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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    The hateful entreaty still murmured in her resentful ears, that night, as she fell asleep; and she passed into the beginnings of a dream with her lips slightly dimpling the surface of her pillow in belated repartee. And upon waking, though it was Sunday, her first words, half slumbrous in the silence of the morning, were, "Vile Things!" Her faculties became more alert during the preparation of a toilet that was to serve not only for breakfast, but with the addition of gloves, a hat, and a blue-velvet coat, for Church and Sunday-school as well; and she planned a hundred vengeances. That is to say, her mind did not occupy itself with plots possible to make real; but rather it dabbled among those fragmentary visions that love to overlap and displace one another upon the changeful retina of the mind's eye.

    In all of these pictures, wherein prevailingly she seemed to be some sort of deathly powerful Queen of Poetry, the postures assumed by the figures of Messrs. Atwater and Rooter (both in an extremity of rags) were miserably suppliant. So she soothed herself a little--but not long. Herbert, in the next pew, in church, and Henry in the next beyond that, were perfect compositions in smugness. They were cold, contented, aristocratic; and had an imperturbable understanding between themselves (even then perceptible to the sensitive Florence) that she was a nuisance now capably disposed of by their beautiful discovery of "Say not so!" Florence's feelings were unbecoming to the place and occasion.

    But at four o'clock, that afternoon, she was assuaged into a milder condition by the arrival, according to an agreement made in Sunday-school, of the popular Miss Patty Fairchild.

    Patty was thirteen and a half; an exquisite person with gold-dusted hair, eyes of singing blue, and an alluring air of sweet self-consciousness. Henry Rooter and Herbert Illingsworth Atwater, Jr., out gathering news, saw her entering Florence's gate, and immediately forgot that they were reporters. They became silent, gradually moving toward the house of their newspaper's sole poetess.

    Florence and Patty occupied themselves indoors for half an hour; then went out in the yard to study a mole's tunnel that had interested Florence recently. They followed it across the lawn at the south side of the house, discussing the habits of moles and other matters of zooelogy; and finally lost the track near the fence, which was here the "side fence" and higher than their heads. Patty looked through a knot-hole to see if the tunnel was visible in the next yard, but, without reporting upon her observations, she turned, as if carelessly, and leaned back against the fence, covering the knot-hole.

    "Florence," she said, in a tone softer than she had been using heretofore;--"Florence, do you know what I think?"

    "No. Could you see any more tracks over there?"

    "Florence," said Patty;--"I was just going to tell you something, only maybe I better not."

    "Why not?" Florence inquired. "Go on and tell me."

    "No," said Patty gently. "You might think it was silly."

    "No, I won't."

    "Yes, you might."

    "I promise I won't."

    "Well, then--oh, Florence I'm sure you'll think it's silly!"

    "I promised I wouldn't."

    "Well--I don't think I better say it."

    "Go on," Florence urged. "Patty, you got to."

    "Well, then, if I got to," said Patty. "What I was going to say, Florence: Don't you think your cousin Herbert and Henry Rooter have got the nicest eyes of any boy in town?"

    "Who?" Florence was astounded.

    "I do," Patty said in her charming voice. "I think Herbert and Henry've got the nicest eyes of any boy in town."

    "You do?" Florence cried incredulously.

    "Yes, I really do, Florence. I think Herbert Atwater and Henry Rooter have got the nicest eyes of any boy in town."

    "Well, I never heard anything like this before!" Florence declared.

    "But don't you think they've got the nicest eyes of any boy in town?" Patty insisted, appealingly.

    "I think," said Florence, "their eyes are just horrable!"

    "What?"

    "Herbert's eyes," continued Florence, ardently, "are the very worst lookin' ole squinty eyes I ever saw, and that nasty little Henry Rooter's eyes----"

    But Patty had suddenly become fidgety; she hurried away from the fence. "Come over here, Florence," she said. "Let's go over to the other side of the yard and talk."

    It was time for her to take some such action. Messrs. Atwater and Rooter, seated quietly together upon a box on the other side of the fence (though with their backs to the knot-hole), were beginning to show signs of inward disturbance. Already flushed with the unexpected ineffabilities overheard, their complexions had grown even pinker upon Florence's open-hearted expressions of opinion. Slowly they turned their heads to look at the fence, upon the other side of which stood the maligner of their eyes. Not that they cared what that ole girl thought--but she oughtn't to be allowed to go around talking like this and perhaps prejudicing everybody that had a kind word to say for them.

    "Come on over here, Florence," called Patty huskily, from the other side of the yard. "Let's talk over here."

    Florence was puzzled, but consented. "What you want to talk over here for?" she asked as she came near her friend.

    "Oh, I don't know," said Patty. "Let's go out in the front yard."

    She led the way round the house, and a moment later uttered a cry of surprise as the firm of Atwater & Rooter, passing along the pavement, hesitated at the gate. Their celebrated eyes showed doubt for a moment, then a brazenness: Herbert and Henry decided to come in.

    "Isn't this the funniest thing?" cried Patty. "After what I just said awhile ago--you know, Florence. Don't you dare to tell 'em!"

    "I cert'nly won't!" her hostess promised, and, turning inhospitably to the two callers, "What on earth you want around here?" she inquired.

    Herbert chivalrously took upon himself the duty of response. "Look here; this is my own aunt and uncle's yard, isn't it? I guess if I want to come in it I got a perfect right to."

    "I should say so," his partner said warmly.

    "Why, of course!" the cordial Patty agreed. "We can play some nice Sunday games, or something. Let's sit on the porch steps and think what to do."

    "I just as soon," said Henry Rooter. "I got nothin' p'ticular to do."

    "I haven't either," said Herbert.

    Thereupon, Patty sat between them on the steps.

    "This is per-feckly grand!" she cried. "Come on, Florence, aren't you going to sit down with all the rest of us?"

    "Well, pray kindly excuse me!" said Miss Atwater; and she added that she would neither sit on the same steps with Herbert Atwater and Henry Rooter, nor, even if they entreated her with accompanying genuflections, would she have anything else whatever to do with them. She concluded with a reference to the oldest pair of shoes she might ever come to possess; and withdrew to the railing of the veranda at a point farthest from the steps; and, seated there, swinging one foot rhythmically, she sang hymns in a tone at once plaintive and inimical.

    It was not lost upon her, however, that her withdrawal had little effect upon her guests. They chattered gaily, and Patty devised, or remembered, harmless little games that could be played by a few people as well as by many; and the three participants were so congenial and noisy and made so merry, that before long Florence was unable to avoid the impression that whether she liked it or not she was giving quite a party.

    At times the noted eyes of Atwater & Rooter were gentled o'er with the soft cast of enchantment, especially when Patty felt called upon to reprove the two with little coquetries of slaps and pushes. Noted for her sprightliness, she was never sprightlier; her pretty laughter tooted continuously, and the gentlemen accompanied it with doting sounds so repulsive to Florence that without being actively conscious of what she did, she embodied the phrase, "perfeckly sickening," in the hymn she was crooning, and repeated it over and over to the air of "Rock of Ages."

    "Now I tell you what let's play," the versatile Patty proposed, after exhausting the pleasures of "Geography," "Ghosts" and other tests of intellect. "Let's play 'Truth.' We'll each take a piece o' paper and a pencil, and then each of us asks the other one some question, and we haf to write down the answer and sign your name and fold it up so nobody can see it except the one that asked the question, and we haf to keep it a secret and never tell as long as we live."

    "All right," said Henry Rooter. "I'll be the one to ask you a question, Patty."

    "No," Herbert said promptly. "I ought to be the one to ask Patty."

    "Why ought you?" Henry demanded. "Why ought you?"

    "Listen!" Patty cried, "I know the way we'll do. I'll ask each of you a question--we haf to whisper it--and each one of you'll ask me one, and then we'll write it. That'll be simply grand!" She clapped her hands; then checked herself. "Oh, I guess we can't either. We haven't got any paper and pencils unless----" Here she seemed to recall her hostess. "Oh, Florrie, dear! Run in the house and get us some paper and pencils."

    Florence gave no sign other than to increase the volume of her voice as she sang: "Perf'ly sick'ning, clef' for me, let me perf'ly sick-kin-ning!"

    "We got plenty," said Herbert; whereupon he and Henry produced pencils and their professional note-books, and supplied their fair friend and themselves with material for "Truth." "Come on, Patty, whisper me whatever you want to."

    "No; I ought to have her whisper me, first," Henry Rooter objected. "I'll write the answer to any question; I don't care what it's about."

    "Well, it's got to be the truth, you know," Patty warned them. "We all haf to write down just exackly the truth on our word of honour and sign our name. Promise?"

    They promised earnestly.

    "All right," said Patty. "Now I'll whisper Henry a question first, and then you can whisper yours to me first, Herbert."

    This seemed to fill all needs happily, and the whispering and writing began, and continued with a coziness little to the taste of the piously singing Florence. She altered all previous opinions of her friend Patty, and when the latter finally closed the session on the steps, and announced that she must go home, the hostess declined to accompany her into the house to help her find where she had left her hat and wrap.

    "I haven't the least idea where I took 'em off!" Patty declared in the airiest manner. "If you won't come with me, Florrie, s'pose you just call in the front door and tell your mother to get 'em for me."

    "Oh, they're somewhere in there," Florence said coldly, not ceasing to swing her foot, and not turning her head. "You can find 'em by yourself, I presume, or if you can't I'll have our maid throw 'em out in the yard or somep'n to-morrow."

    "Well, thank you!" Miss Fairchild rejoined, as she entered the house.

    The two boys stood waiting, having in mind to go with Patty as far as her own gate. "That's a pretty way to speak to company!" Herbert addressed his cousin with heavily marked severity. "Next time you do anything like that I'll march straight in the house and inform your mother of the fact."

    Florence still swung her foot and looked dreamily away. She sang, to the air of "Rock of Ages":

    "Henry Rooter, Herbert, too--they make me sick, they make me sick, that's what they do."

    However, they were only too well prepared with their annihilating response.

    "Oh, say not so! Florence, say not so! Florence! Say not so!"

    They even sent this same odious refrain back to her from the street, as they departed with their lovely companion; and, so tenuous is feminine loyalty sometimes, under these stresses, Miss Fairchild mingled her sweet, tantalizing young soprano with their changing and cackling falsetto.

    "Say not so, Florence! Oh, say not so! Say not so!"
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