“Why, not? I never knew a woman yet however cold however fond of change, who had not at some time or other during her life met a man for whose sake she would have done—what I did. I have had as many admirers—as many lovers, I suppose, as most women. But I can truthfully say that during the last three years no thought of one of them has crossed my mind.”
Lady Carey laughed scornfully.
“Upon my word,” she said. “If the Prince had not a temper, and if they were not playing for such ruinous points, I would entertain them all with these delightful confidences. By the bye, the Prince himself was once one of those who fell before your chariot wheels, was he not? Look at him now—sideways. What does he remind you of?”
Lucille raised her eyes.
“A fat angel,” she answered, “or something equally distasteful. How I hate those mild eyes and that sweet, slow smile. I saw him thrash a poor beater once in the Saxe Leinitzer forests. Ugh!”
“I should not blame him for that,” Lady Carey said coldly. “I like masterful men, even to the point of cruelty. General Dolinski there fascinates me. I believe that he keeps a little private knout at home for his wife and children. A wicked little contrivance with an ivory handle. I should like to see him use it.”
Lucille shuddered. This tete-a-tete did not amuse her. She rose and looked over one of the bridge tables for a minute. The Prince, who was dealing, looked up with a smile.
“Be my good angel, Countess,” he begged. “Fortune has deserted me to-night. You shall be the goddess of chance, and smile your favours upon me.”
A hard little laugh came from the chair where Lady Carey sat. She turned her head towards them, and there was a malicious gleam in her eyes.
“Too late, Prince,” she exclaimed. “The favours of the Countess are all given away. Lucille has become even as one of those flaxen-haired dolls of your mountain villages. She has given her heart away, and she is sworn to perpetual constancy.”
The Prince smiled.
“The absence,” he said, glancing up at the clock, “of that most fortunate person should surely count in our favour.”
Lucille followed his eyes. The clock was striking ten. She shrugged her shoulders.
“If the converse also is true, Prince,” she said, “you can scarcely have anything to hope for from me. For by half-past ten he will be here.”
The Prince picked up his cards and sorted them mechanically.
“We shall see,” he remarked. “It is true, Countess, that you are here, but in this instance you are set with thorns.”
“To continue the allegory, Prince,” she answered, passing on to the next table, “also with poisonous berries. But to the hand which has no fear, neither are harmful.”
The Prince laid down his hand.
“Now I really believe,” he said gently, “that she meant to be rude. Partner, I declare hearts!”