“Forgive me if I seem unsympathetic, Ena,” he said. “The fact is, everything has been getting on my nerves for the last few days, and my luck seems dead out.”
She looked at him curiously. She was past middle age, and her face showed signs of the wear and tear of life. But she still had fine eyes, and the rejuvenating arts of Bond Street had done their best for her.
“What is the matter, Nigel?” she asked. “Have the cards been going against you?”
He frowned and hesitated for a moment before replying.
“Ena,” he said, “between us two there is an ancient bargain, and that is that we should tell the truth to one another. I will tell you what it is that is worrying me most. I have suspected it for some time, but this afternoon it was absolutely obvious. There is a sort of feeling at the club. I can’t exactly describe it, but I am conscious of it directly I come into the room. For several days I have scarcely been able to get a rubber. This afternoon, when I cut in with Harewood and Mildmay and another fellow, two of them made some sort of an excuse and went off. I pretended not to notice it, of course, but there it was. The thing was apparent, and it is the very devil!”
Again she looked at him closely.
“There is nothing tangible?” she asked. “No complaint, or scandal, or anything of that sort?”
He rejected the suggestion with scorn.
“No!” he said. “I am not such an idiot as that. All the same there is the feeling. They don’t care to play bridge with me. There is only young Engleton who takes my part, and so far as playing bridge for money is concerned, he would be worth the whole lot put together if only I could get him away from them—make up a little party somewhere, and have him to myself for a week or two.”
The Princess was thoughtful.
“To go abroad at this time of the year,” she remarked, “is almost impossible. Besides, you have only just come back.”
“Absolutely impossible,” he answered. “Besides, I shouldn’t care to do it just now. It looks like running away. A week or so ago you were talking of taking a villa down the river. I wondered whether you had thought any more of it.”
The Princess shook her head.
“I dare not,” she answered. “I have gone already further than I meant to. This house and the servants and carriages are costing me a small fortune. I dare not even look at my bills. Another house is not to be thought of.”
Major Forrest looked gloomily at the shining tip of his patent boot.
“It’s jolly hard luck,” he muttered. “A quiet place somewhere in the country, with Engleton and you and myself, and another one or two, and I should be able to pull through. As it is, I feel inclined to chuck it all.”
The Princess looked at him curiously. He was certainly more than ordinarily pale, and the hand which rested upon the side of his chair was twitching a little nervously.