“Better late than wholly unsuccessful,” she rejoined, still smiling. “Tell me, my friend, suppose you had come hither and knocked at my door?”
“Perhaps I might not have been so clumsy,” I essayed.
“Confess it!” she smiled. “Had you come here and seen the exterior only, you would have felt yourself part of a great mistake. You would have gone away.”
“Perhaps not,” I argued. “I have much confidence in my chief’s acquaintance with his own purposes and his own facts. Yet I confess I should not have sought madam the baroness in this neighborhood. If England provides us so beautiful a picture, why could she not afford a frame more suitable? Why is England so secret with us?”
She only smiled, showing two rows of exceedingly even white teeth. She was perfect mistress of herself. In years she was not my equal, yet I could see that at the time I did scarcely more than amuse her.
“Be seated, pray,” she said at last. “Let us talk over this matter.”
Obedient to her gesture, I dropped into a chair opposite to her, she herself not varying her posture and still regarding me with the laugh in her half-closed eyes.
“What do you think of my little place?” she asked finally.
“Two things, Madam,” said I, half sternly. “If it belonged to a man, and to a minister plenipotentiary, I should not approve it. If it belonged to a lady of means and a desire to see the lands of this little world, I should approve it very much.”
She looked at me with eyes slightly narrowed, but no trace of perturbation crossed her face. I saw it was no ordinary woman with whom we had to do.
“But,” I went on, “in any case and at all events, I should say that the bird confined in such a cage, where secrecy is so imperative, would at times find weariness—would, in fact, wish escape to other employment. You, Madam”—I looked at her directly—“are a woman of so much intellect that you could not be content merely to live.”
“No,” she said, “I would not be content merely to live.”
“Precisely. Therefore, since to make life worth the living there must be occasionally a trifle of spice, a bit of adventure, either for man or woman, I suggest to you, as something offering amusement, this little journey with me to-night to meet my chief. You have his message. I am his messenger, and, believe me, quite at your service in any way you may suggest. Let us be frank. If you are agent, so am I. See; I have come into your camp. Dare you not come into ours? Come; it is an adventure to see a tall, thin old man in a dressing-gown and a red woolen nightcap. So you will find my chief; and in apartments much different from these.”
She took up the missive with its broken seal. “So your chief, as you call him, asks me to come to him, at midnight, with you, a stranger?”
“Do you not believe in charms and in luck, in evil and good fortune, Madam?” I asked her. “Now, it is well to be lucky. In ordinary circumstances, as you say, I could not have got past yonder door. Yet here I am. What does it augur, Madam?”