In the moonlight Noble sat upon the fence, and smoked Orduma cigarettes, and looked up with affection at the bright window of Mr. Atwater’s bedchamber. Abruptly the light in that window went out.
“Saying his prayers now,” said Noble. “I wonder if——” But, not to be vain, he laughed at himself and left the thought unfinished.
A week later, on a hot July afternoon, Miss Florence Atwater, recovered from her cold, stood in the shady back yard of her place of residence and yawned more extensively than any one would have believed possible, judging by her face in repose. Three of her friends, congenial in age and sex, were out of town for the summer; two had been ascertained, by telephonic inquiries, to be taking commanded siestas; and neither the other one nor Florence had yet forgotten that yesterday, although they were too religious to commit themselves to a refusal to meet as sisters in the Great Beyond, they had taken the expurgated oath that by Everything they would never speak to each other again so long as they both should live.
Florence was at the end of her resources. She had sought distraction in experimental cookery; but, having scorched a finger, and having been told by the cook that a person’s own kitchen wasn’t worth the price at eleven dollars a week if it had to git all smelled up with broiled rubber when the femometer stood at ninety-sevvum degrees in the shade, the experimenter abusedly turned her back on the morose woman and went out to the back yard for a little peace.
After an interval of torpor, she decided to go and see what Herbert was doing—a move not short of desperation, on account of Herbert’s new manner toward her. For a week Herbert had steadily pursued his scientific career, and he seemed to feel that in it he had attained a distinction beyond the reach of Florence. What made it ridiculous for her to hope was, of course, the fact that she was a girl, and Herbert had explained this to her in a cold, unpleasant way; for it is true that what is called “feminism” must be acquired by men, and is not a condition, or taste, natural to them. At thirteen it has not been acquired.
She found him at home. He was importantly engaged in a room in the cellar, where were loosely stored all manner of incapacitated household devices; two broken clothes-wringers, a crippled and rusted sewing-machine, an ice-cream freezer in like condition, a cracked and discarded marble mantelpiece, chipped porcelain and chinaware of all sorts, rusted stove lids and flatirons, half a dozen dead mops and brooms. This was the laboratory, and here, in congenial solitude, Herbert conducted his investigations. That is to say, until Florence arrived he was undisturbed by human intrusion, but he was not alone—far from it! There was, in fact, almost too much life in the place.