She did not smile now, but pressed close to him.
“I am a prisoner—like yourself,” she replied simply.
“A prisoner! How a prisoner? I am not a prisoner, but an envoy from my king to the sick princeling.”
“The poor, mad prince,” she said, “he is in need of your medicine, sadly. He sent for me a year ago, and I am now his prisoner for life.”
“But I saw you on the train, a day’s journey hence,” interrupted the musician.
“Yes, I had escaped, and was being taken back by black Hamet when we met.”
Pobloff whistled. So the mystery was disclosed. A little white slave from the seraglio of this embryo tyrant had flown the cage! No wonder she was watched, little surprise that she did not care to eat. He straightened himself, the hair on his round head like porcupine quills.
“My dear young lady,” he exclaimed in accents paternal, “leave all to me. If you do not wish to stay in this place, you may rely on me. When I see this same young man,—he must be a nice sprig of royalty!—I propose to tell him what I think of him.” Pobloff threw out his chest and snorted with pride. Again he fancied that he heard suppressed laughter. He darted glances in every direction, but the fall of distant waters smote upon his ears like the crepuscular music of Chopin. His companion shook with ill-suppressed emotion. It was some time before she could speak.
“Pobloff,” she begged, in her dangerous contralto, a contralto like the medium register of a clarinet, “Pobloff, let me adjure you to be careful. Your coming here has caused political disturbances. The aunt of the prince hates music as much as he adores it. She is no party to your invitation. So be on your guard. Even now there may be spies in the shrubbery.” She put her hand on his arm. It was too much. In an instant, despite her feeble struggle, the ardent musician grasped the creature that had tantalized him since morning, and kissed her a dozen times. His head whirled. Pobloff! Pobloff! a voice cried in his brain—and only yesterday you left your Luga, your pretty pigeon, your wife!
The girl was dragged away from him. In the moonshine he saw the grinning Hamet, suspiciously observing him. The runaway stood up and pressed Pobloff’s hand desperately, uttering the cry of her forlorn heart:—
“Don’t play in the great hall; don’t play in that accursed place. You will be asked, but refuse. Make any excuse, but do not set foot on its ebon floors.”
He was so confused by the strangeness of this adventure, so confused by the admonition of the unknown when he saw her white draperies disappear, that his jaw fell and his courage wavered. A moment later two oddly caparisoned soldiers, bearing lights, approached, and in the name of her Highness invited him make midnight music in the Palace of a Thousand Sounds.