Not only the visitors, but apparently the entire population of Mt. Clare had preceded the carriage in which Regenia, Lucile, Mrs. Levitt and Mrs. Underwood were seated, to the square where the flambeau drill was to be conducted. Strung to the highest pitch of expectation, the nervous crowd, with frequent signs of impatience, awaited the advent of the "Flambeau Club."
Two squares from the balcony of the "White Elephant," the carriage was obliged to stop. The people, a solid mass of perspiring humanity, filled the street from curb to curb.
"We shall never be able to see anything in this out of the way place," said Lucile, with evident disappointment.
"It would not be advisable to drive nearer," answered Mrs. Underwood.
"No, indeed. Even the horses do not take kindly to the common herd," said Regenia, calling attention to the restlessness of the handsome span of black thoroughbreds, who movements required the driver's constant attention.
"As democratic as I am, said Mrs. Underwood, smiling faintly, "I am obliged to confess that I share their dislike."
"I like a crowd well enough, ordinarily, but we did not come to see the crowd. A flambeau drill can not be seen for the asking. I shall die of disappointment if I miss seeing it," said Lucile, her excitement increasing as she contemplated the bare possibility of such a probability.
"Your chances for living hang on a hair, if missing this drill will bring your existence to a period," said Regenia, smiling at Lucile's extravagance.
"The people out to be kept back. Look! They have blockaded the streets completely," said Lucile, bristling with anger.
"I see you have been carried by the excitement into the very heart of the maddened crowd," said a pleasant voice beside the carriage.
The ladies turned in the direction of the sound, to see a physical entity of the vocal exponent, in the person of Clement St. John, standing, hat in hand, bowing and smiling.
"We are here, 'tis true, but from the outlook, we shall have only our experience for our pains," said Lucile, after the other occupants of the vehicle had exchanged greetings with Mr. St. John.
"The prospect is not the most inviting," said Clement, looking around to discover some means of exit. "If you will allow me, I think I can find a more suitable point of observation for you," he continued.
"We do not wish to discommode you, Mr. St. John," replied Regenia.
"Discommode me, indeed," thought Clement. He said: "I am only too happy to make myself useful, I assure you."
"We'll go and be glad to seize the opportunity," said Lucile, speaking the mind of the entire party. "How shall we ever extricate ourselves from this knotted skein of human beings?" she added.
"I have seats among the 'press gang' on the balcony," said Clement. "We can drive around the square to the 'ladies' entrance,' and in that way avoid the annoyance we should be sure to meet should be attempt to force our way though this 'tangled skein of human beings,'" he said smiling at Lucile.
To this proposition, Mrs. Underwood readily consented. Mounting to a seat beside the driver, Clement gave Mrs. Underwood's orders to drive to the hotel. Arriving there, they push their way through the crowded halls, ascend the stairs and emerge upon the balcony just as the street lights are being lowered to give the torches of the exhibitors the very best effect. Writing at a long table in the center of the balcony, sat a number of local and special correspondents. They nodded toward Clement as he seated his party, and a few who knew him well indicated their pleasure that Clement's card to the courtesies extended to the press enabled him to serve his friends in such a satisfactory manner.
Mr. St. John, on the principle before enumerated, did not deign to take notes. With a knowing smile, as he met Lucile's glance, he remarked loud enough to be heard by some of the reporters near him, "you will perceive, ladies, that these gentlemen serve me."
"Mr. St. John regards the seventh commandment very lightly," remarked his vis-a-vis. The ladies laughed.
"I am sorry to admit that my acquaintance with the commandments, numerically, is insufficient to grasp, without reflection, your reference, Miss Malone," he replied, with a well feigned look of embarrassment.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse for crime," retorted Lucile, with assumed severity.
"Who speaks of ignorance, crime and justice in a breath and emphasizes her pharisaical condemnation with a piercing look in this direction?" said Clement with a burst of merriment.
"Shake not thy bloody locks ignorantly committed?" asked Clement as he doffed his hat to expose his mop of red hair.
"Plagiarism," answered Lucile, solemnly.
"Plagiarism is good, but I always give credit when I steal. Quotations from the leading journals have more weight than anything I could write over my own signature. I write general accounts with the mucilage brush, but I reserve the right to comment editorially," said Clement.
After this manner the conversation rippled on, here and there taking a precipitous flight as it leaped from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Mrs. Levitt, who had not said one word since the party left the carriage, signalized her presence by saying with a sigh, "Well, I guess it is coming at last."
The others, who amid the constant flow of airy talk, had almost forgotten the event which was accountable for their presence looked in the direction indicated.
Away down the avenue, marching to a quick step, could be seen the approaching torches of the Flambeau Club. The sky was crimson from the reflection of "red fire." On they come, whizzing sky rockets and bursting roman candles, forming over their heads an arch of prismatic colors. Their glittering helmets, white uniforms and brass buttons beneath the flare of torch and red fire give to the scene a weird and melancholy beauty. The vast army of sight-seers herald their approach with one continuous shout of pleasure. As they arrive at the hotel, they wheel into line and salute the Eminent Grant Commander and ladies upon the balcony. The drill was beautiful. The combinations were formed more for picturesque display than for military correctness. Among the many notable effects produced by the flambeau drill, the serpentine movements were perhaps the most enjoyed by the observers.
To discuss each manoeuvre would be a needless repetition, as unprofitable to the reader as unnecessary to the ends of this story. At the conclusion of the exhibition, Mrs. Underwood, unused to the night air, expressed her readiness to return to the "Elms." The girls hung back, alleging as an excuse for their desire to remain, their wish to see the prizes presented to the victors of the afternoon. Mrs. Levitt, divining the real cause, suggested that Mrs. Underwood drive home and leave the girls in the care of Mr. St. John. Mrs. Underwood agreed to this, and, in company with Mrs. Levitt, left the hotel. As she passed through the door opening off the balcony, a young man approached her and entered into conversation. Now Clement St. John, from his position on the balcony, had detected that same young man observing him narrowly, more than once during the evening.
"Who is he?" thought Clement, "and why has he stared at me so rudely for the last two hours?"
As these questions pass through the mind of Clement, he overhears Regenia remark to Lucile: "That is Dr. Frank Leighton, Mrs. Underwood's nephew."
Regenia rarely spoke of her grandmother by any term more endearing than "Mrs. Underwood." She had kept her eyes on Lotus Stone during the entire drill. She thought, as she sat there watching him, for she only had eyes for the column in which he was a conspicuous part, "He is handsomer to-night than ever." Once, when the company faced the balcony for a moment, the electric lights were turned on, and Lotus instinctively looked up. His eyes met Regenia's for an instant only, but in that moment each felt the thrill of mutual admiration.
Clement said as Regenia turned from Lotus to him: "He is remarkably handsome, and the very finest gentleman I ever met."
Regenia, blushing hotly, made no answer.
The presentation speeches were half over when Lotus Stone, with a low bow, greeted his friends on the balcony. He had hastened to his room, as soon as the drill was ended, and exchanged his white duck uniform for a suit less conspicuous.
"Accept my congratulations, old man. Your people did themselves proud to-night. Who would not be a soldier and go on dress parade?" said Clement heartily, as Lotus came up.
The two young ladies offered congratulations when Mr. St. John had finished. "I think it was awfully lovely, Mr. Stone, and you were the very best of all," said Lucile, earnestly.
"Hear that!" ejaculated Mr. St. John. "'Who would not be a soldier and go on dress parade?'" he began singing, in a low key.
"And did you like it, Miss Underwood?" asked Lotus.
"Although I do not understand your movements, I think the flambeau drill the most beautiful sight I ever saw," replied Regenia.
"That is something like it," said Clement, mischievously, "but giving all the praise to one man is too much."
"Lucile does not think more highly of Mr. Stone's part in the evening's entertainment than I do," answered Regenia, with an arch look at Mr. St. John.
"What would I not give to be a member of the Flambeau Club," said Clement, with mock dejection. "There is nothing left for the rest of us but to seek the charitable seclusion of the grave, 'unwept, unhonored, an unsung.'"
"It is not that bad, I hope," said Lotus, smiling at the rare good spirits that possessed his friend.
"The drill was indeed lovely, Mr. St. John, but we are indebted to your generosity entirely that we were permitted to enjoy such an excellent view of it. We shall not forget your kindness, if we do praise the Knights of the Red Cross so enthusiastically," said Regenia in her sweet, earnest way.
"Mr. St. John knows how much we thank him," said Lucile. "Don't mind what he says, dear. When you know him as well as I do, you will read his talk between the lines."
"The idea of reading audible expressions between the lines! To thy finger board, Miss Typewriter. The copying sees everything in violet ink. You see between the lines better than you see the lines sometimes, I suspect," said Clement, lightly.
"He is through at last," said Regenia, referring to the speech of presentation, just finished.
"How much of it did you hear?" asked Lotus.
"Not a great deal, I admit. 'Ladies and Gentlemen,' and perhaps 'I add no more,'" she replied, smiling at her questioner.
"I did not hear that much," he said, lowering his voice. "There was other music that I much preferred to hear."
"I suppose so," she answered. "The notes of praise sounded in your ears have not been confined to this balcony, I conjecture."
"With me," said Lotus, "it is not the song, but the singer; not the high key of mechanical training, but the sweet old songs that reach the heart. Not the applauding multitude, but the admiring few."
"I agree with you," she answered, dropping her bantering tone. "It is earnestness in everything that makes anything worth while."
"Suppose we go," said Lucile, rising. "They will think at home that we are lost, Regenia."
"Mr. St. John will be help responsible; he seems to be our scape goat," answered Regenia.
"Yes; scape goat, pack mule or anything else, so I may be permitted to bask in your smiles, Miss Underwood," said Clement, leading the way to the stairs.
"How do you get along with Mr. St. John?" asked Regenia, laughingly, as, clinging to Mr. Stone's arm, they pushed their way through the crowded corridor toward the ladies' exit.
"Clement is extremely well pleased to-night," said Lotus.
"When he is happiest he is most provoking," answered her escort. "We have always known each other," he continued, "and I do not know whether I came to the conclave for anything more serious than to see Clement St. John."
"I thought you enjoyed the wild applause of the gaping multitude. Oh, no," she made haste to say, "you did inform me differently."
"Speaking of Mr. St. John," he said, "there is not a more seriously earnest man of my acquaintance, notwithstanding his apparent lightness."
"I should think him anything but serious," answered Regenia, with much surprise.
"In that respect, you agree with everyone who has only seen the crude exterior. At heart, Clement St. John is an unusually thoughtful, level-headed man. His gaiety is often assumed. He makes the sufferings of his race a hobby and takes their aggregated wrongs as so many personal affronts. Keenly alive to their multifarious grievances, with tongue or pen, he is ever ready to do battle in behalf of the cause he loves. I sometimes think that his opponents are only the conjurations of his over-active imagination," said Lotus. "Did you ever read his paper?"
"No, I have not," she answered.
"I would be pleased to send you a copy, if you would like to read it."
"Certainly if – if –"
"If what? You seem to hesitate."
"If you like," she added. She wondered if on such short acquaintance it would not be tad taste to accept his offer. He did not think so, or he would not have made such a tender, she finally concluded. After knowing him a day, Regenia found herself trusting this stranger in a way that almost frightened her. With a shiver, she glanced over her shoulder for Lucile and Mr. St. John. He noticed the tremor in the hand that held his arm, and instantly remarked: "You are not cold, Miss Underwood.?"
"No," she said. "I fear I have not been confining my thoughts entirely to the subject of our conversation."
As they sauntered home in the moonlight, Lotus told her of his life in Washington; how he longed to go out in the world and make a name; of his intention to resign as soon as he had finished his medical course.
"Where will you practice?" she interrupted, with more interest than she was aware of.
"I have not decided, but most likely in the south," he answered. "The south offers the most flattering inducements to a young man who has no political aspirations," he continued. "I have had enough of politics," he continued, more to himself than to his companion.
She knew but little of politics and was therefore discreetly silent. Why he had enough of politics she neither knew nor was she particularly interest.
"Why do you prefer the south with its discriminations and difficulties to the north?" she finally asked.
"For many reasons, the first of which is, there are more of our people in the south than in the north." Regenia noted his emphasis upon "our" people. The expression was new to her.
"Second, the natural antipathy existing between the races in the south, makes the professional service rendered to the Afro-American grudgingly indifferent. The physician is a missionary. His work presupposes a double duty, healing the body and comforting the mind."
"I think that duty can be done in one place as well as another," replied Regenia, holding to her unexpressed wish.
"Perhaps so," said Lotus. "But in a city like this, say, a man could not get the patronage of his own race. The north is the best place to prepare for war, but an Afro-American must go south to practice it."
"Are you two so interested in each other that you do not know where to stop?" called Lucile.
"We are at home," said Regenia, blushing. By that time Clement and Lucile had reached the gate.
"Shall we see you safe within the door?" said Clement, opening the gate.
"You are responsible," answered Regenia.
"How would it do to let Mr. Stone share some of this responsibility? The load is getting to heavy for my shoulders."
"I am only too willing to share any responsibility that these ladies may see fit to put upon me," said Lotus gallantly.
"They may, is good; but suppose I wish to do some unloading, in that case is your gallantry unflinching?" asked Clement.
"Oh, certainly," said Lotus.
As they walked up the gravel way, Clement suggested that they march by fours.
"How about to-morrow?" asked Clement, as the girls bade them good-night.
"You arrange with Mr. Stone. I'll be responsible for Regenia," Lucile replied.
"If it is a conspiracy," said Lotus, "I only hope that in the intrigue you may contrive to capture me."
Arm-in-arm as in the days of old, Clement and Lotus walked back to the "White Elephant." Neither spoke until the "Elms" was left sleeping in the hazy distance. Clement as usual broke the silence.
"I might as well confess that I am hit hard. That bewitching little woman rivets her chains more securely every time I see her. 'She is all the world to me,'" he began to sing.
"A charming companion, indeed," said Lotus, "and best of all she believes in you."
"As if that was such a devil of a job," said Clement, laughingly.
"You are rather hard to find," Lotus replied, "but that mischievous little woman has found your heart, and more than that she believes in you, sees between the lines, and you know it and she knows you know."
"You are more right than wrong," said Clement. "How about our beauty at the "Elms?"
Lotus winced. He did not like Clement's familiar way of speaking about Regenia.
"She is yours, Lotus, if you follow up your impressions," he continued, misinterpreting his friend's silence.
"She is a noble, high-souled woman – such a woman as any man might wish to win; but wishing and winning are two things," replied Lotus thoughtfully.
"What a woman like Miss Underwood needs is some awful calamity to amuse her dormant affections. If she could be led to believe that she was making some great sacrifice for you, or you were being hated and maligned for her, either would answer, she would give up her life for you. Say, I have it. Suppose you hire some one to 'slug' you gently and do the unconscious act, and let me send post haste for Miss Underwood – why old man, what is the matter? You are not losing your temper?"
Lotus came dangerously near losing it at the nonsensical proposition Clement was making.
They walked on in silence until the lights of the "White Elephant" loomed up in the next block.
"Excuse me, old friend," Lotus said, stopping. "I believe I am hit harder than I thought."
"Don't mention it. Haven't I received, right between the eyes, a 'knock-out' blow?" said Clement.
At this they both laughed and Lotus, extending his hand, said, as Clement grasped it; "What fools we mortals be."
Chapter 4 -- Chapter 6