I felt something swiftly flame within me. There arose about me that net of amber-hued perfume, soft, enthralling, difficult of evasion.... Then I recalled my mission; and I remembered what Mr. Calhoun and Doctor Ward had said. I was not a man; I was a government agent. She was not a woman; she was my opponent. Yes, but then—
Slowly I turned to the opposite side of this long central room. There were curtains here also. I drew them, but as I did so I glanced back. Again, as on that earlier night, I saw her face framed in the amber folds—a face laughing, mocking. With an exclamation of discontent, I threw down my heavy pistol on the floor, cast my coat across the foot of the bed to prevent the delicate covering from being soiled by my boots, and so rested without further disrobing.
In the opposite apartment I could hear her moving about, humming to herself some air as unconcernedly as though no such being as myself existed in the world. I heard her presently accost her servant, who entered through some passage not visible from the central apartments. Then without concealment there seemed to go forward the ordinary routine of madam’s toilet for the evening.
“No, I think the pink one,” I heard her say, “and please—the bath, Threlka, just a trifle more warm.” She spoke in French, her ancient serving-woman, as I took it, not understanding the English language. They both spoke also in a tongue I did not know. I heard the rattling of toilet articles, certain sighs of content, faint splashings beyond. I could not escape from all this. Then I imagined that perhaps madam was having her heavy locks combed by the serving-woman. In spite of myself, I pictured her thus, even more beautiful than before.
For a long time I concluded that my presence was to be dismissed as a thing which was of no importance, or which was to be regarded as not having happened. At length, however, after what seemed at least half an hour of these mysterious ceremonies, I heard certain sighings, long breaths, as though madam were taking calisthenic movements, some gymnastic training—I knew not what. She paused for breath, apparently very well content with herself.
Shame on me! I fancied perhaps she stood before a mirror. Shame on me again! I fancied she sat, glowing, beautiful, at the edge of the amber couch.
At last she called out to me: “Monsieur!”
I was at my own curtains at once, but hers remained tight folded, although I heard her voice close behind them. “Eh bien?” I answered.
“It is nothing, except I would say that if Monsieur feels especially grave and reverent, he will find a very comfortable prie-dieu at the foot of the bed.”
“I thank you,” I replied, gravely as I could.
“And there is a very excellent rosary and crucifix on the table just beyond!”
“I thank you,” I replied, steadily as I could.
“And there is an English Book of Common Prayer upon the stand not far from the head of the bed, upon this side!”