“Nigel,” she said, “please let me talk to the Duke. Remember that, after all, from his own point of view, what he is saying is not so outrageous as it seems to us. Cecil, please don’t interfere,” she added turning towards him. “Duke,” she continued, speaking firmly, and with much of the amiability gone from her tone, “you are playing the modern Don Quixote to an extent which is unpardonable, even taking into account your anxiety concerning your brother. Lord Ronald was a guest here of Mr. De la Borne’s, and to the best of my knowledge he lost little more than he won all the time he was here. In any case, on Major Forrest’s behalf, and as an old friend, I deny that there was any question whatever as to the fairness of any games that were played. Your brother received a telegram, and asked to be allowed the use of the car to take him to Lynn Station early on the following morning. He promised to return within a week.”
“You have heard from him since he left?” the Duke asked quickly.
“We have not,” the Princess answered. “Only yesterday morning I remarked that it was slightly discourteous. Your brother left here on excellent terms with us all. You can interview, if you will, any member of the household. You can make your inquiries at the station from which he departed. Your appearance here at such an untimely hour, and your barely veiled accusations, remind me of the fable of the bull in the china shop. If you think that we have locked your brother up here, pray search the house. If you think,” she added, with curling lip, “that we have murdered him, pray bring down an army of detectives, invest the place, and pursue your investigations in whatever direction you like. But before you leave, I should advise you, if you wish to preserve your reputation as a person of breeding, to apologize to Mr. De la Borne for your extraordinary behaviour here to-night, and the extraordinary things at which you have hinted.”
The Duke smiled pleasantly.
“Madam,” he said, “I came here to-night not knowing that you were amongst the difficulties which I should have to deal with. I wish to speak to Mr. De la Borne. You will permit me?”
The Princess shrugged her shoulders and turned away.
“I have ventured to speak for both of them,” she remarked, “for the sake of peace, because I am a woman and can keep my temper, and they are men who might have resented your impertinence.”
The Duke remained as though he had not heard her speech. He laid his hand upon Cecil’s shoulder.
“De la Borne,” he said, “you and I are scarcely strangers, although we have never met. There have been friendships in our families for many years. Don’t be afraid to speak out if anything has gone a little wrong here and you are ashamed of it. I want to be your friend, as you know very well. Tell me, now. Can’t you help me to find Ronald. Haven’t you any idea where he is?”
“None at all,” Cecil answered.