“Ah, you rogue!” cried Preston gayly, picking up the slipper. “Did she give it you?”
“Who?” asked Lynde, with a start.
“Devilish snug little foot! Was it a danseuse?”
“No,” returned Lynde freezingly.
“No,” said Lynde, taking the slipper from Preston’s hand and gently setting it back on the writing-table. “It was not an actress; and yet she played a role—in a blacker tragedy than any you ever saw on the stage.”
“Lynde, I beg your pardon. I spoke thoughtlessly, supposing it a light matter, don’t you see?”
“There was no offence,” said Lynde, hiding his subtile hurt.
“It was stupid in me,” said Preston the next night, relating the incident to Miss Bowlsby. “I never once thought it might be a thing connected with the memory of his mother or sister, don’t you see? I took it for a half sentimental souvenir of some flirtation.”
“Mr. Lynde’s mother died when he was a child, and he never had a sister,” said Miss Bowlsby thoughtfully. “I shouldn’t wonder,” she added irrelevantly, after a pause.
“At what, Miss Mildred?”
One of those womanly intuitions which set mere man-logic at defiance was come to whisper in Miss Bowlsby’s ear that that slipper had performed some part in Edward Lynde’s untold summer experience.
“He was laughing at you, Mr. Preston; he was grossly imposing on your unsophisticated innocence.”
“Really? Is he as deep as that?”
“He is very deep,” said Miss Bowlsby solemnly.
On his way home from the bank, one afternoon in that same week, Lynde overtook Miss Mildred walking, and accompanied her a piece down the street.
“Mr. Lynde, shall you go on another horseback excursion next summer?” she asked, without prelude.
“I haven’t decided; but I think not.”
“Of course you ought to go.”
“Why of course, Miss Mildred?”
“Why? Because—because—don’t ask me!”
“But I do ask you.”
“Well, then, how will you ever return Cinderella her slipper if you don’t go in search of her?”
Lynde bit his lip, and felt that the blackest criminals of antiquity were as white as driven snow compared with Preston.
“The prince in the story, you know,” continued Miss Bowlsby, with her smile of ingenue, “hunted high and low until he found her again.”
“That prince was a very energetic fellow,” said Lynde, hastily putting on his old light armor. “Possibly I should not have to travel so far from home,” he added, with a bow. “I know at least one lady in Rivermouth who has a Cinderella foot.”
“She has two of them, Mr. Lynde,” responded Miss Mildred, dropping him a courtesy.
The poor little slipper’s doom was sealed. The edict for its banishment had gone forth. If it were going to be the town’s talk he could not keep it on his writing-desk. As soon as Lynde got back to his chambers, he locked up Cinderella’s slipper in an old trunk in a closet seldom or never opened.