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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 22
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    There was no light in any other part of the house, they discovered, after abandoning the front door bell for an excursion to the rear. "That's disheartening to a hungry person," Julia remarked: and then remembered that she had a key to the front door in her purse. She opened the door, and lighted the hall chandelier while Noble brought in her bags from the steps where the taxicab driver had left them.

    "There's nobody home at all," Julia said thoughtfully. "Not even Gamin."

    "No. Nobody," her sad companion agreed, shaking his head. "Nobody at all, Julia. Nobody at all." Rousing himself, he went back for the golf tools, and with a lingering gentleness set them in a corner. Then, dumbly, he turned to go.

    "Wait, please," said Julia. "I want to ask you a few things--especially about what you've got 'all down in black and white' in your pocket. Will you shut the front door, if you please, and go into the library and turn on the lights and wait there while I look over the house and see if I can find why it's all closed up like this?"

    Noble went into the library and found the control of the lights. She came hurrying in after him.

    "It's chilly. The furnace seems to be off," she said. "I'll----" But instead of declaring her intentions, she enacted them; taking a match from a little white porcelain trough on the mantelpiece and striking it on the heel of her glittering shoe. Then she knelt before the grate and set the flame to paper beneath the kindling-wood and coal. "You mustn't freeze," she said, with a thoughtful kindness that killed him; and as she went out of the room he died again;--for she looked back over her shoulder.

    She had pushed up her veils and this was his first sight of that disastrous face in long empty weeks and weeks. Now he realized that all his aching reveries upon its contours had shown but pallid likenesses; for here was the worst thing about Julia's looks;--even her most extravagant suitor, in absence, could not dream an image of her so charming as he found herself when he saw her again. Thus, seeing Julia again was always a discovery. And this glance over her shoulder as she left a room--not a honeyed glance but rather inscrutable, yet implying that she thought of the occupant, and might continue to think of him while gone from him--this was one of those ways of hers that experience could never drill out of her.

    "I'm Robinson Crusoe, Noble," she said, when she came back. "I suppose I might as well take off my furs, though." But first she unfastened the great bouquet she wore and tossed it upon a table. Noble was standing close to the table, and he moved away from it hurriedly--a revulsion that she failed to notice. She went on to explain, as she dropped her cloak and stole upon a chair: "Papa's gone away for at least a week. He's taken his ulster. It doesn't make any difference what the weather is, but when he's going away for a week or longer, he always takes it with him, except in summer. If he's only going to be gone two or three days he takes his short overcoat. And unless I'm here when he leaves town he always gives the servants a holiday till he gets back; so they've gone and even taken Gamin with 'em, and I'm all alone in the house. I can't get even Kitty Silver back until to-morrow, and then I'll probably have to hunt from house to house among her relatives. Papa left yesterday, because the numbers on his desk calender are pulled off up to to-day, and that's the first thing he does when he comes down for breakfast. So here I am, Robinson Crusoe for to-night at least."

    "I suppose," said Noble huskily, "I suppose you'll go to some of your aunts or brothers or cousins or something."

    "No," she said. "My trunk may come up from the station almost any time, and if I close the house they'll take it back."

    "You needn't bother about that, Julia. I'll look after it."

    "How?"

    "I could sit on the porch till it comes," he said. "I'd tell 'em you wanted 'em to leave it." He hesitated, painfully. "I--if you want to lock up the house I--I could wait out on the porch with your trunk, to see that it was safe, until you come back to-morrow morning."

    She looked full at him, and he plaintively endured the examination.

    "Noble!" Undoubtedly she had a moment's shame that any creature should come to such a pass for her sake. "What crazy nonsense!" she said; and sat upon a stool before the crackling fire. "Do sit down, Noble--unless your dinner will be waiting for you at home?"

    "No," he murmured. "They never wait for me. Don't you want me to look after your trunk?"

    "Not by sitting all night with it on the porch!" she said. "I'm going to stay here myself. I'm not going out; I don't want to see any of the family to-night."

    "I thought you said you were hungry?"

    "I am; but there's enough in the pantry. I looked."

    "Well, if you don't want to see any of 'em," he suggested, "and they know your father's away and think the house is empty, they're liable to notice the lights and come in, and then you'd have to see 'em."

    "No, you can't see the lights of this room from the street, and I lit the lamp at the other end of the hall. The light near the front door," Julia added, "I put out."

    "You did?"

    "I can't see any of 'em to-night," she said resolutely. "Besides, I want to find out what you meant by what you said in the taxicab before I do anything else."

    "What I meant in the taxicab?" he echoed. "Oh, Julia! Julia!"

    She frowned, first at the fire, then, turning her head, at Noble. "You seem to feel reproachful about something," she observed.

    "No, I don't. I don't feel reproachful, Julia. I don't know what I feel, but I don't feel reproachful."

    She smiled faintly. "Don't you? Well, there's something perhaps you do feel, and that's hungry. Will you stay to dinner with me--if I go and get it?"

    "What?"

    "You can have dinner with me--if you want to? You can stay till ten o'clock--if you want to? Wait!" she said, and jumped up and ran out of the room.

    Half an hour later she came back and called softly to him from the doorway; and he followed her to the dining-room.

    "It isn't much of a dinner, Noble," she said, a little tremulously, being for once (though strictly as a cook) genuinely apologetic;--but the scrambled eggs, cold lamb, salad, and coffee were quite as "much of a dinner" as Noble wanted. To him everything on that table was hallowed, yet excruciating.

    "Let's eat first and talk afterward," Julia proposed; but what she meant by "talk" evidently did not exclude interchange of information regarding weather and the health of acquaintances, for she spoke freely upon these subjects, while Noble murmured in response and swallowed a little of the sacred food, but more often swallowed nothing. Bitterest of all was his thought of what this unexampled seclusion with Julia could have meant to him, were those poisonous violets not at her waist--for she had put them on again--and were there no Crum in the South. Without these fatal obstructions, the present moment would have been to him a bit of what he often thought of as "dream life"; but all its sweetness was a hurt.

    "Now we'll talk!" said Julia, when she had brought him back to the library fire again, and they were seated before it. "Don't you want to smoke?" He shook his head dismally, having no heart for what she proposed. "Well, then," she said briskly, but a little ruefully, "let's get to the bottom of things. Just what did you mean you had 'in black and white' in your pocket?"

    Slowly Noble drew forth the historic copy of The North End Daily Oriole; and with face averted, placed it in her extended hand.

    "What in the world!" she exclaimed, unfolding it; and then as its title and statement of ownership came into view, "Oh, yes! I see. Aunt Carrie wrote me that Uncle Joseph had given Herbert a printing-press. I suppose Herbert's the editor?"

    "And that Rooter boy," Noble said sadly. "I think maybe your little niece Florence has something to do with it, too."

    "'Something' to do with it? She usually has all to do with anything she gets hold of! But what's it got to do with me?"

    "You'll see!" he prophesied accurately.

    She began to read, laughing at some of the items as she went along; then suddenly she became rigid, holding the small journal before her in a transfixed hand.

    "Oh!" she cried. "Oh!"

    "That's--that's what--I meant," Noble explained.

    Julia's eyes grew dangerous. "The little fiends!" she cried. "Oh, really, this is a long-suffering family, but it's time these outrages were stopped!"

    She jumped up. "Isn't it frightful?" she demanded of Noble.

    "Yes, it is," he said, with a dismal fervour. "Nobody knows that better than I do, Julia!"

    "I mean this!" she cried, extending the Oriole toward him with a vigorous gesture. "I mean this dreadful story about poor Mr. Crum!"

    "But it's true," he said.

    "Noble Dill!"

    "Julia?"

    "Do you dare to say you believed it?"

    He sprang up. "It isn't true?"

    "Not one word of it! I told you Mr. Crum is only twenty-six. He hasn't been out of college more than three or four years, and it's the most terrible slander to say he's ever been married at all!"

    Noble dropped back into his chair of misery. "I thought you meant it wasn't true."

    "I've just told you there isn't one word of tr----"

    "But you're--engaged," Noble gulped. "You're engaged to him, Julia!"

    She appeared not to hear this. "I suppose it can be lived down," she said. "To think of Uncle Joseph putting such a thing into the hands of those awful children!"

    "But, Julia, you're eng----"

    "Noble!" she said sharply.

    "Well, you are eng----"

    Julia drew herself up. "Different people mean different things by that word," she said with severity, like an annoyed school-teacher. "There are any number of shades of meaning to words; and if I used the word you mention, in writing home to the family, I may have used a certain shade and they may have thought I intended another."

    "But, Julia----"

    "Mr. Crum is a charming young man," she continued with the same primness. "I liked him very much indeed. I liked him very, very much. I liked him very, very----"

    "I understand," he interrupted. "Don't say it any more, Julia."

    "No; you don't understand! At first I liked him very much--in fact, I still do, of course--I'm sure he's one of the best and most attractive young men in the world. I think he's a man any girl ought to be happy with, if he were only to be considered by himself. I don't deny that. I liked him very much indeed, and I don't deny that for several days after he--after he proposed to me--I don't deny I thought something serious might come of it. But at that time, Noble, I hadn't--hadn't really thought of what it meant to give up living here at home, with all the family and everything--and friends--friends like you, Noble. I hadn't thought what it would mean to me to give all this up. And besides, there was something very important. At the time I wrote that letter mentioning poor Mr. Crum to the family, Noble, I hadn't--I hadn't----" She paused, visibly in some distress. "I hadn't----"

    "You hadn't what?" he cried.

    "I hadn't met his mother!"

    Noble leaped to his feet. "Julia! You aren't--you aren't engaged?"

    "I am not," she answered decisively. "If I ever was--in the slightest--I certainly am not now."

    Poor Noble was transfigured. He struggled; making half-formed gestures, speaking half-made words. A rapture glowed upon him.

    "Julia--Julia----" He choked. "Julia, promise me something. Will you promise me something? Julia, promise to promise me something."

    "I will," she said quickly. "What do you want me to do?"

    Then he saw that it was his time to speak; that this was the moment for him to dare everything and ask for the utmost he could hope from her.

    "Give me your word!" he said, still radiantly struggling. "Give me your word--your word--your word and your sacred promise, Julia--that you'll never be engaged to anybody at all!"
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