“A wide step, Madam; be careful,” I suggested. But still she hesitated.
A laugh, half of annoyance, half of amusement, broke from her lips. As the light flickered down, she made as though to take the step; then, as luck would have it, a bit of her loose drapery, which was made in the wide-skirted and much-hooped fashion of the time, caught at the hinge of the carriage door. It was a chance glance, and not intent on my part, but I saw that her other foot was stockinged, but not shod!
“I beg Madam’s pardon,” I said gravely, looking aside, “but she has perhaps not noticed that her other slipper is lost in the carriage.”
“Nonsense!” she said. “Allow me your hand across to the walk, please. It is lost, yes.”
“But lost—where?” I began.
“In the other carriage!” she exclaimed, and laughed freely.
Half hopping, she was across the walk, through the narrow gate, and up at the door before I could either offer an arm or ask for an explanation. Some whim, however, seized her; some feeling that in fairness she ought to tell me now part at least of the reason for her summoning me to her aid.
“Sir,” she said, even as her hand reached up to the door knocker; “I admit you have acted as a gentleman should. I do not know what your message may be, but I doubt not it is meant for me. Since you have this much claim on my hospitality, even at this hour, I think I must ask you to step within. There may be some answer needed.”
“Madam,” said I, “there is an answer needed. I am to take back that answer. I know that this message is to the Baroness von Ritz. I guess it to be important; and I know you are the Baroness von Ritz.”
“Well, then,” said she, pulling about her half-bared shoulders the light wrap she wore; “let me be as free with you. If I have missed one shoe, I have not lost it wholly. I lost the slipper in a way not quite planned on the program. It hurt my foot. I sought to adjust it behind a curtain. My gentleman of Mexico was in wine. I fled, leaving my escort, and he followed. I called to you. You know the rest. I am glad you are less in wine, and are more a gentleman.”
“I do not yet know my answer, Madam.”
“Come!” she said; and at once knocked upon the door.
I shall not soon forget the surprise which awaited me when at last the door swung open silently at the hand of a wrinkled and brown old serving-woman—not one of our colored women, but of some dark foreign race. The faintest trace of surprise showed on the old woman’s face, but she stepped back and swung the door wide, standing submissively, waiting for orders.