“Well, how does it feel to be sent for by the great sultan?” she asked, as I stood before her fire. “Of course, I have always known that ultimately he couldn’t get along without you.”
“Even if he has been a little late in realizing it,” I retorted.
“Sit down and tell me all about him,” she commanded.
“I met him once, when Ham had the yacht at Bar Harbor.”
“And how did he strike you?”
“As somewhat wrapped up in himself,” said Nancy.
We laughed together.
“Oh, I fell a victim,” she went on. “I might have sailed off with him, if he had asked me.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t ask you.”
“I suspect that it was not quite convenient,” she said. “Women are secondary considerations to sultans, we’re all very well when they haven’t anything more serious to occupy them. Of course that’s why they fascinate us. What did he want with you, Hugh?”
“He was evidently afraid that the government would win the coal roads suit unless I was retained.”
“More laurels!” she sighed. “I suppose I ought to be proud to know you.”
“That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to impress on you all these years,” I declared. “I’ve laid the laurels at your feet, in vain.”
She sat with her head back on the cushions, surveying me.
“Your dress is very becoming,” I said irrelevantly.
“I hoped it would meet your approval,” she mocked.
“I’ve been trying to identify the shade. It’s elusive—like you.”
“Don’t be banal.... What is the colour?”
“Pretty nearly,” she agreed, critically.
I took the soft crepe between my fingers.
“Poet!” she smiled. “No, it isn’t quite poinsetta. It’s nearer the red-orange of a tree I remember one autumn, in the White Mountains, with the setting sun on it. But that wasn’t what we were talking about. Laurels! Your laurels.”
“My laurels,” I repeated. “Such as they are, I fling them into your lap.”
“Do you think they increase your value to me, Hugh?”
“I don’t know,” I said thickly.
She shook her head.
“No, it’s you I like—not the laurels.”
“But if you care for me—?” I began.
She lifted up her hands and folded them behind the knot of her hair.
“It’s extraordinary how little you have changed since we were children, Hugh. You are still sixteen years old, that’s why I like you. If you got to be the sultan of sultans yourself, I shouldn’t like you any better, or any worse.”