Lanyard’s speculations were interrupted by the peremptory telephone. Without premonition he picked up the combination receiver and transmitter. But his memory was still so haunted by echoes of that delightful voice which he had heard in the auction room, he couldn’t entertain any doubt that he heard it now.
“Are you there?” it said “Will you be good enough to put me through to Monsieur Lanyard?”
The inspiration to mischief was instantaneous: Lanyard replied promptly in accents as much unlike his own as he could manage:
“Sorry, ma’am; Mister Lanyard dined hout to-night. Would there be any message, ma’am?”
“Oh, how annoying!”
“Do you know when he will be home?”
“If this is the lidy ‘e was expectin’ to call this evenin’—”
“Yes?” the dulcet voice said, encouragingly.
“—Mister Lanyard sed as ’ow ’e might be quite lite, but ’e’d ’urry all ’e could, ma’am, and would the lidy please wite.”
“Thank you so much.”
Smiling, Lanyard replaced the receiver and rang for the waiter.
When that one answered, the adventurer was hatted and coated and opening his door.
“I’m called out,” he said—“can’t quite say when I’ll be back. But I’m expecting a lady to call. Will you tell the doorman to show her into my rooms, please, and ask her to wait.”
Posed in a blaze of lights, the Princess Sofia contemplated captiously the charming image reflected in her cheval-glass. One little wrinkle, not precisely of dissatisfaction, rather of enquiry, nestled between her delicately arched brows. A look of misgiving clouded her wide eyes of a wondering child. The bow of an exquisitely modelled mouth, whose single fault lay in its being perhaps a trace too wide, described a shadowy pout.
She was beautiful: yes. Nobody could question that. La beaute du diable, no doubt, to Anglo-Saxon eyes, with that skin of incomparable texture and whiteness relieved by a heavily coiled crown of living bronze, the crimson insolence of that matchless mouth, those luminous and changeable eyes so like the sea, whose green melted into blue with the swiftness of thought, whose blue at times as swiftly shaded into stormy purple-black: but however bizarre and barbaric, beauty none the less, and under the most meticulous examination indisputable.
But was she as radiant as she had been?
On this her birthday she was twenty-five. Appalling age! Five years hence she would be thirty, in ten more—forty! And woman’s beauty fades so swiftly: everybody said so. Was the shadow of to-morrow already dimming her loveliness? How could it be otherwise? She had lived so long and so fully, she had begun to live so young. Six years of marriage to Victor—that alone should have been enough, one would think, to metamorphose the fairest face into a blasted battlefield of passions.