What hidden sorrow can he have--some grief, I am sure--that should keep him away from all companions? Every day he goes away alone. And I have seen him almost every night, coming back to the hotel, only to disappear in his rooms, where he must spend many lonely hours."
Nearly a week had passed since Paul reached the Mecca of his pilgrimage. Other guests at the hotel had seen little of him, except as they glimpsed him of a morning as he made an early start to some favourite haunt or again as he returned at night-fall, to pass quickly through the chattering groups upon the terrace or about the hall and retire to his suite, where usually his dinner was served in solitary state.
"Ah, but no. The dear soul has grown quite deaf since you last saw him. I can not think of allowing it. Be a good child now. This is no plot. Sir Paul is an incurable misogynist--the only man I know who would not fall in love with you. See! your old friend is doing her best to provide you with an ideal dinner-partner. What more could you wish? It is settled."
Even some hours later, when he was ready to start for the Dalmatian Embassy, his rage had not cooled greatly it was therefore in a tone strangely at variance with his unruffled evening dress that he directed his chauffeur. As for Baxter, he had never seen his master in so villainous a humour. Indeed, had it not been for an uncommonly pretty _femme de chambre_ in the hotel, whose acquaintance he had made the evening before, he would have been tempted to give his employer notice.
"I am not robbing you," answered the man, sullenly. "I am taking what you offered me. I shall not give them back. It is impossible for you to make me. You would cry out, would you? What good would that do? Cry out, call for help--do what you like--but think first what will it mean for you. Give them back? Not I! I--"
Many years ago it was, since he had vowed to revisit the Springplace of his youth, Lucerne, a spot so replete with tender memories, and each succeeding year had found him making anew his pilgrimage, though a sombre warp of sorrow was now interwoven in the golden woof of his happiness.
He had just decided that his nerves were playing him a trick, when the sound was repeated. This time he felt sure that some one, some thing, was stirring close back of him. Again he turned and scanned the flight of steps, gray in the bright starlight, until suddenly his eyes stood still. They rested as if stopped by some mysterious compelling power--some living magnet that seemed to hold them against his will.
In a few moments the tea-house was a ruin. Paul hurried to the hotel, where several startled guests had gathered in somewhat scanty attire, alarmed by the cry of fire ringing out into the still night. But the lady of the midnight kiss was not there.
But Paul was not destined to remain wholly uninterrupted. As the other travellers descended from the carriage and formed a little knot upon the platform, the Comtesse de Boistelle, now occupied with a betufted poodle frisking at the end of a leash, strolled by him. As she passed Paul she dropped a jewelled reticule, which he promptly recovered for her, offering it with a grave face and a murmured "_Permettez moi, Madame_."
"_L'Hotel du Rhin!_" he shouted savagely to his _cocher_, and with one last glance at the back of the carriage ahead (if it were only an automobile!--then there'd be a number on it! he thought) Paul was turned sharply around and carried toward the main entrance to the _Bois_.
He confessed to himself that it was not a promising undertaking, yet sooner or later everyone came to Paris. Here he was, and here would he stay, for a time at least. Perhaps,--who knew?--he might find her more easily than he dared hope. And from his apartments he looked out over the tree-tops.
You need not read any more of this book than you wish, since I claim the privilege of not writing any more than I choose. But if you do read it through, you will feel with me that the great law of compensation is once more justified. As sorrow is the fruit of our mistakes, so everlasting peace should be the reward of our heart's best endeavor.
A little portly man with an evident air of authority was talking to a woman in a flowing cloak. Emphasizing his remarks with true Gallic gestures, but with all his excitement making an evident effort to be guarded in his tone, he was all oblivious to Paul's presence.
"Now, my dear," the elder lady was saying, "I insist that it is high time you were married. It is ridiculous for a charming girl like you to take the stand you have. Let me see--you're thirty now--and not a single man will you encourage--scarcely tolerate--except a few grey-beards like my own good husband."