“It would hardly be premature for my partner to announce what she means to make trumps,” interrupted Lady Caroline, in a voice of such sinister gentleness that St. Michael fled headlong back to his own table.
“Oh, is it me? I beg your pardon. I leave it,” said Serena.
“Thank you. No trumps,” declared Lady Caroline. The hand was successful, and the rubber ultimately fell to her with a comfortable margin of honours. The same partners cut together again, and this time the cards went distinctly against Francesca and Ada Spelvexit, and a heavily piled-up score confronted them at the close of the rubber. Francesca was conscious that a certain amount of rather erratic play on her part had at least contributed to the result. St. Michael’s incursion into the conversation had proved rather a powerful distraction to her ordinarily sound bridge-craft.
Ada Spelvexit emptied her purse of several gold pieces and infused a corresponding degree of superiority into her manner.
“I must be going now,” she announced; “I’m dining early. I have to give an address to some charwomen afterwards.”
“Why?” asked Lady Caroline, with a disconcerting directness that was one of her most formidable characteristics.
“Oh, well, I have some things to say to them that I daresay they will like to hear,” said Ada, with a thin laugh.
Her statement was received with a silence that betokened profound unbelief in any such probability.
“I go about a good deal among working-class women,” she added.
“No one has ever said it,” observed Lady Caroline, “but how painfully true it is that the poor have us always with them.”
Ada Spelvexit hastened her departure; the marred impressiveness of her retreat came as a culminating discomfiture on the top of her ill-fortune at the card-table. Possibly, however, the multiplication of her own annoyances enabled her to survey charwomen’s troubles with increased cheerfulness. None of them, at any rate, had spent an afternoon with Lady Caroline.
Francesca cut in at another table and with better fortune attending on her, succeeded in winning back most of her losses. A sense of satisfaction was distinctly dominant as she took leave of her hostess. St. Michael’s gossip, or rather the manner in which it had been received, had given her a clue to the real state of affairs, which, however slender and conjectural, at least pointed in the desired direction. At first she had been horribly afraid lest she should be listening to a definite announcement which would have been the death-blow to her hopes, but as the recitation went on without any of those assured little minor details which St. Michael so loved to supply, she had come to the conclusion that it was merely a piece of intelligent guesswork. And if Lady Caroline had really believed in the story of Elaine de Frey’s virtual engagement to Courtenay Youghal she would