So far Arthur feels himself safe. He turns away, and joins the women and the returned sportsmen in the upper drawing-room.
“Where is Dynecourt?” asks somebody a little later. Arthur, though he hears the question, does not even change color, but calmly, with a steady hand, gives Florence her tea.
“Yes; where is Sir Adrian?” asks Mrs. Talbot, glancing up at the speaker.
“He left us about an hour ago,” Captain Ringwood answers. “He said he’d prefer walking home, and he shoveled his birds into our cart, and left us without another word. He’ll turn up presently, no doubt.”
“Dear me, I hope nothing has happened to him!” says Ethel Villiers, who is sitting in a window through which the rays of the evening sun are stealing, turning her auburn locks to threads of rich red gold.
“I hope not, I’m sure,” interposes Arthur, quite feelingly. “It does seem odd he hasn’t come in before this.” Then, true to his determination to so arrange matters that, if discovery ensues upon his scheme, he may still find for himself a path out of his difficulties, he says quietly, “I met him about a mile from home, and walked here with him. We parted at the hall-door; I dare say he is in the library or the stables.”
“Good gracious, why didn’t you say so before?” exclaims old Lady FitzAlmont in a querulous tone. “I quite began to believe the poor boy had blown out his brains through disappointed love, or something equally objectionable.”
Both Dora and Florence color warmly at this. The old lady herself is free to speak as she thinks of Sir Adrian, having no designs upon him for Lady Gertrude, that young lady being engaged to a very distinguished and titled botanist, now hunting for ferns in the West Indies.
“Markham,” says Mrs. Talbot to a footman who enters at this moment, “go to the library and tell Sir Adrian his tea is waiting for him.”
But presently Markham returns and says Sir Adrian is not in the library.
“Then try the stables, try everywhere,” says Dora somewhat impatiently.
Markham, having tried everywhere, brings back the same answer; Sir Adrian apparently is not to be found!
“Most extraordinary,” remarks Lady FitzAlmont, fanning herself. “As a rule I have noticed that Adrian is most punctual. I do hope my first impression was not the right one, and that we sha’n’t find him presently with his throat cut and wallowing in his blood on account of some silly young woman!”
“Dear mamma,” interposes Lady Gertrude, laughing, “what a terribly old-fashioned surmise! No man nowadays kills himself for a false love; he only goes and gets another.”
But, when the dinner-hour arrives, and no host presents himself to lead Lady FitzAlmont into dinner, a great fear falls upon all the guests save one, and confusion and dismay, and anxious conjecture reign supreme.