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The Unlit Lamp

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
“GOOD LORD!” said young Vincelle, turning up the the collar of his overcoat. “I didn’t know we were going to the ends of the earth.” “It’s worth it,” said his friend. They sat in total darkness while the hired hack dragged them up the hills of Staten Island; it was a bitter night, and Vincelle wasn’t prepared for it. He shivered and pulled the rug higher over his knees. He was taking a little more than his share of that rug, but Pendleton, feeling himself more or less responsible for the cold, made no complaint. It was he who had persuaded Vincelle to make the arduous trip from Brooklyn to Staten Island, to attend a dance, and to see the prettiest girl there was to see. And Vincelle was a fellow accustomed only to cities, to warm, well-lighted houses and theatres and swift transitions in street cars and hansom cabs; he was, moreover, not adaptable and not compliant. He looked out of the window with a sort of dismay; nothing but bare trees against a sinister night sky; now and then a lighted house in a big garden. The horse went steadfastly forward, with a monotonous jerking of his head; outside on the box loomed the swathed and shapeless figure of the coachman, who didn’t appear to be driving, but to be waiting to get somewhere. “Is it much farther?” asked Vincelle, in an ominous voice. “It’s not really far from the ferry,” said his friend. “Only being uphill all the way makes it seem longer.” “I’m numb with cold.... Why the devil wasn’t I satisfied with the pretty girls in Brooklyn?” “It’s worth it, I tell you!” Pendleton assured him, earnestly. “I’ve never had such good times in my life as I’ve had at the Masons’. Informal, but a good tone, you know. Charming people!” Vincelle didn’t answer at all. He made up his mind to be very critical; he felt that the Masons needed to be almost superhumanly charming to compensate for so much discomfort. They began the ascent of an outrageous hill, and the cheerful Pendleton, looking out of his window, announced that they were “practically there—the house is at the top of this hill.” He turned down the collar of his coat and gave his silk hat a careful rub with his sleeve; he began to stir about under the rug. But Vincelle made no preparations whatever; he intended to look cold and uncomfortable; it was not for him to please, but to be pleased. The carriage entered a gravel driveway with a sudden burst of speed, and drew up under a porte cochère. Lights were shining from the long windows curtained in white, and the sound of their wheels had brought a man-servant to the door. For a moment Vincelle lingered while Pendleton made his arrangement with the driver, and then they entered the house together. And it astonished Vincelle. It was so extraordinarily full of light and colour; on either side of the hall were open doors, showing big rooms brightly carpeted, with blazing fires and flowers everywhere. From some distant region he heard voices, laughter, footsteps. The man-servant ushered them into a smaller room, carpeted in red, and lined with book shelves, where on a little table before the hearth stood a huge punch bowl; he proffered and they accepted; then he led them up the fine stairway to a bedroom which was hospitably ready for them with a roaring fire. He returned with a jug of hot water.