“I’m not unduly curious!” she laughed.
When he returned, Harleston was standing in his office lighting a cigarette.
“It’s infernally close, not to mention hot, in that cabinet of yours,” he observed; “though one can see and hear.”
“Ever see her before?” the Superintendent asked.
“I don’t recall it!”
“Ever hear the voice?”
“What do you think of her?”
“Good to look at, truthful, sincere.”
“And her story?”
“Simple statement of fact, I take it.”
“Hum!” said Ranleigh.
“Which means?” Harleston asked.
“Nothing at present; may be nothing at any time. I never believe a story till its truth is established—and then I’m still in a receptive state of mind. However, it does seem true, and Mrs. Winton herself supports it; which is enough for the time.”
“At any rate, we’ve found the lady of the cab,” Harleston remarked. “Or rather we’ve located her as of one o’clock, which is shortly before I happened on the scene.”
“Is there anything in the description that corresponds to the lady of the photograph?”
“It all corresponds; slight, above medium-height, dark gown—she affects dark gowns;—but thousands of women are slight, above medium-height, and wear dark gowns.”
“At least it eliminates the very tall and the stout,” Ranleigh observed. “Let me ask you, what do you make of Mrs. Winton’s appointment at the Chateau at five, and her being gowned in black?”
“A mere coincidence, I think. What would be her object in telling this story to you between three and four o’clock, and meeting me at five to recover the lost document.”
“Search me! I’m sure only of this: there are too many women in this affair, Mr. Harleston, too many women! Man is a reasoning being and somewhat consistent; but women—” a gesture ended the remark.
“Just so!” Harleston laughed. “And now for the Lady of Peacock Alley!”
Peacock Alley was in full gorgeousness when Harleston, just at five o’clock, paused on the landing above the marble stairs inside the F Street entrance and surveyed the motley throng—busy with looking and being looked at, with charming and being charmed, with wondering and being wondered at, with aping and being aped, with patronizing and being patronized, with flattering and being flattered, with fawning and being fawned upon, with deceiving and being deceived, with bluffing and being bluffed, with splurging, with pretending, with every trick and artifice and sham and chicanery that society and politics know, or can fancy.
Harleston was familiar with it all for too many years even to accord it a glance of contemptuous indifference—when he had anything else to occupy his mind; and just now his mind was on a lady in black with three American Beauties on the gown.