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This brief exchange might have passed for a quarrel and a reconciliation; and the reconciliation seemed to call for a seal. That was soon set by another of Randolph's patient invitations to dinner.
"Let's go," said Cope; "I've got to go again--sometime."
"I don't care about it, very much," replied Lemoyne.
"If you want any help of his toward a position.... Time's passing. And a man can't be expected to bestir himself much for another man he's never even seen."
"All right. I'll go with you."
Randolph was glad to see Cope again, whom he had not met since the half hour in Hortense Dunton's studio. He was also glad to secure, finally, a close and leisurely look at Lemoyne. Lemoyne took the same occasion for a close and leisurely look at Randolph. Each viewed the other with dislike and distrust. Each spoke, so far as might be, to Cope--or through him. Sing-Lo, who was prepared to smile, saw few smiles elsewhere, and became sedate, even glum.
Randolph felt a physical distaste for Lemoyne. His dark eyes were too liquid; his person was too plump; the bit of black bristle beneath his nose was an offense; his aura----Yet who can say anything definite about so indefinite a thing as an aura, save that one feels it and is attracted or repelled by it? Lemoyne, on his side, developed an equal distaste (or repugnance) for the "little gray man"--as he called Randolph to himself and, later, even to Cope; though Randolph, speaking justly, was exactly neither gray nor little. Lemoyne noted, too, the early banishment of Randolph's eyeglasses, which disappeared as they had disappeared once or twice before. He felt that Randolph was trying to stay young rather late, and was showing himself inclined to "go" with younger men longer than they would welcome him. Why didn't he consort with people of his own age and kind? He was old; so why couldn't he be old?
The talk led--through Cope--to reminiscences of life in Winnebago. Randolph presently began to feel Lemoyne as a variously yet equivocally gifted young fellow--one so curiously endowed as to be of no use to his own people, and of no avail for any career they were able to offer him. A bundle of minor talents; a possible delight to casual acquaintances, but an exasperation to his own household; an ornamental skimmer over life's surfaces, when not a false fire for other young voyagers along life's coasts. Yet Bertram Cope admired him and had become absorbed in him. Their life in that northern town, with its fringe of interests--educational, ecclesiastical, artistic and aquatic--had been intimate, fused to a degree. Randolph began to realize, for the first time, the difficulties in the way of "cultivating" Cope. Cope was a field already occupied, a niche already filled.
While Randolph was gathering (through Cope) details of the life in Winnebago, Lemoyne was gathering (through Cope) details of the life in Churchton during the past autumn. He began to reconstruct that season: the long range of social entertainments, the proposed fall excursions, the sudden shifting of domicile. Randolph, it was clear, had tried to appropriate Cope and to supplant (knowingly or unknowingly) Cope's closest friend. Lemoyne became impatient over the fact that he was now sitting at Randolph's table. However, if Randolph could help him to a place and a salary, that would make some amends.
Presently Cope, having served as an intermediary, became the open centre of interest. His thesis was brought forward as a suitable subject of inquiry and comment. It was a relief to have come to a final decision; but no relief was in sight for a long time from the slavery of close reading. Every moment that could be spared from his classroom was given up to books --authors in whom he might be interested or not interested, but who must be gone through.
"A sort of academic convention," said Cope, rather wanly; "but a necessary one."
His eyes had begun to show excessive application; at least they looked tired and dim. His color, too, was paler. He had come to suggest again the young man who had been picked up from Medora Phillips' dining-room floor and laid out on the couch in her library, and who had shown a good deal of pallor during the few days that followed. "Take a little more air and exercise," Randolph counselled.
"A good rule always, for everybody," said Lemoyne, with a withholding of all tone and expression.
"I believe," Randolph continued, "that you are losing in both weight and color. That would be no advantage to yourself--and it might complicate Miss Dunton's problem. It's perplexing to an artist when one's subject changes under one's very eye."
"There won't be much time for sitting, from now on," observed Lemoyne concisely.
"I might try to go round once more," said Cope, "--in fairness. If there are to be higher lights on my cheekbones and lower lights for my eyes, an hour or so should serve to settle it."
"I wouldn't introduce many changes into my eyes and cheekbones, if I were you," said Randolph. Lemoyne was displeased; he thought that Randolph was taking advantage of his position as host to make an observation of unwarranted saliency, and he frowned at his plate.
Cope flushed, and looked at his.
The talk drifted toward dramatics, with Winnebago once more the background; but the foreground was occupied by a new musical comedy which one of the clubs might try in another month, and the tone became more cheery. Sing-Lo, who had come in with a maple mousse of his own making, smiled at last; and he smiled still more widely when, at the end of the course, his chief occidental masterpiece was praised. Sing-Lo also provided coffee and cigars in the den; and it was here that Cope felt the atmosphere right for venturing a word in behalf of Lemoyne. There had been few signs of relenting in Winnebago; and some modest source of income would be welcome-- in fact, was almost necessary.
"Of course work is increasing in the offices," said Randolph, looking from one young man to the other; "and of course I have, directly or indirectly, some slight 'influence.'"
He felt no promptings to lend Lemoyne a hand; yet Cope himself, even if out of reach, might at least remain an object of continuing kindness.
"But if you are to interest yourself in some new undertaking by 'The Grayfriars,'" he said to Lemoyne, "will you have much time and attention to give to office-work?"
"Oh, I have time," replied Lemoyne jauntily, "and not many studies. Half a day of routine work, I thought.... Of course I'm not a manager, or director, or anything like that. I should just have a part of moderate importance, and should have only to give good heed to rehearsals...."
"Well," said Randolph thoughtfully.
"I hope you can do something," put in Cope, with fervor.
"Well," said Randolph again.
This uncomfortable and unsatisfactory dinner of three presently drew to its end. "I'd have made it four," said Randolph to Foster, a day or two later, "if I'd only thought of it in time."
"I don't want to meet them again," returned Foster quickly.
"Well," said Randolph, "I've no fondness for the new fellow, myself; but----"
"And I don't care about the other, either."
Randolph sighed. This was plainly one of Foster's off days. The only wonder was he had not more of them. He sat in darkness, with few diversions, occupations, ameliorations. His mind churned mightily on the scanty materials that came his way. He founded big guesses on nothings; he raised vast speculative edifices on the slightest of premises. To dislike a man he could not even see! Well, the blind--and the half-blind--had their own intuitions and followed their own procedures.
"Then you wouldn't advise me to speak a word for him?--for them?"
"Certainly not!" rejoined Foster, with all promptness. "They've treated you badly. They've put you off; and they came, finally, only because they counted on getting something out of you.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that of Cope."
"I would. And I do. They're completely wrapped up in their own interests, and in each other; and they're coupled to get anything they can out of Number Three. Or out of Number Four. Or Five. Or out of X,--the world, that is to say."
Randolph shrugged. This was one of Foster's bad days indeed.
"And what's this I hear about Hortense?" asked Foster, with bitterness.
"That won't amount to much."
"It won't? She's out in the open, finally. She took that place for a month with one express object--to get him there, paint or no paint. She's fretful and cantankerous over every day of delay, and soon she'll be in an undisguised rage."
"What does her aunt say to it?"
"She's beginning to be vexed. She's losing patience. She thinks it's a mistake--and an immodest one. She wants to send her away for a visit. To think of it!--as soon as one girl lets go another takes hold,--and a third person holds on through all!"
But Foster was not to be stayed.
"And that poetry of Carolyn's! Medora herself came up and read it to me. It was a 'tribute,' she thought!"
"That won't amount to anything at all."
"It won't? With Hortense scornfully ridiculing it, and Carolyn bursting into tears before she can make her bolt from the room, and Amy wondering whether, after all...! If things are as bad as they are for me up here, how much worse must they be for the rest of them below! And that confounded engagement has made it still worse all round!"
Randolph ran his palms over his perplexed temples. "Whose?"
"Whose? No wonder you ask! Engagements, then."
"When are they going to be married?"
"The first week in May, I hear. But Pearson is trying for the middle of April. His flat is taken." Foster writhed in his chair.
"Why do they care for him?" he burst out. "He's nothing in himself. And he cares nothing for them. And he cares nothing for you," Foster added boldly. "All he has thought for is that fellow from up north."
"Don't ask me why they care," replied Randolph, with studied sobriety. "Why does anybody care? And for what? For the thing that is just out of reach. He's cool; he's selfish; he's indifferent. Yet, somehow, frost and fire join end to end and make the circle complete." He fell into reflection. "It's all like children straining upward for an icicle, and presently slipping, with cracked pates, on the ice below."
"Well, my pate isn't cracked."
"Unless it's the worst cracked of all."
Foster tore off his shade and threw it on the floor. "Mine?" he cried. "Look to your own!"
"Joe!" said Randolph, rising. "That won't quite do!"
"Be a fool along with the others, if you will!" retorted Foster. "Oh!" he went on, "Haven't I seen it all? Haven't I felt it all? You, Basil Randolph, mind your own ways too!"
Randolph thought of words, but held his tongue. Words led to other words, and he might soon find himself involved in what would seem like a defense-- an attitude which he did not relish, a course of which he did not acknowledge the need. "Poor Joe!" he thought; "sitting too much by himself and following over-closely the art of putting things together--anyhow!" Joe Foster must have more company and different things to consider. What large standard work--what history, biography, or bulky mass of memoirs in from four to eight volumes--would be the best to begin on before the winter should be too far spent?
Four or five days later, Randolph wrote to Cope that there was a good prospect for a small position in the administration offices of the University, and a week later Lemoyne was in that position. Cope, who recognized Randolph's handling of the matter as a personal favor, replied in a tone of some warmth. "He's really a very decent fellow, after all,--of course he is," pronounced Randolph. Lemoyne himself wrote more tardily and more coolly. He was taking time from his Psychology and from "The Antics of Annabella," it appeared, to acquaint himself with the routine of his new position. Randolph shrugged: he must wait to see which of the three interests would be held the most important.
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