“Five thousand guineas ... going ... going ...”
The face of the prince was a mocking devil-mask in gray and black. Lanyard found himself loathing it. Impossible to stand idle and see the creature get the better of an unhappy girl ...
“Five thousand one hundred guineas!”
With his wits in a blur of amaze, Lanyard knew the echo of his own voice.
THE FOOL AND HIS MONEY
One reflected rather bitterly on the many and obvious oversights of a putatively all-wise Providence, in especial on its failure so to fashion the body of man as to enable him on occasion to discipline his own flesh in the most ignominious manner imaginable.
Lanyard could have kicked himself; that is to say, he wanted to, and thought it rather a pity he couldn’t, and publicly, at that. For the freak he had just indulged was rank quixotism, something which had as much place in the code of a man of his calling as milk of human kindness in the management of a pawnshop.
On second thought, he wasn’t so sure. It might have been that quixotism had inspired his infatuate gesture, but it might quite as conceivably have been everyday vanity or plain cussedness: a noble impulse to serve a pretty lady in distress, a spontaneous device to engage her interest, or a low desire to plague a personality as antipathetic to his own as that of a rattlesnake.
In point of simple fact (he decided), his impelling motive had been a mixture of all three.
In all three respects, furthermore, it proved notably successful; in the two last named without delay.
The Princess Sofia at once took note of Lanyard, with wonder, some misgivings, and a hint of admiration. For he was not only a personable person in those days, with a suggestion of devil-may-care in his air that measurably lifted the curse of his superficial foppishness, but he was putting a spoke in Prince Victor’s wheel. And whosoever did that, by chance, out of sheer voluptuousness, or with malice prepense, won immediate title to Sofia’s favourable regard. If she couldn’t thwart Victor herself, she would be much obliged to anybody who could and did; and she was nothing loath to betray her bias by looking kindly upon her self-appointed champion.
A whispered communication from Lady Diantha did nothing to abate her overt approbation.
As for Victor, his face of leaden gray took on a tinge of green; he quaked with rage, and the glare he loosed on Lanyard made that young man wonder if he were mistaken in believing that the eyes of the prince shone in that dusky room with something nearly akin to the phosphorescence to be seen in the eyes of an animal at night.
The notion was amusing: Lanyard paid it the tribute of a quiet smile, in direct acknowledgment of which Prince Victor snarled:
“Six thousand guineas!”
“And a hundred,” Lanyard added.