Long as he lived he would never forget the enjoyment of that night. The electric signs along Broadway interested him intensely; he babbled about them boyishly. Theater outside and theater within; a great drama of light and shadow, of comedy and tragedy; for he gazed upon the scene with all his poet’s eyes. He enjoyed the opera, the color and music, the propinquity of Kitty. Sometimes their shoulders touched; the indefinable perfume of her hair thrilled him.
Kitty had seen all these things so many times that she no longer experienced enthusiasm; but his was so genuine, so un-English, that she found it impossible to escape the contagion. She did not bubble over, however; on the contrary, she sat through the performance strangely subdued, dimly alarmed over what she had done.
As they were leaving the lobby of the theater, a man bumped against Thomas, quite accidentally.
“I beg your pardon!” said the stranger, politely raising his hat and passing on.
[Illustration: “I beg your pardon!” said the stranger.]
Thomas’ hand went clumsily to his own hat, which he fumbled and dropped and ran after frantically across the mosaic flooring.
A ghost; yes, sir, Thomas had seen a ghost.
I left Thomas scrambling about the mosaic lobby of the theater for his opera-hat. When he recovered it, it resembled one of those accordions upon which vaudeville artists play Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and the latest ragtime (by request). Some one had stepped on it. Among the unanswerable questions stands prominently: Why do we laugh when a man loses his hat? Thomas burned with a mixture of rage and shame; shame that Kitty should witness his discomfiture and rage that, by the time he had retrieved the hat, the ghost had disappeared.
However, Thomas acted as a polished man of the world, as if eight-dollar opera-hats were mere nothings. He held it out for Kitty to inspect, smiling. Then he crushed it under his arm (where the broken spring behaved like an unlatched jack-in-the-box) and led the way to the Killigrew limousine.
“I am sorry, Mr. Webb,” said Kitty, biting her lips.
“Now, now! Honestly, don’t you know, I hated the thing. I knew something would happen. I never realized till this moment that it is an art all by itself to wear a high hat without feeling and looking like a silly ass.”
He laughed, honestly and heartily; and Kitty laughed, and so did her mother. Subtle barriers were swept away, and all three of them became what they had not yet been, friends. It was worth many opera-hats.
“Kitty, I’m beginning to like Thomas,” said her mother, later. “He was very nice about the hat. Most men would have been in a frightful temper over it.”
“I’m beginning to like him, too, mother. It was cruel, but I wanted to shout with laughter as he dodged in and out of the throng. Did you notice how he smiled when he showed it to me? A woman stepped on it. When she screamed I thought there was going to be a riot.”