None the less, there the envelope was; and nobody but Chou Nu had entered the room since Sofia had come straight from the study to it, late in the afternoon.
It was just possible, however—Sofia’s eyes measured the distance—that a deft hand and a strong wrist might have slipped the envelope under the door and sent it skimming across the floor to the foot of the chaise-longue.
But nobody would have dared do that without a powerful motive for wishing to communicate secretly with Sofia.
She tore the flap and withdrew a single sheet of notepaper penned in a hand she knew too well. Her heart leapt....
I implore you, of your charity, do not condemn me without a hearing because of anything you may have overheard me say. After you left us in the study I saw his eyes watching the door while we talked, and knew from his look that something to please him had happened behind my back. And in the temper he was in only one thing could possibly have pleased him.
I said what I said to him, dear, because I had to—or lose the right, dearer to me than life, to be near you, to serve and protect you. I lied to him because I loved you. But I have never lied to you about my love—and only once, through necessity, about anything else. Perhaps you can guess what that lie was, somehow I rather think you do; at least, I am sure, you are beginning to wonder if I told the truth—or knew it, then.
If this sound cryptic, I can only beg you to be patient and charitable until I find opportunity to clear away this one lie which stands between us—and which is, by comparison, almost immaterial, since all that matters is the one great truth in my life, that I love you beyond all telling.
If questions trouble your mind, I beg you do not let him know it. Your only safety now lies in his continuing to believe that you are unsuspicious. Above all, do your best to seem to fall in with his wishes, however strange or unreasonable they may seem. It will be only a few days more before I can claim you for my own, and laugh at his pretensions.
A curious love-letter; yet it was Sofia’s first. If it made her thoughtful, it made her illogically happy as well. If it put the issue to her squarely, of loyalty to Prince Victor or loyalty to Karslake, she was unaware that she had any choice of courses. When Shaik Tsin thumped the panels of her door, she crushed the note into the bosom of her negligee before answering.
When one is of an age to love, it is never the parent who gets the benefit of a doubt.
Like some shy, sad shade summoned up by the malign genius of a haunted chamber, a slender shape of pallor in softly flowing draperies slipped through the silent door and, advancing a few reluctant steps into the soundless gloom, paused and in apprehensive diffidence awaited the welcome that was for a time withheld.