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A Hazard of New Fortunes — Complete by Howells

Alma was left with Beaton near the piano


Alma

was left with Beaton near the piano, and he began to talk about the Dryfooses as he sat down on the piano-stool. He said he had been giving Miss Dryfoos a lesson on the banjo; he had borrowed the banjo of Miss Vance. Then he struck the chord he had been trying to teach Christine, and played over the air he had sung.

"How do you like that?" he asked, whirling round.

"It seems rather a disrespectful little tune, somehow," said Alma, placidly.

Beaton rested his elbow on the corner of the piano and gazed dreamily at her. "Your perceptions are wonderful. It is disrespectful. I played it, up there, because I felt disrespectful to them."

"Do you claim that as a merit?"

"No, I state it as a fact. How can you respect such people?"

"You might respect yourself, then," said the girl. "Or perhaps that wouldn't be so easy, either."

"No, it wouldn't. I like to have you say these things to me," said Beaton, impartially.

"Well, I like to say them," Alma returned.

"They do me good."

"Oh, I don't know that that was my motive."

"There is no one like you--no one," said Beaton, as if apostrophizing her in her absence. "To

come from that house, with its assertions of money--you can hear it chink; you can smell the foul old banknotes; it stifles you--into an atmosphere like this, is like coming into another world."

"Thank you," said Alma. "I'm glad there isn't that unpleasant odor here; but I wish there was a little more of the chinking."

"No, no! Don't say that!" he implored. "I like to think that there is one soul uncontaminated by the sense of money in this big, brutal, sordid city."

"You mean two," said Alma, with modesty. "But if you stifle at the Dryfooses', why do you go there?"

"Why do I go?" he mused. "Don't you believe in knowing all the natures, the types, you can? Those girls are a strange study: the young one is a simple, earthly creature, as common as an oat-field and the other a sort of sylvan life: fierce, flashing, feline--"

Alma burst out into a laugh. "What apt alliteration! And do they like being studied? I should think the sylvan life might--scratch."

"No," said Beaton, with melancholy absence, "it only-purrs."

The girl felt a rising indignation. "Well, then, Mr. Beaton, I should hope it would scratch, and bite, too. I think you've no business to go about studying people, as you do. It's abominable."

"Go on," said the young man. "That Puritan conscience of yours! It appeals to the old Covenanter strain in me--like a voice of pre-existence. Go on--"

"Oh, if I went on I should merely say it was not only abominable, but contemptible."

"You could be my guardian angel, Alma," said the young man, making his eyes more and more slumbrous and dreamy.

"Stuff! I hope I have a soul above buttons!"

He smiled, as she rose, and followed her across the room. "Good-night; Mr. Beaton," she said.

Miss Woodburn and Fulkerson came in from the other room. "What! You're not going, Beaton?"


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