“He has had no opportunity,” was the firm reply. “If your Highness says the word, he shall pass.”
“Let him alone,” the Prince answered. “Refuse this man Jacks permission to search my house during my absence. Tell him that I shall be there at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon and that at that hour he is welcome to return.”
“It shall be done, Highness,” was the answer.
The Prince set down the receiver upon the instrument and stood for a moment deep in thought. It was a strange country, this,—a strange end which it seemed that he must prepare to face. He felt like the man who had gone out to shoot lions and returning with great spoil had died of the bite of a poisonous ant!
The Prince on his return from the library intercepted Penelope on her way across the hall.
“Forgive me,” he said, “but I could not help overhearing some sentences of your conversation with Sir Charles Somerfield as we sat at dinner. You are going to talk with him now, is it not so?”
“As soon as he comes out from the dining room.”
He saw the hardening of her lips, the flash in her eyes at the mention of Somerfield’s name.
“Yes!” she continued, “Sir Charles and I are going to have a little understanding.”
“Are you sure,” he asked softly, “that it will not be a misunderstanding?”
She looked into his face.
“What does it matter to you?” she asked. “What do you care?”
“Come into the conservatory for a few minutes,” he begged. “You know that I take no wine and I prefer not to return into the dining room. I would like so much instead to talk to you before you see Sir Charles.”
She hesitated. He stood by her side patiently waiting.
“Remember,” he said, “that I am a somewhat privileged person just now. My days here are numbered, you see.”
She turned toward the conservatories.
“Very well,” she said, “I must be like every one else, I suppose, and spoil you. How dare you come and make us all so fond of you that we look upon your departure almost as a tragedy!”
“Indeed,” he declared, “there is a note of tragedy even in these simplest accidents of life. I have been very happy amongst you all, Miss Penelope. You have been so much kinder to me than I have deserved. You have thrown a bridge across the gulf which separates us people of alien tongues and alien manners. Life has been a pleasant thing for me here.”
“Why do you go so soon?” she whispered.
“Miss Penelope,” he answered, “to those others who ask me that question, I shall say that my mission is over, that my report has been sent to my Emperor, and that there is nothing left for me to do but to follow it home. I could add, and it would be true, that there is very much work for me still to accomplish in my own country. To you alone I am going to say something else.”