“After that, on guard!”
“Very well, on guard! Suppose I do not like this other woman?”
“Madam, you could not help it. All the world loves her.”
“With my life.”
“How devoted! Very well, on guard, then!”
She took up the Indian bauble, turning to examine it at the nearest candle sconce, even as I thrust the dainty little slipper of white satin again into the pocket of my coat. I was uncomfortable. I wished this talk of Elisabeth had not come up. I liked very little to leave Elisabeth’s property in another’s hands. Dissatisfied, I turned from the table, not noticing for more than an instant a little crumpled roll of paper which, as I was vaguely conscious, now appeared on its smooth marquetry top.
“But see,” she said; “you are just like a man, after all, and an unmarried man at that! I can not go through the streets in this costume. Excuse me for a moment.”
She was off on the instant into the alcove where the great amber-covered bed stood. She drew the curtains. I heard her humming to herself as she passed to and fro, saw the flare of a light as it rose beyond. Once or twice she thrust a laughing face between the curtains, held tight together with her hands, as she asked me some question, mocking me, still amused—yet still, as I thought, more enigmatic than before.
“Madam,” I said at last, “I would I might dwell here for ever, but—you are slow! The night passes. Come. My master will be waiting. He is ill; I fear he can not sleep. I know how intent he is on meeting you. I beg you to oblige an old, a dying man!”
“And you, Monsieur,” she mocked at me from beyond the curtain, “are intent only on getting rid of me. Are you not adventurer enough to forget that other woman for one night?”
In her hands—those of a mysterious foreign woman—I had placed this little trinket which I had got among the western tribes for Elisabeth—a woman of my own people—the woman to whom my pledge had been given, not for return on any morrow. I made no answer, excepting to walk up and down the floor.
At last she came out from between the curtains, garbed more suitably for the errand which was now before us. A long, dark cloak covered her shoulders. On her head there rested a dainty up-flared bonnet, whose jetted edges shone in the candle light as she moved toward me. She was exquisite in every detail, beautiful as mind of man could wish; that much was sure, must be admitted by any man. I dared not look at her. I called to mind the taunt of those old men, that I was young! There was in my soul vast relief that she was not delaying me here longer in this place of spells—that in this almost providential way my errand had met success.
She paused for an instant, drawing on a pair of the short gloves of the mode then correct. “Do you know why I am to go on this heathen errand?” she demanded. I shook my head.