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Chapter 12 – At Kitty’s Ball

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Rose had no new gown to wear on this festive occasion, and gave
one little sigh of regret as she put on the pale blue silk refreshed
with clouds of gaze de Chambéry. But a smile followed, very
bright and sweet, as she added the clusters of forget-me-not which
Charlie had conjured up through the agency of an old German
florist, for one part of her plan had been carried out, and Prince
was invited to be her escort, much to his delight, though he wisely
made no protestations of any sort and showed his gratitude by
being a model gentleman. This pleased Rose, for the late
humiliation and a very sincere desire to atone for it gave him an air
of pensive dignity which was very effective.

Aunt Clara could not go, for a certain new cosmetic, privately used
to improve the once fine complexion, which had been her pride till
late hours impaired it, had brought out an unsightly eruption,
reducing her to the depths of woe and leaving her no solace for her
disappointment but the sight of the elegant velvet dress spread
forth upon her bed in melancholy state.

So Aunt Jessie was chaperon, to Rose’s great satisfaction, and
looked as "pretty as a pink," Archie thought, in her matronly
pearl-colored gown with a dainty trifle of rich lace on her still
abundant hair. He was very proud of his little mama, and as
devoted as a lover, "to keep his hand in against Phebe’s return," she
said laughingly when he brought her a nosegay of blush roses to
light up her quiet costume.

A happier mother did not live than Mrs. Jessie as she sat
contentedly beside Sister Jane (who graced the frivolous scene in a
serious black gown with a diadem of purple asters nodding above
her severe brow), both watching their boys with the maternal
conviction that no other parent could show such remarkable
specimens as these. Each had done her best according to her light,
and years of faithful care were now beginning to bear fruit in the
promise of goodly men, so dear to the hearts of true mothers.

Mrs. Jessie watched her three tall sons with something like
wonder, for Archie was a fine fellow, grave and rather stately, but
full of the cordial courtesy and respect we see so little of nowadays
and which is the sure sign of good home training. "The cadets," as
Will and Geordie called themselves, were there as gorgeous as you
please, and the agonies they suffered that night with tight boots
and stiff collars no pen can fitly tell. But only to one another did
they confide these sufferings and the rare moments of repose when
they could stand on one aching foot with heads comfortably
sunken inside the excruciating collars, which rasped their ears and
made the lobes thereof a pleasing scarlet. Brief were these
moments, however, and the Spartan boys danced on with smiling
faces, undaunted by the hidden anguish which preyed upon them
"fore and aft," as Will expressed it.

Mrs. Jane’s pair were an odd contrast, and even the stern
disciplinarian herself could not help smiling as she watched them.
Steve was superb, and might have been married on the spot, so
superfine was his broad-cloth, glossy his linen, and perfect the fit
of his gloves. While pride and happiness so fermented in his
youthful bosom, there would have been danger of spontaneous
combustion if dancing had not proved a safety valve, for his strong
sense of the proprieties would not permit him to vent his emotions
in any other way.

Kitty felt no such restraint, and looked like a blissful little gypsy,
with her brunet prettiness set off by a dashing costume of cardinal
and cream color and every hair on her head curled in a Merry
Pecksniffian crop, for youth was her strong point, and she much
enjoyed the fact that she had been engaged three times before she
was nineteen.

To see her and Steve spin around the room was a sight to bring a
smile to the lips of the crustiest bachelor or saddest spinster, for
happy lovers are always a pleasing spectacle, and two such merry
little grigs as these are seldom seen.

Mac, meantime, with glasses astride his nose, surveyed his
brother’s performances "on the light fantastic" very much as a
benevolent Newfoundland would the gambols of a toy terrier,
receiving with thanks the hasty hints for his guidance which Steve
breathed into his ear as he passed and forgetting all about them the
next minute. When not thus engaged Mac stood about with his
thumbs in his vest pockets, regarding the lively crowd like a
meditative philosopher of a cheerful aspect, often smiling to
himself at some whimsical fancy of his own, knitting his brows as
some bit of ill-natured gossip met his ear, or staring with
undisguised admiration as a beautiful face or figure caught his eye.

"I hope that girl knows what a treasure she has got. But I doubt if
she ever fully appreciates it," said Mrs. Jane, bringing her
spectacles to bear upon Kitty as she whisked by, causing quite a
gale with her flying skirts.

"I think she will, for Steve has been so well brought up, she cannot
but see and feel the worth of what she has never had, and being so
young she will profit by it," answered Mrs. Jessie softly, thinking
of the days when she and her Jem danced together, just betrothed.

"I’ve done my duty by both the boys, and done it thoroughly, or
their father would have spoilt them, for he’s no more idea of
discipline than a child." And Aunt Jane gave her own palm a smart
rap with her closed fan, emphasizing the word "thoroughly" in a
most suggestive manner.

"I’ve often wished I had your firmness, Jane but after all, I’m not
sure that I don’t like my own way best, at least with my boys, for
plenty of love, and plenty of patience, seem to have succeeded
pretty well." And Aunt Jessie lifted the nosegay from her lap,
feeling as if that unfailing love and patience were already
blooming into her life as beautifully as the sweet-breathed roses
given by her boy refreshed and brightened these long hours of
patient waiting in a corner.

"I don’t deny that you’ve done well, Jessie, but you’ve been let
alone and had no one to hold your hand or interfere. If my Mac had
gone to sea as your Jem did, I never should have been as severe as
I am. Men are so perverse and shortsighted, they don’t trouble
about the future as long as things are quiet and comfortable in the
present," continued Mrs. Jane, quite forgetting that the
shortsighted partner of the firm, physically speaking at least, was
herself.

"Ah, yes! We mothers love to foresee and foretell our children’s
lives even before they are born, and are very apt to be disappointed
if they do not turn out as we planned. I know I am yet I really have
no cause to complain and am learning to see that all we can do is
to give the dear boys good principles and the best training we may,
then leave them to finish what we have begun." And Mrs. Jessie’s
eye wandered away to Archie, dancing with Rose, quite
unconscious what a pretty little castle in the air tumbled down
when he fell in love with Phebe.

"Right, quite right on that point we agree exactly. I have spared
nothing to give my boys good principles and good habits, and I am
willing to trust them anywhere. Nine times did I whip my Steve to
cure him of fibbing, and over and over again did Mac go without
his dinner rather than wash his hands. But I whipped and starved
them both into obedience, and now I have my reward," concluded
the "stern parent" with a proud wave of the fan, which looked very
like a ferule, being as big, hard, and uncompromising as such an
article could be.

Mrs. Jessie gave a mild murmur of assent, but could not help
thinking, with a smile, that in spite of their early tribulations the
sins for which the boys suffered had gotten a little mixed in their
result, for fibbing Steve was now the tidy one, and careless Mac
the truth teller. But such small contradictions will happen in the
best-regulated families, and all perplexed parents can do is to keep
up a steadfast preaching and practicing in the hope that it will bear
fruit sometime, for according to an old proverb,
Children pick up words as pigeons pease,
To utter them again as God shall please.

"I hope they won’t dance the child to death among them, for each
one seems bound to have his turn, even your sober Mac," said Mrs.
Jessie a few minutes later as she saw Archie hand Rose over to his
cousin, who carried her off with an air of triumph from several
other claimants.

"She’s very good to him, and her influence is excellent, for he is of
an age now when a young woman’s opinion has more weight than
an old one’s. Though he is always good to his mother, and I feel as
if I should take great comfort in him. He’s one of the sort who will
not marry till late, if ever, being fond of books and a quiet life,"
responded Mrs. Jane, remembering how often her son had
expressed his belief that philosophers should not marry and
brought up Plato as an example of the serene wisdom to be
attained only by a single man while her husband sided with
Socrates, for whom he felt a profound sympathy, though he didn’t
dare to own it.

"Well, I don’t know about that. Since my Archie surprised me by
losing his heart as he did, I’m prepared for anything, and advise
you to do likewise. I really shouldn’t wonder if Mac did something
remarkable in that line, though he shows no sign of it yet, I
confess," answered Mrs. Jessie, laughing.

"It won’t be in that direction, you may be sure, for her fate is
sealed. Dear me, how sad it is to see a superior girl like that about
to throw herself away on a handsome scapegrace. I won’t mention
names, but you understand me." And Mrs. Jane shook her head, as
if she could mention the name of one superior girl who had thrown
herself away and now saw the folly of it.

"I’m very anxious, of course, and so is Alec, but it may be the
saving of one party and the happiness of the other, for some
women love to give more than they receive," said Mrs. Jessie,
privately wondering, for the thousandth time, why brother Mac
ever married the learned Miss Humphries.

"You’ll see that it won’t prosper, and I shall always maintain that a
wife cannot entirely undo a mother’s work. Rose will have her
hands full if she tries to set all Clara’s mistakes right," answered
Aunt Jane grimly, then began to fan violently as their hostess
approached to have a dish of chat about "our dear young people."

Rose was in a merry mood that night, and found Mac quite ready
for fun, which was fortunate, since her first remark set them off on
a droll subject.

"Oh, Mac! Annabel has just confided to me that she is engaged to
Fun See! Think of her going to housekeeping in Canton someday
and having to order rats, puppies, and bird’s-nest soup for dinner,"
whispered Rose, too much amused to keep the news to herself.

"By Confucius! Isn’t that a sweet prospect?" And Mac burst out
laughing, to the great surprise of his neighbors, who wondered
what there was amusing about the Chinese sage. "It is rather
alarming, though, to have these infants going on at this rate. Seems
to be catching, a new sort of scarlet fever, to judge by Annabel’s
cheeks and Kitty’s gown," he added, regarding the aforesaid ladies
with eyes still twinkling with merriment.

"Don’t be ungallant, but go and do likewise, for it is all the fashion.
I heard Mrs. Van tell old Mrs. Joy that it was going to be a
marrying year, so you’ll be sure to catch it," answered Rose,
reefing her skirts, for, with all his training, Mac still found it
difficult to keep his long legs out of the man-traps.

"It doesn’t look like a painful disease, but I must be careful, for I’ve
no time to be ill now. What are the symptoms?" asked Mac, trying
to combine business with pleasure and improve his mind while
doing his duty.

"If you ever come back I’ll tell you," laughed Rose as he danced
away into the wrong corner, bumped smartly against another
gentleman, and returned as soberly as if that was the proper figure.

"Well, tell me ‘how not to do it,’" he said, subsiding for a
moment’s talk when Rose had floated to and fro in her turn.

"Oh! You see some young girl who strikes you as particularly
charming whether she really is or not doesn’t matter a bit and you
begin to think about her a great deal, to want to see her, and to get
generally sentimental and absurd," began Rose, finding it difficult
to give a diagnosis of the most mysterious disease under the sun.

"Don’t think it sounds enticing. Can’t I find an antidote somewhere,
for if it is in the air this year I’m sure to get it, and it may be fatal,"
said Mac, who felt pretty lively and liked to make Rose merry, for
he suspected that she had a little trouble from a hint Dr. Alec had
given him.

"I hope you will catch it, because you’ll be so funny."

"Will you take care of me as you did before, or have you got your
hands full?"

"I’ll help, but really with Archie and Steve and Charlie, I shall have
enough to do. You’d better take it lightly the first time, and so
won’t need much care."

"Very well, how shall I begin? Enlighten my ignorance and start
me right, I beg."

"Go about and see people, make yourself agreeable, and not sit in
corners observing other people as if they were puppets dancing for
your amusement. I heard Mrs. Van once say that propinquity
works wonders, and she ought to know, having married off two
daughters, and just engaged a third to ‘a most charming young
man.’?

"Good lack! The cure sounds worse than the disease. Propinquity,
hey? Why, I may be in danger this identical moment and can’t flee
for my life," said Mac, gently catching her round the waist for a
general waltz.

"Don’t be alarmed, but mind your steps, for Charlie is looking at
us, and I want you to do your best. That’s perfect take me quite
round, for I love to waltz and seldom get a good turn except with
you boys," said Rose, smiling up at him approvingly as his strong
arm guided her among the revolving couples and his feet kept time
without a fault.

"This certainly is a great improvement on the chair business, to
which I have devoted myself with such energy that I’ve broken the
backs of two partners and dislocated the arm of the old rocker. I
took an occasional turn with that heavy party, thinking it good
practice in case I ever happen to dance with stout ladies." And
Mac nodded toward Annabel, pounding gaily with Mr. Tokio,
whose yellow countenance beamed as his beady eyes rested on his
plump fiancée.

Pausing in the midst of her merriment at the image of Mac and the
old rocking chair, Rose said reprovingly, "Though a heathen
Chinee, Fun puts you to shame, for he did not ask foolish questions
but went a-wooing like a sensible little man, and I’ve no doubt
Annabel will be very happy."

"Choose me a suitable divinity and I will try to adore. Can I do
more than that to retrieve my character?" answered Mac, safely
landing his partner and plying the fan according to instructions.

"How would Emma do?" inquired Rose, whose sense of the
ludicrous was strong and who could not resist the temptation of
horrifying Mac by the suggestion.

"Never! It sets my teeth on edge to look at her tonight. I suppose
that dress is ‘a sweet thing just out,’ but upon my word she reminds
me of nothing but a Harlequin ice," and Mac turned his back on
her with a shudder, for he was sensitive to discords of all kinds.

"She certainly does, and that mixture of chocolate, pea green, and
pink is simply detestable, though many people would consider it
decidedly ‘chic,’ to use her favorite word. I suppose you will dress
your wife like a Spartan matron of the time of Lycurgus," added
Rose, much tickled by his new conceit.

"I’ll wait till I get her before I decide. But one thing I’m sure of she
shall not dress like a Greek dancer of the time of Pericles,"
answered Mac, regarding with great disfavor a young lady who,
having a statuesque figure, affected drapery of the scanty and
clinging description.

"Then it is of no use to suggest that classic creature, so as you
reject my first attempts, I won’t go on but look about me quietly,
and you had better do the same. Seriously, Mac, more gaiety and
less study would do you good, for you will grow old before your
time if you shut yourself up and pore over books so much."

"I don’t believe there is a younger or a jollier-feeling fellow in the
room than I am, though I may not conduct myself like a dancing
dervish. But I own you may be right about the books, for there are
many sorts of intemperance, and a library is as irresistible to me as
a barroom to a toper. I shall have to sign a pledge and cork up the
only bottle that tempts me my ink-stand."

"I’ll tell you how to make it easier to abstain. Stop studying and
write a novel into which you can put all your wise things, and so
clear your brains for a new start by and by. Do I should so like to
read it," cried Rose, delighted with the project, for she was sure
Mac could do anything he liked in that line.

"First live, then write. How can I go to romancing till I know what
romance means?" he asked soberly, feeling that so far he had had
very little in his life.

"Then you must find out, and nothing will help you more than to
love someone very much. Do as I’ve advised and be a modern
Diogenes going about with spectacles instead of a lantern in
search, not of an honest man, but a perfect woman. I do hope you
will be successful." And Rose made her curtsey as the dance
ended.

"I don’t expect perfection, but I should like one as good as they
ever make them nowadays. If you are looking for the honest man, I
wish you success in return," said Mac, relinquishing her fan with a
glance of such sympathetic significance that a quick flush of
feeling rose to the girl’s face as she answered very low, "If honesty
was all I wanted, I certainly have found it in you."

Then she went away with Charlie, who was waiting for his turn,
and Mac roamed about, wondering if anywhere in all that crowd
his future wife was hidden, saying to himself, as he glanced from
face to face, quite unresponsive to the various allurements
displayed,

"What care I how fair she be,

If she be not fair for me?"

Just before supper several young ladies met in the dressing room to
repair damages and, being friends, they fell into discourse as they
smoothed their locks and had their tattered furbelows sewed or
pinned up by the neat-handed Phillis-in-waiting.

When each had asked the other, "How do I look tonight, dear?"
and been answered with reciprocal enthusiasm, "Perfectly lovely,
darling!" Kitty said to Rose, who was helping her to restore order
out of the chaos to which much exercise had reduced her curls:
"By the way, young Randal is dying to be presented to you. May I
after supper?"

"No, thank you," answered Rose very decidedly.

"Well, I’m sure I don’t see why not," began Kitty, looking
displeased but not surprised.

"I think you do, else why didn’t you present him when he asked?
You seldom stop to think of etiquette why did you now?"

"I didn’t like to do it till I had you are so particular I thought you’d
say ‘no,’ but I couldn’t tell him so," stammered Kitty, feeling that
she had better have settled the matter herself, for Rose was very
particular and had especial reason to dislike this person because he
was not only a dissipated young reprobate himself but seemed
possessed of Satan to lead others astray likewise.

"I don’t wish to be rude, dear, but I really must decline, for I cannot
know such people, even though I meet them here," said Rose,
remembering Charlie’s revelations on New Year’s night and
hardening her heart against the man who had been his undoing on
that as well as on other occasions, she had reason to believe.

"I couldn’t help it! Old Mr. Randal and Papa are friends, and
though I spoke of it, brother Alf wouldn’t hear of passing that bad
boy over," explained Kitty eagerly.

"Yet Alf forbade you driving or skating with him, for he knows
better than we how unfit he is to come among us."

"I’d drop him tomorrow if I could, but I must be civil in my own
house. His mother brought him, and he won’t dare to behave here
as he does at their bachelor parties."

"She ought not to have brought him till he had shown some desire
to mend his ways. It is none of my business, I know, but I do wish
people wouldn’t be so inconsistent, letting boys go to destruction
and then expecting us girls to receive them like decent people."
Rose spoke in an energetic whisper, but Annabel heard her and
exclaimed, as she turned round with a powder puff in her hand:
"My goodness, Rose! What is all that about going to destruction?"

"She is being strong-minded, and I don’t very much blame her in
this case. But it leaves me in a dreadful scrape," said Kitty,
supporting her spirits with a sniff of aromatic vinegar.

"I appeal to you, since you heard me, and there’s no one here but
ourselves do you consider young Randal a nice person to know?"
And Rose turned to Annabel and Emma with an anxious eye, for
she did not find it easy to abide by her principles when so doing
annoyed friends.

"No, indeed, he’s perfectly horrid! Papa says he and Gorham are
the wildest young men he knows, and enough to spoil the whole
set. I’m so glad I’ve got no brothers," responded Annabel, placidly
powdering her pink arms, quite undeterred by the memory of
sundry white streaks left on sundry coat sleeves.

"I think that sort of scrupulousness is very ill-bred, if you’ll excuse
my saying so, Rose. We are not supposed to know anything about
fastness, and wildness, and so on, but to treat every man alike and
not be fussy and prudish," said Emma, settling her many-colored
streamers with the superior air of a woman of the world, aged
twenty.

"Ah! But we do know, and if our silence and civility have no
effect, we ought to try something else and not encourage
wickedness of any kind. We needn’t scold and preach, but we can
refuse to know such people and that will do some good, for they
don’t like to be shunned and shut out from respectable society.
Uncle Alec told me not to know that man, and I won’t." Rose
spoke with unusual warmth, forgetting that she could not tell the
real reason for her strong prejudice against "that man."

"Well, I know him. I think him very jolly, and I’m engaged to
dance the German with him after supper. He leads quite as well as
your cousin Charlie and is quite as fascinating, some people
think," returned Emma, tossing her head disdainfully, for Prince
Charming did not worship at her shrine and it piqued her vanity.

In spite of her quandary, Rose could not help smiling as she
recalled Mac’s comparison, for Emma turned so red with spiteful
chagrin, she seemed to have added strawberry ice to the other
varieties composing the Harlequin.

"Each must judge for herself. I shall follow Aunt Jessie’s advice
and try to keep my atmosphere as pure as I can, for she says every
woman has her own little circle and in it can use her influence for
good, if she will. I do will heartily, and I’ll prove that I’m neither
proud nor fussy by receiving, here or at home, any respectable man
you like to present to me, no matter how poor or plain or
insignificant he may be."

With which declaration Rose ended her protest, and the four
damsels streamed downstairs together like a wandering rainbow.
But Kitty laid to heart what she had said; Annabel took credit
herself for siding with her; and Emma owned that she was not
trying to keep her atmosphere pure when she came to dance with
the objectionable Randal. So Rose’s "little circle" was the better
for the influence she tried to exert, although she never knew it.

At suppertime Charlie kept near her, and she was quite content
with him, for he drank only coffee, and she saw him shake his
head with a frown when young Van beckoned him toward an
anteroom, from whence the sound of popping corks had issued
with increasing frequency as the evening wore on.

"Dear fellow, he does try," thought Rose, longing to show how she
admired his self-denial, but she could only say, as they left the
supper room with the aunts, who were going early: "If I had not
promised Uncle to get home as soon after midnight as possible, I’d
stay and dance the German with you, for you deserve a reward
tonight."

"A thousand thanks, but I am going when you do," answered
Charlie, understanding both her look and words and very grateful
for them.

"Really?" cried Rose, delighted.

"Really. I’ll be in the hall when you come down." And Charlie
thought the Fra Angelico angel was not half so bright and beautiful
as the one who looked back at him out of a pale blue cloud as Rose
went upstairs as if on wings.

When she came down again Charlie was not in the hall, however,
and, after waiting a few minutes, Mac offered to go and find him,
for Aunt Jane was still hunting a lost rubber above.

"Please say I’m ready, but he needn’t come if he doesn’t want to,"
said Rose, not wishing to demand too much of her promising
penitent.

"If he has gone into that barroom, I’ll have him out, no matter who
is there!" growled Mac to himself as he made his way to the small
apartment whither the gentlemen retired for a little private
refreshment when the spirit moved, as it often did.

The door was ajar, and Charlie seemed to have just entered, for
Mac heard a familiar voice call out in a jovial tone: "Come,
Prince! You’re just in time to help us drink Steve’s health with all
the honors."

"Can’t stop, only ran in to say good night, Van. Had a capital time,
but I’m on duty and must go."

"That’s a new dodge. Take a stirrup cup anyway, and come back in
time for a merry-go-rounder when you’ve disposed of the ladies,"
answered the young host, diving into the wine cooler for another
bottle.

"Charlie’s going in for sanctity, and it doesn’t seem to agree with
him," laughed one of the two other young men who occupied
several chairs apiece, resting their soles in every sense of the word.

"Apron strings are coming into fashion the bluer the better hey,
Prince?" added the other, trying to be witty, with the usual success.

"You’d better go home early yourself, Barrow, or that tongue of
yours will get you into trouble," retorted Charlie, conscious that he
ought to take his own advice, yet lingering, nervously putting on
his gloves while the glasses were being filled.

"Now, brother-in-law, fire away! Here you are, Prince." And Steve
handed a glass across the table to his cousin, feeling too much
elated with various pleasurable emotions to think what he was
doing, for the boys all knew Charlie’s weakness and usually tried
to defend him from it.

Before the glass could be taken, however, Mac entered in a great
hurry, delivering his message in an abbreviated and rather
peremptory form: "Rose is waiting for you. Hurry up!"

"All right. Good night, old fellows!" And Charlie was off, as if the
name had power to stop him in the very act of breaking the
promise made to himself.

"Come, Solon, take a social drop, and give us an epithalamium in
your best Greek. Here’s to you!" And Steve was lifting the wine to
his own lips when Mac knocked the glass out of his hand with a
flash of the eye that caused his brother to stare at him with his
mouth open in an imbecile sort of way, which seemed to excite
Mac still more, for, turning to his young host, he said, in a low
voice, and with a look that made the gentlemen on the chairs sit up
suddenly: "I beg pardon, Van, for making a mess, but I can’t stand
by and see my own brother tempt another man beyond his strength
or make a brute of himself. That’s plain English, but I can’t help
speaking out, for I know not one of you would willingly hurt
Charlie, and you will if you don’t let him alone."

"What do you pitch into me for? I’ve done nothing. A fellow must
be civil in his own house, mustn’t he?" asked Van good-humoredly
as he faced about, corkscrew in hand.

"Yes, but it is not civil to urge or joke a guest into doing what you
know and he knows is bad for him. That’s only a glass of wine to
you, but it is perdition to Charlie, and if Steve knew what he was
about, he’d cut his right hand off before he’d offer it."

"Do you mean to say I’m tipsy?" demanded Steve, ruffling up like a
little gamecock, for though he saw now what he had done and was
ashamed of it, he hated to have Mac air his peculiar notions before
other people.

"With excitement, not champagne, I hope, for I wouldn’t own you
if you were," answered Mac, in whom indignation was
effervescing like the wine in the forgotten bottle, for the men were
all young, friends of Steve’s and admirers of Charlie’s. "Look here,
boys," he went on more quietly, "I know I ought not to explode in
this violent sort of way, but upon my life I couldn’t help it when I
heard what you were saying and saw what Steve was doing. Since I
have begun, I may as well finish and tell you straight out that
Prince can’t stand this sort of thing. He is trying to flee temptation,
and whoever leads him into it does a cowardly and sinful act, for
the loss of one’s own self-respect is bad enough, without losing the
more precious things that make life worth having. Don’t tell him
I’ve said this, but lend a hand if you can, and never have to
reproach yourselves with the knowledge that you helped to ruin a
fellow creature, soul and body."

It was well for the success of Mac’s first crusade that his hearers
were gentlemen and sober, so his outburst was not received with
jeers or laughter but listened to in silence, while the expression of
the faces changed from one of surprise to regret and respect, for
earnestness is always effective and championship of this sort
seldom fails to touch hearts as yet unspoiled. As he paused with an
eloquent little quiver in his eager voice, Van corked the bottle at a
blow, threw down the corkscrew, and offered Mac his hand, saying
heartily, in spite of his slang: "You are a first-class old brick! I’ll
lend a hand for one, and do my best to back up Charlie, for he’s the
finest fellow I know, and shan’t go to the devil like poor Randal if I
can help it."

Murmurs of applause from the others seemed to express a general
assent to this vigorous statement, and, giving the hand a grateful
shake, Mac retreated to the door, anxious to be off now that he had
freed his mind with such unusual impetuosity.

"Count on me for anything I can do in return for this, Van. I’m
sorry to be such a marplot, but you can take it out in quizzing me
after I’m gone. I’m fair game, and Steve can set you going."

With that, Mac departed as abruptly as he had come, feeling that
he had "made a mess" of it, but comforting himself with the
thought that perhaps he had secured help for Charlie at his own
expense and thinking with a droll smile as he went back to his
mother: "My romance begins by looking after other girls’ lovers
instead of finding a sweetheart for myself, but I can’t tell Rose, so
she won’t laugh at me."

 

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