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.