“Perhaps Mr. Steele is too modest to tell it,” Ronsdale again interposed.
“Your good opinion flatters me.” Steele’s eyes met the other’s squarely; then he made a brusk movement. “But if you are ready?”
Their blades crossed. Ronsdale’s suppleness of wrist and arm, his cold steadiness, combined with a knowledge of many fine artifices, had already made him a favorite with those of the men who cared to back their opinions with odd pounds. As he pressed his advantage, the girl’s eyes turned to John Steele; her look seemed to express just a shade of disappointment. His manner, or method, appeared perfunctory, too perfunctory! Why did he not enter into the contest with more abandon? Between flashes of steel she again saw the scar on his arm; it seemed to exercise a sort of fascination over her.
What had caused it, this jagged, irregular mark? He had not said. Lord Ronsdale’s words, “A recent wound—perhaps Mr. Steele is too modest—” returned to her. It was not so much the words as the tone, an inflection almost too fine to notice, a covert sneer. Or, was it that? Her brows drew together slightly. Of course not. And yet she felt vaguely puzzled, as if some fine instinct in her divined something, she knew not what, beneath the surface. Absurd! Her eyes at that moment met John Steele’s. Did he read, guess what was passing through her brain? An instant’s carelessness nearly cost him the match.
“Ten to five!” one of the men near her called out jovially. “Odds on Ronsdale! Any takers?”
She saw John Steele draw himself back sharply just in time; she also fancied a new, ominous gleam in his eyes. His demeanor underwent an abrupt change. If Ronsdale’s quickness was cat-like, the other’s movements had now all the swiftness and grace of a panther. The girl’s eyes widened; all vague questioning vanished straightway from her mind; it was certainly very beautiful, that agility, that deft, incessant wrist play.
“Hello!” Through the swishing of steel she heard again the man at her side exclaim, make some laughing remark: “Perhaps I’d better hedge—”
But even as he spoke, with a fiercer thrusting and parrying of blades the end came; a sudden irresistible movement of John Steele’s arm, and the nobleman’s blade clattered to the floor.
“Egad! I never saw anything prettier!” Sir Charles came forward quickly. “Met your match that time, Ronsdale,” in a tone the least bantering.
The nobleman stooped for his foil. “That time, yes!” he drawled. If he felt chagrin, or annoyance, he concealed it.
“Lucky it wasn’t one of those real affairs of honor, eh?” some one whom Ronsdale had defeated laughed good-naturedly.
Again he replied. Steele found himself walking with Jocelyn Wray toward the window. Across the room a footman who had been waiting for the conclusion of the contest, and an opportune moment, now approached Lord Ronsdale and extended a salver.