“You shall do exactly as you choose,” he promised, as he took his leave.
So when the shooting party tramped into the hall that afternoon, a little weary, but flushed with exercise and the pleasure of the day’s sport, they found, seated in a corner of the room, behind the great round table upon which tea was set out, a rather pale but extraordinarily childlike and fascinating woman, with large, sweet eyes which seemed to be begging for their protection and sympathy as she rose hesitatingly to her feet. Dominey was by her side in a moment, and his first few words of introduction brought every one around her. She said very little, but what she said was delightfully natural and gracious.
“It has been so kind of you,” she said to Caroline, “to help my husband entertain his guests. I am very much better, but I have been ill for so long that I have forgotten a great many things, and I should be a very poor hostess. But I want to make tea for you, please, and I want you all to tell me how many pheasants you have shot.”
Terniloff seated himself on the settee by her side.
“I am going to help you in this complicated task,” he declared. “I am sure those sugar tongs are too heavy for you to wield alone.”
She laughed at him gaily.
“But I am not really delicate at all,” she assured him. “I have had a very bad illness, but I am quite strong again.”
“Then I will find some other excuse for sitting here,” he said. “I will tell you all about the high pheasants your husband killed, and about the woodcock he brought down after we had all missed it.”
“I shall love to hear about that,” she assented. “How much sugar, please, and will you pass those hot muffins to the Princess? And please touch that bell. I shall want more hot water. I expect you are all very thirsty. I am so glad to be here with you.”
Arm in arm, Prince Terniloff and his host climbed the snow-covered slope at the back of a long fir plantation, towards the little beflagged sticks which indicated their stand. There was not a human being in sight, for the rest of the guns had chosen a steeper but somewhat less circuitous route.
“Von Ragastein,” the Ambassador said, “I am going to give myself the luxury of calling you by your name. You know my one weakness, a weakness which in my younger days very nearly drove me out of diplomacy. I detest espionage in every shape and form even where it is necessary. So far as you are concerned, my young friend,” he went on, “I think your position ridiculous. I have sent a private despatch to Potsdam, in which I have expressed that opinion.”
“So far,” Dominey remarked, “I have not been overworked.”
“My dear young friend,” the Prince continued, “you have not been overworked because there has been no legitimate work for you to do. There will be none. There could be no possible advantage accruing from your labours here to compensate for the very bad effect which the discovery of your true name and position would have in the English Cabinet.”