The Downfall of Abner Joyce
Chapter XVI
 

"Are you going to dress very much?" grimaced Giles, with a precious little intonation that caused Bond to laugh outright.

Abner, who was lounging under the Turkish canopy, pricked up his ears to catch the reply. Medora tossed aside one of her brother's sketches and turned her eyes on Abner.

"I don't know what to do," replied Bond. "We have had such a glut of Romeos and Mephistos and cowboys. It has occurred to me that I might go as a rough sketch--a bozzetto--of a gentleman."

"How would you get yourself up for that?" asked Giles.

"Just as you have often seen me. I should wear that old dress-suit with the shiny seams and the frayed facings, and a shirt-front seen more recently by the world than by the laundry, and a pair of shoes already quite familiar with tweeds and cheviots, and a little black bow--this last as a sort of sign that I am not fully in society, or if I am, only briefly at long, uncertain intervals. And a black Derby hat--or possibly a brown one."

Medora smiled, well pleased. This easy, jocular treatment of a serious and formal subject was just what she wanted. It would help show the listening Abner that the wearing of the social uniform was nothing very formidable after all, and did not necessarily doom one's moral and spiritual fibre to utter blight and ruin.

Abner set his lips. He might indeed go to their wretched "fandango" in the end--they had all been urging him, Stephen, Medora, everybody--but never as a cheap imitation of a swell so long as his own good, neat, well-made, every-day wardrobe existed as it was. He had turned down the wine-glass at Whyland's, and he would turn down the dress-coat here.

Medora, unconscious that her precious little seed had fallen, after all, on stony ground, turned toward Abner with a smile--an intent, observing one. "Did Mrs. Whyland speak to you about her 'evening'?"

"Her evening? What evening?"

"There, I knew she wouldn't dare. You frightened her almost to death."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, she had been thinking of having a few friends come in some night next week for a little reading and some music. But you were so violent in your comments on the behaviour of society that she didn't dare touch upon her plan. She was meaning to ask you to read two or three things from your Weary World, but----"

"Why----" began Abner.

"Read," put in Bond. "I'm going to."

"Why," began Abner once more, "I had no notion of offending her. But everything I said was the truth."

"She wasn't offended," said Giles, with a smile; "only 'skeered.' You must have been pretty tart."

"I can't help it. It makes me so hot to have such things happening----"

"I know," said Giles. "We're all made hot, now and then, in one way or another."

"You will read, won't you?" asked Medora, in accents of subdued pleading.

"Well, not next week," replied Abner, in the tone of one who held postponement to be as good as escape. "That tour of mine is coming off, after all. They have arranged a number of dates for me, and I shall go eastward for several readings and possibly a few lectures."

"How far eastward?" asked Medora eagerly. "As far as New York?"

"Maybe so," said Abner guardedly.

"How long shall you be gone?" she asked with great intentness.

"A fortnight or more," purred Abner complacently, under this show of interest. "I guess I can open the eyes of those Easterners to a thing or two."

Medora dropped her glance thoughtfully to the floor. An exchange of instruction seemed impending, and she could only hope that the East might prove a more considerate tutor to Abner than Abner threatened to be to the East.