They went to some chairs against a wall. There, as they sat, Cora swung by them, dancing again with her lieutenant, and looking up trancedly into the gallant eyes of the triumphant and intoxicated young man. Visibly, she was a woman with a suitor’s embracing arm about her. Richard’s eyes followed them.
“Ah, don’t!” said Laura in a low voice.
He turned to her. “Don’t what?”
“I didn’t mean to speak out loud,” she said tremulously. “But I meant: don’t look so troubled. It doesn’t mean anything at all—her coquetting with that bird of passage. He’s going away in the morning.”
“I don’t think I was troubling about that.”
“Well, whatever it was”—she paused, and laughed with a plaintive timidity—“why, just don’t trouble about it!”
“Do I look very much troubled?” he asked seriously.
“Yes. And you don’t look very gay when you’re not!” She laughed with more assurance now. “I think you’re always the wistfulest looking man I ever saw.”
“Everybody laughs at me, I believe,” he said, with continued seriousness. “Even Ray Vilas thinks I’m an utter fool. Am I, do you think?”
He turned as he spoke and glanced inquiringly into her eyes. What he saw surprised and dismayed him.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t cry!” he whispered hurriedly.
She bent her head, turning her face from him.
“I’ve been very hopeful lately,” he said. “Cora has been so kind to me since I did what she wanted me to, that I——” He gave a deep sigh. “But if you’re that sorry for me, my chances with her must be pretty desperate.”
She did not alter her attitude, but with her down-bent face still away from him, said huskily: “It isn’t you I’m sorry for. You mustn’t ever give up; you must keep on trying and trying. If you give up, I don’t know what will become of her!”
A moment later she rose suddenly to her feet. “Let’s finish our dance,” she said, giving him her hand. “I’m sure I won’t stumble again.”
The two girls let themselves into the house noiselessly, and, turning out the hall-light, left for them by their mother, crept upstairs on tiptoe; and went through the upper hall directly to Laura’s room—Cora’s being nearer the sick-room. At their age it is proper that a gayety be used three times: in anticipation, and actually, and in after-rehearsal. The last was of course now in order: they went to Laura’s room to “talk it over.” There was no gas-fixture in this small chamber; but they found Laura’s oil-lamp burning brightly upon her writing-table.
“How queer!” said Laura with some surprise, as she closed the door. “Mother never leaves the lamp lit for me; she’s always so afraid of lamps exploding.”
“Perhaps Miss Peirce came in here to read, and forgot to turn it out,” suggested Cora, seating herself on the edge of the bed and letting her silk wrap fall from her shoulders. “Oh, Laura, wasn’t he gorgeous. . . .”