A NIGHT’S ENCHANTMENT

So much depended upon every one’s utter lack of nervousness and
embarrassment that Shaw, the stage manager, decided that my presence at
the final rehearsal would only add to the tension, and was therefore
unnecessary. The “star” complained that her efforts to interpret my
lines to my satisfaction were wearing her thin, while the “leading man”
declared that he could not enter naturally into the spirit of the comedy
so long as he knew I was watching from across the front.

To tell the truth, I was not unagreeable. There were many things I
wanted to change, and I knew that if I once got headway I should have to
write the play all over; and that was not in the contract. My room was
better than my company. So Shaw gave me a card to The Players and left
me there in the care of a distinguished fellow dramatist.

We had a capital dinner, and our exchange of experiences would have made
a book equal in length to _Revelation_. What a time a fellow has to get
a manager to listen to a better play than he has yet produced! I’m
afraid that we said many uncomplimentary things about actors in general
and managers in particular. The actor always has his own idea, the
manager has his, and between them the man who wrote the play is pretty
well knocked about. But when the play is produced every one’s idea
proves of some use, so I find.

In spite of the good dinner and the interesting conversation, I found
myself glancing constantly at my watch or at the clock, thinking that at
such and such a time to-morrow night my puppets would be uttering such
and such a line, perhaps as I wanted them to utter it, perhaps as they
wanted to utter it. It did not matter that I had written two successful
novels and a popular comedy; I was still subject to spells of diffidence
and greenness. Much depended upon this second effort; it was, or it was
not, to establish me in New York as a playwright of the first order.

I played a game of billiards indifferently well, peered into Booth’s
room and evoked his kindly spirit to watch over my future, smoked
incessantly, and waited impatiently for Shaw’s promised telephone call.
The call came at ten-thirty, and Shaw said that three acts had gone off
superbly and that everything pointed to a big success. My spirits rose
wonderfully. I had as yet never experienced the thrill of a curtain
call, my first play having been produced while I was abroad. If they
called me before the curtain my cup was full; there was nothing left in
the world but to make money, all other thrills having come and departed.
All at once I determined to run up town to the theater and steal in to
see the last act. So I called for my hat and coat, apologized to my
friend, and went forth into the night–and romance!

Gramercy Park is always still at night, quiet even in the very heart of
turmoil. Only an indefinable murmur drifted over from the crowded life
of Broadway. I was conning over some lines I thought fine, epigrams and
fragmentary philosophy.

“Hurry! We have only half an hour!”

The voice, soft and musical, broke the silence ere my foot had left the
last step. Amazed, I looked in the direction whence came this symphony
of vocal allurement. A handsome coupé, with groom and footman, stood at
the curb. A woman in evening gown leaned out. I stopped and stared. The
footman at the door touched his hat. I gazed over my shoulder to see if
any one had come out of the club at the same time as myself. I was
alone.

“Hurry! I have waited at least half an hour. We haven’t a moment to
waste.”

Some one in the upper rooms of the club lifted a shade to open a window,
and the light illuminated her features. She was young and very handsome.
A French wit once said that the whisper of a beautiful woman can be
heard farther than the loudest call of duty. Now, I honestly confess
that if she had been homely, or even moderately good-looking, I should
have politely explained to her that she had made a peculiar mistake. I
was somebody else. As it was, with scarce any hesitation I stepped into
the carriage, and the footman closed the door. To this day I can not
analyze the impulse that led me into that carriage: Fate in the guise of
mischief, Destiny in the motley and out for a lark, I know not which,
nor care.

“I am sorry to have kept you waiting,” said I.

“I thought you would never come.”

Thought I would never come? The coupé started off at a rate likely to
bring us under the vigilant eyes of the police. We pared the corner
neatly and swung into Broadway, going up town. The theaters were
emptying, and here and there the way was choked with struggling cabs;
but our driver knew his business, and we were never delayed more than a
moment. Not another word was spoken till we reached Thirty-fourth
Street. I was silent because I had nothing to say.

“One after another they came out. I thought you would never, never come.
I had all I could do to keep from going into the club after you!” She
tore off her long, white gloves and flung them (savagely, I thought)
into her lap.

Going into the club after me? Heavens! What a scandal I had escaped!
What the deuce was it all about, anyway? Who was I? What was expected of
me? My nerve lost a particle of its strength, but I could not back out
now. It was too late. I was in for some sort of excitement. I had always
been skeptical about mistaken identity. This was to be my conversion.

“You will never forgive me, I know, for waiting outside a club for you.”
She snuggled over to her side of the carriage.

“Yes, I will!” I replied with alacrity. Who wouldn’t forgive her? I
moved closer.

The blue light of the arc-lamps flashed into the window at frequent
intervals. Each time I noted her face as best I could. It was as
beautifully cut as a Cellini cameo, and as pale as ivory under friction.
You will laugh. “They are always beautiful,” you will say. Well, who
ever heard of a homely woman going a-venturing? Besides, as I remarked,
it wouldn’t have been an adventure if she had been homely, for I
shouldn’t have entered the carriage. To be sure, I was proving myself a
cad for not enlightening her as to her error in the matter of
identification; but I was human and young, and rather fond of my
Stevenson, and this had all the charm and quality of the New Arabian
Nights.

“It is all so terrible!” Her voice was tense; there was a note of agony
in it that was real. She was balling her handkerchief, and I could see
that her fingers were long and white and without jewels, though I caught
the intermittent glimmer of a fine necklace circling an adorable throat.
What a fine chance for a rascal!

I wondered if she would have me arrested when she found out? Was I
married, single, a brother, a near friend? What the deuce was her
trouble? Ought I to kiss her? My double was a fortunate duffer. How I
envied him!

“Women are so silly sometimes. I do not know why I was dragged into
this,” she said.

Dragged into what? Had a crime been committed, or had some one run away
with another man’s wife? Heavens! we might be eloping and I not know
anything about it! I shivered, not with fear, but with a strange
elation.

“How could I have done it? How could I? Terrible!”

“It must be,” I admitted readily. No, a woman does not elope in her
ball-gown. Perhaps we were going after the trunks.

“To think that he would force me into a thing like this!”–vehemently.

“I see that there is nothing left for me to do but to punch his head.” I
thought I was getting on famously.

She gave me a swift, curious glance.

“Oh, I am brave enough,” said I. I wondered if she had noticed that I
was a passably good-looking man, as men go.

“What is done is done,”–wearily. “Retrospection will do us no good.”

“What do you wish me to do?” I asked presently.

It was like writing a composite novel, no one knowing what the other
chapters were about. I had already forgotten that I had written a play
which was to be produced the following night; I forgot everything but
the potent charm of the mystery which sat beside me and which I was
determined to unravel, as they say in detective stories.

“What do you wish me to do?” I repeated.

“I will tell you when the time comes. For your own sake, be advised by
me and do nothing rash. You are so impulsive.”

For my own sake do nothing rash: I was so impulsive! My hand wandered
toward the door-latch, and fell. No! I would stick it out, whatever
happened.

“You are not afraid, are you?” she asked.

“Afraid of what?”–adroitly.

“I was right in waiting for you,”–simply.

Maybe; that remained to be seen.

We crossed under the Sixth Avenue “L,” and the roar of a passing train
silenced us for a time. Who was I, anyway? Where were we going? Why
didn’t she call me by some first name? So far she hadn’t given me a clue
to anything. An idea came to me.

“Are you wise in taking me there to-night?” I asked. This was very
cunning of me.

She coughed slightly and peered from the window. “Ten blocks more! Oh,
if only we dared go faster, faster, and have it all over with!”

“A policeman would delay us no inconsiderable time,” I cautioned. “And
think of its being reported in the papers! That wouldn’t help matters.
They are bad enough as they are.” Doubtless they were!

She said nothing.

“Courage, courage!” I said; “all will end well.” At least I sincerely
hoped it would end well. I reached over and touched her hand. She
withdrew that member of an exquisite anatomy as suddenly as if my touch
had stung her. Once more I found myself in a maze. Evidently, whoever I
was, I did not stand on such terms with her as to be allowed the
happiness of holding her hand. And I had almost kissed her!

Then a horrible thought scorched me. I had more than a thousand dollars
in my wallet. I snuggled over to my side of the carriage. The newspapers
were teeming with stories of new bunko-games, and this might be one of
the classics of getting-rich-quick on other people’s money. I slyly
buttoned up my coat. Anyhow, it was chilly.

On, on we rolled; light after light flashed into the window, gloom
followed gloom.

More than a thousand dollars was a large sum for an author to be
carrying about; and if the exploit turned out to be a police affair I
might be seriously questioned as to how an author came by so large a
sum. Yet, as I thought of her necklace, I felt my cheeks grow red with
shame. It’s so hard to doubt a beautiful young woman! Still, the jewels
might not be real. There were many false gems in New York, animate and
inanimate. If her jewels were genuine, two years’ royalties would not
have purchased the pear-shaped pearl pendant that gleamed at her throat.
If she was really an adventuress she was of a new type, and worth
studying from the dramatist’s point of view. Had she really mistaken me?
Quite accidentally I touched her cloak. It was of Persian lamb. Hang it,
adventuresses don’t go around in Persian lamb: not in New York. Ha! I
had it. I would find out what she was.

I leaned over quickly and kissed her cheek. There was not a sound, only
I felt her shudder. She wiped with her handkerchief the spot my lips had
touched. I was a cad and a wretch. When she did speak her tones were
even and low.

“I did not quite believe that of you.”

“I could not help it!” I declared, ready to confess that I was an
impostor; and as I look back I know that I told the truth when I said I
could not help it. I didn’t care where the carriage went, nor what the
end would be.

“And I trusted you!” The reproach was genuine.

I had nothing to say. My edifice of suspicions had suddenly tumbled
about my ears.

“I am sorry; I have acted like a cad. I am one,” I said finally.

“I was helpless. One after another the men we trust fail us.”

“Madam, I am a wretch. I am not the gentleman you have taken me for. I
have had the misfortune to resemble another gentleman.”

“I never saw you before in all my life, nor any person that resembles
you.”

I gasped. This was what the old dramatists called a thunderbolt from
heaven. I felt for my wallet; it was still in my pocket. Inconsistently,
I grew angry.

“Then, what the devil–!”

“Do not add profanity to ill-manners,” she interposed. “Perhaps I have
no right to complain. There is the door, sir; you have but to press the
button, stop the driver, and get out. I am in a terribly embarrassing
position to-night, one which my own folly has brought me to. It was
absolutely necessary that a gentleman should accompany me in this
carriage to my destination. When you came forth from your club–the only
club the exact location of which I am familiar with–you appeared to be
a gentleman, one I could trust to accompany me. To attract your
attention, and at the same time arouse your curiosity, I had to resort
to equivocal methods. It is an adventure, sir. Will you see it to the
end, or shall I press the button?”

“Permit me to ask a question or two!” I was mightily confused at the
turn of things.

“Perfect confidence in me, or I shall open the door.”

“In any other city but New York–”

“Yes or no!”–imperiously.

“Hang it, madam!”

Her hand went toward the electric button.

“To the end of the world, and no questions asked.”

Her hand dropped. “Thank you,”–gently.

“Curiosity is something we can’t help; otherwise I should not be here,
ass that I am! Chivalry isn’t all dead. If you are in trouble depend
upon me; only I must be back in New York by to-morrow night.”

“You will not leave the city. You have no fear?”

“I should not be here else.”

“Oh, but you must be imagining all sorts of terrible things.”

“I am doing some thinking, I’ll admit. How easily a woman can make a
fool of a man!”

“Sometimes.”

“I am a shining example. How you must have laughed at me! A pretty woman
has more power over a man’s destiny than all the signs of the Zodiac put
together. And it’s natural that he should want to kiss her. Isn’t it?”

“I am not a man.”

“A saint would have tripped. Put yourself in my place–”

“Thank you; I am perfectly satisfied.”

“A beautiful woman asks me to enter her carriage–”

“And, thinking that I had mistaken you for some one I knew, you kissed
me!”–derisively.

“I wished to learn where I stood in your affections.”

“A very interesting method of procedure!”

“And when I touched your hand you acted as if mine had stung you.”

“It did.”

“There’s no getting around that,”–resignedly. “Shall I tell you frankly
what I at one time took you to be?”

“If it will relieve your mind.”

“Well, I believed you to be some classic adventuress.”

“And you are sure I am not?”

“Positive now. You see, I have considerable money on my person.”

“Wouldn’t it be wise for you to hand it over to some policeman to keep
for you till to-morrow? Do not take any unnecessary risks. You do not
dream into what I am leading you.”

The carriage suddenly stopped.

“The journey is at an end,” she said.

“So soon?”

A moment later the door opened, and I stepped out to assist her to
alight. She waved me aside. We stood in front of some millionaire’s
palace. It was golden with illumination. Was it a wedding and was I to
be a witness? Or was some one making his will? Perhaps it was only a
ball or a reception. I stopped my cogitations. What was the use asking
myself questions? I should soon know all.

“Follow me,” she said, as she lightly mounted the steps.

I followed…. Here, in New York, the most unromantic city in all the
wide world! I was suddenly seized with nervousness and a partial failure
of the cardiac organs to perform their usual functions.

She turned to me. “There is yet time.”

“Time for what?”

“Time to run.”

“There was a moment…. Lead on,”–quietly. I thought of the young man
with the cream tarts.

She touched a bell, and the door opened, admitting us into the hall. A
servant took our belongings.

“Dinner is served, miss,” said the servant, eying me curiously, even
suspiciously.

It appeared that I was to dine! What the deuce did it all mean? A dinner
at suppertime! A very distressing thought flashed through my mind.
Supposing she had known me all along, and had lured me here to witness
some amateur performance. I shuddered. I flattered myself. There was no
amateur performance, as presently you shall see. I followed her into the
dining-room. Fortunately, I was in evening dress. I should at least be
presentable, and as cool as any man in the room. Comedy or tragedy, or
whatever it was going to be, I determined to show that I had good blood
in me, even though I had been played for a fool.

Around a table covered with exquisite linen, silver and glass sat a
party of elegantly dressed men and women. At the sight of us the guests
rose confusedly and made toward us with shouts of laughter, inquiry and
admiration. They gathered round my companion and plied her with a
hundred questions, occasionally stealing a glance at me. I saw at once
that I stood among a party of ultra-smart people. Somehow I felt that I
represented a part in their mad pastimes.

“Where did you find him?” cried one.

“Was it difficult?” asked another.

“I’ll wager he didn’t need much urging!” roared a gentleman with a
rubicund nose.

“He is positively good-looking!” said one woman, eying me boldly.

I bowed ironically, and she looked at her neighbor as if to say: “Why,
the animal understands what I say!”

“My friends,” said the girl, waving her hand toward me, “I have paid my
detestable forfeit.” Her tones did not bespeak any particular
enjoyment.

A wager! I stood alone, my face burning with chagrin. I could feel my
ears growing, like the very ass that I was. A wager!

“To table!” cried the gentleman with the rubicund nose. Evidently he was
host. “We must have the story in full. It certainly must be worth
telling. The girl has brought home a gentleman, I’m hanged!”

The guests resumed their chairs noisily.

The girl faced me, and for a space it was a battle of the eyes.

“Will you do me the honor?” she said half-mockingly, nodding toward the
only vacant chairs at the table.

“Would it not be wise for me to go at once?” I asked quietly.

“If you do not sit at the table with me I lose. But please
yourself,”–wearily. “It has all been very distasteful to me.”

“I will stay to the bitter end. My conceit and assurance need a
drubbing.” I offered her my arm. All eyes were centered upon us. She
hesitated. “We might as well go through this ordeal in a proper spirit
and manner,” I said. I rather believe I puzzled her.

She flushed slightly, but laid her hand on my arm, and together we
walked over to the vacant chairs and sat down. The laughter and hum of
voices ceased instantly.

In faith, I was becoming amused. They were going to have their fun with
me; well, two could play at that game.

II

The host rose, and, leaning on his fingertips, he addressed me: “Sir,
all this doubtless strikes you as rather extraordinary.”

“Very extraordinary,” I replied.

“To dine under such circumstances is not accorded to every man.”

“To which do you refer: the honor or the _modus operandi_?”

“Both. Now, an explanation is due you.”

“So I observe,”–gravely.

“The pleasure is mine. To begin with, permit me to introduce you to my
guests.” One by one he named them, the ladies and gentlemen. I had heard
of them all. Money had made them famous. “As for myself, I am Daniel
Ainsworth; this is my home. I dare say you have heard of me.”

“I have won money on your horses, sir,”–with all the gravity of
expression I found possible to assume.

My remark was greeted with laughter.

My host, composing his lips, resumed. “And now, sir, whom have I the
honor to address?”

“I am the author of many a famous poem,”–tranquilly.

“Ah!”

“Yes; anonymous. Sir, my name would mean nothing to you or your guests:
I am poor.”

There was a trace of admiration in the girl’s eyes as she turned her
head. “Besides,” I went on, “I want a little revenge.”

“Good!” bawled my host; “good! You’re a man of kidney, sir. A gentleman
is always a gentleman; and I do not need to look at you twice, sir, to
note that my niece’s choice has been a happy one.”

“You have not introduced me to your niece,” said I, “who is, next to
myself, the most important guest at the table.”

“Hang me! The young lady at your side is Miss Helen Berkeley, the best
horsewoman in the state, if I do say so myself.”

Great applause, as they say in the press gallery. I looked squarely at
the girl, but she was busy turning round her empty wine-glass.

“I appreciate the honor, sir,” I said; “but now will you favor me with
the _modus operandi_, or, to be particular, the reason of all this
mystery?”

“I approach that at once. This is leap year, as you will recollect. On
January first I gave a leap-year party, and in the spirit of fun each
lady present declared her intention of bringing to a series of late
dinners a gentleman whom none of us knew, either by sight or by
reputation. He was to be lured into a carriage by some story or other,
and was not to know the true state of things till he sat at the table.
My niece was the last on the list. Those who backed down were to give a
house-party of a week’s length. Women detest house-parties, and that is
the one reason why this comedy has gone down the line without a failure.
This is the eighth dinner. Each lady present has fulfilled her
obligation to the year. We have had some curious specimens of humanity:
a barber, a mild lunatic, a detective who thought he was on the trail of
some terrible crime, an actor, a political reformer, and an English
groom who palmed himself off as a lord. The actor and yourself, sir, are
the only men who seemed to possess any knowledge of the various uses of
dinner forks.”

“You haven’t seen me eat yet,” I interpolated. All this was highly
amusing to me. I was less a victim than a spectator.

“You will do us the honor of permitting us to criticize your knowledge
of the forks,” laughed Ainsworth. “Now, Nell, tell us how you lured Mr.
Anonymous into your carriage.”

Very quietly she recounted the tale. She omitted but one incident.

“In front of a club!” cried the ladies in unison. “Why in the world
didn’t we think of that?”

“Miss Berkeley has omitted one thing,” said I maliciously.

“And, pray, what?” asked Miss Berkeley’s uncle.

“Remember,” she whispered, “you are supposed to be a gentleman.”

I took umbrage at the word “supposed.”

“Miss Berkeley must tell you what she has omitted in the course of her
narrative.”

“And I refuse to tell.”

“Hang it, Nell, I’ll wager Mr. Anonymous kissed you!” cried her uncle.

“Caught!” cried one of the ladies.

“Allow me a word,” I interposed. I was already sorry. “There was a
method in my action which must not be misconstrued. I believed, for a
moment, that Miss Berkeley might be a new species of bunko-steerer. If
she objected noisily to my salute I should find my case proved; if she
cried, I was wrong.”

“And?”

“She did neither. She rubbed her cheek.”

“I’ll warrant!” my host bawled. “Oh, this is rich! A bunko-steerer!”

“Miss Berkeley,” I whispered, “we are quits.”

“Not yet,”–ominously.

It was almost time for me to go!

“I was going to ask your pardon,” said the uncle in his hunter-voice;
“but I think you have been paid for your trouble. Is there anything you
would like?”

“Three things, sir.”

“And these?” he asked, while every one looked curiously at me. I was
still an unknown quantity.

“My hat, my coat, and the way to the door, for I presume you have no
further use for me.”

My reply appealed to the guests as monstrous funny. It was some time ere
the laughter subsided. My host seemed threatened with an attack of
apoplexy.

“My dear sir,” said he, “I beg of you to remain, not as a source for our
merriment, but as the chief guest of honor. I believe you have won that
place.”

I turned to Miss Berkeley. “Do you bid me remain?”

Silence.

I placed my hand on the back of my chair, preparatory to sliding it from
under me. She stayed me.

“Do not go,”–softly. “I haven’t had my revenge.”

I sat down. I was curious to learn what color this revenge was going to
take. “Mr. Ainsworth, my compliments!”–raising my glass, being very
careful not to touch the contents.

“Bully!” cried my host, thumping the table with his fist. “James, a
dozen bottles of ’96. There’s a gentleman,”–nodding to those nearest
him; “you can tell ’em a mile off. A little shy of strangers,”
humorously falling into horse-talk, “but he’s money coming down the
home-stretch.”

Then everybody began to talk at once, and I knew that the dinner proper
was on the way.

“Aren’t you just a little above such escapades as this?” I asked of the
girl.

“Do not make me any more uncomfortable than I am,” she begged. “But
having gone into it I had too much courage to back down.”

“The true courage would have been to give the house-party.”

“But men always insist upon your marrying them at house-parties.”

“I see I have much to learn,”–meekly. “And the men are right.”

“What an escape I have had!”

“Meaning house-parties, or that I am a gentleman?”

“If you had not been a gentleman! For, of course, you are, since my
uncle has so dubbed you. If you had not been a gentleman!”

“If you had not been a lady! If you had been a bunko-steerer! And I do
not know that you are not one still. Do you believe me? I kept my hand
on my wallet pocket nearly all the time.”

“I understood you to say that you were poor.”

“Oh, I mean that I am too poor to hunt for excitement in bizarre
things.”

“Confess that you look upon me with a frank contempt!”–imperiously.

“Never!”

“That in your secret mind you write me down a silly fool.”

“Allow me to quote Dogberry–‘Masters, remember that I am an ass; though
it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass!’ Thus, I may
not call you a fool. Besides, it would be very impolite.”

“You neither eat nor drink. Why?”

“I demand to retain some of my self-respect.”

She leaned on her elbows, her chin in her palms. She had wonderful eyes,
and for as long a time as a minute these eyes impaled me on barbs of
light. “You must think us a pack of fools.”

“Oh, indeed, no; only rich.”

“That is almost an epigram,”–warningly. “You will lead me to believe
that you belong to smart society in some provincial town.”

“Heaven forfend!”–earnestly.

“But speak all the thought. Nothing prevents truth from either of us
to-night.”

“All of what thought?”

“We are not fools, only rich.”

“Well, I lower the bucket, then; and if I can bring truth to the top of
the well you will promise not to blush on beholding her?”

“I promise.”

“It is maddening and unhealthy to be rich and idle. The rich and idle do
such impossible things in the wild effort to pass away the dragging
hours. Society is not made up of fools: rather knaves and madmen. Money
and idleness result in a mild attack of insanity.”

“Thanks.”

“You are welcome. Shall I lower truth along with the butter of
flattery?”

“You may lower the butter of flattery. So that is how the great public
looks upon us?”

“Yes, in a way; while it envies you.”

“I have always been rich. What is poverty like?”

“It is comparative.”

“It must be horrid.”

“Poverty is ugly only when man himself is the cause of it.”

“Another epigram. I have always been under my uncle’s care,”–with the
slightest droop of the lips.

“Ah! His knowledge ends at the stable and begins at the table: horses
and vintages. If a woman had crossed his path he would have been a great
man.”

“Poor Uncle Dan! To him I am his favorite filly, and he has put huge
sums on me to win the ducal race. Everybody says that I’m to marry the
Duke of Roxclift.”

“And you?” I do not know why my heart sank a little as I put this
question.

“I? Oh, I’m going to balk at the quarter and throw the race. To-night,
what would you have done in my place?”

“Hailed a gentleman exactly like myself.”

She dallied with a rose, brushing it across her lips. “I do not know
why I desire your good opinion. Perhaps it’s the novelty of sitting
beside a man who does not believe in flattery.”

“Flattery is a truth that is not true. I think you are charming,
beautiful, engaging, enchanting, mystifying. I can think of no other
adjectives.”

“If flattery is a truth that is not true, then all your pretty
adjectives mean nothing.”

“Oh, but I do not flatter you. Men flatter homely women–homely women
who are rich and easily hoodwinked. What I have offered you in the line
of decorative adjectives your mirror has already told you time and time
again. If I said that you were witty, scholarly, scientific, vastly and
highly intellectual, not knowing you any better than I do, that would be
flattery. Do you grasp the point?”

“Nebulously. You are trying to say something nice.”

“We are getting on capitally. When I left the club to-night the wildest
stretch of my fancy would not have placed me here beside you.”

“Yes,”–irrelevantly, “most of us are mad. Everything is so monotonous.”

“To-night?”

“Well, not to-night.”

“You have not yet asked me who I am.”

“Then you are somebody?”–drolly. She contemplated me, speculatively as
it were.

I laughed. This was the most amusing and enchanting adventure I had ever
had the luck to fall into. “The world thinks so,” I replied to her
question.

“The world? What world?”

“My world … and a part of yours.”

“Are you one of those men who accomplish something besides novel
dinners?”

“So I am led to believe.”

“In what way?”

“Ah, but that is a secret.”

She shrugged. Evidently she was incredulous. “Are you an actor?”
suddenly recollecting where she had picked me up.

“Only in ‘All the world’s a stage.'”

“I will ask you: Will you do me the honor of telling me who you are?”

“My self-respect denies me that pleasure.”

“Fiddlesticks!” This was very human.

“Is it possible that I am interesting you?”–surprised.

“You are a clever man, whoever and whatever you are. Where did you learn
to read a woman so readily? Who told you that when you confront a woman
with a mystery you trap her interest along with her curiosity? Yes, you
are clever. If you told me your name and your occupation I dare say I
should straightway become bored.”

“Truth still shivers on the well’s edge.”

She nibbled the rose-leaves.

“Does your interest in episodes like to-night always die so
suddenly?”–nodding toward the others, who had long since ceased to pay
me any particular attention.

“Nearly always.”

“Very well; since they have forgotten us let us forget them.” I leaned
toward her, and my voice was not so steady as it should have been. “In
what manner would it benefit me to tell you my name and what my
occupation in the great world is? Would it put me on the list of your
acquaintance?”

She eyed me thoughtfully. “That depends.”

“Upon what?”

“Whether you were worth knowing. I addressed other gentlemen in front of
your club. They politely said I had made a mistake.”

“They were old or married.”

“That wasn’t it.”

“Then they didn’t see you in the light, as I did.”

“What difference would that have made?”

“All the difference in the world. But you have tabooed flattery. I see
that I should have been a barber, a mild lunatic, or a detective.”

“You would have been easier to dispose of.”

I directed my gaze toward the door, and she surrendered a smile.

“You might be worth knowing,”–musingly.

“I promise to be.”

“I shall give it thought. I should never forgive myself if I were the
indirect cause of your joining this carnival of fools.”

“I see that I shall last longer in your thoughts as the Unknown.”

“Eat,” she commanded.

“I am not hungry; I have dined.”

“Drink, then.”

“I am not thirsty.”

She took my glass and poured the contents into hers, then handed it to
me. “Now!” she said.

“Why?”

“You make me think of Monte Cristo: what terrible revenge are you going
to take?”

“It will be upon myself: that of never forgetting you.”

“One single sip!”

I accepted the glass and took one sip. “Now I have lost what I desired
to retain–my respect. So long as I touched nothing at this table I held
the advantage. My name is–”

She put her hands over her ears. “Don’t!”

“Very well: the woman tempted me.”

“Haven’t you a better epigram?”

“Perhaps I am saving them.”

“For what?”

“Who knows that I am not writing a play?”

“I live here; a card will find me on Thursdays after four.”

“I will come Wednesdays, thereby saving you the trouble.”

“That is not wit; it is rudeness. Do not come either Thursdays or
Wednesdays.”

“How shall you know who it is?”

“Trust a woman.”

“Ah, here comes the butler with the liqueurs. I am glad. Presently I
should be making love to you; now I am about to be free.”

“Are you quite sure?”–with a penetrating glance. I believe she knew the
power of her beauty.

“Well, I shall be free to go home where I belong,”–compromising.

And I rose. Perhaps the drollest episode of the dinner took place as I
started for the door.

“Ever heard of Starlight?” cried Uncle Daniel down the room. “No? Well,
she’s down on the winter books at fifty to one. Stack your money on her
now; it’s a hunch.”

“Thank you,” said I. I did not have the courage to ask him what a
“hunch” was.

“Good night,” said I to the girl, bowing.

“Good night,” smiling.

I wonder if she knew that I had stolen the rose? On the way home my mind
returned to my play. Had the fourth act gone off as smoothly as the
others?

What a girl for a man!

The curtain fell on the first act, and the thrilling sound of beating
hands came to me dimly.

“They are calling for you,” said Shaw excitedly.

“What am I to do?”–nervously.

“What? Haven’t you thought out something to say?”–disgustedly.

“Nary a word!”

“Well, just lead out Miss Blank and bow. You’re not an old hand, so they
will let you off without a speech.”

So I led the young woman who had helped to make me famous to the
footlights, and bowed. I do not know what caused me to glance up toward
the left upper proscenium, but I did so … and felt my heart stop and
then throb violently. It was Miss Berkeley. Heaven only knows how long I
should have stared at her but for the warning pressure of the actress’
hand over mine. We disappeared behind the curtain. I was confused by
many emotions.

While the hands were shifting about the next “set” a boy handed me the
crumpled margin of a program. I unfolded it and read: “Will ‘Mr.
Anonymous’ do Miss Berkeley the honor of visiting her box?”

“Mr. Anonymous” presented himself forthwith. Miss Berkeley was with an
elderly woman, who proved to be her grandaunt. I was introduced.

“Aunty, this is the gentleman I told you about. Isn’t it terrible?”

“Terrible? I should call it wholly enchanting. Sir, you will pardon the
child for her wildness. My nephew doesn’t know as much as his celebrated
horses. Now, go ahead and talk while I look over the audience.”

If only all elderly ladies were as thoughtful!

“And I have read your books; I have witnessed your play!” Miss Berkeley
said.

“Thursday, after four?”

“No. Everybody calls then. Come Wednesday.”

“I have a confession to make,” said I. “You dropped a rose on the floor
last night. I stole it. Must I return it to you?”

“I never do anything without a purpose,” was all she said.

So I kept the rose.