They walked on in silence. Not far from Mrs. Lindley’s, Hedrick abruptly became vocal in an artificial laugh. Richard was obviously intended to inquire into its cause, but, as he did not, Hedrick, after laughing hollowly for some time, volunteered the explanation:
“I played a pretty good trick on you last night.”
“Odd I didn’t know it.”
“That’s why it was good. You’d never guess it in the world.”
“No, I believe I shouldn’t. You see what makes it so hard, Hedrick, is that I can’t even remember seeing you, last night.”
“Nobody saw me. Somebody heard me though, all right.”
“The nigger that works at your mother’s—Joe.”
“What about it? Were you teasing Joe?”
“No, it was you I was after.”
“Well? Did you get me?”
Hedrick made another somewhat ghastly pretence of mirth. “Well, I guess I’ve had about all the fun out of it I’m going to. Might as well tell you. It was that book of Laura’s you thought she sent you.”
Richard stopped short; whereupon Hedrick turned clumsily, and began to stalk back in the direction from which they had come.
“That book—I thought she—sent me?” Lindley repeated, stammering.
“She never sent it,” called the boy, continuing to walk away. “She kept it hid, and I found it. I faked her into writing your name on a sheet of paper, and made you think she’d sent the old thing to you. I just did it for a joke on you.”
With too retching an effort to simulate another burst of merriment, he caught the stump of his right stilt in a pavement crack, wavered, cut in the air a figure like a geometrical proposition gone mad, and came whacking to earth in magnificent disaster.
Richard took him to Mrs. Lindley for repairs. She kept him until dark: Hedrick was bandaged, led, lemonaded and blandished.
Never in his life had he known such a listener.
That was a long night for Cora Madison, and the morning found her yellow. She made a poor breakfast, and returned from the table to her own room, but after a time descended restlessly and wandered from one room to another, staring out of the windows. Laura had gone out; Mrs. Madison was with her husband, whom she seldom left; Hedrick had departed ostensibly for school; and the house was as still as a farm in winter—an intolerable condition of things for an effervescent young woman whose diet was excitement. Cora, drumming with her fingers upon a window in the owl-haunted cell, made noises with her throat, her breath and her lips not unsuggestive of a sputtering fuse. She was heavily charged.
“Now what in thunder do you want?” she inquired of an elderly man who turned in from the sidewalk and with serious steps approached the house.
Pryor, having rung, found himself confronted with the lady he had come to seek. Ensued the moment of strangers meeting: invisible antennae extended and touched;—at the contact, Cora’s drew in, and she looked upon him without graciousness.