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Chapter 13

  • If it had not been for the lurking hope of some fresh exciting experience wit_ woman, he would have been unconscionably lonely. As it was, this though_ith him—quite as the confirmed drunkard's thought of whiskey—buoyed him up,
  • kept him from despairing utterly, gave his mind the only diversion it had fro_he ever present thought of failure. If by chance he should meet some trul_eautiful girl, gay, enticing, who would fall in love with him! that would b_appiness. Only, Angela was constantly watching him these days and, besides,
  • more girls would simply mean that his condition would be aggravated. Yet s_owerful was the illusion of desire, the sheer animal magnetism of beauty,
  • that when it came near him in the form of a lovely girl of his ow_emperamental inclinations he could not resist it. One look into an invitin_ye, one glance at a face whose outlines were soft and delicate—full of tha_ubtle suggestion of youth and health which is so characteristic o_irlhood—and the spell was cast. It was as though the very form of the face,
  • without will or intention on the part of the possessor, acted hypnoticall_pon its beholder. The Arabians believed in the magic power of the wor_bracadabra to cast a spell. For Eugene the form of a woman's face and bod_as quite as powerful.
  • While he and Angela were in Alexandria from February to May, he met one nigh_t his sister's house a girl who, from the point of view of the beauty whic_e admired and to which he was so susceptible, was extremely hypnotic, and wh_or the ease and convenience of a flirtation was very favorably situated. Sh_as the daughter of a traveling man, George Roth by name, whose wife, th_hild's mother, was dead, but who lived with his sister in an old tree-shade_ouse on the edge of Green Lake not far from the spot where Eugene had onc_ttempted to caress his first love, Stella Appleton. Frieda was the girl'_ame. She was extremely attractive, not more than eighteen years of age, wit_arge, clear, blue eyes, a wealth of yellowish-brown hair and a plump bu_hapely figure. She was a graduate of the local high school, well develope_or her years, bright, rosy-cheeked, vivacious and with a great deal o_atural intelligence which attracted the attention of Eugene at once. Normall_e was extremely fond of a natural, cheerful, laughing disposition. In hi_resent state he was abnormally so. This girl and her foster mother had hear_f him a long time since through his parents and his sister, whom they kne_ell and whom they visited frequently. George Roth had moved here since Eugen_ad first left for Chicago, and because he was so much on the road he had no_een him since. Frieda, on all his previous visits, had been too young to tak_n interest in men, but now at this age, when she was just blossoming int_omanhood, her mind was fixed on them. She did not expect to be interested i_ugene because she knew he was married, but because of his reputation as a_rtist she was curious about him. Everybody knew who he was. The local paper_ad written up his success and published his portrait. Frieda expected to se_ man of about forty, stern and sober. Instead she met a smiling youth o_wenty-nine, rather gaunt and hollow-eyed, but none the less attractive fo_hat. Eugene, with Angela's approval, still affected a loose, flowing tie, _oft turn-down collar, brown corduroy suits as a rule, the coat cut with _elt, shooting jacket fashion, a black iron ring of very curious design upo_ne of his fingers, and a soft hat. His hands were very thin and white, hi_kin pale. Frieda, rosy, as thoughtless as a butterfly, charmingly clothed i_ dress of blue linen, laughing, afraid of him because of his reputation,
  • attracted his attention at once. She was like all the young, healthy, laughin_irls he had ever known, delightful. He wished he were single again that h_ight fall into a jesting conversation with her. She seemed inclined to b_riendly from the first.
  • Angela being present, however, and Frieda's foster mother, it was necessar_or him to be circumspect and distant. The latter, Sylvia and Angela, talke_f art and listened to Angela's descriptions of Eugene's eccentricities,
  • idiosyncrasies and experiences, which were a never-failing source of interes_o the common run of mortals whom they met. Eugene would sit by in _omfortable chair with a weary, genial or indifferent look on his face as hi_ood happened to be. To-night he was bored and a little indifferent in hi_anner. No one here interested him save this girl, the beauty of whose fac_ourished his secret dreams. He longed to have some such spirit of youth nea_im always. Why could not women remain young?
  • While they were laughing and talking, Eugene picked up a copy of Howard Pyle's
  • "Knights of the Round Table" with its warm heavy illustrations of th_rthurian heroes and heroines, and began to study the stately and exaggerate_haracteristics of the various characters. Sylvia had purchased it for he_even-year old boy Jack, asleep upstairs, but Frieda had read it in he_irlhood a few years before. She had been moving restlessly about, consciou_f an interest in Eugene but not knowing how to find an opportunity fo_onversation. His smile, which he sometimes directed toward her, was to he_ntrancing.
  • "Oh, I read that," she said, when she saw him looking at it. She had drifte_o a position not far behind his chair and near one of the windows. Sh_retended to be looking out at first, but now began to talk to him. "I used t_e crazy about every one of the Knights and Ladies—Sir Launcelot, Sir Galahad,
  • Sir Tristram, Sir Gawaine, Queen Guinevere."
  • "Did you ever hear of Sir Bluff?" he asked teasingly, "or Sir Stuff? or Si_ub?" He looked at her with a mocking light of humor in his eyes.
  • "Oh, there aren't such people," laughed Frieda, surprised at the titles bu_ickled at the thought of them.
  • "Don't you let him mock you, Frieda," put in Angela, who was pleased at th_irl's gayety and glad that Eugene had found someone in whom he could take a_nterest. She did not fear the simple Western type of girl like Frieda and he_wn sister Marietta. They were franker, more kindly, better intentioned tha_he Eastern studio type, and besides they did not consider themselve_uperior. She was playing the rôle of the condescending leader here.
  • "Certainly there are," replied Eugene solemnly, addressing Frieda. "They ar_he new Knights of the Round Table. Haven't you ever heard of that book?"
  • "No, I haven't," answered Frieda gaily, "and there isn't any such. You're jus_easing me."
  • "Teasing you? Why I wouldn't think of such a thing. And there is such a book.
  • It's published by Harper and Brothers and is called 'The New Knights of th_ound Table.' You simply haven't heard of it, that's all."
  • Frieda was impressed. She didn't know whether to believe him or not. Sh_pened her eyes in a curiously inquiring girlish way which appealed to Eugen_trongly. He wished he were free to kiss her pretty, red, thoughtlessly-parte_ips. Angela herself was faintly doubtful as to whether he was speaking of _eal book or not.
  • "Sir Stuff is a very famous Knight," he went on, "and so is Sir Bluff. They'r_nseparable companions in the book. As for Sir Dub and Sir Hack, and the Lad_ope—"
  • "Oh, hush, Eugene," called Angela gaily. "Just listen to what he's tellin_rieda," she remarked to Miss Roth. "You mustn't mind him though. He's alway_easing someone. Why didn't you raise him better, Sylvia?" she asked o_ugene's sister.
  • "Oh, don't ask me. We never could do anything with Gene. I never knew he ha_uch jesting in him until he came back this time."
  • "They're very wonderful," they heard him telling Frieda, "all fine ros_entlemen and ladies."
  • Frieda was impressed by this charming, good-natured man. His spirit wa_vidently as youthful and gay as her own. She sat before him looking into hi_miling eyes while he teased her about this, that and the other foible o_outh. Who were her sweethearts? How did she make love? How many boys lined u_o see her come out of church on Sunday? He knew. "I'll bet they look like _ine of soldiers on dress parade," he volunteered, "all with nice new ties an_lean pocket handkerchiefs and their shoes polished and—"
  • "Oh, ha! ha!" laughed Frieda. The idea appealed to her immensely. She starte_iggling and bantering with him and their friendship was definitely sealed.
  • She thought he was delightful.