“An invitation to dinner?” asked the prince, laughing easily. “Miss Garrison is alarmingly fond of Mr. Quentin, and I begin to feel the first symptoms of jealousy. Pardon me, I should not speak of her here, even in jest.” So sincere was his manner that the Americans felt a strange respect for him. The same thought flashed through the minds of both: “He is not a blackguard, whatever else he may be.” But up again came the swift thought of Courant and his ugly companions, and the indisputable evidence that the first named, at least, was a paid agent of the man who stood before them, now the prince, once the singer in far away Brazil.
“The mention of dinner recalls me to affairs of my own,” continued Ugo. “To-morrow night I expect a few friends here to dine, and I have the honor to ask you all to be among my guests. We shall sit down at nine o’clock, and I only exact a promise that the end may come within a week thereafter.”
The Americans could do naught but accept, but there was an oppressive sense of misgiving in their hearts. Mayhap the signal failure to carry out the plans of one night was leading swiftly and resolutely up to the success of another. For more than an hour Quentin and his friend sat silently, soberly in the former’s room, voicing only after long intervals the opinions and conjectures their puzzled minds begot, only to sink back into fresh fields for thought.
“I can’t understand it,” said Dickey, at last, starting to bed.
“I believe I understand it perfectly. They are on a new tack. It occurs to me that they fear we suspect something and the dinner is a sort of peace offering.”
“We may be getting into a nest of masculine Lucretia Borgias, my boy.”
“Pleasant dreams, then. Good-night!”
A DINNER AND A DUEL
At nine o’clock the next evening Quentin and Savage found themselves in the rooms occupied by the prince, the former experiencing a distinct sense of wariness and caution.
If Quentin suspected some form of treachery at the outset, he was soon obliged to ridicule his fears. There were nearly a score of men there, and a single glance revealed to him the gratifying fact that no treachery could be practiced in such an assemblage. Among their fellow guests there was an English lord, an Austrian duke, a Russian prince, a German baron, besides others from France, Belgium and Germany.
Prince Ugo greeted them warmly, and they were at their ease in an instant under the magnetism of his manner. Duke Laselli and Count Diego were more profuse in their greetings to the young men, and it devolved upon the latter to introduce them to the distinguished strangers. There was but one other American there, a millionaire whose name is a household word in the states and whose money was at that time just beginning to assert itself as a menace to the great commercial interests of the old world. He welcomed his fellow New Yorkers with no small show of delight. The expression of relief on his face plainly exposed a previous fear that he was unspeakably alone in this assemblage of continental aristocrats.