“How can you possibly know this, Maggie?” Naida intervened eagerly.
“Because I left him there half an hour ago,” was the tremulous reply.
There is in the Anglo-Saxon temperament an almost feverish desire to break away from any condition of strain, a sort of shamefaced impulse to discard emotionalism. The strange hush which had lent a queer sensation of unreality to all that was passing in the great building was without any warning brought to an end. Whispers swelled into speech, and speech into almost a roar of voices. Then the music struck up, although at first there were few who cared to dance. There were many who, like Maggie and her companions, silently left their places and hurried homewards.
In the limousine scarcely a word was spoken. Maggie leaned back in her seat, her face dazed and expressionless. Opposite to her, Nigel sat with set, grim face, looking with fixed stare out of the window at the deserted streets. Of the three, Naida seemed more on the point of giving way to emotion. They had passed Hyde Park Corner, however, before a word was spoken. Then it was she who broke the silence.
“Where do we go to first?” she demanded.
“To the Milan Court,” Nigel replied.
“You are taking me home first, then?”
She was silent for a moment. Then she leaned forward and touched the window.
“Pull that down, please,” she directed. “I am stifling.”
He obeyed, and the rush of cold, wet air had a curiously quietening effect upon the nerves of all of them. Raindrops hung from the leaves of the lime trees and still glittered upon the windowpane. On the way towards the river, the masses of cloud were tinged with purple, and faintly burning stars shone out of unexpectedly clear patches of sky. The night of storm was over, but the wind, dying away before the dawn, seemed to bring with it all the sweetness of the cleansed places, to be redolent even of the budding trees and shrubs,—the lilac bushes, drooping with their weight of moisture, and the pink and white chestnut blossoms, dashed to pieces by the rain but yielding up their lives with sweetness. The streets, in that single hour between the hurrying homewards of the belated reveller and the stolid tramp of the early worker, were curiously empty and seemed to gain in their loneliness a new dignity. Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery in the background, became almost classical; Whitehall the passageway for heroes.
“What does it all mean?” Naida asked, almost pathetically.
It was Maggie who answered. Her tone was lifeless, but her manner almost composed.
“It means that the attempt to assassinate Prince Shan has failed,” she said. “Prince Shan told me himself that he had no intention of going to the ball. He kept his word. The man who was murdered was one of his suite.”