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Sybarite, but by the fat pink folds above
the back of Respectability's collar and the fat white side-whiskers
adorning his plump pink chops, Beelzebub knew that he encountered for
the second time that evening Respectability of the gold-capped cane.

Without the least shame, he paused and cocked sharp ears to catch what
he could of the conversation between these two.

Little enough he profited by his open eavesdropping; what he heard was
scarcely illuminating when applied to the puzzle that haunted him.

"She won't--that's flat," Respectability's companion announced in a
sullen voice.

By the tone of this last Beelzebub knew that it issued from an ugly
twisted mouth.

"But," Respectability insisted heavily--"You're sure you've done your
best to persuade her?"

"She won't listen to reason."

"Well ... everything's arranged. You have me to thank for that."

"Oh," sneered the younger man, "you've done a lot, you have!"

And then, moving to give way to another making toward the elevators,
Brian Shaynon discovered at his elbow that small attentive body in
sinister scarlet and black.

For a breath, utterance failed the old man. He glared pop-eyed
indignation from a congested countenance, his fat lips quivering and
his jowls as well; and then as Beelzebub tapped him familiarly if
lightly upon the chest, his face turned wholly purple, from swollen
temples to pendulous chin.

"Well met, _âme damnée_!" P. Sybarite saluted him gaily. "Are you
indeed off so early upon my business?"

"Damnation!" exclaimed Brian Shaynon, all but choking.

"It shall surely be your portion," gravely assented the little man.
"To all who in my service prosper in a worldly way--damnation, upon my
honourable Satanic word!"

"Who the devil--?"

"_Whisht!_" P. Sybarite reproved. "A trifle more respect, if you
please--lest you wake in the morning to find all my benefactions
turned to ashes in your strong-boxes!"

But here Respectability found his full voice.

"Who are you?" he demanded so stormily that heads turned curiously his
way. "I demand to know! Remove that mask! Impertinent--!"

"Mask?" purred Beelzebub in a tone of wonder. "I wear no mask!"

"No mask!" stammered the older man, in confusion.

"Nay, _I_ am frankly what I am--old Evil's self," P. Sybarite
explained blandly; "but you, Brian Shaynon--now you go always masked:
waking or sleeping, hypocrisy's your lifelong mask. You see the
distinction, old servant?"

In another moment he might have suffered a sound drubbing with the
ebony cane but for Peter Kenny's parlour-magic trick. For as Brian
Shaynon started forward to seize Beelzebub by the collar, a stream of
incandescent sparks shot point-blank into his face; and when he fell
back in puffing dismay, Beelzebub laughed provokingly, ducked behind
the backs of a brace of highly diverted bystanders, and quickly and
deftly wormed his way through the press to the dancing-floor itself.

As for the younger man--he of the unhandsome mouth--P. Sybarite was
content to hold him in reserve, to be dealt with later, at his
leisure. For the present, his business pressed with the waning night.

In high feather, bubbling with mischief, he sidled along the wall a
little way, then halted to familiarise himself with scene and
atmosphere against his next move.

But after the first minute or two, spent in silent review of the
brilliant scene, his thin lips lost something of their cynic
modelling, the eyes behind the scarlet visor something of their
mischievous twinkle--softening with shadows envious and regretful.

The room was as one vast pool of limpid golden light, walls and
ceilings so luminous with the refulgence of a thousand electric bulbs
that they seemed translucent, glowing with a radiance from beyond.

On the famous floor, twelve-score couples swung and swayed to the
intoxicating rhythms of an unseen orchestra; kaleidoscopic in their
amazingly variegated costuming of colour, drifting past the lonely,
diabolical little figure, an endless chain of paired anachronisms.

Searching narrowly each fair face that flashed past in another's arms,
he waited with seeming patience. But the music buzzed in his brain and
his toes tingled for it; breathing the warm, voluptuous air, he
inhaled hints of a thousand agreeable and exciting scenes; watching,
he perceived in perturbation the witchery of a hundred exquisite
women. And a rancorous discontent gnawed at his famished heart.

This was all his by right of birth--should be his now, but for the
blind malice of his sorry destiny. _Kismet_ had favoured him greatly,
but too late....

But of a sudden he forgot self-pity and vain repining, in the
discovery of the one particular woman swinging dizzily past in the
arms of an Incroyable, whose giddy plumage served only to render the
more striking her exquisite fairness and the fine simplicity of her
costume.

For she was all in the black-and-white uniform of a Blessington
shopgirl; black skirt and blouse, stockings and pumps, relieved by
showy linen at throat and wrists, with at waist the white patch of a
tiny lace-and-linen apron.

Perhaps it was his start of recognition; it may have been the very
fixed intensity of his regard; whatever drew it, her gaze veered to
his silent and aloof figure, and for an instant his eyes held hers. At
once, to his consternation, the hot blood stained her lovely face from
throat to brow; her glance wavered, fell in confusion, then as though
by a strong effort of will alone, steadied once more to his. Nodding
with an air of friendly diffidence, she flashed him a strange,
perplexing smile; and was swept on and away.

For a thought he checked his breath in stupefaction. Had she, then,
recognised him? Was it possible that her intuition had been keen
enough to pierce his disguise, vizard and all?

But the next moment he could have sworn in chagrined appreciation of
his colossal stupidity. Of course!--his costume was that worn by Peter
Kenny earlier in the evening; and as between Peter and himself, of the
same stock, the two were much of a muchness in physique; both,
moreover, were red-headed; their points of unlikeness were negligible,
given a mask.

So after all, her emotion had been due solely to embarrassment and
regret for the pain she had caused poor Peter by refusing his offer of
marriage!

Well!... P. Sybarite drew a long, sane breath, laughed wholesomely at
himself, and thereafter had eyes only to keep the girl in sight,
however far and involved her wanderings through the labyrinth of the
dance.

In good time the music ended; the fluent movement of the dancers
subsided with a curious effect of eddying--like confetti settling to
rest; and P. Sybarite left his station by the wall, slipping like
quicksilver through the heart of the throng to the far side of the
room, where, near a great high window wide to the night, the
breathless shopgirl had dropped into a chair.

At Beelzebub's approach the Incroyable, perhaps mindful of obligations
in another quarter, bowed and moved off, leaving the field temporarily
quite clear.

She greeted him with a faint recurrence of her former blush.

"Why, Peter!" she cried--and so sealed with confirmation his surmise
as to her mistake--"I was wondering what had become of you. I thought
you must have gone home."

"Peter did go home," P. Sybarite affirmed gravely, bending over her
hand.

His voice perplexed her tremendously. She opened eyes wide.

"Peter!" she exclaimed reproachfully--"you promised it wouldn't make
any difference. We were to go on just as always--good friends. And
now ..."

"Yes?" P. Sybarite prompted as she faltered.

"I don't like to say it, Peter, but--your voice is so different.
You've not been--doing anything foolish, have you?"

"Peter hasn't," the little man lied cheerfully; "Peter went home to
sulk like the unwhipped cub he is; and sulking, was yet decent enough
to lend me these rags."

"You--you're not Peter Kenny?"

"No more than you are Molly Lessing."

"Molly Lessing! What do you know--? Who can you be? Why are you
masked?"

"Simply," he explained pleasantly, "that my incognito may remain such
to all save you."

"But--but who _are_ you?"

"It is permitted?" he asked, with a gesture offering to take the tiny
printed card of dance engagements that dangled from her fingers by its
silken thong.

In dumb mystification the girl surrendered it.

Seating himself beside her, P. Sybarite ran his eye down the list.

"The last was number--which?" he enquired with unruffled impudence.

Half angry, half amused, wholly confused, she told him: "Fifteen."

"Then one number only remains."

His lips hardened as he read the initials pencilled opposite that
numeral; they were "B.S."

"Bayard Shaynon?" he queried.

She assented with a nod, her brows gathering.

Coolly, with the miniature pencil attached to the card, he changed the
small, faint _B_ to a large black _P_, strengthened the _S_ to
correspond, and added to that _ybarite_; then with a bow returned the
card.

The girl received the evidence of her senses with a silent gasp.

He bowed again: "Yours to command."

"You--Mr. Sybarite!"

"I, Miss Blessington."

"But--incredible!" she cried. "I can't believe you ..."

Facing her, he lifted his scarlet visor, meeting her stare with his
wistful and diffident smile.

[Illustration: Facing her, he lifted his scarlet visor.]

"You see," he said, readjusting the mask.

"But--what does this mean?"

"Do you remember our talk on the way home after _Kismet_--four hours
or several years ago: which is it?"

"I remember we talked ..."

"And I--clumsily enough, Heaven knows!--told you that I'd go far for
one who'd been kind and tolerant to me, if she were in trouble and
could use my poor services?"

"I remember--yes."

"You suspected--surely--it was yourself I had in mind?"

"Why, yes; but--"

"And you'll certainly allow that what happened later, at the door,
when I stood in the way of the importunate Mr. 'B.S.'--if I'm not
sadly in error--was enough to convince any one that you needed a
friend's good offices?"

"So," she said softly, with glimmering eyes--"so for that you followed
me here, Mr.



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