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Chapter XVIII--Heart Affairs
 About that time things began to stir for Christmas. Packages came in at all hours, and it was understood that they weren’t even to be felt, and that only the person to whom they were addressed could open them. The weather man was evidently in a good humour, for he predicted “dry, fair weather with light south winds,” and, of course, almost the greatest blizzard that New York had ever known appeared to make the landscape match those snow-scene Christmas-cards with shiny silver on them that drops off. And we had a splendid time. The shops were simply gorgeous with their red and green decorations, and people carried packages, looked tired, but smiled. It was the greatest fun in the world to go out on Saturday mornings and scrunch through the snow to the subway, and then delve into the crowds, who laughed and pushed and hurried with such good nature. Amy and I could hardly wait for school to close. And in school notes simply flew, all of them containing confidences about the furs the writer hoped to get, or the ostrich-feather fan she knew she was going to get, having seen the long package on the hall table.
Aunt Penelope told us to make notes of what we wanted, and it was what we did the Saturday afternoon I met Mr. Apthorpe. Evelyn, who had not been awfully well since she had that bad cold, sat in the living-room with Amy and me, and we were enjoying being together.
“I am going to ask for a Russian sable coat,” said Amy, who was sucking the point of her pencil and looking down at the pad she held, “because I think it is a duty to look for the best. Some poet--I’ve forgotten who--said: ‘Hitch your waggon to a star.’?”
Evelyn said that one would be a falling star.
“But perhaps you could persuade father that I need one,” Amy went on. “You have a tactful way and seem to be very chummy with him lately.”
“Oh, Baby!” said Evelyn (Baby is the family pet name for Amy), “you should be ashamed of yourself! Why don’t you give father a Christmas present of not asking for the impossible and not whining for what he can’t give you?”
Amy’s face was a study in amazement. “But you----” she said.
“Have reformed,” said Evelyn, and then she went back to her lists. She was working hard, figuring out how little she dared give people who had entertained her. Amy looked at her, then she scribbled a note and passed it to me, pretending it was a list of girls in our school that we were going to ask to tea during the holidays.
“She is mourning for Herbert,” she had written. I nodded and felt ever so sorry for Evelyn. She had been very kind and unnatural for ever so long, and it was plain that something had made a big dent in her feelings. She was ashamed of the way she had let sharpness grow on her, you could see that, and I think she was going through a lot in realizing how unpleasant she had often been, and trying not to be so any more. In a way, any reform is an operation, for you yourself cut out something that was wrong and didn’t belong in you, and even a skilled surgeon hurts you when he cuts off anything that shouldn’t grow on you. I know, for I had a wart removed. My simile is somewhat mixed, but I still shine most brilliantly in athletics. I became right forward and captain of our basket-ball team after one game, but that is beside the point.
After we had written our lists and had had tea and discussed where the tree should be set, I said I wanted to go walking, and asked if anyone else did, and, after they refused, I started out. It was lots of fun to walk, because a little thaw had made a sheet of ice over everything, and going was a difficult matter. You had to slide on every little incline, and I stood in our apartment-house door for quite a while watching those who strolled and--slipped. They would mince along and then--zip! They’d go for perhaps five feet and end up by doing a bunny-hug to a tree that stands by the alleyway gate. And as I stepped forth, I, too, slid and--into Mr. Herbert Apthorpe. He tried to steady me, almost lost his balance, and then we laughed.
“I’m Evelyn’s cousin,” I said, as I walked by him (I made his direction mine); “I suppose you’ve forgotten me.”
He said he hadn’t, to be polite, but I knew he had.
“We were speaking of you to-day,” I went on. “Evelyn hasn’t been well, and she said she wished you would come up.” I stole a side look at him and saw that his face looked stiff and that his eyes were steadily fixed ahead. He didn’t look encouraging.
“I am flattered,” he said; and the way he said it made the snow-banks warm little nesting-places in comparison.
I knew he wasn’t at all flattered, but just said so to let me know he wasn’t. I tried a little more finesse, and it didn’t work, and then--I dropped tact, which has never done a thing for me but make me trip, and relied on crude truth.
“Didn’t you like Evelyn?” I asked. I was sure he did, or I wouldn’t have said what I then did.
“Very charming girl,” he said stiffly.
“Then why do you hurt her?” I asked. He looked at me after that.
“What?” he asked. I repeated my question. And he echoed it in a vacant way, only putting “I” in place of “you.”
“You do,” I assured him.
Then he spoke, quickly, to the point, and in a way that left no doubt as to how he felt. “She turned me off,” he said, “because I hadn’t enough money. Left me in no doubt about how she felt and how much she valued what I offered her. That didn’t seem to count. The fact that my salary is modest did.” And after that he walked so fast that I almost had to run to keep up with him.
“If she were sick,” I said, “wouldn’t you stick to her, help her--do anything you could for her?”
I think he considered me an interfering chit, as I was, and hated me; but he couldn’t very well strangle me, and I could walk quite as fast as he, so he replied, crisply, coolly, as before, but replied: “Since it interests you,” he answered, “certainly.”
Then I explained that she was sick. I said she had lived in a place where money was thought most important, and among people who attached a false value to it. And I said that that had made her sick mentally and that he should give her a chance and help her through that quite as he would through anything that made her body as miserable. He stopped and faced me.
“She is changing,” I said. “She is sorry, and she has cried before me about you.”
He caught his breath and then said: “Oh, my dear!” But he wasn’t speaking to me, I knew, but to Evelyn.
“She’s at home,” I went on, “and alone, or will be, since you can order Amy off. And she will love seeing you. She has cared so much that I think that has kept her from getting over this cold. I know it.”
He didn’t speak, but gripped my hand, and then he turned and hurried back toward the place where we had met. And I knew where he went from there, before I got home, and Amy told me about it.
I went on feeling sort of silly. The whole thing had taken lots of nerve, and if I hadn’t cared so much for Evelyn I never would have done it. I hate explaining what I think about the values of love and things. It makes me feel wishy-washy. So I was glad to be diverted by meeting S. K. He was in his car, and leaned out and told me to get off the grass!
“Can’t you see the signs?” he asked, as I turned to see where the loud order came from.
“Get in here,” he ordered next, and then his chauffeur, who grins and seems more human than other people’s chauffeurs, helped me across the snow-bank, and I was by S. K. He asked me if I’d minded the heat, and how many vanity cases I expected Santa to give me, and then he said he had got me a present and that I’d better sit tight or he’d give it to the janitor.
I ............
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