“I don’t see what I—”
“Oh yes,” chirped the old gentleman almost gaily. “It would be quite unusual and unconventional. I just ask you to send him a line—I will take it myself, if you wish it—telling him that you think it would be better for him not to come, and saying that you are making other arrangements for tonight.”
He looked at her with that odd little air of birdlike briskness that she had noticed in the street; and it pleasantly affected her even in the midst of the uneasiness that now surged upon her again tenfold more than before. She could see that there was something else behind his manner; it had just looked out in the glance he had given round the room on entering; but she could not trouble at this moment to analyze what it was. She was completely bewildered by the strangeness of the encounter, and the extraordinary coincidence of this man’s judgment with her own. Yet there were a hundred reasons against her taking his advice. What would the others say? What of all the arrangements ... the expectation...?
“I don’t see how it’s possible now,” she began. “I think I know what you mean. But—”
“Indeed, I trust you have no idea,” cried the old gentleman, with a queer little falsetto note coming into his voice—“no idea at all. I come to you merely on the plea of nervous excitement; it is injuring his health, Lady Laura.”
She looked at him curiously.
“But—” she began.
“Oh, I will go further,” he said. “Have you never heard of—of insanity in connection with all this? We will call it insanity, if you wish.”
For a moment her heart stood still. The word had a sinister sound, in view of an incident she had once witnessed; but it seemed to her that some meaning behind, unknown to her, was still more sinister. Why had he said that it might be “called insanity” only...?
“Yes.... I—I have once seen a case,” she stammered.
“Well,” said the old gentleman, “is it not enough when I tell you that I—I who was a spiritualist for ten years—have never seen a more dangerous subject than Mr. Baxter? Is the risk worth it...? Lady Laura, do you quite understand what you are doing?”
He leaned forward a little; and again she felt anxiety, sickening and horrible, surge within her. Yet, on the other hand....
The door opened suddenly, and Mr. Vincent came in.
There was silence for a moment; then the old gentleman turned round, and in an instant was on his feet, quiet, but with an air of bristling about his thrust-out chin and his tense attitude.
Mr. Vincent paused, looking from one to the other.
“I beg your pardon, Lady Laura,” he said courteously. “Your man told me to wait here; I think he did not know you had come in.”
“Well—er—this gentleman...” began Lady Laura. “Why, do you know Mr. Vincent?” she asked suddenly, startled by the expression in the old gentleman’s face.