I looked at her straight. “Are you not afraid of me?” I asked.
She looked at me fairly, her color coming. “With the fear which draws a woman to a man,” she said.
“Whereas, mine is the fear which causes a man to flee from himself!”
“But you will remain for my protection? I should feel safer. Besides, in that case I should know the answer.”
“How do you mean?”
“I should know whether or not you were married!”
WITH MADAM THE BARONESS
It is not for good women
that men have fought battles, given their
lives and staked their souls.—Mrs. W.K. Clifford.
“But, Madam—” I began.
She answered me in her own way. “Monsieur hesitates—he is lost!” she said. “But see, I am weary. I have been much engaged to-day. I have made it my plan never to fatigue myself. It is my hour now for my bath, my exercise, my bed, if you please. I fear I must bid you good night, one way or the other. You will be welcome here none the less, if you care to remain. I trust you did not find our little repast to-night unpleasing? Believe me, our breakfast shall be as good. Threlka is expert in omelets, and our coffee is such as perhaps you may not find general in these provinces.”
Was there the slightest mocking sneer in her words? Did she despise me as a faint-heart? I could not tell, but did not like the thought.
“Believe me, Madam,” I answered hotly, “you have courage, at least. Let me match it. Nor do I deny that this asks courage on my part too. If you please, in these circumstances, I shall remain.”
“You are armed?” she asked simply.
I inserted a finger in each waistcoat pocket and showed her the butts of two derringers; and at the back of my neck—to her smiling amusement at our heathen fashion—I displayed just the tip of the haft of a short bowie-knife, which went into a leather case under the collar of my coat. And again I drew around the belt which I wore so that she could see the barrel of a good pistol, which had been suspended under cover of the bell skirt of my coat.
She laughed. I saw that she was not unused to weapons. I should have guessed her the daughter of a soldier or acquainted with arms in some way. “Of course,” she said, “there might be need of these, although I think not. And in any case, if trouble can be deferred until to-morrow, why concern oneself over it? You interest me. I begin yet more to approve of you.”
“Then, as to that breakfast a la fourchette with Madam; if I remain, will you agree to tell me what is your business here?”
She laughed at me gaily. “I might,” she said, “provided that meantime I had learned whether or not you were married that night.”
I do not profess that I read all that was in her face as she stepped back toward the satin curtains and swept me the most graceful curtsey I had ever seen in all my life. I felt like reaching out a hand to restrain her. I felt like following her. She was assuredly bewildering, assuredly as puzzling as she was fascinating. I only felt that she was mocking me. Ah, she was a woman!