“There are some things, Edward,” Christine said in a low shaken voice, “that I cannot discuss even with you.”
Hickson turned away with a groan.
Christine had been right when she told Riatt that Nancy Almar would be resentful after a dull evening at the Usshers’.
The evening, as far as Nancy was concerned, had been very dull indeed. To be bored, in her creed, was a confession of complete failure; it indicated the most contemptible inefficiency, since she designed the whole fabric of her life with the unique object of keeping herself amused. Nothing bored her more than to have the general attention centered on some one else, as all that evening it had been focussed on the absent ones. Not only did she miss the excitement of her contest with Christine over the possession of Riatt, but she was positively wearied by the Usshers’ anxiety, by her brother’s agony of jealousy and fear, and by Wickham’s continual effort to strike an original thought from the dramatic quality of the situation.
She was finally reduced to playing piquet with Wickham, and though she won a good deal of money from him—more, that is, than he could comfortably afford to lose—she still counted the evening a failure, bad in the present, and extremely menacing to the future. For with her habitual mental candor, she admitted that by this time Christine, if not actually frozen to death—which after all one could not exactly hope—had probably won the game. The chances were that Riatt was captured.
“What is the matter, Ned?” she said to her brother, as he fidgeted about the card-table, after a last futile expedition to the telephone. “Can’t you decide whether you’d rather the lady of your love were dead or subjected for twenty-four hours to the fascinations of an irresistible young man?”
“What an interesting question that raises,” observed Wickham, examining rather ruefully the three meager cards he had drawn. “A modern Lady-or-the-Tiger idea. I am not of a jealous temperament and should always prefer to see a woman happy with another man.”
“And often do, I dare say,” said Nancy. “I have a point of seven, and fourteen aces.”
“I must own I can’t see Riatt’s irresistible quality,” said Hickson irritably.
“Rich, nice-looking and has his wits about him,” replied Mrs. Almar succinctly.
“About as good-looking as a fence-rail.”
“And they say women are envious!” exclaimed his sister.
“Are you a feminist, Mrs. Almar?” inquired the irrepressible Wickham.
“No, just a female, Mr. Wickham.”
“I never thought a big bony nose made a man a beauty,” grumbled Hickson.
“Ah, how much wisdom there is in that reply of yours, Mrs. Almar,” said Wickham. “Just a female. Your meaning is, if I interpret you rightly, that you are content with the duties and charms which Nature has bestowed upon your sex—”