“We will not discuss my motives, Fraulein,” I said, with as much friendliness as I had at my command. “But, before granting your not unreasonable request, you must be good enough to tell me who the gentleman is who is to profit by my sacrifice.”
“His name is Mr. Dannevig. He is a knight of Dannebrog, and moreover, as he tells me, an intimate friend of yours.”
“Tell him, then, Fraulein, that he might have presumed sufficiently upon our friendship to prefer his request in person, instead of sending you as his messenger.”
The color sprang to her cheeks; she swept abruptly around, and with an air of outraged majesty, marched defiantly down the hall.
The night wore on. The hour for supper came, and politeness forced me to go and find Miss Pfeifer. Then we sat down in a corner, and ate and chattered in a heedless, dispirited fashion, dwelling with feigned interest on trifling themes, and as by a tacit agreement avoiding each other’s glances. Then some gentleman came to claim her, and I was almost glad that she was gone. And yet, in the very next moment a passionate regret came over me, as for a personal loss, and I would fain have called her back and told her, with friendly directness my reasons for interfering so rudely with her pleasure.
I do not know how long I sat thus idly nursing my discontent, and now and then, as my anger blazed up, muttering some fierce execration against Dannevig. What was this girl to me, after all? I was certainly not in love with her. And if she chose to ruin herself, what business had I to prevent her? But then, she was a woman, and a sweet and pure and true-hearted woman; it was, at all events, my duty to open her eyes, and I vowed that, even though she should hate me for it, I would tell her the truth. I looked at my watch; it was a few minutes past two. With a sting of self-reproach, I remembered my promise to Mr. Pfeifer, and resolved not to shirk the responsibility I had voluntarily assumed. I hastened up the hall, then down again, surveyed the dancers, sent a girl into the dressing-room with a message; but Fraulein Hildegard was nowhere to be seen. A horrible thought flashed through me. I seized my hat, and rushed down into the restaurant. There, in an inner apartment, divided from the public room by drooping curtains, I found her, laughing and chatting gayly with Dannevig over a glass of Champagne and a dish of ice-cream.
“Fraulein,” I said, approaching her with grave politeness, “I am sorry to be obliged to interrupt this agreeable tete-a-tete. But the carriage has arrived, and I must claim the pleasure of your company.”
“Now, really,” she exclaimed, with impulsive regret, while her eyes still hung with a fascinated gaze on Dannevig’s face, “is it, then, so necessary that we should go just now? Do you really insist upon it? Mr. Dannevig was just telling me some charming adventures of his life in Denmark.”