The Malefactor HTML version

II.12. Nemesis At Work
Wingrave was present that evening at a reception given by the Prime Minister to some
distinguished foreign guests. He had scarcely exchanged the usual courtesies with his
host and hostess before Lady Ruth, leaning over from a little group, whispered in his ear.
"Please take me away. I am bored. I want to talk to you."
He paused at once. Lady Ruth nodded to her friends.
"Mr. Wingrave is going to take me to hear Melba sing," she said. "See you all again, I
suppose, at Hereford House!"
They made slow progress through the crowded rooms. Once or twice Wingrave fancied
that his companion hung a little heavily upon his arm. She showed no desire to talk. She
even answered a remark of his in a monosyllable. Only when they passed the
Marchioness, on the arm of one of the foreign guests in whose honor the reception was
given, she seemed to shiver a little, and her grasp upon his arm was tightened. Once, in a
block, she was forced to speak to some acquaintances, and during those few seconds,
Wingrave studied her curiously. She was absolutely colorless, and her strange brilliant
eyes seemed to have lost all their fire. Her gown was black, and the decorations of her
hair were black except for a single diamond. There was something almost spectral about
her appearance. She walked stiffly--for the moment she had lost the sinuous grace of
movement which had been one of her many fascinations. Her neck and shoulders alone
remained, as ever, dazzlingly beautiful.
They reached a quiet corner at last. Lady Ruth sank with a little gesture of relief into an
easy chair. Wingrave stood before her.
"You are tired tonight," he remarked.
"I am always tired," she answered wearily. "I begin to think that I always shall be."
He said nothing. Lady Ruth closed her eyes for a moment as though from sheer fatigue.
Suddenly she opened them again and looked him full in the face.
"Who was she?" she asked.
"I do not understand," he replied.
"The child you were with--the ingenue, you know--with the pink cheeks and the
wonderful eyes! Is she from one of the theaters, or a genuine article?"