“Is that better?” he enquired.
“Very much,” she assured him. “Still, I think that if you do not mind, I will go to bed. I am troubled with a very rare attack of nerves. Drink your whisky and soda, and then will you take me into the drawing-room?”
He played with his tumbler thoughtfully. His first impulse was to drop it. Intervention, however, was at hand. The door opened, and the Princess entered with Lord Shervinton.
“At last!” the former exclaimed. “I have been looking for you everywhere, child. I am sure that you are quite tired out, and I insist upon your going to bed.”
“Finish your whisky and soda,” Catherine begged Julian, “and I will lean on your arm as far as the staircase.”
Fate stretched out her right hand to help him. The Princess took possession of her niece.
“I shall look after you myself,” she insisted. “Mr. Orden is wanted to play billiards. Lord Shervinton is anxious for a game.”
“I shall be delighted,” Julian answered promptly.
He moved to the door and held it open. Catherine gave him her fingers and a little half-doubtful smile.
“If only you were not so cruelly obstinate!” she sighed.
He found no words with which to answer her. The shock of his discovery was still upon him.
“You’ll give me thirty in a hundred, Julian,” Lord Shervinton called out cheerfully. “And shut that door as soon as you can, there’s a good fellow. There’s a most confounded draught.”
It was at some nameless hour in the early morning when Julian’s vigil came to an end, when the handle of his door was slowly turned, and the door itself pushed open and closed again. Julian, lying stretched upon his bed, only half prepared for the night, with a dressing gown wrapped around him, continued to breathe heavily, his eyes half-closed, listening intently to the fluttering of light garments, the soft, almost noiseless footfall of light feet. He heard her shake out his dinner coat, try the pockets, heard the stealthy opening and closing of the drawers in his wardrobe. Presently the footsteps drew near to his bed. For a moment he was obliged to set his teeth. A little waft of peculiar, unanalysable perfume, half-fascinating, half-repellent, came to him with a sense of disturbing familiarity. She paused by his bedside. He felt her hand steal under the pillow, which his head scarcely touched; search the pockets of his dressing gown, search even the bed. He listened to her soft breathing. The consciousness of her close and intimate presence affected him in an inexplicable manner. Presently, to his intense relief, she glided away from his immediate neighbourhood, and the moment for which he had waited came. He heard her retreating footsteps pass through the communicating door into his little sitting room, where he had purposely left a light burning. He slipped softly from the bed and followed her. She was bending over an open desk as he crossed the threshold. He closed the door and stood with his back to it.