Here's a lady inquiring for you, sir - just gone up to your room in the elevator," the hotel clerk remarked to Mr. Sabin as he paused on his way to the door to hand in his key. "Shall I send a boy up?"
Mr. Sabin hesitated.
"A lady?" he remarked tentatively.
The hotel clerk nodded.
"Yes. I didn't notice the name, but she was an Englishwoman. I'll send up."
"Thank you, I will return," Mr. Sabin said. "If I should miss her on the way perhaps you will kindly redirect her to my rooms."
He rang for the elevator, and was swiftly transported to his own floor. The door of his sitting-room was open. Duson was talking to a tall fair woman, who turned swiftly round at the sound of his approach.
"Ah, they found you, then!" she exclaimed, coming towards him with outstretched hands. "Isn't this a strange place and a strange country for us to meet once more in?"
He greeted her gallantly, but with a certain reserve, of which she was at once aware.
"Are there any countries in the world left which are strange to so great a traveler as Lady Muriel Carey?" he said. "The papers here have been full of your wonderful adventures in South Africa."
"Everything shockingly exaggerated, of course," she declared. "I have really been plagued to death since I got here with interviewers, and that sort of person. I wonder if you know how glad I am to see you again?"
"You are very kind, indeed," he said. "Certainly there was no one whom I expected less to see over here. You have come for the yacht races, I suppose?"
She looked at him with a faint smile and raised eyebrows.
"Come," she said, "shall we lie to one another? Is it worth while? Candour is so much more original."
"Candour by all means then, I beg," he answered.
"I have come over with the Dalkeiths, ostensibly to see the yacht races. Really I have come to see you."
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"I am delightfully flattered," he murmured.
"I don't exactly mean for the pleasure of gazing into your face once more," she continued. "I have a mission!"
Mr. Sabin looked up quickly.
"Great heavens! You, too!" he exclaimed.
"Why not?" she asked coolly. "I have been in it for years, you know, and when I got back from South Africa everything seemed so terribly slow that I begged for some work to do."
"And they sent you here - to me?"
"Yes," she answered, "and I was here also a few weeks ago, but you must not ask me anything about that."
Mr. Sabin's eyebrows contracted, his face darkened. She shrank a little away from him.
"So it is you who have robbed me of her, then," he said slowly. "Yes, the description fits you well enough. I ask you, Lady Carey, to remember the last time when chance brought you and me together. Have I deserved this from you?"
She made a little gesture of impotence.
"Do be reasonable!" she begged. "What choice had I?"
He looked at her steadfastly.
"The folly of women - of clever women such as you," he said, "is absolutely amazing. You have deliberately made a slave of yourself - "
"One must have distraction," she murmured.
"Distraction! And so you play at this sort of thing. Is it worth while?"
Her eyes for a moment clouded over with weariness.
"When one has filled the cup of life to the brim for many years," she said, "what remains that is worth while?"
"You are a young woman," he said. "You should not yet have learned to speak with such bitterness. As for me - well, I am old indeed. In youth and age the affections claim us. I am approaching my second childhood."
She laughed derisively, yet not unkindly. "What folly!" she exclaimed.
"You are right," he admitted. "I suppose it is the fault of old associations."
"In a few minutes," she said, smiling at him, "we should have become sentimental."
"I," he admitted, "was floundering already."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You talk as though sentiment were a bog."
"There have been worse similes," he declared.
"How horrid! And do you know, sir, for all your indignation you have not yet even inquired after your wife's health."
"I trust," he said, "that she is well."
"She is in excellent health."
"Your second visit to this country," he remarked, "follows very swiftly upon your first."
"I am here," she said, ""on your account."
"You excite my interest," he declared. "May I know your mission?"
"I have to remind you of your pledge," she said, "to assure you of Lucille's welfare, and to prevent your leaving the country."
"Marvelous!" he exclaimed, with a slight mocking smile. "And may I ask what means you intend to employ to keep me here?"
"Well," she said, "I have large discretionary powers. We have a very strong branch over on this side, but I would very much rather induce you to stay here without applying to them."
"And the inducements?" he asked.
She took a cigarette from a box which stood on the table and lit one.
"Well," she said, "I might appeal to your hospitality, might I not? I am in a strange country which you have made your home. I want to be shown round. Do you remember dining with me one night at the Ambassador's? It was very hot, even for Paris, and we drove afterwards in the Bois. Ask me to dine with you here, won't you? I have never quite forgotten the last time."
Mr. Sabin laughed softly, but with undisguised mirth.
"Come," he said, "this is an excellent start. You are to play the Circe up to date, and I am to be beguiled. How ought I to answer you? I do remember the Ambassador's, and I do remember driving down the Bois in your victoria, and holding - I believe I am right - your hand. You have no right to disturb those charming memories by attempting to turn them into bathos."
She blew out a little cloud of tobacco smoke, and watched it thoughtfully.
"Ah!" she remarked. "I wonder who is better at that, you or I? I may not be exactly a sentimental person, but you - you are a flint."
"On the contrary," Mr. Sabin assured her earnestly, "I am very much in love with my wife."
"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "You carry originality to quixoticism. I have met several men before in my life whom I have suspected of such a thing, but I never heard any one confess it. This little domestic contretemps -is then, I presume, disagreeable to you!"
"To the last degree," Mr. Sabin asserted. "So much so that I leave for England by the Campania."
She shook her head slowly.
"I wouldn't if I were you."
Lady Carey threw away the end of her cigarette, and looked for a moment thoughtfully at her long white fingers glittering with rings. Then she began to draw on her gloves.
"Well, in the first place," she said, "Lucille will have no time to spare for you. You will be de trop in decidedly an uncomfortable position. You wouldn't find London at all a good place to live in just now, even if you ever got there - which I am inclined to doubt. And secondly, here am I - "
"Circe!" he murmured.
"Waiting to be entertained, in a strange country, almost friendless. I want to be shown everything, taken everywhere. And I am dying to see your home at Lenox. I do not think your attitude towards me in the least hospitable."
"Come, you are judging me very quickly," he declared. "What opportunities have I had?"
"What opportunities can there be if you sail by the Campania?"
"You might dine with me to-night at least."
"Impossible! The Dalkeiths have a party to meet me. Come too, won't you? They love dukes - even French ones."
He shook his head.
"There is no attraction for me in a large party," he answered. "I am getting to an age when to make conversation in return for a dinner seems scarcely a fair exchange."
"From your host's point of view, or yours?"
"From both! Besides, one's digestion suffers."
"You are certainly getting old," she declared. "Come, I must go. You haven't been a bit nice to me. When shall I see you again?"
"It is," he answered, "for you to say."
She looked at him for a moment thoughtfully.
"Supposing," she said, "that I cried off the yacht race to-day. Would you take me out to lunch?"
"My dear lady," he said, "it is for Circe to command - and for me to obey."
"And you'll come and have tea with me afterwards at the Waldorf?"
"That," Mr. Sabin declared, "will add still further to my happiness."
"Will you call for me, then - and where shall we have lunch, and at what time? I must go and develop a headache at once, or that tiresome Dalkeith boy will be pounding at my door."
"I will call for you at the Waldorf at half-past one," Mr. Sabin said. "Unless you have any choice, I will take you to a little place downtown where we can imagine ourselves back on the Continent, and where we shall be spared the horror of green corn."
"Delightful," she murmured, buttoning her glove. "Then you shall take me for a drive to Fifth Avenue, or to see somebody's tomb, and my woman shall make some real Russian tea for us in my sitting-room. Really, I think I'm doing very well for the first day. Is the spell beginning to work?"
"Hideously," he assured her. "I feel already that the only thing I dread in life are these two hours before luncheon."
"That is quite as it should be. Don't trouble to come down with me. I believe that Dalkeith pere is hanging round somewhere, and in view of my headache perhaps you had better remain in the background for the moment. At one-thirty, then!"
Mr. Sabin smiled as she passed out of the room, and lit a cigarette.
"I think," he said to himself, "that the arrival of Felix is opportune."