“I don’t dislike compliments, Mr. Harleston; but compliments, it seems, are given in diplomacy for a purpose; and as I don’t understand anything of diplomacy we would better cut them out—until we have finished with diplomacy. Then you may offer as many as you like, and I’ll believe them or not as I’m minded.”
“Have it as you wish!” he smiled, looking into the brown eyes with frank admiration.
“Compliments may be conveyed by looks as well as by words,” she reproved.
“But of the feeling that prompts the look you can be in no doubt. Moreover, a look is silent.”
“Nonsense,” said she. “Besides, I want to ask you a favour. You see, I’m prepared to go out—and I want you to go with me. Will you do it?”
“It will have to be mightily against my conscience to make me refuse you,” Harleston replied.
“I’m glad you recognize a conscience,” she remarked.
“I refer to my diplomatic conscience.”
“And a diplomatic conscience is a minus quantity,” she observed.
“What is it you would of me, dear lady?” he asked.
“I would that you should go with me to the French Ambassador, and help me to explain the—now don’t say you won’t, Mr. Harleston—”
“My dear Mrs. Clephane, it is—” he began.
“It is not impossible!” she declared. “Why won’t you do it?”
“For your sake as well as for my own,” he explained. “America and France are not working together in this matter, and for me to accompany you would result simply in your being obliged to explain me as well as the letter, besides leading to endless complications and countless suspicions. Didn’t I expound this last evening?”
“You did—also much more; but I’ve thought over it almost the whole night, and I simply must get this miserable letter off my mind. Perhaps Mrs. Spencer has forestalled me with the Ambassador and has given him such a tale as will insure my being shown the door; nevertheless I’ll risk it.”
“Why don’t you get in communication with your friend Madame Durrand,” Harleston suggested “and have her, if she hasn’t done so already, identify you to the Marquis?”
“I shall, if the Marquis is sceptical. I’ll admit that I’m pitiably foolish, but I don’t want Mrs. Durrand to know how I’ve bungled her matter until the bungle is corrected.”
“I can quite understand,” said Harleston gently.
“Oh, I know you are right,” she murmured, “yet I’m afraid to go alone.”
“Take some other friend with you; some well-known man who can vouch for your identity.”
“I know no one in Washington except the friends at the Shoreham, and they are not residents here.”
“Are you acquainted with any prominent woman?”
“No! I’ve lived in Europe for years—and while I have met over there women from Washington it’s been only casually. They won’t recollect me, any more than I would them, for purposes of vouchment or identification.”