The Fascinating Stranger and Other Stories/The Party
THE thoughts of a little girl are not the thoughts of a little boy. Some will say that a little girl’s thoughts are the gentler; and this may be, for the boy roves more with his tribe and follows its hardier leaders; but during the eighth or ninth year, and sometimes a little earlier, there usually becomes evident the beginning of a more profound difference. The little girl has a greater self-consciousness than the boy has, but conceals hers better than he does his; moreover, she has begun to discover the art of getting her way indirectly, which mystifies him and outrages his sense of justice. Above all, she is given precedence and preference over him, and yet he is expected to suppress what is almost his strongest natural feeling, and be polite to her! The result is that long feud between the sexes during the period running from the ages of seven and eight to fifteen, sixteen and seventeen, when reconciliation and reconstruction set in—often rapidly.
Of course the period varies with individuals;—however, to deal in averages, a male of five will play with females of similar age almost as contentedly as with other males, but when he has reached eight, though he may still at times “play with girls,” he feels a guilt, or at least a weakness, in doing so; for within him the long hatred has begun to smoulder.
Many a parent and many an aunt will maintain that the girls are passive, that it is the boys who keep the quarrel alive, though this is merely to deny the relation between cause and result, and the truth is that the boys are only the noisier and franker in the exchange of reciprocal provocations. And since adults are but experienced children, we find illumination upon such a point in examples of the feud’s revival in middle age; for it is indeed sometimes revived, even under conditions of matrimony. A great deal of coldness was shown to the suburban butcher who pushed his wife into his sausage vat. “Stay!” the philosopher protested. “We do not know what she had said to him.”
The feud is often desultory and intermittent; and of course it does not exist between every boy and every girl; a Montagu may hate the Capulets with all his vitals, yet feel an extraordinary kindness toward one exceptional Capulet. Thus, Master Laurence Coy, nine, permitted none to surpass him in hating girls. He proclaimed his bitterness, and made the proclamation in public. (At a party in his own house and given in his own honour, with girls for half his guests, he went so far as to state—not in a corner, whispering, but in the centre of the largest room and shouting—that he hated every last thing about ’em. It seemed that he wished to avoid ambiguity.) And yet, toward one exceptional little girl he was as water.
Was what he felt for Elsie Threamer love? Naturally, the answer must depend upon a definition of the word; and there are definitions varying from the frivolous mots tossed off by clergymen to the fanatical dogmas of coquettes. Mothers, in particular, have their own definitions, which are so often different from those of their sons that no one will ever be able to compute the number of mothers who have informed sons, ranging in age from fourteen to sixty-two, that what those sons mistook for love, and insisted was love, was not love. Yet the conclusion seems to be inevitable that behind all the definitions there is but one actual thing itself; that it may be either a force, or a condition produced by a force, or both; and that although the phenomena by which its presence may be recognized are of the widest diversity, they may be somewhat roughly classified according to the ages of the persons affected. Finally, a little honest research will convince anybody that these ages range from seven months to one hundred and thirty-four years; and if scriptural records are accepted, the latter figure must be much expanded.
Hence there appears to be warranted accuracy in the statement that Laurence Coy was in a state of love. When he proclaimed his hatred of all girls and every last thing about ’em, that very proclamation was produced by his condition—it was a phenomenon related to the phenomena of crime, to those uncalled-for proclamations of innocence that are really the indications of guilt. He was indeed inimical to all other girls; but even as he declared his animosity, he hoped Elsie was noticing him.
Whenever he looked at her, he swallowed and had a warm but sinking sensation in his lower chest. If he continued to be in her presence for some time—that is, for more than four or five minutes—these symptoms were abated but did not wholly disappear; the neck was still a little uneasy, moving in a peculiar manner at intervals, as if to release itself from contact with the collar, and there was a feeling of looseness about the stomach.
In absence, her image was not ever and always within his doting fancy shrined; far from it! When he did think of her, the image was fair, doubtless; yet he had in mind nothing in particular he wished to say to its original. And when he heard that she had the scarlet fever, he did not worry. No, he only wondered if she could see him from a window as he went by her house, and took occasion to pass that way with a new kite. Truth to say, here was the gist of his love in absence; it consisted almost entirely of a wish to have her for an audience while he performed; and that’s not so far from the gist of divers older loves.
In her presence it was another matter; self-consciousness expanded to the point of explosion, for here was actually the audience of his fragmentary day-dreams, and great performances were demanded. Just at this point, however, there was a difficulty;—having developed neither a special talent nor even a design of any kind, he was forced back upon the more rudimentary forms of self-expression. Thus it comes about that sweet love itself will often be found the hidden cause of tumults that break up children’s parties.
The moment of Elsie’s arrival at Laurence’s party could have been determined by an understanding person even if Elsie had been invisible to that person. Until then Laurence was decorous, greeting his arriving guests with a little arrogance natural to the occasion, since this was his own party and on his own premises; but the instant his glance fell upon the well-known brazen glow of apparently polished curls, as Elsie came toward him from the hall where she had left her pretty hat and little white coat, his decorum vanished conspicuously.
The familiar symptoms had assailed him, and automatically he reacted to prevent their unmanning him. Girls, generically, had been mentioned by no one, and he introduced the topic without prelude, stating at the top of his voice that he hated every last thing about ’em. Then, not waiting for Elsie to greet him, not even appearing to be aware of her approach, or of her existence, he ran across the room, shouting, “Hay, there, Mister!” and hurled himself against a boy whose back was toward him. Rebounding, he dashed upon another, bumping into him violently, with the same cry of “Hay, there, Mister!” and went careening on, from boy to boy, repeating the bellow with the bumping as he went.
Such easy behaviour on the part of the host immediately dispersed that formal reticence which characterizes the early moments of most children’s parties; the other boys fell in with Laurence’s idea and began to plunge about the room, bumping one another with a glad disregard of little girls who unfortunately got in their way. “Hay, there, Mister!” was the favoured cry, shouted as loudly as possible; and the bumping was as vigorous as the slogan. Falls were many and uproarious; annoyed little girls were upset; furniture also fell; the noise became glorious; and thus Laurence Coy’s party was a riot almost from the start.
Now when boys at a party get this mob mood going, the state of mind of the little girls is warrantably that of grown ladies among drunken men. There is this difference, of course: that the adult ladies leave the place and go home as soon as they can extricate themselves, whereas the little girls are incapable of even imagining such a course of action; they cannot imagine leaving a party before the serving of “refreshments,” at the earliest. For that matter, children of both sexes sometimes have a miserable time at a party yet remain to the bitter end for no reason except that their minds are not equal to the conception of a departure. A child who of his own impulse leaves a party before it is over may be set down as either morbid or singularly precocious—he may be a genius.
When the bumping and bellowing broke out at Laurence’s party, most of the little girls huddled discontentedly close to the walls or in corners, where they were joined by those who had been overturned; and these last were especially indignant as they smoothed down their rumpled attire. It cannot be said, however, that the little girls reduced the general clamour; on the contrary, they increased it by the loudest criticism.
Every one of the rumpled naturally singled out the bellowing bumper who had overturned herself, and declared him to be the worst of the malefactors bent upon “spoiling the party.” But as the rioting continued, the ladies’ criticism shifted in a remarkable way, and presently all of it became hotly concentrated upon one particular rioter. The strange thing about this was that the individual thus made the centre of odium was not Laurence, the founder of the objectionable game and the ringleader of the ruffians; not fat Bobby Eliot, the heaviest and most careless of his followers; not Thomas Kimball, the noisiest; not any of the boys, indeed, but on the peculiar contrary, a person of the resentful critics’ own sex.
One little girl alone, among those overturned, had neither fled to the wall nor sought the protection of a corner; she remained upon the floor where Laurence, too blindly bumping, had left her; and it must be related that, thus recumbent, she kicked repeatedly at all who happened to pass her way. “Hay there, Mister!” she said. “I’ll show you!”
Her posture had no dignity; her action lacked womanliness; she seemed unconventional and but little aware of those qualities which a young female appearing in society should at least affect to possess. Hence it is no wonder that even before she decided to stop kicking and rise from the floor, she was already being censured. And what indeed was the severity of that censure, when after rising, she bounced herself violently against Laurence, ricocheted upon Thomas Kimball, and shrilling, “Hay, there, Mister! I’ll show you!” proceeded to enter into the game with an enthusiasm surpassing that of any other participant!
It cannot be said that she was welcomed by the male players; they made it as clear as possible that they considered her enthusiasm gratuitous. “Here, you!” the fat Eliot boy objected sternly, as she caromed into him. “You ole Daisy Mears, you! You ought to know you might ruin a person’s stummick, doing like that with your elbow.”
But Miss Mears was not affected by his severity; she projected herself at him again. “Hay, there, Mister!” she whooped. “I’ll show you!” And so bounced on to the next boy.
Her voice, shrill beyond compare, could be heard—and by a sensitive ear heard painfully—far above the bellowing and the criticism. Her “Hay-there-Mister-I’ll-show-you!” was both impetuous and continuous; and she covered more ground than any of the boys. Floored again, not once but many times, she recovered herself by a method of her own; the feet were quickly elevated as high as possible, then brought down, while a simultaneous swing of the shoulders threw the body forward; and never for an instant did she lose her up-and-at-’em spirit. She devised a new manner of bumping—charging upon a boy, she would turn just at the instant of contact, and back into him with the full momentum acquired in the charge. Usually they both fell, but she had the advantage of being the upper, which not only softened the fall for her but enabled her to rise with greater ease because of her opponent’s efforts to hoist her from him.
Now, here was a strange thing: the addition of this blithe companion seemed to dull the sport for those who most keenly loved it. In proportion as her eagerness for it increased, their own appeared to diminish. Dozens of times, probably, she was advised to “cut it out,” and with even greater frankness requested to “get on out o’ here!” Inquiries were directed to her, implying doubts of her sanity and even of her consciousness of her own acts. “Hay, listen!” several said to her. “Do you think you know what you’re doin’?”
Finally she was informed, once more by implication, that she was underweight—though here was a paradox, for her weight was visibly enough to have overthrown the informer, who was Laurence. But this was the second time she had done it, and his warmth of feeling was natural.
“Get off o’ me,” he said, and added the paradoxical appraisement of her figure. His words were definite, but to the point only as reprisal for her assault; Daisy Mears was properly a person, not a “thing”; neither was she “old,” being a month or so younger than Laurence; nor did his loose use of another adjective do credit to his descriptive accuracy. It was true that Daisy’s party manners had lacked suavity, true that her extreme vivacity had been uncalled-for, true that she was not beautiful; but she was no thinner than she was stout, and she must have wished to insist upon a recognition of this fact.
She was in the act of rising from a sitting posture upon Laurence when he used the inaccurate word; and he had struggled to his hands and knees, elevating her; but at once she sat again, with violence, flattening him. “Who’s skinny?” she inquired.
“You get up off o’ me!” he said fiercely.
She rose, laughing with all her shrillness, and Laurence would have risen too, but Miss Mears, shouting, “Hay, there, Mister!” easily pushed him down, for the polished floor was slippery and gave no footing. Laurence tried again, and again the merry damsel aided him to prostrate himself. This mortifying process was repeated and repeated until it attracted the attention of most of the guests, while bumping stopped and the bumpers gathered to look on; even to take an uproarious part in the contest. Some of them pushed Daisy; some of them pushed Laurence; and the latter, furious and scarlet, with his struggling back arched, and his head lowering among his guests’ shoes and slippers, uttered many remonstrances in a strangled voice.
Finally, owing to the resentful activity of the fat Eliot boy, who remembered his stummick and pushed Daisy with ungallant vigour, the dishevelled Laurence once more resumed the upright position of a man, but only to find himself closely surrounded by rosily flushed faces, all unpleasantly mirthful at his expense. The universe seemed to be made of protuberant, taunting eyes and noisy open mouths.
“Ya-a-a-ay, Laur-runce!” they vociferated.
A lock of his own hair affected the sight of one of his eyes; a single hair of his late opponent was in his mouth, where he considered a hair of anybody’s out of place, and this one peculiarly so, considering its source. Miss Mears herself, still piercing every tympanum with her shrillness, rolled upon the floor but did not protract her hilarity there. Instead she availed herself of him, and with unabated disrespect, came up him hand-over-hand as if he had been a rope.
Then, as he strove to evade her too-familiar grasp, there fell a sorry blow. Beyond the nearer spectators his unhampered eye caught the brazen zigzag gleam of orderly curls moving to the toss of a dainty head; and he heard the voice of Elsie, incurably sweet in tone, but oh, how destroying in the words! Elsie must have heard some grown person say them, and stored them for effective use.
“Pooh! Fighting with that rowdy child!”
“Fightin’?” shouted Miss Mears. “That wasn’t fightin’!”
“It wasn’t?” Thomas Kimball inquired waggishly. “What was it?” And he added with precocious satire: “I s’pose you call it makin’ love!”
To Laurence’s horror, Master Kimball’s waggish idea spread like a virulent contagion, even to Laurence’s most intimate friends. “Ya-a-ay, Laur-runce!” they shouted. “Daisy Mears is your girl! Daisy Mears is Laurunce’s girl! Oh, Laur-runce!”
He could only rage and bellow. “She is not! You hush up! I hate her! I hate her worse’n I do anybody!”
But his protests were disallowed and shouted down; the tormentors pranced, pointing at him with hateful forefingers, making other dreadful signs, sickening him unutterably. “Day-zy Mears and Laur-runce Coy! Daisy Mears is Laurunce’s girl!”
“She is not!” he bawled. “You hush opp! I hate her! I hate her worse’n I do—worse’n I do—I hate her worse’n I do garbidge!”
It may have been that this comparison, so frankly unbowdlerized, helped to inspire Miss Daisy Mears. More probably what moved her was merely a continuation of the impulse propelling her from the moment of her first fall to the floor upon being accidentally bumped by Laurence. Surprisingly enough, in view of her present elations, Daisy had always been thought a quiet and unobtrusive little girl; indeed, she had always believed herself to be that sort of little girl. Never, until this afternoon, had she attracted special notice at a party, or anywhere else. Her nose, in particular, was almost unfortunately inconspicuous, her hair curled so temporarily, even upon artificial compulsion, that two small pigtails were found to be its best expression. She was the most commonplace of little girls; yet it has never been proved that commonplace people are content with their condition. Finding herself upon the floor and kicking, this afternoon, Daisy Mears discovered, for the first time in her life, that she occupied a prominent position and was being talked about. Then and there rose high the impulse to increase her prominence. What though comment were adverse, she was for once and at last the centre of it! And for some natures, to taste distinction is to determine upon the whole drunken cup: Daisy Mears had entered upon an orgy.
Laurence’s choice of a phrase to illustrate the disfavour in which he held her had a striking effect upon all his guests: the little girls were shocked, said “Oh!” and allowed their mouths to remain open indefinitely; the boys were seemingly maddened by their host’s free expression—they howled, leaped, beat one another; but the most novel course of action was that adopted by the newly ambitious Daisy. She ran upon Laurence from behind, and threw her arms about him in a manner permitting some question whether her intention might be an embrace or a wrestling match. Her indiscreet words, however, dismissed the doubt.
“He’s my dear little pet!” she shouted.
For a moment Laurence was incredulous; then in a dazed way he began to realize his dreadful position. He knew himself to be worse than compromised: a ruinous claim to him seemed upon the point of being established; and all the spectators instantly joined in the effort to establish it. They circled about him, leaping and pointing. They bawled incessantly within the very cup of his ear.
“She is! She is too your girl! She says so herself!”
To Laurence the situation was simply what it would have been to Romeo had an unattractive hoyden publicly claimed him for her own, embracing him in Juliet’s presence, with the entire population of Verona boisterously insisting upon the hoyden’s right to him. Moreover, Romeo’s experience would have given him an advantage over Laurence. Romeo would have known how to point out that it takes two to make a bargain, would have requested the claimant to set forth witnesses or documents; he could have turned the public in his favour, could have extricated himself, and might have done so even with some grace. The Veronese would have respected his argument.
Not so with Laurence’s public—for indeed his whole public now surrounded him. This was a public upon whom evidence and argument were wasted; besides, he had neither. He had only a dim kind of reasoning, very hurried—a perception that his only way out was to make his conduct toward Daisy Mears so consistently injurious that neither she nor the public could pretend to believe that anything so monstrous as affection existed between them. And since his conception of the first thing to be done was frankly elemental, it was well for his reputation as a gentleman and a host that his mother and his Aunt Ella happened to come into the living-room just then, bringing some boxes of games and favours. The mob broke up, and hurried in that direction.
Mrs. Coy looked benevolently over their heads, and completely mistaking a gesture of her son, called to him smilingly: “Come, Laurence; you can play tag with little Daisy after a while. Just now we’ve got some other games for you.” Then, as he morosely approached, attended by Daisy, Mrs. Coy offered them a brightly coloured cardboard box. “Here’s a nice game,” she said, and continued unfortunately: “Since you want to play with Daisy, you can amuse yourselves with that. It’s a game for just two.”
“I won’t!” Laurence returned, and added distinctly: “I rather die!”
“But I thought you wanted to play with little Daisy,” Mrs. Coy explained in her surprise. “I thought——”
“I rather die!” said Laurence, speaking so that everybody might hear him. “I rather die a hunderd times!” And that no one at all might mistake his meaning, he concluded: “I’d rather eat a million boxes of rat-poison than play with her!”
So firm and loud a declaration of preference, especially in the unpreferred person’s presence, caused a slight embarrassment to Mrs. Coy. “But Laurence, dear,” she began, “you mustn’t——”
“I would!” he insisted. “I rather eat a million, million boxes of rat-poison than play with her! She——”
“She’s your girl!”
The sly interruption stopped him. It came from a person to be identified only as one of a group clustering about his Aunt Ella’s boxes; and it was accompanied by a general giggle but half-suppressed in spite of the adult presences.
“You hush opp!” Laurence shouted.
“Laurence! Laurence!” said Mrs. Coy. “What is the matter, dear? It seems to me you’re really not at all polite to poor little Daisy.”
Laurence pursued the line of conduct he had set for himself as his only means of safety. “I wouldn’t be polite to her,” he said; “I wouldn’t be polite to her if I had to eat a million——”
“I wouldn’t!” he stoutly maintained. “Not if I had to eat a million, million——”
“Never mind!” his mother said with some emphasis. “Plenty of the other boys will be delighted to play with dear little Daisy.”
“No,” said Daisy brightly, “I got to play with Laurence.”
Laurence looked at her. When a grown person looks at another in that way, it is time for the police, and Mrs. Coy was conscious of an emergency. She took Laurence by the shoulders, faced him about and told him to run and play with some one else; then she turned back to Daisy. “We’ll find some nice little boy——” she began. But Daisy had followed Laurence.
She gave him a lively tap on the shoulder. “Got your tag!” she cried, and darted away, but as he did not follow, she returned to him. “Well, what are we goin’ to play?” she inquired.
Laurence gave her another look. “You hang around me a little longer,” he said, “an’ I’ll—I’ll—I’ll——”
Again came the giggled whisper:
“She’s your girl!”
Laurence ran amuck. Head down, he charged into the group whence came the whisper, and successfully dispersed it. The component parts fled, squawking; Laurence pursued; boys tripped one another, wrestled, skirmished in groups; and, such moods being instantly contagious among males under twelve, many joined in the assault with a liveliness not remote, at least in appearance, from lunacy.
“Laurence! Laurence!” his mother exclaimed in vain, for he was the chief disturber; but he was too actively occupied in that capacity to be aware of her. She and Aunt Ella could only lament and begin to teach the little girls and two or three of the older and nobler boys to “play games,” while troups of gangsters swept out of the room, then through it and out again, through other rooms, through halls and then were heard whooping and thumping on the front stairway.
One little girl was not with the rather insulted players of the cardboard games in the living-room. She accompanied the gangsters, rioting with the best, her little muslin skirt fluttering with the speed of her going; while ever was heard, with slight intermission, her piercing battle-cry: “Hay, there, Mister! I’ll show you!” But the male chorus had a new libretto to work from, evidently: all through the house, upstairs, downstairs and in my lady’s chamber, their merciless gaieties resounded:
“Ya-a-ay, Laur-runce! Wait for your girl! Your girl wants you, Laurunce!”
“What a curious child that Daisy Mears is!” Aunt Ella said to Laurence’s mother. “I’d always thought she was such a quiet little girl.”
“‘Quiet!’” Mrs. Coy exclaimed. And then as a series of shocks overhead noticeably jarred the ceiling, she started. “Good heavens! They’re upstairs—they’ll have the roof on us!”
She hurried into the hall, but the outlaws were already descending. Just ahead of them plunged Laurence, fleeing like some rabid thing. Behind him, in the ruck of boys, Daisy Mears seemed to reach for him at the full length of her extended arms; and so the rout went on and out through the open front doors to the yard, where still was heard above all other cries, “Hay, there, Mister! I’ll show you!”
Mrs. Coy returned helplessly to the guests of sweeter behaviour, and did what she could to amuse them, but presently she was drawn to a window by language without.
It was the voice of her son in frenzy. He stood on the lawn, swinging a rake about him circularly. “Let her try it!” he said. “Let her try it just once more, an’ I’ll show her!”
For audience, out of reach of the rake, he had Daisy Mears and all his male guests save the two or three spiritless well-mannered at feeble play in the living-room; and this entire audience, including Miss Mears, replied in chanting chorus: “Daisy Mears an’ Laurunce Coy! She’s your girl!” Such people are hard to convince.
Laurence swung the rake, repeating:
“Just let her try it; that’s all I ast! Just let her try to come near me again!”
“Laurence!” said his mother from the window.
He looked up, and there was the sincerest bitterness in his tone as he said: “Well, I stood enough around here this afternoon!”
“Put down the rake,” she said. “The idea of shaking a rake at a little girl!”
The idea she mentioned seemed reasonable to Laurence, in his present state of mind, and in view of what he had endured. “I bet you’d shake it at her,” he said, “if she’d been doin’ to you what she’s been doin’ to me!”
Now, from Mrs. Coy’s standpoint, that was nothing short of grotesque; yet actually there was something in what he said. Mrs. Coy was in love with Mr. Coy; and if another man—one whom she disliked and thought homely and unattractive—had bumped into her at a party, upsetting her frequently, sitting on her, pushing her over repeatedly as she attempted to rise, then embracing her and claiming her as his own, and following her about, and pursuing her even when she fled, insisting upon his claim to her and upon embracing her again and again, causing Mr. Coy to criticize her with outspoken superiority—and if all this had taken place with the taunting connivance of absolutely every one of the best people she knew—why, under such parallel circumstances, Mrs. Coy might or might not have armed herself with a rake, but this would have depended, probably, on whether or not there was a rake handy, and supposing there was, upon whether or not she became too hysterical to use it.
Mrs. Coy had no realization whatever that any such parallel could be drawn; she coldly suggested that the party was being spoiled and that Laurence might well be ashamed of himself. “It’s really very naughty of you,” she said; and at a word from Aunt Ella, she added: “Now you’ve all had enough of this rough romping and you must come in quietly and behave yourselves like little gentlemen—and like a little lady! The pianist from the dancing-school has come, and dear little Elsie Threamer is going to do her fancy dance for us.”
With that, under her eye, the procession filed into the house—and took seats in the living-room without any renewal of undesirable demonstrations. Laurence had the brooding air of a person who has been dangerously trifled with; but he seated himself in an orderly manner, and unfortunately did not observe which of his guests just afterward came to occupy the next chair. Elsie, exquisitely dainty, a lovely sight, was standing alone in the open space in the centre of the room.
The piano rippled out a tinkling run of little bells, and the graceful child began to undulate and pirouette. Her conscientious eyes she kept all the while downcast, with never a glance to any spectator, least of all to the lorn Laurence; but he had a miserable sense of what those veiled eyes thought about him, and he felt low and contaminated by the repulsive events connected with another of his guests. As he dumbly looked at Elsie, while she danced so prettily, beautiful things seemed to be floating about him in a summer sky: angels like pigeons with lovely faces, large glass globes in rainbow colours, and round, pure white icing cakes. His spiritual nature was uplifted; and almost his sufferings had left him, when his spine chilled at a sound behind him—a choked giggle and a hoarse but piercing whisper.
“Look at who Laurence is sittin’ by! Oh, oh!”
He turned and found Daisy in the chair next to his. Her small bright eyes were fixed upon him in an intolerable mirth; her shoulders were humped with the effect to control that same, and her right hand tensely covered her mouth. From behind him came further gurgles and the words:
“Sittin’ by his girl!”
At this moment Elsie was just concluding her dance with a series of charming curtseys. Laurence could not wait for them to be finished; he jumped from his chair, and crossed before the lovely dancer to a seat on the other side of the room, a titter following him. More than the titter followed him, in fact. Daisy walked on tiptoe just behind him.
But when she reached the centre of the room, she was suddenly inspired by the perception of a new way to increase her noticeableness. She paused before the curtseying danseuse and also sank in curtseys as deep, though not so adept. Then she too began to dance, and the piano having stopped, accompanied herself by singing loudly, “Ti-didy-um-tum, dee-dee-dee!” She pirouetted, undulated, hopped on one leg with the other stiff and rather high before her; she pranced in a posture of outrageous convexity from one point of view, of incredible concavity from the other. Then she curtsied again, in recognizable burlesque of the original, and flounced into the chair next to Laurence’s, for he had been so shortsighted as to leave a vacancy beside him. This time his Aunt Ella had to take him out into the hall by force and talk to him.
A little later, when ice-cream, paper caps, and favours had been distributed, the party was over; and among those who presented themselves in the polite formalities of leavetaking was, naturally, Daisy Mears. On account of continued surveillance on the part of his Aunt Ella, Laurence was unable to respond in words, but his expression said a thousand eloquent things for him.
Daisy curtsied demurely. “G’by. Thank you for a wunnaful time, Laurence,” she said; and went out of the house with a character that had changed permanently during the brief course of a children’s party.
As for Laurence, he had been through a dog’s time; and he showed it. Every night, after he said his bedside prayers, there was an additional rite his mother had arranged for him; he was to say: “I know that I have a character, and I know that I am a soul.” But to-night he balked.
“Go on,” his mother bade him. “Say it, Laurence.”
“I doe’ want to,” he said dully.
Mrs. Coy sighed. “I don’t know what’s the matter with you: you behave so queerly sometimes! Don’t you know you ought to appreciate what your mamma does for you—when she went to all the trouble to give you a nice party just to make you happy? Oughtn’t you to do what she wants you to, to pay her for all that happiness?”
“I guess so.” The poor child somehow believed it—but as he went through his formula and muttered that he knew he had a character, it is probable that he felt a strong doubt in the matter. This may have caused his aversion to saying it.