Now that he had embarked upon a new career, he perceived the impropriety of a future director in the Engraving Company going to dine at “The Fried Cat,” and so resolved to take his dinner in the gorgeous cafe of The Lorne. While he was waiting for the proper moment to descend thither, he could not get the shoe question out of his mind. Surely, the boot-boy could not have been so idiotic as to have left that ancient, broken-down pair at Littimer’s threshold! And yet it was possible. Crombie felt another flush of humility upon his cheeks. Then he wandered off into reverie upon the multifarious errands of all the pairs of boots and shoes that had gone forth from the great apartment house that day. Patter, patter, patter! tramp, tramp!—he imagined he heard them all walking, stamping, shuffling along toward different parts of the city, with many different objects, and sending back significant echoes. Whither had his own ruinous Congress gaiters gone?—to what destination which they would never have reached had he been in them? Had they carried their temporary possessor into any such worriment and trouble as he himself had often traveled through on their worn but faithful soles?
Breaking off from these idle fancies at length, he went down to the cafe; and there he had the pleasure of dining at a table not far from Blanche Littimer. But, to his surprise, she was alone. Her father did not appear during the meal.
The fact was that the awful possibility, mere conjecture of which had frightened Crombie, had occurred. Littimer had received the young man’s shoes in place of his own.
They happened to fit him moderately well; so that he, likewise, did not notice the exchange until he had started for his office. He believed in walking the entire distance, no matter what the weather; and to this practice he made rare exceptions. But he had not progressed very far before he became annoyed by an unaccustomed intrusion of dampness that threatened him with a cold. He looked down, carefully surveyed the artificial casing of his extremities, and decided to hail the first unoccupied coupe he should meet. It was some time before he found one; and when finally he took his seat in the luxurious little bank parlor at Broad Street, his feet were quite wet.
His surprise at this occurrence was doubled when, on taking off the shoes and scrutinizing them more closely, he ascertained that they were the work of his usual maker. What had happened to him? Was he dreaming? It seemed to him that he had gone back many years; that he was a poor young man again, entering upon his first struggle for a foothold in the crowded, selfish, unhomelike metropolis. He remembered the day when he had worn shoes like these.