“We have an engagement to walk this afternoon. May I go walking with you sometime?”
“May he, General?” A wagging tail knocked on the floor behind the counter. “General says that he will think about it. What makes you like Mr. Mayrant so much?”
This question struck me as an odd one; nor could I make out the import of the peculiar tone in which she put it. “Why, I should think everybody would like him—except, perhaps, his double victim.”
“Yes, first of his fist and then of—of his hand!”
But she didn’t respond.
“Of his hand—his poker hand,” I explained.
“Poker hand?” She remained honestly vague.
It rejoiced me to be the first to tell her. “You haven’t heard of Master John’s last performance? Well, finding himself forced by that immeasurable old Aunt Josephine of yours to shake hands, he shook ’em all right, but he took thirty dollars away as a little set-off for his pious docility.”
“Oh!” she murmured, overwhelmed with astonishment. Then she broke into one of her delicious peals of laughter.
“Anybody,” I said, “likes a boy who plays a hand—and a fist—to that tune.” I continued to say a number of commendatory words about young John, while her sparkling eyes rested upon me. But even as I talked I grew aware that these eyes were not sparkling, were starry rather, and distant, and that she was not hearing what I said; so I stopped abruptly, and at the stopping she spoke, like a person waking up.
“Oh, yes! Certainly he can take care of himself. Why not?”
“Rather creditable, don’t you think?”
“Considering his aunts and everything.”
She became haughty on the instant. “Upon my word! And do you suppose the women of South Carolina don’t wish their men to be men? Why”—she returned to mirth and that arch mockery which was her special charm—“we South Carolina women consider virtue our business, and we don’t expect the men to meddle with it!”
“Primal, perpetual, necessary!” I cried. “When that division gets blurred, society is doomed. Are you sure John can take care of himself every way?”
“I have other things than Mr. Mayrant to think about.” She said this quite sharply.
It surprised me. “To be sure,” I assented. “But didn’t you once tell me that you thought he was simple?”
She opened her ledger. “It’s a great honor to have one’s words so well remembered.”
I was still at a loss. “Anyhow, the wedding is postponed,” I continued; “and the cake. Of course one can’t help wondering how it’s all coming out.”
She was now working at her ledger, bending her head over it. “Have you ever met Miss Rieppe?” She inquired this with a sort of wonderful softness—which I was to hear again upon a still more memorable occasion.
“Never,” I answered, “but there’s nobody at present living whom I long to see so much.”