Stephen Knight was very angry, though he meant to be kind and patient with Margot. Perhaps, after all, she had not given the interview to the newspaper reporter. It might be what she herself would call a "fake." But as for her coming to stop at a big, fashionable hotel like the Carlton, in the circumstances she could hardly have done anything in worse taste.
He hated to think that she was capable of taking so false a step. He hated to think that it was exactly like her to take it. He hated to be obliged to call on her in the hotel; and he hated himself for hating it.
Knight was of the world that is inclined to regard servants as automata; but he was absurdly self-conscious as he saw his card on a silver tray, in the hand of an expressionless, liveried youth who probably had the famous interview in his pocket. If not there, it was only because the paper would not fit in. The footman had certainly read the interview, and followed the "Northmorland Case" with passionate interest, for months, from the time it began with melodrama, and turned violently to tragedy, up to the present moment when (as the journalists neatly crammed the news into a nutshell) "it bade fair to end with marriage-bells."
Many servants and small tradespeople in London had taken shares, Stephen had heard, as a speculative investment, in the scheme originated to provide capital for the "other side," which was to return a hundred per cent. in case of success. Probably the expressionless youth was inwardly reviling the Northmorland family because he had lost his money and would be obliged to carry silver trays all the rest of his life, instead of starting a green grocery business. Stephen hoped that his own face was as expressionless, as he waited to receive the unwelcome message that Miss Lorenzi was at home.
It came very quickly, and in a worse form than Stephen had expected. Miss Lorenzi was in the Palm Court, and would Mr. Knight please come to her there?
Of course he had to obey; but it was harder than ever to remain expressionless.
There were a good many people in the Palm Court, and they all looked at Stephen Knight as he threaded his intricate way among chairs and little tables and palms, toward a corner where a young woman in black crape sat on a pink sofa. Her hat was very large, and a palm with enormous fan-leaves drooped above it like a sympathetic weeping willow on a mourning brooch. But under the hat was a splendidly beautiful dark face.
"Looks as if he were on his way to be shot," a man who knew all about the great case said to a woman who had lunched with him.
"Looks more as if he were on his way to shoot," she laughed, as one does laugh at other people's troubles, which are apt to be ridiculous. "He's simply glaring."
"Poor beggar!" Her companion found pleasure in pitying Lord Northmorland's brother, whom he had never succeeded in getting to know. "Which is he, fool or hero?"
"Both. A fool to have proposed to the girl. A hero to stick to her, now he has proposed. He must be awfully sick about the interview. I do think it's excuse enough to throw her over."
"I don't know. It's the sort of business a man can't very well chuck, once he's let himself in for it. Every one blames him now for having anything to do with Miss Lorenzi. They'd blame him a lot more for throwing her over."
"No. Because he happens to be young and good-looking....