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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 23
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    At six minutes after four o'clock on the second afternoon following Julia's return, Noble Dill closed his own gate behind him and set forth upon the four-minute walk that would bring him to Julia's. He wore a bit of scarlet geranium in the buttonhole of his new light overcoat; he flourished a new walking-stick and new grey gloves. As for his expression, he might have been a bridegroom.

    Passing the mouth of an alley, as he swung along the street, he was aware of a commotion, of missiles hurled and voices clashed. In this alley there was a discord: passion and mockery were here inimically intermingled.

    Casting a glance that way, Noble could see but one person; a boy of fourteen who looked through a crack in a board fence, steadfastly keeping an eye to this aperture and as continuously calling through it, holding his head to a level for this purpose, but at the same time dancing--and dancing tauntingly, it was conveyed--with the other parts of his body. His voice was now sweet, now piercing, and again far too dulcet with the overkindness of burlesque; and if, as it seemed, he was unburdening his spleen, his spleen was a powerful one and gorged. He appeared to be in a torment of tormenting; and his success was proved by the pounding of bricks, parts of bricks and rocks of size upon the other side of the fence, as close to the crack as might be.

    "Oh, dolling!" he wailed, his tone poisonously amorous. "Oh, dolling Henery! Oo's dot de mos' booful eyes in a dray bid nasty world. Henery! Oh, has I dot booful eyes, dolling Pattywatty? Yes, I has! I has dot pretty eyes!" His voice rose unbearably. "Oh, what prettiest eyes I dot! Me and Herbie Atwater! Oh, my booful eyes! Oh, my booful----"

    But even as he reached this apex, the head, shoulders, and arms of Herbert Atwater rose momentarily above the fence across the alley, behind the tormentor. Herbert's expression was implacably resentful, and so was the gesture with which he hurled an object at the comedian preoccupied with the opposite fence. This object, upon reaching its goal, as it did more with a splash than a thud, was revealed as a tomato, presumably in a useless state. The taunter screamed in astonishment, and after looking vainly for an assailant, began necessarily to remove his coat.

    Noble, passing on, thought he recognized the boy as one of the Torbin family, but he was not sure, and he had no idea that the episode was in any possible manner to be connected with his own recent history. How blindly we walk our ways! As Noble flourished down the street, there appeared a wan face at a prison window; and the large eyes looked out upon him wistfully. But Noble went on, as unwitting that he had to do with this prison as that he had to do with Master Torbin's tomato.

    The face at the window was not like Charlotte Corday's, nor was the window barred, though the prisoner knew a little solace in wondering if she did not suggest that famous picture. For all purposes, except during school hours, the room was certainly a cell; and the term of imprisonment was set at three days. Uncle Joseph had been unable to remain at the movies forever: people do have to go home eventually, especially when accompanied by thirteen-year-old great-nieces. Florence had finally to face the question awaiting her; and it would have been better for her had she used less imagination in her replies.

    Yet she was not wholly despondent as her eyes followed the disappearing figure of Noble Dill. His wholesome sprightliness was visible at any distance; and who would not take a little pride in having been even the mistaken instrument of saving so gay a young man from the loss of his reason? No; Florence was not cast down. Day-after-to-morrow she would taste Freedom again, and her profoundest regret was that after all her Aunt Julia was not to be married. Florence had made definite plans for the wedding, especially for the principal figure at the ceremony. This figure, as Florence saw things, would have been that of the "Flower Girl," naturally a niece of the bride; but she was able to dismiss the bright dream with some philosophy. And to console her for everything, had she not a star in her soul? Had she not discovered that she could write poetry whenever she felt like it?

    Noble passed from her sight, but nevertheless continued his radiant progress down Julia's Street. Life stretched before him, serene, ineffably fragrant, unending. He saw it as a flower-strewn sequence of calls upon Julia, walks with Julia, talks with Julia by the library fire. Old Mr. Atwater was to be away four days longer, and Julia, that great-hearted bride-not-to-be, had given him her promise.

    Blushing, indeed divinely, she had promised him upon her sacred word, never so long as she lived, to be engaged to anybody at all.

    THE END.

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    Chapter 23
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