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The iridescent
imagery of the Arabian Nights of his boyhood (who has forgotten the
fascination of those three fat old volumes of crabbed type,
illuminated with their hundreds of cramped old wood-cuts?) had in a
scant three hours been recreated for him by Knoblauch's fantastic
drama with its splendid investment of scene and costume, its admirable
histrionic interpretation, and the robust yet exquisitely tempered
artistry of Otis Skinner. For three hours he had forgotten his lowly
world, had lived on the high peaks of romance, breathing only their
rare atmosphere that never was on land or sea.

Difficult he found it now, to divest his thoughts of that
enthrallment, to descend to cold and sober reality, to remember he was
a clerk, his companion a shop-girl, rather than a Prince disguised as
Calander esquiring a Princess dedicated to Fatal Enchantment--that
Kismet was a quaint fallacy, one with that whimsical conceit of Orient
fatalism which assigns to each and every man his Day of Days, wherein
he shall range the skies and plumb the abyss of his Destiny,
alternately its lord and its puppet.

But presently, with an effort, blinking, he pulled his wits together;
and a traffic policeman creating a favourable opening, the two
scurried across and plunged into the comparative obscurity of West
Thirty-eighth Street: sturdy George and his modest Violet already a
full block in advance.

Discovering this circumstance by the glimmer through the shadows of
Violet's conspicuously striped black-and-white taffeta, P. Sybarite
commented charitably upon their haste.

"If we hurry we might catch up," suggested Molly Lessing.

"I don't miss 'em much," he admitted, without offering to mend the
pace.

She laughed softly.

"Are they really in love?"

"George is," replied P. Sybarite, after taking thought.

"You mean she isn't?"

"To blush unseen is Violet's idea of nothing to do--not, at least,
when one is a perfect thirty-eight and possesses a good digestion and
an infinite capacity for amusement _ la carte_."

"That is to say--?" the girl prompted.

"Violet will marry well, if at all."

"Not Mr. Bross, then?"

"Nor any other poor man. I don't say she doesn't care for George, but
before anything serious comes of it he'll have to make good use of his
Day of Days--if _Kismet_ ever sends him one. I hope it will," P.
Sybarite added sincerely.

"You don't believe--really--?"

"Just now? With all my heart! I'm so full of romantic nonsense I can
hardly stick. Nothing is too incredible for me to believe to-night.
I'm ready to play _Hajj the Beggar_ to any combination of
impossibilities _Kismet_ cares to brew in Bagdad-on-the-Hudson!"

Again the girl laughed quietly to his humour.

"And since you're a true believer, Mr. Sybarite, tell me, what use
_you_ would make of your Day of Days?"

"I? Oh, I--" Smiling wistfully, he opened deprecatory palms. "Hard to
say.... I'm afraid I should prove a fatuous fool in George's esteem
equally with old _Hajj_. I'm sure that, like him, the sunset of my Day
would see me proscribed, a price upon my head."

"But--why?"

"I'm afraid I'd try to use my power to right old wrongs."

After a pause, she asked diffidently: "Your own?"

"Perhaps.... Yes, my own, certainly.... And perhaps another's, not so
old but possibly quite as grievous."

"Somebody you care for a great deal?"

Thus tardily made to realise into what perils his fancy was leading
him, he checked and weighed her question with his answer, gravely
judgmatical.

"Perhaps I'd better not say that," he announced, a grin tempering his
temerity; "but I'd go far for a friend, somebody who had been kind to
me, and--ah--tolerant--if she were in trouble and could use my
services."

He fancied her glance was quick and sharp and searching; but her voice
when she spoke was even and lightly attuned to his whimsical mood.

"Then you're not even sure she--your friend--is in trouble?"

"I've an intuition: she wouldn't be where she is if she wasn't."

Her laughter at this absurdity was delightful; whether with him or at
him, it was infectious; he echoed it without misgivings.

"But--seriously--you're not sure, are you, Mr. Sybarite?"

"Only, Miss Lessing," he said soberly, "of my futile, my painfully
futile good will."

She seemed to start to speak, to think better of it, to fall silent in
sudden, shy constraint. He stole a side-long glance, troubled,
wondering if perhaps he had ventured too impudently, pursuing his whim
to the point of trespass upon the inviolable confines of her reserve.

She wore a sweet, grave face, _en profile_; her eyes veiled with long
lashes, the haunts of tender shadows; her mouth of gracious lips
unsmiling, a little triste. Compunctions smote him; with his crude and
clumsy banter he had contrived to tune her thoughts to sadness. He
would have given worlds to undo that blunder; to show her that he had
meant neither a rudeness nor a wish to desecrate her reticence, but
only an indirect assurance of gratitude to her for suffering him and
willingness to serve her within the compass of his poverty-stricken
powers. For in retrospect his invitation assumed the proportions of an
importunity, an egregious piece of presumption: so that he could have
groaned to contemplate it.

He didn't groan, save inwardly; but respected her silence, and held
his own in humility and mortification of spirit until they were near
the dooryard of their boarding-house. And even then it was the girl
who loosed his tongue.

"Why--where are they?" she asked in surprise.

Startled out of the deeps of self-contempt, P. Sybarite discovered
that she meant Violet and George, who were nowhere visible.

"Violet said something about a little supper in her room," explained
the girl.

"I know," he replied: "crackers and cheese, beer and badinage: our
humble pleasures. You'll be bored to extinction--but you'll come,
won't you?"

"Why, of course! I counted on it. But--"

"They must have hurried on to make things ready--Violet to set her
room to rights, George to tote the wash-pitcher to the corner for the
beer. And very likely, pending our arrival, they're lingering at the
head of the stairs for a kiss or two."

The girl paused at the gate. "Then we needn't hurry," she suggested,
smiling.

"We needn't delay," he countered amiably. "If somebody doesn't
interrupt 'em before long, George will be too late to get the pitcher
filled. This town shuts up tight at midnight, Saturdays--if you want
to believe everything you hear. So there's no need of being too
indulgent with our infatuated fellow-inmates."

"But--just a minute, Mr. Sybarite," she insisted.

"As many as you wish," he laughed. "As a matter of fact, I loathe
draught beer."

"Do be serious," she begged. "I want to thank you."

He was aware of a proffered hand, slender and fine in a shabby glove;
and took it in his own, uneasily conscious of a curious disturbance in
his bosom, of a strange and not unpleasant sense of commingled
expectancy, pleasure, and diffidence (as far as he was able to analyse
it--or cared to--at that instant).

"It was kind of you to come," he said jerkily, in his embarrassment.

"I enjoyed every moment," she said warmly. "But that wasn't all I
meant when I thanked you."

His eyebrows climbed with surprise.

"What else, Miss Lessing?"

"Your delicacy in letting me know you understood--"

Disengaging her hand, she broke off with a startled movement, and a
low cry of surprise.

A taxicab, swinging into the street from Eighth Avenue, had boiled up
to the curb before the gate, and pausing, discharged a young man in a
hurry; witness the facts that he had the door open when halfway
between the corner and the house, and was on the running-board before
the vehicle was fairly at a halt.

In a stride this one crossed the sidewalk and pulled up, silently,
trying to master the temper which was visibly shaking him. Tall,
well-proportioned, impressively turned out in evening clothes, he
thrust forward a handsome face marred by an evil, twisted mouth, and
peered searchingly at the girl.

Instinctively she shrank back inside the fence, eyeing him with a look
of fascinated dismay.

As instinctively P. Sybarite bristled between the two.

"Well?" he snapped at the intruder.

An impatient gesture of a hand immaculately gloved in white abolished
him completely--as far, at least, as the other was concerned.

"Ah--Miss Lessing, I believe?"

The voice was strong and musical but poisoned with a malicious triumph
that grated upon the nerves of P. Sybarite; he declined to be
abolished.

"Say the word," he suggested serenely to the girl, "and I'll bundle
this animal back into that taxi and direct the driver to the nearest
accident ward. I'd rather like to, really."

"Get rid of this microbe," interrupted the other savagely--"unless you
want him buried between glass slides under a microscope."

The girl turned to P. Sybarite with pleading eyes and imploring hands.

"If you please, dear Mr. Sybarite," she begged in a tremulous voice:
"I'm afraid I must speak alone with this"--there was a barely
perceptible pause--gentleman. If you won't mind waiting a moment--at
the door--?"

"If it pleases you, Miss Lessing--most certainly." He drew back a step
or two. "But speaking of microbes," he added incisively, "a word of
advice: don't tease 'em. My bite is deadly: neither Pasteur nor your
family veterinary could save you."

Ignored by the man, but satisfied in his employment of the last word,
he strutted back to the brownstone stoop, there to establish himself,
out of earshot but within, easy hail.

Hearing nothing, he made little more of the guarded conference that
began on his withdrawal. The man, entering the dooryard, had cornered
the girl in an angle of the fence. He seemed at once insistent,
determined, and thoroughly angry; while she exhibited perfect
composure with some evident contempt and implacable obstinacy.
Nevertheless, in a brace of minutes the fellow seemingly brought forth
some telling argument. She wavered and her accents rose in doubt:

"Is that true?"

His reply, if inaudible, was as forcible as it was patently an
affirmative.

"I don't believe you!"

"You don't dare doubt me."

This time he was clearly articulate, and betrayed a conviction that he
had won the day: an impression borne out by the evident irresolution
of the girl, prefacing her abrupt surrender.

"Very well," she said in a tone of resignation.

"You'll go?"

"Yes."

He moved aside, to give her way through the gate.



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