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"Oh, Lord, Noel! D-don't do that again! The m-machine can't feel it!
N-now if you had struck your horse--"
St. Quentin turned on her savagely, but said nothing.
"T-that's right, Noel. D-don't speak. There's a good deal in being a g-gentleman, after all. If you h-hadn't been, you would have said, 'S-shut up, Kate!'"
"If your husband," said St. Quentin, slowly, "ever goes to jail for wife-beating, I shall bail him out."
"I-it's strange how men agree with one another," said Kate, pensively.
"M-my cousin has always said that a g-good beating with a bed-slat would about fit my c-case."
"Bright boy!" said St. Quentin. "He ought to get on in the world."
"Hadn't we better turn back, Noel? I have an engagement at five."
"Do you have to go home to dress, or shall I drop you anywhere?"
"I was just going to see Gladys for half an hour. You may drop me at Mrs. G.o.ddard's if you will."
"Will Carolina be there?" asked St. Quentin.
"Yes, I think so. Do you want to see her?" asked Kate, innocently.
"Well, I'd rather like to see her with the child. Will you let me come in with you?"
"By all means. I should be delighted."
"Then I can bring you home afterward."
"Most thoughtful of you," murmured Kate.
"I say, Kate," said St. Quentin, after a pause, "keep your eye open for a toy shop, will you? One oughtn't to call on a child without some little present, ought one?"
"You won't find one up in this part of the country, such as you want,"
said Kate. "Let her out a little and we will have time to go down to Twenty-third Street."
When they came out of the shop, even Kate, extravagant as she was, was aghast.
"Noel, it's w-wicked to spend money like that. Why, that child is only a b-baby. She can't appreciate all those hand-made clothes for that doll.
And real lace! It's absurd!"
"Kate," said St. Quentin, slowly, "if you were that crippled baby, I'd have bought you everything in that whole shop!"
A lump came into Kate's throat so suddenly that it choked her.
When they arrived at Mrs. G.o.ddard's, there was no need to ask the butler if the ladies were at home, for, instead of the formal household Mrs.
G.o.ddard used to boast, the house seemed now to have become a home. Even the butler looked human, as laughter and childish screams of delight floated down the hall from the second floor.
"Perkins, what is it?" asked Kate, pausing suddenly.
"Little Miss Gladys finds that she can stand alone, Miss Howard, and we are so delighted none of the servants can be got to do their work. They just stand around and gape at her and clap their hands."
But Perkins himself was smiling as Kate rushed past him up the stairs.
"Here, Perkins, my man," said St. Quentin, "lend a hand with this, will you, and send a footman out to the motor for the rest of those parcels."
The sight which met the eye was enough to make any one's heart leap, as Kate flung open the door and joined the group.
There were Mrs. G.o.ddard, Rosemary, Miss Sue Yancey, Carolina, and the two children, Emmeline and Gladys. Gladys was standing in the corner, partly supporting herself by leaning in the angle of the walls, but standing, nevertheless, bearing her entire weight upon her slender, beautiful little feet, which never before had been of any use to her, nor, in their distorted position, even sightly. Now they were in a normal position and actually bearing her weight, and so excited was everybody that no one turned even to give the newcomers a greeting.
Rosemary and Carolina were kneeling on the floor in front of the child, while Mrs. G.o.ddard was audibly affirming that Gladys could walk. Gladys alone looked up at Kate and St. Quentin, and smiled a welcome.
"Thee, Katie!" she lisped, "Gladyth can thtand alone!"
"Gladys can walk," affirmed Mrs. G.o.ddard, and, as they saw the child cautiously begin to remove her hands from the supporting walls and evidently intend to attempt a step, Kate s.n.a.t.c.hed the huge box from Noel's hands, and, hastily unfastening it, silently held up before her a gorgeously beautiful French doll, in a long baby dress, frilled and trimmed with cobweb lace, and calculated not only to set a child crazy, but to turn the heads of the grown-ups, for such a doll is not often seen.
No one saw it at first. Then Gladys, looking up for encouragement, glanced at Kate, and, as her eyes rested on the baby doll, with one delighted mother-cry of "Baby, baby!" she started forward and fluttered across the floor, light as any thistle-down, until she clasped the doll in her arms, and Kate seized her little swaying body to keep her from falling.
"See what Divine Love has wrought!" exclaimed Mrs. G.o.ddard, in a voice so filled with grat.i.tude and a reverent exultation that it sounded like a prayer.
There were tense exclamations, excited laughter which ended in sudden tears, quivering smiles and murmurs of thanksgiving, until Carolina, turning to Noel, said:
"Noel, I am sure that doll was your doing," when error again claimed Kate for its own, for the look of grat.i.tude Noel sent in return.
"Lord, but this Christian Science does make me t-tired," murmured Kate to herself, as she released Gladys, and the two children, in a fever of excitement, sat down on the floor to undress the doll. "F-first we go up, up, up, and th-then we go down, down, down! J-just as surely as I have an up feeling, I g-get it in the neck inside of the next thirty seconds. A-at any rate, there's no m-monotony about it. It k-keeps you guessing where it will hit you n-next."
Kate unconsciously made such a wry face as she murmured these words under her breath that Rosemary leaned over and whispered:
"What's the matter, Kate?"
"I th-think I've got an attack of what you call Error, but it cramps me most cruel. Or d-do you think I could have caught cholera infantum from holding that d-doll baby?"
"Kate, you are so funny!" laughed Rosemary.
"I s-spend a good deal of v-valuable time amusing m-myself," said Kate.
"I sorta have to, in a way. Everybody else seems o-occupied."
As Kate made this indiscreet remark about error, Rosemary looked back at the other groups in the room, and surprised Noel looking at Carolina with an expression in his eyes he gave to no other, and again a spasm of pain crossed Kate's face. At once Rosemary understood, and Kate saw that she did. Kate's face flamed. She pushed Rosemary into the window-seat, thrust her violently down, and pulled the thick crimson curtains together, shutting them in.
"It's n-not so!" she whispered, excitedly. "I know w-what you think, b-but it's not true. He loves C-Carolina, and in time, no doubt, she'll l-love him. I d-don't see how she can help it. I d-don't care."
"Oh, Kate, that is not true! I certainly hope Carolina will not fall in love with him. He is not suited to her, she doesn't want him, and he is suited to you. You can't deny it."
"I do d-deny it!" cried Kate, but the look that swept over her face at Rosemary's remark belied her words. "And you are to t-think no more about it. And Rosemary G.o.ddard, if you go to t-treating the situation, as if N-Noel and I were a couple of hunchbacks or yellow fevers or s-snake-bites, I'll h-half kill you! I--I'm no subject for p-prayer, let me tell you that now."
"Kate, I wouldn't think of such a thing!" cried Rosemary, biting her lips. "Now go on. There's Noel calling for you to go home!"
"As if she could mislead me," said Rosemary to herself. "She wouldn't even try if she could have seen her own face when I said, on purpose to try her, 'There's Noel calling you to go home.' Well, bless her dear heart! I hope her love-affair will turn out as luckily as mine has, and without all my misery. Good-bye, all!"