At that, they were no rivals to George Crooper, who was a real eater. Love had not made his appetite ethereal to-day, and even the attending Swedish lady named Anna felt some apprehension when it came to George and the gravy, though she was accustomed to the prodigies performed in this line by the robust hands on the farm. George laid waste his section of the table, and from the beginning he allowed himself scarce time to say, “I dunno why it is.” The pretty companion at his side at first gazed dumfounded; then, with growing enthusiasm for what promised to be a really magnificent performance, she began to utter little ejaculations of wonder and admiration. With this music in his ears, George outdid himself. He could not resist the temptation to be more and more astonishing as a heroic comedian, for these humors sometimes come upon vain people at country dinners.
George ate when he had eaten more than he needed; he ate long after every one understood why he was so vast; he ate on and on sheerly as a flourish—as a spectacle. He ate even when he himself began to understand that there was daring in what he did, for his was a toreador spirit so long as he could keep bright eyes fastened upon him.
Finally, he ate to decide wagers made upon his gorging, though at times during this last period his joviality deserted him. Anon his damp brow would be troubled, and he knew moments of thoughtfulness.
MY LITTLE SWEETHEARTS
When George did stop, it was abruptly, during one of these intervals of sobriety, and he and Miss Pratt came out of the house together rather quietly, joining one of the groups of young people chatting with after-dinner languor under the trees. However, Mr. Crooper began to revive presently, in the sweet air of outdoors, and, observing some of the more flashing gentlemen lighting cigarettes, he was moved to laughter. He had not smoked since his childhood—having then been bonded through to twenty-one with a pledge of gold—and he feared that these smoking youths might feel themselves superior. Worse, Miss Pratt might be impressed, therefore he laughed in scorn, saying:
“Burnin’ up ole trash around here, I expect!” He sniffed searchingly. “Somebody’s set some ole rags on fire.” Then, as in discovery, he cried, “Oh no, only cigarettes!”
Miss Pratt, that tactful girl, counted four smokers in the group about her, and only one abstainer, George. She at once defended the smokers, for it is to be feared that numbers always had weight with her. “Oh, but cigarettes is lubly smell!” she said. “Untle Georgiecums maybe be too ’ittle boy for smokings!”
This archness was greeted loudly by the smokers, and Mr. Crooper was put upon his mettle. He spoke too quickly to consider whether or no the facts justified his assertion. “Me? I don’t smoke paper and ole carpets. I smoke cigars!”