As she came, slower than ever, down the broad opulent pavement of Queen’s Gate, through the silence and emptiness of Sunday—for the church bells were long ago silent—she noticed coming towards her, with a sauntering step, an old gentleman in frock coat and silk hat of a slightly antique appearance, spatted and gloved, carrying his hands behind his back, as if he were waiting to be joined by some friend from one of the houses. She noticed that he looked at her through his glasses, but thought no more of it till she turned up the steps of her own house. Then she was startled by the sound of quick footsteps and a voice.
“I beg your pardon, madam ...”
She turned, with her key in the door, and there he stood, hat in hand.
“Have I the pleasure of speaking to Lady Laura Bethell?”
There was a pleasant brisk ring about his voice that inclined her rather favorably towards him.
“Is there anything.... Did you want to speak to me...? Yes, I am Lady Laura Bethell.”
“I was told you were at church, madam, and that you were not at home to visitors on Sunday.”
“That is quite right.... May I ask...?”
“Only a few minutes, Lady Laura, I promise you. Will you forgive my persistence?”
Yes; the man was a gentleman; there was no doubt of that.
“Would not tomorrow do? I am rather engaged today.”
He had his card-case ready, and without answering her at once, he came up the steps and handed it to her.
The name meant nothing at all to her.
“Will not tomorrow...?” she began again.
“Tomorrow will be too late,” said the old gentleman. “I beg of you, Lady Laura. It is on an extremely important matter.”
She still hesitated an instant; then she pushed the door open and went in.
“Please come in,” she said.
She was so taken aback by the sudden situation that she forgot completely that the drawing-room would be upside down, and led the way straight upstairs; and it was not till she was actually within the door, with the old gentleman close on her heels, that she saw that, with the exception of three or four chairs about the fire and the table set out near the hearthrug, the room was empty of furniture.
“I forgot,” she said; “but will you mind coming in here.... We ... we have a meeting here this evening.”
She led the way to the fire, and at first did not notice that he was not following her. When she turned round she saw the old gentleman, with his air of antique politeness completely vanished, standing and looking about him with a very peculiar expression. She also noticed, to her annoyance, that the cabinet was already in place in the little ante-room and that his eyes almost immediately rested upon it. Yet there was no look of wonder in his face; rather it was such a look as a man might have on visiting the scene of a well-known crime—interest, knowledge, and loathing.