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Chapter 16


CHAPTER XVI.

" GOOD God!" said Coleman. "You don't Mean-"

Nora smiled rosily at him. " Oh, I'm all right," she
answered. " Don't worry about your Aunt Nora, my
precious boy. Not for a minute."

Coleman was horrified. " But you are not going to-you
are not going to-"

"Not at all, me son. Not at all," she answered.

I'm not going to prance. I'm going to be as nice as pie,
and just ride quietly along here with dear little Rufus.
Only * * you know what I can do when I get started, so
you had better be a very good boy. I might take it into my
head to say some things, you know."

Bound hand and foot at his stake, he could not even
chant his defiant torture song. It might precipitate-- in fact,
he was sure it would precipitate the grand smash. But to
the very core of his soul, he for the time hated Nora
Black. He did not dare to remind her that he would
revenge himself; he dared only to dream of this revenge,
but it fairly made his thoughts flame, and deep in his
throat he was swearing an inflexible persecution of Nora
Black. The old expression of his sex came to him,
" Oh, if she were only a man ! " she had
been a man, he would have fallen upon her tooth and nail. Her
motives for all this impressed him not at all; she was simply a
witch who bound him helpless with the pwer of her femininity,
and made him eat cinders. He was so sure that his face betrayed
him that he did not dare let her see it. " Well, what are you going
to do about it ? " he asked, over his shoulder.

" 0-o-oh," she drawled, impudently. "Nothing." He could see
that she was determined not to be confessed. " I may do this or
I may do that. It all depends upon your behaviour, my dear
Rufus."

As they rode on, he deliberated as to the best means of
dealing with this condition. Suddenly he resolved to go with
the whole tale direct to Marjory, and to this end he half wheeled
his horse. He would reiterate that he loved her and then explain-
explain ! He groaned when he came to the word, and ceased
formulation.

The cavalcade reached at last the bank of the Aracthus river,
with its lemon groves and lush grass. A battery wheeled before
them over the ancient bridge -a flight of short, broad cobbled
steps up as far as the centre of the stream and a similar flight
down to the other bank. The returning aplomb of the travellers
was well illustrated by the professor, who, upon sighting this
bridge, murmured : " Byzantine."

This was the first indication that he had still within him a power
to resume the normal.

The steep and narrow street was crowded with soldiers; the
smoky little coffee shops were a-babble with people discussing
the news from the front. None seemed to heed the remarkable
procession that wended its way to the cable office. Here
Coleman resolutely took precedence. He knew that there was
no good in expecting intelligence out of the chaotic clerks, but
he managed to get upon the wires this message :

" Eclipse, New York: Got Wainwright party; all well. Coleman."
The students had struggled to send messages to their people
in America, but they had only succeeded in deepening the
tragic boredom of the clerks.

When Coleman returned to the street he thought that he had
seldom looked upon a more moving spectacle than the
Wainwright party presented at that moment. Most of the
students were seated in a row, dejectedly, upon the kerb. The
professor and Mrs. Wainwright looked like two old pictures,
which, after an existence in a considerate gloom, had been
brought out in their tawdriness to the clear light. Hot white dust
covered everybody, and from out the grimy faces the eyes
blinked, red-fringed with sleeplessness. Desolation sat upon all,
save Marjory. She possessed some marvellous power of
looking always fresh. This quality had indeed impressed the old
lady on the little pony until she had said to Nora Black: "That
girl would look well anywhere." Nora Black had not been amiable
in her reply.

Coleman called the professor and the dragoman for a durbar.
The dragoman said: "Well, I can get one carriage, and we can
go immediate-lee."

" Carriage be blowed! " said Coleman. " What these people
need is rest, sleep. You must find a place at once. These people
can't remain in the street." He spoke in anger, as if he had
previously told the dragoman and the latter had been
inattentive. The man immediately departed.

Coleman remarked that there was no course but to remain in
the street until his dragoman had found them a habitation. It
was a mournful waiting. The students sat on the kerb. Once
they whispered to Coleman, suggesting a drink, but he told
them that he knew only one cafe, the entrance of which would
be in plain sight of the rest of the party. The ladies talked
together in a group of four. Nora Black was bursting with the
fact that her servant had hired rooms in Arta on their outcoming
journey, and she wished Mrs. Wainwright and Marjory to come
to them, at least for a time, but she dared not risk a refusal, and
she felt something in Mrs. Wainwright's manner which led her
to be certain that such would be the answer to her invitation.
Coleman and the professor strolled slowly up and down the
walk.

" Well, my work is over, sir," said Coleman. " My paper told
me to find you, and, through no virtue of my own, I found you.
I am very glad of it. I don't know of anything in my life that has
given me greater pleasure."

The professor was himself again in so far as he had lost all
manner of dependence. But still he could not yet be bumptious.
" Mr. Coleman," he said, "I am placed under life-long obligation
to you. * * * I am not thinking of myself so much. * * * My wife
and daughter---" His gratitude was so genuine that he could not
finish its expression.

" Oh, don't speak of it," said Coleman. " I really didn't do
anything at all."

The dragoman finally returned and led them all to a house
which he had rented for gold. In the great, bare, upper chamber
the students dropped wearily to the floor, while the woman of
the house took the Wainwrights to a more secluded apartment.,
As the door closed on them, Coleman turned like a flash.

" Have a drink," he said. The students arose around him like
the wave of a flood. "You bet." In the absence of changes of
clothing, ordinary food, the possibility of a bath, and in the
presence of great weariness and dust, Coleman's whisky
seemed to them a glistening luxury. Afterward they laid down
as if to sleep, but in reality they were too dirty and
too fagged to sleep. They simply lay murmuring Peter Tounley
even developed a small fever.

It was at this time that Coleman. suddenly discovered his
acute interest in the progressive troubles of his affair of the
heart had placed the business of his newspaper in the rear of
his mind. The greater part of the next hour he spent in getting
off to New York that dispatch which created so much excitement
for him later. Afterward he was free to reflect moodily upon the
ability of Nora Black to distress him. She, with her retinue, had
disappeared toward her own rooms. At dusk he went into the
street, and was edified to see Nora's dragoman dodging along in
his wake. He thought that this was simply another manifestation
of Nora's interest in his movements, and so he turned a corner,
and there pausing, waited until the dragoman spun around
directly into his arms. But it seemed that the man had a note to
deliver, and this was only his Oriental way of doing it.

The note read: " Come and dine with me to-night." It was, not
a request. It was peremptory. "All right," he said, scowling at
the man.

He did not go at once, for he wished to reflect for a time and
find if he could not evolve some weapons of his own. It seemed
to him that all the others were liberally supplied with weapons.

A clear, cold night had come upon the earth when he
signified to the lurking dragoman that he was in
readiness to depart with him to Nora's abode. They passed
finally into a dark court-yard, up a winding staircase, across an
embowered balcony, and Coleman entered alone a room where
there were lights.

His, feet were scarcely over the threshold before he
had concluded that the tigress was now going to try
some velvet purring. He noted that the arts of the
stage had not been thought too cheaply obvious for
use. Nora sat facing the door. A bit of yellow silk
had been twisted about the crude shape of the lamp,
and it made the play of light, amber-like, shadowy and
yet perfectly clear, the light which women love. She
was arrayed in a puzzling gown of that kind of Gre-
cian silk which is so docile that one can pull yards of
it through a ring. It was of the colour of new straw.
Her chin was leaned pensively upon her palm and the
light fell on a pearly rounded forearm. She was
looking at him with a pair of famous eyes, azure, per-
haps-certainly purple at times-and it may be, black
at odd moments-a pair of eyes that had made many
an honest man's heart jump if he thought they were
looking at him. It was a vision, yes, but Coleman's
cynical knowledge of drama overpowered his sense of
its beauty. He broke out brutally, in the phrases of
the American street. "Your dragoman is a rubber-neck.
If he keeps darking me I will simply have to
kick the stuffing out of him."

She was alone in the room. Her old lady had been
instructed to have a headache and send apologies. She was not
disturbed by Coleman's words. "Sit down, Rufus, and have a
cigarette, and don't be cross, because I won't stand it."

He obeyed her glumly. She had placed his chair where not a
charm of her could be lost upon an observant man. Evidently
she did not purpose to allow him to irritate her away from her
original plan. Purring was now her method, and none of his
insolence could achieve a growl from the tigress. She arose,
saying softly: "You look tired, almost ill, poor boy. I will give
you some brandy. I have almost everything that I could think to
make those Daylight people buy." With a sweep of her hand
she indicated the astonishing opulence of the possessions in
different parts of the room.

As she stood over him with the brandy there came through
the smoke of his cigarette the perfume of orris-root and violet.

A servant began to arrange the little cold dinner on a camp
table, and Coleman saw with an enthusiasm which he could not
fully master, four quart bottles of a notable brand of champagne
placed in a rank on the floor.

At dinner Nora was sisterly. She watched him, waited upon
him, treated him to an affectionate inti. macy for which he knew
a thousand men who would have hated him. The champagne
was cold.

Slowly he melted. By the time that the boy came with little
cups of Turkish coffee he was at least amiable. Nora talked
dreamily. " The dragoman says this room used to be part of the
harem long ago." She shot him a watchful glance, as if she had
expected the fact to affect him. "Seems curious, doesn't it? A
harem. Fancy that." He smoked one cigar and then discarded
tobacco, for the perfume of orris-root and violet was making
him meditate. Nora talked on in a low voice. She knew that,
through half-closed lids, he was looking at her in steady
speculation. She knew that she was conquering, but no
movement of hers betrayed an elation. With the most exquisite
art she aided his contemplation, baring to him, for instance,
the glories of a statuesque neck, doing it all with the manner of
a splendid and fabulous virgin who knew not that there was
such a thing as shame. Her stockings were of black silk.

Coleman presently answered her only in monosyllable,
making small distinction between yes and no. He simply sat
watching her with eyes in which there were two little covetous
steel-coloured flames.

He was thinking, "To go to the devil-to go to the devil-to go
to the devil with this girl is not a bad fate-not a bad fate-not a
bad fate."


Stephen Crane

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