At that moment it chanced that Maggie turned her head and looked across at the two men. Prince Shan leaned a little forward to meet her gaze. His face was expressionless. The lines of his mouth were calm and restful, yet in his eyes there glowed for a single moment the fire of a man who looks upon the thing he covets.
“I seriously believe it,” he answered under his breath.
Maggie leaned back in her chair with a little sigh of content. The scarlet-coated waiter had just removed their tea tray, a pleasant breeze was rustling through the leaves of the trees under which she and Prince Shan were seated. From the distance came the low strains of a military band. Everywhere on the lawns and along the paths men and women were promenading.
“Confess that this is better than Rumpelmayer’s or the Ritz,” she murmured lazily.
“It is better,” he admitted. “It is a very wonderful place.”
“You have nothing like it in China?” she asked him.
“It would not be possible,” he answered. “Democracy there is confined to politics. In other respects, our class prejudices are far more rigid than yours. But then I see a great change in this country since I was here as a student.”
“You have lost your affection for it, perhaps?” she ventured, looking at him through half-closed eyes.
“On the contrary,” he assured her, “my gratitude towards her was never so great as at this moment. Your country has given me nothing I prize so much, Lady Maggie, as my knowledge of you.”
She looked away from his very earnest eyes, and the light retort died away upon her lips. The men and women whom she watched so steadfastly seemed like puppets, the flowers artificial, the music unreal. Already she was beginning to resent the influence which he was establishing over her. The art of badinage in which she was so proficient stood her in no stead. Words, even the power of light speech, had deserted her.
“Tell me about the changes that you see,” she asked.
“Perhaps,” he replied, after a moment’s hesitation, “it is because I am an occasional visitor that differences seem so marked to me, but look at the tables there. That is the Duke of Illinton, is it not? At the next table, the man in the strange clothes and uncomfortable hat—it seems to me that I have seen him somewhere under different circumstances.”
“Life is a terrible hotchpotch nowadays,” she admitted. “After the war, our gentry and aristocracy who were not wealthy were taxed out of existence. The profiteers, and the men who had made fortunes during the war, took their place. It has made the country prosperous but less picturesque.”
“You put things very clearly,” he said. “To-day in England is certainly the day of the shopkeeper’s triumph. Wealth is a great thing, but it is great only for what it leads to. I think your philosopher of the streets, your new school of politicians, have alike forgotten that.”