“I will not pretend,” Mr. Sabin said, “to misunderstand you. My help is not required by you in this enterprise, whatever it may be, in which you are engaged. On the contrary, you have tried by many and various ways to keep me at a distance. But I am here, Prince —here to be dealt with and treated according to my rights.”
The Prince stroked his fair moustache.
“I am a little puzzled,” he admitted, “as to this—shall I not call it self-assertiveness?—on the part of my good friend Souspennier.”
“I will make it quite clear then,” Mr. Sabin answered. “Lucille, will you favour me by ringing for your maid. The carriage is at the door.”
The Prince held out his hand.
“My dear Souspennier,” he said, “you must not think of taking Lucille away from us.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Sabin answered coolly. “Why not?”
“It must be obvious to you,” the Prince answered, “that we did not send to America for Lucille without an object. She is now engaged in an important work upon our behalf. It is necessary that she should remain under this roof.”
“I demand,” Mr. Sabin said, “that the nature of that necessity should be made clear to me.”
The Prince smiled with the air of one disposed to humour a wilful child.
“Come!” he said. “You must know very well that I cannot stand here and tell you the bare outline, much less the details of an important movement. To-morrow, at any hour you choose, one from amongst us shall explain the whole matter—and the part to be borne in it by the Countess!”
“And to-night?” Mr. Sabin asked.
The Prince shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the clock.
“To-night, my dear friend,” he said, “all of us, I believe, go on to a ball at Carmarthen House. It would grieve me also, I am sure, Duke, to seem inhospitable, but I am compelled to mention the fact that the hour for which the carriages have been ordered is already at hand.”
Mr. Sabin reflected for a few moments.
“Did I understand you to say,” he asked, “that the help to be given to you by my wife, Lucille, Duchess of Souspennier, entailed her remaining under this roof?”
The Prince smiled seraphically.
“It is unfortunate,” he murmured, “since you have been so gallant as to follow her, but it is true! You will understand this perfectly—to-morrow.”
“And why should I wait until to-morrow?” Mr. Sabin asked coolly.
“I fear,” the Prince said, “that it is a matter of necessity.”
Mr. Sabin glanced for a moment in turn at the faces of all the little company as though seeking to discover how far the attitude of his opponent met with their approval. Lady Carey’s thin lips were curved in a smile, and her eyes met his mockingly. The others remained imperturbable. Last of all he looked at Lucille.