A TRAGIC INTERRUPTION
“So you see, my friend Douglas, we must dine alone. Try to look as though the calamity were not so great.”
The frown did not pass from Douglas’s face, although he made the answer which was expected of him. In a sense he felt that he had been trapped. Opposite to him was Emily de Reuss in her favourite attitude, leaning a little forward, her hands clasped around her right knee, rocking herself backwards and forwards with a slow, rhythmical motion. She wore a gown of vivid scarlet, soft yet brilliant in its colouring. Her arms and shoulders were bare, and a string of pearls around the neck was her only ornament. Dressed exactly as she now was, he had once told her with honest and boyish frankness that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. That she, whose wardrobe was a miracle, and jewel-case the envy of every woman in London, should have chosen to appear to-night in precisely the same toilette, was at the same time an embarrassment and a warning to him. The image of Drexley rose up, the sound of his despairing warning seemed still in his ears. There was a colour in her cheeks, a light in her eyes—subtle indications that his visit was a thing looked forward to, no ordinary occasion. They were in one of the smaller rooms; outside a round table was laid for dinner in the palm-lined conservatory. Presently they sat there together; through the glass was a dazzling view of blue sky, starlit and clear; within, a vista of exotics, whose perfume hung heavy upon the air. Great palms were above their heads, the silver waters of a fountain rose and fell a few feet behind. They were served by a single servant in the de Reuss liveries of grey and silver; everything on the table was daintily fashioned and perfect of its sort. To Douglas, who at heart was passionately fond of beautiful things, it seemed after his gloomy garret a retaste of paradise. Champagne was served to them in a long glass jug of Venetian workmanship, rendered cloudy by the ice, like frosted ware. Emily herself filled his glass and pledged him a toast.
“To the novel,” she cried. “May it be as successful in literature as your other work has been in journalism! And Douglas, of course you’ve dedicated it to me.”
“I haven’t imposed a dedication upon any one,” he answered. “Aren’t they out of date?”
She shrugged her shoulders. Her elbows were both on the table, and she leaned across towards him.
“Tell me about your story,” she begged. “There is fruit coming, and coffee. Let me fill your glass and you shall tell me of what things you have written, evil or good, the things which are, or the things which should be.”
She raised the jug and the wine fell in a Little yellow shower into his foaming glass. He raised it to his lips thoughtfully.
“It is wonderful,” he said, “that you should be so interested.”