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Which Took Him?

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Mrs. Vincent, widowed and wealthy, looked haughty and fiefce. It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and the sim took the liberty to intrade through the window into the library, furnished in purple leather and walled with books, which had had a pretty complete rest for the ten years that the late Vincent had been in nis grave. Mrs. Vincent sat and glared. Her dark, prominent and wrathfnlly astonished eyes had for their target a young man, in whose bearing appeared a singular mixture of deference and defiance. He, on his part, saw bef ore him a lady under fif ty, but not far. The lips were yet full and red, and her figure, though ampie, still retained agreeable lines. If her hair was white, the black eyebrows held their color and emphasized the air of conxmand to which the Roman contour of the nose most contributed. "Well, I never!" she cried, slapping down a paak of cards on the table. The man siniled slightly. A young man, with curly brown hair, cheerful blue eyes, uptwisted mustache and a firm chin - a fresh, alert, compact, healthy young man, whose loose, elegant costume proved that he understood how to achieve that careless grace which so charms women. An intelligent young man , with cynical confidence in his smile. He stood unfrightened, just the sort of young man who should not be what he was - secretary to a mature California street widow of spotless reputation and large means. "Well, I never!" the lady exclaimed. The younsi man spoke resolutelv: "No, Mrs. Vincent; I shall play piquet with you no more. Piquet is a good enough game, and I am not averse to it, in reason; but I object to piquet in the forenoon, in the afternoon and in the eveniag, six days in the week. I confesa I'm tired of piquet." "In that case, and because of yonr insolence," said Mrs. Vincent, with cold deliberación, "you mayconsider yourself discharged, Mr. Middles." "Very well, ma'am." And he turned towiird the door. 'Mr. Middles!" Iïe halted, his hand on the portiere, añil faced about. Slie placed her glasses on her modified Roman nose, viewed him steadily and, toying with the cards, inquired: "Would an increase of salary be any inducement, sir?" "No." "Thengo!" He bowed and disappeared. Her hand sought the bell. Jeames, ir livery, both imported from London, responded. "Hoggins, Mr. Middles is in the hall. Say to liún that I wish to see him." The secretary returned, overcoat on arm, hat in hand. Mrs. Vincent threw herself back in her chair and, clasping her plump, white liands above her head, said in the conciliatory tone of the negotiator: "Mr. Middles, let us not act hastily. I acknowledge that I cannot well spare you. Nest to ïnyself you are the best piquet player this side of New York." "I know it, Mrs. Vincent. Indeed I play better than you." "Yon do not!" "I do." His frozen calmness cowed her. There was feeling in her words that f olio wed: "You loved my husband, did yon not?"' "I did. He was a father to me. I o we rny education to hiin, and - and" "All that yon are." "Which is not rnnch, Mrs. Vincent." "He was yonr benefactor and you loved him, yet you refuse so litile a thiug as to play piquet with your benefactor's widow." "I do. Gratitude bas its limits." "Evidently. You will not humor an old woman's wealmess and lighten the barden of her lonelüiess?" "I will not. Besides it is not a weakness, but a disease, this insanity for piquet. Moreover, yon are not old. On the contrary, Mrs. Vincent, you are still a charming woman, and by withdrawing yourself from the world and giving yourself over to cards you wrong yourself. Worse than that, you f aü in your duty to your daagbter, who has the life of a mm." "That is nothing to you, sir!" "True." Again he moved toward the door. "Will nothing," asked the lady in alarm, "induce you to sit down to a game with me - just one?" "Nothing that you would give, Mrs. Vincent." "Pooh! You know very well that 111 give anything you ask, I can't do without j'ou. What is it you want?" "Yourself." "Eh? Yon mean" "That neither as secretary, protege, nor friend shall I pi ay piquet with you again. As your husband I will." "God bless my soul!" To no woman unburied can an offer be either long surprising or disagreeable. It was with warmed cheeks and softened eyes that the widow said: "Do I understand that - that you - you love me, Ernst?" Mr. Middles bowed, but averted his glance. Shc' sighed and murmured: "Ah, I ain rich." "Precisely, Mrs. Vincent. You are rich, you love to piay piquet, ana i am the best player on the Pacific coast. If you will marry me, I will play; if not, not." "Well?" "Under the circumstances, I do not see that more can rationally be said." "Cut the cards." Eighteen, golden haired, slim, supple, adorable Adele Vincent flashed her scornful eyes on the visage of Mr. Middles, who, undisturbed, sat at ease in the conservatory. Mrs. Vincent played solitaire in the adjoining library, awaiting her affianced and piqnet. "Why, mamma, is old enough to be your mother, Ernst Middles." "I know it." "Your motive in making this monstrous engagement must be purely mercenary." "Strictly." "And you feel no shame in making the admission?" "None." "Faugh!" "Thanks." "For what?" 'For so well expressing my feelings." She sank upon a lounge, her pretty f eet crossed, covered her face with her little hands, and her lovely young body was shaken with sobs. "Don't cry," said Mr. Middles. "I can't help it. Oh, it is infamous!" "Yes. Still I congratúlate myself." "Congratúlate yourself!" "Enthusiastically. I have neither the brains nor energy to conquer a fortune, therefore I marry one." "You can descend to that?'" "I rejoice to find that I can. I am not the fooi that I might be. Many men quarrel with their luck. I discover that I am too wise for such f olly. Compose yourself, my dear Adele. 111 be a father to you." "A father! You are but eight years older than I. Oh, Ernst, consider. You have been a son to mamma and a brother to me. We have grown from childhood together. Papa loved you. Don't, I beg of you, don't make us all ridiculous!" "My word is given, Adele. As a gentleman, I must keep it." "A gentleman, indeed! 1 thought you a man, with a man's courage, a man's honor. Oh!" "Calm yourself." "Calin yourself! You put me' to humiliation and sell yourself and your talents for " "The prizes that talent gives yeaxs of conflict to win. I get the prizes without the conflict." "The brave young man who was to face the world and achieve!" "I have outgrown the illusions of youth, Adele." "And you will marry a woman in whose crazed sight your chief merit is your skill at piquet?" "You have said it." "At least you have the decency not to pretend that you love mamma." "Love is a luxury, and luxury is not for the poor. No; I do not love your mother. I love you." "Me!" "I have for years." "You - you - never" "Never told you. Why should I? Wonld you share poverty with me, Adele? Would I, loving you, permit you? You speak of my talents. I have tried to use them. They do not exist." "And you" "Yes, with my whole heart and soul. Love you! God! It is not in me to express how much!" "I'm very glad to hear it," said Mrs. Vincent, wholly opening the library door. "Mamma!" "One word, Ernst Middles. Would you as Adele's husband, and provided for, play piquet with me?" "With pleasure." "You'd better marry him, Adele, my child." "Oh, mamma! after what has happened?" "Come, Mr. Middles, the cards are waiting." "But I'm neither your husband nor your son-in-law, Mrs. Vincent." "So. Adele make up your min.d; yes or no. Evidently it must be one or the other of us. Now, Mr. Middles; piquet, if you please." "Not until after the ceremony,