“With Miss Prim and George Bross,” he amended hastily. “Somebody—a friend—sent me a box for ‘Kismet.’ I thought—possibly—you might care to go. It—it would give me great pleasure.”
Miss Lessing held up another pair of gloves.
“These are three-fifty-nine,” she said absently. “Why did you come here to ask me?”
“I—I was afraid you might make some other engagement for the evening.”
He couldn’t have served his cause more handsomely than by uttering just that transparent evasion. In a thought she understood: at their boarding-house he could have found no ready opportunity to ask her save in the presence of others; and he was desperately afraid of a refusal.
After all, he had reason to be: they were only table acquaintances of a few weeks’ standing. It was most presumptuous of him to dream that she would accept....
On the other hand, he was (she considered gravely) a decent, manly little body, and had shown her more civility and deference than all the rest of the boarding-house and shop people put together. And she rather liked him and was reluctant to hurt his feelings; for she knew instinctively he was very sensitive.
Her eyes and lips softened winningly.
“It’s so good of you to think of me,” she said.
“You mean—you—you will come?” he cried, transported.
“I shall be very glad.”
“That’s—that’s awf’ly kind of you,” he said huskily. “Now, do please find some way to get rid of me.”
Smiling quietly, the girl recovered the glove boxes.
“I’m afraid we haven’t what you want in stock,” she said in a voice not loud but clear enough to carry to the ears of her inquisitive co-labourers. “We’re expecting a fresh shipment in next week—if you could stop in then....”
“Thank you very much,” said P. Sybarite with uncalled-for emotion.
He backed away awkwardly, spoiled the effect altogether by lifting his hat, wheeled and broke for the doors....
A LIKELY STORY
From the squalour, the heat, dirt and turmoil of Eighth Avenue, P. Sybarite turned west on Thirty-eighth Street to seek his boarding-house.
This establishment—between which and the Cave of the Smell his existence alternated with the monotony of a pendulum—was situated midway on the block on the north side of the street. It boasted a front yard fenced off from the sidewalk with a rusty railing: a plot of arid earth scantily tufted with grass, suggesting that stage of baldness which finally precedes complete nudity. Behind this, the moat-like area was spanned to the front door by a ragged stoop of brownstone. The four-story facade was of brick whose pristine coat of fair white paint had aged to a dry and flaking crust, lending the house an appearance distinctly eczematous.
The sun of April, declining, threw down the street a slant of kindly light to mitigate its homeliness. In this ethereal evanescence the house Romance took the air upon the stoop.