“This one?” she smiled, holding it up.
He leaned over and took the long, slim fingers in the tips of his own—and she let him.
“It’s mighty pretty,” he said, with assumed gravity. “Am I to have it in place of the facts—or along with them?”
“Neither at present,” withdrawing her hand. “Business first, Mr. Harleston—and cards on the table.”
“You’re to play,” he smiled, “and whenever you will.”
Ordinarily he made up his mind very quickly as to another’s sincerity, but she puzzled him. What was the game? And if there were no game so far as she was concerned, how did she happen to be in the very midst of it, and trying to recover—or to obtain—the cipher letter and the photograph? It was a queer situation? the reasonable inferences were against her. Yet—
“I hardly know where to begin,” she was saying.
“Begin at the beginning,” he advised.
He must appear to credit her story that she was concerned only as an innocent associate. And it was not difficult to do, sitting there beside her in the subdued light, under the witching tones of her voice, and the alluring fascination of her face. The face was not perfect; far from it, if by perfect is meant features accordant with one another and true to type. Her hair was flaming red; her eyes were brown, dark brown, a certain pensiveness in them most inaccordant with the hair; her nose was slender, with sensitive nostrils; her mouth was generous with lips a trifle full; her teeth were exquisitely white and symmetrical—and she showed them with due modesty, yet with proper appreciation of their beauty.
Altogether she was a very charming picture; and throwing away his cigarette, he lighted a cigar and settled back to watch the play of her features and hear the melody of her voice. He was a trifle impressed with the lady—and he was willing that the tale require time and attention. Furthermore, it was his business to observe her critically, so that he might decide as to the matter in hand. In the present instance his business was very much to his liking, but that did not make it any the less business.
Something of which the lady may have suspected and was prepared to humour. A man must be humoured at times—particularly when the woman is trying for something that can only be come at through his favour or acquiescence.
“To begin at the beginning will make it a long story,” she warned.
“Then by all means begin it there,” he answered.
“You can endure it?”
“I’m very comfortable; we are alone; and the light is admirable.”
“Same here!” she smiled, with a tantalizing glance from the brown eyes. “Can you start me?”
“I might, but I won’t. The glory shall all be yours.”
“I’m glad there is to be some glory in this affair; there’s been little enough so far. However, to begin.”
“No hurry, my dear Madame X.”