We stood now facing what ought to have been a narrow and dingy little room in a low row of dingy buildings, each of two stories and so shallow in extent as perhaps not to offer roof space to more than a half dozen rooms. Instead of what should have been, however, there was a wide hall—wide as each building would have been from front to back, but longer than a half dozen of them would have been! I did not know then, what I learned later, that the partitions throughout this entire row had been removed, the material serving to fill up one of the houses at the farthest extremity of the row. There was thus offered a long and narrow room, or series of rooms, which now I saw beyond possibility of doubt constituted the residence of this strange woman whom chance had sent me to address; and whom still stranger chance had thrown in contact with me even before my errand was begun!
She stood looking at me, a smile flitting over her features, her stockinged foot extended, toe down, serving to balance her on her high-heeled single shoe.
“Pardon, sir,” she said, hesitating, as she held the sealed epistle in her hand. “You know me—perhaps you follow me—I do not know. Tell me, are you a spy of that man Pakenham?”
Her words and her tone startled me. I had supposed her bound to Sir Richard by ties of a certain sort. Her bluntness and independence puzzled me as much as her splendid beauty enraptured me. I tried to forget both.
“Madam, I am spy of no man, unless I am such at order of my chief, John Calhoun, of the United States Senate—perhaps, if Madam pleases, soon of Mr. Tyler’s cabinet.”
In answer, she turned, hobbled to a tiny marquetry table, and tossed the note down upon it, unopened. I waited patiently, looking about me meantime. I discovered that the windows were barred with narrow slats of iron within, although covered with heavy draperies of amber silk. There was a double sheet of iron covering the door by which we had entered.
“Your cage, Madam?” I inquired. “I do not blame England for making it so secret and strong! If so lovely a prisoner were mine, I should double the bars.”
The swift answer to my presumption came in the flush of her cheek and her bitten lip. She caught up the key from the table, and half motioned me to the door. But now I smiled in turn, and pointed to the unopened note on the table. “You will pardon me, Madam,” I went on. “Surely it is no disgrace to represent either England or America. They are not at war. Why should we be?” We gazed steadily at each other.
The old servant had disappeared when at length her mistress chose to pick up my unregarded document. Deliberately she broke the seal and read. An instant later, her anger gone, she was laughing gaily.
“See,” said she, bubbling over with her mirth; “I pick up a stranger, who should say good-by at my curb; my apartments are forced; and this is what this stranger asks: that I shall go with him, to-night, alone, and otherwise unattended, to see a man, perhaps high in your government, but a stranger to me, at his own rooms-alone! Oh, la! la! Surely these Americans hold me high!”