“They are helpless, like all the rest,” said her father, with the same deference to her as to other women. “I do not blame them.”
“Oh, mah goodness! Didn’t you say, sir, that Mr. Beaton had bad manners?”
Alma relieved a confusion which he seemed to feel in reference to her. “Bad manners? He has no manners! That is, when he’s himself. He has pretty good ones when he’s somebody else.”
Miss Woodburn began, “Oh, mah-” and then stopped herself. Alma’s mother looked at her with distressed question, but the girl seemed perfectly cool and contented; and she gave her mind provisionally to a point suggested by Colonel Woodburn’s talk.
“Still, I can’t believe it was right to hold people in slavery, to whip them and sell them. It never did seem right to me,” she added, in apology for her extreme sentiments to the gentleness of her adversary.
“I quite agree with you, madam,” said the Colonel. “Those were the abuses of the institution. But if we had not been vitiated on the one hand and threatened on the other by the spirit of commercialism from the North—and from Europe, too—those abuses could have been eliminated, and the institution developed in the direction of the mild patriarchalism of the divine intention.” The Colonel hitched his chair, which figured a hobby careering upon its hind legs, a little toward Mrs. Leighton and the girls approached their heads and began to whisper; they fell deferentially silent when the Colonel paused in his argument, and went on again when he went on.
At last they heard Mrs. Leighton saying, “And have you heard from the publishers about your book yet?”
Then Miss Woodburn cut in, before her father could answer: “The coase of commercialism is on that, too. They are trahing to fahnd oat whethah it will pay.”
“And they are right-quite right,” said the Colonel. “There is no longer any other criterion; and even a work that attacks the system must be submitted to the tests of the system.”
“The system won’t accept destruction on any othah tomes,” said Miss Woodburn, demurely.
At the reception, where two men in livery stood aside to let him pass up the outside steps of the house, and two more helped him off with his overcoat indoors, and a fifth miscalled his name into the drawing-room, the Syracuse stone-cutter’s son met the niece of Mrs. Horn, and began at once to tell her about his evening at the Dryfooses’. He was in very good spirits, for so far as he could have been elated or depressed by his parting with Alma Leighton he had been elated; she had not treated his impudence with the contempt that he felt it deserved; she must still be fond of him; and the warm sense of this, by operation of an obscure but well-recognized law of the masculine being, disposed him to be rather fond of Miss Vance. She was a slender girl, whose semi-aesthetic dress flowed about her with an accentuation