He went slowly down the steps to the main corridor and joined the buzzing, kaleidoscopic crowd.
Somewhere on the floor above, an orchestra was playing for the dansant; and the music came fitfully through the chatter and confusion. He nodded to some acquaintances, bowed formally to others, shook hands when it could not be avoided; all the while progressing slowly down the corridor in search of three red roses on a black gown.
And near the far end he saw, for an instant through a rift in the crowd, the three roses on a black gown, but not the face above them; the next instant the rift closed. However, he knew now that she was here and where to find her, and he made his way through the press toward where she was waiting for him.
Then the crowd suddenly opened—as crowds do—and he saw, on the same side of the corridor and scarcely ten feet apart, two slender women in black and wearing red roses; one was Mrs. Winton, the other he had never seen.
It brought him to a sharp pause. Then he smiled. Ranleigh was right! There were altogether too many women in this case. And which one was waiting for him? He knew neither, but there was the chance that the one he was to meet knew him.
And so he adventured it, walking slowly toward them, and taking care that they should notice him.
Mrs. Winton glanced at him casually and impersonally.
The unknown, whose face was from him, turned sharply when he dropped his stick, and looked at him unrecognizingly. As her eyes came down they rested on the other woman.
She gave a subdued exclamation, arose and threaded her way to the opposite side of the corridor.
Harleston, glancing back, saw the move, and swinging over he followed. He would speak to her—meanwhile, he was looking at her. So far, at least, both were good to look at; they must be good to look at in this business, it is part of the stock in trade.
“Good afternoon, Madame X,” he said, bowing before her.
“Why, how do you do, Mr. Harleston,” she smiled, giving him her hand and making room beside her on the settee. “I’m delighted to see you, just delighted!”
“It is nice to meet again, isn’t it?” he returned. “When did you get to town?”
“Only yesterday! You live in Washington, now, don’t you?”
“Yes, off and on. It’s my headquarters for refitting and starting afresh. What do you say to a turn at the dansant?”
“I’m ready, I’m sure,” she replied. “Afterward we’ll—”
“Discuss other matters!” he interjected.
She gave him an amused look, and they passed down the corridor and up the marble steps to the elevator.
They were dancing the Maxixe when they entered.
“Do you mind if we don’t do it on the heels?” said she. “I think it’s prettier the other way.”
“So do I,” said he, and they drifted down the room.