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smiling encouragement at his false bride.

The airy imperturbability of these replies at length
brought Mr. Windsor to a pause. He threw up his
hands with a gesture of impotent contempt.

"I have no doubt you will starve," he observed with
satisfaction.

"Oh, come !" said Charmian, reproachfully.

Mr. Windsor turned on the girl. "Sir Edward Quin-
ton will be here presently. How will you care to face
him?" he asked savagely.

"Pardon me, it is I who will face him," replied Char-
mian ; "and I have yet to learn that a common knight
or baronet can come between husband and wife."

Mr. Windsor bit his lip, and turned away. "What
do you suppose I am to say to him?" he asked irritably.

"If I might suggest, tell him to go to the devil," said
Charmian, amiably; and, turning to the girl, "My dear,
excuse the language, but, as you know, my temper is
violent."

The reckless levity of this young gentleman discon-
certed Mr. Windsor ; and, moreover, his original anger
had had time to cool. He now turned on his heel and
made for the door without a word. Seeing him to be
thus routed, Charmian fired a final shot at long range.

"Won't you stay, sir," he called in the softest tones,

147



COMEDY.

"and dine with us? Do," he urged: "it is our wedding
breakfast practically "

Mr. Windsor flamed forth, "Sir, I would remind you
that you are a pauper, as we all understand."

"But I have managed to borrow enough for this,"
pleaded Charmian, mildly.

"Mr. Gray," said the old gentleman, facing towards
him for the last time as he went out, and speaking not
without some dignity, "you are either a great rascal or
a great fool ; and in either case you are shameless. My
parting advice to j'ou is to practice economy."

"What have you done?" cried the girl in alarm, as
the door closed with a bang. She was red and white
by turns, and fingered nervously at her bodice.

"Madam," said Charmian, "let me reassure you. This
is not Scotland, and you are not my wife."

Her eyes fell from his, and she played with her glove.

"Pray put those on," said he ; "we must not be caught
again like that."

"But there will be no one else who "

"Forgive me — yes — there is this Sir Edward, the bold
bad baronet."

"I had forgotten him. How hateful!" she said; and
then, "Oh, how kind you have been, and how clever!
I was amazed at what you said and how you held your-
self."

"I lied very plump and pat, I will confess," said
Charmian, complacently.

She surveyed him with admiration, but suddenly took
an unexpected change. "But oh," she cried aghast,
"what am I to do now? I can't go back; he thinks me
married.

Charmian stared at her. "By Jove," he said, after a
pause, "and that's true. I had not considered that;"
adding, "Mr. Gray is a "

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THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

She stopped him at the word. "You have no right to
say so," she protested.

"My dear young lady, I have said nothing, but I was
about to remark that Mr. Gray was a most unfortunate
gentleman. Simultaneously I envy and pity Mr. Gray."

"You have no right to pity him," said she with some
asperity.

"My dear young lady," cried Charmian in despair, "1
pity him because he is not here, enjoying the remarkable
privileges which I am enjoying, and the rights which I
am not unwillingly but accidentally usurping."

She glanced at him with some suspicion in her eye,
but displaying a certain embarrassment.

"What are we to do?" she asked.

It seemed that she had thrust the responsibility upon
him, and that they were both involved together in the
imbroglio. But Charmian was not for retiring at this
juncture; certainlj' he did not wince before his obliga-
tions.

"Why, madam, I am sure you are in need of rest after
this exhausting interview, and if you will leave me I
will worry it out myself."

She wrung her hands. "We can do nothing," she
declared.

"We might, of course, confess we lied," suggested
Charmian, coolly : "it would not be agreeable to our
vanity, but "

"No, I would rather starve," cried the girl, vehe-
mently.

"Mr. Windsor suggested that we would probably do
that in any case," he put in.

"Oh !" she exclaimed, coloring prettily after her fash-
ion, "how could you let him suppose . . . ? Why, and
I do not know your name !"

"Nor I yours, by the way," he said : "that reminds



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COMEDY

me that to obviate any further difficulties I might as
well learn it."

But he got no further, for a sound of feet in the pas-
sage sent her flying through the doorway and up the
staircase. Charmian closed the door and turned his at-
tention to the new comer. This was a brisk, dark
young man, of a height with himself, and a year or
two younger. He approached with a great fervor in his
appearance, and showing the vestiges of strong emotion.
There could be no doubt about him in Charmian's mind.
This was the abominable Sir Edward. He took the sit-
uation by the horns. "Sir," he said, "I know very well
whom you are looking for ; but be advised by me and
give up the game. I assure you your persecution is
useless."

The dark young man came to an amazed pause, and
surveyed Charmian, first coolly, and then with irrita-
tion and growing anger. "Ha!" he snorted, "I begin to
see. So that is how the land lies !"

"I congratulate you on your quickness of wit," said
Charmian, sweetly; "and now, since you see so much,
no doubt you will be off."

"No, I'm damned if I will," exclaimed the dark young
man.

Charmian shrugged his shoulders, and his opponent
folded his arms, confronting him somewhat melo-
dramatically.

"So you think you have secured her?" he observed,
with an ill-concealed sneer.

"I wish he would say who," thought Charmian ; but
falling back on the defence which had proved so useful
already, he replied firmly enough ; "When I tell you
that we are already married "

The dark young man interrupted him savagely. "It's
a lie," repeated the other. "My darling Cicely would
never "



150



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"Pardon me — my darling Cicely," interposed Char-
mian, courteously, but firmly, feeling thankful at last to
know her name.

The dark young man seemed to be staggered by this
assurance. He frowned blackly, and was momentarily
silent; while Charmian. gazing upon him, wondered if,
maybe. Miss Cicely had played unkindly with this sup-
posititious villain. He had the marks of anxiety upon
his face. Presently he turned sullenly to Charmian.

"You have coerced her into this. I demand to be
brought face to face with her, and to hear from her
lips the truth."

This sounded familiar to Charmian, who had not
time, however, to identify the source of the sentiment.
"You had better go away," he said soothingly. "We
are busy, and don't want to see any one."

"Very well," said the dark young man, tragically.
"You must take the consequences of your brutal re-
fusal."

Charmian was not to learn what these consequences,
threatened in so broken a voice, might be; for on that
instant a third man, somewhat taller and older than
either, and very cool and matter-of-fact in his bearing,
came quietly into the room. Charmian glanced at him ;
and the stranger, seeing himself observed, opened his
mouth.

"May I ask, is Miss ?" he had begun, when

Charmian, heaving a sigh of relief, sprang forward and
warmly shook his hand. "My dear sir, I am delighted
to see you!" he cried; "you come in the nick of time.
The fact is, that I am supposed to be you, while I really
am some one else, and I have kept up the pretence to
save a lady's feelings — whereas, you see, it is really you
who are married."

As he spoke, he winked significantly into the be-

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COMEDY

wildered face of the tall man. But this revelation
fetched up the dark young man at once.

"What !" he cried at Charmian in astonished indigna-
tion; "are you not Sir Edward Quinton?"

"My dear sir, said Charmian, testily, "please keep
your head clearer. I may have purposely confused my-
self with some one else, but I'm damned if I'm going
to be confounded with you."

"I don't understand this," observed the tall man
feebly. "Pray, who are you? And are you married to
Cicely?"

"Well, yes and no," answered Charmian, who was
annoyed to find that the very man who should have
aided him was stupidly betraying him to the enemy.

"My good sir," exclaimed the tall man, "you will
make my head swim. What is it all about?"

"I can explain very easily," said Charmian, angry at
this stupidity. "Up till now I have been Mr. Gray."

"You have been nothing of the kind, sir !" cried the
dark young man angrily.

Charmian made a gesture of resignation. "My dear
sirs, have it as you will," he exclaimed wearily ; "I think
you had better fight it out between you. Meanwhile, I
have a mind to be off with the lady, who seems too
good for either of you."

"I demand to see Cicely !" exclaimed the dark j'oung
man.

"My dear man, since Mr. Gray, her natural protector,
is now here, I have not the least objection in the world
to offer," said Charmian ; and, opening the door, he
called gently up the stairs, "Cicely! Cicely!"

He took her hand and led her into the room. "My
dear," he said gently, "here are two gentlemen who "

But he had got no further, when she suddenly broke
from him and precipitated herself into the arms of the
dark young man. The tall man frowned and turned

152



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

away. Charmian lifted his eyebrows, and then bit his
lip.

"So this appears to be Mr. Gray," he remarked. "I
suppose I owe some one an apology, but I really don't
know whom."

The dark young man turned on him. "And who the
devil are you?" he demanded with asperity.

"Upon my word, I really don't know — a fool, I sup-
pose," said Charmian desperately; adding, "You mean
my name? It is Charmian."

"Charmian !" interrupted the tall stranger, speaking
for the first time since Cicely's entrance: "not mad
Charmian?"

"I had not thought I had such celebrity, sir," replied
Charmian with a bow, "and I am assuming that you
are the real Sir Edward. Well, sir, I learn with regret
that you have pressed your attentions too warmly. You
must excuse me," he apologized airily, "but I still speak
for Cicely, for, as she very well knows, we are married."

"It is not true! Oh, how can you?" cried the girl.

"My dear child," said Charmian easily, "pray discover
your hand to Mr. Gray, whom I regret to see jumping
some one else's property."

"What's this?" demanded Gray of the girl suspicious-
ly. "Why are your gloves on? What is there on your
hand? I demand to see your fingers. What are you
hiding?"

For answer she flushed warmly, and, extricating
herself from his clutch, stepped deliberately and with
much decision towards Charmian.

"By what right do you command me?" she asked cold-
ly of her lover.

"Yes, I should like to know that," put in Charmian.
"I am waiting to learn what is his locus standi here."

"I see what it is," exclaimed Gray to Charmian indig-



153



COMEDY

nantly : "You would turn all this into a farce. You
would make us appear ridiculous."

"My dear friend," interposed Charmian fervently, "let
me reassure you : there is no necessity. I "

But here Cicely came forward imperiously.

"This gentleman," she said with dignity, "has been
good enough to help me in very awkward circumstances.
He has stood between me and" (her glance reflected on
Sir Edward) "what I was anxious to avoid. I owe
him many thanks, and I offer them to him now."

"In that case," said Gray quickly, "I too offer him my
thanks."

Charmian bowed. "Sir Edward does not?" he said
whimsically.

Sir Edward shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know.
Why not? I have been witness of a touching reunion.
We take these affections too seriously. It is better to be
amused."

"But he knows we are not married. He will inform
Mr. Windsor," exclaimed the girl suddenly, in alarm.

"My dear Cicely," said Charmian, "he will do noth-
ing of the kind, for I trust he will take a drive with
me. I hope, by the way, you zuill get married," he ob-
served. He bowed and turned away, facing the baronet.
"Sir Edward Quinton," he said, "I have a conveyance
outside, and if you are going somewhere I dare say I
could drive you there as speedily as anything else, pro-
vided you can endure my company."

"Lord Francis, I bear no animosity, and your four-in-
hand is famous," returned Sir Edward, with an appear-
ance of alacrity.

"What, is that your coach?" said Cicely, in admira-
tion. It seemed that she was in wonder to have met so
grand a person.

"Madam," said Charmian, as he bowed from the door-

154



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

way, "a little while ago it was yours, but since you have
chosen to discard me, I must put up with Sir Edward."
With which little jest he got out of the room, and, ac-
companied by his guest, thus oddly invited, clambered
up on the coach.



155



CHAPTER II

THE PURSE

The stream of passengers upon the eastern side of
Regent street flowed in a full tide; quickened by
freshets from every doorway that fine spring afternoorr,
it poured and surged and broke in eddies along the
pavement. Men and women, ranks and masses, swayed,
tossed and buffeted together, and the exterior frag-
ments of the crowd were thrown against the lamp-posts.
Lord Francis Charmian made part of this busy tumult,
picking his way carefully and lazily through the gaps.
He was bent upon no object, he had no mission, not
even that of shopping; but it was a fact that he vastly
enjoyed the sunshine, and the variety of human faces
encountered in this medley amused him for the time.
He observed the manners of a crowd with interest. The
women moved all in a fuss, but seemed to get nowhere
in particular. They fluttered about the windows like
bees, and then buzzed off, humming together most im-
portantly. The comparison of them with bees tickled
Charmian's fancy, and he began to see his simile develop.
Now and then one would detach herself from a group
about the gorgeous window, fly out into the pathway
with an appearance of anxiety, and dart away, emotion
shining in her eye, her reticule dangling after her. Even
so had he seen bees rise, satiated from the flowers, and
take precipitately to their wings. The reticules excited
his attention ; they were the honey bags, but they were
inadequately guarded. He had already seen several
which had invited the thief. At this moment, in fror.»

1.56



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

of him, and pushing through the throng like himself, he
noticed a tall, commanding woman, of middle age, her
sails spread solidly to the breeze, bellying along her
path, and a bag dropped open in her hand. Charmian
moved closer, and even as he looked a jerk tossed the
bag about, and its contents fell to the pavement. He
stooped and picked up what he perceived to be a purse,
and for a moment, stood meditating, with a contempla-
tive eye upon the receding lady. It was really time these
women were taught a lesson. Then he was putting the
purse coolly into his pocket, when, of a sudden, he was
seized violently and feebly shaken from behind.

"Thief, thief! I saw you. Thief! Police!" cried a
voice ; and, turning his head as well as he was able,
Charmian saw that he was in the possession of a little
red-faced old gentleman, wearing eyeglasses and armed
with a large umbrella.

"Police! Police! Seize hold of him! I saw him.
Thief!" screamed the old gentleman, shaking Charmian
weakly, but with great bitterness. His glasses had
fallen down his nose, and in glaring over them he as-
sumed a ferocious aspect, while the clutch he kept upon
his umbrella drive it painfully into Charmian's back.

"My dear sir," cried the young man in an agony, "if
you will please remove that infernal stick "

"Police !" screamed the old gentleman ; though by this
time, indeed, his cries were unnecessary, for the police
had elbowed their way through the excited crowd, and
one was already at Charmian's shoulder. He put a hand
upon the young man.

"All right, constable," said he, "I am not going to
bolt. Besides, the crowd would prevent it. I think this
gentleman has gone suddenly mad."

The little red old gentleman relinquished his prisoner
to the police with visible reluctance, and stood by, pre-

157



COMEDY

pared to spring again, but slowly cooling and bringing
his mind to bear upon his fresh responsibilities.

"I charge this man with stealing," he declared vigor-
ously ; and part of the crowd about him applauded. He
looked round with a sense of satisfaction, readjusting
his glasses. "He picked a lady's pocket — that's what he
did. I charge him with theft."

Now, to say the truth, the attack had been so unex-
pected, had been delivered so sharply and with such
ferocity, that Charmian had been overtaken with a sur-
prised bewilderment, which not even the repeated ex-
clamations of the old gentleman could penetrate. Sud-
denly, and in a breath, he saw how he stood. The
purse was between his fingers ; he was caught red-
handed. The frolic began to take an ugly shape. One
of the constables brought out a note-book. He made a
rapid transcript of the old gentleman's statements.

"Do I look like a pickpocket?" asked Charmian mild-
ly, but plying his wits in all directions. It was prepos-
terous ; he would be the laughing-stock of London.
There is nothing more humiliating than the jest that
has missed fire.

"Swell mobsman," came from the crowd in a mur-
mur; and one voice more boldly ventured to isolate itself
and proclaim its naked evidence. "I have no doubt that
this is the man I saw last week in Clerkenwell. He was
just about his height, and got up swell the same way.
I know he's the fellow."

The policeman made a note of this also, at which,
however, the owner of the voice retired precipitately ;
and then he turned to Charmian.

"You must come along with me," he said.

But Charmian was now himself again, and he looked
into the levelled eyes of that hot ring of faces with
urbane coolness, even effrontery.
"You will pardon me," said he ; "but I should like to

158



i i



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

get the bearing of the situation. I am naturally some-
what upset at this extravagant performance, and hardly
understand. I believe that this gentleman with the
hard umbrella accuses me of stealing a purse — this
purse," he held it up — "from a lady. Is that so?"

The constable agreed.

There was silence. "Come," he pursued, "am I to be
set upon, beaten with a hard umbrella, cross-questioned,
arrested and dragged off to a police-station, simply be-
cause a short-sighted old gentleman, with glasses,
chooses to bring a ridiculous accusation against me?
Where is this lady? Let us know, first, if she has lost
anything?"

But at this again there was no reply, only an echo
from the crowd, "Where's the lady?"

The imperturbability of Charmian's manner, and his
undoubted air of distinction, moreover, had prevailed
upon the policeman, who began to doubt and hesitate.
The crowd, with iniquitous recklessness, changed its sym-
pathies. The little old gentleman found himself alone.

"I — I demand," said he, "that this fellow be taken
to the lock-up."

"That's all right. Don't be in a hurry," replied one
of the officers, with soothing sarcasm. "What's your
name?"

"My name is James Cleophas Rodgers, and here is
my address," returned the old gentleman proudly; "and
I demand "

"Yes, yes, we know all that, old cock," interposed
some invisible and irreverent wag from the circle; "tell
us something really nice."

Charmian looked on now with recaptured indiffer-
ence. "Well, constable," said he at length, "perhaps
while this good gentleman is looking for his friend, the
lady, we might adjourn this meeting, which I find, to
say the truth, somewhat inconvenient."

Vol. i8— II 159



COMEDY

"Take the Albert 'All," responded the wag.

"In the meantime," pursued Charmian airily, "here is
my card and my address, where I may be found at any
time, at any rate by appointment."

The officer read the card without visible emotion, but
a change struck at once into his manner. "All right,
sir," he said, and to his comrade, "You have the ad-
dress?" and then, raising his voice on the monotone of
dispassionate equity, "Pass along, please — pass along
there."

The crowd, seeing the excitement melt so quickly,
itself faded and disappeared, leaving only the old gen-
tleman indignantly explaining the situation to a few
curious sympathizers. Charmian was left standing
there.

"Even if the police have not done their duty," said
the old gentleman fiercely, "I will remember your face.
You can rely on that."

"My dear sir," said Charmian, lightly dropping the
purse into his pocket, "and I can assure you I shall
remember your umbrella."

He turned and made in the direction of St. James's,
for, to say the truth, he had been somewhat discon-
certed, and he wanted some refreshment. At the club
he forgot the incident, but later at night encountering
the purse in a pocket, he drew it out and examined it.
There were two gold pieces and some shillings in the
purse — "not a great haul," as Charmian remarked to
himself. But there was also a card, on which he read,
"Mrs. Aubyn," with an address in the far West.

"Oh, come," thought Charmian, "I am not to prove
a real thief after all. I will send it back to-morrow."

As it chanced, Charmian was dining upon the next
afternoon in a part of that large region which is called
Kensington, and by some fortuitous train of thought
he once more recalled the purse. "I will return it my-

i6o



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

self — and now," he resolved, and, forthwith consulting
the card, drove to Mrs. Aubyn's door.

The house was placed in the comer of a pretty square,
was set within white walls and owned a tiny garden. It
was a quarter of the town from which the tide of popu-
lation had retired long s;ince. The builder had over-
looked it, or remarked it with contempt, and no tres-
pass of advancing progress broke the peace and sleep
of this abandoned suburb. The square, neatly and
economically ordered, was bright with flowers, and the
sun shone on the green grass and the red roofs as
upon some country village. Upon these few observa-
tions, made with no great interest, in Charmian's mind,
the door opened, and in answer to his inquiries he was
informed that Mrs. Aubyn was in. He refused his
name on the ground that he had come on business mere-
ly, and, seated in a small sweet-smelling drawing-room.
he was presently awaiting the lady's arrival.

A little while after a door towards the back of the
room was opened gently, and a girl came forward.
Charmian rose and bowed.

"You are Mrs. Aubyn?" he asked, feeling certain now
that he had made a mistake, and that the card had not
belonged to the owner of the purse.

"That is my mother," replied the girl: "you are ex-
pecting her? She would have come, but she is de-
tained. But perhaps I would do as well."

Evidently she was very politely explaining that her
mother did not wish to see him. Yet Charmian could
not be certain that Mrs. Aubyn was the lady whose
purse he had taken, and he was for the time at a loss
how to make inquiries. A glance at the lady herself
would have settled his doubts, for he was quite safe
to remember that bold, commanding figure.

He bowed.^

i6i



COMEDY

"It is a little elaborate," said he. "If I may sit down
and explain "

She begged him to be seated, and herself sat opposite,
her glance resting kindly upon him from brown eyes.
She was slight, pretty, deliberate and serious as a nun.

"Mrs. Aubyn is quite well, I trust?" said he, sinking
into a chair and fixing his eyes on her.

The girl, lifting her eyebrows a trifle, answered that
Mrs. Aubyn was in admirable health.

"Ah, I feared lest perhaps the weather, you know
. . . ," exclaimed Charmian, smoothing his hat.
But all the time he was wondering if he might broach
the purse, so to say, to this austere young lady. It
was a long explanation on which to embark, and he
was not at all confident that he had come to the
right house. She waited for him, still polite, but of-
fering no encouragement. It seemed that he must
speak.

"You are, madame, I may ask, in Mrs. Aubyn's con-
fidence?" he inquired.

The young lady was taken aback, this question
seemed to be surprising: she made no immediate
answer; in truth, she stammered.

"I — I — ^hardly ... Is your business very pri-
vate?" she asked.

"Well," replied Charmian apologetically, "from one
point of view, yes; and yet again perhaps it would be
considered a matter under your cognizance. Cer-
tainly I should prefer to broach it to IMrs. Aubyn."

The girl rose, as if with the intention of leaving the


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