“I think,” he said slowly, “that our game must be postponed. It is a pity, but I think it had better be so.”
“It must be entirely as you wish,” Mr. Sabin answered. “I am at your service now or later.”
The Prince rose to his feet.
“Monsieur le Due de Souspennier,” he said, “what are we to conclude from your presence here this evening?”
“It is obvious,” Mr. Sabin answered. “I claim my place amongst you.”
“You claim to be one of us?”
“Ten years ago,” the Prince continued, “you were granted immunity from all the penalties and obligations which a co-membership with us might involve. This privilege was extended to you on account of certain great operations in which you were then engaged, and the object of which was not foreign to our own aims. You are aware that the period of that immunity is long since past.”
Mr. Sabin leaned with both hands upon his stick, and his face was like the face of a sphinx. Only Lucille, who knew him best of all those there, saw him wince for a moment before this reminder of his great failure.
“I am not accustomed,” Mr. Sabin said quietly, “to shirk my share of the work in any undertaking with which I am connected. Only in this case I claim to take the place of the Countess Lucille, my wife. I request that the task, whatever it may be which you have imposed upon her, may be transferred to me.”
The Prince’s smile was sweet, but those who knew him best wondered what evil it might betoken for his ancient enemy.
“You offer yourself, then, as a full member?”
“Subject,” he drawled, “to all the usual pains and privileges?”
The Prince played with the cards upon the table. His smooth, fair face was unruffled, almost undisturbed. Yet underneath he was wondering fiercely, eagerly, how this might serve his ends.
“The circumstances,” he said at last, “are peculiar. I think that we should do well to consult together—you and I, Felix, and Raoul here.”
The two men named rose up silently. The Prince pointed to a small round table at the farther end of the apartment, half screened off by a curtained recess.
“Am I also,” Mr. Sabin asked, “of your company?”
The Prince shook his head.
“I think not,” he said. “In a few moments we will return.”
Mr. Sabin moved away with a slight enigmatic gesture. Lucille gathered up her skirts, making room for him by her side on a small sofa.
“It is delightful to see you, Victor,” she murmured. “It is delightful to know that you trusted me.”
Mr. Sabin looked at her, and the smile which no other woman had ever seen softened for a moment his face.
“Dear Lucille,” he murmured, “how could you ever doubt it? There was a day, I admit, when the sun stood still, when, if I had felt inclined to turn to light literature, I should have read aloud the Book of Job. But afterwards—well, you see that I am here.”