A NEW DEAL OF THE CARDS
For the two performances following there occurred an enforced shift of actors, owing to Mr. Mooney’s being somewhat indisposed; and Winston, aided by considerable prompting from the others, succeeded in getting through his lines, conscious of much good-natured guying out in front, and not altogether insensible to Miss Norvell’s efforts not to appear amused. This experience left him in no pleasanter frame of mind, while a wish to throw over the whole thing returned with renewed temptation. Why not? What was he continuing to make such a fool of himself for, anyhow? He was assuredly old enough to be done with chasing after will-o’-the-wisps; and besides, there was his constant liability to meet some old acquaintance who would blow the whole confounded story through the Denver clubs. The thought of the probable sarcasm of his fellows made him wince. Moreover, he was himself ashamed of his actions. This actress was nothing to him; he thoroughly convinced himself of that important fact at least twenty times a day. She was a delightful companion, bright, witty, full of captivating character, attractively winsome, to be sure, yet it was manifestly impossible for him ever to consider her in any more serious way. This became sufficiently clear to his reasoning, yet, at the same time, he could never quite break free. She seldom appeared to him twice the same—proving as changeable as the winds, her very nature seeming to vary with a suddenness which never permitted his complete escape from her fascinations, but left him to surmise how she would greet him next. Frank or distant, filled with unrestrained gayety or dignified by womanly reserve, smiling or grave, the changeable vagaries of Miss Norvell were utterly beyond his guessing, while back of all these outward manifestations of tantalizing personality, there continually lurked a depth of hidden womanhood, which as constantly baffled his efforts at fathoming. It piqued him to realize his own helplessness, to comprehend how completely this girl turned aside his most daring efforts at uncovering the true trend of her heart and life. She refused to be read, wearing her various masks with a cool defiance which apparently bespoke utter indifference to his good opinion, while constantly affording him brief, tantalizing glimpses into half-revealed depths that caused his heart to throb with anticipation never entirely realized.
It did not once occur to his mind that such artifices might be directed as much toward herself as him; he lacked the conceit which could have convinced him that they merely marked a secret struggle for mastery, a desperate effort to crush an inclination to surrender before the temptation of the moment. It was a battle for deliverance being fought silently behind a mask of smiles, an exchange of sparkling commonplace; yet ever beneath this surface play she was breathing