“Gracious heavens!” he cried, and noted that the tea-tray had been removed, “there must be something radically wrong with my health. It is nearly seven o’clock!”
The note of the silver bell sounded in the ante-room.
“Can you forgive me?” he said.
But Madame, rising to her feet, leaned lightly upon his shoulder, toying with the petals of the orchid in his buttonhole.
“I think it was the perfume which that foolish Ah Li lighted,” she whispered, looking intently into his eyes, “and it is you who have to forgive me. But you will, I know!” The silver bell rang again. “When you have come to see me again—many, many times, you will grow to love it—because I love it.”
She touched the bell upon the table, and Ah Li entered silently. When Madame de Medici held out her hand to him Deacon raised the white fingers to his lips and kissed them rapturously; then he turned, the Gascon within him uppermost again, and ran from the room.
A purple curtain was drawn across the lobby, screening the caller newly arrived from the one so hurriedly departing.
THE LIVING BUDDHA
It was past midnight when Colonel Deacon returned to the house. Rene was waiting for him, pacing up and down the big library. Their relationship was curious, as subsisting between ward and guardian, for these two, despite the disparity of their ages, had few secrets from one another. Rene burned to pour out his story of the wonderful Madame de Medici, of the secret house in Chinatown with its deceptively mean exterior and its gorgeous interior, to the shrewd and worldly elder man. That was his way. But Fate had an oddly bitter moment in store for him.
“Hallo, boy!” cried the Colonel, looking into the library; “glad you’re home. I might not see you in the morning, and I want to tell you about—er—a lady who will be coming here in the afternoon.”
The words died upon Rene’s lips unspoken, and he stared blankly at the Colonel.
“I thought I knew all there was to know about pictures, antiques, and all that sort of lumber,” continued Colonel Deacon in his rapid and off-hand manner. “Thought there weren’t many men in London could teach me anything; certainly never suspected a woman could. But I’ve met one, boy! Gad! What a splendid creature! You know there isn’t much in the world I haven’t seen—north, south, east and west. I know all the advertised beauties of Europe and Asia—stage, opera, and ballet, and all the rest of them. But this one—Gad!”
He dropped into an arm-chair, clapping both his hands upon his knees. Rene stood at the farther end of the library, in the shadow, watching him.
“She’s coming here to-morrow, boy—coming here. Gad! you dog! You’ll fall in love with her the moment you see her—sure to, sure to! I did, and I’m three times your age!”