John Steele looked around; he saw three vacant chairs and took one, a little aside and slightly behind the young girl, while the governor’s wife, who had moved from the front at the conclusion of the previous act, now returned to her place, next her niece. During the act, some one came in and took a seat in the background; if Steele heard, he did not look around. His gaze remained fastened on the stage; between him and it—or them, art’s gaily attired illusions!—a tress of golden hair sometimes intervened, but he did not move. Through threads like woven flashes of light he regarded the scene of the poet’s fantasy. Did they make her a part of it,—did they seem to the man the fantasy’s intangible medium, its imagery? Threads of gold, threads of melody! He saw the former, heard the latter. They rose and fell wilfully, capriciously, with many an airy and fanciful turn. The man leaned his head on his hand; a clear strain died like a filament of purest metal gently broken. She breathed a little quicker; leaned farther forward; now her slender figure obtruded slightly between him and the performers. He seemed content with a partial view of the stage, and so remained until the curtain went down. The girl turned; in her eyes was a question.
“Beautiful!” said the man, looking at her.
“Charming! What colorature! And the bravura!” Captain Forsythe applauded vigorously.
“You’ve never met Lord Ronsdale, I believe, Mr. Steele?” Sir Charles’ voice, close to his ear, inquired.
“Lord Ronsdale!” John Steele looked perfunctorily around toward the back of the box and saw there a face faintly illumined in the light from the stage: a cynical face, white, mask-like. Had his own features not been set from the partial glow that sifted upward, the sudden emotion that swept Steele’s countenance would have been observed. A sound escaped his lips; was drowned, however, in a renewed outbreak of applause. The diva came tripping out once more, the others, too—bowing, smiling—recipients of flowers. John Steele’s hand had gripped his knee tightly; he was no longer aware of the stage, the people, even Jocelyn Wray. The girl’s attention had again centered on the actors; she with the others had been oblivious to the glint of his eyes, the hard, set expression of his features.
“Old friend, don’t you know,” went on the voice of Sir Charles when this second tumult of applause had subsided. “Had one rare adventure together. One of the kind that cements a man to you.”
As he spoke, the light in the theater flared up; John Steele, no longer hesitating, uncertain, rose; his face had regained its composure. He regarded the slender, aristocratic figure of the nobleman in the background; faultlessly dressed, Lord Ronsdale carried himself with his habitual languid air of assurance. The two bowed; the stony glance of the lord met the impassive one of the man. Then a puzzled look came into the nobleman’s eyes; he gazed at Steele more closely; his glance cleared.