The Complete Stories (Page 240)
Alexander, despite his sore heart, found spirit to deny the unintended slur upon his class. "Alcoholic, Professor? This punch is made along those principles firmly adhered to by all young college students. It contains only the purest of fruit juices, refined sugar, and a certain quantity of lemon peel- enough to stimulate but not inebriate."
"Good," said the professor. "Now I have added to the hormone a sedative designed to put our experimental subjects to sleep for a short time while the hormone works. Once they awaken, the first individual each sees-that is, of course, of the opposite sex-will inspire that individual with a pure and noble ardor that can end only in marriage."
Then, since it was nearly midnight, he made his way through the happy couples, all dancing at four-fingers’ distance, to the punch bowl.
Alexander, depressed nearly to tears, stepped out to the balcony. In doing so, he just missed Alice, who entered the ballroom from the balcony by another door.
"Midnight," called out a happy voice. "Toast! Toast! Toast to the life ahead of us."
They crowded about the punch bowl; the little glasses were passed round.
"To the life ahead of us," they cried out and, with all the enthusiasm of young college students, downed the fiery mixture of pure fruit juices, sugar, and lemon peel, with-of course-the professor’s sedated amatogenic principle.
As the fumes rose to their brains, they slowly crumpled to the floor.
Alice stood there alone, still holding her drink, eyes wet with unshed tears. "Oh, Alexander, Alexander, though you doubt, yet are you my only love. You wish me to drink and I shall drink." Then she, too, sank gracefully downward.
Nicholas Nitely had gone in search of Alexander, for whom his warm heart was concerned. He had seen him arrive without Alice and he could
only assume that a lovers’ quarrel had taken place. Nor did he feel any dismay at leaving the party to its own devices. These were not wild youngsters, but college boys and girls of good family and gentle upbringing. They could be trusted to the full to observe the four-finger limit, as he well knew.
He found Alexander on the balcony, staring moodily out at a star-riddled sky.
"Alexander, my boy." He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. "This is not like you. To give way so to depression. Chut, my young friend, chut."
Alexander’s head bowed at the sound of the good old man’s voice. "It is unmanly, I know, but I yearn for Alice. I have been cruel to her and I am justly treated now. And yet, Mr. Nitely, if you could but know-" He placed his clenched fist on his chest, next his heart. He could say no more.
Nitely said, sorrowfully, "Do you think because I am unmarried that I am unacquainted with the softer emotions? Be undeceived. Time was when I, too, knew love and heartbreak. But do not do as I did once and allow pride to prevent your reunion. Seek her out, my boy, seek her out and apologize. Do not allow yourself to become a solitary old bachelor such as I myself. -But, tush, I am puling."
Alexander’s back had straightened. "I will be guided by you, Mr. Nitely. I will seek her out."
"Then go on in. For shortly before I came out, I believe I saw her there."
Alexander’s heart leaped. "Perhaps she searches for me even now. I will go- But, no. Go you first, Mr. Nitely, while I stay behind to recover myself. I would not have her see me a prey to womanish tears."
"Of course, my boy."
Nitely stopped at the door into the ballroom in astonishment. Had a universal catastrophe struck all low? Fifty couples were lying on the floor, some neaped together most indecorously.
But before he could make up his mind to see if the nearest were dead, to sound the fire alarm, to call the police, to anything, they were rousing and struggling to their feet.
Only one still remained. A lonely girl in white, one arm outstretched gracefully beneath her fair head. It was Alice Sanger and Nitely hastened to her, oblivious to the rising clamor about him.
He sank to his knees. "Miss Sanger. My dear Miss Sanger. Are you hurt?"
She opened her beautiful eyes slowly, and said, "Mr. Nitely! I never realized you were such a vision of loveliness."
"I?" Nitely started back with horror, but she had now risen to her feet and there was light in her eyes such as Nitely had not seen in a maiden’s eyes for thirty years-and then only weakly.
She said, "Mr. Nitely, surely you will not leave me?"
"No, no," said Nitely, confused. "If you need me, I shall stay."
"I need you. I need you with all my heart and soul. I need you as a thirsty flower needs the morning dew. I need you as Thisbe of old needed Pyra-mus."
Nitely, still backing away, looked about hastily, to see if anyone could be hearing this unusual declaration, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. As nearly as he could make out, the air was filled with other declarations of similar sort, some being even more forceful and direct.
His back was up against a wall, and Alice approached him so closely as to break the four-finger rule to smithereens. She broke, in fact, the no-finger rule, and at the resulting mutual pressure, a certain indefinable something seemed to thud away within Nitely.
"Miss Sanger. Please."
"Miss Sanger? Am I Miss Sanger to you?" exclaimed Alice, passionately. "Mr. Nitely! Nichoks! Make me your Alice, your own. Marry me. Marry me!"
All around there was the cry of "Marry me. Marry me!" and young men and women crowded around Nitely, for they knew well that he was a Justice of the Peace. They cried out, "Marry us, Mr. Nitely. Marry us!"
He could only cry in return, "I must get you all licenses."