He did not think of Maude.
At noon the following day there was a large meeting at Gloucester House. There gathered the Beltons, Baron Wirsch, Griffenberg, and the titled and untitled folk who had been concerned in Sir Stephen Orme’s big scheme. And they were all gloomy and in a bad temper; for all of them had lost money and some of them were well-nigh ruined by the collapse of the company which was to have made their fortunes. They came before noon, the appointed hour, and talked, sometimes in undertones, but not seldom in loud and complaining voices. By one and all the dead man was blamed for the ruin in which he had involved them. They had left the whole thing in his hands: he ought to have foreseen, ought to have taken proper precautions. They had been—well, if not duped and deceived, the victims of his criminal sanguineness and carelessness.
Griffenberg, being one of the heaviest losers, was elected to the chair, but beyond making a statement which told them nothing, he could do little. When he informed them that Lord Highcliffe had died practically insolvent, a murmur arose, a deep guttural murmur which was something between a hiss and a groan, and it was while this unpleasant sound was filling the room that Stafford entered.
The groan, if groan it can be called, died away, and they all turned and looked at his pale and careworn face. The tall figure in its deep mourning dress silenced them for the moment.
Griffenberg signed Stafford to a seat beside him.
“I am sure we can tell Lord Highcliffe that we are glad to see him, that we are much obliged for his attendance.”
Some few said “Hear! hear!” but the rest were silent and watchful. As Griffenberg spoke the door opened again and Ralph Falconer entered. He glanced at Stafford and knit his brows, but dropped heavily into a chair, and sat with stony face and half-lowered lids. He had scarcely taken his seat when Howard entered in his quiet fashion, and he went and stood just behind Stafford.
“I was just telling the meeting, Lord Highcliffe, that I was afraid we were in a bad way.” said Griffenberg. “We all relied so completely on Sir Stephen—I beg pardon, Lord Highcliffe, your father—that we feel ourselves helpless now—er—left in the lurch. The company is in great peril; there has already been heavy loss, and we fear that our property will be swallowed up—”
“Ask him what Sir Stephen did with all his money!” cried an excited shareholder.
“Order!” said Mr. Griffenberg. “Lord Highcliffe is not here to answer questions.”
“Then what’s he here for?” retorted another man whose loss amounted to a few hundreds, but who was more excited and venomous than those who had many thousands at stake. “He’s all right. He’s a lord—a pretty lord!—and I’m told the gentleman he’s next to is his future father-in-law, and is rolling in money—”