Isaac laughed harshly.
“You talk like a young fool!” he declared, turning on his heel.
The apartments of Count Sabatini were situated in the somewhat unfamiliar quarter of Queen Anne’s Gate. Arnold found his way there on foot, crossing Parliament Square in a slight drizzling rain, through which the figures of the passers-by assumed a somewhat phantasmal appearance. Around him was a glowing arc of lights, and, dimly visible beyond, shadowy glimpses of the river. He rang the bell with some hesitation at the house indicated by his directions—a large gray stone building, old-fashioned, and without any external signs of habitation. His summons, however, was answered almost immediately by a man-servant who took his hat and coat.
“If you will step into the library for a moment, sir,” he said, with a slight foreign accent, “His Excellency will be there.”
Arnold was immensely impressed by the room into which he was shown. He stood looking around him for several minutes. The whole atmosphere seemed to indicate a cultivated and luxurious taste, kept in bounds by a certain not unpleasing masculine severity. The coloring of the room was dark green, and the walls were everywhere covered with prints and etchings, and trophies of the chase and war. A huge easy-chair was drawn up to the fire, and by its side was a table covered with books and illustrated papers. A black oak writing desk stood open, and a huge bowl of violets set upon it was guarded by an ivory statuette of the Venus of Milo. The furniture was comfortably worn. There was a faint atmosphere of cigarette smoke,—the whole apartment was impregnated by an intensely liveable atmosphere. The glowing face of a celebrated Parisian danseuse laughed at him from over the mantelpiece. Arnold was engaged in examining it when Sabatini entered.
“A thousand apologies, my dear Mr. Chetwode,” he said softly. “I see you pass your time pleasantly. You admire the divine Fatime?”
“The face is beautiful,” Arnold admitted. “I am afraid I was a few minutes early. It began to rain and I walked fast.”
Sabatini smiled. A butler had followed him into the room, bearing on a tray two wine-glasses full of clear yellow liquid.
“Vermouth and one tiny cigarette,” Sabatini suggested,—“the best aperetif in the world. Permit me, Mr. Chetwode—to our better acquaintance!”
“I never need an aperetif,” Arnold answered, raising the wine-glass to his lips, “but I will drink to your toast, with pleasure.”
Sabatini lit his cigarette, and, leaning slightly against the back of a chair, stood with folded arms looking at the picture over the fireplace.
“Your remark about Fatime suggested reservations,” he remarked. “I wonder why? I have a good many curios in the room, and some rather wonderful prints, but it was Fatime who held you while you waited. Yet you are not one of those, I should imagine,” he added, blowing out a cloud of cigarette smoke, “to whom the call of sex is irresistible.”