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Elizabeth's face was glowing with joy. For the first time Philip realised that she, too, had had her anxieties.
"You dear, dear man!" she exclaimed. "To think what you have missed! It would have been the evening of your life. It's a success, do you hear?--a great success! It was wonderful!"
He seemed, almost to himself, to be playing a part, he was so calm yet so gracefully happy.
"I am glad for both our sakes," he said.
She indicated the others with a little wave of the hand.
"I don't think you know a soul, do you?" she asked. "They none of them quite believe in your existence down at the theatre. This is my leading man, Noel Bridges. You should have seen how splendid he was as Carriston."
Mr. Noel Bridges, with a deprecating smile towards Elizabeth, held out his hand. He was tall and of rather a rugged type for the New York stage. Like the rest of the little party, his eyes were full of curiosity as he shook hands with Philip.
"So you are something human, after all," he remarked. "We began to think you lived underground and only put your head up every now and then for a little air. I am glad to meet you, Mr. Ware. I enjoy acting in your play very much indeed, and I hope it's only the first of many."
"You are very kind," Philip murmured cordially.
Elizabeth glanced around the little group.
"Dear me, I am forgetting my manners," she declared. "I ought to have presented you to Sara Denison first. Sara is really the star of your play, Mr. Ware, although I have the most work to do. She loves her part and has asked about you nearly every day."
Miss Denison, a young lady of the smaller Gibson type, with large eyes and a very constant smile, greeted Philip warmly.
"Do you know," she told him, "that this is the first time I have ever been in a play in which the author hasn't been round setting us to rights most of the time? I can't imagine how you kept away, Mr. Ware."
"Perhaps," observed Philip, "my absence has contributed to your success. I am sure I shouldn't have known what to tell you. You see, I am so absolutely ignorant of the technique."
"I've got to shake hands with you, Mr. Ware," a stout, middle-aged, clean-shaven man, with narrow black eyes and pale cheeks, declared, stepping forward. "These other folk don't count for much by the side of me. I am the manager of the theatre, and I'm thundering glad that your first play has been produced at the 'New York,' sir. There's good stuff in it, and if I am any judge, and I'm supposed to be, there's plenty of better stuff behind. Shake hands, if you please, sir. You know me by name--Paul Fink. I hope you'll see my signature at the bottom of a good many fat cheques before you've finished writing plays."
"That's very nice of you, Mr. Fink," Philip declared. "Now I am sure you all want your supper."
At a sign from Philip, the maître d'hôtel handed round the tray of cocktails. Mr. Fink raised his glass.
"Here's success to the play," he exclaimed, "and good luck to all of us!"
He tossed off the contents of the glass and they all followed his example. Then they took their places at the little round table and the service of supper began. The conversation somewhat naturally centered around Philip. The three strangers were all interested in his personality and the fact that he had no previous work to his credit. It was unusual, almost dramatic, and for a time both Elizabeth and he himself found themselves hard put to it to escape the constant wave of good-natured but very pertinent questions.
"You'll have a dose of our newspapermen to-morrow, sir," Mr. Fink promised him. "They'll be buzzing around you all day long. They'll want to know everything, from where you get your clothes and what cigarettes you smoke, to how you like best to do your work and what complexioned typist you prefer. They're some boys, I can tell you."
Philip's eyes met Elizabeth's across the table. The same instinct of disquietude kept them both, for a moment, silent.
"I am afraid," Elizabeth sighed, "that Mr. Ware will find it rather hard to appreciate some of our journalistic friends."
"They're good fellows," Mr. Fink declared heartily, "white men, all of them. So long as you don't try to put 'em off on a false stunt, or anything of that sort, they'll sling the ink about some. Ed Harris was in my room just after the second act, and he showed me some of his stuff. I tell you he means to boost us."
Elizabeth laid her hand upon her manager's arm.
"They're delightful, every one of them," she agreed, "but, Mr. Fink, you have such influence with them, I wonder if I dare give you just a hint? Mr. Ware has passed through some very painful times lately. He is so anxious to forget, and I really don't wonder at it myself. I am sure he will be delighted to talk with all of them as to the future and his future plans, but do you think you could just drop them a hint to go quietly as regards the past?"
Mr. Fink was a little perplexed but inclined to be sympathetic. He glanced towards Philip, who was deep in conversation with Sara Denison.
"Why, I'll do my best, Miss Dalstan," he promised. "You know what the boys are, though. They do love a story."
"I am not going to have Mr. Ware's story published in every newspaper in New York," Elizabeth said firmly, "and the newspaper man who worms the history of Mr. Ware's misfortunes out of him, and then makes use of it, will be no friend of mine. Ask them to be sports, Mr. Fink, there's a dear."
"I'll do what I can," he promised. "Mr. Ware isn't the first man in the world who has funked the limelight, and from what I can see of him it probably wasn't his fault if things did go a little crooked in the past. I'll do my best, Miss Dalstan, I promise you that. I'll look in at the club to-night and drop a few hints around."
Elizabeth patted his hand and smiled at him very sweetly. The conversation flowed back once more into its former channels, became a medley of confused chaff, disjointed streams of congratulation, of toast-drinking and pleasant speeches. Then Mr. Fink suddenly rose to his feet.
"Say," he exclaimed, "we've all drunk one another's healths. There's just one other friend I think we ought to take a glass of wine with. Gee, he'd give something to be with us to-night! You'll agree with me, Miss Dalstan, I know. Let's empty a full glass to Sylvanus Power!"
There was a curious silence for a second or two, then a clamour of assenting voices. For a single moment Philip felt a sharp pang at his heart. Elizabeth was gazing steadily out of the room, a queer tremble at her lips, a look in her eyes which puzzled him, a look almost of fear, of some sort of apprehension. The moment passed, but her enthusiasm, as she raised her glass, was a little overdone, her gaiety too easily assumed.
"Why, of course!" she declared. "Fancy not thinking of Sylvanus!"
They drank his health noisily. Philip set down his glass empty. A curious instinct kept his lips sealed. He crushed down and stifled the memory of that sudden stab. He did not even ask the one natural question.
"Say, where is Sylvanus Power these days?" Mr. Fink enquired.
"In Honolulu, when last I heard," Elizabeth replied lightly, "but then one never knows really where he is."
Philip became naturally the central figure of the little gathering. Mr. Fink was anxious to arrange a little dinner, to introduce him to some fellow workers. Noel Bridges insisted upon a card for the Lambs Club and a luncheon there. Philip accepted gratefully everything that was offered to him. It was no good doing things by halves, he told himself. The days of his solitude were over. Even when, after the departure of his guests, he glanced for a moment into the anteroom beyond and remembered those few throbbing moments of suspense, they came back to him with a curious sense of unreality--they belonged, surety, to some other man, living in some other world!
"You are happy?" Elizabeth murmured, as she took his arm and they waited in the portico below for her automobile.
He had no longer any idea of telling her of that disquieting visit. The touch of her hair blown against his cheek, as he had helped her on with her cloak, something in her voice, some slight diffidence, a queer, half expostulating look in the eyes that fell with a curious uneasiness before his, drove every thought of future danger out of his mind. He had at least the present! He answered without a moment's hesitation.
"For the first time in my life!"
She gave the chauffeur a whispered order as she stepped into the car.
"I have told him to go home by Riverside Drive," she said, as they glided off. "It is a little farther, and I love the air at this time of night."
He clasped her fingers--suddenly felt, with the leaning of her body, her heart beating against his. With that wave of passion there was an instant and portentous change in their attitudes. The soft protectiveness which had sometimes seemed to shine out of her face, to envelop him in its warmth, had disappeared. She was no longer the stronger. She looked at him almost with fear, and he was electrically conscious of all the vigour and strength of his stunted manhood, was master at last of his fate, accepting battle, willing to fight whatever might come for the sake of the joy of these moments. She crept into his arms almost humbly.
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