“I don’t think,” Engleton said slowly, “that I care about playing any more—just now.”
The Princess yawned as she leaned back in her chair. Both Forrest and De la Borne, who had left his place to turn up one of the lamps, glanced stealthily round at the speaker.
“I am not keen about it myself,” Forrest said smoothly. “After all, though, it’s only three o’clock.”
Cecil’s fingers shook, so that his tinkering with the lamp failed, and the room was left almost in darkness. Forrest, glad of an excuse to leave his place, went to the great north window and pulled up the blind. A faint stream of grey light stole into the room. The Princess shrieked, and covered her face with her hands.
“For Heaven’s sake, Nigel,” she cried, “pull that blind down! I do not care for these Rembrandtesque effects. Tobacco ash and cards and my complexion do not look at their best in such a crude light.”
Forrest obeyed, and the room for a moment was in darkness. There was a somewhat curious silence. The Princess was breathing softly but quickly. When at last the lamp burned up again, every one glanced furtively toward the young man who was leaning back in his chair with his eyes fixed absently upon the table.
“Well, what is it to be?” Forrest asked, reseating himself. “One more rubber or bed?”
“I’ve lost a good deal more than I care to,” Cecil remarked in a somewhat unnatural tone, “but I say another brandy and soda, and one more rubber. There are some sandwiches behind you, Engleton.”
“Thank you,” Engleton answered without looking up. “I am not hungry.”
The Princess took up a fresh pack of cards, and let them fall idly through her fingers. Then she took a cigarette from the gold case which hung from her chatelaine, and lit it.
“One more rubber, then,” she said. “After that we will go to bed.”
The others came toward the table, and the Princess threw down the cards. They all three cut. Engleton, however, did not move.
“I think,” he said, “that you did not quite understand me. I said that I did not care to play any more.”
“Three against one,” the Princess remarked lightly.
“Why not play cut-throat, then?” Engleton remarked. “It would be an excellent arrangement.”
“Why so?” Forrest asked.
“Because you could rob one another,” Engleton said. “It would be interesting to watch.”
A few seconds intense silence followed Engleton’s words. It was the Princess who spoke first. Her tone was composed but chilly. She looked toward Engleton with steady eyes.
“My dear Lord Ronald,” she said, “is this a joke? I am afraid my sense of humour grows a little dull at this hour of the morning.”
“It was not meant for a joke,” Engleton said. “My words were spoken in earnest.”
The Princess, without any absolute movement, seemed suddenly to become more erect. One forgot her rouge, her blackened eyebrows, her powdered cheeks. It was the great lady who looked at Engleton.