It was a foggy October evening, and Berkeley Square, from which the daylight had not yet departed, made a peculiarly dismal impression on the passers-by, under the mingled illumination of its half-blinded lamps, and of a sunset which in the country was clear and golden, and here in west London could only give a lurid coppery tinge to the fog, to the eastern house-fronts, and to the great plane-trees holding the Square garden, like giants encamped. Landsowne House, in its lordly seclusion from the rest of the Square, seemed specially to have gathered the fog to itself, and was almost lost from sight. Not a ray of light escaped the closely-shuttered windows. The events of the mensis mirabilis were rushing on. Bulgaria, Austria, Turkey, had laid down their arms—the German cry for an armistice had rung through Europe. But still London lay dark and muffled. Her peril was not yet over.
In the drawing-room of one of the houses on the eastern side, belonging to a Warwickshire baronet and M.P.—Sir Richard Winton by name—a lady was standing in front of a thrifty fire, which in view of the coal restrictions of the moment, she had been very unwilling to light at all. The restrictions irritated her; so did the inevitable cold of the room; and most of all was she annoyed and harassed by the thought of a visitor who might appear at any moment. She was tall, well-made, and plain. One might have guessed her age at about thirty-five. She had been out in the earlier afternoon, attending a war meeting on behalf of some charities in which she was interested, and she had not yet removed a high and stately hat with two outstanding wings and much jet ornament, which she had worn at the meeting, to the huge indignation of her neighbours. The black of her silk dress was lightened by a rope of pearls, and various diamond trinkets. Her dress fitted her to perfection. Competence and will were written in her small, shrewd eyes and in the play of a decided mouth.
There was a knock at the door. At Lady Winton’s “Come in!” a stout, elderly maid appeared. She came up to her mistress, and said in a lowered voice,—
“You’ll see Mr. Roger here?”
“Why, I told you so, Nannie!” was the impatient answer. “Is everybody out of the way?”
The maid explained that all was ready. Jones the butler had been sent with a note to the City, and the housemaid was sitting with the kitchen-maid, who was recovering from the flu.
“I told them I’d answer the bell. And I’ll keep an eye that no one comes down before he’s gone. There he is!”
For the bell had rung, and the maid hastened to the hall door to answer it.
A tall man entered—coughing.
“Beastly night, Nannie!” he said, as soon as the cough would let him. “Don’t suit my style. Well?—how are you? Had the flu, like everybody else?”
“Not yet, Mr. Roger—though it’s been going through the house. Shall I take your coat?”