Charles Gould walked rapidly round the table, and, seizing her hands, bent down, pressing them both to his lips. Before he straightened himself up again to his full height she had disengaged one to smooth his cheek with a light touch, as if he were a little boy.
`Try to get some rest for a couple of hours,' she murmured, with a glance at a hammock stretched in a distant part of the room. Her long train swished softly after her on the red tiles. At the door she looked back.
Two big lamps with unpolished glass globes bathed in a soft and abundant light the four white walls of the room, with a glass case of arms, the brass hilt of Henry Gould's cavalry sabre on its square of velvet, and the water-colour sketch of the San Tome gorge. And Mrs Gould, gazing at the last in its black wooden frame, sighed out:
`Ah, if we had left it alone, Charley!'
`No,' Charles Gould said, moodily; `it was impossible to leave it alone.'
`Perhaps it was impossible,' Mrs Gould admitted, slowly. Her lips quivered a little, but she smiled with an air of dainty bravado. `We have disturbed a good many snakes in that Paradise, Charley, haven't we?'
`Yes, I remember,' said Charles Gould, `it was Don Pepe who called the gorge the Paradise of snakes. No doubt we have disturbed a great many. But remember, my dear, that it is not now as it was when you made that sketch.' He waved his hand towards the small water-colour hanging alone upon the great bare wall. `It is no longer a Paradise of snakes. We have brought mankind into it, and we cannot turn our backs upon them to go and begin a new life elsewhere.'
He confronted his wife with a firm, concentrated gaze, which Mrs Gould returned with a brave assumption of fearlessness before she went out, closing the door gently after her.
In contrast with the white glaring room the dimly lit corridor had a restful mysteriousness of a forest glade, suggested by the stems and the leaves of the plants ranged along the balustrade of the open side. In the streaks of light falling through the open doors of the reception-rooms, the blossoms, white and red and pale lilac, came out vivid with the brilliance of flowers in a stream of sunshine; and Mrs Gould, passing on, had the vividness of a figure seen in the clear patches of sun that chequer the gloom of open glades in the woods. The stones in the rings upon her hand pressed to her forehead glittered in the lamplight abreast of the door of the sala.
`Who's there?' she asked, in a startled voice. `Is that you, Basilio?' She looked in, and saw Martin Decoud walking about, with an air of having lost something, amongst the chairs and tables.
`Antonia has forgotten her fan in here,' said Decoud, with a strange air of distraction; `so I entered to see.'
But, even as he said this, he had obviously given up his search, and walked straight towards Mrs Gould, who looked at him with doubtful surprise.
`Senora,' he began, in a low voice.
`What is it, Don Martin?' asked Mrs Gould. And then she added, with a slight laugh, `I am so nervous today,' as if to explain the eagerness of the question.
`Nothing immediately dangerous,' said Decoud, who now could not conceal his agitation. `Pray don't distress yourself. No, really, you must not distress yourself.'
Mrs Gould, with her candid eyes very wide open, her lips composed into a smile, was steadying herself in the doorway with a little bejewelled hand.
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