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HEARTS AND MASKS

by

HAROLD MACGRATH

Author of The Puppet Crown, The Grey Cloak, The Man on the Box

With Illustrations by Harrison Fisher







[Frontispiece: Five people dressed for costume ball, four sitting, one
standing.]





New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers
Copyright 1905
The Bobbs-Merrill Company





TO MY WIFE




List of Illustrations


Five people dressed for costume ball, four sitting, one standing . . .
(Frontispiece)

The handsomest girl I had set eyes upon in a month of moons.

"This is what I want. How much?" I inquired.

Turning, I beheld an exquisite Columbine.

I led her over to a secluded nook. We sat down.

And there we sat, calmly munching the apples.

"Madame, will you do me the honor to raise your mask?"

We watched the girl as she bathed and bandaged the wounded arm.

With a contented sigh she rested her blue-slippered feet on the brass
fender.




HEARTS AND MASKS


I

It all depends upon the manner of your entrance to the Castle of
Adventure. One does not have to scale its beetling parapets or assault
its scarps and frowning bastions; neither is one obliged to force with
clamor and blaring trumpets and glittering gorgets the drawbridge and
portcullis. Rather the pathway lies through one of those many little
doors, obscure, yet easily accessible, latchless and boltless, to which
the average person gives no particular attention, and yet which
invariably lead to the very heart of this Castle Delectable. The
whimsical chatelaine of this enchanted keep is a shy goddess.
Circumspection has no part in her affairs, nor caution, nor
practicality; nor does her eye linger upon the dullard and the
blunderer. Imagination solves the secret riddle, and wit is the guide
that leads the seeker through the winding, bewildering labyrinths.

And there is something in being idle, too!

If I had not gone idly into Mouquin's cellar for dinner that night, I
should have missed the most engaging adventure that ever fell to my
lot. It is second nature for me to be guided by impulse rather than by
reason; reason is always so square-toed and impulse is always so
alluring. You will find that nearly all the great captains were and
are creatures of impulse; nothing brilliant is ever achieved by
calculation. All this is not to say that I am a great captain; it is
offered only to inform you that I am often impulsive.

A _Times_, four days old; and if I hadn't fallen upon it to pass the
twenty-odd minutes between my order and the service of it, I shouldn't
have made the acquaintance of the police in that pretty little suburb
over in New Jersey; nor should I have met the enchanting Blue Domino;
nor would fate have written Kismet. The clairvoyant never has any fun
in this cycle; he has no surprises.

I had been away from New York for several weeks, and had returned only
that afternoon. Thus, the spirit of unrest acquired by travel was
still upon me. It was nearing holiday week, and those congenial
friends I might have called upon, to while away the evening, were
either busily occupied with shopping or were out of town; and I
determined not to go to the club and be bored by some indifferent
billiard player. I would dine quietly, listen to some light music, and
then go to the theater. I was searching the theatrical amusements,
when the society column indifferently attacked my eye. I do not know
why it is, but I have a wholesome contempt for the so-called society
columns of the daily newspaper in New York. Mayhap, it is because I do
not belong.

I read this paragraph with a shrug, and that one with a smirk. I was
in no manner surprised at the announcement that Miss High-Culture was
going to wed the Duke of Impecune; I had always been certain this girl
would do some such fool thing. That Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds was giving a
farewell dinner at the Waldorf, prior to her departure to Europe,
interested my curiosity not in the least degree. It would be all the
same to me if she never came back. None of the wishy-washy
tittle-tattle interested me, in fact. There was only one little
six-line paragraph that really caught me. On Friday night (that is to
say, the night of my adventures in Blankshire), the Hunt Club was to
give a charity masquerade dance. This grasped my adventurous spirit by
the throat and refused to let go.

The atmosphere surrounding the paragraph was spirituous with
enchantment. There was a genuine novelty about this dance. Two packs
of playing-cards had been sent out as tickets; one pack to the ladies
and one to the gentlemen. Charming idea, wasn't it? These cards were
to be shown at the door, together with ten dollars, but were to be
retained by the recipients till two o'clock (supper-time), at which
moment everybody was to unmask and take his partner, who held the
corresponding card, in to supper. Its newness strongly appealed to me.
I found myself reading the paragraph over and over.

By Jove, what an inspiration!

I knew the Blankshire Hunt Club, with its colonial architecture, its
great ball-room, its quaint fireplaces, its stables and sheds, and the
fame of its chef. It was one of those great country clubs that keep
open house the year round. It stood back from the sea about four miles
and was within five miles of the village. There was a fine course
inland, a cross-country going of not less than twenty miles, a
shooting-box, and excellent golf-links. In the winter it was cozy; in
the summer it was ideal.

I was intimately acquainted with the club's M. F. H., Teddy Hamilton.
We had done the Paris-Berlin run in my racing-car the summer before.
If I hadn't known him so well, I might still have been in durance vile,
next door to jail, or securely inside. I had frequently dined with him
at the club during the summer, and he had offered to put me up; but as
I knew no one intimately but himself, I explained the futility of such
action. Besides, my horse wasn't a hunter; and I was riding him less
and less. It is no pleasure to go "parking" along the bridle-paths of
Central Park. For myself, I want a hill country and something like
forty miles, straight away; that's riding.

The fact that I knew no one but Teddy added zest to the inspiration
which had seized me. For I determined to attend that dance, happen
what might. It would be vastly more entertaining than a possibly dull
theatrical performance. (It was!)

I called for a messenger and despatched him to the nearest drug store
for a pack of playing-cards; and while I waited for his return I
casually glanced at the other diners. At my table--one of those long
marble-topped affairs by the wall--there was an old man reading a
paper, and the handsomest girl I had set eyes upon in a month of moons.
Sometimes the word handsome seems an inferior adjective. She was
beautiful, and her half-lidded eyes told me that she was anywhere but
at Mouquin's. What a head of hair! Fine as a spider's web, and the
dazzling yellow of a wheat-field in a sun-shower! The irregularity of
her features made them all the more interesting. I was an artist in an
amateur way, and I mentally painted in that head against a Rubens
background. The return of the messenger brought me back to earth; for
I confess that my imagination had already leaped far into the future,
and this girl across the way was nebulously connected with it.

I took the pack of cards, ripped off the covering, tossed aside the
joker (though, really, I ought to have retained it!) and began
shuffling the shiny pasteboards. I dare say that those around me sat
up and took notice. It was by no means a common sight to see a man
gravely shuffling a pack of cards in a public restaurant. Nobody
interfered, doubtless because nobody knew exactly what to do in the
face of such an act, for which no adequate laws had been provided. A
waiter stood solemnly at the end of the table, scratching his chin
thoughtfully, wondering whether he should report this peculiarity of
constitution and susceptibility occasioning certain peculiarities of
effect from impress of extraneous influences (_vide_ Webster),
synonymous with idiocrasy and known as idiosyncrasy. It was quite
possible that I was the first man to establish such a precedent in
Monsieur Mouquin's restaurant. Thus, I aroused only passive curiosity.

From the corner of my eye I observed the old gentleman opposite. He
was peering over the top of his paper, and I could see by the glitter
in his eye that he was a confirmed player of solitaire. The girl,
however, still appeared to be in a dreaming state. I have no doubt
every one who saw me thought that anarchy was abroad again, or that
Sherlock Holmes had entered into his third incarnation.

Finally I squared the pack, took a long-breath, and cut. I turned up
the card. It was the ten-spot of hearts. I considered this most
propitious; hearts being my long suit in everything but love,--love
having not yet crossed my path. I put the card in my wallet, and was
about to toss the rest of the pack under the table, when, a woman's
voice stayed my hand.

"Don't throw them away. Tell my fortune first."

I looked up, not a little surprised. It was the beautiful young girl
who had spoken. She was leaning on her elbows, her chin propped in her
palms, and the light in her grey _chatoyant_ eyes was wholly innocent
and mischievous. In Monsieur Mouquin's cellar people are rather
Bohemian, not to say friendly; for it is the rendezvous of artists,
literary men and journalists,--a clan that holds formality in contempt.

"Tell your fortune?" I repeated parrot-like.

"Yes."

"Your mirror can tell you that more accurately than I can," I replied
with a frank glance of admiration.

She drew her shoulders together and dropped them.



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