By Stewart Edward White
I HAD conceived a huge joke wherewith to amuse Dorothea, so I entered briskly, unannounced, without greeting. From the depths of my ulster pocket I produced in a most business-like way a small alarm clock, which I placed on the table. Then I took off my coat and flung it over a chair. Dorothea remained silent, a curled-up fluff of white on the hearth rug. I judged she was paralyzed with astonishment.
"I have made five calls this evening," I remarked, importantly, "all through the efficient aid of that alarm clock. Before going into a place I set it for ten minutes ahead. When it goes off, I sit calm and unmoved until the last stroke of the bell. Then I get up and go. It worked all right except once, when I struck a house where they had an alarm bell that went off when the furnace was about to explode. There was a bit of excitement there."
And then I stopped, bewildered, for I had come entirely to the end of my joke some ten minutes ahead of schedule time. Casting about for the reason, I discovered it in the lack of Dorothea's interruptions. Then I looked at Dorothea.
"What's the matter?" I inquired, solicitously.
The doleful little figure stirred.
"I've made a fool of myself," it said, mournfully.
"Have any help from anyone?" I asked.
Not a gleam of indignation. I grew alarmed at last.
"Tell me about it," I begged, with real sympathy.
Dorothea pulled single hairs from the rug and cast them on the fire. After a bit it became evident why the ancients sacrificed in the open air. Dorothea elevated her small nose and sat on her feet in the big armchair.
"I've been good to someone," said she at last.
"And the shock of an unwonted action has disturbed you?" I suggested.
"Out of pure kindness of heart," went on Dorothea, unmoved.
"Tell me about it," I cried, with new enthusiasm.
"You know Teddy Davis?"
"Well then, you know how young he is—a mere child."
"Six months older than you."
Dorothea would not even counter.
"And he has been coming to me for advice. He is so young, and he hadn't the first idea of what girls like, and he was so much in love with that little Reynolds thing, and he is such a nice boy. Don't you see?"
"Quite," said I, gravely.
"He used to get into frightful scrapes with her, and I'd tell him how to get out of them."
"Having had more experience," said I—merely by way of comment.
"He was awfully grateful for it, and he was so nice about it that after a while I began to tell him a little of what to say when he wasn't in a scrape. You see, I, being a girl, could know better what girls like. "
"Sort of Cyrano and Christian," I interpolated; "the 'I-your-soul, you-my-beauty' act, eh?"
"That's it. Only after a while I got too interested in just saying things. I didn't think whether girls would like them or not—just whether they were bright or not. That's where I lost."
"Penalty of being clever," I remarked, sententiously.
"Then I am clever?" snapped in Dorothea, eagerly.
"In this world the punishment does not always fit the crime. The remark was general," said I.
Dorothea sank back.
"The things I told him were good, anyway," she continued, after a moment. "For instance, 'Now,' said I, 'when she accuses you of jollying, you must say, 'Ah, but you jolly with your eyes!' When she accuses you of being a mere boy, you must say, 'I have only lived since meeting you.' When she accuses you of being cruel, you must say, 'How could I be aught but heartless after seeing you?' When she comes into the room some time, you must be slangy and say, 'Sit down and make yourself homely;' and then when she looks doubtful, you must add, 'for heaven has not done it for you.' And——"
I broke in at this point with great indignation.
"Dorothea," said I, severely, "of all the sentimental, cheap-novel silliness, that is the worst!"
"Do you think so?" she asked, anxiously. "But anyway," she went on, somewhat comforted, "I told him what to say when she informed him that if she let him do that he would have no respect for her."
"What is it, Dorothea, what is it?" I cried, thoroughly aroused.
"Don't you wish you knew!" said Dorothea, provokingly. The joy of recital, than which Dorothea knows none greater, was bringing back her good humor.
"Then came the Barclay dance. I had told Ted lots of new things to say, and I felt interested, so when I saw them go into the conservatory I slipped in after them and hid. I knew all about it, anyway," said Dorothea, deprecatingly, "and I just wanted to see how it worked. Ted was always so vague."
"I mind me," quoth I, in a musing tone, "of an ancient proverb or wise saw concerning eavesdroppers and what they hear."
"Don't be horrid!" Her voice became tearful again. "What do you suppose? The first thing I heard was that little Reynolds thing asking, 'Well, Ted dear, what did she spring on you this time?'—slangy little cat!—and then Ted told her everything I had told him, and they just had fits over it."
Dorothea was getting very doleful again. She looked on my augmenting symptoms.
"If you laugh," she asserted, solemnly, "I shall scream!"
But she did not scream. She merely hit me an indefinite number of times with a sofa pillow.