She gave him her hand.
“Josephine, if you please,” she said, “and all the friendship you care to claim. There, see how rapidly we have progressed! You have been here barely a quarter of an hour and I have given you what really means a great deal to me.”
“I shall prize it,” he assured her, “and I shall justify it.”
They began to talk of their first meeting, of the doctors and friends whom they had known together. The time slipped away. It was nearly seven o’clock when he rose to leave. Even then she seemed loath to let him go.
“What are you doing this evening?” she enquired.
“Nothing,” he answered promptly.
“Come back and dine here,” she begged. “I warn you, no one is coming, but I think you had better meet Henry, and, to proceed to the more selfish part of it all, I rather dread a tete-a-tete dinner this evening. Will you be very good-natured and come?”
He held her hands and looked into her eyes.
“Josephine,” he asked, “do you think it needs any good nature on my part?”
She met his gaze frankly enough at first, smiling gratefully at his ready acceptance. And then a curious change came. She felt her heart begin to beat faster, the strange intrusion of a new element into her life and thoughts and being. It was shining out of her eyes, something which made her a little afraid yet ridiculously light-hearted. Suddenly she felt the colour burning in her cheeks. She withdrew her hands, lost her presence of mind, and found it again at the sound of the servant’s approaching footsteps.
“About eight o’clock, then,” she said. “A dinner coat will do unless you are going on somewhere. Henry will be so glad to meet you.”
“It will give me great pleasure to meet Lord Dredlinton,” Wingate murmured, as he made his farewell bow.
Dredlinton House, before which Wingate presented himself punctually at eight o’clock that evening, had a sombre, almost a deserted appearance. The great bell which he pealed seemed to ring through empty spaces. His footsteps echoed strangely in the lofty white stone hall as he followed the butler into a small anteroom, from which, however, he was rescued a few minutes later by Josephine’s maid.
“Her ladyship will be glad if you will come to the boudoir,” she invited. “Dinner is to be served there. If monsieur will follow me.”
Wingate passed up the famous staircase, around which was a little semicircle of closed doors, and was ushered into a small apartment on the first floor, through the shielded windows of which he caught glimpses of green trees. The room was like a little fairy chamber, decorated in white and the faintest shade of mauve. In the center, a white and gold round table was prepared for the service of dinner, some wonderful cut glass and a little bunch of mauve sweet peas its only decoration.