“Thank you,” said Alma. “I’m glad there isn’t that unpleasant odor here; but I wish there was a little more of the chinking.”
“No, no! Don’t say that!” he implored. “I like to think that there is one soul uncontaminated by the sense of money in this big, brutal, sordid city.”
“You mean two,” said Alma, with modesty. “But if you stifle at the Dryfooses’, why do you go there?”
“Why do I go?” he mused. “Don’t you believe in knowing all the natures, the types, you can? Those girls are a strange study: the young one is a simple, earthly creature, as common as an oat-field and the other a sort of sylvan life: fierce, flashing, feline—”
Alma burst out into a laugh. “What apt alliteration! And do they like being studied? I should think the sylvan life might—scratch.”
“No,” said Beaton, with melancholy absence, “it only-purrs.”
The girl felt a rising indignation. “Well, then, Mr. Beaton, I should hope it would scratch, and bite, too. I think you’ve no business to go about studying people, as you do. It’s abominable.”
“Go on,” said the young man. “That Puritan conscience of yours! It appeals to the old Covenanter strain in me—like a voice of pre-existence. Go on—”
“Oh, if I went on I should merely say it was not only abominable, but contemptible.”
“You could be my guardian angel, Alma,” said the young man, making his eyes more and more slumbrous and dreamy.
“Stuff! I hope I have a soul above buttons!”
He smiled, as she rose, and followed her across the room. “Good-night; Mr. Beaton,” she said.
Miss Woodburn and Fulkerson came in from the other room. “What! You’re not going, Beaton?”
“Yes; I’m going to a reception. I stopped in on my way.”
“To kill time,” Alma explained.
“Well,” said Fulkerson, gallantly, “this is the last place I should like to do it. But I guess I’d better be going, too. It has sometimes occurred to me that there is such a thing as staying too late. But with Brother Beaton, here, just starting in for an evening’s amusement, it does seem a little early yet. Can’t you urge me to stay, somebody?”
The two girls laughed, and Miss Woodburn said:
“Mr. Beaton is such a butterfly of fashion! Ah wish Ah was on mah way to a pawty. Ah feel quahte envious.”
“But he didn’t say it to make you,” Alma explained, with meek softness.
“Well, we can’t all be swells. Where is your party, anyway, Beaton?” asked Fulkerson. “How do you manage to get your invitations to those things? I suppose a fellow has to keep hinting round pretty lively, Neigh?”
Beaton took these mockeries serenely, and shook hands with Miss Woodburn, with the effect of having already shaken hands with Alma. She stood with hers clasped behind her.