“Once a young planter from Maryland yonder; sometime would-be lawyer here in Washington. It is my misfortune not to be so distinguished in fame or beauty that my name is known by all; so I need not tell you my name perhaps, only assuring you that I am at your service if I may be useful.”
“Your name!” she again demanded.
I told her the first one that came to my lips—I do not remember what. It did not deceive her for a moment.
“Of course that is not your name,” she said; “because it does not fit you. You have me still at disadvantage.”
“And me, Madam? You are taking me miles out of my way. How can I help you? Do you perhaps wish to hunt mushrooms in the Georgetown woods when morning comes? I wish that I might join you, but I fear—”
“You mock me,” she retorted. “Very good. Let me tell you it was not your personal charm which attracted me when I saw you on the pavement! `Twas because you were the only man in sight.”
I bowed my thanks. For a moment nothing was heard save the steady patter of hoofs on the ragged pavement. At length she went on.
“I am alone. I have been followed. I was followed when I called to you—by another carriage. I asked help of the first gentleman I saw, having heard that Americans all are gentlemen.”
“True,” said I; “I do not blame you. Neither do I blame the occupant of the other carriage for following you.”
“I pray you, leave aside such chatter!” she exclaimed.
“Very well, then, Madam. Perhaps the best way is for us to be more straightforward. If I can not be of service I beg you to let me descend, for I have business which I must execute to-night.”
This, of course, was but tentative. I did not care to tell her that my business was with herself. It seemed almost unbelievable to me that chance should take this turn.
She dismissed this with an impatient gesture, and continued.
“See, I am alone,” she said. “Come with me. Show me my way—I will pay—I will pay anything in reason.” Actually I saw her fumble at her purse, and the hot blood flew to my forehead.
“What you ask of me, Madam, is impossible,” said I, with what courtesy I could summon. “You oblige me now to tell my real name. I have told you that I am an American gentleman—Mr. Nicholas Trist. We of this country do not offer our services to ladies for the sake of pay. But do not be troubled over any mistake—it is nothing. Now, you have perhaps had some little adventure in which you do not wish to be discovered. In any case, you ask me to shake off that carriage which follows us. If that is all, Madam, it very easily can be arranged.”
“Hasten, then,” she said. “I leave it to you. I was sure you knew the city.”