“What?” said Noel.
Max’s face hardened somewhat. “That fellow Hunt-Goring,” he said. “He’s the chap I told you of. Keep clear of him!”
Noel stiffened. “I should like to kill him,” he said.
“Yes, but you can’t. He’s more than a match for you. He once had some hold over Olga—something very slight. I never bothered to find out what. But she has broken away and he is an enemy in consequence. Watch out for him, but don’t fall foul of him! He won’t worry you for long. He is taking opium enough to kill an ox every day of his life.”
“Is he though? Well, no one will weep for him.”
“Unless it’s Mrs. Musgrave,” observed Max drily.
“She doesn’t like the bounder,” declared Noel with conviction. “Look here; sit down again! I’ve seen nothing of you yet.”
“No, I can’t stop, thanks. I’ve said good-bye to everyone else, and time is up. Don’t go and get smashed up at polo! If she doesn’t want you now, she will very soon. Bear that in mind!”
Noel’s dark eyes shone. “The only risks I’m likely to take would be for her safety. I wish to Heaven Ratcliffe could be made to see the danger they are in.”
Max smiled a little. “I’ve been talking to him. We touched on that point. He knows—rather more on the subject than we do.”
“But he makes light of it,” Noel protested. “The place is infested with budmashes and he rather encourages them than otherwise. I myself kicked an old blackguard of a moonstone-seller—or so he described himself—off his premises only the other night.”
Max broke into a laugh. “Did you though?”
“Yes. What is there to laugh at? Wouldn’t you have done the same? And when I told Nick the day after, he described the old beggar as a friend of his.”
Max was still laughing. “What a devil of a fellow you are! I’ve seen the old gentleman myself. I rather think he is a friend. How did he take the kicking?”
“Oh, I don’t know. He cursed a bit and went. What’s the joke, I say?”
Noel’s voice was imperious. He was always somewhat impatient of matters beyond his comprehension. But Max turned the subject off.
“You’re such a peppery chap—always wanting to fight someone. Well, I must be gone. You’ll remember not to fight Hunt-Goring?”
“No. I shan’t fight the brute unless he interferes.” Noel followed him to the door and stood a moment. “I say, Max,” he suddenly said, “was this affair Hunt-Goring’s doing?”
“What affair?” Max spoke as one bored with the subject.
But Noel persisted. “Was it thanks to Hunt-Goring that this split with Olga came about?”
Max faced about. There was a very peculiar smile in his green eyes. “Well,” he said very deliberately, “I don’t say Hunt-Goring’s influence has been exactly a genial one. But that fact in itself would not have much difference. The main reason is the one I have given you. If you are not satisfied with that—then you will never be satisfied with anything—and you won’t deserve to be.” He held out his hand. “Good-bye, lad! And again—good luck!”