“I must go in and see the De Lausanacs,” she exclaimed. “They are in the blue room supping with the Portuguese Ambassador. I shall be at Carmarthen House within half an hour—unless my headache becomes unbearable. Au revoir, all of you. Good-bye, Laura!”
Her friends passed on towards the great swing doors. Lady Carey retraced her steps slowly towards the supper-room, and made some languid inquiries of the head waiter as to a missing handkerchief. Then she came again slowly down the broad way and reached Mr. Sabin. He rose to his feet.
“I thank you very much for your note,” he said. “You have something, I believe, to say to me.”
She stood before him for a moment in silence, as though not unwilling that he should appreciate the soft splendour of her toilette. The jewels which encircled her neck were priceless and dazzling; the soft material of her gown, the most delicate shade of sea green, seemed to foam about her feet, a wonderful triumph of allegoric dressmaking. She saw that he was studying her, and she laughed a little uneasily, looking all the time into his eyes.
“Shockingly overdressed, ain’t I?” she said. “We were going straight to Carmarthen House, you know. Come and sit in this corner for a moment, and order me some coffee. I suppose there isn’t any less public place!”
“I fear not,” he answered. “You will perhaps be unobserved behind this palm.”
She sank into a low chair, and he seated himself beside her. She sighed contentedly.
“Dear me!” she said. “Do men like being run after like this?”
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
“I understood,” he said, “that you had something to say to me of importance.”
She shot a quick look up at him.
“Don’t be horrid,” she said in a low tone. “Of course I wanted to see you. I wanted to explain. Give me one of your cigarettes.”
He laid his case silently before her. She took one and lit it, watching him furtively all the time. The man brought their coffee. The place was almost empty now, and some of the lights were turned down.
“It is very kind of you,” he said slowly, “to honour me by so much consideration, but if you have much to say perhaps it would be better if you permitted me to call upon you to-morrow. I am afraid of depriving you of your ball—and your friends will be getting impatient.”
“Bother the ball—and my friends,” she exclaimed, a certain strained note in her tone which puzzled him. “I’m not obliged to go to the thing, and I don’t want to. I’ve invented a headache, and they won’t even expect me. They know my headaches.”
“In that case,” Mr. Sabin said, “I am entirely at your service.”
She sighed, and looked up at him through a little cloud of tobacco smoke.
“What a wonderful man you are,” she said softly. “You accept defeat with the grace of a victor. I believe that you would triumph as easily with a shrug of the shoulders. Haven’t you any feeling at all? Don’t you know what it is like to feel?”