She slackened her gait, dropping back beside him. “Well, then, if you think you could keep up with me if you didn’t have it, why’n’t you leave it somewhere, and come back and get it after the fire’s over?”
“No place to leave it.”
She laughed, and pointed. “Why’n’t you leave it at grandpa’s?”
“Will you wait for me and start fair?”
“Come on!” They obliqued across the street, still running forward, and at their grandfather’s gate Herbert turned in and sped toward the house.
“Take it around to the kitchen and give it to Kitty Silver,” Florence called. “Tell Kitty Silver to take care of it for you.”
But Herbert was in no mind to follow her advice; a glance over his shoulder showed that Florence was taking another unfair advantage of him. “You wait!” he shouted. “You stand still till I get back there! You got half a mile start a’ready! You wait till we can start even!”
But Florence was skipping lightly away and she caroled over her shoulder, waving her hand in mocking farewell as she began to run:
“Ole Mister Slowpoke
can’t catch me!
Ole Mister Slowpoke couldn’t catch a flea!”
“I’ll show you!” he bellowed, and, not to lose more time, he dashed up the steps of the deserted veranda, thrust his basket deep underneath a wicker settee, and ran violently after his elusive cousin.
She kept a tantalizing distance between them, but when they reached the fire it was such a grand one they forgot all their differences—and also all about the basket.
Noble Dill came from his father’s house, after dinner that evening, a youth in blossom, like the shrubberies and garden beds in the dim yards up and down Julia’s Street. All cooled and bathed and in new clothes of white, he took his thrilled walk through the deep summer twilight, on his way to that ineffable Front Porch where sat Julia, misty in the dusk. The girlish little new moon had perished naively out of the sky; the final pinkness of the west was gone; blue evening held the quiet world; and overhead, between the branches of the maple trees, were powdered all those bright pin points of light that were to twinkle on generations of young lovers after Noble Dill, each one, like Noble, walking the same fragrant path in summer twilights to see the Prettiest Girl of All.
Now and then there came to the faintly throbbing ears of the pedestrian a murmur of voices from lawns where citizens sat cooling after the day’s labour, or a tinkle of laughter from where maidens dull (not being Julia) sat on verandas vacant of beauty and glamour. For these poor things, Noble felt a wondering and disdainful pity; he pitied everything in the world that was not on the way to starry Julia.
Eight nights had passed since he, himself, had seen her, but to-day she had replied (over the telephone) that Mr. Atwater seemed to have settled down again, and she believed it might be no breach of tact for Noble to call that evening—especially as she would be on the veranda, and he needn’t ring the bell. Would she be alone—for once? It was improbable, yet it could be hoped.