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- Many Kingdoms - 10/34 -


away from her, firm but unhappy.

"You're right," she said, at last. "We'll add a clause to our compact and play we're disembodied spirits. Neither of us will ask the other a personal question."

"Agreed, and thank you. It's not that I wouldn't be flattered, you know, by your interest, and all that," he went on, awkwardly. "It's only because it's such a beastly harrowing recital and shows me up in such--such an inefficient light. It would depress you, and it couldn't do me any good. The things about myself are what I want to get away from--for a while."

They were soon at Delmonico's, and she followed him into the main dining-room, where she selected a table at a window looking out on the Avenue. The head waiter glanced at him, hesitated, surveyed her, and showed that he was indeed a good servant who knew his own. He hovered over them with deepening interest as they scanned the menu.

The boy smiled at his companion, trying not to notice the smell of the food around them, nor the horrible sinking sensation which overwhelmed him at intervals. A sickening fear swept over him that he would faint before luncheon came--faint on a lady's hands, and from starvation at that! He plunged into conversation with reckless vivacity.

When the waiter came with the oysters she set the example of eating them at once. Her companion followed it in leisurely fashion. She told herself that he was a thoroughbred, and that she had not been mistaken in him, but she would almost have preferred to see him eat wolfishly. His restraint got on her nerves. She could not eat, though she made a pretence of it. When he had eaten his soup with the same careful deliberation, a little color came into his face. She observed this, and her tension relaxed.

"The last time I was here," he said, absently, "was two years ago. One of the fellows at New Haven had a birthday, and we celebrated it in the corner room just above this. It was a pretty lively dinner. We kept it up from seven o'clock until two in the morning, and then we all went out on the Avenue and sat down in the middle of the street, where it was cool, to smoke and talk it over. That was Davidson's idea. It annoyed the cabmen and policemen horribly. They have such ready tempers and such torpid minds."

The recital and the picture it called up amused her.

"What else did you do?" she asked, with interest.

"I'm afraid I don't remember much of it," he confessed. "I know we were pretty silly; but I do remember how foolish the head waiter looked when Davidson insisted on kissing him good-bye in the hall out there, and cried because he didn't know when he'd see him again. Of course you can't see how funny that was, because you don't know Davidson. He was the most dignified chap at college, and hated gush more than any one I ever knew."

He drank the last of his black coffee with a sigh of content, and blew a last ring from the cigar she had insisted that he should smoke.

"Don't you think," he hazarded, "that it would be jolly to drive up and down Broadway and Fifth Avenue for an hour or two? If you want crowds, they're there; and if you see anything worth closer inspection, we can get out and look at it."

She agreed, and he paid the bill, tipping the waiter discriminatingly.

As their hansom threaded its way through the crowded street she rarely smiled, but her sombre eyes took in everything, and she "said things," as the boy put it, which he recalled and quoted years afterward. Incidentally she talked of herself, though always without giving him a clew as to who she was and where she came from. Several times, as a face in the passing throng caught her interest, she outlined for him in a few terse words the character of its possessor. He was interested, but he must have unconsciously suggested a certain unbelief in her intuition, for once she stopped speaking and looked at him sharply.

"You think I don't know," she said, "but I do. We always know, until we kill the gift with conventionalities. We're born with an intuitive knowledge of character. Savages have it, and animals, and babies. We lose it as we advance in civilization, for then we distrust our impressions and force our likes and dislikes to follow the dictates of policy. I've worked hard to keep and develop my insight, and behold my reward! I recognized you at the first glance as the perfect companion of a day."

The boy's face flamed with pleasure.

"Then it is a success?"

"It is a success. But it's also five o'clock. What next?"

"Then it's been a success?" he repeated, dreamily--"so far, I mean. We've done so little in one way, but I'm awfully glad you've liked it. We'll drop into Sherry's now for a cup of tea and a buttered English muffin and the beautiful ladies and the Hungarian Band. Then, instead of dining there, suppose we go to some gayer, more typical New York place--one of the big Broadway restaurants? That will show you another 'phase,' as you say; and the cooking is almost as good."

She agreed at once. "I think I'd like that," she said. "I want as much variety as I can get."

He leaned toward her impressively over the little table in the tea- room, recalling her unexpected tribute to the "perfect companion," and feeling all at once surprisingly well acquainted with her.

"What a pity you've got to go away tonight!" he murmured, ingenuously. "There's so much left to do."

For an instant, as memory rolled over her, her heart stopped beating. He observed her change of expression and looked at her with a sympathetic question in his gray eyes.

"Can't you change your plans?" he suggested, hopefully. "Must you go?"

"No, they're not that kind of plans. I must go."

As she spoke her face had the colorlessness and the immobility he had seen in it during the first moments it was turned toward him in the morning, and her features suddenly looked old and drawn. Under the revelation of a trouble greater than he could understand, the boy dropped his eyes.

"By Jove!" he thought, suddenly, "she's got something the matter with her." He wondered what it was, and the idea flashed over him that it might be an incurable disease. Only the year before he had heard a friend receive his death-warrant in a specialist's office, and the memory of the experience remained with him. He was so deep in these reflections that for a moment he forgot to speak, and she in her turn sat silent.

"I'm sorry," he then said, awkwardly. Then, rightly divining the quickest way to divert her thoughts, he suggested that they should drive again before dinner, for an hour or two, to get the effect of the twilight and the early lights on Broadway.

She agreed at once, as she had agreed to most of his suggestions, and her face when she looked at him was serene again, but he was not wholly reassured. In silence he followed her to the cab.

Over their dinner that night in the glittering Broadway restaurant, with the swinging music of French and German waltzes in their ears, she relaxed again from the impersonal attitude she had observed during the greater part of the day. She looked at him more as if she saw him, he told himself, but he could not flatter himself that the change was due to any deepening of her interest in him. It was merely that she knew him better, and that their long hours of sight-seeing had verified her judgment of him.

Their talk swept over the world. He realized that she had lived much abroad and had known many interesting men and women. From casual remarks she dropped he learned that she was an orphan, unmarried, with no close ties, and that her home was not near New York. This, when the next day, after a dazed reading of the morning newspapers, he summed up his knowledge of her, was all he could recall--the garnered drift- wood of a talk that had extended over twelve hours.

"You look," he said once, glancing critically at her, "as if you had lived for centuries and had learned all the lessons life could teach."

She shook her head. "I have lived for centuries, so far as that goes," she said, "but of all the lessons I've really learned only one."

"And that is?"

"How little it all amounts to."

Again, as he studied her, he experienced an unpleasant little tremor. He felt at the same time an odd conviction that this woman had played a part all day, and that now, through fatigue and depression, she was tiring of her role and would cast it away, showing herself to him as she was. For some reason he did not want this. The face behind the mask, of which he was beginning to get a glimpse at intervals, was a face he feared he would not like. He shrank from it as a child shrinks from what it does not understand.

Much to his relief, she threw off the dark mood that seemed to threaten her, and at the play she was more human than she had been yet.

"Ah, that first act," she said, as the curtain fell on Peter Pan's flight through the window with the Darling Children--"that delicious first act! Of course Barrie can't keep it up--no one could. But the humor of it and the tenderness and the naivete! Only a grown-up with the heart of a child could really appreciate it."

"And you are that?" he asked, daringly. He knew she was not.

"Only for this half-hour," she smiled. "I may get critical at any moment and entirely out of touch."

She did not, however, and watching her indulgent appreciation of the little boys in Never Never Land, he unconsciously reflected that, after all, this must be the real woman. That other personality, some sudden disheartening side of which he got from time to time, was not his new friend who laughed like a young girl over the crocodile with the clock inside, and showed a sudden swift moisture in her brown eyes when the actress pleaded for the dying fairy. When the curtain fell on the last act, leaving Peter Pan alone with his twinkling fairy friends in his little home high among the trees, Alice Stansbury turned to her


Many Kingdoms - 10/34

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