“You’ve accomplished enough even though we don’t obtain the letter” she approved. “I shall recommend you for promotion, Marston.”
She took the thin book and glanced through it until she came to the key-words of the Blocked-Out Square—the last key-word was the one the Count de M—— had given her. After all, the Count was not so bad; and he was handsome; thus far dependable; and he was, seemingly at least, in love with her. She might do worse.... Yet he was not Harleston; there never was but one equal to Harleston, and that one was lost to her. She shut her lips tightly and a far-away look came into her eyes. And now Harleston, too, was lost to her; and—she lifted her hands resignedly, and laughed a mirthless laugh. As she came back to reality, she met Marston’s curiously courteous glance with a bit of a shrug.
“Pardon my momentary abstraction,” she said softly; “I was pursuing a train of thought—”
“And you didn’t overtake it,” he remarked.
“I can never overtake it. I haven’t the requisite speed. Did you ever miss your two greatest opportunities, Marston?”
“I’ve missed my greatest,” Marston replied instantly. “Oh—it was out of my class, so I never started.”
“It may have been a mistake, my friend,” she observed; “one never can tell until he’s tried it—and failed. I mightn’t have missed had I gone on another schedule. However, the past is to profit by, and to forget if we can’t remember it pleasantly. So let us return to the business in hand, Marston; it’s a rattling business and a fascinating, and at it you and I are not to be altogether despised,” throwing him a bewitching smile.
“Don’t!” he exclaimed. “I’m not stone.”
“Forgive me, my friend!” putting out her hand to him.
Marston simply bowed, “I think it wiser to refrain,” he said gently, and bowed again. “By all means let us to the business in hand.”
He understood her nature better than she thought. The sympathy in her was, for the moment, real enough, but it was only for the moment; the love of admiration was the controlling note—what she sought and what she played for. She felt the sympathy while it lasted, but it was the effect as to herself, the selfish effect, that inspired the sensation. When a beautiful woman stoops to sympathy, it is rare indeed that she does not thereby arouse admiration for herself. Madeline Spencer may have been cold and shrewd and selfish and calculating, yet with it all she was warm-hearted; but the warm heart never got away with the cool head—unless it was with that head’s permission and for its benefit. She played men—and men played her—but the man that had won was not yet to be found. Two only of those whom she tried had failed to succumb to her fascinating alluringness—and these two she had loved, and still did both love and hate.
“Returning then to the code-book and the letter,” said she. “How about the latter; have you found Carpenter susceptible to persuasion?”