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started swiftly in agreeably upon Charmian's senses.

The dancers, slowly detaching from the fringe of
guests along the walls, surged, swayed, and, eddying

177



COMEDY

solemnly, were swept into the vortex of the dance.
Charmian slipped between the couples, delicately poised
on his whimsy. He encountered a handsome girl in
cream, who seemed on the point of picking her way
through the room.

"There," he cried, with arch gaiety, "I thought I
should never catch you. This is our dance, I believe?"

The young lady stared at him in bewilderment.

"I knew you meant to jilt me," he pursued, cheerily.
"May I help you to a seat? I am afraid we are em-
barrassing the dancers." He took her arm with gentle
authority, and laid it in his, smilingly urbane and pleas-
antly garrulous.

"But I think," began the girl in cream, "there is a mis-
take. Really, I "

Charmian opened his eyes in pained amazement.
"May I beg you for your card?" he asked, somewhat
coolly. He took it from her tremulous fingers. "There
are my initials," he said, with patient melancholy. "But
of course, I would not claim you against your will."

"Oh, but indeed " she broke forth, very red, but

striving to attain a smile.

"Ah, I knew you would remember," interposed Char-
mian complacently, and firmly he led the way into the
arena of the waltz.

The young lady cast a despairing glance about her,
but finding no help at hand surrendered herself weakly
to the pirate. Charmian danced with a grace, and his
partner presently yielded herself to the seductions of the
moment. She moved with him lithely, breathing deeply
at his shoulder. The music ceased, the cinematograph
dissolved, and Charmian, with his pretty, panting part-
ner drifted to the door. It was not until then that she
came to realize anew her position. Some woman stopped
her in the doorway, and whispered a question.

178



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"I — I don't know," murmured the girl, in some con-
fusion. "He says he knows me."

"Pray let me see that card again," demanded Char-
main. "You see," he added, indicating a set of initials,
"that all those belong to me — D. V., you know."

The girl stared, reddened, stammered, and her breath-
lessness increased. She strove to withdraw her arm.

"Allow me," said Charmian firmly, "you are too hot.
You must take some refreshment."

He seated her comfortably in the supper-room. "It is
always a good plan," he remarked, "to begin supper
early ; then it lasts a nice long time. Won't you have
an ice?"

The girl was coerced into taking an ice, which she
held untasted in her hand. Charmian talked.

"Now I'll wager," said he cheerfully, "that you don't
remember when first we met?"

"No ! I — I don't think I do," she stammered.

"Of course," pursued Charmain lightly, "I don't mean
really when we first met, because you were hardly out of
long skirts on that occasion, but the first time you can
remember."

She gasped. "I — I don't remember," she exclaimed.

"There ! I was sure of it," cried Charmian, triumph-
antly. "I might say, what ingratitude ! but I only sigh,
what cruelty ! I recall it with particular distinctness.
There was the sun setting, descending on the Cam-
pagna "

"Campagna," she gasped. "Why, I — I've never "

"Oh, excuse me," said Charmian, with grave reproach.
Don't you recall that time in Italy now?"

"There must be some mistake," she stammered. "For
I "

"Mabel," murmured a voice near by, and Charmian's
sharp ears caught the whisper, "will you tell me who
that is?"



179



-rrrA'«M»d!iiini*iTBttrfw«TKJ«v«r-flr:rrDt- i^vw^w'iWJi'fifW'Jw*;'!



COMEDY

Out of the corner of his eyes he caught a glimpse of
a woman, and remembered her for the bright-eyed crea-
ture whom he had accosted on the pavement outside.
She was regarding him, as he went on, with vivacious
and inquisitive eyes. He heard his poor partner's reply.

"I don't know," she said distressfully. "He says he
met me in Italy."

"I think," said Charmian, interposing on the whis-
pers, "it's time we went upstairs — unless, of course,
you'd like some more ices," he added, with a look at the
untouched plate.

The girl in cream cast a glance of appeal at her
friend, but obeyed him. As they neared the door a
young man, eagerly pulling his fingers into his gloves,
met and confronted them.

"Oh, Miss Potts," he cried gladly, "I couldn't find
you anywhere, and we've missed our dance."

"Potts, Potts !" murmured Charmian, "I must re-
member Potts ;" and aloud, "Miss Potts," says he, with
a bow, "is much indebted to you for your solicitude, but
it was our dance."

"Oh, come," remonstrated the young fellow, with a
somewhat sheepish grin.

"We are coming," remarked Charmian, pressing the
girl's arm tighter to him. "I must really get away from
this sort of nuisance," he whispered. "It is insuffer-
able."

"But — but " she began, protesting.

"I know, I know," said Charmian, soothingly. "I will
deal with him later." He conducted her into the ball-
room with splendid ceremony, leaving the young man
gaping after them. "I think," he observed, "that we
will sit out this dance. I know you won't mind. I
always prefer a talk with you to dancing."

Miss Potts rose firmly. "I am sorry I must be going
now," she said quickly; and, ere either might venture

iSo



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

further, the lady in purple, who had welcomed Charmian
on the landing, bore down on them. Miss Potts jumped
away with an expression of relief, and an ejaculation of
"Mother !"

Charmian whistled internally. "So this is 'my daugh-
ter Mabel?'" he said. "Well, Mabel is agreeably
pretty."

It seemed, however, that she had been rescued for the
time. "Who on earth is that?" asked the lady in
purple.

"I don't know," said Mabel plaintively. "He says I'm
engaged to him for six dances."

Charmian skipped elegantly from the room. Every
one seemed to be inquiring about him, and it was very
warm. He made his way to a sort of buffet for re-
freshments.

"Hot," he remarked, assuming as nearly as he might
an off-hand aid of cordiality, and addressing an elderly
gentleman, who was sipping cold coffee with a thought-
ful expression.

"Very," assented the elderly gentleman.

"Crush like this is very abominable," ventured Char-
mian, putting down a tumbler of claret-cup.

The elderly gentleman observed him. "It is," he
agreed deliberately.

"Why on earth do people do it?" asked Charmian,
languidly. "It's their wives, I suppose?"

"Yes, I suppose it's their wives, as you say," re-
marked the elderly gentleman, after a pause.

The conversation did not seem to Charmian to be in-
spiriting; so, "Nice old chap, Potts," he ventured,
amiably diverting the current.

"Indeed?" remarked the elderly gentleman, sipping
his coffee.

"Nice daughter, too," added Charmian, pleasantly,
finishing his drink.

i8i



COMEDY

"Ah; so I've heard," responded the elderly gentle-
man reflectively.

He did not offer great encouragement to friendliness,
and Charmian moved away. As he did so, he ran up
against the young man who had claimed Miss Potts.
He made a most polite apology for the mishap.

"My sight is so bad," said he.

"Oh, well !" exclaimed the young man angrily, but
could get no further for the moment.

"You were remarking?" suggested Charmian atten-
tively.

"You have a damned cheek," said the young man,
growing red.

"My dear sir," said Charmian, in his nicest manner,
"I can explain it all in a few words. I will not pre-
tend to misunderstand you, now that I see who you are.
Can you spare me a few moments in this corner?"

The young man, something confounded by this air of
assurance, followed him, and they sat down together.
The ease and magnificence of Charmian's manner were
already influencing his companion : he was composing
himself; and he sat ready to accept the explanation of
this unfortunate misunderstanding.

"You were quite right just now," began Charmian,
nodding at him gravely. "You had a very just ground
of offence. But I assure you that it was not my doing.
Affairs took a swing under me and took me off my
balance."

"That's all very well," replied the young man ; "but
it doesn't explain why you jumped my partner."

"Pardon mc," said Charmian, lowering his voice: "it
does. You understand women — not a doubt of it. Well,
put yourself in my place. Was I to gainsay a lady?"

"Sir," cried the young man angrily, "you are making
a fool of me."

"Excuse me," said Charmian, pleasantly, "but it is

182



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

the lady who is doing that. The fact is— I had no in-
tention of telhng you a private secret three minutes ago,
but it seems that this is the best solutioh of this un-
pleasant situation, and I trust to your honor — the fact
is, we are engaged."

"You are engaged!" stuttered the young man, rising
half way to his feet.

"Well, w. look upon ourselves as engaged," nodded
Charmian. "But please no word of this. I only tell you

that you may understand "

But here he was interrupted by the extraordinary agi-
tation of the young man, which broke out into a jumble
of furious and startled exclamations.

"It's a lie! Engaged! Why,— keep it secret indeed!
Mabel— the lady— is engaged to me," he stuttered.

"Pardon me, to me," said Charmian, somewhat taken
aback at this revelation, but seeing no course open but
to go forward.

The young man rose from his seat, mightily shaken,
and stalked off in a gust of fear and passion. "I will
see her at once," he muttered.

Charmian sat a moment with his eyebrows lifted ; and
then he. too, hopped to his feet and darted out of the
room. At all costs he must anticipate this frenzied hot-
head and interview the lady first.

The ball-room was flowing with dancers, and the
soft and gentle sound of trailing raiment swished reg-
ularly upon Charmian's ear as he stood in the door-
way. The susiirrus of the dance was heard below the
music. The glare of the electric lights affected him,
and for some seconds he was at a loss to individualize
the faces. But presently he caught sight of his late
companion and his supposititious rival, edging anx-
iously along the wall and scrutinizing eagerly the peo-
ple in the dance. The next instant beheld the young
man's features start with light, and, following his

1S3



COMEDY

glance, himself discovered Miss Potts, whirling rhyth-
mically in the embrace of a partner.

"I'll catch her when she comes round," thought
Charmian, and kept an eye on the lady and on the
man. Circling leisurely. Miss Potts approached the
spot on which he stood, resolute to take advantage of
the least faltering on the part of the waltzers. But
they passed on smoothly rhythmical, and Charmian
found the distance between them growing. At each
turn, too, she drew nearer to the young man. It was,
he reflected, like the game he had played in his youth,
which had been termed "musical chairs." He was in
dread lest they should come to a pause opposite his
rival, and, moved by this impatience, he began to walk
round with the dance so as to anticipate so unfortunate
an accident. The couple would sometimes disappear,
sucked into the vortex, when Charmian's fears rose,
and he watched with anxiety until they reappeared
upon the circumference. In this occupation he pushed
unceremoniously past the bystanders, and found him-
self presently rubbing shoulders with the young man.
Then, of a sudden, the fiddles ceased, the dancers
stopped with them, and both Charmian and his rival
made forward into the arena, which had momentarily
swallowed up Miss Potts. Charmian almost upset the
elderly gentleman with whom he had spoken earlier,
but made his hasty apologies gracefully.

"Of no consequence, sir," replied the other. "Seen
old Potts lately?"

"Yes, yes," said Charmian cheerfully: "just had a
long talk with him." And he hurried on, haunted
with the fear that he was too late, and dimly recog-
nizing in his impetuosity that the elderly gentleman
was conducting the lady with the sprightly face. To
his satisfaction, he now beheld ^liss Potts advancing
before him, hanging on the arm of her partner. She

184



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

wore a dull expression upon her pretty face, which
changed to a livelier color when she saw him! partly
with the recognition and in part with embarrassment.
Charmian stopped in front of them, and Miss Potts
clung to her partner in alarm.

"Pray excuse me," said he to the latter; and to the
lady: "I am asked to conduct you to your mother."

"But my mother is here," cried Miss Potts in bewil-
derment, casting a glance toward the purple figure that
stood near by.

"I beg your pardon," said Charmian abruptly,
"Father — father, of course."

With some terror and suspicion in her eye, she
yielded, and he took her of¥, slipping behind a 'stout
woman m time to escape the desperate young man, who
was now wildly hunting about the room. Without
more than a civil whisper he led his prey to the door.
"Oh, there is my father!" she cried suddenly, and
would have pulled away her arm. But Charmian. fol-
lowmg her eyes, encountered the gaze of the elderly
gentleman and his lively partner, who were steadily ob-
serving the pair. So that was old Potts himself! He
put his hand to his moist forehead.

"This is getting too warm," he remarked, speaking
aloud.

"It is very hot," assented Miss Potts, directing her
steps toward her father. Charmian came to a stop.

"My dear young lady," he said desperately, "don't
you thmk, then, that the garden would suit us very
well? We might cool down there. I assure you I
am in sore need of it."

"But— but " she began.

"Say no more about it," he interrupted. "I am sure
you will grant me this favor. It is all I shall ever ask
you and I swear that I shall keep you but five minutes
in the mterval between your dances."

i8s



COMEDY

"But — but — you said they were your dances," she
stammered.

''Did I?" he said. "Oh, yes, of course I did. Well,
you know, I made a mistake, and they weren't. In
fact, there were none of them my dances. In fact,
you're not the person I took you for."

"I'm not?" she cried in confusion, gaping at him.

"No, but see, I can easily explain. It won't take
three minutes if you will come into the garden. I hope
there's a garden."

"Oh, yes, there's a very nice garden," she said com-
placently.

"Come, then," said Charmian, with one fearful eye
on the elderly gentleman, and the other endeavoring
to scour the neighborhood in search of the bitter young
man.

She guided him from the room and presently brought
him down a flight of steps into a night of stars and
dew. Charmian held her arm. "Let me put this wrap
on you," he said softly. The thought came comfortably
into his mind that they could always hide among the
bushes on the lawn. "Now let me begin at the begin-
ning." he went on.

"You said," said Miss Potts timidly, "that I was not
the person you supposed."

"That, my dear Miss Mabel," said Charmian in his
friendliest manner, "was a very rude speech, spoken in
the excitement of embarrassment. The fact is, that I
am a different person."

"From what you supposed?" said Miss Potts feebly.

"I can put it best this way," he pursued equably. "I
have the honor to know a young lady whom I have not
seen for some long time. You chance to resemble her
very greatly. It is a wonderful likeness. I — my dear
young lady, may I say this quite freely? — I happen to
be deeply attached to her, to admire her desperately.

i?.6



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

She is very beautiful, very witty, and very courageous.
May I leave you to conceive my blunder, and to for-
give it?"

Miss Mabel was silent. He felt her hand slip slowly
from his arm.

She trembled.

"I — I am very sorry," she said in a low voice.

"So am I," said Charmian, in as low a voice, sig-
nificant with feeling. He gently pressed her fingers,
which were notnow withdrawn. "And now," he resumed,
"now that I have explained clearly to you, as was your
due, the unhappy mistake which has caused me so
much confusion, I will leave you and this house to-
gether, for fear I add still further to your embarrass-
ment."

"I don't think," said Miss Mabel softly, "you will
hurt me by staying."

"'My dear Miss Mabel, I am overwhelmed with
shame when I think of my conduct," he declared.

"I wouldn't take it to heart,"she urged. "It was only
a mistake, and — I suppose you're a friend of papa's?"
she inquired.

"Papa's? Yes, papa's," assented Charmian with a
gulp.

But at this moment, and as she would put him further
questions, a voice called pleasantly out of the darkness:

"Mabel! Mabel!"

"It is Mrs. Langdon," said Miss Mabel quickly, and
showing not a little confusion. "I had better go."

"Let me help you," pleaded Charmian, and led her
boldly forward into the light. Upon the staircase
stood the young lady with the lively face, regard-
ing them now with luminous and smiling intelligence.

"You will catch cold, my dear," she exclaimed pleas-
antly, "and Mr. Vernon is looking for you anxiously;"
and then, making a show of seeing Charmian for the

187



COMEDY

first time, she made a start forward and held out a
hand. "My dear friend," she cried, "really I had no
idea you were here. When I passed you just now I
did not recognize you. You remember me, of course?"

Charmian, abashed by this unexpected assault, hesi-
tated a moment. "Why, yes, of course I do," he an-
swered lamely.

"We met in Italy, you remember — in the Cam-
pagna, was it not?"

"It — it undoubtedly was, my dear lady," said Char-
mian.

The same year, of course, that you met Miss Potts?"
she pursued cheerfully, fanning herself and languishing
out of her lovely eyes.

"Oh — er — yes, of course," assented Charmian, now
thoroughly disordered.

"But," cried Miss Mabel in amazement, "you never
met me then at all — you know you didn't!" and ere he
could speak explained in a lower voice to the other,
"He took me for some one else — some one to whom
he is deeply attached."

"Poor fellow!" said Mrs. Langdon, with a sweet
cadence in her voice.

But Charmian was never discomposed for long, or
often, and he had now quite recovered, and was gazing
into the well-lighted, dancing eyes of his antagonist.

"I am quite sure of this, Mrs. Langdon," he said,
gently, "that I need your sympathy."

"I am quite sure you are a man, sir, who gets all the
sympathy he needs," said she brightly. "Mabel," she
continued with some authority, "I have told you that
Mr. Vernon is looking everywhere for you."

"I think I can guess who Mr. Vernon is," said Char-
mian.

"I doubt if he could say the same of you," retorted
the lady sweetly.

i88



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

The girl lingered; she cast puzzled glances from one
to the other. Mrs. Langdon made an impatient gesture,
and she vanished up the stairs.

Charmian broke into a smile. "Madam," he said, "I
own myself defeated. You have me at a disadvantage."
"On the contrary," said she graciously, "it is rather
you who have us all at a disadvantage."
"I am an imposter," said he humbly.
"It is a harsh word, but I know no other," said she.
"And I have broken down — I have given myself
away."

"After a wonderfully successful course of mischief,"
she added, lightly.

Charmian considered; he bit his lip. "I confess," he
said, "and I will do any penance you will."

The lady shrugged her shoulders daintily. "It has
nothing to do with me."

"It was quite an accident," he pleaded. "A mistake
of my cab."

"You had better explain that to Mr. Potts," she sug-
gested.

Charmian took pleasure in her sparkling face; he
found himself suddenly content to talk and watch her.
"In truth," he urged, in his winning voice, "if I had
not met you upon the pavement I should not have
thought of it."

She started and fixed her gaze on him, coloring ever
so faintly. Then she broke out into soft and merry
laughter.

"Oh," she said, "I never have met your match."
"Indeed," said Charmian, disconsolately, "but appar-
ently I have."

"Here is Mr. Potts," said she quickly; "and now for
your explanations."

Charmian looked her full in the face, elevated his
eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and turned to meet

189



COMEDY

the master of the house. The elderly gentleman ap-
proached deliberately, eyeing them dispassionately.

"I should be glad, sir " he began slowly.

But unexpectedly the lady interposed.

"Oh, I am glad you have come, Mr. Potts. I wanted
to introduce to you my friend, Lord Francis Charmian,
whom I took the liberty of bringing with me."

Charmian fell back a step in his astonishment, and
Mr. Potts seemed somewhat bewildered, but the former
recovered ; he bowed.

"Yes, Mr. Potts, we're quite old friends — met in the
Campagna," he said amiably.

"Oh, indeed !" said Mr. Potts, quite affable and smil-
ing. He shuffled off, after some exchanges, and Char-
mian turned to his companion.

"You have known all along?" he said in dismay.

"I have managed to recall a photograph I once saw,"
said she drily.

"My dear lady," he said with some tenderness, "I kiss
your hands."

"My dear lord," said Mrs. Langdon. "knowing your
reputation, you do nothing of the kind."

Her face shone with pretty color; she was amazingly
handsome.

"At least," said Charmian firmly, and seizing upon her
hand, "I will take you down to supper."



igo



CHAPTER IV

THE GREEN BROUGHAM

The estates, properly belonging to the Dowager Mar-
chioness of Auriol, herself Baroness de Lys in her own
right, were situated in an outlying part of that western
country which is accounted by its inhabitants the most
beautiful. She was a handsome woman of a royal
presence, was scarcely fifty, acknov/ledged to less,
and still maintained her position in the world of
fashion among younger and less dignified rivals. Upon
this property it was natural that Lord Francis Charmian
should be supposed to keep an eye. The Marchioness
herself journeyed in state at intervals into the west, but
to her son she resigned the charges of that territory
which should one day be his. Charmian, however, had
an eye and a spirit for the country upon occasion, and,
even in the heart of the season, was known to have
spent a week at the castle with comfort and entertain-
ment to himself.

But it was naturally in winter that his visits were
longest, and most satisfactory. He hunted now and
then, and he shot at odd times; but his irregular seasons
had got him the name of eccentricity from the more '
rabid partisans of these pursuits. It was, for example,
egregious indeed, that Lord Francis should be returning
to the castle on a wild January day, instead of some
three months earlier. Even Lady Auriol had spent her
Christmas in the country, though she had fled to town
with her retinue about the middle of January ; but here

Vol. 18—13 ^9^



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