His bold dark eyes smiled freely into hers. It was evident that he wasted little time before the shrine of the deity he condemned. But for all their mastery, they held a certain persuasive charm as well. She hesitated a moment longer—and was lost.
“Well, where shall we go?”
“I know of an excellent sitting-out place if your majesty will deign to accompany me,” he said, “a corner where one can see without being seen—always an advantage, you will allow.”
“You seem to know this place rather well,” she observed, as she suffered him to lead her away in triumph.
He smiled shrewdly. “A wise general always studies his ground,” he said.
THE QUEEN’S JESTER
The chosen corner certainly had the advantage of privacy. It was an alcove at the end of one of the long narrow passages in which the ancient hostelry abounded, and the only light it boasted filtered through a square aperture in the wall which once had held a window. Through this aperture the curious could spy into the hall below, which just then was thronged with dancers who were crowding out of the ballroom and drifting towards the refreshment-room, the entrance to which was also visible.
An ancient settee had been placed in this coign of vantage, and upon this they established themselves by mutual consent.
The man was laughing a little below his breath. “I feel like a refugee,” he said.
His companion leaned her arms upon the narrow row sill and gazed downwards. “A refugee from boredom?” she suggested. “We are all that, more or less.”
“I dispute that,” he said at once. “It is only the bores who are ever bored.”
“And I dispute that,” she replied, without turning, “of necessity, in self-defence.”
He leaned forward to catch the light upon her profile. “You are bored?”
She smiled faintly in the gloom. “That is why I have engaged the services of a jester.”
“By Jove,” he said, “I’m glad you pitched on me.”
She made a slight movement of impatience. “Isn’t it rather futile to say that sort of thing?”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because you know quite well it was not a matter of choice.”
“Rather a matter of manque de mieux?” he suggested coolly.
She turned from her contemplation of the crowd below. “I am not going to contradict you,” she said, “I never foster amour propre in a man. It is always a plant of hardy growth.”
“‘Hardy’ is not the word,” he declared. “Say ‘rank,’ and you will be nearer the mark. I fully endorse your opinion. We are a race of conceited, egotistical jackanapeses, and we all think we are going to lick creation till a pretty woman comes along and makes us dance to her piping like a row of painted marionettes. But is the pretty woman any the happier, do you think, for tumbling us thus ruthlessly off our pedestals? I sometimes wonder if the sight of the sawdust doesn’t make her wish she hadn’t.”