Was it because her soul instinctively became conscious of my presence and nerved her for the ordeal, that she turned and smiled on me? The Prince appeared for a moment crestfallen. Perhaps the scene lacked a denouement. Oh, I was sure that implacable hate burned under that smile of his, just as I knew that beneath the rise and fall of Gretchen’s bosom the steady fire of immutable love burned, burned as it burned in my own heart. It was a defeat for the Prince, a triumph for Gretchen and me. The greeting took but a moment. I stepped back, strong and hopeful. She loved me. I knew that her heart was singing the same joyous song as my own.
“Ah, here you are!” said a voice behind me, giving me an indescribable start. “I have been looking high and low for you. You have forgotten this dance.”
It was Phyllis.
And then a sudden hush fell upon the circle. The two women stood face to face, looking with strange wonder into each other’s eyes.
Phyllis and I were sitting in one of the numerous cozy corners. I had danced badly and out of time. The music and the babel of tongues had become murmurous and indistinct.
“And so that is the Princess Hildegarde?” she said, after a spell.
“Yes; she is your double. Is she not beautiful?”
“Is that a left-handed compliment to me?” Phyllis was smiling, but she was colorless.
“No,” said I. “I could never give you a left-handed compliment.”
“How strange and incomprehensible!” said she, opening her fan.
“What?—that I have never, and could never, give you a—”
“No, no! I was thinking of the likeness. It rather unnerved me. It seemed as though I was looking into a mirror.”
“What do you think of her?” suppressing the eagerness in my voice.
“She is to be envied,” softly.
And I grew puzzled.
“Jack, for a man who has associated with the first diplomatists of the world, who has learned to read the world as another might read a book, you are surprisingly unadept in the art of dissimulation.”
“That is a very long sentence,” said I, in order to gain time enough to fathom what she meant. I could not. So I said: “What do you mean?”
“Your whole face was saying to the Princess, ‘I love you!’ A glance told me all. I was glad for your sake that no other woman saw you at that moment. But I suppose it would not have mattered to you.”
“Not if all the world had seen the look,” moodily.
“Poor Jack, you are very unlucky!” Her voice was full of pity. “I feel so sorry for you, it is all so impossible. And she loves you, too!”
“How do you know?”
“I looked at her while she was looking at you.”
“You have wonderful eyes.”
“So I have been told. I wonder why she gave you that withered and worm-eaten rose?”