At eight o'clock in the inner vestibule of the Auditorium Theatre by the window of
the box office, Laura Dearborn, her younger sister Page, and their aunt--Aunt
Wess'--were still waiting for the rest of the theatre-party to appear. A great, slow-
moving press of men and women in evening dress filled the vestibule from one
wall to another. A confused murmur of talk and the shuffling of many feet arose
on all sides, while from time to time, when the outside and inside doors of the
entrance chanced to be open simultaneously, a sudden draught of air gushed in,
damp, glacial, and edged with the penetrating keenness of a Chicago evening at
the end of February.
The Italian Grand Opera Company gave one of the most popular pieces of its
repertoire on that particular night, and the Cresslers had invited the two sisters
and their aunt to share their box with them. It had been arranged that the party
should assemble in the Auditorium vestibule at a quarter of eight; but by now the
quarter was gone and the Cresslers still failed to arrive.
"I don't see," murmured Laura anxiously for the last time, "what can be keeping
them. Are you sure Page that Mrs. Cressler meant here--inside?"
She was a tall young girl of about twenty-two or three, holding herself erect and
with fine dignity. Even beneath the opera cloak it was easy to infer that her neck
and shoulders were beautiful. Her almost extreme slenderness was, however,
her characteristic; the curves of her figure, the contour of her shoulders, the swell
of hip and breast were all low; from head to foot one could discover no
pronounced salience. Yet there was no trace, no suggestion of angularity. She
was slender as a willow shoot is slender--and equally graceful, equally erect.
Next to this charming tenuity, perhaps her paleness was her most noticeable
trait. But it was not a paleness of lack of colour. Laura Dearborn's pallour was in
itself a colour. It was a tint rather than a shade, like ivory; a warm white, blending
into an exquisite, delicate brownness towards the throat. Set in the middle of this
paleness of brow and cheek, her deep brown eyes glowed lambent and intense.
They were not large, but in some indefinable way they were important. It was
very natural to speak of her eyes, and in speaking to her, her friends always
found that they must look squarely into their pupils. And all this beauty of pallid
face and brown eyes was crowned by, and sharply contrasted with, the intense
blackness of her hair, abundant, thick, extremely heavy, continually coruscating
with sombre, murky reflections, tragic, in a sense vaguely portentous,--the
coiffure of a heroine of romance, doomed to dark crises.
On this occasion at the side of the topmost coil, a white aigrette scintillated and
trembled with her every movement. She was unquestionably beautiful. Her
mouth was a little large, the lips firm set, and one would not have expected that