“Your Excellency is very gracious!” she murmured bestowing on him a look that fairly dizzied him.
Small wonder, he thought, that she was reputed the most fascinating and loveliest secret agent in Europe—and the most dangerous to the other party involved; it would be a rare man, indeed, who could withstand such charms, to say nothing of the alluring and appealing ways that must go with them. If he only might try them—just to test his own fine power of resistance and adamantine will! He shot a quick glance of suppressed irritation at Harleston—and Madeline Spencer saw it and smiled, turning the smile toward Harleston.
“I know what you are about to do,” the smile said. “Now do it if you can. You were afraid to trust me alone with this man; you knew how easy he would be for me. Proceed with your game, Mr. Harleston—and play it out.”
Meanwhile the Secretary, still holding her hand, was saying:
“Let me present the Fifth Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Carpenter;—” and Carpenter received a smile only a little less dazzling than that bestowed on his chief—“I believe you have met Mrs. Clephane,” he ended, and only then did he release her hand.
“Yes, I have met Mrs. Clephane,” she replied indifferently, and without so much as a glance her way.
It was to be a battle, so why delay it?
“Your Excellency,” said she, “when this appointment was made, some days ago, I thought that it was merely to enable an insignificant woman to say that she had met a great dignitary and famous man. I think so no longer. It has assumed an international significance. I am here not as plain Madeline Spencer but as Madeline Spencer of the German Secret Service. It seems that a certain letter intended for the French Ambassador has gone astray, and has come into your possession; therefore I am to be asked to explain the matter, though I’ve never seen the letter nor know the cipher in which, I am told by Mr. Harleston, it is written. So what is it you would of me, your Excellency?”
“My dear Madame Spencer,” said the Secretary, “what you say as to the original reason for this little meeting, arranged by our mutual friend, Mr. Harleston, is absolutely correct—except that it was a mere man who was desirous of being presented to a beautiful and a famous woman. It seems, however, that certain circumstances have suddenly arisen that made it imperative for the meeting to be advanced half an hour—”
“What are those circumstances, may I ask?” she cut in.
“I shall have to request Mr. Harleston to answer. To be quite candid, Madame Spencer, I can only infer them; Mr. Harleston arranged them.”
She turned to Harleston with a mocking smile.
“I am listening, monsieur,” she inflected. “What is it you, or rather America, would of me?”
“The letter you have in your possession,” said Harleston.
“The letter!” she marvelled. “Why, Mr. Harleston, you know quite well that I never had the Clephane letter.”