At that moment the band could be heard in the distance playing the strains of a waltz; also the voices of the couples who were promenading and passing the open door. To Hugh’s amazement, Lord Huntingford, obviously heedless of his peculiar action, recommenced shuffling the stack of cards, though the dealt hands remained untouched on the table. Instinctively, Hugh was convinced that no play was intended. There was something on the mind of the wily old diplomat far more momentous than a mere game of cards; yet no chance had been given to him to penetrate into the other’s motives.
It was not long forthcoming.
Suddenly, clear as a bell, Hugh distinguished the laughter of Lady Huntingford, and involuntarily he smiled. This seemed to enrage his Lordship. Hatred and menace shone from his eyes as he glanced at the man opposite him. With an oath he rose, walked to the door and closed it. Then ruthlessly laying aside the last vestige of his assumed courtliness, he picked up his stick from the table, leaned far over, shook it in Hugh’s face, and became an irascible, shouting old man.
“Look here, young man—Ridge—Ridgeway—or whatever your blasted name—do you think I’ll allow you to carry on an affair with my wife—my wife, sir?” he vociferated. “Henceforth, I forbid you to speak to her! Do you hear me?”
It was debatable whether Hugh was more astonished at the mention of Lady Huntingford’s name in connection with his own, or at the stick in dangerously close proximity to his countenance. It was some time before he could find words; but his face from red went white.
“And if I decline?”
There was that in the low tone that should have warned the aggressor from further insult; but forgetting that the swaggering domination he had been accustomed to exercising over his own countrymen, officially his inferiors, would not for a moment be tolerated by one of another nationality, he again broke out:
“You bounder! Yankee upstart! I’ll thrash you, and then have the captain put you on shore at the first port—you infernal impostor!”
In an instant Hugh was over the table. He tore the stick from Lord Huntingford’s hand and clutched his throat, forcing him down on the seat cushions. With the exception of the younger man’s hard breathing and some gasps from the other, the struggle was noiseless. Not until Lord Huntingford was growing black in the face did Hugh come to his senses. Then releasing one hand from the throat, he pinned him with the other and a knee.
“You old scoundrel!” Hugh began, jerking out the scathing words; “if it were not for your old age and your wife I’d drag you on deck and make you apologize on your knees before them all. I’ll spare you that degradation; but if I ever hear of you mentioning the name Ridegway—I’ve my own reasons for concealing it, and they don’t concern you—I’ll make some charges in regard to your card playing that will bar you from every club in the world, and, unlike your poor dupes, I am in a position to substantiate them without fear of consequences.”