The question appeared to produce an almost uncomfortable sensation. The enthusiasm for the free drinks, however, was only slightly damped, and a small forest of grimy hands was extended across the counter.
"Don't you ask no questions about 'im, guvnor," Sir Timothy's immediate companion advised earnestly. "He'd kill you as soon as look at you. When Billy the Tanner's in a quarrelsome mood, I've see 'im empty this place and the whole street, quicker than if a mad dog was loose. 'E's a fair and 'oly terror, 'e is. 'E about killed 'is wife, three nights ago, but there ain't a living soul as 'd dare to stand in the witness-box about it."
"Why don't the police take a hand in the matter if the man is such a nuisance?" Sir Timothy asked.
His new acquaintance, gripping a thick tumbler of spirits and water with a hand deeply encrusted with the stains of his trade, scoffed.
"Police! Why, 'e'd take on any three of the police round these parts!" he declared. "Police! You tell one on 'em that Billy the Tanner's on the rampage, and you'll see 'em 'op it. Cheero, guvnor and don't you get curious about Billy. It ain't 'ealthy."
The swing-door was suddenly opened. A touslehaired urchin shoved his face in.
"Billy the Tanner's coming!" he shouted. "Cave, all! He's been 'avin' a rare to-do in Smith's Court."
Then a curious thing happened. The little crowd at the bar seemed somehow to melt away. Half-a-dozen left precipitately by the door. Half-a-dozen more slunk through an inner entrance into some room beyond. Sir Timothy's neighbour set down his tumbler empty. He was the last to leave.
"If you're going to stop 'ere, guvnor," he begged fervently, "you keep a still tongue in your 'ead. Billy ain't particular who it is. 'E'd kill 'is own mother, if 'e felt like it. 'E'll swing some day, sure as I stand 'ere, but 'e'll do a bit more mischief first. 'Op it with me, guvnor, or get inside there."
"Jim's right," the man behind the bar agreed. "He's a very nasty customer, Bill the Tanner, sir. If he's coming down, I'd clear out for a moment. You can go in the guvnor's sitting-room, if you like."
Sir Timothy shook his head.
"Billy the Tanner will not hurt me," he said. "As a matter of fact, I came down to see him."
His new friend hesitated no longer but made for the door through which most of his companions had already disappeared. The barman leaned across the counter.
"Guvnor," he whispered hoarsely, "I don't know what the game is, but I've given you the office. Billy won't stand no truck from any one. He's a holy terror."
Sir Timothy nodded.
"I quite understand," he said.
There was a moment's ominous silence. The barman withdrew to the further end of his domain and busied himself cleaning some glasses. Suddenly the door was swung open. A man entered whose appearance alone was calculated to inspire a certain amount of fear. He was tall, but his height escaped notice by reason of the extraordinary breadth of his shoulders. He had a coarse and vicious face, a crop of red hair, and an unshaven growth of the same upon his face. He wore what appeared to be the popular dress in the neighbourhood—a pair of trousers suspended by a belt, and a dirty flannel shirt. His hands and even his chest, where the shirt fell away, were discoloured by yellow stains. He looked around the room at first with an air of disappointment. Then he caught sight of Sir Timothy standing at the counter, and he brightened up.
"Where's all the crowd, Tom?" he asked the barman.
"Scared of you, I reckon," was the brief reply. "There was plenty here a few minutes ago."
"Scared of me, eh?" the other repeated, staring hard at Sir Timothy. "Did you 'ear that, guvnor?"
"I heard it," Sir Timothy acquiesced.
Billy the Tanner began to cheer up. He walked all round this stranger.
"A toff! A big toff! I'll 'ave a drink with you, guvnor," he declared, with a note of incipient truculence in his tone.
The barman had already reached up for two glasses but Sir Timothy shook his head.
"I think not," he said.
There was a moment's silence. The barman made despairing signs at Sir Timothy. Billy the Tanner was moistening his lips with his tongue.
"Why not?" he demanded.
"Because I don't know you and I don't like you," was the bland reply.
Billy the Tanner wasted small time upon preliminaries. He spat upon his hands.
"I dunno you and I don't like you," he retorted. "D'yer know wot I'm going to do?"
"I have no idea," Sir Timothy confessed.
"I'm going to make you look so that your own mother wouldn't know you—then I'm going to pitch you into the street," he added, with an evil grin. "That's wot we does with big toffs who come 'anging around 'ere."
"Do you?" Sir Timothy said calmly. "Perhaps my friend may have something to say about that."
The man of war was beginning to be worked up.
"Where's your big friend?" he shouted. "Come on! I'll take on the two of you."
The man who had met Sir Timothy in the street had risen to his feet. He strolled up to the two. Billy the Tanner eyed him hungrily.
"The two of you, d'yer 'ear?" he shouted. "And 'ere's just a flick for the toff to be going on with!"
He delivered a sudden blow at Sir Timothy—a full, vicious, jabbing blow which had laid many a man of the neighbourhood in the gutter. To his amazement, the chin at which he had aimed seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. Sir Timothy himself was standing about half-a-yard further away. Billy the Tanner was too used to the game to be off his balance, but he received at that moment the surprise of his life. With the flat of his hand full open, Sir Timothy struck him across the cheek such a blow that it resounded through the place, a blow that brought both the inner doors ajar, that brought peering eyes from every direction. There was a moment's silence. The man's fists were clenched now, there was murder in his face. Sir Timothy stepped on one side.
"I am not a fighter," he said coolly, leaning back against the marble table. "My friend will deal with you."
Billy the Tanner glared at the newcomer, who had glided in between him and Sir Timothy.
"You can come and join in, too," he shouted to Sir Timothy. "I'll knock your big head into pulp when I've done with this little job!"
The bully knew in precisely thirty seconds what had happened to him. So did the crowds who pressed back into the place through the inner door. So did the barman. So did the landlord, who had made a cautious appearance through a trapdoor. Billy the Tanner, for the first time in his life, was fighting a better man. For two years he had been the terror of the neighbourhood, and he showed now that at least he had courage. His smattering of science, however, appeared only ridiculous. Once, through sheer strength and blundering force, he broke down his opponent's guard and struck him in the place that had dispatched many a man before—just over the heart. His present opponent scarcely winced, and Billy the Tanner paid the penalty then for his years of bullying. His antagonist paused for a single second, as though unnerved by the blow. Red fire seemed to stream from his eyes. Then it was all over. With a sickening crash, Billy the Tanner went down upon the sanded floor. It was no matter of a count for him. He lay there like a dead man, and from the two doors the hidden spectators streamed into the room. Sir Timothy laid some money upon the table.
"This fellow insulted me and my friend," he said. "You see, he has paid the penalty. If he misbehaves again, the same thing will happen to him. I am leaving some money here with your barman. I shall be glad for every one to drink with me. Presently, perhaps, you had better send for an ambulance or a doctor."
A little storm of enthusiastic excitement, evidenced for the most part in expletives of a lurid note, covered the retreat of Sir Timothy and his companion. Out in the street a small crowd was rushing towards the place. A couple of policemen seemed to be trying to make up their minds whether it was a fine night. An inspector hurried up to them.
"What's doing in 'The Rising Sun'?" he demanded sharply.
"Some one's giving Billy the Tanner a hiding," one of the policemen replied.
"A fair, ripe, knock-out hiding," was the emphatic confirmation. "I looked in at the window."
The inspector grinned.
"I'm glad you had the sense not to interfere," he remarked.
Sir Timothy and his companion reached the car. The latter took a seat by the chauffeur. Sir Timothy stepped in. It struck him that Lady Cynthia was a little breathless. Her eyes, too, were marvellously bright. Wrapped around her knees was the chauffeur's coat.
"Wonderful!" she declared. "I haven't had such a wonderful five minutes since I can remember! You are a dear to have brought me, Sir Timothy."
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"Mean?" she laughed, as the car swung around and they glided away. "You didn't suppose I was going to sit here and watch you depart upon a mysterious errand? I borrowed your chauffeur's coat and his cap, and slunk down after you. I can assure you I looked the most wonderful female apache you ever saw! And I saw the fight. It was better than any of the prize fights I have ever been to. The real thing is better than the sham, isn't it?"
Sir Timothy leaned back in his place and remained silent. Soon they passed out of the land of tired people, of stalls decked out with unsavoury provender, of foetid smells and unwholesome-looking houses. They passed through a street of silent warehouses on to the Embankment. A stronger breeze came down between the curving arc of lights.
"You are not sorry that you brought me?" Lady Cynthia asked, suddenly holding out her hand.
Sir Timothy took it in his. For some reason or other, he made no answer at all.
The car stopped in front of the great house in Grosvenor Square. Lady Cynthia turned to her companion.
"You must come in, please," she said. "I insist, if it is only for five minutes."
Sir Timothy followed her across the hall to a curved recess, where the footman who had admitted them touched a bell, and a small automatic lift came down.
"I am taking you to my own quarters," she explained. "They are rather cut off but I like them—especially on hot nights."
They glided up to the extreme top of the house. She opened the gates and led the way into what was practically an attic sitting-room, decorated in black and white. Wide-flung doors opened onto the leads, where comfortable chairs, a small table and an electric standard were arranged. They were far above the tops of the other houses, and looked into the green of the Park.
"This is where I bring very few people," she said. "This is where, even after my twenty-eight years of fraudulent life, I am sometimes myself. Wait."
There were feminine drinks and sandwiches arranged on the table. She opened the cupboard of a small sideboard just inside the sitting-room, however, and produced whisky and a syphon of soda. There was a pail of ice in a cool corner. From somewhere in the distance came the music of violins floating through the window of a house where a dance was in progress. They could catch a glimpse of the striped awning and the long line of waiting vehicles with their twin eyes of fire. She curled herself up on a settee, flung a cushion at Sir Timothy, who was already ensconced in a luxurious easy-chair, and with a tumbler of iced sherbet in one hand, and a cigarette in the other, looked across at him.
"I am not sure," she said, "that you have not to-night dispelled an illusion."
"What manner of one?" he asked.
"Above all things," she went on, "I have always looked upon you as wicked. Most people do. I think that is one reason why so many of the women find you attractive. I suppose it is why I have found you attractive."
The smile was back upon his lips. He bowed a little, and, leaning forward, dropped a chunk of ice into his whisky and soda.
"Dear Lady Cynthia," he murmured, "don't tell me that I am going to slip back in your estimation into some normal place."
"I am not quite sure," she said deliberately. "I have always looked upon you as a kind of amateur criminal, a man who loved black things and dark ways. You know how weary one gets of the ordinary code of morals in these days. You were such a delightful antidote. And now, I am not sure that you have not shaken my faith in you."
"In what way?"
"You really seem to have been engaged to-night in a very sporting and philanthropic enterprise. I imagined you visiting some den of vice and mixing as an equal with these terrible people who never seem to cross the bridges. I was perfectly thrilled when I put on your chauffeur's coat and hat and followed you."
"The story of my little adventure is a simple one," Sir Timothy said. "I do not think it greatly affects my character. I believe, as a matter of fact, that I am just as wicked as you would have me be, but I have friends in every walk of life, and, as you know, I like to peer into the unexpected places. I had heard of this man Billy the Tanner. He beats women, and has established a perfect reign of terror in the court and neighbourhood where he lives. I fear I must agree with you that there were some elements of morality—of conforming, at any rate, to the recognised standards of justice—in what I did. You know, of course, that I am a great patron of every form of boxing, fencing, and the various arts of self-defence and attack. I just took along one of the men from my gymnasium who I knew was equal to the job, to give this fellow a lesson."
"He did it all right," Lady Cynthia murmured.
"But this is where I think I re-establish myself," Sir Timothy continued, the peculiar nature of his smile reasserting itself. "I did not do this for the sake of the neighbourhood. I did not do it from any sense of justice at all. I did it to provide for myself an enjoyable and delectable spectacle."
She smiled lazily.
"That does rather let you out," she admitted. "However, on the whole I am disappointed. I am afraid that you are not so bad as people think."
"People?" he repeated. "Francis Ledsam, for instance—my son-in-law in posse?"
"Francis Ledsam is one of those few rather brilliant persons who have contrived to keep sane without becoming a prig," she remarked.
"You know why?" he reminded her. "Francis Ledsam has been a tremendous worker. It is work which keeps a man sane. Brilliancy without the capacity for work drives people to the madhouse."
"Where we are all going, I suppose," she sighed.
"Not you," he answered. "You have just enough—I don't know what we moderns call it—soul, shall I say?—to keep you from the muddy ways."
She rose to her feet and leaned over the rails. Sir Timothy watched her thoughtfully. Her figure, notwithstanding its suggestions of delicate maturity, was still as slim as a young girl's. She was looking across the tree-tops towards an angry bank of clouds—long, pencil-like streaks of black on a purple background. Below, in the street, a taxi passed with grinding of brakes and noisy horn. The rail against which she leaned looked very flimsy. Sir Timothy stretched out his hand and held her arm.
"My nerves are going with my old age," he apologised. "That support seems too fragile."
She did not move. The touch of his fingers grew firmer.
"We have entered upon an allegory," she murmured. "You are preserving me from the depths."
He laughed harshly.
"I!" he exclaimed, with a sudden touch of real and fierce bitterness which brought the light dancing into her eyes and a spot of colour to her cheeks. "I preserve you! Why, you can never hear my name without thinking of sin, of crime of some sort! Do you seriously expect me to ever preserve any one from anything?"
"You haven't made any very violent attempts to corrupt me," she reminded him.
"Women don't enter much into my scheme of life," he declared. "They played a great part once. It was a woman, I think, who first headed me off from the pastures of virtue."
"I know," she said softly. "It was Margaret's mother."
His voice rang out like a pistol-shot.
"How did you know that?"
She turned away from the rail and threw herself back in her chair. His hand, however, she still kept in hers.
"Uncle Joe was Minister at Rio, you know, the year it all happened," she explained. "He told us the story years ago—how you came back from Europe and found things were not just as they should be between Margaret's mother and your partner, and how you killed your partner."
His nostrils quivered a little. One felt that the fire of suffering had touched him again for a moment.
"Yes, I killed him," he admitted. "That is part of my creed. The men who defend their honour in the Law Courts are men I know nothing of. This man would have wronged me and robbed me of my honour. I bade him defend himself in any way he thought well. It was his life or mine. He was a poor fighter and I killed him."
"And Margaret's mother died from the shock."
"She died soon afterwards."
The stars grew paler. The passing vehicles, with their brilliant lights, grew fewer and fewer. The breeze which had been so welcome at first, turned into a cold night wind. She led the way back into the room.
"I must go," he announced.
"You must go," she echoed, looking up at him. "Good-bye!"
She was so close to him that his embrace, sudden and passionate though it was, came about almost naturally. She lay in his arms with perfect content and raised her lips to his.
He broke away. He was himself again, self-furious.
"Lady Cynthia," he said, "I owe you my most humble apologies. The evil that is in me does not as a rule break out in this direction."
"You dear, foolish person," she laughed, "that was good, not evil. You like me, don't you? But I know you do. There is one crime you have always forgotten to develop—you haven't the simplest idea in the world how to lie."
"Yes, I like you," he admitted. "I have the most absurd feeling for you that any man ever found it impossible to put into words. We have indeed strayed outside the world of natural things," he added.
"Why?" she murmured. "I never felt more natural or normal in my life. I can assure you that I am loving it. I feel like muslin gowns and primroses and the scent of those first March violets underneath a warm hedge where the sun comes sometimes. I feel very natural indeed, Sir Timothy."
"What about me?" he asked harshly. "In three weeks' time I shall be fifty years old."
She laughed softly.
"And in no time at all I shall be thirty—and entering upon a terrible period of spinsterhood!"
"Spinsterhood!" he scoffed. "Why, whenever the Society papers are at a loss for a paragraph, they report a few more offers of marriage to the ever-beautiful Lady Cynthia."
"Don't be sarcastic," she begged. "I haven't yet had the offer of marriage I want, anyhow."
"You'll get one you don't want in a moment," he warned her.
She made a little grimace.
"Don't!" she laughed nervously. "How am I to preserve my romantic notions of you as the emperor of the criminal world, if you kiss me as you did just now—you kissed me rather well—and then ask me to marry you? It isn't your role. You must light a cigarette now, pat the back of my hand, and swagger off to another of your haunts of vice."
"In other words, I am not to propose?" Sir Timothy said slowly.
"You see how decadent I am," she sighed. "I want to toy with my pleasures. Besides, there's that scamp of a brother of mine coming up to have a drink—I saw him get out of a taxi—and you couldn't get it through in time, not with dignity."
The rattle of the lift as it stopped was plainly audible. He stooped and kissed her fingers.
"I fear some day," he murmured, "I shall be a great disappointment to you."
There was a great deal of discussion, the following morning at the Sheridan Club, during the gossipy half-hour which preceded luncheon, concerning Sir Timothy Brast's forthcoming entertainment. One of the men, Philip Baker, who had been for many years the editor of a famous sporting weekly, had a ticket of invitation which he displayed to an envious little crowd.
"You fellows who get invitations to these parties," a famous actor declared, "are the most elusive chaps on earth. Half London is dying to know what really goes on there, and yet, if by any chance one comes across a prospective or retrospective guest, he is as dumb about it as though it were some Masonic function. We've got you this time, Baler, though. We'll put you under the inquisition on Friday morning."
"There a won't be any need," the other replied. "One hears a great deal of rot talked about these affairs, but so far as I know, nothing very much out of the way goes on. There are always one or two pretty stiff fights in the gymnasium, and you get the best variety show and supper in the world."
"Why is there this aroma of mystery hanging about the affair, then?" some one asked.
"Well, for one or two reasons," Baker answered. "One, no doubt, is because Sir Timothy has a great idea of arranging the fights himself, and the opponents actually don't know until the fight begins whom they are meeting, and sometimes not even then. There has been some gossiping, too, about the rules, and the weight of the gloves, but that I know, nothing about."
"And the rest of the show?" a younger member enquired. "Is it simply dancing and music and that sort of thing?"
"Just a variety entertainment," the proud possessor of the scarlet-hued ticket declared. "Sir Timothy always has something up his sleeve. Last year, for instance, he had those six African girls over from Paris in that queer dance which they wouldn't allow in London at all. This time no one knows what is going to happen. The house, as you know, is absolutely surrounded by that hideous stone wall, and from what I have heard, reporters who try to get in aren't treated too kindly. Here's Ledsam. Very likely he knows more about it."
"Ledsam," some one demanded, as Francis joined the group, "are you going to Sir Timothy Brast's show to-morrow night?"
"I hope so," Francis replied, producing his strip of pasteboard.
"Ever been before?"
"Do you know what sort of a show it's going to be?" the actor enquired.
"Not the slightest idea. I don't think any one does. That's rather a feature of the affair, isn't it?"
"It is the envious outsider who has never received an invitation, like myself," some one remarked, "who probably spreads these rumours, for one always hears it hinted that some disgraceful and illegal exhibition is on tap there—a new sort of drugging party, or some novel form of debauchery."
"I don't think," Francis said quietly, "that Sir Timothy is quite that sort of man."
"Dash it all, what sort of man is he?" the actor demanded. "They tell me that financially he is utterly unscrupulous, although he is rolling in money. He has the most Mephistophelian expression of any man I ever met—looks as though he'd set his heel on any one's neck for the sport of it—and yet they say he has given at least fifty thousand pounds to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and that the whole of the park round that estate of his down the river is full of lamed and decrepit beasts which he has bought himself off the streets."
"The man must have an interesting personality," a novelist who had joined the party observed. "Of course, you know that he was in prison for six months?"
"What for?" some one asked.
"Murder, only they brought it in manslaughter," was the terse reply. "He killed his partner. It was many years ago, and no one knows all the facts of the story."
"I am not holding a brief for Sir Timothy," Francis remarked, as he sipped his cocktail. "As a matter of fact, he and I are very much at cross-purposes. But as regards that particular instance, I am not sure that he was very much to be blamed, any more than you can blame any injured person who takes the law into his own hands."
"He isn't a man I should care to have for an enemy," Baker declared.
"Well, we'll shake the truth out of you fellows, somehow or other," one of the group threatened. "On Friday morning we are going to have the whole truth—none of this Masonic secrecy which Baker indulged in last year."
The men drifted in to luncheon and Francis, leaving them, took a taxi on to the Ritz. Looking about in the vestibule for Margaret, he came face to face with Lady Cynthia. She was dressed with her usual distinction in a gown of yellow muslin and a beflowered hat, and was the cynosure of a good many eyes.
"One would almost imagine, Lady Cynthia," he said, as they exchanged greetings, "that you had found that elixir we were talking about."
"Perhaps I have," she answered, smiling. "Are you looking for Margaret? She is somewhere about. We were just having a chat when I was literally carried off by that terrible Lanchester woman. Let's find her."
They strolled up into the lounge. Margaret came to meet them. Her smile, as she gave Francis her left hand, transformed and softened her whole appearance.
"You don't mind my having asked Cynthia to lunch with us?" she said. "I really couldn't get rid of the girl. She came in to see me this morning the most aggressively cheerful person I ever knew. I believe that she had an adventure last night. All that she will tell me is that she dined and danced at Claridge's with a party of the dullest people in town."
A tall, familiar figure passed down the vestibule. Lady Cynthia gave a little start, and Francis, who happened to be watching her, was amazed at her expression.
"Your father, Margaret!" she pointed out. "I wonder if he is lunching here."
"He told me that he was lunching somewhere with a South American friend—one of his partners, I believe," Margaret replied. "I expect he is looking for him."
Sir Timothy caught sight of them, hesitated for a moment and came slowly in their direction.
"Have you found your friend?" Margaret asked.
"The poor fellow is ill in bed," her father answered. "I was just regretting that I had sent the car away, or I should have gone back to Hatch End."
"Stay and lunch with us," Lady Cynthia begged, a little impetuously.
"I shall be very pleased if you will," Francis put in. "I'll go and tell the waiter to enlarge my table."
He hurried off. On his way back, a page-boy touched him on the arm.
"If you please, sir," he announced, "you are wanted on the telephone."
"I?" Francis exclaimed. "Some mistake, I should think. Nobody knows that I am here."
"Mr. Ledsam," the boy said. "This way, sir."
Francis walked down the vestibule to the row of telephone boxes at the further end. The attendant who was standing outside, indicated one of them and motioned the boy to go away. Francis stepped inside. The man followed, closing the door behind him.
"I am asking your pardon, sir, for taking a great liberty," he confessed. "No one wants you on the telephone. I wished to speak to you."
Francis looked at him in surprise. The man was evidently agitated. Somehow or other, his face was vaguely familiar.
"Who are you, and what do you want with me?" Francis asked.
"I was butler to Mr. Hilditch, sir," the man replied. "I waited upon you the night you dined there, sir—the night of Mr. Hilditch's death."
"I have a revelation to make with regard to that night, sir," the man went on, "which I should like to place in your hands. It is a very serious matter, and there are reasons why something must be done about it at once. Can I come and see you at your rooms, sir?"
Francis studied the man for a moment intently. He was evidently agitated—evidently, too, in very bad health. His furtive manner was against him. On the other hand, that might have arisen from nervousness.
"I shall be in at half-past three, number 13 b, Clarges Street," Francis told him.
"I can get off for half-an-hour then, sir," the man replied. "I shall be very glad to come. I must apologise for having troubled you, sir."
Francis went slowly back to his trio of guests. All the way down the carpeted vestibule he was haunted by the grim shadow of a spectral fear. The frozen horror of that ghastly evening was before him like a hateful tableau. Hilditch's mocking words rang in his cars: "My death is the one thing in the world which would make my wife happy." The Court scene, with all its gloomy tragedy, rose before his eyes—only in the dock, instead of Hilditch, he saw another!
There were incidents connected with that luncheon which Francis always remembered. In the first place, Sir Timothy was a great deal more silent than usual. A certain vein of half-cynical, half-amusing comment upon things and people of the moment, which seemed, whenever he cared to exert himself, to flow from his lips without effort, had deserted him. He sat where the rather brilliant light from the high windows fell upon his face, and Francis wondered more than once whether there were not some change there, perhaps some prescience of trouble to come, which had subdued him and made him unusually thoughtful. Another slighter but more amusing feature of the luncheon was the number of people who stopped to shake hands with Sir Timothy and made more or less clumsy efforts to obtain an invitation to his coming entertainment. Sir Timothy's reply to these various hints was barely cordial. The most he ever promised was that he would consult with his secretary and see if their numbers were already full. Lady Cynthia, as a somewhat blatant but discomfited Peer of the Realm took his awkward leave of them, laughed softly.
"Of course, I think they all deserve what they get," she declared. "I never heard such brazen impudence in my life—from people who ought to know better, too."
Lord Meadowson, a sporting peer, who was one of Sir Timothy's few intimates, came over to the table. He paid his respects to the two ladies and Francis, and turned a little eagerly to Sir Timothy.
"Well?" he asked.
Sir Timothy nodded.
"We shall be quite prepared for you," he said. "Better bring your cheque-book."
"Capital!" the other exclaimed. "As I hadn't heard anything, I was beginning to wonder whether you would be ready with your end of the show."
"There will be no hitch so far as we are concerned," Sir Timothy assured him.
"More mysteries?" Margaret enquired, as Meadowson departed with a smile of satisfaction.
Her father shrugged his shoulders.
"Scarcely that," he replied. "It is a little wager between Lord Meadowson and myself which is to be settled to-morrow."
Lady Torrington, a fussy little woman, her hostess of the night before, on her way down the room stopped and shook hands with Lady Cynthia.
"Why, my dear," she exclaimed, "wherever did you vanish to last night? Claude told us all that, in the middle of a dance with him, you excused yourself for a moment and he never saw you again. I quite expected to read in the papers this morning that you had eloped."
"Precisely what I did," Lady Cynthia declared. "The only trouble was that my partner had had enough of me before the evening was over, and deposited me once more in Grosvenor Square. It is really very humiliating," she went on meditatively, "how every one always returns me."
"You talk such nonsense, Cynthia!" Lady Torrington exclaimed, a little pettishly. "However, you found your way home all right?"
"Quite safely, thank you. I was going to write you a note this afternoon. I went away on an impulse. All I can say is that I am sorry. Do forgive me."
"Certainly!" was the somewhat chilly reply. "Somehow or other, you seem to have earned the right to do exactly as you choose. Some of my young men whom you had promised to dance with, were disappointed, but after all, I suppose that doesn't matter."
"Not much," Lady Cynthia assented sweetly. "I think a few disappointments are good for most of the young men of to-day."
"What did you do last night, Cynthia?" Margaret asked her presently, when Lady Torrington had passed on.
"I eloped with your father," Lady Cynthia confessed, smiling across at Sir Timothy. "We went for a little drive together and I had a most amusing time. The only trouble was, as I have been complaining to that tiresome woman, he brought me home again."
"But where did you go to?" Margaret persisted.
"It was an errand of charity," Sir Timothy declared.
"It sounds very mysterious," Francis observed. "Is that all we are to be told?"
"I am afraid," Sir Timothy complained, "that very few people sympathise with my hobbies or my prosecution of them. That is why such little incidents as last night's generally remain undisclosed. If you really wish to know what happened," he went on, after a moment's pause, "I will tell you. As you know, I have a great many friends amongst the boxing fraternity, and I happened to hear of a man down in the East End who has made himself a terror to the whole community in which he lives. I took Peter Fields, my gymnasium instructor, down to the East End last night, and Peter Fields—dealt with him."
"There was a fight?" Margaret exclaimed, with a little shudder.
"There was a fight," Sir Timothy repeated, "if you can call it such. Fields gave him some part of the punishment he deserved."
"And you were there, Cynthia?"
"I left Lady Cynthia in the car," Sir Timothy explained. "She most improperly bribed my chauffeur to lend her his coat and hat, and followed me."
"You actually saw the fight, then?" Francis asked.
"I did," Lady Cynthia admitted. "I saw it from the beginning to the end."
Margaret looked across the table curiously. It seemed to her that her friend had turned a little paler.
"Did you like it?" she asked simply.
Lady Cynthia was silent for a moment. She glanced at Sir Timothy. He, too, was waiting for her answer with evident interest.
"I was thrilled," she acknowledged. "That was the pleasurable part of it I have been so, used to looking on at shows that bored me, listening to conversations that wearied me, attempting sensations which were repellent, that I just welcomed feeling, when it came—feeling of any sort. I was excited. I forgot everything else. I was so fascinated that I could not look away. But if you ask me whether I liked it, and I have to answer truthfully, I hated it! I felt nothing of the sort at the time, but when I tried to sleep I found myself shivering. It was justice, I know, but it was ugly."
She watched Sir Timothy, as she made her confession, a little wistfully. He said nothing, but there was a very curious change in his expression. He smiled at her in an altogether unfamiliar way.
"I suppose," she said, appealing to him, "that you are very disappointed in me?"
"On the contrary," he answered, "I am delighted."
"You mean that?" she asked incredulously.
"I do," he declared. "Companionship between our sexes is very delightful so far as it goes, but the fundamental differences between a man's outlook and tastes and a woman's should never be bridged over. I myself do not wish to learn to knit. I do not care for the womenkind in whom I am interested to appreciate and understand fighting."
Margaret looked across the table in amazement.
"You are most surprising this morning, father," she declared.
"I am perhaps misunderstood," he sighed, "perhaps have acquired a reputation for greater callousness than I possess. Personally, I love fighting. I was born a fighter, and I should find no happier way of ending my life than fighting, but, to put it bluntly, fighting is a man's job."
"What about women going to see fights at the National Sporting Club?" Lady Cynthia asked curiously.
"It is their own affair, but if you ask my opinion I do not approve of it," Sir Timothy replied. "I am indifferent upon the subject, because I am indifferent upon the subject of the generality of your sex," he added, with a little smile, "but I simply hold that it is not a taste which should be developed in women, and if they do develop it, it is at the expense of those very qualities which make them most attractive."
Lady Cynthia took a cigarette from her case and leaned over to Francis for a light.
"The world is changing," she declared. "I cannot bear many more shocks. I fancied that I had written myself for ever out of Sir Timothy's good books because of my confession just now."
He smiled across at her. His words were words of courteous badinage, but Lady Cynthia was conscious of a strange little sense of pleasure.
"On the contrary," he assured her, "you found your way just a little further into my heart."
"It seems to me, in a general sort of way," Margaret observed, leaning back in her chair, "that you and my father are becoming extraordinarily friendly, Cynthia."
"I am hopefully in love with your father," Lady Cynthia confessed. "It has been coming on for a long time. I suspected it the first time I ever met him. Now I am absolutely certain."
"It's quite a new idea," Margaret remarked. "Shall we like her in the family, Francis?"
"No airs!" Lady Cynthia warned her. "You two are not properly engaged yet. It may devolve upon me to give my consent."
"In that case," Francis replied, "I hope that we may at least count upon your influence with Sir Timothy?"
"If you'll return the compliment and urge my suit with him," Lady Cynthia laughed. "I am afraid he can't quite make up his mind about me, and I am so nice. I haven't flirted nearly so much as people think, and my instincts are really quite domestic."
"My position," Sir Timothy remarked, as he made an unsuccessful attempt to possess himself of the bill which Francis had called for, "is becoming a little difficult."
"Not really difficult," Lady Cynthia objected, "because the real decision rests in your hands."
"Just listen to the woman!" Margaret exclaimed. "Do you realise, father, that Cynthia is making the most brazen advances to you? And I was going to ask her if she'd like to come back to The Sanctuary with us this evening!"
Lady Cynthia was suddenly eager. Margaret glanced across at her father. Sir Timothy seemed almost imperceptibly to stiffen a little.
"Margaret has carte blanche at The Sanctuary as regards her visitors," he said. "I am afraid that I shall be busy over at The Walled House."
"But you'd come and dine with us?"
Sir Timothy hesitated. An issue which had been looming in his mind for many hours seemed to be suddenly joined.
"Please!" Lady Cynthia begged.
Sir Timothy followed the example of the others and rose to his feet. He avoided Lady Cynthia's eyes. He seemed suddenly a little tired.
"I will come and dine," he assented quietly. "I am afraid that I cannot promise more than that. Lady Cynthia, as she knows, is always welcome at The Sanctuary."
Punctual to his appointment that afternoon, the man who had sought an interview with Francis was shown into the latter's study in Clarges Street.
He wore an overcoat over his livery, and directly he entered the room Francis was struck by his intense pallor. He had been trying feverishly to assure himself that all that the man required was the usual sort of help, or assistance into a hospital. Yet there was something furtive in his visitor's manner, something which suggested the bearer of a guilty secret.
"Please tell me what you want as quickly as you can," Francis begged. "I am due to start down into the country in a few minutes."
"I won't keep you long, sir," the man replied. "The matter is rather a serious one."
"Are you ill?"
"You had better sit down."
The man relapsed gratefully into a chair.
"I'll leave out everything that doesn't count, sir," he said. "I'll be as brief as I can. I want you to go back to the night I waited upon you at dinner the night Mr. Oliver Hilditch was found dead. You gave evidence. The jury brought it in 'suicide.' It wasn't suicide at all, sir. Mr. Hilditch was murdered."
The sense of horror against which he had been struggling during the last few hours, crept once more through the whole being of the man who listened. He was face to face once more with that terrible issue. Had he perjured himself in vain? Was the whole structure of his dreams about to collapse, to fall about his ears?
"By whom?" he faltered.
"By Sir Timothy Brast, sir."
Francis, who had been standing with his hand upon the table, felt suddenly inclined to laugh. Facile though his brain was, the change of issues was too tremendous for him to readily assimilate it. He picked up a cigarette from an open box, with shaking fingers, lit it, and threw himself into an easy-chair. He was all the time quite unconscious of what he was doing.
"Sir Timothy Brast?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir," the man reiterated. "I wish to tell you the whole story."
"I am listening," Francis assured him.
"That evening before dinner, Sir Timothy Brast called to see Mr. Hilditch, and a very stormy interview took place. I do not know the rights of that, sir. I only know that there was a fierce quarrel. Mrs. Hilditch came in and Sir Timothy left the house. His last words to Mr. Hilditch were, 'You will hear from me again.' As you know, sir—I mean as you remember, if you followed the evidence—all the servants slept at the back of the house. I slept in the butler's room downstairs, next to the plate pantry. I was awake when you left, sitting in my easy-chair, reading. Ten minutes after you had left, there was a sound at the front door as though some one had knocked with their knuckles. I got up, to open it but Mr. Hilditch was before me. He admitted Sir Timothy. They went back into the library together. It struck me that Mr. Hilditch had had a great deal to drink, and there was a queer look on Sir Timothy's face that I didn't understand. I stepped into the little room which communicates with the library by folding doors. There was a chink already between the two. I got a knife from the pantry and widened it until I could see through. I heard very little of the conversation but there was no quarrel. Mr. Hilditch took up the weapon which you know about, sat in a chair and held it to his heart. I heard him say something like this. 'This ought to appeal to you, Sir Timothy. You're a specialist in this sort of thing. One little touch, and there you are.' Mrs. Hilditch said something about putting it away. My master turned to Sir Timothy and said something in a low tone. Suddenly Sir Timothy leaned over. He caught hold of Mr. Hilditch's hand which held the hilt of the dagger, and and—well, he just drove it in, sir. Then he stood away. Mrs. Hilditch sprang up and would have screamed, but Sir Timothy placed his hand over her mouth. In a moment I heard her say, 'What have you done?' Sir Timothy looked at Mr. Hilditch quite calmly. 'I have ridded the world of a verminous creature,' he said. My knees began to shake. My nerves were always bad. I crept back into my room, took off my clothes and got into bed. I had just put the light out when they called for me."
Francis was himself again. There was an immense relief, a joy in his heart. He had never for a single moment blamed Margaret, but he had never for a single moment forgotten. It was a closed chapter but the stain was on its pages. It was wonderful to tear it out and scatter the fragments.
"I remember you at the inquest," he said. "Your name is John Walter."
"Your evidence was very different."
"You kept all this to yourself."
"I did, sir. I thought it best."
"Tell me what has happened since?"
The man looked down at the table.
"I have always been a poor man, sir," he said. "I have had bad luck whenever I've made a try to start at anything. I thought there seemed a chance for me here. I went to Sir Timothy and I told him everything."
"Sir Timothy never turned a hair, sir. When I had finished he was very short with me, almost curt. 'You have behaved like a man of sense, Walter,' he said. 'How much?' I hesitated for some time. Then I could see he was getting impatient. I doubled what I had thought of first. 'A thousand pounds, sir,' I said. Sir Timothy he went to a safe in the wall and he counted out a thousand pounds in notes, there and then. He brought them over to me. 'Walter,' he said, 'there is your thousand pounds. For that sum I understand you promise to keep what you saw to yourself?' 'Yes, sir,' I agreed. 'Take it, then,' he said, 'but I want you to understand this. There have been many attempts but no one yet has ever succeeded in blackmailing me. No one ever will. I give you this thousand pounds willingly. It is what you have asked for. Never let me see your face again. If you come to me starving, it will be useless. I shall not part with another penny.'"
The man's simple way of telling his story, his speech, slow and uneven on account of his faltering breath, seemed all to add to the dramatic nature of his disclosure. Francis found himself sitting like a child who listens to a fairy story.
"And then?" he asked simply.
"I went off with the money," Walter continued, "and I had cruel bad luck. I put it into a pub. I was robbed a little, I drank a little, my wife wasn't any good. I lost it all, sir. I found myself destitute. I went back to Sir Timothy."
The man shifted his feet nervously. He seemed to have come to the difficult part of his story.
"Sir Timothy was as hard as nails," he said slowly. "He saw me. The moment I had finished, he rang the bell. 'Hedges,' he said to the manservant who came in, 'this man has come here to try and blackmail me. Throw him out. If he gives any trouble, send for the police. If he shows himself here again, send for the police."'
"What happened then?"
"Well, I nearly blurted out the whole story," the man confessed, "and then I remembered that wouldn't do me any good, so I went away. I got a job at the Ritz, but I was took ill a few days afterwards. I went to see a doctor. From him I got my death-warrant, sir."
"Is it heart?"
"It's heart, sir," the man acknowledged. "The doctor told me I might snuff out at any moment. I can't live, anyway, for more than a year. I've got a little girl."
"Now just why have you come to see me?" Francis asked.
"For just this, sir," the man replied. "Here's my account of what happened," he went on, drawing some sheets of foolscap from his pocket. "It's written in my own hand and there are two witnesses to my signature—one a clergyman, sir, and the other a doctor, they thinking it was a will or something. I had it in my mind to send that to Scotland Yard, and then I remembered that I hadn't a penny to leave my little girl. I began to wonder—think as meanly of me as you like, sir—how I could still make some money out of this. I happened to know that you were none too friendly disposed towards Sir Timothy. This confession of mine, if it wouldn't mean hanging, would mean imprisonment for the rest of his life. You could make a better bargain with him than me, sir. Do you want to hold him in your power? If so, you can have this confession, all signed and everything, for two hundred pounds, and as I live, sir, that two hundred pounds is to pay for my funeral, and the balance for my little girl."
Francis took the papers and glanced them through.
"Supposing I buy this document from you," he said, "what is its actual value? You could write out another confession, get that signed, and sell it to another of Sir Timothy's enemies, or you could still go to Scotland Yard yourself."
"I shouldn't do that, sir, I assure you," the man declared nervously, "not on my solemn oath. I want simply to be quit of the whole matter and have a little money for the child."
Francis considered for a moment.
"There is only one way I can see," he said, "to make this document worth the money to me. If you will sign a confession that any statement you have made as to the death of Mr. Hilditch is entirely imaginary, that you did not see Sir Timothy in the house that night, that you went to bed at your usual time and slept until you were awakened, and that you only made this charge for the purpose of extorting money—if you will sign a confession to that effect and give it me with these papers, I will pay you the two hundred pounds and I will never use the confession unless you repeat the charge."
"I'll do it, sir," the man assented.
Francis drew up a document, which his visitor read through and signed. Then he wrote out an open cheque.
"My servant shall take you to the bank in a taxi," he said. "They would scarcely pay you this unless you were identified. We understand one another?"
Francis rang the bell, gave his servant the necessary orders, and dismissed the two men. Half-an-hour later, already changed into flannels, he was on his way into the country.
Sir Timothy walked that evening amongst the shadows. Two hours ago, the last of the workmen from the great furnishing and catering establishments who undertook the management of his famous entertainments, had ceased work for the day and driven off in the motor-brakes hired to take them to the nearest town. The long, low wing whose use no one was able absolutely to divine, was still full of animation, but the great reception-rooms and stately hall were silent and empty. In the gymnasium, an enormous apartment as large as an ordinary concert hall, two or three electricians were still at work, directed by the man who had accompanied Sir Timothy to the East End on the night before. The former crossed the room, his footsteps awaking strange echoes.
"There will be seating for fifty, sir, and standing room for fifty," he announced. "I have had the ring slightly enlarged, as you suggested, and the lighting is being altered so that the start is exactly north and south."
Sir Timothy nodded thoughtfully. The beautiful oak floor of the place was littered with sawdust and shavings of wood. Several tiers of seats had been arranged on the space usually occupied by swings, punching-balls and other artifices. On a slightly raised dais at the further end was an exact replica of a ring, corded around and with sawdust upon the floor. Upon the walls hung a marvellous collection of weapons of every description, from the modern rifle to the curved and terrible knife used by the most savage of known tribes.
"How are things in the quarters?" Sir Timothy asked.
"Every one is well, sir. Doctor Ballantyne arrived this afternoon. His report is excellent."
Sir Timothy nodded and turned away. He looked into the great gallery, its waxen floors shining with polish, ready for the feet of the dancers on the morrow; looked into a beautiful concert-room, with an organ that reached to the roof; glanced into the banquetting hall, which extended far into the winter-garden; made his way up the broad stairs, turned down a little corridor, unlocked a door and passed into his own suite. There was a small dining-room, a library, a bedroom, and a bathroom fitted with every sort of device. A man-servant who had heard him enter, hurried from his own apartment across the way.
"You are not dining here, sir?" he enquired.
Sir Timothy shook his head.
"No, I am dining late at The Sanctuary," he replied. "I just strolled over to see how the preparations were going on. I shall be sleeping over there, too. Any prowlers?"
"Photographer brought some steps and photographed the horses in the park from the top of the wall this afternoon, sir," the man announced. "Jenkins let him go. Two or three pressmen sent in their cards to you, but they were not allowed to pass the lodge."
Sir Timothy nodded. Soon he left the house and crossed the park towards The Sanctuary. He was followed all the way by horses, of which there were more than thirty in the great enclosure. One mare greeted him with a neigh of welcome and plodded slowly after him. Another pressed her nose against his shoulder and walked by his side, with his hand upon her neck. Sir Timothy looked a little nervously around, but the park itself lay almost like a deep green pool, unobserved, and invisible from anywhere except the house itself. He spoke a few words to each of the horses, and, producing his key, passed through the door in the wall into The Sanctuary garden, closing it quickly as he recognised Francis standing under the cedar-tree.
"Has Lady Cynthia arrived yet?" he enquired.
"Not yet," Francis replied. "Margaret will be here in a minute. She told me to say that cocktails are here and that she has ordered dinner served on the terrace."
"Excellent!" Sir Timothy murmured. "Let me try one of your cigarettes."
"Everything ready for the great show to-morrow night?" Francis asked, as he served the cocktails.
"Everything is in order. I wonder, really," Sir Timothy went on, looking at Francis curiously, "what you expect to see?"
"I don't think we any of us have any definite idea," Francis replied. "We have all, of course, made our guesses."
"You will probably be disappointed," Sir Timothy warned him. "For some reason or other—perhaps I have encouraged the idea—people look upon my parties as mysterious orgies where things take place which may not be spoken of. They are right to some extent. I break the law, without a doubt, but I break it, I am afraid, in rather a disappointing fashion."
A limousine covered in dust raced in at the open gates and came to a standstill with a grinding of brakes. Lady Cynthia stepped lightly out and came across the lawn to them.
"I am hot and dusty and I was disagreeable," she confided, "but the peace of this wonderful place, and the sight of that beautiful silver thing have cheered me. May I have a cocktail before I go up to change? I am a little late, I know," she went on, "but that wretched garden-party! I thought my turn would never come to receive my few words. Mother would have been broken-hearted if I had left without them. What slaves we are to royalty! Now shall I hurry and change? You men have the air of wanting your dinner, and I am rather that way myself. You look tired, dear host," she added, a little hesitatingly.
"The heat," he answered.
"Why you ever leave this spot I can't imagine," she declared, as she turned away, with a lingering glance around. "It seems like Paradise to come here and breathe this air. London is like a furnace."
The two men were alone again. In Francis' pocket were the two documents, which he had not yet made up his mind how to use. Margaret came out to them presently, and he strolled away with her towards the rose garden.
"Margaret," he said, "is it my fancy or has there been a change in your father during the last few days?"
"There is a change of some sort," she admitted. "I cannot describe it. I only know it is there. He seems much more thoughtful and less hard. The change would be an improvement," she went on, "except that somehow or other it makes me feel uneasy. It is as though he were grappling with some crisis."
They came to a standstill at the end of the pergola, where the masses of drooping roses made the air almost faint with their perfume. Margaret stretched out her hand, plucked a handful of the creamy petals and held them against her cheek. A thrush was singing noisily. A few yards away they heard the soft swish of the river.
"Tell me," she asked curiously, "my father still speaks of you as being in some respects an enemy. What does he mean?"
"I will tell you exactly," he answered. "The first time I ever spoke to your father I was dining at Soto's. I was talking to Andrew Wilmore. It was only a short time after you had told me the story of Oliver Hilditch, a story which made me realise the horror of spending one's life keeping men like that out of the clutch of the law."
"Go on, please," she begged.
"Well, I was talking to Andrew. I told him that in future I should accept no case unless I not only believed in but was convinced of the innocence of my client. I added that I was at war with crime. I think, perhaps, I was so deeply in earnest that I may have sounded a little flamboyant. At any rate, your father, who had overheard me, moved up to our table. I think he deduced from what I was saying that I was going to turn into a sort of amateur crime-investigator, a person who I gathered later was particularly obnoxious to him. At any rate, he held out a challenge. 'If you are a man who hates crime,' he said, or something like it, 'I am one who loves it.' He then went on to prophesy that a crime would be committed close to where we were, within an hour or so, and he challenged me to discover the assassin. That night Victor Bidlake was murdered just outside Soto's."
"I remember! Do you mean to tell me, then," Margaret went on, with a little shiver, "that father told you this was going to happen?"
"He certainly did," Francis replied. "How his knowledge came I am not sure—yet. But he certainly knew."
"Have you anything else against him?" she asked.
"There was the disappearance of Andrew Wilmore's younger brother, Reginald Wilmore. I have no right to connect your father with that, but Shopland, the Scotland Yard detective, who has charge of the case, seems to believe that the young man was brought into this neighbourhood, and some other indirect evidence which came into my hands does seem to point towards your father being concerned in the matter. I appealed to him at once but he only laughed at me. That matter, too, remains a mystery."
Margaret was thoughtful for a moment. Then she turned towards the house. They heard the soft ringing of the gong.
"Will you believe me when I tell you this?" she begged, as they passed arm in arm down the pergola. "I am terrified of my father, though in many ways he is almost princely in his generosity and in the broad view he takes of things. Then his kindness to all dumb animals, and the way they love him, is the most amazing thing I ever knew. If we were alone here to-night, every animal in the house would be around his chair. He has even the cats locked up if we have visitors, so that no one shall see it. But I am quite honest when I tell you this—I do not believe that my father has the ordinary outlook upon crime. I believe that there is a good deal more of the Old Testament about him than the New."
"And this change which we were speaking about?" he asked, lowering his voice as they reached the lawn.
"I believe that somehow or other the end is coming," she said. "Francis, forgive me if I tell you this—or rather let me be forgiven—but I know of one crime my father has committed, and it makes me fear that there may be others. And I have the feeling, somehow, that the end is close at hand and that he feels it, just as we might feel a thunder-storm in the air."
"I am going to prove the immemorial selfishness of my sex," he whispered, as they drew near the little table. "Promise me one thing and I don't care if your father is Beelzebub himself. Promise me that, whatever happens, it shall not make any difference to us?"
She smiled at him very wonderfully, a smile which had to take the place of words, for there were servants now within hearing, and Sir Timothy himself was standing in the doorway.
Lady Cynthia and Sir Timothy strolled after dinner to the bottom of the lawn and watched the punt which Francis was propelling turn from the stream into the river.
"Perfectly idyllic," Lady Cynthia sighed.
"We have another punt," her companion suggested.
She shook her head.
"I am one of those unselfish people," she declared, "whose idea of repose is not only to rest oneself but to see others rest. I think these two chairs, plenty of cigarettes, and you in your most gracious and discoursive mood, will fill my soul with content."
"Your decision relieves my mind," her companion declared, as he arranged the cushions behind her back. "I rather fancy myself with a pair of sculls, but a punt-pole never appealed to me. We will sit here and enjoy the peace. To-morrow night you will find it all disturbed—music and raucous voices and the stampede of my poor, frightened horses in the park. This is really a very gracious silence."
"Are those two really going to marry?" Lady Cynthia asked, moving her head lazily in the direction of the disappearing punt.
"I imagine so."
"And you? What are you going to do then?"
"I am planning a long cruise. I telegraphed to Southampton to-day. I am having my yacht provisioned and prepared. I think I shall go over to South America."
She was silent for a moment.
"Alone?" she asked presently.
"I am always alone," he answered.
"That is rather a matter of your own choice, is it not?"
"Perhaps so. I have always found it hard to make friends. Enemies seem to be more in my line."
"I have not found it difficult to become your friend," she reminded him.
"You are one of my few successes," he replied.
She leaned back with half-closed eyes. There was nothing new about their environment—the clusters of roses, the perfume of the lilies in the rock garden, the even sweeter fragrance of the trim border of mignonette. Away in the distance, the night was made momentarily ugly by the sound of a gramophone on a passing launch, yet this discordant note seemed only to bring the perfection of present things closer. Back across the velvety lawn, through the feathery strips of foliage, the lights of The Sanctuary, shaded and subdued, were dimly visible. The dining-table under the cedar-tree had already been cleared. Hedges, newly arrived from town to play the major domo, was putting the finishing touches to a little array of cool drinks. And beyond, dimly seen but always there, the wall. She turned to him suddenly.
"You build a wall around your life," she said, "like the wall which encircles your mystery house. Last night I thought that I could see a little way over the top. To-night you are different."
"If I am different," he answered quietly, "it is because, for the first time for many years, I have found myself wondering whether the life I had planned for myself, the things which I had planned should make life for me, are the best. I have had doubts—perhaps I might say regrets."
"I should like to go to South America," Lady Cynthia declared softly.
He finished the cigarette which he was smoking and deliberately threw away the stump. Then he turned and looked at her. His face seemed harder than ever, clean-cut, the face of a man able to defy Fate, but she saw something in his eyes which she had never seen before.
"Dear child," he said, "if I could roll back the years, if from all my deeds of sin, as the world knows sin, I could cancel one, there is nothing in the world would make me happier than to ask you to come with me as my cherished companion to just whatever part of the world you cared for. But I have been playing pitch and toss with fortune all my life, since the great trouble came which changed me so much. Even at this moment, the coin is in the air which may decide my fate."
"You mean?" she ventured.
"I mean," he continued, "that after the event of which we spoke last night, nothing in life has been more than an incident, and I have striven to find distraction by means which none of you—not even you, Lady Cynthia, with all your breadth of outlook and all your craving after new things—would justify."
"Nothing that you may have done troubles me in the least," she assured him. "I do wish that you could put it all out of your mind and let me help you to make a fresh start."
"I may put the thing itself out of my mind," he answered sadly, "but the consequences remain."
"There is a consequence which threatens?" she asked.
He was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, he had recovered all his courage.
"There is the coin in the air of which I spoke," he replied. "Let us forget it for a moment. Of the minor things I will make you my judge. Ledsam and Margaret are coming to my party to-morrow night. You, too, shall be my guest. Such secrets as lie on the other side of that wall shall be yours. After that, if I survive your judgment of them, and if the coin which I have thrown into the air comes, down to the tune I call—after that—I will remind you of something which happened last night—of something which, if I live for many years, I shall never forget."
She leaned towards him. Her eyes were heavy with longing. Her arms, sweet and white in the dusky twilight, stole hesitatingly out.
"Last night was so long ago. Won't you take a later memory?"
Once again she lay in his arms, still and content.
As they crossed the lawn, an hour or so later, they were confronted by Hedges—who hastened, in fact, to meet them.
"You are being asked for on the telephone, sir," he announced. "It is a trunk call. I have switched it through to the study."
"Any name?" Sir Timothy asked indifferently.
The man hesitated. His eyes sought his master's respectfully but charged with meaning.
"The person refuses to give his name, sir, but I fancied that I recognised his voice. I think it would be as well for you to speak, sir."
Lady Cynthia sank into a chair.
"You shall go and answer your telephone call," she said, "and leave Hedges to serve me with one of these strange drinks. I believe I see some of my favourite orangeade."
Sir Timothy made his way into the house and into the low, oak-beamed study with its dark furniture and latticed windows. The telephone bell began to ring again as he entered. He took up the receiver.
"Sir Timothy?" a rather hoarse, strained voice asked.
"I am speaking," Sir Timothy replied. "Who is it?"
The man at the other end spoke as though he were out of breath. Nevertheless, what he said was distinct enough.
"I am John Walter."
"I am just ringing you up," the voice went on, "to give you what's called a sporting chance. There's a boat from Southampton midday tomorrow. If you're wise, you'll catch it. Or better still, get off on your own yacht. They carry a wireless now, these big steamers. Don't give a criminal much of a chance, does it?"
"I am to understand, then," Sir Timothy said calmly, "that you have laid your information?"
"I've parted with it and serve you right," was the bitter reply. "I'm not saying that you're not a brave man, Sir Timothy, but there's such a thing as being foolhardy, and that's what you are. I wasn't asking you for half your fortune, nor even a dab of it, but if your life wasn't worth a few hundred pounds—you, with all that money—well, it wasn't worth saving. So now you know. I've spent ninepence to give you a chance to hop it, because I met a gent who has been good to me. I've had a good dinner and I feel merciful. So there you are."
"Do I gather," Sir Timothy asked, in a perfectly level tone, "that the deed is already done?"
"It's already done and done thoroughly," was the uncompromising answer. "I'm not ringing up to ask you to change your mind. If you were to offer me five thousand now, or ten, I couldn't stop the bally thing. You've a sporting chance of getting away if you start at once. That's all there is to it."
"You have nothing more to say?"
"Nothing! Only I wish to God I'd never stepped into that Mayfair agency. I wish I'd never gone to Mrs. Hilditch's as a temporary butler. I wish I'd never seen any one of you! That's all. You can go to Hell which way you like, only, if you take my advice, you'll go by the way of South America. The scaffold isn't every man's fancy."
There was a burr of the instrument and then silence. Sir Timothy carefully replaced the receiver, paused on his way out of the room to smell a great bowl of lavender, and passed back into the garden.
"More applicants for invitations?" Lady Cynthia enquired lazily.
Her host smiled.
"Not exactly! Although," he added, "as a matter of fact my party would have been perhaps a little more complete with the presence of the person to whom I have been speaking."
Lady Cynthia pointed to the stream, down which the punt was slowly drifting. The moon had gone behind a cloud, and Francis' figure, as he stood there, was undefined and ghostly. A thought seemed to flash into her mind. She leaned forward.
"Once," she said, "he told me that he was your enemy."
"The term is a little melodramatic," Sir Timothy protested. "We look at certain things from opposite points of view. You see, my prospective son-in-law, if ever he becomes that, represents the law—the Law with a capital 'L'—which recognises no human errors or weaknesses, and judges crime out of the musty books of the law-givers of old. He makes of the law a mechanical thing which can neither bend nor give, and he judges humanity from the same standpoint. Yet at heart he is a good fellow and I like him."
"My weakness lies the other way," he confessed, "and my sympathy is with those who do not fear to make their own laws."
She held out her hand, white and spectral in the momentary gloom. At the other end of the lawn, Francis and Margaret were disembarking from the punt.
"Does it sound too shockingly obvious," she murmured, "if I say that I want to make you my law?"
It would have puzzled anybody, except, perhaps, Lady Cynthia herself, to have detected the slightest alteration in Sir Timothy's demeanour during the following day, when he made fitful appearances at The Sanctuary, or at the dinner which was served a little earlier than usual, before his final departure for the scene of the festivities. Once he paused in the act of helping himself to some dish and listened for a moment to the sound of voices in the hall, and when a taxicab drove up he set down his glass and again betrayed some interest.
"The maid with my frock, thank heavens!" Lady Cynthia announced, glancing out of the window. "My last anxiety is removed. I am looking forward now to a wonderful night."
"You may very easily be disappointed," her host warned her. "My entertainments appeal more, as a rule, to men."
"Why don't you be thoroughly original and issue no invitations to women at all?" Margaret enquired.
"For the same reason that you adorn your rooms and the dinner-table with flowers," he answered. "One needs them—as a relief. Apart from that, I am really proud of my dancing-room, and there again, you see, your sex is necessary."
"We are flattered," Margaret declared, with a little bow. "It does seem queer to think that you should own what Cynthia's cousin, Davy Hinton, once told me was the best floor in London, and that I have never danced on it."
"Nor I," Lady Cynthia put in. "There might have been some excuse for not asking you, Margaret, but why an ultra-Bohemian like myself has had to beg and plead for an invitation, I really cannot imagine."
"You might find," Sir Timothy said, "you may even now—that some of my men guests are not altogether to your liking."
"Quite content to take my risk," Lady Cynthia declared cheerfully. "The man with the best manners I ever met—it was at one of Maggie's studio dances, too—was a bookmaker. And a retired prize-fighter brought me home once from an Albert Hall dance."
"How did he behave?" Francis asked.
"He was wistful but restrained," Lady Cynthia replied, "quite the gentleman, in fact."
"You encourage me to hope for the best," Sir Timothy said, rising to his feet. "You will excuse me now? I have a few final preparations to make."
"Are we to be allowed," Margaret enquired, "to come across the park?"
"You would not find it convenient," her father assured her. "You had better order a car, say for ten o'clock. Don't forget to bring your cards of invitation, and find me immediately you arrive. I wish to direct your proceedings to some extent."
Lady Cynthia strolled across with him to the postern-gate and stood by his side after he had opened it. Several of the animals, grazing in different parts of the park, pricked up their ears at the sound. An old mare came hobbling towards him; a flea-bitten grey came trotting down the field, his head in the air, neighing loudly.
"You waste a great deal of tenderness upon your animal friends, dear host," she murmured.
He deliberately looked away from her.
"The reciprocation, at any rate, has its disadvantages," he remarked, glancing a little disconsolately at the brown hairs upon his coat-sleeve. "I shall have to find another coat before I can receive my guests—which is a further reason," he added, "why I must hurry."
At the entrance to the great gates of The Walled House, two men in livery were standing. One of them examined with care the red cards of invitation, and as soon as he was satisfied the gates were opened by some unseen agency. The moment the car had passed through, they were closed again.
"Father seems thoroughly mediaeval over this business," Margaret remarked, looking about her with interest. "What a quaint courtyard, too! It really is quite Italian."
"It seems almost incredible that you have never been here!" Lady Cynthia exclaimed. "Curiosity would have brought me if I had had to climb over the wall!"
"It does seem absurd in one way," Margaret agreed, "but, as a matter of fact, my father's attitude about the place has always rather set me against it. I didn't feel that there was any pleasure to be gained by coming here. I won't tell you really what I did think. We must keep to our bargain. We are not to anticipate."
At the front entrance, under the covered portico, the white tickets which they had received in exchange for their tickets of invitation, were carefully collected by another man, who stopped the car a few yards from the broad, curving steps. After that, there was no more suggestion of inhospitality. The front doors, which were of enormous size and height, seemed to have been removed, and in the great domed hall beyond Sir Timothy was already receiving his guests. Being without wraps, the little party made an immediate entrance. Sir Timothy, who was talking to one of the best-known of the foreign ambassadors, took a step forward to meet them.
"Welcome," he said, "you, the most unique party, at least, amongst my guests. Prince, may I present you to my daughter, Mrs. Hilditch? Lady Cynthia Milton and Mr. Ledsam you know, I believe."
"Your father has just been preparing me for this pleasure," the Prince remarked, with a smile. "I am delighted that his views as regards these wonderful parties are becoming a little more—would it be correct to say latitudinarian? He has certainly been very strict up to now."
"It is the first time I have been vouchsafed an invitation," Margaret confessed.
"You will find much to interest you," the Prince observed. "For myself, I love the sport of which your father is so noble a patron. That, without doubt, though, is a side of his entertainment of which you will know nothing."
Sir Timothy, choosing a moment's respite from the inflowing stream of guests, came once more across to them.
"I am going to leave you, my honoured guests from The Sanctuary," he said, with a faint smile, "to yourselves for a short time. In the room to your left, supper is being served. In front is the dancing-gallery. To the right, as you see, is the lounge leading into the winter-garden. The gymnasium is closed until midnight. Any other part of the place please explore at your leisure, but I am going to ask you one thing. I want you to meet me in a room which I will show you, at a quarter to twelve."
He led them down one of the corridors which opened from the hall. Before the first door on the right a man-servant was standing as though on sentry duty. Sir Timothy tapped the panel of the door with his forefinger.
"This is my sanctum," he announced. "I allow no one in here without special permission. I find it useful to have a place to which one can come and rest quite quietly sometimes. Williams here has no other duty except to guard the entrance. Williams, you will allow this gentleman and these two ladies to pass in at a quarter to twelve."
The man looked at them searchingly.
"Certainly, sir," he said. "No one else?"
"No one, under any pretext."
Sir Timothy hurried back to the hall, and the others followed him in more leisurely fashion. They were all three full of curiosity.
"I never dreamed," Margaret declared, as she looked around her, "that I should ever find myself inside this house. It has always seemed to me like one great bluebeard's chamber. If ever my father spoke of it at all, it was as of a place which he intended to convert into a sort of miniature Hell."
Sir Timothy leaned back to speak to them as they passed.
"You will find a friend over there, Ledsam," he said.
Wilmore turned around and faced them. The two men exchanged somewhat surprised greetings.
"No idea that I was coming until this afternoon," Wilmore explained. "I got my card at five o'clock, with a note from Sir Timothy's secretary. I am racking my brains to imagine what it can mean."
"We're all a little addled," Francis confessed. "Come and join our tour of exploration. You know Lady Cynthia. Let me present you to Mrs. Hilditch."
The introduction was effected and they all, strolled on together. Margaret and Lady Cynthia led the way into the winter-garden, a palace of glass, tall palms, banks of exotics, flowering shrubs of every description, and a fountain, with wonderfully carved water nymphs, brought with its basin from Italy. Hidden in the foliage, a small orchestra was playing very softly. The atmosphere of the place was languorous and delicious.
"Leave us here," Margaret insisted, with a little exclamation of content. "Neither Cynthia nor I want to go any further. Come back and fetch us in time for our appointment."
The two men wandered off. The place was indeed a marvel of architecture, a country house, of which only the shell remained, modernised and made wonderful by the genius of a great architect. The first room which they entered when they left the winter-garden, was as large as a small restaurant, panelled in cream colour, with a marvellous ceiling. There were tables of various sizes laid for supper, rows of champagne bottles in ice buckets, and servants eagerly waiting for orders. Already a sprinkling of the guests had found their way here. The two men crossed the floor to the cocktail bar in the far corner, behind which a familiar face grinned at them. It was Jimmy, the bartender from Soto's, who stood there with a wonderful array of bottles on a walnut table.
"If it were not a perfectly fatuous question, I should ask what you were doing here, Jimmy?" Francis remarked.
"I always come for Sir Timothy's big parties, sir," Jimmy explained. "Your first visit, isn't it, sir?"
"My first," Francis assented.
"And mine," his companion echoed.
"What can I have the pleasure of making for you, sir?" the man enquired.
"A difficult question," Francis admitted. "It is barely an hour and a half since we finished diner. On the other hand, we are certainly going to have some supper some time or other."
Jimmy nodded understandingly.
"Leave it to me, sir," he begged.
He served them with a foaming white concoction in tall glasses. A genuine lime bobbed up and down in the liquid.
"Sir Timothy has the limes sent over from his own estate in South America," Jimmy announced. "You will find some things in that drink you don't often taste."
The two men sipped their beverage and pronounced it delightful. Jimmy leaned a little across the table.
"A big thing on to-night, isn't there, sir?" he asked cautiously.
"Is there?" Francis replied. "You mean—?"
Jimmy motioned towards the open window, close to which the river was flowing by.
"You going down, sir?"
Francis shook his head dubiously.
The bartender looked with narrowed eyes from one to the other of the two men. Then he suddenly froze up. Wilmore leaned a little further over the impromptu counter.
"Jimmy," he asked, "what goes on here besides dancing and boxing and gambling?"
"I never heard of any gambling," Jimmy answered, shaking his head. "Sir Timothy doesn't care about cards being played here at all."
"What is the principal entertainment, then?" Francis demanded. "The boxing?"
The bartender shook his head.
"No one understands very much about this house, sir," he said, "except that it offers the most wonderful entertainment in Europe. That is for the guests to find out, though. We servants have to attend to our duties. Will you let me mix you another drink, sir?"
"No, thanks," Francis answered. "The last was too good to spoil. But you haven't answered my question, Jimmy. What did you mean when you asked if we were going down?"
Jimmy's face had become wooden.
"I meant nothing, sir," he said. "Sorry I spoke."
The two men turned away. They recognised many acquaintances in the supper-room, and in the long gallery beyond, where many couples were dancing now to the music of a wonderful orchestra. By slow stages they made their way back to the winter-garden, where Lady Cynthia and Margaret were still lost in admiration of their surroundings. They all walked the whole length of the place. Beyond, down a flight of stone steps, was a short, paved way to the river. A large electric launch was moored at the quay. The grounds outside were dimly illuminated with cunningly-hidden electric lights shining through purple-coloured globes into the cloudy darkness. In the background, enveloping the whole of the house and reaching to the river on either side, the great wall loomed up, unlit, menacing almost in its suggestions. A couple of loiterers stood within a few yards of them, looking at the launch.
"There she is, ready for her errand, whatever it may be," one said to the other curiously. "We couldn't play the stowaway, I suppose, could we?"
"Dicky Bell did that once," the other answered. "Sir Timothy has only one way with intruders. He was thrown into the river and jolly nearly drowned."
The two men passed out of hearing.
"I wonder what part the launch plays in the night's entertainment," Wilmore observed.
Francis shrugged his shoulders.
"I have given up wondering," he said. "Margaret, do you hear that music?"
"Are we really to dance?" she murmured. "Do you want to make a girl of me again?"
"Well, I shouldn't be a magician, should I?" he answered.
They passed into the ballroom and danced for some time. The music was seductive and perfect, without any of the blatant notes of too many of the popular orchestras. The floor seemed to sway under their feet.
"This is a new joy come back into life!" Margaret exclaimed, as they rested for a moment.
"The first of many," he assured her.
They stood in the archway between the winter-garden and the dancing-gallery, from which they could command a view of the passing crowds. Francis scanned the faces of the men and women with intense interest. Many of them were known to him by sight, others were strangers. There was a judge, a Cabinet Minister, various members of the aristocracy, a sprinkling from the foreign legations, and although the stage was not largely represented, there were one or two well-known actors. The guests seemed to belong to no universal social order, but to Francis, watching them almost eagerly, they all seemed to have something of the same expression, the same slight air of weariness, of restless and unsatisfied desires.
"I can't believe that the place is real, or that these people we see are not supers," Margaret whispered.
"I feel every moment that a clock will strike and that it will all fade away."
"I'm afraid I'm too material for such imaginings," Francis replied, "but there is a quaintly artificial air about it all. We must go and look for Wilmore and Lady Cynthia."
They turned back into the enervating atmosphere of the winter-garden, and came suddenly face to face with Sir Timothy, who had escorted a little party of his guests to see the fountain, and was now returning alone.
"You have been dancing, I am glad to see," the latter observed. "I trust that you are amusing yourselves?"
"Excellently, thank you," Francis replied.
"And so far," Sir Timothy went on, with a faint smile, "you find my entertainment normal? You have no question yet which you would like to ask?"
"Only one—what do you do with your launch up the river on moonless nights, Sir Timothy?"
Sir Timothy's momentary silence was full of ominous significance.
"Mr. Ledsam," he said, after a brief pause, "I have given you almost carte blanche to explore my domains here. Concerning the launch, however, I think that you had better ask no questions at present."
"You are using it to-night?" Francis persisted.
"Will you come and see, my venturesome guest?"
"With great pleasure," was the prompt reply.
Sir Timothy glanced at his watch.
"That," he said, "is one of the matters of which we will speak at a quarter to twelve. Meanwhile, let me show you something. It may amuse you as it has done me."
The three moved back towards one of the arched openings which led into the ballroom.
"Observe, if you please," their host continued, "the third couple who pass us. The girl is wearing green—the very little that she does wear. Watch the man, and see if he reminds you of any one."
Francis did as he was bidden. The girl was a well-known member of the chorus of one of the principal musical comedies, and she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying both the dance and her partner. The latter appeared to be of a somewhat ordinary type, sallow, with rather puffy cheeks, and eyes almost unnaturally dark. He danced vigorously and he talked all the time. Something about him was vaguely familiar to Francis, but he failed to place him.
"Notwithstanding all my precautions," Sir Timothy continued, "there, fondly believing himself to be unnoticed, is an emissary of Scotland Yard. Really, of all the obvious, the dry-as-dust, hunt-your-criminal-by-rule-of-three kind of people I ever met, the class of detective to which this man belongs can produce the most blatant examples."
"What are you going to do about him?" Francis asked.
Sir Timothy shrugged his shoulders.
"I have not yet made up my mind," he said. "I happen to know that he has been laying his plans for weeks to get here, frequenting Soto's and other restaurants, and scraping acquaintances with some of my friends. The Duke of Tadchester brought him—won a few hundreds from him at baccarat, I suppose. His grace will never again find these doors open to him."
Francis' attention had wandered. He was gazing fixedly at the man whom Sir Timothy had pointed out.
"You still do not fully recognise our friend," the latter observed carelessly. "He calls himself Manuel Loito, and he professes to be a Cuban. His real name I understood, when you introduced us, to be Shopland."
"Great heavens, so it is!" Francis exclaimed.
"Let us leave him to his precarious pleasures," Sir Timothy suggested. "I am free for a few moments. We will wander round together."
They found Lady Cynthia and Wilmore, and looked in at the supper-room, where people were waiting now for tables, a babel of sound and gaiety. The grounds and winter-gardens were crowded. Their guide led the way to a large apartment on the other side of the hall, from which the sound of music was proceeding.
"My theatre," he said. "I wonder what is going on."
They passed inside. There was a small stage with steps leading down to the floor, easy-chairs and round tables everywhere, and waiters serving refreshments. A girl was dancing. Sir Timothy watched her approvingly.
"Nadia Ellistoff," he told them. "She was in the last Russian ballet, and she is waiting now for the rest of the company to start again at Covent Garden. You see, it is Metzger who plays there. They improvise. Rather a wonderful performance, I think."
They watched her breathlessly, a spirit in grey tulle, with great black eyes now and then half closed.
"It is 'Wind before Dawn,'" Lady Cynthia whispered. "I heard him play it two days after he composed it, only there are variations now. She is the soul of the south wind."
The curtain went down amidst rapturous applause. The dancer had left the stage, floating away into some sort of wonderfully-contrived nebulous background. Within a few moments, the principal comedian of the day was telling stories. Sir Timothy led them away.
"But how on earth do you get all these people?" Lady Cynthia asked.
"It is arranged for me," Sir Timothy replied. "I have an agent who sees to it all. Every man or woman who is asked to perform, has a credit at Cartier's for a hundred guineas. I pay no fees. They select some little keepsake."
Margaret laughed softly.
"No wonder they call this place a sort of Arabian Nights!" she declared.
"Well, there isn't much else for you to see," Sir Timothy said thoughtfully. "My gymnasium, which is one of the principal features here, is closed just now for a special performance, of which I will speak in a moment. The concert hall I see they are using for an overflow dance-room. What you have seen, with the grounds and the winter-garden, comprises almost everything."
They moved back through the hall with difficulty. People were now crowding in. Lady Cynthia laughed softly.
"Why, it is like a gala night at the Opera, Sir Timothy!" she exclaimed. "How dare you pretend that this is Bohemia!"
"It has never been I who have described my entertainments," he reminded her. "They have been called everything—orgies, debauches—everything you can think of. I have never ventured myself to describe them."
Their passage was difficult. Every now and then Sir Timothy was compelled to shake hands with some of his newly-arriving guests. At last, however, they reached the little sitting-room. Sir Timothy turned back to Wilmore, who hesitated.
"You had better come in, too, Mr. Wilmore, if you will," he invited. "You were with Ledsam, the first day we met, and something which I have to say now may interest you."
"If I am not intruding," Wilmore murmured.
They entered the room, still jealously guarded. Sir Timothy closed the door behind them.
The apartment was one belonging to the older portion of the house, and had been, in fact, an annex to the great library. The walls were oak-panelled, and hung with a collection of old prints. There were some easy-chairs, a writing-table, and some well-laden bookcases. There were one or two bronze statues of gladiators, a wonderful study of two wrestlers, no minor ornaments. Sir Timothy plunged at once into what he had to say.
"I promised you, Lady Cynthia, and you, Ledsam," he said, "to divulge exactly the truth as regards these much-talked-of entertainments here. You, Margaret, under present circumstances, are equally interested. You, Wilmore, are Ledsam's friend, and you happen to have an interest in this particular party. Therefore, I am glad to have you all here together. The superficial part of my entertainment you have seen. The part which renders it necessary for me to keep closed doors, I shall now explain. I give prizes here of considerable value for boxing contests which are conducted under rules of our own. One is due to take place in a very few minutes. The contests vary in character, but I may say that the chief officials of the National Sporting Club are usually to be found here, only, of course, in an unofficial capacity. The difference between the contests arranged by me, and others, is that my men are here to fight. They use sometimes an illegal weight of glove and they sometimes hurt one another. If any two of the boxing fraternity have a grudge against one another, and that often happens, they are permitted here to fight it out, under the strictest control as regards fairness, but practically without gloves at all. You heard of the accident, for instance, to Norris? That happened in my gymnasium. He was knocked out by Burgin. It was a wonderful fight.
"However, I pass on. There is another class of contest which frequently takes place here. Two boxers place themselves unreservedly in my hands. The details of the match are arranged without their knowledge. They come into the ring without knowing whom they are going to fight. Sometimes they never know, for my men wear masks. Then we have private matches. There is one to-night. Lord Meadowson and I have a wager of a thousand guineas. He has brought to-night from the East End a boxer who, according to the terms of our bet, has never before engaged in a professional contest. I have brought an amateur under the same conditions. The weight is within a few pounds the same, neither has ever seen the other, only in this case the fight is with regulation gloves and under Queensberry rules."