It was half-after six when I entered Martin's from the Broadway side. I chose a table by the north wall and sat down on the cushioned seat. I ordered dinner, and the ample proportions of it completely hoodwinked the waiter as to the condition of my cardiac affliction: being, as I was, desperately and hopelessly and miserably in love. Old owls say that a man can not eat when he is in love. He can if he is mad at the way the object of his affections has treated him; and I was mad. To be sure, I can not recall what my order was, but the amount of the waiter's check is still vivid to my recollection.
I glanced about. The café was crowded, as it usually is at this hour. Here and there I caught glimpses of celebrities and familiar faces: journalists, musicians, authors, artists and actors. This is the time they drop in to be pointed out to strangers from out of town. It's a capital advertisement. To-night, however, none of these interested me in the slightest degree; rather, their animated countenances angered me. How could they laugh and look happy!
At my left sat a young man about my own age. He was also in evening dress. At my right a benevolent old gentleman, whose eye-glasses balanced neatly upon the end of his nose, was deeply interested in The Law Journal and a pint pf mineral water. A little beyond my table was an exiled Frenchman, and the irritating odor of absinthe drifted at times across my nostrils.
With my coffee I ordered a glass of Dantzic, and watched the flakes of beaten gold waver and settle; and presently I devoted myself entirely to my own particularly miserable thoughts.... To be in love and in debt! To be with the gods one moment and hunted by a bill-collector the next! To have the girl you love snub and dismiss you for no more lucid reason than that you did not attend the dance at the Country Club when you promised you would! It did not matter that you had a case on that night from which depended a large slice of your bread and butter; no, that did not matter. Neither did the fact that you had mixed the dates. You had promised to go, and you hadn't gone or notified the girl that you wouldn't go. Your apologetic telegram she had torn into halves and returned the following morning, together with a curt note to the effect that she could not value the friendship of a man who made and broke a promise so easily. It was all over. It was a dashed hard world. How the deuce do you win a girl, anyhow?
Supposing, besides, that you possessed a rich uncle who said that on the day of your wedding he would make over to you fifty thousand in Government three per cents? Hard, wasn't it? Suppose that you were earning about two thousand a year, and that the struggle to keep up smart appearances was a keen one. Wouldn't you have been eager to marry, especially the girl you loved? A man can not buy flowers twice a week, dine before and take supper after the theater twice a week, belong (and pay dues and house-accounts) to a country club, a town club and keep respectable bachelor apartments on two thousand ... and save anything. And suppose the girl was independently rich? Heigh-ho!
I find that a man needs more money in love than he does in debt. This is not to say that I was ever very hard pressed; but I hated to pay ten dollars "on account" when the total was only twenty. You understand me, don't you? If you don't, somebody who reads this will. Of course, the girl knew nothing about these things. A young man always falls into the fault of magnifying his earning capacity to the girl he loves. You see, I hadn't told her yet that I loved her, though I was studying up somebody on Moral and Physical Courage for that purpose.
And now it was all over!
I did not care so much about my uncle's gold-bonds, but I did think a powerful lot of the girl. Why, when I recall the annoyances I've put up with from that kid brother of hers!... Pshaw, what's the use?
His mother called him "Toddy-One-Boy," in memory of a book she had read long years ago. He was six years old, and I never think of him without that jingle coming to mind:
"Little Willie choked his sister,
She was dead before they missed her.
Willie's always up to tricks.
Ain't he cute, he's only six!"
He had the face of a Bouguereau cherub, and mild blue eyes such as we are told inhabit the countenances of angels. He was the most innocent-looking chap you ever set eyes on. His mother called him an angel; I should hate to tell you what the neighbors called him. He lacked none of that subtle humor so familiar in child-life. Heavens! the deeds I could (if I dared) enumerate. They turned him loose among the comic supplements one Sunday, and after that it was all over.
Hadn't he emptied his grandma's medicine capsules and substituted cotton? And hadn't dear old grandma come down stairs three days later, saying that she felt much improved? Hadn't he beaten out the brains of his toy bank and bought up the peanut man on the corner? Yes, indeed! And hadn't he taken my few letters from his sister's desk and played postman up and down the street? His papa thought it all a huge joke till one of the neighbors brought back a dunning dressmaker's bill that had lain on the said neighbor's porch. It was altogether a different matter then. Toddy-One-Boy crawled under the bed that night, and only his mother's tears saved him from a hiding.
All these I thought over as I sat at my table. She knew that I would have gone had it been possible. Women and logic are only cousins german. Six months ago I hadn't been in love with any one but myself, and now the Virgil of love's dream was leading me like a new Dante through his Inferno, and was pointing out the foster-brother of Sisyphus (if he had a foster-brother), pushing the stone of my lady's favor up the steeps of Forlorn Hope. Well, I would go up to the club, and if I didn't get home till mor-r-ning, who was there to care?
The Frenchman had gone, and the benevolent old gentleman. The crowd was thinning out. The young man at my left rose, and I rose also. We both stared thoughtfully at the hat-rack. There hung two hats: an opera-hat and a dilapidated old stovepipe. The young fellow reached up and, quite naturally, selected the opera-hat. He glanced into it, and immediately a wrinkle of annoyance darkened his brow. He held the hat toward me.
"Is this yours?" he asked.
I looked at the label.
"No." The wrinkle of annoyance sprang from his brow to mine. My opera-hat had cost me eight dollars.
The young fellow laughed rather lamely. "Do you live in New York?" he asked.
"So do I," he continued; "and yet it is evident that both of us have been neatly caught." He thought for a moment, then brightened. "I'll tell you what; let's match for the good one."
I gazed indignantly at the rusty stovepipe. "Done!" said I.
I lost; I knew that I should; and the young fellow walked off with the good hat. Then, with the relic in my hand, a waiter and myself began a systematic search. My hat was nowhere to be found. How the deuce was I to get up town to the club? I couldn't wear the old plug; I wasn't rich enough for such an eccentricity. I had nothing but a silk hat at the apartment, and I hated it because it was always in the way when I entered carriages and elevators.
Angrily, I strode up to the cashier's desk and explained the situation, leaving my address and the number of my apartment; my name wasn't necessary.
Troubles never come singly. Here I had lost my girl and my hat, to say nothing of my temper—of the three the most certain to be found again. I passed out of the café, bareheaded and hotheaded. I hailed a cab and climbed in. I had finally determined to return to my rooms and study. I simply could not afford to be seen with that stovepipe hat either on my head or under my arm. Had I been green from college it is probable that I should have worn it proudly and defiantly. But I had left college behind these six years.
Hang these old duffers who are so absent-minded! For I was confident that the benevolent old gentleman was the cause of all this confusion. Inside the cab I tried on the thing, just to get a picture in my mind of the old gentleman going it up Broadway with my opera-hat on his head. The hat sagged over my ears; and I laughed. The picture I had conjured up was too much for my anger, which vanished suddenly. And once I had laughed I felt a trifle more agreeable toward the world. So long as a man can see the funny side of things he has no active desire to leave life behind; and laughter does more to lighten his sorrows than sympathy, which only aggravates them.
After all, the old gentleman would feel the change more sharply than I. This was, in all probability, the only hat he had. I turned it over and scrutinized it. It was a genteel old beaver, with an air of respectability that was quite convincing. There was nothing smug about it, either. It suggested amiability in the man who had recently possessed it. It suggested also a mild contempt for public opinion, which is always a sign of superior mentality and advanced years. I began to draw a mental portrait of the old man. He was a family lawyer, doubtless, who lived in the past and hugged his retrospections. When we are young there is never any vanishing point to our day-dreams. Well, well! On the morrow he would have a new hat, of approved shape and pattern; unless, indeed, he possessed others like this which had fallen into my keeping. Perhaps he would soon discover his mistake, return to the café and untangle the snarl. I sincerely hoped he would. As I remarked, my hat had cost me eight dollars.
I soon arrived at my apartments, and got into a smoking-jacket. I rather delight in lolling around in a dress-shirt; it looks so like the pictures we see in the fashionable novels. I picked up Blackstone and turned to his "promissory notes." I had two or three out myself. It was nine o'clock when the hall-boy's bell rang, and I placed my ear to the tube. A gentleman wished to see me in regard to a lost hat.
"Send him up, James; send him up!" I bawled down the tube. Visions of the club returned, and I tossed Blackstone into a corner.
Presently there came a tap on the door, and I flung it wide. But my visitor was not the benevolent old gentleman. He was the Frenchman whose absinthe had offended me. He glanced at the slip of paper in his hand.
"I have zee honaire to address zee—ah—gentleman in numbaire six?"
"I live here."
"Delight'! We have meexed zee hats, I have zee r-r-regret. Ees thees your hat?" He held out, for my inspection, an opera-hat. "I am so absent-mind'—what you call deestrait?"—affably.
I took the hat, which at first glance I thought to be mine, and went over to the rack, taking down the old stovepipe.
"This is yours, then?" I said, smiling.
"Thousand thanks, m'sieu! Eet ees certain mine. I have zee honaire to beg pardon for zee confusion. My compliments! Good night!"
Without giving the hat a single glance, he clapped it on his head, bowed and disappeared, leaving me his card. He hadn't been gone two minutes when I discovered that the hat he had exchanged for the stovepipe was not mine. It came from the same firm, but the initials proved it without doubt to belong to the young fellow I had met at the table. I said some uncomplimentary things. Where the deuce was my hat? Evidently the benevolent old gentleman hadn't waked up yet.
Ting-a-ling! It was the boy's bell again.
"Another man after a hat. What's goin' on?"
"Send him up!" I yelled. It came over me that the Frenchman had made a second mistake.
I was not disappointed this time in my visitor. It was the benevolent old gentleman. Evidently he had not located his hat either, and might not for some time to come. I began to believe that I had given it to the Frenchman. He seemed terribly excited.
"You are the gentleman who occupies number six?"
"Yes, sir. This is my apartment. You have come in regard to a hat?"
"Yes, sir. My name is Chittenden. Our hats got mixed up at Martin's this evening; my fault, as usual. I am always doing something absurd, my memory is so bad. When I discovered my mistake I was calling on the family of a client with whom I had spent most of the afternoon. I missed some valuable papers, legal documents. I believed as usual that I had forgotten to take them with me. They were nowhere to be found at the house. My client has a very mischievous son, and it seems that he stuffed the papers behind the inside band of my hat. With them there was a letter. I have had two very great scares. A great deal of trouble would ensue if the papers were lost. I just telephoned that I had located the hat." He laughed pleasantly.
Good heavens! here was a howdy-do.
"My dear Mr. Chittenden, there has been a great confusion," I faltered. "I had your hat, but—but you have come too late."
"Too late?" he roared, or I should say, to be exact, shouted.
"What have you done with it?"
"Not five minutes ago I gave it to a Frenchman, who seemed to recognize it as his. It was the Frenchman, if you will remember, who sat near your table in the café."
"And this hat isn't yours, then?"—helplessly.
"This" was a flat-brimmed hat of the Paris boulevards, the father of all stovepipe hats, dear to the Frenchman's heart.
"Candidly, now," said I with a bit of excusable impatience, "do I look like a man who would wear a hat like that?"
He surveyed me miserably through his eye-glasses.
"No, I can't say that you do. But what in the world am I to do?" He mopped his brow in the ecstasy of anguish. "The hat must be found. The legal papers could be replaced, but.... You see, sir, that boy put a private letter of his sister's in the band of that hat, and it must be recovered at all hazards."
"I am very sorry, sir."
"But what shall I do?"
"I do not see what can be done save for you to leave word at the café. The Frenchman is doubtless a frequenter, and may easily be found. If you had come a few moments sooner...."
With a gurgle of dismay he fled, leaving me with a half-finished sentence hanging on my lips and the Frenchman's chapeau hanging on my fingers. And my hat; where was my hat? (I may as well add here, in parenthesis, that the disappearance of my eight-dollar hat still remains a mystery. I have had to buy a new one.)
So the boy had put a letter of his sister's in the band of the hat, I mused. How like her kid brother! It seemed that more or less families had Toddy-One-Boys to look after. Pshaw! what a muddle because a man couldn't keep his thoughts from wool-gathering!
Well, here I had two hats, neither of which was mine. I could, at a pinch, wear the opera-hat, as it was the exact size of the one I had lost. But what was to be done with the Frenchman's?... Fool that I was! I rushed over to the table. The Frenchman had left his card, and I had forgotten all about it. And I hadn't asked the benevolent old gentleman where he lived. The Frenchman's card read: "M. de Beausire, No. —— Washington Place." I decided to go myself to the address, state the matter to Monsieur de Beausire, and rescue the letter. I knew all about these Toddy-One-Boys, and I might be doing some girl a signal service.
I looked at my watch. It was closing on to ten. So I reluctantly got into my coat again, drew on a topcoat, and put on the hat that fitted me. Probably the girl had been writing some fortunate fellow a love-letter. No gentleman will ever overlook a chance to do a favor for a young girl in distress. I had scarcely drawn my stick from the umbrella-jar when the bell rang once again.
"Hello!" I called down the tube. Why couldn't they let me be?
"Lady wants to see you, sir."
"Yes, sir. A real lady; l-a-d-y. She says she's come to see the gentleman in number six about a plug hat. What's the graft, anyway?"
"A plug hat!"
"Yes, sir; a plug hat. She seems a bit anxious. Shall I send her up? She's a peach."
"Yes, send her up," I answered feebly enough.
And now there was a woman in the case! I wiped the perspiration from my brow and wondered what I should say to her. A woman.... By Jove! the sister of the mischievous boy! Old Chittenden must have told her where he had gone, and as he hasn't shown up, she's worried. It must be a tremendously important letter to cause all this hubbub. So I laid aside my hat and waited, tugging and gnawing at my mustache.... Had the Girl acted reasonably I shouldn't have gone to Martin's that night.
How easy it is for a woman to hurt the man she knows I is in love with her! And the Girl had hurt me more than I was willing to confess even to myself. She had implied that I had carelessly broken an engagement.
Soon there came a gentle tapping. Certainly the young woman had abundant pluck. I approached the door quickly, and flung it open.
The Girl herself stood on the threshold, and we stared at each other with bewildered eyes!
She was the most exquisite creature in all the wide world; and here she was, within reach of my hungry arms!
"You?" she cried, stepping back, one hand at her throat and the other against the jamb of the door.
Dumb as ever was Lot's wife (after the turning-point in her career), I stood and stared and admired. A woman would instantly have noticed the beauty of her sables, but I was a man to whom such details were inconsequent.
"I did not expect ... that is, only the number of the apartment was given," she stammered. "I ..." Then her slender figure straightened, and with an effort she subdued the fright and dismay which had evidently seized her. "Have you Mr. Chittenden's hat?"
"Mr. Chittenden's hat?" I repeated, with a tingling in my throat similar to that when you hit your elbow smartly on a corner. "Mr. Chittenden's hat?"
"Yes; he is so thoughtless that I dared not trust him to search for it alone. Have you got it?"
Heavens! how my heart beat at the sight of this beautiful being, as she stood there, palpitating between shame and anxiety! She was beautiful; and I knew instantly that I loved her better than anything else on earth.
"Mr. Chittenden's hat," I continued, as lucid as a trained parrot and in tones not wholly dissimilar.
"Can't you say anything more than that?"—impatiently.
How much more easily a woman recovers her poise than a man, especially when that man gives himself over as tamely as I did!
"Was it your letter he was seeking?" I cried, all eagerness and excitement as this one sane thought entered my head.
"Did he tell you that there was a letter in it?"—scornfully.
"Yes,"—guiltily. Heaven only knows why I should have had any sense of guilt.
"Give it to me at once,"—imperatively.
"The hat or the letter?" Truly, I did not know what I was about. Only one thing was plain to my confused mind, and that was the knowledge that I wanted to put my arms around her and carry her far, far away from Toddy-One-Boy.
"Are you mad, to anger me in this fashion?" she said, balling her little gloved hands wrathfully. Had there been real lightning in her eyes I'd have been dead this long while. "Do you dare believe that I knew you lived in this apartment?"
"I ... haven't the hat."
"You dared to search it?"—drawing herself up to a supreme height, which was something less than five-feet-two.
I became angry, and somehow found myself.
"I never pry into other people's affairs. You are the last person I expected to see this night."
"Will you answer a single question? I promise not to intrude further upon your time, which, doubtless, is very valuable. Have you either the hat or the letter?"
"Neither. I knew nothing about any letter till Mr. Chittenden came. But he came too late."
"Too late?"—in an agonized whisper.
"Yes, too late. I had, unfortunately, given his hat to another gentleman who made a trifling mistake in thinking it to be his own." Suddenly my manners returned to me. "Will you come in?"
"Come in? No! You have given the hat to another man? A trifling mistake! He calls it a trifling mistake!"—addressing the heavens, obscured though they were by the thickness of several ceilings. "Oh, what shall I do?" She began to wring her hands, and when a woman does that what earthly hope is there for the man who looks on?
"Don't do that!" I implored. "I'll find the hat." At a word from her, for all she had trampled on me, I would gladly have gone to Honolulu in search of a hat-pin. "The gentleman left me his card. With your permission I will go at once in search of him."
"I have a cab outside. Give me the address."
"I refuse to permit you to go alone."
"You have absolutely nothing to say in regard to where I shall or shall not go."
"In this one instance. I shall withhold the address."
How her eyes blazed!
"Oh, it is easily to be seen that you do not trust me." I was utterly discouraged.
"I did not imply that," with the least bit of softening. "Certainly I would trust you. But ..."
"Well?"—as laughingly as I could.
"I must be the one to take out that letter,"—decidedly.
"I offer to bring you the hat untouched," I replied.
"I insist on going."
"Very well; we shall go together; under no other circumstances. This is a common courtesy that I would show to a perfect stranger."
I put on my hat, took up the Frenchman's card and tile, and bowed her gravely into the main hallway. We did not speak on the way down to the street. We entered the cab in silence, and went rumbling off southwest. When the monotony became positively unbearable I spoke.
"I regret to force myself upon you."
"It must be a very important letter."
"To no one but myself,"—with extreme frigidity.
"His father ought to wring his neck,"—thinking of Toddy-One-Boy.
"Sir, he is my brother!"
"I beg your pardon." It seemed that I wasn't getting on very well.
We bumped across the Broadway tracks. Once or twice our shoulders touched, and the thrill I experienced was as painful as it was rapturous. What was in a letter that she should go to this extreme to recall it? A heat-flash of jealousy went over me. She had written to some other fellow; for there always is some other fellow, hang him!... And then a grand idea came into my erstwhile stupid head. Here she was, alone with me in a cab. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I could force her to listen to my explanation.
"I received your note," I began. "It was cruel and without justice."
Her chin went up a degree.
"The worst criminal is not condemned without a hearing, and I have had none."
No perceptible movement.
"We are none of us infallible in keeping appointments. We are liable to make mistakes occasionally. Had I known that Tuesday night was the night of the dance I'd have crossed to Jersey in a rowboat."
The chin remained precipitously inclined.
"I am poor, and the case involved some of my bread and butter. The work was done at ten, and even then I did not discover that I had in any way affronted you. I had it down in my note-book as Wednesday night."
The lips above the chin curled slightly.
"You see," I went on, striving to keep my voice even-toned, "my uncle is rich, but I ask no odds of him. I live entirely upon what I earn at law. It's the only way I can maintain my individuality, my self-respect and independence. My uncle has often expressed his desire to make me a handsome allowance, but what would be the use ... now?"—bitterly.
The chin moved a little. It was too dark to see what this movement expressed.
"It seems that I am only a very unfortunate fellow."
"You had given me your promise."
"I know it."
"Not that I cared,"—with cat-like cruelty; "but I lost the last train out while waiting for you. Not even a note to warn me! Not the slightest chance to find an escort! When a man gives his promise to a lady it does not seem possible that he could forget it ... if he cared to keep it."
"I tell you honestly that I mixed the dates." How weak my excuses seemed, now that they had passed my lips!
"You are sure that you mixed nothing else?"—ironically. (She afterward apologized for this.) "It appears that it would have been better to come alone."
"I regret I did not give you the address."
"It is not too late."
"I never retreat from any position I have taken."
Then both our chins assumed an acute angle and remained thus. When a woman is angry she is about as reasonable as a frightened horse; when a man is angry he longs to hit something or smoke a cigar. Imagine my predicament!
When the cab reached Washington Place and came to a stand I spoke again.
"Shall I take the hat in, or will you?"
"We shall go together."
Ah, if only I had had the courage to say: "I would it were for ever!" But I feared that it wouldn't take.
I rang the bell, and presently a maid opened the door.
"Is Monsieur de Beausire in?" I asked.
"No, sir, he is not," the maid answered civilly.
"Do you know where he may be found?"
"If you have a bill you may leave it,"—frostily and with sudden suspicion.
There was a smothered sound from behind me, and I flushed angrily.
"I am not a bill-collector."
"Oh; it's the second day of the month, you know. I thought perhaps you were."
"He has in his possession a hat which does not belong to him."
"Good gracious, he hasn't been stealing? I don't believe"—making as though to shut the door.
This was too much, and I laughed. "No, my girl; he hasn't been stealing. But, being absent-minded, he has taken another man's hat, and I am bringing his home in hopes of getting the one he took by mistake."
"Oh!" And the maid laughed shrilly.
I held out the hat.
"My land! that's his hat, sure enough. I was wondering what made him look so funny when he went out."
"Where has he gone?" came sharply over my shoulder.
"If you will wait," said the maid good-naturedly, "I will inquire."
We waited. So far as I was concerned, I hoped he was miles away, and that we might go on riding for hours and hours. The maid returned soon.
"He has gone to meet the French consul at Mouquin's."
"Which one?" I asked. "There are two, one down and one up town."
"I'm sure I don't know. You can leave the hat and your card."
"Thank you; we shall retain the hat. If we find monsieur he will need it."
"I'm sorry," said the maid sympathetically. "He's the worst man you ever saw for forgetting things. Sometimes he goes right by the house and has to walk back."
"I'm sorry to have bothered you," said I; and the only girl in the world and myself reëntered the cab.
"This is terrible!" she murmured as we drove off.
"It might be worse," I replied, thinking of the probable long ride with her: perhaps the last I should ever take!
"How could it be!"
I had nothing to offer, and subsided for a space.
"If we should not find him!"
"I'll sit on his front stoop all night.... Forgive me if I sound flippant; but I mean it." Snow was in the air, and I considered it a great sacrifice on my part to sit on a cold stone in the small morning hours. It looks flippant in print, too, but I honestly meant it. "I am sorry. You are in great trouble of some sort, I know; and there's nothing in the world I would not do to save you from this trouble. Let me take you home and continue the search alone. I'll find him if I have to search the whole town."
"We shall continue the search together,"—wearily.
What had she written to this other fellow? Did she love some one else and was she afraid that I might learn who it was? My heart became as lead in my bosom. I simply could not lose this charming creature. And now, how was I ever to win her?
It was not far up town to the restaurant, and we made good time.
"Would you know him if you saw him?" she asked as we left the cab.
"Not the least doubt of it,"—confidently.
She sighed, and together we entered the restaurant. It was full of theater-going people, music and the hum of voices. We must have created a small sensation, wandering from table to table, from room to room, the girl with a look of dread and weariness on her face, and I with the Frenchman's hat grasped firmly in my hand and my brows scowling. If I hadn't been in love it would have been a fine comedy. Once I surprised her looking toward the corner table near the orchestra. How many joyous Sunday dinners we had had there! Heigh-ho!
"Is that he?" she whispered, clutching my arm of a sudden, her gaze directed to a near-by table.
I looked and shook my head.
"No; my Frenchman had a mustache and a goatee."
Her hand dropped listlessly. I confess to the thought that it must have been very trying for her. What a plucky girl she was! She held me in contempt, and yet she clung to me, patiently and unmurmuring. And I had lost her!
"We may have to go down town.... No! as I live, there he is now!"
"Where?" There was half a sob in her throat.
"The table by the short flight of stairs ... the man just lighting the cigarette. I'll go alone."
"But I can not stand here alone in the middle of the floor...."
I called a waiter. "Give this lady a chair for a moment;" and I dropped a coin in his palm. He bowed, and beckoned for her to follow.... Women are always writing fool things, and then moving Heaven and earth to recall them.
"Monsieur de Beausire?" I said.
Beausire glanced up.
"Oh, eet ees ... I forget zee name?"
I told him.
"I am delight'!" he cried joyfully, as if he had known me all my life. "Zee chair; be seat'...."
"Thank you, but it's about the hats."
"Yes. It seems that the hat I gave you belongs to another man. In your haste you did not notice the mistake. This is your hat,"—producing the shining tile.
"Mon Dieu!" he gasped, seizing the hat; "eet ees mine! See! I bring heem from France; zee nom ees mine. V'là! And I nevaire look in zee uzzer hat! I am pairfickly dumfound'!" And his astonishment was genuine.
"Where is the other hat: the one I gave you?" I was in a great hurry.
"I have heem here," reaching to the vacant chair at his side, while the French consul eyed us both with some suspicion. We might be lunatics. Beausire handed me the benevolent old gentleman's hat, and the burden dropped from my shoulders. "Eet ees such a meestake! I laugh; eh?" He shook with merriment. "I wear two hats and not know zee meestake!"
I thanked him and made off as gracefully as I could. The girl rose as she saw me returning. When I reached her side she was standing with her slender body inclined toward me. She stretched forth a hand and solemnly I gave her Mr. Chittenden's hat. I wondered vaguely if anybody was looking at us, and, if so, what he thought of us.
The girl pulled the hat literally inside out in her eagerness; but her gloved fingers trembled so that the precious letter fluttered to the floor. We both stooped, but I was quicker. It was no attempt on my part to see the address; my act was one of common politeness. But I could not help seeing the name. It was my own!
"Give it to me!" she cried breathlessly.
I did so. I was not, at that particular moment, capable of doing anything else. I was too bewildered. My own name! She turned, hugging the hat, the legal documents and the letter, and hurried down the main stairs, I at her heels.
"Tell the driver my address; I can return alone."
"I can not permit that," I objected decidedly. "The driver is a stranger to us both. I insist on seeing you to the door; after that you may rest assured that I shall no longer inflict upon you my presence, odious as it doubtless is to you."
As she was already in the cab and could not get out without aid, I climbed in beside her and called the street and number to the driver.
"Legally the letter is mine; it is addressed to me, and had passed out of your keeping."
"You shall never, never have it!"—vehemently.
"It is not necessary that I should," I replied; "for I vaguely understand."
I saw that it was all over. There was now no reason why I should not speak my mind fully.
"I can understand without reading. You realized that your note was cruel and unlike anything you had done, and your good heart compelled you to write an apology; but your pride got the better of you, and upon second thought you concluded to let the unmerited hurt go on."
"Will you kindly stop, the driver, or shall I?"
"Does truth annoy you?"
"I decline to discuss truth with you. Will you stop the driver?"
"Not until we reach Seventy-first Street West."
"By what right—"
"The right of a man who loves you. There, it is out, and my pride has gone down the wind. After to-night I shall trouble you no further. But every man has the right to tell one woman that he loves her; and I love you. I loved you the moment I first laid eyes on you. I couldn't help it. I say this to you now because I perceive how futile it is. What dreams I have conjured up about you! Poor fool! When I was at work your face was always crossing the page or peering up from the margins. I never saw a fine painting that I did not think of you, or heard a fine piece of music that I did not think of your voice."
There was a long interval of silence; block after block went by. I never once looked at her.
"If I had been rich I should have put it to the touch some time ago; but my poverty seems to have been fortunate; it has saved me a refusal. In some way I have mortally offended you; how, I can not imagine. It can not be simply because I innocently broke an engagement."
Then she spoke.
"You dined after the theater that night with a comic-opera singer. You were quite at liberty to do so, only you might have done me the honor to notify me that you had made your choice of entertainment."
So it was out! Decidedly it was all over now. I never could explain away the mistake.
"I have already explained to you my unfortunate mistake. There was and is no harm that I can see in dining with a woman of her attainments. But I shall put up no defense. You have convicted me. I retract nothing I have said. I do love you."
I was very sorry for myself.
Cabby drew up. I alighted, and she silently permitted me to assist her down. I expected her immediately to mount the steps. Instead, she hesitated, the knuckle of a forefinger against her lips, and assumed the thoughtful pose of one who contemplates two courses.
"Have you a stamp?" she asked finally.
"Yes; a postage-stamp."
I fumbled in my pocket and found, luckily, a single pink square, which I gave to her. She moistened it with the tip of her tongue and ... stuck it on the letter!
"Now, please, drop this in the corner box for me, and take this hat over to Mr. Chittenden's—Sixty-ninth."
"Do as I say, or I shall ask you to return the letter to me."
I rushed off toward the letter-box, drew down the lid, and deposited the letter—my letter. When I turned she was running up the steps, and a second later she had disappeared.
I hadn't been so happy in all my life!
Cabby waited at the curb.
Suddenly I became conscious that I was holding something in my hand. It was the benevolent old gentleman's stovepipe hat!
I pushed the button: pushed it good and hard. Presently I heard a window open cautiously.
"What is it?" asked a querulous voice.
"Well, here's your hat!" I cried.