The Princess opened her eyes at the sound of her maid’s approach. She turned her head impatiently toward the door.
“Annette,” she said coldly, “did you misunderstand me? Did I not say that I was on no account to be disturbed this afternoon?”
Annette was the picture of despair. Eyebrows and hands betrayed alike both her agitation of mind and her nationality.
“Madame,” she said, “did I not say so to monsieur? I begged him to call again. I told him that madame was lying down with a bad headache, and that it was as much as my place was worth to disturb her. What did he answer? Only this. That it would be as much as my place was worth if I did not come up and tell you that he was here to see you on a very urgent matter. Indeed, madame, he was very, very impatient with me.”
“Of whom are you talking?” the Princess asked.
“But of Major Forrest, madame,” Annette declared. “It is he who waits below.”
The Princess closed her eyes for a moment and then slowly opened them. She stretched out her hand, and from a table by her side took up a small gilt mirror.
“Turn on the lights, Annette,” she commanded.
The maid illuminated the darkened room. The Princess gazed at herself in the mirror, and reaching out again took a small powder-puff from its case and gently dabbed her face. Then she laid both mirror and powder-puff back in their places.
“You will tell monsieur,” she said, “that I am very unwell indeed, but that since he is here and his business is urgent I will see him. Turn out the lights, Annette. I am not fit to be seen. And move my couch a little, so.”
“Madame is only a little pale,” the maid said reassuringly. “That makes nothing. These Englishwomen have all too much colour. I go to tell monsieur.”
She disappeared, and the Princess lay still upon her couch, thinking. Soon she heard steps outside, and with a little sigh she turned her head toward the door. The man who entered was tall, and of the ordinary type of well-born Englishmen. He was carefully dressed, and his somewhat scanty hair was arranged to the best advantage. His features were hard and lifeless. His eyes were just a shade too close together. The maid ushered him in and withdrew at once.
“Come and sit by my side, Nigel, if you want to talk to me,” the Princess said. “Walk softly, please. I really have a headache.”
“No wonder, in this close room,” the man muttered, a little ungraciously. “It smells as though you had been burning incense here.”
“It suits me,” the Princess answered calmly, “and it happens to be my room. Bring that chair up here and say what you have to say.”
The man obeyed in silence. When he had made himself quite comfortable, he raised her hand, the one which was nearest to him, to his lips, and afterwards retained it in his own.