Lord Ronsdale moistened his lips; then got up, walked back and forth. A brisker gust, without, and the tin symbol of the Golden Lion over the entrance to the inn swung with a harsh rattle almost around the bar that held it. The nobleman stopped short; from the dim corner where he stood his eyes gleamed with animal brightness.
“And now?” suggested Mr. Gillett. “Your lordship of course knows what this means, if your lordship uses the weapons you have in your hands? The penalty for one transported returning to England is—”
“I know,” interrupted the other. “He has, however, dared to come back, to incur that risk. Any plea he could hope to make,” Lord Ronsdale spoke with studied deliberation, “to justify the act, he could not—substantiate.” The speaker lingered on the word then went on more crisply. “He stands in the position of a person who has broken one of the most exacting laws of the realm and one which has on all occasions been rigorously enforced. He has presumed to trespass in the highest circles, to mingle with people of rank, our gentry, our ladies—”
“Then your lordship will—”
“I have made my plans. And—I intend to act.”
“But would it not be better to wait until he returns to London, my Lord?”
“And give him more time to—” he broke off. “We act here, at once!”
Lord Ronsdale again seated himself; his face had regained its hard mask; he motioned the other man to draw his chair closer. “I’ll tell you how to proceed.”
* * * * *
The windows in Strathorn House shone bright; from within came the sound of music; in the billiard room, adjoining the spacious hall, a number of persons were smoking, playing, or watching the dancers. At one of the tables two men had about finished a game; by the skilful stroke of him who showed the better score, the balls clicked briskly, separated, and came together once more.
“Enough to go out with!” The player, Captain Forsythe, counted his score. “Shall we say another, Steele?”
“Not for me!” John Steele placed his cue in the rack. “I’m out for a breath of air.” And he stepped through an open French window, leading upon a balcony that almost spanned the rear of the house.
“Mr. Steele seems to be rather out of form to-night.” A plump, short woman with doll-like eyes, who had been watching the game from a seat near-by, now spoke, with subtle meaning in her accents.
“Quite so. Can’t really understand it. Steele can put up a deuced strong game, don’t you know, but to-night—Did you notice how he failed at one of the easiest shots?”
“That was when Jocelyn Wray looked in,” murmured the other.
“Miss Wray!” Captain Forsythe set the balls for a practice shot. “Well, Steele’s a splendid chap,” he said irrelevantly.