“Is that for me?” I asked, as he extended his missive.
“Yes,” he nodded. “Mr. Calhoun told me to find you and to give you this at once.”
I turned to Elisabeth. “If you will pardon me?” I said. She made way for me to pass to a curtained window, and there, turning my back and using such secrecy as I could, I broke the seal.
The message was brief. To be equally brief I may say simply that it asked me to be ready to start for Canada that night on business connected with the Department of State! Of reasons or explanations it gave none.
I turned to Elisabeth and held out the message from my chief. She looked at it. Her eyes widened. “Nicholas!” she exclaimed.
I looked at her in silence for a moment. “Elisabeth,” I said at last, “I have been gone on this sort of business long enough. What do you say to this? Shall I decline to go? It means my resignation at once.”
I hesitated. The heart of the nation and the nation’s life were about me. Our state, such as it was, lay there in that room, and with it our problems, our duties, our dangers. I knew, better than most, that there were real dangers before this nation at that very hour. I was a lover, yet none the less I was an American. At once a sudden plan came into my mind.
“Elisabeth,” said I, turning to her swiftly, “I will agree to nothing which will send me away from you again. Listen, then—” I raised a hand as she would have spoken. “Go home with your Aunt Betty as soon as you can. Tell your father that to-night at six I shall be there. Be ready!”
“What do you mean?” she panted. I saw her throat flutter.
“I mean that we must be married to-night before I go. Before eight o’clock I must be on the train.”
“When will you be back?” she whispered.
“How can I tell? When I go, my wife shall wait there at Elmhurst, instead of my sweetheart.”
She turned away from me, contemplative. She, too, was young. Ardor appealed to her. Life stood before her, beckoning, as to me. What could the girl do or say?
I placed her hand on my arm. We started toward the door, intending to pick up Aunt Jennings on our way. As we advanced, a group before us broke apart. I stood aside to make way for a gentleman whom I did not recognize. On his arm there leaned a woman, a beautiful woman, clad in a costume of flounced and rippling velvet of a royal blue which made her the most striking figure in the great room. Hers was a personality not easily to be overlooked in any company, her face one not readily to be equalled. It was the Baroness Helena von Ritz!
We met face to face. I presume it would have been too much to ask even of her to suppress the sudden flash of recognition which she showed. At first she did not see that I was accompanied. She bent to me, as though to adjust her gown, and, without a change in the expression of her face, spoke to me in an undertone no one else could hear.