Within an hour that vague wish came true. He had packed Fritzi off, with a newly acquired maid, for a drive up and down the safe public streets and he had re-interviewed the one-eyed man and the native chauffeur that the one-eyed man introduced for the evening’s work, and he was at one of the public desks in the writing room, inditing a letter to his aunt, which, he whimsically appreciated, might be his last mortal composition, and reflecting thankfully that it was highly unnecessary to make a will, when Lady Claire strolled into the room and over to a desk.
She tried a pen frowningly, and Billy jumped to offer another. “Oh, thank you,” she said. She seemed not to have seen him before.
“That was rather nice of you, you know,” he said gravely.
She looked up at him.
“I’m not really a wolf,” he continued, the gravity surrendering to his likable, warm smile, “and I’m glad you recognized it.”
Her reply took him unawares. “I think you’re splendid,” said Lady Claire. “I thought so in the bazaars when you came to my help and stood up to that beastly German.”
“Oh, he wasn’t such a beastly German, after all,” Billy deprecated. “And here I’ve had a message to you from him and never remembered to give it. The fellow called on me the next morning in gala attire and offered every apology and satisfaction in his power—even the satisfaction of the duel, if I desired it. I didn’t. But I promised to express his deep apologies to you. He was horribly shocked at himself. He’d been drinking, he said, to forget a ‘sadness’ which possessed him. His lady love had failed to keep her tryst and life was very dark.”
“I don’t wonder at her,” said Lady Claire unforgivingly. “I’m sure he must have been horrid to her!”
“I rather think she was horrid to him,” Billy reflected, “although she was a very sprightly looking lady love. He showed me her picture in the back of his watch.... By George!” he uttered violently.
“What is it?”
“Oh—an idea, that’s all. Something I must really attend to before I—this afternoon, I mean. But there’s no hurry about it,” he added cheerily.
Oh, Billy, Billy! Not even with his blood hot with thoughts of the evening’s work, not even with his memory ridden with Arlee’s gay witchery, could he keep his restless young eyes from laughing down at her. But there wasn’t a notion in the back of his honest head as to the picture he was making in Lady Claire’s eyes as he leaned, long-limbed, broad-shouldered, lazily at ease against the desk, his gray eyes very bright between their dark lashes, his dark hair sweeping back from his wide forehead.
“Are you sure?” she asked of him, with the smile that he drew from her. “Is it the inspiration for another picture?”
“No, no—that was my first and my last. That was the one purple bloom of my art. I have laid my brushes by.... But I’m keeping you from that letter you were going to write.”