“You have known him for some time?”
“Not a great while; he’s rather a new man, don’t you know. But Sir Charles is quite democratic; took him up, well, as one might in Australia, without,” good-naturedly, “inquiring into his family or his antecedents, or all that sort of rubbish.”
“Indeed?” Her voice was non-committal. “But as for its being rubbish—”
“Oh, I say, Mrs. Nallis!” The other’s tone was expostulating. “Strong man; splendid sort of chap, Steele! A jolly good athlete, too! Witness our little fencing contest of this morning!”
“True! You are an evident admirer of Mr. Steele, Captain Forsythe. And if I am not mistaken,” she laughed, “others share your opinion. Sir Charles, for example, and Jocelyn Wray. She didn’t look displeased this morning, did she? When the contest was over, I mean. Not that I would imply—of course, her position and his—so far apart from a social standpoint.” A retort of some kind seemed about to spring from the listener’s lips but she did not give him the opportunity to speak; went on: “Besides, when I came here, I understood a marriage had been, or was about to be arranged between Sir Charles’ niece and—”
“Not interrupting a bit of gossip, I trust?” a cynical voice inquired; at the same time a third person, who had quietly approached, paused to regard them.
“Ah, Lord Ronsdale!” Just for an instant the lady was disconcerted. “Gossip?” She repeated in a tone that meant: “How can you?”
He waved his hand; leaned against the table. “Beg your pardon! Very wrong of me, no doubt; only the truth is—” his lashes drooped slightly to veil his eyes, “I like a bit of gossip myself occasionally!”
“We were talking about your friendly set-to with John Steele,” said Captain Forsythe bluntly.
The nobleman’s long fingers lifted, pulled at his mustache; in the bright glare, his nails, perfectly kept, looked sharp and pointed. “Ah, indeed!” he remarked. “Steele is handy with the foils; an all-round sportsman, I fancy; or once was!” softly.
“Never heard of him, though, in the amateur sporting world!” observed the lady. “Never saw his name mentioned in any gentlemen’s events—tennis or golf tournaments, track athletics, rowing, and all that.”
“No?” Lord Ronsdale gazed down; half-sitting on the corner of the table, he swung one glossy shoe to and fro.
“Perhaps he’s hiding his light under a bushel?” said the lady.
The nobleman made a sound. “Perhaps!”
“I was asking Captain Forsythe about his antecedents. No one here seems to know. Possibly you can enlighten us.”
“I?” Lord Ronsdale’s tone was purring. “Why should I be able to? But I see Miss Wray,” rising and walking toward the door. “My dance, don’t you know.”
She gazed after him. “I wonder why Lord Ronsdale does not approve of, or shall we say, dislikes Mr. John Steele?”