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Chapter 17


CHAPTER XVII.

" Come out on the balcony," cooed Nora. "There are
some funny old storks on top of some chimneys near here
and they clatter like mad all day and night."

They moved together out to the balcony, but Nora
retreated with a little cry when she felt the coldness of the
night. She said that she would get a cloak. Coleman was
not unlike a man in a dream. He walked to the rail of the
balcony where a great vine climbed toward the roof. He
noted that it was dotted with. blossoms, which in the deep
purple of the Oriental night were coloured in strange
shades of maroon. This truth penetrated his abstraction
until when Nora came she found him staring at them as if
their colour was a revelation which affected him vitally.
She moved to his side without sound and he first knew of
her presence from the damning fragrance. She spoke just
above her breath. "It's a beautiful evening."
" Yes," he answered. She was at his shoulder. If he
moved two inches he must come in contact. They
remained in silence leaning upon the rail.
Finally he began to mutter some commonplaces which
meant nothing particularly, but into his tone as he mouthed
them was the note of a forlorn and passionate lover. Then
as if by accident he traversed the two inches and his
shoulder was against the soft and yet firm shoulder of
Nora Black. There was something in his throat at this
time which changed his voice into a mere choking noise.
She did not move. He could see her eyes glowing
innocently out of the pallour which the darkness gave to
her face. If he was touching her, she did not seem to
know it.

"I am awfully tired," said Coleman, thickly. "I think I
will go home and turn in."

" You must be, poor boy," said Nora tenderly.

"Wouldn't you like a little more of that champagne?"

" Well, I don't mind another glass."

She left him again and his galloping thought pounded to
the old refrain. " 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." When she returned he drank his glass of
champagne. Then he mumbled: " You must be cold. Let
me put your cape around you better. It won't do to catch
cold here, you know."

She made a sweet pretence of rendering herself to his
care. " Oh, thanks * * * I am not really cold * * * There
that's better."

Of course all his manipulation of the cloak had been a fervid
caress, and although her acting up to this point had remained in
the role of the splendid and fabulous virgin she now turned her
liquid eyes to his with a look that expressed knowledge, triumph
and delight. She was sure of her victory. And she said:
"Sweetheart * * * don't you think I am as nice as Marjory ?" The
impulse had been airily confident.
It was as if the silken cords had been parted by the sweep of
a sword. Coleman's face had instantly stiffened and he looked
like a man suddenly recalled to the ways of light. It may easily
have been that in a moment he would have lapsed again to his
luxurious dreaming. But in his face the girl had read a fatal
character to her blunder and her resentment against him took
precedence of any other emotion. She wheeled abruptly from
him and said with great contempt: " Rufus, you had better go
home. You're tired and sleepy, and more or less drunk."

He knew that the grand tumble of all their little embowered
incident could be neither stayed or mended. "Yes," he
answered, sulkily, "I think so too." They shook hands huffily
and he went away.

When he arrived among the students he found that they had
appropriated everything of his which would conduce to their
comfort. He was furious over it. But to his bitter speeches they
replied in jibes.

"Rufus is himself again. Admire his angelic disposition. See
him smile. Gentle soul."

A sleepy voice said from a comer: " I know what pinches
him."

" What ? " asked several.

"He's been to see Nora and she flung him out bodily."

" Yes?" sneered Coleman. "At times I seem to
see in you, Coke, the fermentation of some primeval
form of sensation, as if it were possible for you to de-
velop a mind in two or three thousand years, and then
at other times you appear * * * much as you are
now."

As soon as they had well measured Coleman's temper all of
the students save Coke kept their mouths tightly closed. Coke
either did not understand or his mood was too vindictive for
silence. " Well, I know you got a throw-down all right," he
muttered.

"And how would you know when I got a throw down? You
pimply, milk-fed sophomore."

The others perked up their ears in mirthful appreciation of
this language.

" Of course," continued Coleman, " no one would protest
against your continued existence, Coke, unless you insist on
recalling yourself violently to people's attention in this way.
The mere fact of your living would not usually be offensive to
people if you weren't eternally turning a sort of calcium
light on your prehensile attributes."
Coke was suddenly angry, angry much like a peasant, and his
anger first evinced itself in a mere sputtering and spluttering.
Finally he got out a rather long speech, full of grumbling noises,
but he was understood by all to declare that his prehensile
attributes had not led him to cart a notorious woman about the
world with him. When they quickly looked at Coleman they saw
that he was livid. " You-"

But, of course, there immediately arose all sorts of protesting
cries from the seven non-combatants. Coleman, as he took two
strides toward Coke's corner, looked fully able to break him
across his knee, but for this Coke did not seem to care at all. He
was on his feet with a challenge in his eye. Upon each cheek
burned a sudden hectic spot. The others were clamouring, "Oh,
say, this won't do. Quit it. Oh, we mustn't have a fight. He didn't
mean it, Coleman." Peter Tounley pressed Coke to the wall
saying: " You damned young jackass, be quiet."

They were in the midst of these. festivities when a door
opened and disclosed the professor. He might. have been
coming into the middle of a row in one of the corridors of the
college at home only this time he carried a candle. His speech,
however, was a Washurst speech : " Gentlemen, gentlemen,
what does this mean ? " All seemed to expect Coleman to make
the answer. He was suddenly very cool. "Nothing, professor," he
said, " only that this-only that Coke has insulted me. I suppose
that it was only the irresponsibility of a boy, and I beg that you
will not trouble over it."

" Mr. Coke," said the professor, indignantly, " what have
you to say to this? " Evidently he could not clearly see Coke,
and he peered around his candle at where the virtuous Peter
Tounley was expostulating with the young man. The figures of
all the excited group moving in the candle light caused vast and
uncouth shadows to have conflicts in the end of the room.

Peter Tounley's task was not light, and beyond that he had
the conviction that his struggle with Coke was making him also
to appear as a rowdy. This conviction was proven to be true by
a sudden thunder from the old professor, " Mr. Tounley, desist ! "

In wrath he desisted and Coke flung himself forward. He
paid less attention to the professor than if the latter had been a
jack-rabbit. " You say I insulted you? he shouted crazily in
Coleman's face.

"Well * * * I meant to, do you see ? "

Coleman was glacial and lofty beyond everything.
"I am glad to have you admit the truth of what I have said."

Coke was, still suffocating with his peasant rage, which
would not allow him to meet the clear, calm
expressions of Coleman. "Yes * * * I insulted you * * * I insulted
you because what I said was correct * * my prehensile attributes
* * yes but I have never----"

He was interrupted by a chorus from the other students.
"Oh, no, that won't do. Don't say that. Don't repeat that, Coke."

Coleman remembered the weak bewilderment of
the little professor in hours that had not long passed,
and it was with something of an impersonal satisfac-
tion that he said to himself: " The old boy's got his
war-paint on again." The professor had stepped
sharply up to Coke and looked at him with eyes that
seemed to throw out flame and heat. There was a
moment's pause, and then the old scholar spoke, bit-
ing his words as if they were each a short section of
steel wire. " Mr. Coke, your behaviour will end your
college career abruptly and in gloom, I promise you.
You have been drinking."

Coke, his head simply floating in a sea of universal defiance,
at once blurted out: " Yes, sir."

"You have been drinking?" cried the professor, ferociously.
"Retire to your-retire to your----retire---" And then in a voice of
thunder he shouted:  "Retire."

Whereupon seven hoodlum students waited a decent
moment, then shrieked with laughter. But the old
professor would have none of their nonsense. He quelled them
all with force and finish.

Coleman now spoke a few words." Professor, I
can't tell you how sorry I am that I should be
concerned in any such riot as this, and since we are
doomed to be bound so closely into each other's
society I offer myself without reservation as being
willing to repair the damage as well as may be, done. I
don t see how I can forget at once that Coke's conduct
was insolently unwarranted, but * * * if he has anything
to sayof a nature that might heal the
breach I would be willing to to meet
him in the openest manner." As he made these re-
marks Coleman's dignity was something grand, and,
Morever, there was now upon his face that curious
look of temperance and purity which had been noted
in New York as a singular physical characteristic. If
he. was guilty of anything in this affair at all-in fact,
if he had ever at any time been guilty of anything-
no mark had come to stain that bloom of innocence.
The professor nodded in the fullest appreciation and
sympathy. " Of course * * * really there is no other
sleeping placeI suppose it would be better-"
Then he again attacked Coke. "Young man, you
have chosen an unfortunate moment to fill us with a
suspicion that you may not be a gentleman.   For the
time there is nothing to be done with you."  He addressed
the other students. " There is nothing for
me to do, young gentleman, but to leave Mr. Coke in your care.
Good-night, sirs. Good-night, Coleman." He left the room with
his candle.

When Coke was bade to " Retire " he had, of course, simply
retreated fuming to a corner of the room where he remained
looking with yellow eyes like an animal from a cave. When the
others were able to see through the haze of mental confusion
they found that Coleman was with deliberation taking off his
boots. " Afterward, when he removed his waist-coat, he took
great care to wind his large gold watch.

The students, much subdued, lay again in their
places, and when there was any talking it was of an
extremely local nature, referring principally to the
floor As being unsuitable for beds and also referring
from time to time to a real or an alleged selfishness
on the part of some one of the recumbent men. Soon
there was only the sound of heavy breathing.

When the professor had returned to what he called the
Wainwright part of the house he was greeted instantly with the
question: "What was it?" His wife and daughter were up in
alarm. "What was it " they repeated, wildly.

He was peevish. " Oh, nothing, nothing. But that young
Coke is a regular ruffian. He had gotten him. self into some
tremendous uproar with Coleman. When I arrived he seemed
actually trying to assault him. Revolting! He had been drinking.
Coleman's behaviour, I must say, was splendid. Recognised at once the
delicacy of my position-he not being a student. If I had found
him in the wrong it would have been simpler than finding him in
the right. Confound that rascal of a Coke." Then, as he began a
partial disrobing, he treated them to grunted scrap of information.
" Coke was quite insane * * * I feared that I couldn't
control him * * * Coleman was like ice * * * and as much as I
have seen to admire in him during the last few days, this quiet
beat it all. If he had not recognised my helplessness as far as he
was concerned the whole thing might have been a most
miserable business. He is a very fine young man." The
dissenting voice to this last tribute was the voice of Mrs.
Wainwright. She said: " Well, Coleman drinks, too-everybody
knows that."

" I know," responded the professor, rather bashfully, but I
am confident that he had not touched a drop." Marjory said
nothing.

The earlier artillery battles had frightened most of the
furniture out of the houses of Arta, and there was left in this
room only a few old red cushions, and the Wainwrights were
camping upon the floor. Marjory was enwrapped in Coleman's
macintosh, and while the professor and his wife maintained
some low talk of the recent incident she in silence had turned
her cheek into the yellow velvet collar of the coat. She felt
something against her bosom, and putting her hand
carefully into the top pocket of the coat she found three cigars.
These she took in the darkness and laid aside, telling herself to
remember their position in the morning. She had no doubt that
Coleman: would rejoice over them, before he could get back to,
Athens where there were other good cigars.


Stephen Crane

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