“You don’t like Mr. Phipps,” she said. “You don’t think I ought to lunch with him.”
“I shouldn’t if I were a young lady like you, whose choice must be unlimited,” Wingate replied.
“How do you know that it is unlimited?” she demanded. “Perhaps just the people whom I would like to lunch with don’t ask me.”
“They need encouragement,” he suggested.
She laughed into his eyes.
“Do you know anything about the men who need encouragement?” she asked demurely.
He avoided the point and made some casual remark about the changes in London during the last few years. She sighed sorrowfully.
“It has changed for no one so much as me,” she murmured. “The war—”
“You lost friends, I suppose?” he ventured.
She closed her eyes.
“Don’t!” she whispered. “I never speak of it,” she went on, twisting a ring around her fingers nervously, “I don’t like it mentioned, but I was really engaged to young Lord Fanleighton.”
He murmured a little word of sympathy, and their conversation was momentarily interrupted as she leaned forward to answer an enquiry from her host. Wingate turned to Sarah, who was seated at his other side.
“How dare you neglect me so shamefully!” she asked.
“Let me make amends,” he pleaded.
“I am glad you feel penitent, at any rate. I expect Miss Flossie Lane has asked you what you think of her friend, Miss Orford, and told you that she was engaged to Lord Fanleighton.”
“What a hearing!” he murmured.
“Don’t be silly,” she replied. “I couldn’t hear a word, but I know her stock in trade.”
There was a little stir at the farther end of the table. Lord Dredlinton had left his place and was standing behind Phipps, with his hands upon his shoulders. He seemed to be shouting something in his ear. At that moment he recognised Wingate. He staggered up the farther side of the table towards him, butting into a waiter on the way and pausing for a moment to curse him, Flossie jogged Wingate’s elbow.
“What fun!” she whispered. “Here’s Lord Dredlinton, absolutely blotto!”
Wingate from the first had a prescience of disagreeable things. There was malice in Dredlinton’s pallid face, the ugly twist of his lips and the light in his bloodshot eyes. He paused opposite to them, and leaning his hands on the back of the nearest chair, spoke across the table.
“Hullo, Flossie!” he exclaimed. “How are you, old dear? How are you, Wingate?”
Wingate replied with cold civility, Flossie with a careless nod.
“I do hope,” she whispered to her companion, glancing into the mirror which she had just drawn from her bag, “that Lord Dredlinton isn’t going to be foolish. He does embarrass me so sometimes.”
“I say,” Dredlinton went on, “what are you doing here, Wingate? I didn’t know this sort of thing was in your line.”