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The woman leaned across the table towards her companion.
"My friend," she said, "when we first met--I am ashamed, considering that I dine alone with you to-night, to reflect how short a time ago--you spoke of your removal here from Paris very much as though it were a veritable exile. I told you then that there might be surprises in store for you. This restaurant, for instance! We both know our Paris, yet do we lack anything here which you find at the Ritz or Giro's?"
The young man looked around him appraisingly. The two were dining at one of the newest and most fashionable restaurants in Berlin. The room itself, although a little sombre by reason of its oak panelling, was relieved from absolute gloom by the lightness and elegance of its furniture and appointments, the profusion of flowers, and the soft grey carpet, so thickly piled that every sound was deadened. The delicate strains of music came from an invisible orchestra concealed behind a canopy of palms. The head-waiters had the correct clerical air, half complacent, half dignified. Among the other diners were many beautiful women in marvellous toilettes. A variety of uniforms, worn by the officers at different tables, gave colour and distinction to a tout ensemble with which even Norgate could find no fault.
"Germany has changed very much since I was here as a boy," he confessed. "One has heard of the growing wealth of Berlin, but I must say that I scarcely expected--"
He hesitated. His companion laughed softly at his embarrassment.
"Do not forget," she interrupted, "that I am Austrian--Austrian, that is to say, with much English in my blood. What you say about Germans does not greatly concern me."
"Of course," Norgate resumed, as he watched the champagne poured into his glass, "one is too much inclined to form one's conclusions about a nation from the types one meets travelling, and you know what the Germans have done for Monte Carlo and the Riviera--even, to a lesser extent, for Paris and Rome. Wherever they have been, for the last few years, they seem to have left the trail of the nouveaux riches. It is not only their clothes but their manners and bearing which affront."
The woman leaned her head for a moment against the tips of her slim and beautifully cared for fingers. She looked steadfastly across the table at her vis-à-vis.
"Now that you are here," she said softly, "you must forget those things. You are a diplomatist, and it is for you, is it not, outwardly, at any rate, to see only the good of the country in which your work lies."
Norgate flushed very slightly. His companion's words had savoured almost of a reproof.
"You are quite right," he admitted. "I have been here for a month, though, and you are the first person to whom I have spoken like this. And you yourself," he pointed out, "encouraged me, did you not, when you insisted upon your Austro-English nationality?"
"You must not take me too seriously," she begged, smiling. "I spoke foolishly, perhaps, but only for your good. You see, Mr. Francis Norgate, I am just a little interested in you and your career."
"And I, dear Baroness," he replied, smiling across at her, "am more than a little interested in--you."
She unfurled her fan.
"I believe," she sighed, "that you are going to flirt with me."
"I should enter into an unequal contest," Norgate asserted. "My methods would seem too clumsy, because I should be too much in earnest."
"Whatever the truth may be about your methods," she declared, "I rather like them, or else I should not be risking my reputation in this still prudish city by dining with you alone and without a chaperon. Tell me a little about yourself. We have met three times, is it not--once at the Embassy, once at the Palace, and once when you paid me that call. How old are you? Tell me about your people in England, and where else you have served besides Paris?"
"I am thirty years old," he replied. "I started at Bukarest. From there I went to Rome. Then I was second attaché at Paris, and finally, as you see, here."
"And your people--they are English, of course?"
"Naturally," he answered. "My mother died when I was quite young, and my father when I was at Eton. I have an estate in Hampshire which seems to get on very well without me."
"And you really care about your profession? You have the real feeling for diplomacy?"
"I think there is nothing else like it in the world," he assured her.
"You may well say that," she agreed enthusiastically. "I think you might almost add that there has been no time in the history of Europe so fraught with possibilities, so fascinating to study, as the present."
He looked at her keenly. It is the first instinct of a young diplomatist to draw in his horns when a beautiful young woman confesses herself interested in his profession.
"You, too, think of these things, then?" he remarked.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"But naturally! What is there to do for a woman but think? We cannot act, or rather, if we do, it is in a very insignificant way. We are lookers-on at most of the things in life worth doing."
"I will spare you all the obvious retorts," he said, "if you will tell me why you are gazing into that mirror so earnestly?"
"I was thinking," she confessed, "what a remarkably good-looking couple we were."
He followed the direction of her eyes. He himself was of a recognised type. His complexion was fair, his face clean-shaven and strong almost to ruggedness. His mouth was firm, his nose thin and straight, his grey eyes well-set. He was over six feet and rather slim for his height. But if his type, though attractive enough, was in its way ordinary, hers was entirely unusual. She, too, was slim, but so far from being tall, her figure was almost petite. Her dark brown hair was arranged in perfectly plain braids behind and with a slight fringe in front. Her complexion was pale. Her features were almost cameo-like in their delicacy and perfection, but any suggestion of coldness was dissipated at once by the extraordinary expressiveness of her mouth and the softness of her deep blue eyes. Norgate looked from the mirror into her face. There was a little smile upon his lips, but he said nothing.
"Some day," she said, "not in the restaurant here but when we are alone and have time, I should so much like to talk with you on really serious matters."
"There is one serious matter," he assured her, "which I should like to discuss with you now or at any time."
She made a little grimace at him.
"Let it be now, then," she suggested, leaning across the table. "We will leave my sort of serious things for another time. I am quite certain that I know where your sort is going to lead us. You are going to make love to me."
"Do you mind?" he asked earnestly.
She became suddenly grave.
"Not yet," she begged. "Let us talk and live nonsense for a few more weeks. You see, I really have not known you very long, have I, and this is a very dangerous city for flirtations. At Court one has to be so careful, and you know I am already considered far too much of a Bohemian here. I was even given to understand, a little time ago, by a very great lady, that my position was quite precarious."
"Does that--does anything matter if--"
"It is not of myself alone that I am thinking. Everything matters to one in your profession," she reminded him pointedly.
"I believe," he exclaimed, "that you think more of my profession than you do of me!"
"Quite impossible," she retorted mockingly. "And yet, as I dare say you have already realised, it is not only the things you say to our statesmen here, and the reports you make, which count. It is your daily life among the people of the nation to which you are attached, the friends you make among them, the hospitality you accept and offer, which has all the time its subtle significance. Now I am not sure, even, that I am, a very good companion for you, Mr. Francis Norgate."
"You are a very bad one for my peace of mind," he assured her.
She shook her head. "You say those things much too glibly," she declared. "I am afraid that you have served a very long apprenticeship."
"If I have," he replied, leaning a little across the table, "it has been an apprenticeship only, a probationary period during which one struggles towards the real thing."
"You think you will know when you have found it?" she murmured.
He drew a little breath. His voice even trembled as he answered her. "I know now," he said softly.
Their heads were almost touching. Suddenly she drew apart. He glanced at her in some surprise, conscious of an extraordinary change in her face, of the half-uttered exclamation strangled upon her lips. He turned his head and followed the direction of her eyes. Three young men in the uniform of officers had entered the room, and stood there as though looking about for a table. Before them the little company of head-waiters had almost prostrated themselves. The manager, summoned in breathless haste, had made a reverential approach.
"Who are these young men?" Norgate enquired.
His companion made no reply. Her fine, silky eyebrows were drawn a little closer together. At that moment the tallest of the three newcomers seemed to recognise her. He strode at once towards their table. Norgate, glancing up at his approach, was simply conscious of the coming of a fair young man of ordinary German type, who seemed to be in a remarkably bad temper.
"So I find you here, Anna!"
The Baroness rose as though unwillingly to her feet. She dropped the slightest of curtseys and resumed her place.
"Your visit is a little unexpected, is it not, Karl?" she remarked.
"Apparently!" the young man answered, with an unpleasant laugh.
He turned and stared at Norgate, who returned his regard with half-amused, half-impatient indifference. The Baroness leaned forward eagerly.
"Will you permit me to present Mr. Francis Norgate to you, Karl?"
Norgate, who had suddenly recognised the newcomer, rose to his feet, bowed and remained standing. The Prince's only reply to the introduction was a frown.
"Kindly give me your seat," he said imperatively. "I will conclude your entertainment of the Baroness."
For a moment there was a dead silence. In the background several of the maîtres d'hôtel had gathered obsequiously around. For some reason or other, every one seemed to be looking at Norgate as though he were a criminal.
"Isn't your request a little unusual, Prince?" he remarked drily.
The colour in the young man's face became almost purple.
"Did you hear what I said, sir?" he demanded. "Do you know who I am?"
"Perfectly," Norgate replied. "A prince who apparently has not learnt how to behave himself in a public place."
The young man took a quick step forward. Norgate's fists were clenched and his eyes glittering. The Baroness stepped between them.
"Mr. Norgate," she said, "you will please give me your escort home."
The Prince's companions had seized him, one by either arm. An older man who had been dining in a distant corner of the room, and who wore the uniform of an officer of high rank, suddenly approached. He addressed the Prince, and they all talked together in excited whispers. Norgate with calm fingers arranged the cloak around his companion and placed a hundred mark note upon his plate.
"I will return for my change another evening," he said to the dumbfounded waiter. "If you are ready, Baroness."
They left the restaurant amid an intense hush. Norgate waited deliberately whilst the door was somewhat unwillingly held open for him by a maître d'hôtel, but outside the Baroness's automobile was summoned at once. She placed her fingers upon Norgate's arm, and he felt that she was shivering.
"Please do not take me home," she faltered. "I am so sorry--so very sorry."
He laughed. "But why?" he protested. "The young fellow behaved like a cub, but no one offered him any provocation. I should think by this time he is probably heartily ashamed of himself. May I come and see you to-morrow?"
"Telephone me," she begged, as she gave him her hand through the window. "You don't quite understand. Please telephone to me."
She suddenly clutched his hand with both of hers and then fell back out of sight among the cushions. Norgate remained upon the pavement until the car had disappeared. Then he looked back once more into the restaurant and strolled across the brilliantly-lit street towards the Embassy.
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