest them. "They've stopped dancing for a while so's that ole Mister Clairdyce can get a chance to sing somep'n. Mamma told me he was goin' to."

    Dashing chords sounded from a piano invisible to Noble and his companion; the windows exhibited groups of deferentially expectant young people; and then a powerful barytone began a love song. From the yard the singer could not be seen, but Julia could be: she stood in the demurest attitude; and no one needed to behold the vocalist to know that the scoundrel was looking pointedly and romantically at her.

    "Dee-urra-face that holds soswee tasmile for me,

    Wairyew nah tmine how darrrk the worrrl dwooed be!"

    To Noble, suffering at every pore, this was less a song than a bellowing; and in truth the confident Mr. Clairdyce did "let his voice out," for he was seldom more exhilarated than when he shook the ceiling. The volume of sound he released upon his climaxes was impressive, and the way he slid up to them had a great effect, not indoors alone, but upon Florence, enraptured out under the trees.

    "Oh, isn't it be-you-tiful!" she murmured.

    Her humid eyes were fixed upon Noble, who was unconscious of the honour. Florence was susceptible to anything purporting to be music, and this song moved her. Throughout its delivery from Mr. Clairdyce's unseen chest, her large eyes dwelt upon Noble, and it is not at all impossible that she was applying the tender words to him, just as the vehement Clairdyce was patently addressing them to Julia. On he sang, while Noble, staring glassily at the demure lady, made a picture of himself leaping unexpectedly through the window, striding to the noisy barytone, striking him down, and after stamping on him several times, explaining: "There! That's for your insolence to our hostess!" But he did not actually permit himself these solaces; he only clenched and unclenched his fingers several times, and continued to listen.

    "Geev a-mee yewr ra-smile, The luv va-ligh TIN yew rise, Life cooed not hold a fairrerr paradise. Geev a-mee the righ to luv va-yew all the wile, My worrlda for AIV-vorr, The sunshigh NUV vyewr-ra-smile!"

    The conclusion was thunderous, and as a great noise under such circumstances is an automatic stimulant of enthusiasm, the applause was thunderous too. Several girls were unable to subdue their outcries of "Charming!" and "Won-derf'l!"--not even after Mr. Clairdyce had begun to sing the same song as an encore.

    When this was concluded, a sigh, long and deep, was heard under the trees. It came from Florence. Her eyes, wanly gleaming, like young oysters in the faint light, were still fixed on Noble; and there can be little doubt that just now there was at least one person in the world, besides his mother, who saw him in a glamour as something rare, obs, exquisite, and elegant. "I think that was the most be-you-tiful thing I ever heard!" she said; and then, noting a stir within the house, she became practical. "They're starting refreshments," she said. "We better hurry in, Mr. Dill, so's to get good places. Thanks to me, there's plenty to go round."

    She moved toward the house, but, observing that he did not accompany her, paused and looked back. "Aren't you goin' to come in, Mr. Dill?"

    "I guess not. Don't tell any one I'm out here."

    "I won't. But aren't you goin' to come in for----"

    He shook his head. "No, I'm going to wait out here a while longer."

    "But," she said, "it's refreshments!"

    "I don't want any. I--I'm going to smoke some more, instead."

    She looked at him wistfully, then even more wistfully toward the house. Evidently she was of a divided mind: her feeling for Noble fought with her feeling for "refreshments." Such a struggle could not endure for long: a whiff of coffee conjured her nose, and a sound of clinking china witched her ear. "Well," she said, "I guess I ought to have some nourishment," and betook herself hurriedly into the house.

    Noble lit another Orduma. He would follow the line of conduct he had marked out for himself: he would not take his place by Julia for the supper interval--perhaps that breach of etiquette would "show" her. He could see her no longer--she had moved out of range--but he imagined her, asking everywhere: "Hasn't any one seen Mr. Dill?" And he thought of her as biting her lip nervously, perhaps, and replying absently to sallies and quips--perhaps even having to run upstairs to her own room to dash something sparkling from her eyes, and, maybe, to look angrily in her glass for an instant and exclaim, "Fool!" For Julia was proud, and not used to be treated in this way.

    He felt the least bit soothed, and, lightly flicking the ash from his Orduma with his little finger, an act indicating some measure of restored composure, he strolled to the other side of the house and brought other fields of vision into view through other windows. Abruptly his stroll came to an end.

    There sat Julia, flushed and joyous, finishing her supper in company with old Baldy Clairdyce, Newland Sanders, George Plum, seven or eight other young gentlemen, and some inconsidered adhering girls--the horrible barytone sitting closest of all to Julia. Moreover, upon that very moment the orchestra, in the hall beyond, thought fit to pay the recent vocalist a sickening compliment, and began to play "The Sunshine of Your Smile."

    Thereupon, with Julia herself first taking up the air in a dulcet soprano, all of the party, including the people in the other rooms, sang the dreadful song in chorus, the beaming Clairdyce exerting such demoniac power as to be heard tremendously over all other voices. He had risen for this effort, and to Noble, below the window, everything in his mouth was visible.

    The lone listener had a bitter thought, though it was a longing, rather than a thought. For the first time in his life he wished that he had adopted the profession of dentistry.

    "Geev a-mee the righ to luv va-yew ALL the wile, My worrrlda for AIV-vorr, The sunshigh NUV vyewr-ra-smile!"

    The musicians swung into dance music; old Baldy closed the exhibition with an operatic gesture (for which alone, if for nothing else, at least one watcher thought the showy gentleman deserved hanging), and this odious gesture concluded with a seizure of Julia's hand. She sprang up eagerly; he whirled her away, and the whole place fluctuated in the dance once more.

    "Well, now," said Noble, between his teeth--"now, I am goin' to do something!"

    He turned his back upon that painful house, walked out to the front gate, opened it, passed through, and looked southward. Not quite two blocks away there shone the lights of a corner drug store, still open to custom though the hour was nearing midnight. He walked straight to the door of this place, which stood ajar, but paused before entering, and looked long and nervously at the middle-aged proprietor who was unconscious of his regard, and lounged in a chair, drowsily stroking a cat upon his lap. Noble walked in.

    "Good evening," said the proprietor, rising and brushing himself languidly. "Cat hairs," he said apologetically. "Sheddin', I reckon." Then, as he went behind the counter, he inquired: "How's the party goin' off?"

    "It's--it's----" Noble hesitated. "I stepped in to--to----"

    The druggist opened a glass case. "Aw right," he said, blinking, and tossed upon the counter a package of Orduma cigarettes. "Old Atwater'd have convulsions, I reckon," he remarked, "if he had to lay awake and listen to all that noise. Price ain't changed," he added, referring humorously to the purchase he mistakenly supposed Noble wished to make. "F'teen cents, same as yesterday and the day before."

    Noble placed the sum upon the counter. "I--I was thinking----" He gulped.

    "Huh?" said the druggist placidly, for he was too sleepy to perceive the strangeness of his customer's manner.

    Noble lighted an Orduma with an unsteady hand, leaned upon the counter, and inquired in a voice that he strove to make casual: "Is--is the soda fountain still running this late?"

    "Sure."

    "I didn't know," said Noble. "I suppose you have more calls for soda water than you do for--for--for real liquor?"

    The druggist laughed. "Funny thing: I reckon we don't have more'n half the calls for real liquor than what we used to before we went dry."

    Noble breathed deeply. "I s'pose you probably sell quite a good deal of it though, at that. By the glass, I mean--such as a glass of something kind of strong--like--like whiskey. That is, I sort of supposed so. I mean I thought I'd ask you about this."

    "No," said the druggist, yawning. "It never did pay well--not on this corner, anyhow. Once there used to be a little money in it, but not much." He roused himself somewhat. "Well, it's about twelve. Anything you wanted 'cept them Ordumas before I close up?"

    Noble gulped again. He had grown pale. "I want----" he said abruptly, then his heart seemed to fail him. "I want a glass of----" Once more he stopped and swallowed. His shoulders drooped, and he walked across to the soda fountain. "Well," he said, "I'll take a chocolate sundae."

    The thought of going back to Julia's party was unendurable, yet a return was necessary on account of his new hat, the abandonment of which he did not for a moment consider. But about half way, as he walked slowly along, he noticed an old horse-block at the curbstone, and sat down there. He could hear the music at Julia's, sometimes loud and close at hand, sometimes seeming to be almost a mile away. "All right!" he said, so bitter had he grown. "Dance! Go on and dance!"

    ... When finally he reentered Julia's gate, he shuffled up the walk, his head drooping, and ascended the steps and crossed the veranda and the threshold of the front door in the same manner.

    Julia stood before him.

    "Noble Dill!" she exclaimed.

    As for Noble, his dry throat refused its office; he felt that he might never be able to speak to Julia again, even if he tried.

    "Where in the world have you been all evening?" she cried.

    "Why, Jew-Julia!" he quavered. "Did you notice that I was gone?"

    "Did I 'notice'!" she said. "You never came near me all evening after the first dance! Not even at supper!"

    "You wouldn't--you didn't----" he faltered. "You wouldn't do anything all evening except dance with that old Clairdyce and listen to him trying to sing."

    But Julia would let no one suffer if she could help it; and she could always help Noble. She made her eyes mysterious and used a voice of honey and roses. "You don't think I'd rather have danced with him, do you, Noble?"

    Immediately sparks seemed to crackle about his head. He started.

    "What?" he said.

    The scent of heliotrope enveloped him; she laughed her silver harp-strings laugh, and lifted her arms toward the dazzled young man. "It's the last dance," she said. "Don't you want to dance it with me?"

    Then to the spectators it seemed that Noble Dill went hopping upon a waxed floor and upon Julia's little slippers; he was bumped and bumping everywhere; but in reality he floated in Elysian ether, immeasurably distant from earth, his hand just touching the bodice of an angelic doll.

    Then, on his way home, a little later, with his new hat on the back of his head, his stick swinging from his hand, and a semi-fragrant Orduma between his lips, his condition was precisely as sweet as the condition in which he had walked to the party.

    No echoes of "The Sunshine of Your Smile" cursed his memory--that lover's little memory fresh washed in heliotrope--and when his mother came to his door, after he got home, and asked him if he'd had "a nice time at the party," he said:

    "Just glorious!" and believed it.
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