“I call it one of the most sporting things I ever heard of in my life,” Lady Grace declared warmly.
Somerfield shrugged his shoulders.
“One must admit that he has pluck,” he remarked critically. “At the same time I cannot see that a single effort of this sort entitles a man to be considered a sportsman. He doesn’t shoot, nor does he ever ride except when he is on military service. He neither plays games nor has he the instinct for them. A man without the instinct for games is a fellow I cannot understand. He’d never get along in this country, would he, Wilmot?”
“No, I’m shot if he would!” that young man replied. “There must be something wrong about a man who hasn’t any taste whatever for sport.”
Penelope suddenly intervened—intervened, too, in somewhat startling fashion.
“Charlie,” she said, “you are talking like a baby! I am ashamed of you! I am ashamed of you all! You are talking like narrow-minded, ignorant little squireens.”
Somerfield went slowly white. He looked across at Penelope, but the angry flash in his eyes was met by an even brighter light in her own.
“I will tell you what I think!” she exclaimed. “I think that you are all guilty of the most ridiculous presumption in criticising such a man as the Prince. You would dare—you, Captain Wilmot, and you, Charlie, and you, Mr. Hannaway,” she added, turning to the third young man, “to stand there and tell us all in a lordly way that the Prince is no sportsman, as though that mysterious phrase disposed of him altogether as a creature inferior to you and your kind! If only you could realize the absolute absurdity of any of you attempting to depreciate a person so immeasurably above you! Prince Maiyo is a man, not an overgrown boy to go through life shooting birds, playing games which belong properly to your schooldays, and hanging round the stage doors of half the theatres in London. You are satisfied with your lives and the Prince is satisfied with his. He belongs to a race whom you do not understand. Let him alone. Don’t presume to imagine yourselves his superior because he does not conform to your pygmy standard of life.”
Penelope was standing now, her slim, elegant form throbbing with the earnestness of her words, a spot of angry color burning in her cheeks. During the moment’s silence which followed, Lady Grace too rose to her feet and came to her friend’s side.
“I agree with every word Penelope has said,” she declared.
The Duchess smiled.
“Come,” she said soothingly, “we mustn’t take this little affair too seriously. You are all right, all of you. Every one must live according to his bringing up. The Prince, no doubt, is as faithful to his training and instincts as the young men of our own country. It is more interesting to compare than to criticise.”
Somerfield, who for a moment had been too angry to speak, had now recovered himself.