It was some time later that Merefleet entered the smoking-room to satisfy a certain curiosity which had taken possession of him. He looked round the room as he sat down, and almost at once his attention lighted upon a broad-shouldered man of about thirty with a plain, square-jawed face of great determination, who sat, puffing at a short pipe, by the open window.
Merefleet silently observed this man for some time, till, his scrutiny making itself felt, the object of it wheeled abruptly in his chair and returned it.
Merefleet leant forward. It was so little his custom to open conversation with a stranger that his manner was abrupt and somewhat forced on this unusual occasion.
“I believe I ought to know you,” he said. “But I can’t recall your name.”
The reply was delivered in a manner as curt as his own. “My name is Seton,” said the stranger. “As you have only met me once before, you probably won’t recall it now.”
Merefleet nodded comprehension. He loved the straight, quiet speech of Englishmen. There was no flurry or palaver about this specimen. He spoke as a man quite sure of himself and wholly independent of his fellow men.
“Ah, I remember you now,” Merefleet said. “You came as Ralph Warrender’s guest to a club dinner in New York. Am I right?”
“Perfectly,” said Seton. “You were the guest of the evening. You made a good speech, I remember. You were looking horribly ill. I suppose that is how I came to notice you particularly.”
“I was ill,” said Merefleet, “or I should have been out of New York before that dinner came off. I always detested the place. And Warrender would have done far better in my place.”
“I am not an admirer of Warrender,” said Seton bluntly.
Merefleet made no comment. He was never very free in the statement of his opinion.
“The railway accident in which his wife was killed took place immediately after that dinner, I believe?” he observed presently. “I remember hearing of it when I was recovering.”
“It was a shocking thing—that accident,” said Seton thoughtfully. “It’s odd that Americans always manage to do that sort of thing on such a gigantic scale.”
“They do everything on a gigantic scale,” said Merefleet. “What became of Warrender afterwards? It was an awful business for him.”
“I don’t know anything about him,” Seton answered, with a brevity that seemed to betray lack of interest. “He was no friend of mine, though I chanced to be his guest on that occasion. I was distantly connected with his wife, and I inherited some of her money at her death. She was a rich woman, as you probably know.”
“So I heard. But I have never found New York gossip particularly attractive.”
Seton leant his elbow on the window-sill and gazed meditatively into the night. “If it comes to that,” he said slowly, “no gossip is exactly edifying. And to be the victim of it is to be in the most undesirable position under the sun.”