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The Powers and Maxine By A. M. Williamson Characters: 8964

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

When Ivor was safely out of the room, my first thought was to escape from behind the lounge, and get upstairs to my own quarters. But just as I had sat up, very cramped and wretched, with one foot and one arm asleep, Lord Mountstuart came in again, and down I had to duck.

He had brought a friend, who was as mad about old books and first editions, as he; a stuffy, elderly thing, who had never seen Lord Mountstuart's treasures before. As both were perfectly daft on the subject, they must have kept me lying there an hour, while they fussed about from one glass-protected book-case to another, murmuring admiration of Caxtons, or discussing the value of a Mazarin Bible, with their noses in a lot of old volumes which ought to have been eaten up by moths long ago. As for me, I should have been delighted to set fire to the whole lot.

At last Lord Mountstuart (whom I've nicknamed "Stewey") remembered that there was a ball going on, and that he was the host. So he and the other duffer pottered away, leaving the coast clear and the door wide open. It was just my luck (which is always bad and always has been) that a pair of flirting idiots, for whom the conservatory, or our "den," or the stairs, wasn't secluded enough, must needs be prying about and spy that open door before I had conquered my cramps and got up from behind the sofa.

The dim light commended itself to their silliness, and after hesitating a minute, the girl-whoever she was-allowed herself to be drawn into a room where she had no business to be. Then, to make bad worse, they selected the lounge to sit upon, and I had to lie closely wedged against the wall, with "pins and needles" pricking all over my cramped body, while some man I didn't know proposed and was accepted by some girl I shall probably never see.

They continued to sit, making a tremendous fuss about each other, until voices were "heard off," as they say in the directions for theatricals, whereupon they sprang up and hurried out like "guilty things upon a fearful summons."

By that time I was more dead than alive, but I did manage to crawl out of my prison, and creep up to my room by a back stairway which the servants use. But it was very late now, and people were going, even the young ones who love dancing. As soon as I was able, I scuttled out of my ball dress and into a dressing gown. Also I undid my hair, which is my one beauty, and let it hang over my shoulders, streaming down in front on each side, so that nobody would know one shoulder is higher than the other. It wasn't that I was particularly anxious to appear well before Di (though I have enough vanity not to like the contrast between us to seem too great, even when she and I are alone), but because I wanted her to think, when she came to my room, that I'd been there a long time.

I was sure she would come and peep in at the door, to steal away if she found me asleep, or to enquire how I felt if I were awake.

By and by the handle of the door moved softly, just as I had expected, and seeing a light, Di came in. It was late, and she had danced all night, but instead of looking tired she was radiant. When she spoke, her voice was as gay and happy as Ivor's had been when he first came into Lord Mountstuart's study with the Foreign Secretary.

I said that I was much better, and had had a nice rest; that if I hadn't wanted to hear how everything had gone at the ball, I should have been in bed and asleep long ago.

"Everything went very well," said she. "I think it was a great success."

"Did you dance every dance?" I asked, working up slowly to what I meant to say.

"Except a few that I sat out."

"I can guess who sat them out with you," said I. "Ivor Dundas. And one was number thirteen, wasn't it?"

"How did you know?"

"He told me he was going to have thirteen with you. Oh, you needn't try to hide anything from me. He tells most things to his 'Imp.' Was he nice when he proposed?"

"He didn't propose."

"I'll give you the sapphire bracelet Lady Mountstuart gave me, if he didn't tell you he loved you, and ask if there'd be a chance for him in case he got Algiers."

"I wouldn't take your bracelet even if-if-. But you're a little witch, Lisa."

"Of course I am!" I exclaimed, smiling, though I had a sickening wrench of the heart. "And I suppose you forgot all his faults and failings, and said he could have you, Algiers or no Algiers."

"I don't believe he has all those faults and failings you w

ere talking about this evening," said Di, with her cheeks very pink. "He may have flirted a little at one time. Women have spoiled him a lot. But-but he does love me, Lisa."

"And he did love Maxine!" I laughed.

"He didn't. He never loved her. I-you see, you put such horrid thoughts into my head that-that I just mentioned her name when he said to-night-oh, when he said the usual things, about never having cared seriously for anyone until he saw me. Only-it seems treacherous to call them 'usual' because-when you love a man you feel that the things he says can never have been said before, in the same way, by any other man to any other woman."

"Only perhaps by the same man to another woman," I mocked at her, trying to act as if I were teasing in fun.

"Lisa, you can be hateful sometimes!" she cried.

"It's only for your good, if I'm hateful now," I said. "I don't want to have you disappointed, when it's too late. I want you to keep your eyes open, and see exactly where you're going. It's the truest thing ever said that 'love is blind.' You can't deny that you're in love with Ivor Dundas."

"I don't deny it," she answered, with a proud air which would, I suppose, have made Ivor want to kiss her.

"And you didn't deny it to him?"

"No, I didn't. But thanks to you, I put him upon a kind of probation. I wish I hadn't, now. I wish I'd shown that I trusted him entirely. I know he deserves to be trusted; and to-morrow I shall tell him-"

"I don't think I should commit myself any further till day after to-morrow," said I drily. "Indeed, you couldn't if you wanted to, unless you wrote or wired. You won't see him to-morrow."

"Yes, I shall," she contradicted me, opening those big hazel eyes of hers, that looked positively black with excitement. "He's going to the Duchess of Glasgow's bazaar, because I said I should most likely be there: and I will go-"

"But he won't."

"How can you know anything about it?"

"I do know, everything. And I'll tell you what I know, if you'll promise me two things."

"What things?"

"That you won't ask me how I found out, and that you'll swear never to give me away to anybody."

"Of course I wouldn't 'give you away,' as you call it. But-I'm not sure I want you to tell me. I have faith in Ivor. I'd rather not hear stories behind his back."

"Oh, very well, then, go to the Duchess's to-morrow," I snapped, "and wear your prettiest frock to please Ivor, when just about that time he'll be arriving in Paris to keep a very particular engagement with Maxine de Renzie."

Di grew suddenly pale, and her eyes looked violet instead of black. "I don't believe he's going to Paris!" she exclaimed.

"I know he's going. And I know he's going especially to see Maxine."

"It can't be. He told me to-night he wouldn't cross the street to see her. I-I made it a condition-that if he found he cared enough for her to want to see her again, he must go, of course: but he must give up all thought of me. If I'm to reign, I must reign alone."

"Well, then, on thinking it over, he probably did find that he wanted to see her."

"No. For he loved me just as much when we parted, only half an hour ago."

"Yet at least two hours ago he'd arranged a meeting with Maxine for to-morrow afternoon."

"You're dreaming."

"I was never wider awake: or if I'm dreaming, you can dream the same dream if you'll be at Victoria Station to-morrow, or rather this morning, when the boat train goes out at 10 o'clock."

"I will be there!" cried Di, changing from red to white. "And you shall be with me, to see that you're wrong. I know you will be wrong."

"That's an engagement," said I. "At 10 o'clock, Victoria Station, just you and I, and nobody else in the house the wiser. If I'm right, and Ivor's there, shall you think it wise to give him up?"

"He might be obliged to go to Paris, suddenly, for some business reason, without meaning to call on Maxine de Renzie-in which case he'd probably write me. But-at the station, I shall ask him straight out-that is, if he's there, as I'm sure he won't be-whether he intends to see Mademoiselle de Renzie. If he says no, I'll believe him. If he says yes-"

"You'll tell him all is over between you?"

"He'd know that without my telling, after our talk last night."

"And whatever happens, you will say nothing about having heard Maxine's name from me?"

"Nothing," Di answered. And I knew she would keep her word.


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