“It is the triumph of your bourgeoisie,” the Russian declared. “Your aristocrat is no longer able to survive. Noblesse oblige has no significance to the shopman. He wants the fat cheques, and he caters for the people who can write them. Let us pursue our reflections a little farther and in a different direction, my friend,” he added, glancing at his watch. “Lunch with me at the Ritz, and we will see whether the cookery, too, has been adapted to the new tastes.”
Nigel hesitated for a moment, a somewhat curious hesitation which he many times afterwards remembered.
“I am not very keen on restaurants for a week or two,” he said doubtfully. “Besides, I had half promised to be at the club.”
“Not to-day,” Karschoff insisted. “To-day let us listen to the call of the world. Woman is at her loveliest in the spring. The Ritz Restaurant will look like a bouquet of flowers. Perhaps ’One for you and one for me.’ At any rate, one is sure of an omelette one can eat.”
The two men turned together towards Piccadilly.
Luncheon at the Ritz was an almost unexpectedly pleasant meal. The two men sat at a table near the door and exchanged greetings with many acquaintances. Karschoff, who was in an unusually loquacious frame of mind, pointed out many of the habitues of the place to his companion.
“I am become a club and restaurant lounger in my old age,” he declared, a little bitterly. “Almost a boulevardier. Still, what else is there for a man without a country to do?”
“You know everybody,” Nigel replied, without reference to his companion’s lament. “Tell me who the woman is who has just entered?”
Karschoff glanced in the direction indicated, and for a moment his somewhat saturnine expression changed. A smile played upon his lips, his eyes seemed to rest upon the figure of the girl half turned away from them with interest, almost with pleasure. She was of an unusual type, tall and dark, dressed in black with the simplicity of a nun, with only a little gleam of white at her throat. Her hair—so much of it as showed under her flower-garlanded hat—was as black as jet, and yet, where she stood in the full glare of the sunlight, the burnish of it was almost wine-coloured. Her cheeks were pale, her expression thoughtful. Her eyes, rather heavily lidded, were a deep shade of violet. Her mouth was unexpectedly soft and red.
“Ah, my friend, no wonder you ask!” Karschoff declared with enthusiasm. “That is a woman whom you must know.”
“Tell me her name,” Nigel persisted with growing impatience.
“Her name,” Karschoff replied, “is Naida Karetsky. She is the daughter of the man who will probably be the next President of the Russian Republic. You see, I can speak those words without a tremor. Her father at present represents the shipping interests of Russia and England. He is one of the authorised consuls.”