“Isn’t it?” he approved. “I don’t know anything more pleasant—unless it is the finishing stroke of an affaire Diplomatique.”
“Do you anticipate the finishing stroke to the present affair?”
“In due time.”
“Due time?” she inflected.
“Whatever is necessary in the premises,” he explained.
“It hasn’t then gotten beyond the premises?”
“No, it hasn’t gotten beyond the premises,” he replied—with an inward chuckle.
There was no occasion to explain that, by the latter premises, he meant herself. His whole scheme was dependent on her having the traitorous letter in her possession. He was quite sure Snodgrass had received it by mail at the Rataplan; and why had he put the unopened envelope in his pocket unless to give it to her on their way to the Chateau. And as he (Harleston) had caught her as she alighted from the taxi, and had hurried her off to the State Department, she must still have it. Of course, there was the possibility that Snodgrass had not yet delivered it; so Snodgrass was being looked after by others.
“Won’t you give me a line on his Excellency, Guy?” she asked. “Is he easy, or difficult, or neither?”
“I may not betray the weak points of my chief!” Harleston smiled. “Moreover, here we are,” as the taxi came to a stop on the Seventeenth Street side of an atrociously ugly, and miserably inadequate building that partially houses three Departments of the great American Government.
“Am I to be left alone with the great one?” she asked, as they went up the steps from the sidewalk.
“What do you wish me to do?” he inquired.
“Wait until I signal!”
“And if his Excellency signals first?”
“It will be for me to influence that signal,” she replied.
They took the private elevator to the next floor. The old negro messenger was waiting at the door of the reception room and he bowed to the floor—a portion of the bow was for Harleston, but by far the larger portion was for Madeline Spencer.
“De Sec’eta’y, seh, am waiting for you all at onct, Mars Ha’lison,” he said; and ushering them across the big room to the Secretary’s private office he swung back the heavy door and bowed them into the Presence.
As she passed the threshold, Mrs. Spencer caught her breath sharply, and straightened her shoulders just a trifle. She saw where she stood, and what was coming. Very well—she would defeat them yet.
THE CANDLE FLAME
The Secretary was standing by the window; with him were Mrs. Clephane and Carpenter.
“How do you do, Mrs. Spencer!” he said, without waiting for the formal presentation.
She dropped him—Continental fashion—a bit of curtsy and offered him her slender fingers; which, as well as the rest of her hand, he took and held. Its shapeliness together with her beauty of face and figure were instantly swept up by his appraising glance.