The Woman of His Dream by Ethel M. Dell
Yes; he would find her. But how? There was only one course open to him, and he shrank from that with disgust unutterable. It was useless to think of advertising. He was convinced that she would never answer an advertisement.
The only way to find her was to employ a detective to track her down. He clenched his hands in impotent revolt. Not only had it been laid upon him to betray her confidence, but he must follow this up by dragging her from her hiding-place, and returning her to the bitter bondage from which he had once helped her to escape.
That she still lived he was inwardly convinced. He would have given all he had to have known her dead.
But, for that day, at least, there was no more to be done, and Gwen must not have her birthday spoilt by the knowledge of his failure. He decided to keep out of her way till the evening.
When he entered the ball-room at the appointed time she pounced upon him eagerly, but her young guests were nearly all assembled, and it was no moment for private conversation.
"Oh, Reggie! There you are! How dreadful you look in a mask! This is my cousin, mademoiselle," turning to a lady in black who accompanied her. "I've been wanting to introduce him to you. Don't forget that the masks are not to come off till midnight. We're going to boom the big gong when the clock strikes twelve."
She flitted away in her shimmering fairy's dress, closely attended by Charlie Rivers, to persuade his father to give her a dance. The room was crowded with masked guests, Lady Emberdale, handsome and brilliant, and Admiral Rivers, her bluff but faithful admirer, being the only exceptions to the rule of the evening.
Carey found himself standing apart with Gwen's particular protegee, and he realised at once that he could expect no help from Charlie in this quarter. For, though slim and graceful, Mademoiselle Treves's general appearance was undeniably sombre and elderly. The hair that she wore coiled regally upon her head was silver-grey, and there was a certain weariness about the mouth that, though it did not rob it of its sweetness, deprived it of all suggestion of youth.
"I don't know if I am justified in asking for a dance," Carey said. "My own dancing days are over."
She smiled at him, and instantly the weariness vanished. There was magic in her smile.
"I am no dancer either, except with the little ones. If you care to sit out with me, I shall be very pleased."
Her voice was low and musical. It caught his fancy so that he was aware of a sudden curiosity to see the face that the black mask concealed.
"Give me the twelve-o'clock dance," he said, "if you can spare it!"
She consulted the programme that hung from her wrist. He bent over it as she held it, and scrawled his initials against the dance in question.
"Perhaps I shall not stay for that one," she said, with slight hesitation.
He glanced up at her.
"I thought you were here for the night."
She bent her head.
"But I may slip away before twelve for all that."
"I don't think you will, not anyhow if I have a voice in the matter. I am Gwen's lieutenant, you know, specially enrolled to prevent any deserting. There is a heavy penalty for desertion."
"What is it?"
Carey bent again over the programme.
"Deserters will be brought back ignominiously and made to dance with everyone in the room in turn."
He glanced up again at the sound of her low laugh. There was something elusively suggestive about her personality.
"May I have another?" he said. "I hope you don't mind holding the card for me."
"You have hurt your hand?" she asked.
It was thrust away, as usual, in his pocket.
"Some years ago," he told her. "I don't use it more than I can help."
"How disagreeable for you!" she murmured.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I am used to it. It is worse for others than it is for me. May I have No. 9? It includes the supper interval. Thanks! And any more you can spare. I'm only lounging about and seeing that the kids enjoy themselves. I shall be delighted to sit out with you when you are tired of dancing."
"You are very kind," she said.
He made her an abrupt bow.
"Then I hope you won't snub my efforts by deserting?"
She laughed again.
"No, lieutenant, I will not desert. I am going to help you."
She spoke with a winning and impulsive graciousness that stirred again within him that curious sense of groping in the dark among objects familiar but unrecognisable. Surely he had met this stranger somewhere before--in a crowded thoroughfare, in a train, possibly in a theatre, or even in a church!
She looked at him questioningly as he lingered, and with another bow he turned and left her. Doubtless, when he saw her face he would remember, or realise that he had been mistaken.