“My dear Duke,” she said, “this is very extraordinary news that you bring. Lord Ronald left here for London. Do you mean to say that he has never arrived there?”
The Duke turned towards his companion.
“My solicitor here, Mr. Hensellman,” he said, “has made the most careful inquiries, and has even gone so far as to employ detectives. My brother has certainly not returned to London. We have also wired to every country house where a visit from him would have been a probability, without result. Under those circumstances, and others which I need not perhaps enlarge upon, I must confess to feeling some anxiety as to what has become of him.”
“Naturally,” the Princess answered at once. “And yet,” she continued, “it is only a few days ago since he left here. Your brother, Duke, who seemed to me a most delightful young man, was also distinctly peculiar, and I do not think that the fact of your not being able to hear of him at his accustomed haunts for two or three days is in any way a matter which need cause you any anxiety.”
The Duke bowed.
“Madam,” he said, “I regret having to differ from you. I beg that you will not permit anything which I say to reflect upon yourself or upon Mr. De la Borne, whose honour, I am sure, is above question. But you have amongst you a person whom I am assured is a very bad companion indeed for boys of my brother’s age. I refer to you, sir,” he added, addressing Forrest.
Forrest bowed ironically.
“I am exceedingly obliged to you, sir,” he said, “for your amiable opinion, although why you should go out of your way to volunteer it here, I cannot imagine.”
“I do so, sir,” the Duke answered, “because during the last two or three days cheques for a considerable amount have been honoured at my brother’s bank, bearing your endorsement. I may add, sir, that I came down here to see my brother. I wished to explain to him that you were not a person with whom it was advisable for him to play cards.”
Forrest took a quick step forward.
“Sir,” he exclaimed, “you are a liar!”
The Duke bowed.
“I do not quote my own opinion,” he said. “I speak from the result of the most careful investigations. Your reputation you cannot deny. Even at your own clubs men shrug their shoulders when your name is mentioned. I will give you the benefit of any doubt you wish. I will simply say that you are a person who is suspected in any assembly where gentlemen meet together, and that being so, as my brother has disappeared from this house after several nights spent in playing cards with you, I am here to learn from you, and from you, sir,” he added, turning to Cecil de la Borne, “some further information as to the manner of my brother’s departure, or to remain here until I have acquired that information for myself.”
The Princess rose to her feet and laid her hand upon Forrest’s shoulder. The veins were standing out upon his forehead, and his face was black with anger. He seemed to be in the act of springing upon the man who made these charges against him.