However, they were only too well prepared with their annihilating response.
“Oh, say not so! Florence, say not so! Florence! Say not so!”
They even sent this same odious refrain back to her from the street, as they departed with their lovely companion; and, so tenuous is feminine loyalty sometimes, under these stresses, Miss Fairchild mingled her sweet, tantalizing young soprano with their changing and cackling falsetto.
“Say not so, Florence! Oh, say not so! Say not so!”
They went satirically down the street, their chumminess with one another bountifully increased by their common derision of the outsider on the porch; and even at a distance they still contrived to make themselves intolerable; looking back over their shoulders, at intervals, with say-not-so expressions on their faces. Even when these faces were far enough away to be but yellowish oval planes, their say-not-so expressions were still bitingly eloquent.
Now a northern breeze chilled the air, as the hateful three became indistinguishable in the haze of autumn dusk, whereupon Florence stopped swinging her foot, left the railing, and went morosely into the house. And here it was her fortune to make two discoveries vital to her present career; the first arising out of a conversation between her father and mother in the library, where a gossipy fire of soft coal encouraged this proper Sunday afternoon entertainment for man and wife.
“Sit down and rest, Florence,” said her mother. “I’m afraid you play too hard when Patty and the boys are here. Do sit down quietly and rest yourself a little while.” And as Florence obeyed, Mrs. Atwater turned to her husband, resuming: “Well, that’s what I said. I told Aunt Carrie I thought the same way about it that you did. Of course nobody ever knows what Julia’s going to do next, and nobody needs to be surprised at anything she does do. Ever since she came home from school, about four-fifths of all the young men in town have been wild about her—and so’s every old bachelor, for the matter of that!”
“Yes,” Mr. Atwater added. “And every old widower, too.”
His wife warmly accepted the amendment. “And every old widower, too,” she said, nodding. “Rather! And of course Julia’s just done exactly as she pleased about everything, and naturally she’s going to do as she pleases about this.”
“Well, of course it’s her own affair, Mollie,” Mr. Atwater said mildly. “She couldn’t be expected to consult the whole Atwater family connection before she——”
“Oh, no,” she agreed. “I don’t say she could. Still, it is rather upsetting, coming so suddenly like this, when not one of the family has ever seen him—never even heard his very name before.”
[Illustration: "‘Well, men ... I don’t want to see any loafin’ around here, men. I expect I’ll have a pretty good newspaper this week.’"]