“My dear Nigel,” she said, “do go to the chiffonier there and help yourself to a drink. I hate to see you white to the lips, and trembling as though death itself were at your elbow. Borrow a little false courage, if you lack the real thing.”
The man obeyed her suggestion with scarcely a protest.
“I had hoped, Ena,” he remarked a little peevishly, “to have found you more sympathetic.”
“You are so sorry for yourself,” she answered, “that you seem scarcely to need my sympathy. However, sit down and talk to me reasonably.”
“I talk reasonably enough,” he answered, “but I really am hard up against it. Don’t think I have come begging. I know you’ve done all you can, and it’s a matter with me now of more than a few hundreds. My only hope is Engleton. Can’t you suggest anything?”
The Princess rested her head slightly upon the long slender fingers of her right hand. Bond Street had taken care of her complexion, but the veins in her hand were blue, and art had no means of concealing a certain sharpness of features and the thin lines about the eyes, nameless suggestions of middle age. Yet she was still a handsome woman. She knew how to dress, and how to make the best of herself. She had the foreigner’s instinct for clothes, and her figure was still irreproachable. She sat and looked with a sort of calculating interest at the man who for years had come as near touching her heart as any of his sex. Curiously enough she knew that this new aspect in which he now presented himself, this incipient cowardice— the first-fruits of weakening nerves—did not and could not affect her feelings for him. She saw him now almost for the first time with the mask dropped, no longer cold, cynical and calculating, but a man moved to his shallow depths by what might well seem to him, a dweller in the narrow ways of life, as a tragedy. It looked at her out of his grey eyes. It showed itself in the twitching of his lips. For many years he had lived upon a little less than nothing a year. Now for the first time his means of livelihood were threatened. His long-suffering acquaintances had left him alone at the card-table.
“You disappoint me, Nigel,” she said. “I hate to see a man weaken. There is nothing against you. Don’t act as though there could be. As to this little house-party you were speaking of, I only wish I could think of something to help you. By the by, what are you doing to-night?”
“Nothing,” he answered, “except that Engleton is expecting me to dine with him.”
“I have an idea,” the Princess said slowly. “It may not come to anything, but it is worth trying. Have you met my new admirer, Mr. Cecil de la Borne?”
Forrest shook his head.
“Do you mean a dandified-looking boy whom you were driving with in the Park yesterday?”
The Princess nodded.