A horrible grin might have been seen to disfigure the shadow in the corner just within the doorway.
It was cooler outdoors, after dinner, in the dusk of that evening; nevertheless three members of the Madison family denied themselves the breeze, and, as by a tacitly recognized and habitual house-rule, so disposed themselves as to afford the most agreeable isolation for the younger daughter and the guest, who occupied wicker chairs upon the porch. The mother and father sat beneath a hot, gas droplight in the small “library”; Mrs. Madison with an evening newspaper, her husband with “King Solomon’s Mines”; and Laura, after crisply declining an urgent request from Hedrick to play, had disappeared upstairs. The inimical lad alone was inspired for the ungrateful role of duenna.
He sat upon the topmost of the porch steps with the air of being permanently implanted; leaning forward, elbows on knees, cheeks on palms, in a treacherous affectation of profound reverie; and his back (all of him that was plainly visible in the hall light) tauntingly close to a delicate foot which would, God wot! willingly have launched him into the darkness beyond. It was his dreadful pleasure to understand wholly the itching of that shapely silk and satin foot.
The gas-light from the hall laid a broad orange path to the steps—Cora and her companion sat just beyond it, his whiteness gray, and she a pale ethereality in the shadow. She wore an evening gown that revealed a vague lilac through white, and shimmered upon her like a vapour. She was very quiet; and there was a wan sweetness about her, an exhalation of wistfulness. Cora, in the evening, was more like a rose than ever. She was fragrant in the dusk. The spell she cast was an Undine’s: it was not to be thought so exquisite a thing as she could last. And who may know how she managed to say what she did in the silence and darkness? For it was said—without words, without touch, even without a look—as plainly as if she had spoken or written the message: “If I am a rose, I am one to be worn and borne away. Are you the man?”
With the fall of night, the street they faced had become still, save for an infrequent squawk of irritation on the part of one of the passing automobiles, gadding for the most part silently, like fireflies. But after a time a strolling trio of negroes came singing along the sidewalk.
“In the evening, by
the moonlight, you could hear
those banjos ringing;
In the evening, by the moonlight, you could hear
those darkies singing.
How the ole folks would injoy it; they would sit
all night an’ lis-sun,
As we sang I-I-N the evening BY-Y-Y the moonlight.’
“Ah, that takes me back!” exclaimed Corliss. “That’s as it used to be. I might be a boy again.”
“And I suppose this old house has many memories for you?” said Cora, softly.