"Is no one else breakfasting?" Francis asked.
"Sir Timothy and Mrs. Hilditch are always served in their rooms, sir. Her ladyship is taking her coffee upstairs."
Francis ate his breakfast, glanced through the Times, lit a cigarette and went round to the garage for his car. The butler met him as he drove up before the porch.
"Sir Timothy begs you to excuse him this morning, sir," he announced. "His secretary has arrived from town with a very large correspondence which they are now engaged upon."
"And Mrs. Hilditch?" Francis ventured.
"I have not seen her maid this morning, sir," the man replied, "but Mrs. Hilditch never rises before midday. Sir Timothy hopes that you slept well, sir, and would like you to sign the visitors' book."
Francis signed his name mechanically, and was turning away when Lady Cynthia called to him from the stairs. She was dressed for travelling and followed by a maid, carrying her dressing-case.
"Will you take me up to town, Mr. Ledsam?" she asked.
"Delighted," he answered.
Their dressing-cases were strapped together behind and Lady Cynthia sank into the cushions by his side. They drove away from the house, Francis with a backward glance of regret. The striped sun-blinds had been lowered over all the windows, thrushes and blackbirds were twittering on the lawn, the air was sweet with the perfume of flowers, a boatman was busy with the boats. Out beyond, through the trees, the river wound its placid way.
"Quite a little paradise," Lady Cynthia murmured.
"Delightful," her companion assented. "I suppose great wealth has its obligations, but why any human being should rear such a structure as what he calls his Borghese villa, when he has a charming place like that to live in, I can't imagine."
Her silence was significant, almost purposeful. She unwound the veil from her motoring turban, took it off altogether and attached it to the cushions of the car with a hatpin.
"There," she said, leaning back, "you can now gaze upon a horrible example to the young women of to-day. You can see the ravages which late hours, innumerable cocktails, a thirst for excitement, a contempt of the simple pleasures of life, have worked upon my once comely features. I was quite good-looking, you know, in the days you first knew me."
"You were the most beautiful debutante of your season," he agreed.
"What do you think of me now?" she asked.
She met his gaze without flinching. Her face was unnaturally thin, with disfiguring hollows underneath her cheekbones; her lips lacked colour; even her eyes were lustreless. Her hair seemed to lack brilliancy. Only her silken eyebrows remained unimpaired, and a certain charm of expression which nothing seemed able to destroy.
"You look tired," he said.
"Be honest, my dear man," she rejoined drily. "I am a physical wreck, dependent upon cosmetics for the looks which I am still clever enough to palm off on the uninitiated."
"Why don't you lead a quieter life?" he asked. "A month or so in the country would put you all right."
She laughed a little hardly. Then for a moment she looked at him appraisingly.
"I was going to speak to you of nerves," she said, "but how would you ever understand? You look as though you had not a nerve in your body. I can't think how you manage it, living in London. I suppose you do exercises and take care of what you eat and drink."
"I do nothing of the sort," he assured her indignantly. "I eat and drink whatever I fancy. I have always had a direct object in life—my work—and I believe that has kept me fit and well. Nerve troubles come as a rule, I think, from the under-used brain."
"I must have been born with a butterfly disposition," she said. "I am quite sure that mine come because I find it so hard to be amused. I am sure I am most enterprising. I try whatever comes along, but nothing satisfies me."
"Why not try being in love with one of these men who've been in love with you all their lives?"
She laughed bitterly.
"The men who have cared for me and have been worth caring about," she said, "gave me up years ago. I mocked at them when they were in earnest, scoffed at sentiment, and told them frankly that when I married it would only be to find a refuge for broader life. The right sort wouldn't have anything to say to me after that, and I do not blame them. And here is the torture of it. I can't stand the wrong sort near me—physically, I mean. Mind, I believe I'm attracted towards people with criminal tastes and propensities. I believe that is what first led me towards Sir Timothy. Every taste I ever had in life seems to have become besmirched. I'm all the time full of the craving to do horrible things, but all the same I can't bear to be touched. That's the torment of it. I wonder if you can understand?"
"I think I can," he answered. "Your trouble lies in having the wrong friends and in lack of self-discipline. If you were my sister, I'd take you away for a fortnight and put you on the road to being cured."
"Then I wish I were your sister," she sighed.
"Don't think I'm unsympathetic," he went on, "because I'm not. Wait till we've got into the main road here and I'll try and explain."
They were passing along a country lane, so narrow that twigs from the hedges, wreathed here and there in wild roses, brushed almost against their cheeks. On their left was the sound of a reaping-machine and the perfume of new-mown hay. The sun was growing stronger at every moment. A transitory gleam of pleasure softened her face.
"It is ages since I smelt honeysuckle," she confessed, "except in a perfumer's shop. I was wondering what it reminded me of."
"That," he said, as they turned out into the broad main road, with its long vista of telegraph poles, "is because you have been neglecting the real for the sham, flowers themselves for their artificially distilled perfume. What I was going to try and put into words without sounding too priggish, Lady Cynthia," he went on, "is this. It is just you people who are cursed with a restless brain who are in the most dangerous position, nowadays. The things which keep us healthy and normal physically—games, farces, dinner-parties of young people, fresh air and exercise—are the very things which after a time fail to satisfy the person with imagination. You want more out of life, always the something you don't understand, the something beyond. And so you keep on trying new things, and for every new thing you try, you drop an old one. Isn't it something like that?"
"I suppose it is," she admitted wearily.
"Drugs take the place of wholesome wine," he went on, warming to his subject. "The hideous fascination of flirting with the uncouth or the impossible some way or another, stimulates a passion which simple means have ceased to gratify. You seek for the unusual in every way—in food, in the substitution of absinthe for your harmless Martini, of cocaine for your stimulating champagne. There is a horrible wave of all this sort of thing going on to-day in many places, and I am afraid," he concluded, "that a great many of our very nicest young women are caught up in it."
"Guilty," she confessed. "Now cure me."
"I could point out the promised land, but how, could I lead you to it?" he answered.
"You don't like me well enough," she sighed.
"I like you better than you believe," he assured her, slackening his speed a little. "We have met, I suppose, a dozen times in our lives. I have danced with you here and there, talked nonsense once, I remember, at a musical reception—"
"I tried to flirt with you then," she interrupted.
"I was in the midst of a great case," he said, "and everything that happened to me outside it was swept out of my mind day by day. What I was going to say is that I have always liked you, from the moment when your mother presented me to you at your first dance."
"I wish you'd told me so," she murmured.
"It wouldn't have made any difference," he declared. "I wasn't in a position to think of a duke's daughter, in those days. I don't suppose I am now."
"Try," she begged hopefully.
He smiled back at her. The reawakening of her sense of humour was something.
"Too late," he regretted. "During the last month or so the thing has come to me which we all look forward to, only I don't think fate has treated me kindly. I have always loved normal ways and normal people, and the woman I care for is different."
"Tell me about her?" she insisted.
"You will be very surprised when I tell you her name," he said. "It is Margaret Hilditch."
She looked at him for a moment in blank astonishment.
"Heavens!" she exclaimed. "Oliver Hilditch's wife!"
"I can't help that," he declared, a little doggedly. "She's had a miserable time, I know. She was married to a scamp. I'm not quite sure that her father isn't as bad a one. Those things don't make any difference."
"They wouldn't with you," she said softly. "Tell me, did you say anything to her last night?"
"I did," he replied. "I began when we were out alone together. She gave me no encouragement to speak of, but at any rate she knows."
Lady Cynthia leaned a little forward in her place.
"Do you know where she is now?"
He was a little startled.
"Down at the cottage, I suppose. The butler told me that she never rose before midday."
"Then for once the butler was mistaken," his companion told him. "Margaret Hilditch left at six o'clock this morning. I saw her in travelling clothes get into the car and drive away."
"She left the cottage this morning before us?" Francis repeated, amazed.
"I can assure you that she did," Lady Cynthia insisted. "I never sleep, amongst my other peculiarities," she went on bitterly, "and I was lying on a couch by the side of the open window when the car came for her. She stopped it at the bend of the avenue—so that it shouldn't wake us up, I suppose. I saw her get in and drive away."
Francis was silent for several moments. Lady Cynthia watched him curiously.
"At any rate," she observed, "in whatever mood she went away this morning, you have evidently succeeded in doing what I have never seen any one else do—breaking through her indifference. I shouldn't have thought that anything short of an earthquake would have stirred Margaret, these days."
"These days?" he repeated quickly. "How long have you known her?"
"We were at school together for a short time," she told him. "It was while her father was in South America. Margaret was a very different person in those days."
"However was she induced to marry a person like Oliver Hilditch?" Francis speculated.
His companion shrugged her shoulders.
"Who knows?" she answered indifferently. "Are you going to drop me?"
"Wherever you like."
"Take me on to Grosvenor Square, if you will, then," she begged, "and deposit me at the ancestral mansion. I am really rather annoyed about Margaret," she went on, rearranging her veil. "I had begun to have hopes that you might have revived my taste for normal things."
"If I had had the slightest intimation—" he murmured.
"It would have made no difference," she interrupted dolefully. "Now I come to think of it, the Margaret whom I used to know—and there must be plenty of her left yet—is just the right type of woman for you."
They drew up outside the house in Grosvenor Square. Lady Cynthia held out her hand.
"Come and see me one afternoon, will you?" she invited.
"I'd like to very much," he replied.
She lingered on the steps and waved her hand to him—a graceful, somewhat insolent gesture.
"All the same, I think I shall do my best to make you forget Margaret," she called out. "Thanks for the lift up. A bientot!"
Francis drove direct from Grosvenor Square to his chambers in the Temple, and found Shopland, his friend from Scotland Yard, awaiting his arrival.
"Any news?" Francis enquired.
"Nothing definite, I am sorry, to say," was the other's reluctant admission.
Francis hung up his hat, threw himself into his easy-chair and lit a cigarette.
"The lad's brother is one of my oldest friends, Shopland," he said. "He is naturally in a state of great distress."
The detective scratched his chin thoughtfully.
"I said 'nothing definite' just now, sir," he observed. "As a rule, I never mention suspicions, but with you it is a different matter. I haven't discovered the slightest trace of Mr. Reginald Wilmore, or the slightest reason for his disappearance. He seems to have been a well-conducted young gentleman, a little extravagant, perhaps, but able to pay his way and with nothing whatever against him. Nothing whatever, that is to say, except one almost insignificant thing."
"A slight tendency towards bad company, sir. I have heard of his being about with one or two whom we are keeping our eye upon."
"Bobby Fairfax's lot, by any chance?"
"He was with Jacks and Miss Daisy Hyslop, a night or two before he disappeared. I am not sure that a young man named Morse wasn't of the party, too."
"What do you make of that lot?" Francis asked curiously. "Are they gamesters, dope fiends, or simply vicious?"
The detective was silent. He was gazing intently at his rather square-toed shoes.
"There are rumours, sir," he said, presently, "of things going on in the West End which want looking into very badly—very badly indeed. You will remember speaking to me of Sir Timothy Brast?"
"I remember quite well," Francis acknowledged.
"I've nothing to go on," the other continued. "I am working almost on your own lines, Mr. Ledsam, groping in the dark to find a clue, as it were, but I'm beginning to have ideas about Sir Timothy Brast, just ideas."
"As, for instance?"
"Well, he stands on rather queer terms with some of his acquaintances, sir. Now you saw, down at Soto's Bar, the night we arrested Mr. Fairfax, that not one of those young men there spoke to Sir Timothy as though they were acquainted, nor he to them. Yet I happened to find out that every one of them, including Mr. Fairfax himself, was present at a party Sir Timothy Brast gave at his house down the river a week or two before."
"I'm afraid there isn't much in that," Francis declared. "Sir Timothy has the name of being an eccentric person everywhere, especially in this respect—he never notices acquaintances. I heard, only the other day, that while he was wonderfully hospitable and charming to all his guests, he never remembered them outside his house."
"A convenient eccentricity," he remarked, a little drily. "I have heard the same thing myself. You spent the night at his country cottage, did you not, Mr. Ledsam? Did he offer to show you over The Walled House?"
"How the dickens did you know I was down there?" Francis demanded, with some surprise. "I was just thinking as I drove up that I hadn't left my address either here or at Clarges Street."
"Next time you visit Sir Timothy," the detective observed, "I should advise you to do so. I knew you were there, Mr. Ledsam, because I was in the neighbourhood myself. I have been doing a little fishing, and keeping my eye on that wonderful estate of Sir Timothy's."
Francis was interested.
"Shopland," he said, "I believe that our intelligences, such as they are, are akin."
"What do you suspect Sir Timothy of?" the detective asked bluntly.
"I suspect him of nothing," Francis replied. "He is simply, to my mind, an incomprehensible, somewhat sinister figure, who might be capable of anything. He may have very excellent qualities which he contrives to conceal, or he may be an arch-criminal. His personality absolutely puzzles me."
There was a knock at the door and Angrave appeared. Apparently he had forgotten Shopland's presence, for he ushered in another visitor.
"Sir Timothy Brast to see you, sir," he announced.
The moment was one of trial to every one, admirably borne. Shopland remained in his chair, with only a casual glance at the newcomer. Francis rose to his feet with a half-stifled expression of anger at the clumsiness of his clerk. Sir Timothy, well-shaven and groomed, attired in a perfectly-fitting suit of grey flannel, nodded to Francis in friendly fashion and laid his Homburg hat upon the table with the air of a familiar.
"My dear Ledsam," he said, "I do hope that you will excuse this early call. I could only have been an hour behind you on the road. I dare say you can guess what I have come to see you about. Can we have a word together?"
"Certainly," was the ready reply. "You remember my friend Shopland, Sir Timothy? It was Mr. Shopland who arrested young Fairfax that night at Soto's."
"I remember him perfectly," Sir Timothy declared. "I fancied, directly I entered, that your face was familiar," he added, turning to Shopland. "I am rather ashamed of myself about that night. My little outburst must have sounded almost ridiculous to you two. To tell you the truth, I quite failed at that time to give Mr. Ledsam credit for gifts which I have since discovered him to possess."
"Mr. Shopland and I are now discussing another matter," Francis went on, pushing a box of cigarettes towards Sir Timothy, who was leaning against the table in an easy attitude. "Don't go, Shopland, for a minute. We were consulting together about the disappearance of a young man, Reggie Wilmore, the brother of a friend of mine—Andrew Wilmore, the novelist."
"Disappearance?" Sir Timothy repeated, as he lit a cigarette. "That is rather a vague term."
"The young man has been missing from home for over a week," Francis said, "and left no trace whatever of his whereabouts. He was not in financial trouble, he does not seem to have been entangled with any young woman, he had not quarrelled with his people, and he seems to have been on the best of terms with the principal at the house of business where he was employed. His disappearance, therefore, is, to say the least of it, mysterious."
Sir Timothy assented gravely.
"The lack of motive to which you allude," he pointed out, "makes the case interesting. Still, one must remember that London is certainly the city of modern mysteries. If a new 'Arabian Nights' were written, it might well be about London. I dare say Mr. Shopland will agree with me," he continued, turning courteously towards the detective, "that disappearances of this sort are not nearly so uncommon as the uninitiated would believe. For one that is reported in the papers, there are half-a-dozen which are not. Your late Chief Commissioner, by-the-bye," he added meditatively, "once a very intimate friend of mine, was my informant."
"Where do you suppose they disappear to?" Francis enquired.
"Who can tell?" was the speculative reply. "For an adventurous youth there are a thousand doors which lead to romance. Besides, the lives of none of us are quite so simple as they seem. Even youth has its secret chapters. This young man, for instance, might be on his way to Australia, happy in the knowledge that he has escaped from some murky chapter of life which will now never be known. He may write to his friends, giving them a hint. The whole thing will blow over."
"There may be cases such as you suggest, Sir Timothy," the detective said quietly. "Our investigations, so far as regards the young man in question, however, do not point that way."
Sir Timothy turned over his cigarette to look at the name of the maker.
"Excellent tobacco," he murmured. "By-the-bye, what did you say the young man's name was?"
"Reginald Wilmore," Francis told him.
"A good name," Sir Timothy murmured. "I am sure I wish you both every good fortune in your quest. Would it be too much to ask you now, Mr. Ledsam, for that single minute alone?"
"By no means," Francis answered.
"I'll wait in the office, if I may," Shopland suggested, rising to his feet. "I want to have another word with you before I go."
"My business with Mr. Ledsam is of a family nature," Sir Timothy said apologetically, as Shopland passed out. "I will not keep him for more than a moment."
Shopland closed the door behind him. Sir Timothy waited until he heard his departing footsteps. Then he turned back to Francis.
"Mr. Ledsam," he said, "I have come to ask you if you know anything of my daughter's whereabouts?"
"Nothing whatever," Francis replied. "I was on the point of ringing you up to ask you the same question."
"Did she tell you that she was leaving The Sanctuary?"
"She gave me not the slightest intimation of it," Francis assured his questioner, "in fact she invited me to meet her in the rose garden last night. When I arrived there, she was gone. I have heard nothing from her since."
"You spent the evening with her?"
"To my great content."
"What happened between you?"
"Nothing happened. I took the opportunity, however, of letting your daughter understand the nature of my feelings for her."
"Dear me! May I ask what they are?"
"I will translate them into facts," Francis replied. "I wish your daughter to become my wife."
"You amaze me!" Sir Timothy exclaimed, with the old mocking smile at his lips. "How can you possibly contemplate association with the daughter of a man whom you suspect and distrust as you do me?"
"If I suspect and distrust you, it is your own fault," Francis reminded him. "You have declared yourself to be a criminal and a friend of criminals. I am inclined to believe that you have spoken the truth. I care for that fact just as little as I care for the fact that you are a millionaire, or that Margaret has been married to a murderer. I intend her to become my wife."
"Did you encourage her to leave me?"
"I did not. I had not the slightest idea that she had left The Sanctuary until Lady Cynthia told me, halfway to London this morning."
Sir Timothy was silent for several moments.
"Have you any idea in your own mind," he persisted, "as to where she has gone and for what purpose?"
"Not the slightest in the world," Francis declared. "I am just as anxious to hear from her; and to know where she is, as you seem to be."
Sir Timothy sighed.
"I am disappointed," he admitted. "I had hoped to obtain some information from you. I must try in another direction."
"Since you are here, Sir Timothy," Francis said, as his visitor prepared to depart, "may I ask whether you have any objection to my marrying your daughter?"
Sir Timothy frowned.
"The question places me in a somewhat difficult position," he replied coldly. "In a certain sense I have a liking for you. You are not quite the ingenuous nincompoop I took you for on the night of our first meeting. On the other hand, you have prejudices against me. My harmless confession of sympathy with criminals and their ways seems to have stirred up a cloud of suspicion in your mind. You even employ a detective to show the world what a fool he can look, sitting in a punt attempting to fish, with one eye on the supposed abode of crime."
"I have nothing whatever to do with the details of Shopland's investigations," Francis protested. "He is in search of Reggie Wilmore."
"Does he think I have secret dungeons in my new abode," Sir Timothy demanded, "or oubliettes in which I keep and starve brainless youths for some nameless purpose? Be reasonable, Mr. Ledsam. What the devil benefit could accrue to me from abducting or imprisoning or in any way laying my criminal hand upon this young man?"
"None whatever that we have been able to discover as yet," Francis admitted.
"A leaning towards melodrama, admirable in its way, needs the leaven of a well-balanced discretion and a sense of humour," Sir Timothy observed. "The latter quality is as a rule singularly absent amongst the myrmidons of Scotland Yard. I do not think that Mr. Shopland will catch even fish in the neighbourhood of The Walled House. As regards your matrimonial proposal, let us waive that until my daughter returns."
"As you will," Francis agreed. "I will be frank to this extent, at any rate. If I can persuade your daughter to marry me, your consent will not affect the matter."
"I can leave Margaret a matter of two million pounds," Sir Timothy said pensively.
"I have enough money to support my wife myself," Francis observed.
"Utopian but foolish," Sir Timothy declared. "All the same, Mr. Ledsam, let me tell you this. You have a curious attraction for me. When I was asked why I had invited you to The Sanctuary last night, I frankly could not answer the question. I didn't know. I don't know. Your dislike of me doesn't seem to affect the question. I was glad to have you there last night. It pleases me to hear you talk, to hear your views of things. I feel that I shall have to be very careful, Mr. Ledsam, or—"
"Or what?" Francis demanded.
"Or I shall even welcome the idea of having you for a son-in-law," Sir Timothy concluded reluctantly. "Make my excuses to Mr. Shopland. Au revoir!"
Shopland came in as the door closed behind the departing visitor. He listened to all that Francis had to say, without comment.
"If The Walled House," he said at last, "is so carefully guarded that Sir Timothy has been informed of my watching the place and has been made aware of my mild questionings, it must be because there is something to conceal. I may or may not be on the track of Mr. Reginald Wilmore, but," the detective concluded, "of one thing I am becoming convinced—The Walled House will pay for watching."
It was a day when chance was kind to Francis. After leaving his rooms at the Temple, he made a call at one of the great clubs in Pall Mall, to enquire as to the whereabouts of a friend. On his way back towards the Sheridan, he came face to face with Margaret Hilditch, issuing from the doors of one of the great steamship companies. For a moment he almost failed to recognise her. She reminded him more of the woman of the tea-shop. Her costume, neat and correct though it was, was studiously unobtrusive. Her motoring veil, too, was obviously worn to assist her in escaping notice.
She, too, came to a standstill at seeing him. Her first ejaculations betrayed a surprise which bordered on consternation. Then Francis, with a sudden inspiration, pointed to the long envelope which she was carrying in her hand.
"You have been to book a passage somewhere!" he exclaimed.
The monosyllable was in her usual level tone. Nevertheless, he could see that she was shaken:
"You were going away without seeing me again?"' he asked reproachfully.
"Yes!" she admitted.
She looked up and down a little helplessly.
"I owe you no explanation for my conduct," she said. "Please let me pass."
"Could we talk for a few minutes, please?" he begged. "Tell me where you were going?"
"Oh, back to lunch, I suppose," she answered.
"Your father has been up, looking for you," he told her.
"I telephoned to The Sanctuary," she replied. "He had just left."
"I am very anxious," he continued, "not to distress you, but I cannot let you go away like this. Will you come to my rooms and let us talk for a little time?"
She made no answer. Somehow, he realised that speech just then was difficult. He called a taxi and handed her in. They drove to Clarges Street in silence. He led the way up the stairs, gave some quick orders to his servant whom he met coming down, ushered her into his sitting-room and saw her ensconced in an easy-chair.
"Please take off that terrible veil," he begged.
"It is pinned on to my hat," she told him.
"Then off with both," he insisted. "You can't eat luncheon like that. I'm not going to try and bully you. If you've booked your passage to Timbuctoo and you really want to go—why, you must. I only want the chance of letting you know that I am coming after you."
She took off her hat and veil and threw them on to the sofa, glancing sideways at a mirror let into the door of a cabinet.
"My hair is awful," she declared:
He laughed gaily, and turned around from the sideboard, where he was busy mixing cocktails.
"Thank heavens for that touch of humanity!" he exclaimed. "A woman who can bother about her hair when she takes her hat off, is never past praying for. Please drink this."
She obeyed. He took the empty glass away from her. Then he came over to the hearthrug by her side.
"Do you know that I kissed you last night?" he reminded her.
"I do," she answered. "That is why I have just paid eighty-four pounds for a passage to Buenos Ayres."
"I should have enjoyed the trip," he said. "Still, I'm glad I haven't to go."
"Do you really mean that you would have come after me?" she asked curiously.
"Of course I should," he assured her. "Believe me, there isn't such an obstinate person in the world as the man of early middle-age who suddenly discovers the woman he means to marry."
"But you can't marry me," she protested.
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because I was Oliver Hilditch's wife, for one thing."
"Look here," he said, "if you had been Beelzebub's wife, it wouldn't make the least difference to me. You haven't given me much of a chance to tell you so yet, Margaret, but I love you."
She sat a little forward in her chair. Her eyes were fixed upon his wonderingly.
"But how can you?" she exclaimed. "You know, nothing of me except my associations, and they have been horrible. What is there to love in me? I am a frozen-up woman. Everything is dead here," she went on, clasping her hand to her heart. "I have no sentiment, no passion, nothing but an animal desire to live my life luxuriously and quickly."
He smiled confidently. Then, with very little warning, he sank on one knee, drew her face to his, kissed her lips and then her eyes.
"Are you so sure of all these things, Margaret?" he whispered. "Don't you think it is, perhaps, because there has been no one to care for you as I do—as I shall—to the end of my days? The lily you left on your chair last night was like you—fair and stately and beautiful, but a little bruised. You will come back as it has done, come back to the world. My love will bring you. My care. Believe it, please!"
Then he saw the first signs of change in her face. There was the faintest shade of almost shell-like pink underneath the creamy-white of her cheeks. Her lips were trembling a little, her eyes were misty. With a sudden passionate little impulse, her arms were around his neck, her lips sought his of their own accord.
"Let me forget," she sobbed. "Kiss me let me forget!"
Francis' servant was both heavy-footed and discreet. When he entered the room with a tray, his master was standing at the sideboard.
"I've done the best I could, sir," he announced, a little apologetically. "Shall I lay the cloth?"
"Leave everything on the tray, Brooks," Francis directed. "We will help ourselves. In an hour's time bring coffee."
The man glanced around the room.
"There are glasses on the sideboard, sir, and the corkscrew is here. I think you will have everything you want."
He departed, closing the door behind him. Francis held out his hands to Margaret. She rose slowly to her feet, looked in the glass helplessly and then back at him. She was very beautiful but a little dazed.
"Are we going to have luncheon?" she asked.
"Of course," he answered. "Did you think I meant to starve you?"
He picked up the long envelope which she had dropped upon the carpet, and threw it on to the sofa. Then he drew up two chairs to the table, and opened a small bottle of champagne.
"I hope you won't mind a picnic," he said. "Really, Brooks hasn't done so badly—pate de foie gras, hot toast and Devonshire butter. Let me spread some for you. A cold chicken afterwards, and some strawberries. Please be hungry, Margaret."
She laughed at him. It occurred to him suddenly, with a little pang, that he had never heard her laugh before. It was like music.
"I'm too happy," she murmured.
"Believe me," he assured her, as he buttered a piece of toast, "happiness and hunger might well be twins. They go so well together. Misery can take away one's appetite. Happiness, when one gets over the gulpiness of it, is the best tonic in the world. And I never saw any one, dear, with whom happiness agreed so well," he added, pausing in his task to bend over and kiss her. "Do you know you are the most beautiful thing on earth? It is a lucky thing we are going to live in England, and that these are sober, matter-of-fact days, or I should find myself committed to fighting duels all the time."
She had a momentary relapse. A look of terror suddenly altered her face. She caught at his wrist.
"Don't!" she cried. "Don't talk about such things!"
He was a little bewildered. The moment passed. She laughed almost apologetically.
"Forgive me," she begged, "but I hate the thought of fighting of any sort. Some day I'll explain."
"Clumsy ass I was!" he declared, completing his task and setting the result before her. "Now how's that for a first course? Drink a little of your wine."
He leaned his glass against hers.
"My love," he whispered, "my love now, dear, and always, and you'll find it quite strong enough," he went on, "to keep you from all the ugly things. And now away with sentiment. I had a very excellent but solitary breakfast this morning, and it seems a long time ago."
"It seems amazing to think that you spent last night at The Sanctuary," she reflected.
"And that you and I were in a punt," he reminded her, "in the pool of darkness where the trees met, and the lilies leaned over to us."
"And you nearly upset the punt."
"Nothing of the sort! As a matter of fact, I was very careful. But," he proceeded, with a sudden wave of memory, "I don't think my heart will ever beat normally again. It seemed as though it would tear its way out of my side when I leaned towards you, and you knew, and you lay still."
"You surely didn't expect I was going to get up? It was quite encouragement enough to remain passive. As a matter of fact," she went on, "I couldn't have moved. I couldn't have uttered a sound. I suppose I must have been like one of those poor birds you read about, when some devouring animal crouches for its last spring."
"Compliments already!" he remarked. "You won't forget that my name is Francis, will you? Try and practise it while I carve the chicken."
"You carve very badly, Francis," she told him demurely.
"My dear," he said, "thank heavens we shall be able to afford a butler! By-the-bye, I told your father this morning that I was going to marry you, and he didn't seem to think it possible because he had two million pounds."
"Braggart!" she murmured. "When did you see my father?"
"He came to my rooms in the Temple soon after I arrived this morning. He seemed to think I might know where you were. I dare say he won't like me for a son-in-law," Francis continued with a smile. "I can't help that. He shouldn't have let me go out with you in a punt."
There was a discreet knock at the door. Brooks made his apologetic and somewhat troubled entrance.
"Sir Timothy Brast is here to see you, sir," he announced. "I ventured to say that you were not at home—"
"But I happened to know otherwise," a still voice remarked from outside. "May I come in, Mr. Ledsam?"
Sir Timothy stepped past the servant, who at a sign from Francis disappeared, closing the door behind him.
After his first glance at Sir Timothy, Francis' only thought was for Margaret. To his intense relief, she showed no signs whatever of terror, or of any relapse to her former state. She was entirely mistress of herself and the occasion. Sir Timothy's face was cold and terrible.
"I must apologise for this second intrusion, Mr. Ledsam," he said cuttingly. "I think you will admit that the circumstances warrant it. Am I to understand that you lied to me this morning?"
"You are to understand nothing of the sort," Francis answered. "I told you everything I knew at that time of your daughter's movements."
"Indeed!" Sir Timothy murmured. "This little banquet, then, was unpremeditated?"
"Entirely," Francis replied. "Here is the exact truth, so far as I am concerned. I met your daughter little more than an hour ago, coming out of a steamship office, where she had booked a passage to Buenos Ayres to get away from me. I was fortunate enough to induce her to change her mind. She has consented instead to remain in England as my wife. We were, as you see, celebrating the occasion."
Sir Timothy laid his hat upon the sideboard and slowly removed his gloves.
"I trust," he said, "that this pint bottle does not represent your cellar. I will drink a glass of wine with you, and with your permission make myself a pate sandwich. I was just sitting down to luncheon when I received the information which brought me here."
Francis produced another bottle of wine from the sideboard and filled his visitor's glass.
"You will drink, I hope, to our happiness," he said.
"I shall do nothing of the sort," Sir Timothy declared, helping himself with care to the pate. "I have no superstitions about breaking bread with an enemy, or I should not have asked you to visit me at The Sanctuary, Mr. Ledsam. I object to your marriage with my daughter, and I shall take what steps I can to prevent it."
Sir Timothy did not at once reply. He seemed to be enjoying his sandwich; he also appreciated the flavour of his wine.
"Your question," he said, "strikes me as being a little ingenuous. You are at the present moment suspecting me of crimes beyond number. You encourage Scotland Yard detectives to make asses of themselves in my stream. Your myrmidons scramble on to the top of my walls and try to bribe my servants to disclose the mysteries of my household. You have accepted to the fullest extent my volunteered statement that I am a patron of crime. You are, in short—forgive me if I help myself to a little more of this pate—engaged in a strenuous attempt to bring me to justice."
"None of these things affects your daughter," Francis pointed out.
"Pardon me," Sir Timothy objected. "You are a great and shining light of the English law. People speak of you as a future Chancellor. How can you contemplate an alliance with the widow of one criminal and the daughter of another?"
"As to Margaret being Oliver Hilditch's widow," Francis replied, "you were responsible for that, and no one else. He was your protege; you gave your consent to the marriage. As to your being her father, that again is not Margaret's fault. I should marry her if Oliver Hilditch had been three times the villain he was, and if you were the Devil himself."
"I am getting quite to like you, Mr. Ledsam," Sir Timothy declared, helping himself to another piece of toast and commencing to butter it. "Margaret, what have you to say about all this?"
"I have nothing to say," she answered. "Francis is speaking for me. I never dreamed that after what I have gone through I should be able to care for any one again in this world. I do care, and I am very happy about it. All last night I lay awake, making up my mind to run away, and this morning I actually booked my passage to Buenos Ayres. Then we met—just outside the steamship office—and I knew at once that I was making a mistake. I shall marry Francis exactly when he wants me to."
Sir Timothy passed his glass towards his proposed son-in-law.
"Might one suggest," he began—"thank you very much. This is of course very upsetting to me. I seem to be set completely at defiance. It is a very excellent wine, this, and a wonderful vintage."
Francis bent over Margaret.
"Please finish your lunch, dear," he begged. "It is perhaps just as well that your father came. We shall know exactly where we are."
"Just so," Sir Timothy agreed.
There was a queer constrained silence for several moments. Then Sir Timothy leaned back in his chair and with a word of apology lit a cigarette.
"Let us," he said, "consider the situation. Margaret is my daughter. You wish to marry her. Margaret is of age and has been married before. She is at liberty, therefore, to make her own choice. You agree with me so far?"
"Entirely," Francis assented.
"It happens," Sir Timothy went on, "that I disapprove of her choice. She desires to marry a young man who belongs to a profession which I detest, and whose efforts in life are directed towards the extermination of a class of people for whom I have every sympathy. To me he represents the smug as against the human, the artificially moral as against the freethinker. He is also my personal enemy. I am therefore naturally desirous that my daughter should not marry this young man."
"We will let it go at that," Francis commented, "but I should like to point out to you that the antagonism between us is in no way personal. You have declared yourself for forces with which I am at enmity, like any other decent-living citizen. Your declaration might at any time be amended."
Sir Timothy bowed.
"The situation is stated," he said. "I will ask you this question as a matter of form. Do you recognise my right to forbid your marriage with my daughter, Mr. Ledsam?"
"I most certainly do not," was the forcible reply.
"Have I any rights at all?" Sir Timothy asked. "Margaret has lived under my roof whenever it has suited her to do so. Since she has taken up her residence at Curzon Street, she has been her own mistress, her banking account has known no limit whatsoever. I may be a person of evil disposition, but I have shown no unkindness to her."
"It is quite true," Margaret Admitted, turning a little pale. "Since I have been alone, you have been kindness itself."
"Then let me repeat my question," Sir Timothy went on, "have I the right to any consideration at all?"
"Yes," Francis replied. "Short of keeping us apart, you have the ordinary rights of a parent."
"Then I ask you to delay the announcement of your engagement, or taking any further steps concerning it, for fourteen days," Sir Timothy said. "I place no restrictions on your movements during that time. Such hospitality as you, Mr. Ledsam, care to accept at my hands, is at your disposal. I am Bohemian enough, indeed, to find nothing to complain of in such little celebrations as you are at present indulging in—most excellent pate, that. But I request that no announcement of your engagement be made, or any further arrangements made concerning it, for that fourteen days."
"I am quite willing, father," Margaret acquiesced.
"And I, sir," Francis echoed.
"In which case," Sir Timothy concluded, rising to his feet, lighting a cigarette and taking up his hat and gloves, "I shall go peaceably away. You will admit, I trust," he added, with that peculiar smile at the corner of his lips, "that I have not in any way tried to come the heavy father? I can even command a certain amount of respect, Margaret, for a young man who is able to inaugurate his engagement by an impromptu meal of such perfection. I wish you both good morning. Any invitation which Margaret extends, Ledsam, please consider as confirmed by me."
He closed the door softly. They heard his footsteps descending the stairs. Francis leaned once more over Margaret. She seemed still dazed, confused with new thoughts. She responded, however, readily to his touch, yielded to his caress with an almost pathetic eagerness.
"Francis," she murmured, as his arms closed around her, "I want to forget."
There followed a brief period of time, the most wonderful of his life, the happiest of hers. They took advantage of Sir Timothy's absolute license, and spent long days at The Sanctuary, ideal lovers' days, with their punt moored at night amongst the lilies, where her kisses seemed to come to him with an aroma and wonder born of the spot. Then there came a morning when he found a cloud on her face. She was looking at the great wall, and away at the minaret beyond. They had heard from the butler that Sir Timothy had spent the night at the villa, and that preparations were on hand for another of his wonderful parties. Francis, who was swift to read her thoughts, led her away into the rose garden where once she had failed him.
"You have been looking over the wall, Margaret," he said reproachfully.
She looked at him with a little twitch at the corners of her lips.
"Francis dear," she confessed, "I am afraid you are right. I cannot even look towards The Walled House without wondering why it was built—or catch a glimpse of that dome without stupid guesses as to what may go on underneath."
"I think very likely," he said soothingly, "we have both exaggerated the seriousness of your father's hobbies. We know that he has a wonderful gymnasium there, but the only definite rumour I have ever heard about the place is that men fight there who have a grudge against one another, and that they are not too particular about the weight of the gloves. That doesn't appeal to us, you know, Margaret, but it isn't criminal."
"If that were all!" she murmured.
"I dare say it is," he declared. "London, as you know, is a hot-bed of gossip. Everything that goes on is ridiculously exaggerated, and I think that it rather appeals to your father's curious sense of humour to pose as the law-breaker."
She pressed his arm a little. The day was overcast, a slight rain was beginning to fall.
"Francis," she whispered, "we had a perfect day here yesterday. Now the sun has gone and I am shivery."
He understood in a moment.
"We'll lunch at Ranelagh," he suggested. "It is almost on the way up. Then we can see what the weather is like. If it is bad, we can dine in town tonight and do a theatre."
"You are a dear," she told him fervently. "I am going in to get ready."
Francis went round to the garage for his car, and brought it to the front. While he was sitting there, Sir Timothy came through the door in the wall. He was smoking a cigar and he was holding an umbrella to protect his white flannel suit. He was as usual wonderfully groomed and turned out, but he walked as though he were tired, and his smile, as he greeted Francis, lacked a little of its usual light-hearted mockery.
"Are you going up to town?" he enquired.
Francis pointed to the grey skies.
"Just for the day," he answered. "Lady Cynthia went by the early train. We missed you last night."
"I came down late," Sir Timothy explained, "and I found it more convenient to stay at The Walled House. I hope you find that Grover looks after you while I am away? He has carte blanche so far as regards my cellar."
"We have been wonderfully served," Francis assured him.
In the distance they could hear the sound of hammering on the other side of the wall. Francis moved his head in that direction.
"I hear that they are preparing for another of your wonderful entertainments over there," he remarked.
"On Thursday," Sir Timothy assented. "I shall have something to say to you about it later on."
"Am I to take it that I am likely to receive an invitation?" Francis asked.
"I should think it possible," was the calm reply.
"What about Margaret?"
"My entertainment would not appeal to her," Sir Timothy declared. "The women whom I have been in the habit of asking are not women of Margaret's type."
"And Lady Cynthia?"
Sir Timothy frowned slightly.
"I find myself in some difficulty as regards Lady Cynthia," he admitted. "I am the guardian of nobody's morals, nor am I the censor of their tastes, but my entertainments are for men. The women whom I have hitherto asked have been women in whom I have taken no personal interest. They are necessary to form a picturesque background for my rooms, in the same way that I look to the gardeners to supply the floral decorations. Lady Cynthia's instincts, however, are somewhat adventurous. She would scarcely be content to remain a decoration."
"The issuing of your invitations," Francis remarked, "is of course a matter which concerns nobody else except yourself. If you do decide to favour me with one, I shall be delighted to come, provided Margaret has no objection."
"Such a reservation promises well for the future," Sir Timothy observed, with gentle sarcasm. "Here comes Margaret, looking very well, I am glad to see."
Margaret came forward to greet her father before stepping into the car. They exchanged only a few sentences, but Francis, whose interest in their relations was almost abnormally keen, fancied that he could detect signs of some change in their demeanour towards one another. The cold propriety of deportment which had characterised her former attitude towards her father, seemed to have given place to something more uncertain, to something less formal, something which left room even for a measure of cordiality. She looked at him differently. It was as though some evil thought which lived in her heart concerning him had perished.
"You are busy over there, father?" she asked.
"In a way," he replied. "We are preparing for some festivities on Thursday."
Her face fell.
"One more," he replied. "Perhaps the last—for the present, at any rate."
She waited as though expecting him to explain. He changed the subject, however.
"I think you are wise to run up to town this morning," he said, glancing up at the grey skies. "By-the-bye, if you dine at Curzon Street to-night, do ask Hedges to serve you some of the '99 Cliquot. A marvellous wine, as you doubtless know, Ledsam, but it should be drunk. Au revoir!"
Francis, after a pleasant lunch at Ranelagh, and having arranged with Margaret to dine with her in Curzon Street, spent an hour or two that afternoon at his chambers. As he was leaving, just before five, he came face to face with Shopland descending from a taxi.
"Are you busy, Mr. Ledsam?" the latter enquired. "Can you spare me half-an-hour?"
"An hour, if you like," Francis assented.
Shopland gave the driver an address and the two men seated themselves in the taxicab.
"Any news?" Francis asked curiously.
"Not yet," was the cautious reply. "It will not be long, however."
"Before you discover Reggie Wilmore?"
The detective smiled in a superior way.
"I am no longer particularly interested in Mr. Reginald Wilmore," he declared. "I have come to the conclusion that his disappearance is not a serious affair."
"It's serious enough for his relatives," Francis objected.
"Not if they understood the situation," the detective rejoined. "Assure them from me that nothing of consequence has happened to that young man. I have made enquiries at the gymnasium in Holborn, and in other directions. I am convinced that his absence from home is voluntary, and that there is no cause for alarm as to his welfare."
"Then the sooner you make your way down to Kensington and tell his mother so, the better," Francis said, a little severely. "Don't forget that I put you on to this."
"Quite right, sir," the detective acquiesced, "and I am grateful to you. The fact of it is that in making my preliminary investigations with regard to the disappearance of Mr. Wilmore, I have stumbled upon a bigger thing. Before many weeks are past, I hope to be able to unearth one of the greatest scandals of modern times."
"The devil!" Francis muttered.
He looked thoughtfully, almost anxiously at his companion. Shopland's face reflected to the full his usual confidence. He had the air of a man buoyant with hope and with stifled self-satisfaction.
"I am engaged," he continued, "upon a study of the methods and habits of one whom I believe to be a great criminal. I think that when I place my prisoner in the bar, Wainwright and these other great artists in crime will fade from the memory."
"Is Sir Timothy Brast your man?" Francis asked quietly.
His companion frowned portentously.
"No names," he begged.
"Considering that it was I who first put you on to him," Francis expostulated, "I don't think you need be so sparing of your confidence."
"Mr. Ledsam," the detective assured him, "I shall tell you everything that is possible. At the same time, I will be frank with you. You are right when you say that it was you who first directed my attention towards Sir Timothy Brast. Since that time, however, your own relations with him, to an onlooker, have become a little puzzling."
"I see," Francis murmured. "You've been spying on me?"
Shopland shook his head in deprecating fashion.
"A study of Sir Timothy during the last month," he said, "has brought you many a time into the focus."
"Where are we going to now?" Francis asked, a little abruptly.
"Just a side show, sir. It's one of those outside things I have come across which give light and shade to the whole affair. We get out here, if you please."
The two men stepped on to the pavement. They were in a street a little north of Wardour Street, where the shops for the most part were of a miscellaneous variety. Exactly in front of them, the space behind a large plate-glass window had been transformed into a sort of show-place for dogs. There were twenty or thirty of them there, of all breeds and varieties.
"What the mischief is this?" Francis demanded.
"Come in and make enquiries," Shopland replied. "I can promise that you will find it interesting. It's a sort of dog's home."
Francis followed his companion into the place. A pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman came forward and greeted the latter.
"Do you mind telling my friend what you told me the other day?" he asked.
"Certainly, sir," she replied. "We collect stray animals here, sir," she continued, turning to Francis. "Every one who has a dog or a cat he can't afford to keep, or which he wants to get rid of, may bring it to us. We have agents all the time in the streets, and if any official of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals brings us news of a dog or a cat being ill-treated, we either purchase it or acquire it in some way or other and keep it here."
"But your dogs in the window," Francis observed, "all seem to be in wonderful condition."
The woman smiled.
"We have a large dog and cat hospital behind," she explained, "and a veterinary surgeon who is always in attendance. The animals are treated there as they are brought in, and fed up if they are out of condition. When they are ready to sell, we show them."
"But is this a commercial undertaking," Francis enquired carefully, "or is it a branch of the S.P.C.A.?"
"It's quite a private affair, sir," the woman told him. "We charge only five shillings for the dogs and half-a-crown for the cats, but every one who has one must sign our book, promising to give it a good home, and has to be either known to us or to produce references. We do not attempt, of course, to snake a profit."
"Who on earth is responsible for the upkeep?"
"We are not allowed to mention any names here, sir, but as a matter of fact I think that your friend knows. He met the gentleman in here one day. Would you care to have a look at the hospital, sir?"
Francis spent a quarter of an hour wandering around. When they left the place, Shopland turned to him with a smile.
"Now, sir," he said, "shall I tell you at whose expense that place is run?"
"I think I can guess," Francis replied. "I should say that Sir Timothy Brast was responsible for it."
The detective nodded. He was a little disappointed.
"You know about his collection of broken-down horses in the park at The Walled House, too, then, I suppose? They come whinnying after him like a flock of sheep whenever he shows himself."
"I know about them, too," Francis admitted. "I was present once when he got out of his car, knocked a carter down who was ill-treating a horse, bought it on the spot and sent it home."
Shopland smiled, inscrutably yet with the air of one vastly pleased.
"These little side-shows," he said, "are what help to make this, which I believe will be the greatest case of my life, so supremely interesting. Any one of my fraternity," he continued, with an air of satisfaction, "can take hold of a thread and follow it step by step, and wind up with the handcuffs, as I did myself with the young man Fairfax. But a case like this, which includes a study of temperament, requires something more."
They were seated once more in the taxicab, on their way westward. Francis for the first time was conscious of an utterly new sensation with regard to his companion. He watched him through half-closed eyes—an insignificant-looking little man whose clothes, though neat, were ill-chosen, and whose tie was an offense. There was nothing in the face to denote unusual intelligence, but the eyes were small and cunning and the mouth dogged. Francis looked away out of the window. A sudden flash of realisation had come to him, a wave of unreasoning but positive dislike.
"When do you hope to bring your case to an end?" he asked.
The man smiled once more, and the very smile irritated his companion.
"Within the course of the next few days, sir," he replied.
"And the charge?"
The detective turned around.
"Mr. Ledsam," he said, "we have been old friends, if you will allow me to use the word, ever since I was promoted to my present position in the Force. You have trusted me with a good many cases, and I acknowledge myself your debtor, but in the matter of Sir Timothy Brast, you will forgive my saying with all respect, sir, that our ways seem to lie a little apart."
"Will you tell me why you have arrived at that conclusion?" Francis asked. "It was I who first incited you to set a watch upon Sir Timothy. It was to you I first mentioned certain suspicions I myself had with regard to him. I treated you with every confidence. Why do you now withhold yours from me?"
"It is quite true, Mr. Ledsam," Shopland admitted, "that it was you who first pointed out Sir Timothy as an interesting study for my profession, but that was a matter of months ago. If you will forgive my saying so, your relations with Sir Timothy have altered since then. You have been his guest at The Sanctuary, and there is a rumour, sir—you will pardon me if I seem to be taking a liberty—that you are engaged to be married to his daughter, Oliver Hilditch's widow."
"You seem to be tolerably well informed as to my affairs, Shopland," Francis remarked.
"Only so far as regards your associations with Sir Timothy," was the deprecating reply. "If you will excuse me, sir, this is where I should like to descend."
"You have no message for Mr. Wilmore, then?" Francis asked.
"Nothing definite, sir, but you can assure him of this. His brother is not likely to come to any particular harm. I have no absolute information to offer, but it is my impression that Mr. Reginald Wilmore will be home before a week is past. Good afternoon, sir."
Shopland stepped out of the taxicab and, raising his hat, walked quickly away. Francis directed the man to drive to Clarges Street. As they drove off, he was conscious of a folded piece of paper in the corner where his late companion had been seated. He picked it up, opened it, realised that it was a letter from a firm of lawyers, addressed to Shopland, and deliberately read it through. It was dated from a small town not far from Hatch End:
Mr. John Phillips of this firm, who is coroner for the district, has desired me to answer the enquiry contained in your official letter of the 13th. The number of inquests held upon bodies recovered from the Thames in the neighbourhood to which you allude, during the present year has been seven. Four of these have been identified. Concerning the remaining three nothing has ever been heard. Such particulars as are on our file will be available to any accredited representative of the police at any time.
Faithfully yours, PHILLIPS & SON.
The taxicab came to a sudden stop. Francis glanced up. Very breathless, Shopland put his head in at the window.
"I dropped a letter," he gasped.
Francis folded it up and handed it to him.
"What about these three unidentified people, Shopland?" he asked, looking at him intently.
The man frowned angrily. There was a note of defiance in his tone as he stowed the letter away in his pocketbook.
"There were two men and one woman," he replied, "all three of the upper classes. The bodies were recovered from Wilson's lock, some three hundred yards from The Walled House."
"Do they form part of your case?" Francis persisted.
Shopland stepped back.
"Mr. Ledsam," he said, "I told you, some little time ago, that so far as this particular case was concerned I had no confidences to share with you. I am sorry that you saw that letter. Since you did, however, I hope you will not take it as a liberty from one in my position if I advise you most strenuously to do nothing which might impede the course of the law. Good day, sir!"
Francis, in that pleasant half-hour before dinner which he spent in Margaret's sitting-room, told her of the dogs' home near Wardour Street. She listened sympathetically to his description of the place.
"I had never heard of it," she acknowledged, "but I am not in anyway surprised. My father spends at least an hour of every day, when he is down at Hatch End, amongst the horses, and every time a fresh crock is brought down, he is as interested as though it were a new toy."
"It is a remarkable trait in a very remarkable character," Francis commented.
"I could tell you many things that would surprise you," Margaret continued. "One night, for instance, when we were staying at The Sanctuary, he and I were going out to dine with some neighbours and he heard a cat mewing in the hedge somewhere. He stopped the car, got out himself, found that the cat had been caught in a trap, released it, and sent me on to the dinner alone whilst he took the animal back to the veterinary surgeon at The Walled House. He was simply white with fury whilst he was tying up the poor thing's leg. I couldn't help asking him what he would have done if he could have found the farmer who set the trap. He looked up at me and I was almost frightened. 'I should have killed him,' he said,—and I believe he meant it. And, Francis, the very next day we were motoring to London and saw a terrible accident. A motor bicyclist came down a side road at full speed and ran into a motor-lorry. My father got out of the car, helped them lift the body from under the wheels of the lorry, and came back absolutely unmoved. 'Serve the silly young fool right!' was his only remark. He was so horribly callous that I could scarcely bear to sit by his side. Do you understand that?"
"It isn't easy," he admitted.
There was a knock at the door. Margaret glanced at the clock.
"Surely dinner can't be served already!" she exclaimed. "Come in."
Very much to their surprise, it was Sir Timothy himself who entered. He was in evening dress and wearing several orders, one of which Francis noted with surprise.
"My apologies," he said. "Hedges told me that there were cocktails here, and as I am on my way to a rather weary dinner, I thought I might inflict myself upon you for a moment."
Margaret rose at once to her feet.
"I am a shocking hostess," she declared. "Hedges brought the things in twenty minutes ago."
She took up the silver receptacle, shook it vigorously and filled three glasses. Sir Timothy accepted his and bowed to them both.
"My best wishes," he said. "Really, when one comes to think of it, however much it may be against my inclinations I scarcely see how I shall be able to withhold my consent. I believe that you both have at heart the flair for domesticity. This little picture, and the thought of your tete-a-tete dinner, almost touches me."
"Don't make fun of us, father," Margaret begged. "Tell us where you are going in all that splendour?"
Sir Timothy shrugged his shoulders.
"A month or so ago," he explained, "I was chosen to induct a scion of Royalty into the understanding of fighting as it is indulged in at the National Sporting Club. This, I suppose, is my reward—an invitation to something in the nature of a State dinner, which, to tell you the truth, I had forgotten until my secretary pointed it out to me this afternoon. I have grave fears of being bored or of misbehaving myself. I have, as Ledsam here knows, a distressing habit of truthfulness, especially to new acquaintances. However, we must hope for the best. By-the-bye, Ledsam, in case you should have forgotten, I have spoken to Hedges about the '99 Cliquot."
"Shall we see you here later?" Margaret asked, after Francis had murmured his thanks.
"I shall probably return direct to Hatch End," Sir Timothy replied. "There are various little matters down there which are interesting me just now preparations for my party. Au revoir! A delicious cocktail, but I am inclined to resent the Angostura."
He sauntered out, after a glance at the clock. They heard his footsteps as he descended the stairs.
"Tell me, what manner of a man is your father?" Francis asked impulsively.
"I am his daughter and I do not know," Margaret answered. "Before he came, I was going to speak to you of a strange misunderstanding which has existed between us and which has just been removed. Now I have a fancy to leave it until later. You will not mind?"
"When you choose," Francis assented. "Nothing will make any difference. We are past the days when fathers or even mothers count seriously in the things that exist between two people like you and me, who have felt life. Whatever your father may be, whatever he may turn out to be, you are the woman I love—you are the woman who is going to be my wife."
She leaned towards him for a moment.
"You have an amazing gift," she whispered, "of saying just the thing one loves to hear in the way that convinces."
Dinner was served to them in the smaller of the two dining-rooms, an exquisite meal, made more wonderful still by the wine, which Hedges himself dispensed with jealous care. The presence of servants, with its restraining influence upon conversation, was not altogether unwelcome to Francis. He and Margaret had had so little opportunity for general conversation that to discuss other than personal subjects in this pleasant, leisurely way had its charm. They spoke of music, of which she knew far more than he; of foreign travel, where they met on common ground, for each had only the tourist's knowledge of Europe, and each was anxious for a more individual acquaintance with it. She had tastes in books which delighted him, a knowledge of games which promised a common resource. It was only whilst they were talking that he realised with a shock how young she was, how few the years that lay between her serene school-days and the tempestuous years of her married life. Her school-days in Naples were most redolent of delightful memories. She broke off once or twice into the language, and he listened with delight to her soft accent. Finally the time came when dessert was set upon the table.
"I have ordered coffee up in the little sitting-room again," she said, a little shyly. "Do you mind, or would you rather have it here?"
"I much prefer it there," he assured her.
They sat before an open window, looking out upon some elm trees in the boughs of which town sparrows twittered, and with a background of roofs and chimneys. Margaret's coffee was untasted, even her cigarette lay unlit by her side. There was a touch of the old horror upon her face. The fingers which he drew into his were as cold as ice.
"You must have wondered sometimes," she began, "why I ever married Oliver Hilditch."
"You were very young," he reminded her, with a little shiver, "and very inexperienced. I suppose he appealed to you in some way or another."
"It wasn't that," she replied. "He came to visit, me at Eastbourne, and he certainly knew all the tricks of making himself attractive and agreeable. But he never won my heart—he never even seriously took my fancy. I married him because I believed that by doing so I was obeying my father's wishes."
"Where was your father at the time, then?" Francis asked.
"In South America. Oliver Hilditch was nothing more than a discharged employe of his, discharged for dishonesty. He had to leave South America; within a week to escape prosecution, and on the way to Europe he concocted the plot which very nearly ruined my life. He forged a letter from my father, begging me, if I found it in any way possible, to listen to Oliver Hilditch's proposals, and hinting guardedly at a very serious financial crisis which it was in his power to avert. It never occurred to me or to my chaperon to question his bona fides. He had lived under the same roof as my father, and knew all the intimate details of his life. He was very clever and I suppose I was a fool. I remember thinking I was doing quite a heroic action when I went to the registrar with him. What it led to you know."
There was a moment's throbbing silence. Francis, notwithstanding his deep pity, was conscious of an overwhelming sensation of relief. She had never cared for Oliver Hilditch! She had never pretended to! He put the thought into words.
"You never cared for him, then?"
"I tried to," she replied simply, "but I found it impossible. Within a week of our marriage I hated him."
Francis leaned back, his eyes half closed. In his ears was the sonorous roar of Piccadilly, the hooting of motor-cars, close at hand the rustling of a faint wind in the elm trees. It was a wonderful moment. The nightmare with which he had grappled so fiercely, which he had overthrown, but whose ghost still sometimes walked by his side, had lost its chief and most poignant terror. She had been tricked into the marriage. She had never cared or pretended to care. The primal horror of that tragedy which he had figured so often to himself, seemed to have departed with the thought. Its shadow must always remain, but in time his conscience would acquiesce in the pronouncement of his reason. It was the hand of justice, not any human hand, which had slain Oliver Hilditch.
"What did your father say when he discovered the truth?" he asked.
"He did not know it until he came to England—on the day that Oliver Hilditch was acquitted. My husband always pretended that he had a special mail bag going out to South America, so he took away all the letters I wrote to my father, and he took care that I received none except one or two which I know now were forgeries. He had friends in South America himself who helped him—one a typist in my father's office, of whom I discovered afterwards—but that really doesn't matter. He was a wonderful master of deceit."
Francis suddenly took her hands. He had an overwhelming desire to escape from the miasma of those ugly days, with their train of attendant thoughts and speculations.
"Let us talk about ourselves," he whispered.
After that, the evening glided away incoherently, with no sustained conversation, but with an increasing sense of well-being, of soothed nerves and happiness, flaming seconds of passion, sign-posts of the wonderful world which lay before them. They sat in the cool silence until the lights of the returning taxicabs and motor-cars became more frequent, until the stars crept into the sky and the yellow arc of the moon stole up over the tops of the houses. Presently they saw Sir Timothy's Rolls-Royce glide up to the front door below and Sir Timothy himself enter the house, followed by another man whose appearance was somehow familiar.
"Your father has changed his mind," Francis observed.
"Perhaps he has called for something," she suggested, "or he may want to change his clothes before he goes down to the country."
Presently, however, there was a knock at the door. Hedges made his diffident appearance.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he began, addressing Francis. "Sir Timothy has been asking if you are still here. He would be very glad if you could spare him a moment in the library."
Francis rose at once to his feet.
"I was just leaving," he said. "I will look in at the library and see Sir Timothy on my way out."
Sir Timothy was standing upon the hearthrug of the very wonderful apartment which he called his library. By his side, on a black marble pedestal, stood a small statue by Rodin. Behind him, lit by a shielded electric light, was a Vandyck, "A Portrait of a Gentleman Unknown," and Francis, as he hesitated for a moment upon the threshold, was struck by a sudden quaint likeness between the face of the man in the picture, with his sunken cheeks, his supercilious smile, his narrowed but powerful eyes, to the face of Sir Timothy himself. There was something of the same spirit there—the lawless buccaneer, perhaps the criminal.
"You asked for me, Sir Timothy," Francis said.
Sir Timothy smiled.
"I was fortunate to find that you had not left," he answered. "I want you to be present at this forthcoming interview. You are to a certain extent in the game. I thought it might amuse you."
Francis for the first time was aware that his host was not alone. The room, with its odd splashes of light, was full of shadows, and he saw now that in an easy-chair a little distance away from Sir Timothy, a girl was seated. Behind her, still standing, with his hat in his hand, was a man. Francis recognised them both with surprise.
"Miss Hyslop!" he exclaimed.
She nodded a little defiantly. Sir Timothy smiled. "Ah!" he said. "You know the young lady, without a doubt. Mr. Shopland, your coadjutor in various works of philanthropy, you recognise, of course? I do not mind confessing to you, Ledsam, that I am very much afraid of Mr. Shopland. I am not at all sure that he has not a warrant for my arrest in his pocket."
The detective came a little further into the light. He was attired in an ill-fitting dinner suit, a soft-fronted shirt of unpleasing design, a collar of the wrong shape, and a badly arranged tie. He seemed, nevertheless, very pleased with himself.
"I came on here, Mr. Ledsam, at Sir Timothy's desire," he said. "I should like you to understand," he added, with a covert glance of warning, "that I have been devoting every effort, during the last few days, to the discovery of your friend's brother, Mr. Reginald Wilmore."
"I am very glad to hear it," Francis replied shortly. "The boy's brother is one of my greatest friends."
"I have come to the conclusion," the detective pronounced, "that the young man has been abducted, and is being detained at The Walled House against his will for some illegal purpose."
"In other respects," Sir Timothy said, stretching out his hand towards a cedar-wood box of cigarettes and selecting one, "this man seems quite sane. I have watched him very closely on the way here, but I could see no signs of mental aberration. I do not think, at any rate, that he is dangerous."
"Sir Timothy," Shopland explained, with some anger in his tone, "declines to take me seriously. I can of course apply for a search warrant, as I shall do, but it occurred to me to be one of those cases which could be better dealt with, up to a certain point, without recourse to the extremities of the law."
Sir Timothy, who had lit his cigarette, presented a wholly undisturbed front.
"What I cannot quite understand," he said, "is the exact meaning of that word 'abduction.' Why should I be suspected of forcibly removing a harmless and worthy young man from his regular avocation, and, as you term it, abducting him, which I presume means keeping him bound and gagged and imprisoned? I do not eat young men. I do not even care for the society of young men. I am not naturally a gregarious person, but I think I would go so far," he added, with a bow towards Miss Hyslop, "as to say that I prefer the society of young women. Satisfy my curiosity, therefore, I beg of you. For what reason do you suppose that I have been concerned in the disappearance of this Mr. Reginald Wilmore?"
Francis opened his lips, but Shopland, with a warning glance, intervened.
"I work sometimes as a private person, sir," he said, "but it is not to be forgotten that I am an officer of the law. It is not for us to state motives or even to afford explanations for our behaviour. I have watched your house at Hatch End, Sir Timothy, and I have come to the conclusion that unless you are willing to discuss this matter with me in a different spirit, I am justified in asking the magistrates for a search warrant."
Sir Timothy sighed.
"Mr. Ledsam," he said, "I think, after all, that yours is the most interesting end of this espionage business. It is you who search for motives, is it not, and pass them on to our more automatic friend, who does the rest. May I ask, have you supplied the motive in the present case?"
"I have failed to discover any motive at all for Reginald Wilmore's disappearance," Francis admitted, "nor have I at any time been able to connect you with it. Mr. Shopland's efforts, however, although he has not seen well to take me into his entire confidence, have my warmest approval and sympathy. Although I have accepted your very generous hospitality, Sir Timothy, I think there has been no misunderstanding between us on this matter."
"Most correct," Sir Timothy murmured. "The trouble seems to be, so far as I am concerned, that no one will tell me exactly of what I am suspected? I am to give Mr. Shopland the run of my house, or he will make his appearance in the magistrate's court and the evening papers will have placards with marvellous headlines at my expense. How will it run, Mr. Shopland—
"'MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF A YOUNG GENTLEMAN. MILLIONAIRE'S HOUSE TO BE SEARCHED.'"
"We do not necessarily acquaint the press with our procedure," Shopland rejoined.
"Nevertheless," Sir Timothy continued, "I have known awkward consequences arise from a search warrant too rashly applied for or granted. However, we are scarcely being polite. So far, Miss Hyslop has had very little to say."
The young lady was not altogether at her ease.
"I have had very little to say," she repeated, "because I did not expect an audience."
Sir Timothy drew a letter from his pocket, opened it and adjusted his eyeglass.
"Here we are," he said. "After leaving my dinner-party tonight, I called at the club and found this note. Quite an inviting little affair, you see young lady's writing, faint but very delicate perfume, excellent stationery, Milan Court—the home of adventures!"
"DEAR SIR TIMOTHY BRAST:
"Although I am not known to you personally, there is a certain matter concerning which information has come into my possession, which I should like to discuss with you. Will you call and see me as soon as possible?" Sincerely yours, "DAISY HYSLOP."
"On receipt of this note," Sir Timothy continued, folding it up, "I telephoned to the young lady and as I was fortunate enough to find her at home I asked her to come here. I then took the liberty of introducing myself to Mr. Shopland, whose interest in my evening has been unvarying, and whose uninvited company I have been compelled to bear with, and suggested that, as I was on my way back to Curzon Street, he had better come in and have a drink and tell me what it was all about. I arranged that he should find Miss Hyslop here, and for a person of observation, which I flatter myself to be, it was easy to discover the interesting fact that Mr. Shopland and Miss Daisy Hyslop were not strangers.
"Now tell me, young lady," Sir Timothy went on. "You see, I have placed myself entirely in your hands. Never mind the presence of these two gentlemen. Tell me exactly what you wanted to say to me?"
"The matter is of no great importance," Miss Hyslop declared, "in any case I should not discuss it before these two gentlemen."
"Don't go for a moment, please," Sir Timothy begged, as she showed signs of departure. "Listen. I want to make a suggestion to you. There is an impression abroad that I was interested in the two young men, Victor Bidlake and Fairfax, and that I knew something of their quarrel. You were an intimate friend of young Bidlake's and presumably in his confidence. It occurs to me, therefore, that Mr. Shopland might very well have visited you in search of information, linking me up with that unfortunate affair. Hence your little note to me."
Miss Hyslop rose to her feet. She had the appearance of being very angry indeed.
"Do you mean to insinuate—" she began.
"Madam, I insinuate nothing," Sir Timothy interrupted sternly. "I only desire to suggest this. You are a young lady whose manner of living, I gather, is to a certain extent precarious. It must have seemed to you a likelier source of profit to withhold any information you might have to give at the solicitation of a rich man, than to give it free gratis and for nothing to a detective. Now am I right?"
Miss Hyslop turned towards the door. She had the air of a person who had been entirely misunderstood.
"I wrote you out of kindness, Sir Timothy," she said in an aggrieved manner. "I shall have nothing more to say on the matter—to you, at any rate."
Sir Timothy sighed.
"You see," he said, turning to the others, "I have lost my chance of conciliating a witness. My cheque-book remains locked up and she has gone over to your side."
She turned around suddenly.
"You know that you made Bobby Fairfax kill Victor!" she almost shouted.
Sir Timothy smiled in triumph.
"My dear young lady," he begged, "let us now be friends again. I desired to know your trump card. For that reason I fear that I have been a little brutal. Now please don't hurry away. You have shot your bolt. Already Mr. Shopland is turning the thing over in his mind. Was I lurking outside that night, Mr. Shopland, to guide that young man's flabby arm? He scarcely seemed man enough for a murderer, did he, when he sat quaking on that stool in Soto's Bar while Mr. Ledsam tortured him? I beg you again not to hurry, Miss Hyslop. At any rate wait while my servants fetch you a taxi. It was clouding over when I came in. We may even have a thunderstorm."
"I want to get out of this house," Daisy Hyslop declared. "I think you are all horrible. Mr. Ledsam did behave like a gentleman when he came to see me, and Mr. Shopland asked questions civilly. But you—" she added, turning round to Sir Timothy.
"Hush, my dear," he interrupted, holding out his hand. "Don't abuse me. I am not angry with you—not in the least—and I am going to prove it. I shall oppose any search warrant which you might apply for, Mr. Shopland, and I think I can oppose it with success. But I invite you two, Miss Hyslop and Mr. Ledsam, to my party on Thursday night. Once under my roof you shall have carte blanche. You can wander where you please, knock the walls for secret hiding-places, stamp upon the floor for oubliettes. Upstairs or down, the cellars and the lofts, the grounds and the park, the whole of my domain is for you from midnight on Thursday until four o'clock. What do you say, Mr. Shopland? Does my offer satisfy you?"
The detective hesitated.
"I should prefer an invitation for myself," he declared bluntly.
Sir Timothy shook his head.
"Alas, my dear Mr. Shopland," he regretted, "that is impossible! If I had only myself to consider I would not hesitate. Personally I like you. You amuse me more than any one I have met for a long time. But unfortunately I have my guests to consider! You must be satisfied with Mr. Ledsam's report."
Shopland stroked his stubbly moustache. It was obvious that he was not in the least disconcerted.
"There are three days between now and then," he reflected.
"During those three days, of course," Sir Timothy said drily, "I shall do my best to obliterate all traces of my various crimes. Still, you are a clever detective, and you can give Mr. Ledsam a few hints. Take my advice. You won't get that search warrant, and if you apply for it none of you will be at my party."
"I accept," Shopland decided.
Sir Timothy crossed the room, unlocked the drawer of a magnificent writing-table, and from a little packet drew out two cards of invitation. They were of small size but thick, and the colour was a brilliant scarlet. On one he wrote the name of Francis, the other he filled in for Miss Hyslop.
"Miss Daisy Hyslop," he said, "shall we drink a glass of wine together on Thursday evening, and will you decide that although, perhaps, I am not a very satisfactory correspondent, I can at least be an amiable host?"
The girl's eyes glistened. She knew very well that the possession of that card meant that for the next few days she would be the envy of every one of her acquaintances.
"Thank you, Sir Timothy," she replied eagerly. "You have quite misunderstood me but I should like to come to your party."
Sir Timothy handed over the cards. He rang for a servant and bowed the others out. Francis he detained for a moment.
"Our little duel, my friend, marches," he said. "After Thursday night we will speak again of this matter concerning Margaret. You will know then what you have to face."
Margaret herself opened the door and looked in.
"What have those people been doing here?" she asked. "What is happening?"
Her father unlocked his drawer once more and drew out another of the red cards.
"Margaret," he said, "Ledsam here has accepted my invitation for Thursday night. You have never, up till now, honoured me, nor have I ever asked you. I suggest that for the first part of the entertainment, you give me the pleasure of your company."
"For the first part?"
"For the first part only," he repeated, as he wrote her name upon the card.
"What about Francis?" she asked. "Is he to stay all the time?"
Sir Timothy smiled. He locked up his drawer and slipped the key into his pocket.
"Ledsam and I," he said, "have promised one another a more complete mutual understanding on Thursday night. I may not be able to part with him quite so soon."
Bored and listless, like a tired and drooping lily in the arms of her somewhat athletic partner, Lady Cynthia brought her dance to a somewhat abrupt conclusion.
"There is some one in the lounge there to whom I wish to speak," she said. "Perhaps you won't mind if we finish later. The floor seems sticky tonight, or my feet are heavy."
Her partner made the best of it, as Lady Cynthia's partners, nowadays, generally had to. She even dispensed with his escort, and walked across the lounge of Claridge's alone. Sir Timothy rose to his feet. He had been sitting in a corner, half sheltered by a pillar, and had fancied himself unseen.
"What a relief!" she exclaimed. "Another turn and I should have fainted through sheer boredom."
"Yet you are quite wonderful dancing," he said. "I have been watching you for some time."
"It is one of my expiring efforts," she declared, sinking into the chair by his side. "You know whose party it is, of course? Old Lady Torrington's. Quite a boy and girl affair. Twenty-four of us had dinner in the worst corner of the room. I can hear the old lady ordering the dinner now. Charles with a long menu. She shakes her head and taps him on the wrist with her fan. 'Monsieur Charles, I am a poor woman. Give me what there is—a small, plain dinner—and charge me at your minimum.' The dinner was very small and very plain, the champagne was horribly sweet. My partner talked of a new drill, his last innings for the Household Brigade, and a wonderful round of golf he played last Sunday week. I was turned on to dance with a man who asked me to marry him, a year ago, and I could feel him vibrating with gratitude, as he looked at me, that I had refused. I suppose I am very haggard."
"Does that matter, nowadays?" Sir Timothy asked.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I am afraid it does. The bone and the hank of hair stuff is played out. The dairy-maid style is coming in. Plump little Fanny Torrington had a great success to-night, in one of those simple white dresses, you know, which look like a sack with a hole cut in the top. What are you doing here by yourself?"
"I have an engagement in a few minutes," he explained. "My car is waiting now. I looked in at the club to dine, found my favourite table taken and nearly every man I ever disliked sidling up to tell me that he hears I am giving a wonderful party on Thursday. I decided not to dine there, after all, and Charles found me a corner here. I am going in five minutes."
"Where to?" she asked. "Can't I come with you?"
"I fear not," he answered. "I am going down in the East End."
"More or less," he admitted.
Lady Cynthia became beautiful. She was always beautiful when she was not tired.
"Take me with you, please," she begged.
He shook his head.
"Not to be done!"
"Don't shake your head like that," she enjoined, with a little grimace. "People will think I am trying to borrow money from you and that you are refusing me! Just take me with you some of the way. I shall scream if I go back into that dancing-room again."
Sir Timothy glanced at the clock.
"If there is any amusement to you in a rather dull drive eastwards—"
She was on her feet with the soft, graceful speed which had made her so much admired before her present listlessness had set in.
"I'll get my cloak," she said.
They drove along the Embankment, citywards. The heat of the city seemed to rise from the pavements. The wall of the Embankment was lined with people, leaning over to catch the languid breeze that crept up with the tide. They crossed the river and threaded their way through a nightmare of squalid streets, where half-dressed men and women hung from the top windows and were even to be seen upon the roof, struggling for air. The car at last pulled up at the corner of a long street.
"I am going down here," Sir Timothy announced. "I shall be gone perhaps an hour. The neighbourhood is not a fit one for you to be left alone in. I shall have time to send you home. The car will be back here for me by the time I require it."
"Where are you going?" she asked curiously. "Why can't I come with you?"
"I am going where I cannot take you," was the firm reply. "I told you that before I started."
"I shall sit here and wait for you," she decided. "I rather like the neighbourhood. There is a gentleman in shirt-sleeves, leaning over the rail of the roof there, who has his eye on me. I believe I shall be a success here—which is more than I can say of a little further westwards."
Sir Timothy smiled slightly. He had exchanged his hat for a tweed cap, and had put on a long dustcoat.
"There is no gauge by which you may know the measure of your success," he said. "If there were—"
"If there were?" she asked, leaning a little forward and looking at him with a touch of the old brilliancy in her eyes.
"If there were," he said, with a little show of mock gallantry, "a very jealously-guarded secret might escape me. I think you will be quite all right here," he continued. "It is an open thoroughfare, and I see two policemen at the corner. Hassell, my chauffeur, too, is a reliable fellow. We will be back within the hour."
"We?" she repeated.
He indicated a man who had silently made his appearance during the conversation and was standing waiting on the sidewalk.
"Just a companion. I do not advise you to wait. If you insist—au revoir!"
Lady Cynthia leaned back in a corner of the car.
Through half-closed eyes she watched the two men on their way down the crowded thoroughfare—Sir Timothy tall, thin as a lath, yet with a certain elegance of bearing; the man at his side shorter, his hands thrust into the pockets of his coat, his manner one of subservience. She wondered languidly as to their errand in this unsavoury neighbourhood. Then she closed her eyes altogether and wondered about many things.
Sir Timothy and his companion walked along the crowded, squalid street without speech. Presently they turned to the right and stopped in front of a public-house of some pretensions.
"This is the place?" Sir Timothy asked.
Both men entered. Sir Timothy made his way to the counter, his companion to a table near, where he took a seat and ordered a drink. Sir Timothy did the same. He was wedged in between a heterogeneous crowd of shabby, depressed but apparently not ill-natured men and women. A man in a flannel shirt and pair of shabby plaid trousers, which owed their precarious position to a pair of worn-out braces, turned a beery eye upon the newcomer.
"I'll 'ave one with you, guvnor," he said.
"You shall indeed," Sir Timothy assented.
"Strike me lucky but I've touched first time!" the man exclaimed. "I'll 'ave a double tot of whisky," he added, addressing the barman. "Will it run to it, guvnor?"
"Certainly," was the cordial reply, "and the same to your friends, if you will answer a question."
"Troop up, lads," the man shouted. "We've a toff 'ere. He ain't a 'tec—I know the cut of them. Out with the question."
"Serve every one who desires it with drinks," Sir Timothy directed the barman. "My question is easily answered. Is this the place which a man whom I understand they call Billy the Tanner frequents?"