“MY DEAR Jane, you know everyone.”
“Not quite, Hazel; but one sees everyone in the Savoy.”
“Who is that woman at the second table to our right?—the one who spoke so cordially. There is something very familiar about her—I’m sure I’ve seen her before.”
“You probably have. Don’t you remember Kitty Krause?”
“O-oh, yes; now I recall her. But she went with an older crowd.”
“Yes, she’s a full generation ahead of us; but Kitty’d like to forget that and have everyone else forget it.”
“Let’s see—she married Peters, the cotton king, didn’t she?”
“Yes, and when he died he left her so many millions she didn’t have enough fingers to count ’em on; so the poor woman will never know how rich she is.”
“Is that her son with her?”
“Son, my dear! That’s her new husband.”
“Husband? Why, she’s old enough to—”
“Yes, of course; but you see he’s a prince, and Kitty always was—er—well, ambitious.”
“Yes, I recall now—something of a climber; but she climbed pretty high, even in aristocratic old Baltimore, with those Peters millions.”
“But she’s an awfully good soul, Hazel. I’m really very fond of her. There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for a friend, and underneath that one silly complex of hers is a heart of gold.”
“And kind to her mother! If anyone ever says I’m good-hearted, I’ll—”
“S-sh, Hazel; she’s coming over.”
The older woman, followed by her husband, swooped down upon them. “My darling Jane,” she cried, “I’m so glad to see you.”
“And I’m glad to see you, Kitty. You remember Hazel Strong, don’t you?”
“Oh, not of the Strongs of Baltimore! Oh, my dear! I mean I’m just—how perfectly wonder—I must present my husband, Prince Sborov. Alexis, my very, very dearest friends, Lady Greystoke and Miss Strong.”
“Lady Tennington now, Kitty,” corrected Jane.
“Oh, my dear, how perfectly wonderful! Lady Greystoke and Lady Tennington, Alexis, dear.”
“Charmed,” murmured the young man. His lips smiled; but the murky light in his deep eyes was appraising, questioning, as they brooded upon the lovely face of Jane, Lady Greystoke.
“Won’t you join us?” invited the latter. “Please sit down. You know it’s been ages, Kitty, since we had a good visit.”
“Oh, how perfectly won—oh, I’d love to—I mean it seems—thank you, Alexis dear—now you sit over there.”
“Why, Kitty, it must be a year since I have heard anything of you, except what I have read in the newspapers,” said Jane.
“At that, you might be very well informed as to our goings and comings,” remarked Sborov, a little ironically.
“Yes, indeed—I mean—we have a whole book filled with newspaper clippings—some of them were horrid.”
“But you kept them all,” remarked the prince.
“Oh, well,” cried Princess Sborov, “I mean—I suppose one must pay for fame and position; but these newspaper people can be so terribly horrid.”
“But what have you been doing?” inquired Jane. “Have you been back home again? I’m sure you haven’t been in London for a year.”
“No, we spent the whole year on the continent. We had a perfectly wonderful time, didn’t we, Alexis dear? You see it was last Spring in Paris that we met; and dear, dear Alexis just swept me off my feet. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, would you, darling?”
“How could I, my sweet?”
“There, you see, isn’t he won—and then we were married, and we’ve been traveling ever since.”
“And now, I suppose, you are going to settle down?” asked Jane.
“Oh, my dear, no. You never could guess what we’re planning on now—we are going to Africa!”
“Africa! How interesting,” commented Hazel. “Africa! What memories it conjures.”
“You have been to Africa, Lady Tennington?” inquired the prince.
“Right in the heart of it—cannibals, lions, elephants—everything.”
“Oh, how perfectly wonder—I mean how thrilling—and I know that Jane knows all there is to know about Africa.”
“Not quite all, Kitty.’”
“But enough,” interposed Hazel.
“I’m going down myself, shortly,” said Jane. “You see,” she added, turning to Prince Sborov, “Lord Greystoke spends a great deal of time in Africa. I am planning on joining him there. I have already booked my passage.”
“Oh, how perfectly wonderful,” exclaimed the princess. “I mean, we can all go together.”
“That is a splendid idea, my dear,” said the prince, his face brightening.
“It would be lovely,” said Jane, “but you see, I am going into the interior, and I am sure that you—”
“Oh, my dear, so are we.”
“But, Kitty, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You wouldn’t like it at all. No comforts, no luxuries; dirt, insects, smelly natives, and all kinds of wild beasts.”
“Oh, but my dear, we are—I mean, we really are. Shall I tell Lady Greystoke our secret, darling?”
The prince shrugged. “Why not? She could have little more than a passing interest.”
“Well, maybe some day she will. We all grow old, you know, my dear.”
“It seems incredible to think—” murmured Alexis half to himself.
“What did you say, darling?” interrupted his wife.
“I was just going to say that Lady Greystoke might think the story incredible.”
“Now you must tell me,” said Jane. “You have my curiosity aroused.”
“Yes, indeed, do tell us,” urged Hazel.
“Well, my dears, you see it was like this. We have been doing a great deal of flying the past year, and it’s perfectly wonderful. We just love it, and so I bought an aeroplane in Paris last week. We flew to London in it; but what I was going to tell you is about our pilot. He is an American, and he has had the most amazing experiences.”
“I think he is what you call a rackster in America,” said Alexis.
“You mean a gangster, my dear,” corrected the princess.
“Or a racketeer,” suggested Hazel.
“Whatever he is, I do not like him,” said Alexis.
“But, my dear, you have to admit that he is a good pilot. I mean that he is perfectly wonder—and he has been to Africa and had the most frightful experiences.
“The last time he was there, he got track of a witch-doctor who possesses the secret of an amazing formula for renewing youth and inducing longevity. He met a man who knows where the old fellow lives way in the interior; but neither of them had money enough to organize an expedition to go in search of him. He says that this will make people as young as they wish to be and keep them that way forever. Oh, isn’t it wonderful?”
“I think the fellow is a scoundrel,” said Alexis. “He has induced my wife to finance this expedition; and when he gets us down there in the interior, he will probably slit our throats and steal our jewelry.”
“Oh, my darling, I am sure you are quite wrong. Brown is the last word in loyalty.”
“He may be all of that, but still I don’t see why you want to drag me to Africa—the bugs, the dirt; and I do not like lions.”
Jane laughed. “Really, you might spend a year in Africa without seeing a lion; and you will get used to the bugs and the dirt.”
Prince Sborov grimaced. “I prefer the Savoy,” he said.
“You will go with us, dear, won’t you?” insisted Kitty.
“Well,” hesitated Jane, “I really don’t know. In the first place, I don’t know where you are going.”
“We are going to fly direct to Nairobi and outfit there; and, my dear, to get any place in Africa, you have to go to Nairobi first.”
Jane smiled. “Well, it happens that that is where I intend going anyway. Lord Greystoke is to meet me there.”
“Then it’s all settled. Oh, isn’t it wonderful?”
“You almost make me want to go,” said Hazel.
“Well, my dear, we would be delighted to have you,” exclaimed Princess Sborov. “You see, I have a six-passenger cabin plane. There are four of us, and the pilot and my maid will make six.”
“How about my man?” asked the prince.
“Oh, my dear, you won’t need a man in Africa. You will have a little colored boy who will do your washing and cooking and carry your gun. I read about it time and time again in African stories.”
“Of course,” said Hazel, “it’s awfully sweet of you; but I really couldn’t go. It’s out of the question. Bunny and I are sailing for America Saturday.”
“But you’ll come with us, Jane dear?”
“Why, I’d like to, Kitty, if I can get ready in time. When do you start?”
“We were planning on going next week; but, of course, I mean—if—”
“Why, yes, I think I can make it all right.”
“Then it’s settled, my dear. How perfectly won—we’ll take off from the Croydon Airdrome next Wednesday.”
“I’ll cable Lord Greystoke today; and Friday I am giving a farewell dinner for Lord and Lady Tennington, and you and Prince Sborov must be there.”