Now, the fact was that Mr. Reynolds had been weak enough to allow himself to be drawn into conversation with some friends near the entrance of the hotel possessing the bar-room with the spittoons and colored prints already alluded to; and, being the Fourth of July, which, like many other days, comes but once a year, and a “dry night,” as his friends assured him, he had further given evidence of lack of stamina by accepting an invitation to “take a damp,” When he had finally succeeded in making his escape, he was conscious that it was in a tolerably damp condition; and it had occurred to him, as a brilliant idea, to put his head beneath the pump by way of freshening up his wits. The effect had been, for the moment, undoubtedly clarifying, and he made his entrance into Abbie’s with a great deal of confidence; more, perhaps, than was entirely warrantable; for the muddy whisky was still circulating in his blood, and the light, the close, hot air, and the excitement within-doors, were rapidly undoing the good work which the pump had accomplished. It was probably a dim suspicion that such was the case, which made him hesitate, and stick his hands in his pockets, and screw his boot-heel into the floor, when Cornelia asked him why he was so late. But the question had been asked in pure idleness, and not with any interest or purpose to elicit a reply. The next minute she relieved him from his embarrassment by speaking again.
“Would you mind doing me a favor, Bill?”
It seemed to Bill that, for the sake of hearing his Christian name from her lips, he would be willing to forswear all else that made life most dear—Havana cigars and muddy whisky included; and he was proceeding with impressive gravity to make a statement to that effect, when Cornelia once more interrupted him.
“Thank you; I was sure you would. You’re always so kind! You see I’m obliged to go home now, but papa will want to stay to supper, probably, or to play backgammon, and, of course, I shall leave him the wagon. Now, I want you to promise to see that Dolly is properly harnessed before he starts—will you? You know that man they have here isn’t always quite sober, especially when it’s Fourth of July, or any thing of that sort; and papa is getting old.”
“Yes, Miss Valeyon. I’ll attend to it. I’ll fix the old gentleman up, like he was my own father. And you’re just right about that fellow that’s around here; I wouldn’t trust him. Why—” Bill was on the point of mentioning that he had made one of the convivial party that evening, but checked himself in time, and looked particularly profound.
Cornelia had probably had more than one motive in making her request of Bill Reynolds. She wanted to avoid being urged to dance, by keeping his mind otherwise employed; she enjoyed the amusement of making him imagine that he was of some consequence and importance to her; and, lastly, she was very willing that all this should concur with some possible benefit to her father. Of Bill’s irresponsible condition she had of course no suspicion; indeed, he might have been far worse, with impunity, as far as she was concerned. It takes considerable practice to detect the effects of liquor, except when very excessive; and Cornelia had no such training.