“The subscription lists are closed, on the old terms,” he said crisply.
“Oh, you couldn’t have thought I meant that!” she whispered; but he was already halfway down the room, on the echo of his “Good-afternoon, Miss Elliot.”
As before, he turned at the door. And he carried with him, to muse over in the depths of his outraged heart once more, the mystery of that still and desperate smile. Any woman could have solved it for him. Any, except, possibly, Esme Elliot.
“It didn’t come out as I hoped, Festus,” said the sorrowful little Mrs. Willard to her husband that evening. “I don’t know that Hal will ever believe in her again. How can he be so—so stupidly unforgiving!”
“Always the man’s fault, of course,” said her big husband comfortably.
“No. She’s to blame. But it’s the fault of men in general that Norrie is what she is; the men of this town, I mean. No man has ever been a man with Norrie Elliot.”
“What have they been?”
“Mice. It’s a tradition of the place. They lie down in rows for her to trample on. So of course she tramples on them.”
“Well, I never trampled on mice myself,” observed Festus Willard. “It sounds like uncertain footing. But I’ll bet you five pounds of your favorite candy against one of your very best kisses, that if she undertakes to make a footpath of Hal Surtaine she’ll get her feet hurt.”
“Or her heart,” said his wife. “And, oh, Festus dear, it’s such a real, warm, dear heart, under all the spoiled-childness of her.”
Between Dr. Surtaine and his son had risen a barrier built up of reticences. At the outset of their reunion, they had chattered like a pair of schoolboy friends, who, after long separation, must rehearse to each other the whole roster of experiences. The Doctor was an enthusiast of speech, glowingly loquacious above knife and fork, and the dinner hours were enlivened for his son by his fund of far-gathered business incidents and adventures, pointed with his crude but apt philosophy, and irradiated with his centripetal optimism. He possessed and was conscious of this prime virtue of talk, that he was never tiresome. Yet recently he had noted a restlessness verging to actual distaste on Hal’s part, whenever he turned the conversation upon his favorite topic, the greatness of Certina and the commercial romance of the proprietary medicine business.
In his one close fellowship, the old quack cultivated even the minor and finer virtues. With Hal he was scrupulously tactful. If the boy found his business an irksome subject, he would talk about the boy’s business. And he did, sounding the Paean of Policy across the Surtaine mahogany in a hundred variations supported by a thousand instances. But here, also, Hal grew restive. He responded no more willingly to leads on journalism than to encomiums