"There's three of them," said Grief in a hoarse whisper.
"Four, I tell you!" said Wrinkles in a low, excited tone.
"Four," breathed Pennoyer with decision.
They held fierce pantomimic argument. From the corridor came sounds of rustling dresses and rapid feminine conversation.
Grief had kept his ear to the panel of the door. His hand was stretched back, warning the others to silence. Presently he turned his head and whispered, "Three."
"Four," whispered Pennoyer and Wrinkles.
"Hollie is there, too," whispered Grief. "Billie is unlocking the door. Now they're going in. Hear them cry out, 'Oh, isn't it lovely!' Jinks!" He began a noiseless dance about the room. "Jinks! Don't I wish I had a big studio and a little reputation! Wouldn't I have my swell friends come to see me, and wouldn't I entertain 'em!" He adopted a descriptive manner, and with his forefinger indicated various spaces of the wall. "Here is a little thing I did in Brittany. Peasant woman in sabots. This brown spot here is the peasant woman, and those two white things are the sabots. Peasant woman in sabots, don't you see? Women in Brittany, of course, all wear sabots, you understand. Convenience of the painters. I see you are looking at that little thing I did in Morocco. Ah, you admire it? Well, not so bad--not so bad. Arab smoking pipe, squatting in doorway. This long streak here is the pipe. Clever, you say? Oh, thanks! You are too kind. Well, all Arabs do that, you know. Sole occupation. Convenience of the painters. Now, this little thing here I did in Venice. Grand Canal, you know. Gondolier leaning on his oar. Convenience of the painters. Oh, yes, American subjects are well enough, but hard to find, you know--hard to find. Morocco, Venice, Brittany, Holland--all oblige with colour, you know--quaint form--all that. We are so hideously modern over here; and, besides, nobody has painted us much. How the devil can I paint America when nobody has done it before me? My dear sir, are you aware that that would be originality? Good heavens! we are not ęsthetic, you understand. Oh, yes, some good mind comes along and understands a thing and does it, and after that it is ęsthetic. Yes, of course, but then--well---- Now, here is a little Holland thing of mine; it----"
The others had evidently not been heeding him. "Shut up!" said Wrinkles suddenly. "Listen!" Grief paused his harangue and they sat in silence, their lips apart, their eyes from time to time exchanging eloquent messages. A dulled melodious babble came from Hawker's studio.
At length Pennoyer murmured wistfully, "I would like to see her."
Wrinkles started noiselessly to his feet. "Well, I tell you she's a peach. I was going up the steps, you know, with a loaf of bread under my arm, when I chanced to look up the street and saw Billie and Hollanden coming with four of them."
"Three," said Grief.
"Four; and I tell you I scattered. One of the two with Billie was a peach--a peach."
"O, Lord!" groaned the others enviously. "Billie's in luck."
"How do you know?" said Wrinkles. "Billie is a blamed good fellow, but that doesn't say she will care for him--more likely that she won't."
They sat again in silence, grinning, and listening to the murmur of voices.
There came the sound of a step in the hallway. It ceased at a point opposite the door of Hawker's studio. Presently it was heard again. Florinda entered the den. "Hello!" she cried, "who is over in Billie's place? I was just going to knock----"
They motioned at her violently. "Sh!" they whispered. Their countenances were very impressive.
"What's the matter with you fellows?" asked Florinda in her ordinary tone; whereupon they made gestures of still greater wildness. "S-s-sh!"
Florinda lowered her voice properly. "Who is over there?"
"Some swells," they whispered.
Florinda bent her head. Presently she gave a little start. "Who is over there?" Her voice became a tone of deep awe. "She?"
Wrinkles and Grief exchanged a swift glance. Pennoyer said gruffly, "Who do you mean?"
"Why," said Florinda, "you know. She. The--the girl that Billie likes."
Pennoyer hesitated for a moment and then said wrathfully: "Of course she is! Who do you suppose?"
"Oh!" said Florinda. She took a seat upon the divan, which was privately a coal-box, and unbuttoned her jacket at the throat. "Is she--is she--very handsome, Wrink?"
Wrinkles replied stoutly, "No."
Grief said: "Let's make a sneak down the hall to the little unoccupied room at the front of the building and look from the window there. When they go out we can pipe 'em off."
"Come on!" they exclaimed, accepting this plan with glee.
Wrinkles opened the door and seemed about to glide away, when he suddenly turned and shook his head. "It's dead wrong," he said, ashamed.
"Oh, go on!" eagerly whispered the others. Presently they stole pattering down the corridor, grinning, exclaiming, and cautioning each other.
At the window Pennoyer said: "Now, for heaven's sake, don't let them see you!--Be careful, Grief, you'll tumble.--Don't lean on me that way, Wrink; think I'm a barn door? Here they come. Keep back. Don't let them see you."
"O-o-oh!" said Grief. "Talk about a peach! Well, I should say so."
Florinda's fingers tore at Wrinkle's coat sleeve. "Wrink, Wrink, is that her? Is that her? On the left of Billie? Is that her, Wrink?"
"What? Yes. Stop punching me! Yes, I tell you! That's her. Are you deaf?"
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