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"The tike," she said, "sticking his head and shoulders up out of his steaming bath just to get a couple o' duns and a letter from his father! And that other-him"she nodded contemptuously toward the lefthand suite, the most luxurious portion of the apartment-"he won't be after reading one o' them billydoos I 've stacked up by his plate until ivery hair is in place, and he 's ate out a section o' grape-fruit. And he calls himself a man"-she turned the flame a bit higher under the oatmeal, and measured a gill of cold water to settle the coffee with "and wears pants!" she concluded explosively.
Meantime the subjects of her criticism, each in his separate way, were getting ready for breakfast. Billy had crumpled the two damp duns in his big fist, and thrown them on his dressing-table. He was reading his father's letter as he brushed his hair.
James Kennedy was shaving in a way that would have made Billy writhe in mingled admiration and contempt if he had been a witness of the operation. It was never Kennedy who delayed the prompt service of breakfast at half-past eight. Punctuality was one of his passions. It was not even an attribute of any of the other men in the establishment. "Kid" Kennedy, his younger brother, and Brander Kellogg, the fourth of the quartet of good-looking young bachelors under Mrs. Gregory's charge, were obliged to be at their respective offices at eight, and they were already up and out of the house before that efficient guardian so much as tapped upon the doors of the later risers.
By making the supreme effort of his existence anew every morning, Billy was able to respond to Mrs. Gregory's summons and approximate the breakfast-hour; that is, he pulled out his chair ten minutes later than the appointed time with almost clock-like regularity.
Billy's father always added one line of good advice as a postscript to his letters. Sometimes it was, "Wear off your extra fat if you 've got an ounce of it"; sometimes it was, "Don't make any investment without asking your dad first." To-day
it was, "Go slow with women," and Billy read the paternal admonition gravely for perhaps the first time in his life. He was not whistling when he took his seat at the table a few minutes later. To Kennedy, who never whistled after the period of his morning ablutions, this did not appear as extraordinary as it actually was.
"Good morning, Billy," he said affably -he was always affable-as that person pulled at his chair with something very like a scowl when it caught in the rug; but he answered with his usual cheerfulness: "Good morning, old horse. Feeling fit?"
"Surest thing you know." "Staff all well?" Billy indicated the letters.
"I have n't opened them yet." Mrs. Gregory, entering with the eggs, cast her eyes supplicatingly toward heaven at this.
"A bit of a hang-over, Mrs. G.?" Billy inquired sympathetically. "Let me advise black coffee and bromo-seltzer for that, after a pick-me-up of some kind, of course."
"Get away with you!"
"Will you go out to the Evans's tonight?" Kennedy asked. "It 'll be hot, and we can all pile into the machine and go somewhere. Out to Egglestone's, perhaps, for coffee and sandwiches later." "Thank I don't think I'll go tonight," Billy said.
swering missile, an egg-shell. "Look here, that was all eggy !"
"Strange!" Kennedy said, "when it 's never had anything but an egg in it. Dinner at the Wilsons' next Thursday, must put that down. Dance on Friday; can't go; hooked up to the boss's daughter. Cards to a tea-party. Can't go to teaparties. The rest are all letters."
"I don't know how you do it," Billy complained-"write to 'em. I can't. What in the name of Goshen do you say?"
"Oh, I don't know. Anything interests them-business, theaters, last time you saw them, then one or two local touches. You know what they expect."
"Yes, I know what they expect," Billy said unexpectedly; "but tell me, Jimmie, for future reference, and because I know a feller that would like to knowa friend of mine." He winked solemnly. "How much of what they expect have we got a right to give 'em?"
"You mean if we have n't arrived at that stage where we propose to give 'em what they want."
"Well, dang it all! none of us wants to get married yet awhile."
"No," Kennedy said, "we don't. they do, in a way, that 's their lookout. As long as we remember we are gent—”
"Don't say it, Jimmie! Don't say it!" Billy begged him. "If that word is still in the language, I don't want to know it." "It's a good word," Kennedy insisted stoutly. It was often a little difficult for him to understand the strange places in the conversation at which the others drew the line. Sometimes in the midst of a serious conversation to which he had contributed no confidences a degree warmer than those of the other men, and he was unquestionably the lady's man among them, when he was talking quite gravely of his experiences, he would either get "the laugh" at some inexplicable moment, or be shut up good-naturedly. It seemed strange to him that the others should n't have more respect for his dignity.
"Boob!" said Billy to his back as they separated at the street corner. Then he turned to wave good-by to Mrs. Gregory,
who, he had discovered some months before, always watched them out of her sight.
He did n't go to the Evans's that night or for many nights after; and the reason was that the last time he had been there, alone with Evelyn in the garden, on a misty, humid evening, he had taken her little white-garbed figure in his arms and kissed her and kissed her. He had not an idea he was going to do it, and when he was through with it, and tried to make some kind of an apology for the monstrous thing he had done, little Evelyn Evans had put her two confiding arms about his neck and called him by his name, over and over again, in a queer, throaty little voice that he could n't get out of his memory. He was not in love with Evelyn. They were too young to think of being married. He was twenty-five, to be sure, and she was four years younger, but that was too young nowadays. The reason he had kissed her was that she expected to be kissed. That could n't have been plainer to any man who knew anything about it; she expected it, and wanted it. She had been waiting for him to do it, and he had done it. Of course he had kissed a good many other girls in his time, but that was different; all good-looking and healthy young people did a certain amount of spooning, but this was n't spooning exactly; it was love-making; it was pretty close to being engaged to a girl. In fact, it was the way you got engaged to them.
Billy thought if he stayed away for a while, if he went back again in a week or two very coolly and casually, that Evelyn would know without any talking or without getting her feelings really hurt. If you discussed a thing like that with a girl, he knew you were likely to get "in
Dutch." He had decided not to discuss it.
All that day at the office his father's postscript kept recurring to him-"Go slow with women." He wondered exactly what his father considered going slow. He knew his father for the most honorable and upright of men, and yet he knew a great deal about women; even his mother admitted that. How had he come
by his knowledge, Billy wondered, if that had been his slogan, "Go slow with women"? How could you go slow with them when they were willing to go so fast? For the first time in his healthy young life he began wondering about other men's relations with women-with nice women. He knew pretty well how things were with the men who were n't "straight." All that was a matter of taste; to him personally it was disgusting. You could marry only one woman, -one woman at once, anyway, he thought, grinning to himself,-but how the deuce was it that you got your experience of a whole world of women, even enough experience to pick and choose among them, without trying them out more or less? What was the happy medium? How could you find out?
"Brander," he asked that evening, when in the comfortable litter of their sittingroom they smoked their companionable pipes together, "what do you know about girls?"
The Kennedys were out together, James having, as Brander put it, "grafted a mealticket in finger-bowl row for the kid," and borrowed Billy's evening clothes for him.
"Girls?" Brander was only mildly interested. "Oh, I don't know. What do you want me to know about them? Squabs, broilers, and hens. Go slow with the squabs, careful with the broilers, and run like sixty from the hens. That's all I know, but between you and me and the roller-towel, Billy, it's a Hades of a lot."
"I dessay," said Billy. "How the deuce did you get to be such a shining example of a boint child, then?"
"By the Homeric method, 'An' what I thought I might require, I went and took the same as he.'
"I wonder if you did," said Billy. Kellogg cocked an eye. "I wonder," he said.
Mrs. Gregory hearing the commotion, and the dull thud of Brander's big frame as he fell, left her dishes and flew to the scene of the fray. Brander wrenched Billy's hand away from his mouth.
"What do you know about-" Billy
gently, but firmly, cut off his wind; but he freed himself "the Wars of the Roses, Mrs. G.?" he concluded suavely as he rose and shook himself.
Whereupon, with Billy at the piano, he instructed Mrs. Gregory, though not a step she took was any fault of her own, in the intricacies of the Lame Duck.
"The mountain is coming to Mohammed, Billy," Kennedy announced the next morning as he opened his mail. "Evelyn is coming to see you this evening, if you 're well enough to sit up and take notice. I told the girls any night this week, and Edith said she did n't think you and Evelyn were on speaking terms; but if she could work it, they 'd come to-night. By this brief communication"-he indicated the half-dozen closely written pages in his hand-"I learn she has worked it."
"Fine!" said Billy. "Fine!" He was not sorry. He wanted to see Evelyn again. He had missed her more than he was willing to admit. If she was coming to see him, she had forgiven him. The incident was closed. Billy was twentyfive, and he actually believed this.
"What 'll we have, ginger-ale, cheese-" "It 's too hot," said Billy, "sandwiches and cake and ice-cream-cool things." "Ice-cream is such a fuss," Kennedy objected.
"Oh, I'll open it up and dig it out," Billy said. "Evelyn likes it."
The party was fairly successful except from Billy's point of view; perhaps it was very successful indeed. He and Evelyn met without embarrassment, but she did n't look well. She was pale, with big shadows under her eyes. She avoided looking at him when they shook hands, and told him she would n't have come if Edith had n't been so very much disappointed when she refused.
Mrs. Gregory was in her element. They danced and sang. Billy did some glee-club songs, and Kennedy sang "Drink to Me only with Thine Eyes." Later in the evening Billy saw him kiss Edith in the butler's-pantry as they were ostensibly making a tour of inspection of the premises. Edith was n't at all interested in the
housekeeping, either, Billy could see. Her hand touched Kennedy's as they passed through the door, and it pressed and clung to his. Kennedy kept as close to her as the law allowed all the rest of the evening. Brander Kellogg had his arm around Lucy Kingston, the other girl of the party, all the way home in the automobile.. It was a rotten world. By the time he had shaken Evelyn's cold little hand in parting Billy was almost ready to forswear it for good. What did these fellows think they were doing, anyway? Trifling with the big things of life as if they were so many candy toys, playing at love-making as unconcernedly as if they were eating ice-cream. What did they mean by it?
His father's next letter closed with the poignant advice to "play the game." Whatever the game was, or however he happened to find himself sitting in, "play the game.' That evening he went to see
He found her in the summer-house in the garden, framed in frilly vines and soft green leaves, her head buried in her hands, crying as if her heart would break; and when he saw her, he put out his arms without a word, and she put her head down on his shoulder, and finished her weeping there.
"Will you marry me, Evelyn?" That was what he ought to say. "Evelyn, will you marry me? I've got you into this. I started something, and now I 've got to see it through. Evelyn, will you marry me?" It droned through his mind as he put his lips to her hair, as he pressed her tender little form closer to him, as he patted and comforted and soothed her, as he sought her lips, and made them yield to him; but he did not say it. Instead, he found himself beseeching her to tell him that she loved him, that she had been lonely without him, that she was glad he had come back to her; and she told him with adorable sweetness that she did, that she had, that she was, and then he gathered her in his arms again, and told her how lovely she was, and how much she meant to him-and that was all. If he
left her radiant with happiness, it was because she did n't yet understand what a pup he was, what a cur he was trying to be. He spent a sleepless night-comparatively sleepless, that is; it was at least an hour before he took more than a catnap.
In the morning he looked at Kennedy's pile of letters with a snarl of disgust. The only reason that he did n't tell Brander that he was a little yellow dog, and try to prove it to him scientifically, was that Brander was n't there at the time. He felt a great rage at Brander. He knew instinctively that Brander's affairs with the girls were conducted much like his own. Brander was dangerous; one could see that. Any woman that would fall for Kennedy deserved what she got, and no real girl could stand him. As a matter of fact, Kennedy was the one of the trio who did the most harm. He was a naturalborn philanderer, and he worked up all his affairs with instinctive artistry; but no virile youngster of Billy's kind understands this.
He went back to his room and waited till he heard Kennedy slam the front door before he began his own breakfast. He would be late to the office for once. Serve him right if he got fired. There was punishment coming to him. He might as well help it along from all directions at
"Were you happily married, Mrs. G.?" he asked suddenly.
"I was." Mrs. Gregory folded her arms, two clean forks projecting from her. hand. "I was, and thin ag'in I was n't."
"Is it so?" Billy murmured. "You were twice married?"
"No, it was the same one all the time. He was irregular in the habits he had. But I'm not finding fault with him; there's bad in us all, to be sure."
""There's so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves the rest of us'-how the deuce does that thing go? Do you remember the er-occasion on which he proposed to you, Mrs. G.?" Billy was collecting data unscrupulously against his inmost