He found himself wondering how far Mr. Ricardo had travelled on his journey, and whether he had met his enemy, and, face to face with him, had become reconciled.
He did not know why he had consented to receive her, unless it was because he knew that they would meet inevitably sooner or later. He felt very able to meet her—cool, and hard and clear-thinking. It was early yet. A wintry sunlight rested on his neatly ordered table, and he could smile at the idea that in a few hours he would begin to be afraid again.
She had made no appointment. Urged by some caprice or other she had driven up to his door and sent up her card with the pencilled inscription “Me voici!” Standing at his window he could just see the long graceful lines of her Rolls-Royce, painted an amazing blue—pale blue was notoriously her colour—and the pale-blue clad figure of her chauffeur. It occurred to him that she had chosen the uniform simply to make the man ridiculous—to show that there were no limits to her audacity and power. She was, he thought, stronger than the men who thought they were ruling the destinies of nations. For she could ride rough-shod over convention and prejudice and human dignity. She was perhaps the last representative of an autocratic egotism in a world in which the individual will had almost ceased to exist. She seemed to him the survival of an eternal evil.
And yet when he saw her he laughed. She was so magnificently impossible. It seemed that she had put on every jewel that she could carry. She was painted more profusely than usual, and her dress was one of those fantastic creations with which producers endeavour to bluff through a peculiarly idiotic revue. But she carried it all without self-consciousness. It was as natural to her as gay plumage to a bird-of-paradise.
She gave him her hand to kiss, and then laughed and shook hands instead with an exaggerated manliness.
“I forget,” she said. “It is a bad ’abit. You see. I keep my promise. I make ze return call. And ’ow kind of you to see me.”
“It didn’t occur to you that I might refuse,” he told her.
“No, that’s true. I never thought about it. You ’ave a leetle time for me, hein?”
“About ten minutes,” he said.
He assumed a very professional attitude on the other side of his table. He wanted to nonplus and disconcert her, if such a thing were possible. Now that his first involuntary amusement was over he felt a return of the old malignant dislike. She had cost him Cosgrave’s friendship, and he wanted to hurt her—to get underneath that armour of soulless good-humour. “I knew that you’d turn up one day or other,” he said.
She looked at him with a rather wistful surprise.
“’Ow clever of you! You knew? Don’t I look well, hein? I feel well—quite all right. But I say to myself: ’Voyons—’alf an hour with nothing to do. I pay that cross doctor a visit.’ I would ’ave come before, but I ’ave been so busy. We re’earse ’Mademoiselle Pantalonne,’ ze first night to-morrow. You come? I send you a ticket.”