The fourth at the table, who was an elderly lady of somewhat austere appearance, produced a small black cigar from what seemed to be a harmless-looking reticule which she was carrying, and lit it. Selingman stared at her with his mouth open.
“Is this a bridge-table or is it not?” she enquired severely. “These little personal reminiscences are very interesting among yourselves, I dare say, but I cut in here with the idea of playing bridge.”
Selingman was the first to recover his manners, although his eyes seemed still fascinated by the cigar.
“We owe you apologies, madam,” he acknowledged. “Permit me to cut.”
The rubber progressed and finished in comparative silence. At its conclusion, Selingman glanced at the clock. It was half-past seven.
“I am hungry,” he announced.
Mrs. Benedek laughed at him. “Hungry at half-past seven! Barbarian!”
“I lunched at half-past twelve,” he protested. “I ate less than usual, too. I did not even leave my office, I was so anxious to finish what was necessary and to find myself here.”
Mrs. Benedek played with the cards a moment and then rose to her feet with a little grimace.
“Well, I suppose I shall have to give in,” she sighed. “I am taking it for granted, you see, that you are expecting me to dine with you.”
“My dear lady,” Selingman declared emphatically, “if you were to break through our time-honoured custom and deny me the joy of your company on my first evening in London, I think that I should send another to look after my business in this country, and retire myself to the seclusion of my little country home near Potsdam. The inducements of managing one’s own affairs in this country, Mr. Norgate,” he added, “are, as you may imagine, manifold and magnetic.”
“We will not grudge them to you so long as you don’t come too often,” Norgate remarked, as he bade them good night. “The man who monopolised Mrs. Benedek would soon make himself unpopular here.”
Norgate had chosen, for many reasons, to return to London as a visitor. His somewhat luxurious rooms in Albemarle Street were still locked up. He had taken a small flat in the Milan Court, solely for the purpose of avoiding immediate association with his friends and relatives. His whole outlook upon life was confused and disturbed. Until he received a definite pronouncement from the head-quarters of officialdom, he felt himself unable to settle down to any of the ordinary functions of life. And behind all this, another and a more powerful sentiment possessed him. He had left Berlin without seeing or hearing anything further from Anna von Haase. No word had come from her, nor any message. And now that it was too late, he began to feel that he had made a mistake. It seemed to him that he had visited upon her, in some indirect way, the misfortune