The gracious manager had made his customary speech of thanks,--for everything produced at the Parthenon was a success,--and while the general audience were moving away very reluctantly, some distinguished men and women followed the guidance of a strong Irish brogue as a flock follows a bell-wether, through a door that led to the stage. Here the great actor and the ever-charming lady who divided with him the affections of West as well as East, received their guests' congratulations in such a way as made the guests feel that the success was wholly due to their good will.
Mrs. Linton, who was a personage in society,--her husband had found a gold mine (with the assistance of Herbert Courtland) and she had herself written a book of travels which did not sell,--had brought Phyllis with her party to the theater, and they had gone on the stage with the other notabilities, at the conclusion of the performance. George Holland, having become as great a celebrity as the best of them during that previous fortnight, had naturally received a stall and an invitation to the stage at the conclusion of the performance. He had not been of Mrs. Linton's party, but he lay in wait for that party as they emerged from their box.
Another man also lay in wait for them, and people--outsiders--nudged one another in the theater as the passers down Piccadilly had nudged one another, whispering his name, Herbert Courtland. Others--they were not quite such outsiders--nudged one another when Mrs. Linton laid down her new feather fan on the ledge of the box. It was possibly the loveliest thing that existed in the world at that moment. No artist had ever dreamed of so wonderful a scheme of color--such miracles of color--combinations in every feather from the quill to the spider-web- like fluffs at the tips, each of which shone not like gold but like glass. It was well worth all the nudging that it called forth.
But when Mrs. Linton had picked it up from the ledge, beginning to oscillate it in front of her fair face, the nudging ceased. People looked at the thing with eyes wide with astonishment, but with lips mute.
A more satisfactory evening she had never spent, Mrs. Linton felt; and now the fan was hanging down among the brocaded flowers of her dress, making them look tawdry as she left the box, and noticed how at least two men were lying in wait for her party. There was, however, a frankness in Herbert Courtland's strategy which George Holland's did not possess. Mr. Courtland was looking directly at her; Mr. Holland was pretending to be engrossed in conversation with a man in one of the end stalls.
She lifted a finger and Courtland went to her side. The difficulties of the jungle along the banks of the Fly River were trifling compared with the obstacles he had to overcome in obeying her.
"I had no idea that you would be here," she said.
"Where else should I be?" he said, in so low a tone as to be heard only by her.