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   Chapter 5 ROYA-NEH

The Danger Mark By Robert W. Chambers Characters: 31427

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Late on a fragrant mid-June afternoon young Seagrave stood on the Long Terrace to welcome a guest whose advent completed a small house-party of twelve at Roya-Neh.

"Hello, Duane!" cried the youthful landowner in all the pride of new possession, as Mallett emerged from the motor; "frightfully glad to see you, old fellow! How is it in town? Did you bring your own rods? There are plenty here. What do you think of my view? Isn't that rather fine?"-looking down through the trees at the lake below. "There are bass in it. Those things standing around under the oaks are only silly English fallow deer. Sorry I got 'em. What do you think of my house? It's merely a modern affair worked up to look old and colonial.... Yes, it certainly does resemble the real thing, but it isn't. No Seagraves fit and bled here. Those are Geraldine's quarters up there behind the leaded windows. Those are Kathleen's where the dinky woodbine twineth. Mine face the east, and yours are next. Come on out into the park--"

"Not much!" returned young Mallett. "I want a bath!"

"The park," interrupted Scott excitedly, "is the largest fenced game-preserve in America! It's only ten minutes to the Sachem's Gate, if we walk fast."

"I want a bath and fresh linen."

"Don't you care to see the trout? Don't you want to try to catch a glimpse of a wild boar? I should think you'd be crazy to see--"

"I'm crazy about almost any old thing when I'm well scrubbed; otherwise, I'm merely crazy. That was a wild trip up. I'm all over cinders."

A woman came quietly out onto the terrace, and Duane instantly divined it, though his back was toward her and her skirts made no sound.

"Oh, is that you, Kathleen?" he cried, pivoting. "How d'ye do?" with a vigorous handshake. "Every time I see you you're three times as pretty as I thought you were when I last saw you."

"Neat but involved," said Kathleen Severn. "You have a streak of cinder across that otherwise fascinating nose."

"I don't doubt it! I'm going. Where's Geraldine?"

"Having her hair done in your honour; return the compliment by washing your face. There's a maid inside to show you."

"Show me how to wash my face!" exclaimed Duane, delighted. "This is luxury--"

"I want him to see the Gray Water before it's too late, with the sunlight on the trees and the big trout jumping," protested Scott.

"I'll do my own jumping if you'll furnish the tub," observed Duane. "Where's that agreeable maid who washes your guests' faces?"

Kathleen nodded an amused dismissal to them. Arm in arm they entered the house, which was built out of squared blocks of field stone. Scott motioned the servants aside and did the piloting himself up a broad stone stairs, east along a wide sunny corridor full of nooks and angles and antique sofas and potted flowers.

"Not that way," he said; "Dysart is in there taking a nap. Turn to the left."

"Dysart?" repeated Duane. "I didn't know there was to be anybody else here."

"I asked Jack Dysart because he's a good rod. Kathleen raised the deuce about it when I told her, but it was too late. Anyway, I didn't know she had no use for him. He's certainly clever at dry-fly casting. He uses pneumatic bodies, not cork or paraffine."

"Is his wife here?" asked Duane carelessly.

"Yes. Geraldine asked her as soon as she heard I'd written to Jack. But when I told her the next day that I expected you, too, she got mad all over, and we had a lively talk-fest. What was there wrong in my having you and the Dysarts here at the same time? Don't you get on?"

"Charmingly," replied Duane airily.... "It will be very interesting, I think. Is there anybody else here?"

"Delancy Grandcourt. Isn't he the dead one? But Geraldine wanted him. And there's that stick of a Quest girl, and Bunbury Gray. Na?da came over this afternoon from the Tappans' at Iron Hill-thank goodness--"

"I didn't know my sister was to be here."

"Yes; and you make twelve, counting Geraldine and me and the Pink 'uns."

"You didn't tell me it was to be a round-up," repeated Duane, absently surveying his chintz-hung quarters. "This is a pretty place you've given me. Where do you get all your electric lights? Where do you get fancy plumbing in this wilderness?"

"Our own plant," explained the boy proudly. "Isn't that corking water? Look at it-heavenly cold and clear, or hot as hell, whichever way you're inclined-" turning on a silver spigot chiselled like a cherub. "That water comes from Cloudy Lake, up there on that dome-shaped mountain. Here, stand here beside me, Duane, and you can see it from your window. That's the Gilded Dome-that big peak. It's in our park. There are a few elk on it, not many, because they'd starve out the deer. As it is, we have to cut browse in winter. For Heaven's sake, hurry, man! Get into your bath and out again, or we'll miss the trout jumping along Gray Water and Hurryon Brook."

"Let 'em jump!" retorted Duane, forcibly ejecting his host from the room and locking the door. Then, lighting a cigarette, he strolled into the bath room and started the water running into the porcelain tub.

He was in excellent spirits, quite undisturbed by the unexpected proximity of Rosalie Dysart or the possible renewal of their hitherto slightly hazardous friendship. He laid his cigarette aside for the express purpose of whistling while undressing.

Half an hour later, bathed, shaved, and sartorially freshened, he selected a blue corn-flower from the rural bouquet on his dresser, drew it through his buttonhole, gave a last alluring twist to his tie, surveyed himself in the mirror, whistled a few bars, was perfectly satisfied with himself, then, unlocking the door, strolled out into the corridor. Having no memory for direction, he took the wrong turn.

A distractingly pretty maid laid aside her sewing and rose from her chair to set him right; he bestowed upon her his most courtly thanks. She was unusually pretty, so he thanked her again, and she dimpled, one hand fingering her apron's edge.

"My child," said he gravely, "are you by any fortunate chance as good as you are ornamental?"

She replied that she thought she was.

"In that case," he said, "this is one of those rare occasions in a thankless world where goodness is amply and instantly rewarded."

She made a perfunctory resistance, but looked after him, smiling, as he sauntered off down the hallway, rearranging the blue corn-flower in his button-hole. At the turn by the window, where potted posies stood, he encountered Rosalie Dysart in canoe costume-sleeves rolled up, hair loosened, becomingly tanned, and entirely captivating in her thoughtfully arranged disarray.

"Why, Duane!" she exclaimed, offering both her hands with that impulsively unstudied gesture she carefully cultivated for such occasions.

He took them; he always took what women offered.

"This is very jolly," he said, retaining the hands and examining her with unfeigned admiration. "Tell me, Mrs. Dysart, are you by any fortunate chance as good as you are ornamental?"

"I heard you ask that of the maid around the corner," said Rosalie coolly. "Don't let the bucolic go to your head, Mr. Mallett." And she disengaged her hands, crossed them behind her, and smiled back at him. It was his punishment. Her hands were very pretty hands, and well worth holding.

"That maid," he said gravely, "has excellent manners. I merely complimented her upon them.... What else did you-ah-hear, Mrs. Dysart?"

"What one might expect to hear wherever you are concerned. I don't mind. The things you do rather gracefully seem only offensive when other men do them.... Have you just arrived?"

"An hour ago. Did you know I was coming?"

"Geraldine mentioned it to everybody, but I don't think anybody swooned at the news.... My husband is here."

She still confronted him, hands behind her, with an audacity which challenged-her whole being was always a delicate and perpetual challenge. There are such women. Over her golden-brown head the late summer sunlight fell, outlining her full, supple figure and bared arms with a rose light.

"Well?" she asked.

"If only you were as good as you are ornamental," he said, looking at her impudently. "But I'm afraid you're not."

"What would happen to me if I were?"

"Why," he said with innocent enthusiasm, "you would have your reward, too, Mrs. Dysart."

"The sort of reward which I heard you bestow a few moments ago upon that maid? I'm no longer the latter, so I suppose I'm not entitled to it, am I?"

The smile still edged her pretty mouth; there was an instant when matters looked dubious for her; but a door opened somewhere, and, still smiling, she slipped by him and vanished into a neighbouring corridor.

Howker, the old butler, met him at the foot of the stairs.

"Tea is served on the Long Terrace, sir. Mr. Seagrave wishes to know whether you would care to see the trout jumping on the Gray Water this evening? If so, you are please not to stop for tea, but go directly to the Sachem's Gate. Redmond will guide you, sir."

"'This is one of those rare occasions ... where goodness is amply ... rewarded.'"

"All right, Howker," said Duane absently; and strolled on along the hall, thinking of Mrs. Dysart.

The front doors swung wide, opening on the Long Terrace, which looked out across a valley a hundred feet below, where a small lake glimmered as still as a mirror against a background of golden willows and low green mountains.

There were a number of young people pretending to take tea on the terrace; and some took it, and others took other things. He knew them all, and went forward to greet them. Geraldine Seagrave, a new and bewitching coat of tan tinting cheek and neck, held out her hand with all the engaging frankness of earlier days. Her clasp was firm, cool, and nervously cordial-the old confident affection of childhood once more.

"I am so glad you came, Duane. I've really missed you." And sweeping the little circle with an eager glance; "You know everybody, I think. The Dysarts have not yet appeared, and Scott is down at the Gate Lodge. Come and sit by me, Duane."

Two or three girls extended their hands to him-Sylvia Quest, shy and quiet; Muriel Wye, white-skinned, black-haired, red-lipped, red-cheeked, with eyes like melted sapphires and the expression of a reckless saint; and his blond sister, Na?da, who had arrived that afternoon from the Tappans' at Iron Hill, across the mountain.

Delancy Grandcourt, uncouth and highly coloured, stood up to shake hands; Bunbury Gray, a wiry, bronzed little polo-playing squadron man, hailed Duane with enthusiasm.

"Awfully glad to see you, Bunny," said Duane, who liked him immensely-"oh, how are you?" offering his hand to Reginald Wye, a hard-riding, hard-drinking, straight-shooting young man, who knew nothing on earth except what concerned sport and the drama. He and his sister of the sapphire eyes and brilliant cheeks were popularly known as the Pink 'uns.

Jack Dysart arrived presently, graceful, supple, always smilingly, elaborate of manner, apparently unconscious that he was not cordially admired by the men who returned his greeting. Later, Rosalie, came, enchantingly demure in her Greuze-like beauty. Chardin might have made her; possibly Fragonard. She did not resemble the Creator's technique. Dresden teacups tinkled, ice clattered in tall glasses, the two fountains splashed away bravely, prettily modulated voices made agreeable harmony on the terrace, blending with the murmur of leaves overhead as the wind stirred them to gossip. Over all spread a calm evening sky.

"Tea, dear?" asked Geraldine, glancing up at Mrs. Dysart. Rosalie shook her head with a smile.

Lang, the second man, was flitting about, busy with a decanter of Scotch. A moment later Rosalie signified her preference for it with a slight nod. Geraldine, who sat watching indifferently the filling of Mrs. Dysart's glass, suddenly leaned back and turned her head sharply, as though the aroma from glass and decanter were distasteful to her. In a few minutes she rose, walked over to the parapet, and stood leaning against the coping, apparently absorbed in the landscape.

The sun hung low over the flat little tree-clad mountains, which the lake, now inlaid with pink and gold, reflected. A few fallow deer moved quietly down there, ruddy spots against the turf.

Duane, carrying his glass with him, rose and stepped across the strip of grass to her side, and, glancing askance at her, was on the point of speaking when he discovered that her eyes were shut and her face colourless and rigid.

"What is it?" he asked surprised. "Are you feeling faint, Geraldine?"

She opened her eyes, velvet dark and troubled, but did not turn around.

"It's nothing," she answered calmly. "I was thinking of several things."

"You look so white--"

"I am perfectly well. Bend over the parapet with me, Duane. Look at those rocks down there. What a tumble! What a death!"

He placed his glass between them on the coping, and leaned over. She did not notice the glass for a moment. Suddenly she wheeled, as though he had spoken, and her eyes fell on the glass.

"What is the matter?" he demanded, as she turned on her heel and moved away.

"I'm a trifle nervous, I believe. If you want to see the big trout breaking on Hurryon, you'd better come with me."

She was walking swiftly down the drive to the south of the house. He overtook her and fell into slower step beside her.

The sun had almost disappeared behind the mountains; bluish haze veiled the valley; a horizon of dazzling yellow flecked with violet faded upward to palest turquoise. High overhead a feathered cloud hung, tinged with rose.

The south drive was bordered deep in syringas, all over snowy bloom; and as they passed they inhaled the full fragrance of the flowers with every breath.

"It's like heaven," said Duane; "and you are not incongruous in the landscape, either."

She looked around at him; the smile that curved her mouth had the faintest suspicion of tenderness about it.

She said slowly:

"Do you realise that I am genuinely glad to see you? I've been horrid to you. I don't yet really believe in you, Duane. I detest some of the things you are and say and do; but, after all, I've missed you. Incredible as it sounds, I've been a little lonely without you."

He said gaily: "When a woman becomes accustomed to chasing the family cat out of the parlour with the broom, she misses the sport when the cat migrates permanently."

"Have you migrated-permanently? O Duane! I thought you did care for me-in your own careless fashion--"

"I do. But I'm not hopelessly enamoured of your broom-stick!"

Her laugh was a little less spontaneous, as she answered:

"I know I have been rather free with my broom. I'm sorry."

"You have made some sweeping charges on that cat!" he said, laughing.

"I know I have. That was two months ago. I don't think I am the morally self-satisfied prig I was two months ago.... I'd be easier on anything now, even a cat. But don't think I mean more than I do mean, Duane," she added hastily. "I've missed you a little. I want you to be nice to me.... After all, you're the oldest friend I have except Kathleen."

"I'll be as nice as you'll let me," he said. They turned from the driveway and entered a broad wood road. "As nice as you'll let me," he repeated.

"I won't let you be sentimental, if that's what you mean," she observed.

"Why?"

"Because you are you."

"In a derogatory sense?"

"Somewhat. I might be like you if I were a man, and had your easy, airy, inconsequential way with women. But I won'

t let you have it with me, my casual friend. Don't hope for it."

"What have I ever done--"

"Exactly what you're doing now to Rosalie-what you did to a dozen women this winter-what you did to me"-she turned and looked at him-"the first time I ever set eyes on you since we were children together. I know you are not to be taken seriously; almost everybody knows that! And all the same, Duane, I've thought about you a lot in these two months up here, and-I'm happy that you've come at last.... You won't mistake me and try to be sentimental with me, will you?"

She laid her slim, sun-tanned hand on his arm; they walked on together through the woodland where green bramble sprays glimmered through clustering tree trunks and the fading light turned foliage and undergrowth to that vivid emerald which heralds dusk.

"Duane," she said, "I'm dreadfully restless and I cannot account for it.... Perhaps motherless girls are never quite normal; I don't know. But, lately, the world has seemed very big and threatening around me.... Scott is nice to me, usually; Kathleen adorable.... I-I don't know what I want, what it is I miss."

Her hand still rested lightly on his arm as they walked forward. She was speaking at intervals almost as though talking in an undertone to herself:

"I'm in-perplexity. I've been troubled. Perhaps that is what makes me tolerant of you; perhaps that's why I'm glad to see you.... Trouble is a new thing to me. I thought I had troubles-perhaps I had as a child. But this is deeper, different, disquieting."

"Are you in love?" he asked.

"No."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Then what--"

"I can't tell you. Anyway, it won't last. It can't, ... Can it?"

She looked around at him, and they both laughed a little at her inconsequence.

"I feel better for pretending to tell you, anyway," she said, as they halted before high iron gates hung between two granite posts from which the woven wire fence of the game park, ten feet high, stretched away into the darkening woods on either hand.

"This is the Sachem's Gate," she said; "here is the key; unlock it, please."

Inside they crossed a stream dashing between tanks set with fern and tall silver birches.

"Hurryon Brook," she said. "Isn't it a beauty? It pours into the Gray Water a little farther ahead. We must hasten, or it will be too dark to see the trout."

Twice again they crossed the rushing brook on log bridges. Then through the trees stretching out before them they caught sight of the Gray Water, crinkling like a flattened sheet of hammered silver.

Everywhere the surface was starred and ringed and spattered by the jumping fish; and now they could hear them far out, splash! slap! clip-clap! splash!-hundreds and hundreds jumping incessantly, so that the surface of the water was constantly broken over the entire expanse.

Now and then some great trout, dark against the glimmer, leaped full length into the air; everywhere fish broke, swirled, or rolled over, showing "colour."

"There is Scott," she whispered, attuning her voice to the forest quiet-"out there in that canoe. No, he hasn't taken his rod; he seldom does; he's perfectly crazy over things of this sort. All day and half the night he's out prowling about the woods, not fishing, not shooting, just mousing around and listening and looking. And for all his dreadfully expensive collection of arms and rods, he uses them very little. See him out there drifting about with the fish breaking all around-some within a foot of his canoe! He'll never come in to dress for dinner unless we call him."

And she framed her mouth with both hands and sent a long, clear call floating out across the Gray Water.

"All right; I'll come!" shouted her brother. "Wait a moment!"

They waited many moments. Dusk, lurking in the forest, peered out, casting a gray net over shore and water. A star quivered, another, then ten, and scores and myriads.

They had found a seat on a fallen log; neither seemed to have very much to say. For a while the steady splashing of the fish sounded like the uninterrupted music of a distant woodland waterfall. Suddenly it ceased as if by magic. Not another trout rose; the quiet was absolute.

"Is not this stillness delicious?" she breathed.

"It is sweeter when you break it."

"Please don't say such things.... Can't you understand how much I want you to be sincere to me? Lately, I don't know why, I've seemed to feel so isolated. When you talk that way I feel more so. I-just want-a friend."

There was a silence; then he said lightly:

"I've felt that way myself. The more friends I make the more solitary I seem to be. Some people are fashioned for a self-imprisonment from which they can't break out, and through which no one can penetrate. But I never thought of you as one of those."

"I seem to be at times-not exactly isolated, but unable to get close to-to Kathleen, for example. Do you know, Duane, it might be very good for me to have you to talk to."

"People usually like to talk to me. I've noticed it. But the curious part of it is that they have nothing to give me in exchange for my attention."

"What do you mean?"

He laughed. "Oh, nothing. I amuse people; I know it. You-and everybody-say I am all cleverness and froth-not to be taken seriously. But did it ever occur to you that what you see in me you evoke. Shallowness provokes shallowness, levity, lightness, inconsequence-all are answered by their own echo.... And you and the others think it is I who answer."

He laughed, not looking at her:

"And it happens that you-and the others-are mistaken. If I appear to be what you say I am, it is merely a form of self-defence. Do you think I could endure the empty nonsense of a New York winter if I did not present to it a surface like a sounding-board and let Folly converse with its own echo-while, behind it, underneath it, Duane Mallett goes about his own business."

Astonished, not clearly understanding, she listened in absolute silence. Never in all her life had she heard him speak in such a manner. She could not make out whether bitterness lay under his light and easy speech, whether a maliciously perverse humour lurked there, whether it was some new mockery.

He said carelessly: "I give what I receive. And I have never received any very serious attention from anybody. I'm only Duane Mallett, identified with the wealthy section of society you inhabit, the son of a wealthy man, who went abroad and dabbled in colour and who paints pictures of pretty women. Everybody and the newspapers know me. What I see of women is a polished coquetry that mirrors my fixed smirk; what I see of men is less interesting."

He looked out through the dusk at the darkening water:

"You say you are beginning to feel isolated. Can anybody with any rudiment of intellect feel otherwise in the social environment you and I inhabit-where distinction and inherited position count for absolutely nothing unless propped up by wealth-where any ass is tolerated whose fortune and lineage pass inspection-where there is no place for intelligence and talent, even when combined with breeding and lineage, unless you are properly ballasted with money enough to forget that you have any?"

He laughed.

"So you feel isolated? I do, too. And I'm going to get out. I'm tired of decorating a set where the shuttle-cock of conversation is worn thin, frayed, ragged! Where the battledore is fashionable scandal and the players half dead with ennui and their neighbour's wives--"

"Duane!"

"Oh, Lord, you're a world-wise graduate at twenty-two! Truth won't shock you, more's the pity.... As for the game-I'm done with it; I can't stand it. The amusement I extract doesn't pay. Good God! and you wonder why I kiss a few of you for distraction's sake, press a finger-tip or two, brush a waist with my sleeve!"

He laughed unpleasantly, and bent forward in the darkness, clasped hands hanging between his knees.

"Duane," she said in astonishment, "what do you mean? Are you trying to quarrel with me, just when, for the first time, something in this new forest country seemed to be drawing us together, making us the comrades we once were?"

"We're too old to be comrades. That's book rubbish. Men and women have nothing in common, intellectually, unless they're in love. For company, for straight conversation, for business, for sport, a man would rather be with men. And either you and I are like everybody else or we're going to really care for each other. Not for your pretty face and figure, or for my grin, my six feet, and thin shanks; I can care for face and figure in any woman. What's the use of marrying for what you'll scarcely notice in a month?... If you are you, Geraldine, under all your attractive surface there's something else which you have never given me."

"Wh-what?" she asked faintly.

"Intelligent interest in me."

"Do you mean," she said slowly, "that you think I underestimate you?"

"Not as I am. I don't amount to much; but I might if you cared."

"Cared for you?"

"No, confound it! Cared for what I could be."

"I-I don't think I understand. What could you be?"

"A man, for one thing. I'm a thing that dances. A fashionable portrait painter for another. The combination is horrible."

"You are a successful painter."

"Am I? Geraldine, in all the small talk you and I have indulged in since my return from abroad, have you ever asked me one sincere, intelligent, affectionate question about my work?"

"I-yes-but I don't know anything about--"

He laughed, and it hurt her.

"Don't you understand," she said, "that ordinary people are very shy about talking art to a professional--"

"I don't want you to talk art. Any little thing with blue eyes and blond curls can do it. I wanted you to see what I do, say what you think, like it or damn it-only do something about it! You've never been to my studio except to stand with the perfumed crowd and talk commonplaces in front of a picture."

"I can't go alone."

"Can't you?" he asked, looking closely at her in the dusk, so close that she could see every mocking feature.

"Yes," she said in a low, surprised voice, "I could go alone-anywhere-with you.... I didn't realise it before, Duane."

"You never tried. You once mistook an impulse of genuine passion for the sort of thing I've done since. You made a terrific fuss about being kissed when I saw, as soon as I saw you, that I wanted to win you, if you'd let me. Since then you've chosen the key-note of our relations, not I, and you don't like my interpretation of my part."

For a while she sat silent, preoccupied with this totally new revelation of a man about whom she supposed she had long ago made up her mind.

"I'm glad we've had this talk," she said at last.

"I am, too. I haven't asked you to fall in love with me; I haven't asked for your confidence. I've asked you to take an intelligent, affectionate interest in what I might become, and perhaps you and I won't be so lonely if you do."

He struck a match in the darkness and lighted a cigarette. Close inshore Scott Seagrave's electric torch flashed. They heard the velvety scraping of the canoe, the rattle and thump as he flung it, bottom upward, on the sandy point.

"Hello, you people! Where are you?"-sweeping the wood's edge with his flash-light-"oh, there you are. Isn't this glorious? Did you ever see such a sight as those big fellows jumping?"

"Meanwhile," said his sister, rising, "our guests are doubtless yelling with hunger. What time is it, Duane? Half-past eight? Please hurry, Scott; we've got to get back and dress in five minutes!"

"I can do it easily," announced her brother, going ahead to light the path. And all the way home he discussed aloud upon the stripping, hatching, breeding, care, and diseases of trout, never looking back, and quite confident that they were listening attentively to his woodland lecture.

"Duane," she said, lowering her voice, "do you think all our misunderstandings are ended?"

"Certainly," he replied gaily. "Don't you?"

"But how am I going to make everybody think you are not frivolous?"

"I am frivolous. There's lots of froth to me-on top. You know that sort of foam you see on grass-stems in the fields. Hidden away inside is a very clever and busy little creature. He uses the froth to protect himself."

"Are you going to froth?"

"Yes-until--"

"Until what?"

"You--"

"Go on."

"Shall I say it?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, unless you and I find each other intellectually satisfactory."

"You said only a man-in love with a woman-could find her interesting in that way."

"Yes. What of it?"

"Nothing.... Only I'm afraid you'll have to froth, then," she said, laughing. "I haven't any intention of falling in love with you, Duane, and you'll find me stupid if I don't. Do you know that what you intimate is very horrid?"

"Why?"

"Yes, it is. Besides, it's a sort of threat--"

"A threat?"

"Certainly. You threaten to-you know perfectly well what you threaten to do unless I immediately consider the possibility of our-caring for each other-sentimentally."

"But what do you care if you don't care?"

"I-don't. All the same it's horrid and-and unfair. Suppose I was frothy and behaved--"

"Misbehaved?"

"Yes. Just because you wouldn't agree to take a sentimental interest in me?"

"I would agree! I'll agree now!"

"Suppose you wouldn't?"

"I can't imagine--"

"Oh, Duane, be honest! And I'll tell you flatly-if you do misbehave. Just because I don't particularly desire to rush into your arms--"

"But I haven't threatened to."

Unconsciously she laid her hand on his arm again, slipping it a little way under.

"You're just as you were years ago-just the dearest of playmates. We're not too old to play, are we?"

"I can't with you; it's too dangerous."

"What nonsense! Yes, you can. You like me for my intelligence in spite of what you say about men and women--"

"I wouldn't care for your intelligence if I were not in--"

"Duane, stop, please!"

"In danger," he continued blandly, "of proving my proposition."

"You are insufferable. I am as intelligent as you."

"I know it, but it wouldn't attract me unless--"

"It ought to," she said hastily. "And, Duane, I'm going to make you take me into account. I'm going to exercise a man's privilege with you by-by saying frankly-several things--"

"What things?"

The amused mockery in his voice gave her courage.

"For one thing, I'm going to tell you that people-gossip-that there are-are--"

"Rumours?" he asked in pretended anxiety.

"Yes.... About you and-of course they are silly and contemptible; but what's the use of being attentive enough to a woman-careless enough to give colour to them?"

After an interval he said: "Perhaps you'll tell me who beside myself these rumours concern?"

"You know, don't you?"

"There might be several," he said coolly. "Who is it?"

For a moment a tiny flash of anger made her cheeks hot. Then she said:

"You know perfectly well it's Rosalie. I think we have become good enough comrades for me to use a man's privilege--"

"Men wouldn't permit themselves that sort of privilege," he said, laughing.

"Aren't men frank with their friends?" she demanded hotly.

"About as frank as women."

"I thought-" She hesitated, tingling with the old desire to hurt him, flick him in the raw, make him wince in his exasperating complacency. Then, "I've said it anyhow. I'm trying to show an interest in you-as you asked me to do--"

He turned in the darkness, caught her hand:

"You dear little thing," he whispered, laughing.

* * *

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