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To-day's Short Story.


To-day's Short Story. A CHANGED CRITIC. The critio yawned- onl-g an instant before he had written "finis" to a magazine article with a dadh of the pen across the last sheet. A brilliant conversationalist, his tongue lould be as scathing as his pen, and it was laid of him. with regard to the latter, that hi half a dozen polished sentences he could do mo-re towards danioiiig a. bock than, ,in-y two of his compeers. A bis. looeely made man was the critic, with grey eyes and pessimistic pose. Presently a servant brought him a visiting owd an a salver. "The lady would be obliged if you would prajit, her an interview, sir." Mrs Halcomb." mutterel the critic, read- mg the inscription. "I can't re-ca.11 the name. Bother the woman. What does she want? However, ask her to oome in, Blake." When she ent-ered-a fair, elegant woman of, perhaps, 25, in an irreproachable Parisian toilet-he was still more convinced that he had not the privilege of her acquaintance, "Mr. Everest?" she queried. Mr. Everest bowed. "Pray. take a eeat, madam." "No," she said, "I have come to quarrel ■with you, and I don't sit down in the houses of my enemies." "To quarrel with me." His eyebrows went up. The thought to him tbat his visi- tor was not in her right micd. "Yes. Perhaps I had better explain my- self at once. I am the author of 'Foot- Mr. Everest, standing perforce because she would, pulled his mt, while the fair etr&nge>r tapped iier 2so. 5 shoe on the carpet with impatience, and looked p-itchforke and daggers. Footlights,' he reftec-ted aloud. Ha." Oomprenension stole over his face, and with it a slight amusement. Here it is. Reviewed it, didn't I?" "No," she said, 'ou hanged and quartered it." I am. GQrry. May I ask how you found out I was the culprit?" Oh, by aocid-ent. It's a long story and unimportant, since you dont deny the imputation. Xow, Mr. Everest, I know it is very impertinent of me, a stranger, to come to your private addrese and worry you. I am doing a very unusual thing, I am afraid, and Mrs. Grundy would be horrified. But fools rash in,' you know, and wflows are privileged. You must have a little patience with me, because for the firrt time her lips relaxed, and she smiled a iittie smile that waz sweetness itseli-" well, just because I am a woman and you're a gentle- man. Acknowledge the truth, now on your honour. Don't you think you were un- necessarily harsh to my poor little literary effort?" N o," he said bluntly; "I always give my true opinion of things, and I consider your book Bad many fauns." "Of course, I admit that there are faults, but upon one or two points in your criticism I cannot agree with you. I should very much like to d^sexsss them with you, may 1?" Certainly." His mouth was twitching under his heavy moustache. But don't you think, pending the verdict, that you had better sit down? You will be fatigued. If you permit me to wheel this armchair nearer the lire for you—eo." Having carefully arranged it so that she ehould face the light, lle coated hiimeeif opposite heT. "I should very much like to know," she said, "what you think of my coming here." I think you are plucky-yes, and reck- lessly unconventional." "Candid, at any rate. And I like that." She looked up. "Now for the first indictment on the list, Mr. Everest. You accuse me of improbability. I deny it." His manner bordered on pre-cccupation. In tlruth he waa thinking what wonderful lashes ehe had, and how becoming a flush of excite- ment could be to a clear, pale skin. "You assert," she continued warmly, "that it is ridiculous to sappoee that a man and woman of the world could fail in love at nrst sight, as I make my hero and heroine do. and that such proceedings are limited to boys and girls in their teens and the pages of penny fiction. I should have thoaght that yon would have shown wider sympat-hies." "Then you really believe that adult, sen- sible people conceive sneh abrupt attach- ment ?" "I am convinced that it Laippena fre- quently. "Ob, oome; not frequently." "Well, someftimes," she amended. "I could give you a dozen instances." He lacked the heart to argue with her. It would have been like breaking a butterfly on a wheel. "Well. suppose we let that slide for the moment, and proceed to indictment number two. What other phrase of mine do you take exception to?" "You raid tha.t I had not the remotest idea of corus-truct-ion. and that Foot Id gilts' was evidently a specimen of that objectionable class of fiction wMch you regretted to see was growing po prevalent— the amateur novel, bora of vanity and a lack of wholesome occupation." Her voice died away with a tremor. He had only stated the truth, l>at that fa-at did not preveat him from feeling as if he had committed a peculiarly brutal murder, and the ghort of the rk-tim had come to arraign him before all the people whose opinions he jilted most. "1-1 cried," she murmured pathetically. Her Qni-rered. Be ids of perspiration to the man's forehead "Good Heavens, if I had only gn-essed how :noh I should hurt you. It was har«?h, iicnstrons. No (1?lJ.Gt, I was in a bad temper, ird your .unfortunate book was the first thing that afforded ma an opportunity to "rent my spleen." S,he a six square inches of cambric and lace to the corner of an eyelid. "If you'll orly believe me wb-en I tell you that I am sorrier than I can say." "Then you acknoTriedge that you were Heedlessly cruel?" I was brut *J." He would have committed blacker perjtnry as sibe wrped t,hat tear away. "And that I had just cause for indigna- tion?" "You were perfectly right." A smile broke like April sunshine over her face. "in that cae-e I guppoe« I must forgive you." TIe was ridiculously grateful. He heaved a sigh of relief and hesitated, with his twtnd ÐIIl the button of the el-metric bell. "You know the Arab custom of taking salt with one's friends? As a token of goodwill, permit me to give you the prosaic English eo'iivsJent of a cup of tea." TSo offer wais tempting, the room was hot, and she had tÛkeù a great deal. &he yielded, and more. When the refreshments came, accompanied by wonderful sweetmeats, she asked permission to poor it out for him with oIL winning gTaciomsness which charmed him. It afforded him an odd sense of pleasure. too. to see hor white fingers moving about I the china. He was unaccustomed to the presence of women in his home. With the Japanese table between them. they chatted for awhile, and then the clock on the mantelpiece struck six. She rose, with a pretty gesture of dismay, like a seoond i Cinderella: Do you know that I have been a whole hour wasting your valuable time." I thought it had been ten minutes," he answered, "and the pleaeantest time of my life. Very pretty," she said, blushing faintly. And in return for it let me tell you my Address is on my card, and that my 'day is Thursday. ALso, I mnst thank you very aeartily for your kindness and courtesy to in impertinent intruder. Very few men liouId have been so considerate." "Plea=te don't thank me. It is I who owa 7011 a debt of gratitude. You have taught v ne something I never expected to learn." What?" "That the conduct of your hero lid leroine was not improbable at all." Their eyes met- The woman's dropped, elf-conscious, pleased. Yon really mean that?" "Cn my soul, I do." The most delicious softness was in her voice. "It makes me so proud and happy to think I have convinced you." 3 1 -moothed a There was a silence. She smoothed a wrinkle in her suede glove. He twisted a button on -his coat. Then she aroused her- self, with a little laugh, and extended her hnd. Well. good-bye, and once more, thank you. He pressed her fingers ever so lightly. Not good-bye," he murmured. An revoir."


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