WILLIE DAYTON flung open the door of the room in West College, tossed his hat on the bed, and sang out: "Hello! Rex, been in all the evening? We missed you at the doctor's, but I thought likely you were at Miss Lydia's."
"I was for a while," answered Rex, coldly; and then added after a minute, "I can't see what the deuce Miss Lydia finds in that puppy Watson! She keeps him dangling at her heels just because she likes to have a uniform around, I believe."
Rex had taken off his long, sweeping broadcloth coat, and hung it carefully up on a little contrivance of his own for keeping it in shape. He had also removed his tightly fitting boots, and was now comfortably arrayed in a study-gown of cashmere in soft browns and reds, while his feet were incased in black broadcloth slippers heavily embroidered in chenille, doubtless the gift of some Southern sweetheart. The feet and the slippers were resting comfortably on the square table that occupied the center of the room, in close proximity to a Greek lexicon, Paley's "Evidences," Butler's "Analogy," a box half full of cigars, and a disorderly collection of papers. His position gave a luxurious angle to the big, splint-bottomed chair he was sitting in, and on the broad tablet affixed to its right arm lay a yellow-backed novel–one of Balzac's, untranslated, for Rex particularly affected the French. In his hand he held a cigar, of course, but he was only smoking sufficiently to keep it alive.
Willie had not answered Rex's last remark. He perceived at once, from his tone and his lowering brow, that he was in a very bad humor, and he knew from experience that the wisest course at such times was to let his cousin alone. He proceeded therefore to divest himself of his "good clothes" and make himself comfortable after Rex's fashion, whistling diligently the while as a gentle intimation that conversation was entirely unnecessary. Willie himself was in the state of exaltation in which an evening spent in Lucy's presence usually left him; unless, as occasionally happened, she had been pointedly unkind and left him proportionately depressed.
He was a sweet-tempered, honest, generous-hearted young fellow, a South Carolinian also, and Rex's cousin, but as unlike him as possible in temper and in personal attractions, Willie himself would have said and Rex would have thought. He was several years Rex's junior, and not particularly brilliant intellectually; but by dint of faithful work he maintained a fair standing as a Sophomore, while Rex, who might easily have led his class, through indolence and indifference stood a fair chance of being its "flag-bearer," as the man who brought up the rear was called in those days. Willie was shorter than Rex, and of a sturdier build, with light-brown curls and honest blue eyes and pleasant, courteous ways that made him a general favorite in his circle of friends, but did not constitute him a lady-killer, as his cousin liked to be considered. Willie himself had no ambitions in that direction. He liked all the young ladies, and was indeed of that Southern temperament so susceptible to feminine charms that he would always be sure of being "in love," as he called it, but never with more than one at a time, and very honestly and desperately for the time.
It was Lucy Charlton's golden curls and sweet blue eyes and dainty ways that held him captive now. But Lucy had many admirers and was withal a little of a coquette; and while she liked Willie and had admitted him to the relation of cousinship, which meant both a great deal and nothing at all, she was sometimes annoyed by his slow ways and inclined to look down upon him a little disdainfully.
He sat down now to the table and began writing, while Rex watched him for a few minutes impatiently. He was secretly dying to hear some account of the "little school-ma'am," though he was not willing to betray his curiosity to his cousin.
"Oh, come, Billy," he said at last, "don't bother with letters to-night; I haven't had a soul to speak to all day, and I am dead tired of myself."
Willie turned quickly, for this was a more amiable address than his cousin's former manner had led him to expect.
"Well," he said pleasantly, "whose fault is it? Why didn't you come over to the doctor's this evening? Mrs. Charlton asked for you. You know you always like to talk to her."
Rex listened with a slight curl of his short upper lip. "You know very well I couldn't go there after having been as good as slapped in the face by that priggish little Yankee school-ma'am. By Jove, I wish she was a man, and I could call her out! I would like to show her that a Southern gentleman is not to be insulted with impunity."
There was an access of fury with his last words, and Willie hastened to speak soothingly. "I know; it's too bad. Do you know, I don't believe she knew she was insulting you. Those New Englanders have queer ways, you know; and I fancy she was more than likely trying not to appear too much interested." Then he added cunningly, "You know yourself what a heart-smasher you are, and it 's likely she had never met your sort before and was afraid of you."
Willie was working on sure ground when he was working on Rex's vanity. He knew it and was a little ashamed of himself for stooping to such means; but he hated a fuss, especially where his friends the Charltons were concerned, and he was determined to heal the breach if possible. Rex had comforted himself with the same explanation, but it was soothing to his vanity to hear it offered by Willie also, although he only ejaculated, "Nonsense!" But Willie had seen the scornful curl of the lip give way to a half smile of conscious power, which Rex had not been entirely able to suppress, and he went on:
"It struck me several times to-day that she was sorry, and would be glad of a chance to apologize. Suppose you give her the chance and see."
Rex was quite sure those timid glances had already dumbly entreated his forgiveness, and there was only wanting an opportunity to have it expressed in words. There was nothing he would enjoy more than to have a scornful young lady humbly beseeching his forgiveness, and he had been dreaming all day of the exquisite pleasure he should take in her apology, and had quite carefully rehearsed in his mind the exact manner in which he should receive it. There should be magnanimity and haughty courtesy mingled with cold reserve and the air of having received a wound so deep that the scars could never be obliterated. Then he intended gradually to thaw a little, but still to treat her with such stately courtesy that she should see that though as a gentleman he must needs accept her apology, as a man he could not quite forget what he had suffered at her hands. He was in a hurry also to begin on that line of revenge that he had hastily planned the night before and had been brooding over all day with no idea of relenting because of the timid, regretful glances he had received. They had mollified his wrath, to be sure; but the sense of personal affront remained, and he was quite fascinated also by the idea of the amusement as well as triumph he would get out of it. He was perfectly sure, therefore, that only the opportunity was wanting for the apology, but the question was how to make the opportunity. He could not, of course, call on her, or seek her in any way, until the apology had been made, and he hardly hoped that she would dare to make the opportunity. He was a little afraid that she might write him about it, and be did not desire that. It would be so difficult to express in writing all those delicate and complex emotions that he intended to express when he received her apology, and his triumph would lose much of its sweetness if he could not see her trembling and blushing embarrassment–if he could not, metaphorically, raise her from her knees and gradually soothe her perturbations.
So he answered Willie's last suggestion impatiently:
"How the deuce can I make an opportunity? Shall I go over and call, and beg her to beg my pardon?"
Willie smiled. "Of course not; but you might–"
But Rex interrupted him: "Not that I care a picayune whether the little Yankee ever begs my pardon or not; but you can see for yourself it's going to make it deucedly uncomfortable about my ever going to the Charltons' as long as she is there–and I suppose she is a fixture."
"Yes," said Willie, eagerly; "that's just it. You don't want to break with the Charltons; they think a sight of you, and they are such good friends to us both. Don't you think, considering the circumstances, you might write her a little note and ask for an explanation? You can be entirely on your dignity, you know. Say you think you have a right, as a gentleman, to ask from her, as a lady, some explanation of her treatment of you the other evening.
Willie's suggestion struck Rex as a very good solution of the difficulty, except that it might result in the written apology that he did not want. But his quick mind saw a way to prevent that, and he decided at once to adopt Willie's plan, though he answered him with an assumption of indifference.
"All right, I will think over your suggestion, Willie. Of course I will be glad to have it all square with the Charltons again, for your sake and my own."
He rekindled his cigar, which had quite gone out, and picked up "La Cousine Bette," in whose pages he appeared to be buried while Willie turned again to his letters.