It was clear to Beaton that Dryfoos distrusted him; and the fact heightened his pleasure in Christine's liking for him. He was as sure of this as he was of the other, though he was not so sure of any reason for his pleasure in it. She had her charm; the charm of wildness to which a certain wildness in himself responded; and there were times when his fancy contrived a common future for them, which would have a prosperity forced from the old fellow's love of the girl. Beaton liked the idea of this compulsion better than he liked the idea of the money; there was something a little repulsive in that; he imagined himself rejecting it; he almost wished he was enough in love with the girl to marry her without it; that would be fine. He was taken with her in a certain' measure, in a certain way; the question was in what measure, in what way.
It was partly to escape from this question that he hurried down-town, and decided to spend with the Leightons the hour remaining on his hands before it was time to go to the reception for which he was dressed. It seemed to him important that he should see Alma Leighton. After all, it was her charm that was most abiding with him; perhaps it was to be final. He found himself very happy in his present relations with her. She had dropped that barrier of pretences and ironical surprise. It seemed to him that they had gone back to the old ground of common artistic interest which he had found so pleasant the summer before. Apparently she and her mother had both forgiven his neglect of them in the first months of their stay in New York; he was sure that Mrs. Leighton liked him as well as ever, and, if there was still something a little provisional in Alma's manner at times, it was something that piqued more than it discouraged; it made him curious, not anxious.
He found the young ladies with Fulkerson when he rang. He seemed to be amusing them both, and they were both amused beyond the merit of so small a pleasantry, Beaton thought, when Fulkerson said: "Introduce myself, Mr. Beaton: Mr. Fulkerson of 'Every Other Week.' Think I've met you at our place." The girls laughed, and Alma explained that her mother was not very well, and would be sorry not to see him. Then she turned, as he felt, perversely, and went on talking with Fulkerson and left him to Miss Woodburn.
She finally recognized his disappointment: "Ah don't often get a chance at you, Mr. Beaton, and Ah'm just goin' to toak yo' to death. Yo' have been Soath yo'self, and yo' know ho' we do toak."
"I've survived to say yes," Beaton admitted.
"Oh, now, do you think we toak so much mo' than you do in the No'th?" the young lady deprecated.
"I don't know. I only know you can't talk too much for me. I should like to hear you say Soath and house and about for the rest of my life."
"That's what Ah call raght personal, Mr. Beaton. Now Ah'm goin' to be personal, too." Miss Woodburn flung out over her lap the square of cloth she was embroidering, and asked him: "Don't you think that's beautiful? Now, as an awtust—a great awtust?"
"As a great awtust, yes," said Beaton, mimicking her accent. "If I were less than great I might have something to say about the arrangement of colors. You're as bold and original as Nature."
"Really? Oh, now, do tell me yo' favo'ite colo', Mr. Beaton."
"My favorite color? Bless my soul, why should I prefer any? Is blue good, or red wicked? Do people have favorite colors?" Beaton found himself suddenly interested.
"Of co'se they do," answered the girl. "Don't awtusts?"
"I never heard of one that had—consciously."
"Is it possible? I supposed they all had. Now mah favo'ite colo' is gawnet. Don't you think it's a pretty colo'?"
"It depends upon how it's used. Do you mean in neckties?" Beaton stole a glance at the one Fulkerson was wearing.
Miss Woodburn laughed with her face bowed upon her wrist. "Ah do think you gentlemen in the No'th awe ten tahms as lahvely as the ladies."
"Strange," said Beaton. "In the South—Soath, excuse me! I made the observation that the ladies were ten times as lively as the gentlemen. What is that you're working?"
"This?" Miss Woodburn gave it another flirt, and looked at it with a glance of dawning recognition. "Oh, this is a table-covah. Wouldn't you lahke to see where it's to go?"
"Well, if you'll be raght good I'll let yo' give me some professional advass about putting something in the co'ners or not, when you have seen it on the table."
She rose and led the way into the other room. Beaton knew she wanted to talk with him about something else; but he waited patiently to let her play her comedy out. She spread the cover on the table, and he advised her, as he saw she wished, against putting anything in the corners; just run a line of her stitch around the edge, he said.
"Mr. Fulkerson and Ah, why, we've been having a regular faght aboat it," she commented. "But we both agreed, fahnally, to leave it to you; Mr. Fulkerson said you'd be sure to be raght. Ah'm so glad you took mah sahde. But he's a great admahrer of yours, Mr. Beaton," she concluded, demurely, suggestively.
"Is he? Well, I'm a great admirer of Fulkerson," said Beaton, with a capricious willingness to humor her wish to talk about Fulkerson. "He's a capital fellow; generous, magnanimous, with quite an ideal of friendship and an eye single to the main chance all the time. He would advertise 'Every Other Week' on his family vault."
Miss Woodburn laughed, and said she should tell him what Beaton had said.
"Do. But he's used to defamation from me, and he'll think you're joking."
"Ah suppose," said Miss Woodburn, "that he's quahte the tahpe of a New York business man." She added, as if it followed logically, "He's so different from what I thought a New York business man would be."
"It's your Virginia tradition to despise business," said Beaton, rudely.
Miss Woodburn laughed again. "Despahse it? Mah goodness! we want to get into it and woak it fo' all it's wo'th,' as Mr. Fulkerson says. That tradition is all past. You don't know what the Soath is now. Ah suppose mah fathaw despahses business, but he's a tradition himself, as Ah tell him." Beaton would have enjoyed joining the young lady in anything she might be going to say in derogation of her father, but he restrained himself, and she went on more and more as if she wished to account for her father's habitual hauteur with Beaton, if not to excuse it. "Ah tell him he don't understand the rising generation. He was brought up in the old school, and he thinks we're all just lahke he was when he was young, with all those ahdeals of chivalry and family; but, mah goodness! it's money that cyoants no'adays in the Soath, just lahke it does everywhere else. Ah suppose, if we could have slavery back in the fawm mah fathaw thinks it could have been brought up to, when the commercial spirit wouldn't let it alone, it would be the best thing; but we can't have it back, and Ah tell him we had better have the commercial spirit as the next best thing."
Miss Woodburn went on, with sufficient loyalty and piety, to expose the difference of her own and her father's ideals, but with what Beaton thought less reference to his own unsympathetic attention than to a knowledge finally of the personnel and materiel of 'Every Other Week.' and Mr. Fulkerson's relation to the enterprise. "You most excuse my asking so many questions, Mr. Beaton. You know it's all mah doing that we awe heah in New York. Ah just told mah fathaw that if he was evah goin' to do anything with his wrahtings, he had got to come No'th, and Ah made him come. Ah believe he'd have stayed in the Soath all his lahfe. And now Mr. Fulkerson wants him to let his editor see some of his wrahtings, and Ah wanted to know something aboat the magazine. We awe a great deal excited aboat it in this hoase, you know, Mr. Beaton," she concluded, with a look that now transferred the interest from Fulkerson to Alma. She led the way back to the room where they were sitting, and went up to triumph over Fulkerson with Beaton's decision about the table-cover.
Alma was left with Beaton near the piano, and he began to talk about the
Dryfooses as he sat down on the piano-stool. He said he had been giving
Miss Dryfoos a lesson on the banjo; he had borrowed the banjo of Miss
Vance. Then he struck the chord he had been trying to teach Christine,
and played over the air he had sung.
"How do you like that?" he asked, whirling round.
"It seems rather a disrespectful little tune, somehow," said Alma, placidly.
Beaton rested his elbow on the corner of the piano and gazed dreamily at her. "Your perceptions are wonderful. It is disrespectful. I played it, up there, because I felt disrespectful to them."
"Do you claim that as a merit?"
"No, I state it as a fact. How can you respect such people?"
"You might respect yourself, then," said the girl. "Or perhaps that wouldn't be so easy, either."
"No, it wouldn't. I like to have you say these things to me," said
"Well, I like to say them," Alma returned.
"They do me good."
"Oh, I don't know that that was my motive."
"There is no one like you—no one," said Beaton, as if apostrophizing her in her absence. "To come from that house, with its assertions of money—you can hear it chink; you can smell the foul old banknotes; it stifles you—into an atmosphere like this, is like coming into another world."
"Thank you," said Alma. "I'm glad there isn't that unpleasant odor here; but I wish there was a little more of the chinking."
"No, no! Don't say that!" he implored. "I like to think that there is one soul uncontaminated by the sense of money in this big, brutal, sordid city."
"You mean two," said Alma, with modesty. "But if you stifle at the
Dryfooses', why do you go there?"
"Why do I go?" he mused. "Don't you believe in knowing all the natures, the types, you can? Those girls are a strange study: the young one is a simple, earthly creature, as common as an oat-field and the other a sort of sylvan life: fierce, flashing, feline—"
Alma burst out into a laugh. "What apt alliteration! And do they like being studied? I should think the sylvan life might—scratch."
"No," said Beaton, with melancholy absence, "it only-purrs."
The girl felt a rising indignation. "Well, then, Mr. Beaton, I should hope it would scratch, and bite, too. I think you've no business to go about studying people, as you do. It's abominable."
"Go on," said the young man. "That Puritan conscience of yours! It appeals to the old Covenanter strain in me—like a voice of pre-existence. Go on—"
"Oh, if I went on I should merely say it was not only abominable, but contemptible."
"You could be my guardian angel, Alma," said the young man, making his eyes more and more slumbrous and dreamy.
"Stuff! I hope I have a soul above buttons!"
He smiled, as she rose, and followed her across the room. "Good-night;
Mr. Beaton," she said.
Miss Woodburn and Fulkerson came in from the other room. "What! You're not going, Beaton?"
"Yes; I'm going to a reception. I stopped in on my way."
"To kill time," Alma explained.
"Well," said Fulkerson, gallantly, "this is the last place I should like to do it. But I guess I'd better be going, too. It has sometimes occurred to me that there is such a thing as staying too late. But with Brother Beaton, here, just starting in for an evening's amusement, it does seem a little early yet. Can't you urge me to stay, somebody?"
The two girls laughed, and Miss Woodburn said:
"Mr. Beaton is such a butterfly of fashion! Ah wish Ah was on mah way to a pawty. Ah feel quahte envious."
"But he didn't say it to make you," Alma explained, with meek softness.
"Well, we can't all be swells. Where is your party, anyway, Beaton?" asked Fulkerson. "How do you manage to get your invitations to those things? I suppose a fellow has to keep hinting round pretty lively, Neigh?"
Beaton took these mockeries serenely, and shook hands with Miss Woodburn, with the effect of having already shaken hands with Alma. She stood with hers clasped behind her.
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