“I am not with you. I don’t agree. I never shall agree.”
Max’s cynical smile became more pronounced. “Then you will have to act against your judgment for once. There is no alternative. And I shall go Home by the first boat I can catch.”
“And leave her to fret her heart out,” said Nick.
Max removed his pipe, and attentively regarded the bowl. After nearly a minute he put it back again and stared impenetrably at Nick. “She won’t do that,” he said.
“I’ll tell you what she will do,” said Nick. “She will go and marry that wild Irish brother of yours.”
Max continued to look at him. His mouth was no longer cynical, but cocked at a humorous angle. “I say, what a clever little chap you are!” he said. “Whatever made you think of that?”
Nick grinned in spite of himself. Disagree as he might with Max Wyndham, yet was he always in some subtle fashion in sympathy with him.
“I suppose she might do worse,” he admitted after a moment. “He’s a well-behaved youngster as a general rule.”
“Given his own way, quite irreproachable,” said Max “He’s not very rich, but he’s no slacker. If he doesn’t break his neck at polo, he’ll get on.”
“Oh, he’s brilliant enough,” said Nick. “I suppose he can be trusted to look after her. He’s full young.”
“He’ll grow,” said Max.
A brief silence fell between them. Max continued to smoke imperturbably. There was not the faintest sign of disappointment in his bearing. He looked merely ruminative.
Nick was thoughtful also. He sat and watched his man fasten his gaiters with those flickering eyes of his that never seemed to concentrate upon one point and yet missed nothing.
“What are you going to do about Hunt-Goring?” he asked suddenly.
“Do about him?” Max sounded supremely contemptuous. He raised one eyebrow in supercilious interrogation.
“Well, he dealt this hand,” said Nick.
“With Mrs. Musgrave’s kind assistance,” supplemented Max.
Nick made a grimace. “Who told you that?”
“No one.” Max blew a cloud of smoke upwards. “You’re not the only person with brains, Nick,” he observed, with sardonic humour. “But look here! Your friend Mrs. Musgrave is not to be meddled with in this matter. You leave her alone and Hunt-Goring too! He’s killing himself by inches with opium, so he won’t interfere with anyone for long. And she will prove a useful friend to Noel if allowed to take her own way.”
“You really mean to take this lying down?” said Nick.
“It’s the easiest course,” said Max.
“So far as you are concerned?” Nick abruptly turned in his chair; but his scrutiny was of the briefest. He did not seem to look at Max at all; nor did he apparently expect an answer to his query, for he went on almost immediately. “It’s damnable luck for both of you. Old man, are you sure it’s all right?”