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   Chapter 14 THE FINDING OF CELESTE.

The Purple Parasol By George Barr McCutcheon Characters: 9327

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Jud received several letters from her, telling him that she was ill, but getting better, and that the neighbors were very kind to her. He replied that he would come home if she needed him, but she insisted that it was not necessary. She penned that letter, sitting up in bed. She wanted him, she hungered for him, she suffered in longing for one touch of his hand.

By this time Sherrod had formed many acquaintances and had at last been persuaded to join an artists' club. The cost was not much, and he found great pleasure in the meetings. His salary had been increased, but his expenses grew correspondingly. Try as he would, he could find no way to curtail the cost of living. Sometimes he looked back and wondered how he had existed during the first few months in the city. Once he tried the plan of living as humbly as he had at first, but it was an utter impossibility. The worst feature was that he could send Justine but little money, nor could he see his way clear for bringing her to the city. He was bitter against himself. He loved her; no other woman tempted him from that devotion. But there seemed to be no way of making a home for her in Chicago. The honest fellow did not perceive the fact that selfishness was the weight which drew his intentions out of balance.

His companions liked him all the more because he was unswerving in his resolve to touch no liquor. He went with them to bars and wine rooms, but he never touched wines, nor did other vices tempt him. Up in his room at the lodging house hung a picture he had drawn after reading the story of a man's downfall. He called it "Wine, Women, Woe."

He had now allowed his friends to believe him unmarried so long that it was next to impossible to explain. They alluded frequently to the sweetheart down in the country, and he smiled as if to say: "I don't mind being teased about her." He made no one his confidant and no one asked questions. The boys took it for granted that some day he would marry "the girl down there," and said nothing. He laughed when he thought of the surprise in store for them some day. This thought usually took him back to the day at Proctor's Falls when Celeste had spoken of him and Justine as sweethearts and had given him fifty dollars with which to buy her a wedding present. The name and face of the donor had haunted him ever since that day. Her card was in his pocketbook. Somewhere in this great city she lived and, he was beginning to know, left other cards in the halls of her friends every day-ordinary cards; not like this that had made a man's career. But there seemed to be no chance to tell her the difference. He had not seen her.

One of the fellows at the club was Converse, a rich young man with a liking for art and the will to cultivate a rather mediocre talent. He took a fancy to the handsome young newspaper man, and invited him to his home on the South Side. One evening late in March he dined with Converse and his parents. Douglass Converse was an only child and was little more than a boy in years. The home in Michigan Avenue was beautiful and its occupants lived luxuriously. The dinner over, the two young men lounged in Converse's "den"-a room which astonished and delighted Jud-smoking and chatting idly.

"Funny you don't drink, Sherrod," said Converse, quizzically.

"I took a pledge once, and I expect to keep it."

"Always?"

"Always."

"Pledge to your mother, I suppose?"

"No; to a girl who-lives down there."

"Oho, that's the first bit of sentiment I ever heard from you. A sweetheart, eh?"

"Well, I can't deny it," said Jud, ashamed of his equivocation.

"Tell me about her," cried his friend, enthusiastically.

"There's nothing to tell. I had a letter from her to-day."

"Then it's still on?"

"I hope so," answered Jud, smiling mysteriously.

"You're devilishly uncommunicative. If I had a sweetheart who could make me live up to a promise like that, I'd be only too glad to sing her praises to the sky."

"Fall in love with some good, true girl, old fellow, and see how much you'll tell the world about it," said Jud, cleverly dodging the point.

"I am in love and with the best girl in the world, but what good does it do me? She's not in love with me. Confound the luck, I'm younger than she is," cried Converse, ruefully. Sherrod laughed and puffed dreamily at his cigar for a few moments.

"It's a crime to be young, I presume," he said, as if obliged to reopen the conversation. Converse was standing at his desk, looking at a photograph.

"Don't give up because you are young. You'll outgrow it. I was very young when-when-I mean, I was younger than you by severa

l years when I first fell in love," went on Jud confusedly.

"But, I have no chance, you know," said the other, boyishly.

"Prefers another?"

"Don't know; I haven't had the courage to ask. She thinks I'm a nice boy and such good company. Girls don't say those things about the fellow they care for seriously. I'd rather be anything than a nice boy."

"Is that her photograph?"

"Yes. Isn't she a dream?"

The owner of the den passed the portrait to his guest. Converse was surprised to see him start violently and then pass his hand over his eyes as if brushing away some form of doubt.

"This is-this is Miss Wood?" asked Sherrod at last.

"Do you know her? If you do, you can't wonder that I'm hard hit," cried the other.

"I met her once down near my old home. One doesn't forget a face like hers. So I find her, after all, and the sweetheart of my best friend," Jud was saying, hazily.

"Oh, no! Don't put it that way. She'd fall dead if any one suddenly intimated that such a relationship existed-keel over with surprise. But have you never seen her more than once?"

"Just once. She bought the first picture I ever sold."

"Great C?sar! Are you the fellow who drew a picture of a waterfall somewhere and sold it to her for fifty dollars?" Converse was staring at Jud with eager eyes.

"I'm the one who imposed upon her," said Jud, lamely.

"Then, you're the good-looking country boy with the beautiful sweetheart that Celeste talked so much about. Well, this beats the--"

"Celeste? Is that her name?" cried Jud, sitting bolt upright.

"Yes. Her mother is French-she was a countess, by the way. Celeste has that picture hanging in her den-and her den is a wonder, too-and she never fails to tell about that little experience down in Indiana. She'll be crazy to meet you."

Jud's heart gave a leap. He was bewildered in a tumult of emotions. The recognition of the portrait, the mysterious coincidence in names-the one his imagination had given her, and the one she bore; the thoughts that she remembered him and Justine; that his picture hung in her den; that she might really be glad to see him. Impossibilities upon impossibilities!

"My picture in her den?" he managed to stammer, feeling sure that his friend could detect an emotion that might require explanation.

"Sure-most prominent thing in the room. She says the boy who drew it will be a master some day. The trouble is, she forgot your name. She says she'd know your face or the girl's anywhere, but the name is gone. By George, this will please her."

The girl's! Jud's thoughts flew back to Justine, tenderly, even resentfully, for why should this careless city maid speak of her as "the girl"?

"I'll take you to call, Sherrod. I know she'll be glad to see you, and I'll surprise her. This is great! Let's see: I'll say you are a particular friend, but I'll not give up your name. She'd remember it. I can see her now when she first gazes upon your face. Great!"

Jud went home that night in a delightful torture of anticipation. After all these months of waiting and watching, fate-nothing less than fate-was to bring him to her side with the long unspoken words of gratitude and joy. What would she be like? How would she look? How would she be dressed? Not in that familiar gray of his memory, to be sure, but-but-and so he wondered, as he tossed in his bed that night. It would be some days before Converse could take him to the home of Miss Wood, and until then he must be content with imaginings. One thing worried him. Just before he left his friend, Douglass had asked with an unhidden concern in his voice:

"You're sure you've got a sweetheart down there?"

Jud's heart stopped beating for a second. Something within him urged him to cry out that he had no sweetheart, but a loving, loyal wife. But the old spirit of timidity conquered.

"I am sure I had one," he replied, and his heart throbbed with relief.

"And you're the kind of a fellow who'll stick to her, too. I know you well enough to say that," said the other warmly, as if some odd misgiving had passed from his mind.

"Thanks for the good opinion," said Jud, a great lump clogging his throat.

And when at last he slept, his dreams were of the old days and Justine, and how lonely he was without her-how lonely she must be down there in the cold, dark night-sick, perhaps, and longing for him. In his dream they were at Proctor's Falls, then in Chicago, then she was beside him in the bed. His arm, moved by dream love, stretched out and drew her close to his breast and there were no scores of miles between his tranquil heart and that of the girl he worshiped.

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