A NARROW ESCAPE

The curtain had fallen on the last scene of the most popular play in
London. The appreciative criticism of the pit and the tearful sympathy
of the upper boxes were alike merging in one common thought, that
of ‘something nice for supper.’ The gallery was already empty. Its
occupants were thirstier and more prompt of action than the loungers
in the stalls and boxes. Ladies, a little flushed by the exertion of
fighting their way through the ranks of their peers, were silently
disputing for precedence in front of the looking-glasses in the
cloak-rooms, while their cavaliers, already invested with overcoat and
wrapper, were pacing the carpeted corridor outside with a very poor
show of patience. The most impatient of them all was a stout, rubicund
old gentleman in a dark coat, who trotted fretfully up and down, and
now and then even ventured to peep in through the door at the chaos
of silks and laces, raised shawls, and suspended bonnets, in some
component part of which he evidently had an interest.

His very manifest objection to being kept waiting made his
fellow-sufferers glance at him with some amusement. A young man who
had been going leisurely towards the outer door actually stopped and
leaned against the wall while he rolled himself a cigarette, and from
time to time glanced with a certain interest at him. He looked very
handsome leaning there; his light overcoat was open, and showed the
gleam of some rather good diamonds in his shirt front. His pose was
graceful–his face had less of boredom in it than is usually worn by
young men who go to theatres alone. This, with his large dark eyes,
Greek nose, and long drooping blonde moustache, gave him a rather
striking appearance. He might have been a foreigner but for his want of
skill in making cigarettes. The white hands seemed absolutely awkward
in their manipulation. Just as his persevering efforts were crowned
with success, and the cigarette was placed between his lips, a white
muffled figure emerged from the tossing rainbow sea, and a little hand
was slipped through the old gentleman’s arm.

‘Desperately tired of waiting, I suppose, papa?’ said a very sweet
voice.

‘I should think so. What a time you’ve been, my dear! I thought I had
lost you. All the cabs will be gone.’

‘Oh no, dear; the theatre isn’t half empty. I was quite the first lady
to come out, I’m sure.’

‘You may have been the first to go in, but there have been lots of
ladies come out while I’ve been waiting–dozens, I should say.’

‘Couldn’t we walk back, papa?’ said the girl. ‘It’s a lovely night, and
the streets are so interesting. It isn’t far, is it?’

‘No, no–the idea! Make haste, and we’ll get a cab right enough. Mamma
will never let us have a trip together again if I take you back with a
cold.’

By this time they had passed down the stairs, and the tall
cigarette-maker sauntered streetwards also.

But getting a cab was not so easy. That white chenille wrap had taken
too long to arrange, and now there were so many people ready and
waiting for cabs that a man not at home in this Babel had hardly a
chance.

‘Papa’ was so intent on hailing a four-wheeler himself that he was deaf
to the offers of assistance from the ragged battalions that infest the
theatre doors, and seem to get their living, not by calling cabs, which
they seldom if ever do, but by shutting the doors and touching their
hats when people have called cabs for themselves.

He was a little short-sighted, and made several attempts to get
into other people’s broughams, under the impression that they were
unattached ‘growlers,’ and was only restrained by his daughter’s
energetic interference.

At last, driven from the field by the crowds who knew their way about
better than he did, he yielded to the girl’s entreaties, and walked
towards the Strand, hoping to be able to hail a passing vehicle. They
advanced slowly, for the pavement was crowded.

‘We really had better walk,’ she was saying again, when the crowd round
them was suddenly thrown into a state of disturbance and excitement,
and they were pushed backwards against the wall.

‘Oh, dear, what is it?’ she cried.

‘Look out, miss!’ said a rough-looking man, in a fur cap, catching her
shoulders, and pulling her back so violently that her hand was torn
from her father’s arm, and at the same moment the crowd separated to
right and left.

Then she saw what it was. A pair of spirited carriage horses had either
taken fright, or had grown tired of the commonplace routine of wood
pavement and asphalte, and had decided to try a short cut home through
the houses, utterly regardless of the coachman, who was straining with
might and main at the reins.

Their dreadful prancing hoofs were half-way across the pavement, and
the pole of the carriage was close to someone’s chest–good heavens!
her father’s–and he, standing there bewildered, seemed not to see it.
She would have sprung forward, but the rough man held her back.

‘Papa! papa!’ she screamed, and at the sound of her voice he started,
and seemed to see for the first time what threatened him. He saw it too
late–the pole was within six inches of his breast-bone. But someone
else had seen it to more purpose, and at that instant the head of the
off horse was caught in a grasp of iron, and the pair were dragged
round, to the imminent danger of some score of lives, while the
carriage was forced back on to a hansom cab, whose driver disappeared
into the night in a cloud of blasphemy.

‘Well, I’m damned!’ remarked the gentleman in the fur cap, who had
snatched the girl out of danger; ‘it’s the nearest shave as ever I see.’

It had been a near shave; but the old gentleman was unhurt, though
considerably flustered, and immeasurably indignant.

‘Hurt? No, I’m not hurt–no thanks to that fool of a driver; such
idiots ought to be hanged. But I ought to thank the gentleman who saved
me.’

As he spoke the young man came forward deadly pale and without a hat.




‘I do hope you’re not hurt,’ he said, in a singularly low, soft voice,
speaking with a little catching of the breath. It was he who had leaned
against the wall in the theatre. His hands were evidently good for
something better than twisting tobacco. ‘I hope the pole did not touch
you? I am afraid I was hardly quick enough, but I couldn’t get through
the people before.’

‘My dear sir, you were quick enough to save me from being impaled
against this wall; but I really feel quite upset. I must get my
daughter home. She looks rather queer.’

She was holding his arm tightly between her hands.

‘Do let’s go home,’ she whispered.

‘I’ll get you a cab,’ said the hero. ‘You’ll probably get one easily
now the mischief’s done.’

‘He’s lost his hat,’ observed the rescued one, as the other
disappeared. ‘Do you feel very bad, my pet? Pull yourself together.
Here he comes.’

A hansom drew up in front of them, and their new acquaintance threw
back the apron himself.

‘You’d better take it yourself,’ said papa. ‘You seem rather lame, and
your hat’s gone.’

‘It doesn’t matter at all. I can get another cab in an instant. Pray
jump in.’

‘No; but look here. I haven’t half thanked you. After all, you saved my
life, you know. Come and see me to-morrow evening, will you, and let me
thank you properly. Here’s my card–I’m at Morley’s.’

‘I will come with pleasure to see if you are all right after it, but
please don’t talk any more about thanks, Mr–Stanley. Here’s my card.
Good night–Morley’s Hotel,’ he shouted to the cabman, and as they
drove off he mechanically raised his hand to the place where his hat
should have been. Have you ever seen a man do that when hat there was
none? The effect is peculiar–much like a rustic pulling a forelock
when t’squire goes by.

‘I hope he _will_ come to-morrow,’ said Mr Stanley as the hansom drove
off.

‘Why, I think he’s staying at our hotel, papa. I am almost sure I’ve
seen him at the _table d’hôte_.’

‘Dear, dear! How extraordinary.’

Clare was more than ‘almost sure’ in fact, she knew perfectly well
that this handsome stranger was not only staying at the hotel, but that
he in his turn was quite aware of their presence there. Of her presence
he could hardly be oblivious, since his eyes had been turned on her
without much intermission all through dinner every evening since she
had been in town.

Before Clare went to her room that night she managed to possess herself
of the slip of cardboard on which was engraved–Michael Litvinoff.

What an uncommon name! How strange that he of all people should have
been the one to come forward at the critical moment.

Yes, but not quite so strange as it seemed to Miss Stanley; for
Litvinoff had gone to the theatre for no other purpose than to be near
her. It was not only to gaze at her fair face that he thus followed
her; but because he was determined to catch at any straw which might
lead to an introduction, and the fates had favoured him, as they
had often done before, in a degree beyond his wildest hopes. He was
well contented to have lost his hat, and did not care much about his
bruised foot. These were a cheap price to pay for admittance to the
acquaintance of the girl who had occupied most of his thoughts during
the few days that had passed since he had first seen her.

‘A very fair beginning. The gods have certainly favoured me so far; and
now, O Jupiter, aid us! or rather Cupid, for I suppose he’s the proper
deity to invoke in an emergency like this.’

And Michael Litvinoff stretched out his slippered feet to the blazing
fire in his bedroom.

‘By-the-way, I might as well look at the address. I know it’s somewhere
down North.’

He rose, walked with some difficulty to the chair, where he had flung
his great-coat, and took the card from one of its pockets. ‘Mr John
Stanley, Aspinshaw, Firth Vale.’

‘By Jove!’ he said, sinking into his chair again. ‘Firth Vale–Firth
Vale. That’s in Derbyshire. Ah me!’

He thrust his feet forward again to the warmth, and leaning back gazed
long into the fire, but not quite so complacently as he had done before
it had occurred to him to make that journey across the room to his
great-coat.