“Until I can get something better,” replied Nancy briskly, drawing the score toward her and beginning to add it up. “My idea is to let the other women do the fighting; if they win, I shall profit; if they lose, I’m no worse off. I believe I’ve rubiconed you again, Mr. Wickham.”
“Well, I don’t understand women’s taste, anyhow,” said Hickson.
“You never spoke a truer word than that, my dear,” said Nancy. “Seventy-four fifty, I think that makes it, Mr. Wickham, subtracting the dollar and a half you made on the first game. Oh, yes, a check will do perfectly. I’m less likely to lose it.”
“I never had a worse run of luck,” observed Wickham with an attempt at indifference.
Mrs. Almar stood up yawning. “Doubtless you are on the brink of a great amorous triumph,” she said languidly, and went off to bed.
Hickson did not attempt to sleep. He sat up for the remainder of the night, in the hope that some sudden call might come, and at six o’clock as Ussher had told Christine, he was ready for new efforts.
Rescued and rescuers reached the Usshers’ house about half past ten the following morning. Nancy was not yet downstairs. Wickham had not been able to judge what was the correct note to strike in connection with the whole incident, and so did not dare to sound any. The arrival was comparatively simple. Mrs. Ussher received her beloved Christine with open arms; Riatt went noncommittally upstairs to take a bath; Hickson had decided, in spite of his depression of spirits, to try to make up a little of last night’s lost sleep, when he received a summons from his sister. Her maid, a clever, sallow little Frenchwoman, came down with her hands in her apron pockets to say that Madame should like to speak to Monsieur at once.
He found Nancy still in bed; her little black head looking blacker than usual against the lace of the pillows and the coverlet and of her own bed-jacket. The only color about her was the yellow covered French novel she laid down as he entered, and the one enormous ruby on her fourth finger.
“And now, Ned, my dear,” she said quite affectionately for her, “I hear you have brought the wanderers safely home. Tell me all about it.”
Hickson, to whom this summons had not come as a surprise, had resolved that he would confide none of his anxieties to his sister but, alas, as well might a pane of glass resolve to be opaque to a ray of sunlight. Within ten minutes, Nancy knew not only all that he knew, but such additional deductions as her sharper wits enabled her to draw.
“I see,” she murmured, as he finished. “The only positive fact that we have is that he did not leave the house until after five. How very interesting!”
“Very terrible,” said Hickson.
“Terrible,” exclaimed Nancy, with the most genuine surprise. “Not at all. From your point of view most encouraging. It can mean only one thing. The young man very prudently ran away.”