Naida, early one afternoon, a few days after the dinner at Belgrave Square, raised herself on one elbow from the sofa on which she was resting, glanced at the roses and the card which the maid had presented for her inspection, and waved them impatiently away.
“The gentleman waits,” the woman reminded her.
Naida glanced out of the window across a dull and apparently uninviting prospect of roofs and chimneys, to where in the background a faint line of silver and a wheeling flock of sea gulls became dimly visible through the branches of the distant trees. The window itself was flung wide open, but the slowly moving air had little of freshness in it. Sparrows twittered around the window-sill, and a little patch of green shone out from the Embankment Gardens. The radiance of spring here found few opportunities.
“The gentleman waits,” the serving woman repeated stolidly, speaking in her native Russian.
“You can show him up,” her mistress replied a little wearily.
Immelan entered, a few moments later, spruce and neat in a well-fitting grey suit, and carrying a grey Homburg hat. He was redolent of soaps and perfumes. His step was buoyant, almost jaunty, yet in his blue eyes, as he bent over the hand of the woman upon whom he had come to call, lurked something of the disquietude which, notwithstanding his most strenuous efforts, was beginning to assert itself.
“You make me very happy, my dear Naida,” he began, “that you receive me thus so informally. Your good father is smoking in the lounge. He bade me come up.”
She beckoned him to a seat.
“A thousand thanks for your flowers, my friend,” she said. “Now tell me why you are possessed to see me at this untimely hour. I always rest for a time after luncheon, and I am only here because the sunshine filled my room and made me restless.”
“There is a little matter of news,” he announced slowly. “I thought it might interest you. I hoped it would.”
She turned her head and looked at him.
“News?” she repeated. “News from you means only one thing. Is it good or bad?”
“It is good,” he replied, “because it saves me a long and tedious journey, because it saves me also from a separation which I should have found detestable.”
“Your journey to China, then, is abandoned?”
“It is rendered unnecessary. Prince Shan has decided after all to adhere to his original plan and come to Europe.”
“You are sure?”
“I have an official intimation,” he replied. “I may probably have to go to Paris, but no farther. It is even possible that I might leave to-night.”
She was genuinely interested.
“There is no one in the whole world,” she declared, “whom I have wanted to meet so much as Prince Shan.”
“You will not be disappointed,” he promised her. “There is no one like him. When he enters the room, you know that you are in the presence of a great man. The three of us together! Naida, we will remake the map of the world.”