“He makes no particular appeal to me at all,” Penelope declared.
Somerfield was suddenly thoughtful.
“Sometimes, Penelope,” he said, “I don’t quite understand you, especially when we speak about the Prince. I have come to the conclusion that you either like him very much, or you dislike him very much, or you have some thoughts about him which you tell to no one.”
She lifted her skirts. The carriage had been called.
“I like your last suggestion,” she declared. “You may believe that that is true.”
On their way out, the Prince was accosted by some friends and remained talking for several moments. When he entered the omnibus, there seemed to Penelope, who found herself constantly watching him closely, a certain added gravity in his demeanor. The drive to the theatre was a short one, and conversation consisted only of a few disjointed remarks. In the lobby the Prince laid his hand upon Somerfield’s arm.
“Sir Charles,” he said, “if I were you, I would keep that evening paper in your pocket. Don’t let the ladies see it.”
Somerfield looked at him in surprise.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“To me personally it is of no consequence,” the Prince answered, “but your womenfolk feel these things so keenly, and Mr. Vanderpole is of the same nationality, is he not, as Miss Morse? If you take my advice, you will be sure that they do not see the paper until after they get home this evening.”
“Has anything happened to Dicky?” Somerfield asked quickly.
The Prince’s face was impassive; he seemed not to have heard. Penelope had turned to wait for them.
“The Duchess thinks that we had better all go into the box,” she said. “We have two stalls as well, but as Dicky is not here there is really room for five. Will you get some programmes, Sir Charles?”
Somerfield stopped for a minute, under pretence of seeking some change, and tore open his paper. The Prince led Penelope down the carpeted way.
“I heard what you and Sir Charles were saying,” she declared quietly. “Please tell me what it is that has happened to Dicky?”
The Prince’s face was grave.
“I am sorry,” he replied. “I did not know that our voices would travel so far.”
“It was not yours,” she said. “It was Sir Charles’. Tell me quickly what it is that has happened?”
“Mr. Vanderpole,” the Prince answered, “has met with an accident,—a somewhat serious one, I fear. Perhaps,” he added, “it would be as well, after all, to break this to the Duchess. I was forgetting the prejudices of your country. She will doubtless wish that our party should be broken up.”
Penelope was suddenly very white. He whispered in her ear.
“Be brave,” he said. “It is your part.”
She stood still for a moment, and then moved on. His words had had a curious effect upon her. The buzzing in her ears had ceased; there was something to be done—she must do it! She passed into the box, the door of which the attendant was holding open.