He had just finished his breakfast when a servant appeared, with a dainty little note marked “Immediate.”
The envelope bore no crest; for Lady Merivale used none in her correspondence with Adrien Leroy, from prudential motives. But he recognised the handwriting, and the faint Oriental scent her ladyship invariably used, and hastened to open it, fearing a lengthy epistle full of hysterical reproaches. To his intense relief he found that it contained but two lines.
“DEAR ADRIEN,—I shall spend the day with Aunt Rose at Hampton. Do you care to accompany me as you promised?”
“Indeed I do,” murmured Adrien.
He recollected that on the day of the race he had promised Lady Merivale that, when next she visited her aunt, Lady Rose Challoner, at Hampton Court, he would meet her there, and row her to some of the pretty islands further up the stream, and there spend the day in delicious idleness.
So far, engagements on both sides had prevented this plan being carried out; but now Lady Merivale was evidently free, and he decided to cancel any existing arrangements, and fulfil his promise. Accordingly, sitting down at his desk, he dashed off a note:
“DEAR LADY MERIVALE,—I am motoring down to Hampton, and will gladly meet you there. I shall wire for the skiff and lunch. Au revoir.”
Having despatched this, he gave instructions to Norgate with regard to all his engagements, and ordered the car.
It was a splendid spring morning, just bright and hot enough to make the vision of the cool, broad river particularly tempting; and Adrien determined to put aside all cares, and take the day as it came. Lady Merivale had evidently decided to set at rest her jealous fears; and, he told himself, as Constance was not to be his, there was nothing else to do but to pass the time as best he might.
Whatever happened, he was glad to be done with Ada Lester. He had tired of her almost before the first month of their so-called friendship; but he had not had the courage—or rather the energy—necessary to relieve himself of her.
At any rate, Eveline’s day should not be spoiled. It should be one to be marked with a white stone. He little thought with what danger the trip was to be fraught, or that it would prove the most momentous one of his pleasure-filled life.
Directly the motor appeared, Leroy dismissed the chauffeur, preferring to drive himself, as procuring greater safety against a breath of scandal touching her ladyship’s name.
Through the crowded streets Leroy went steadily enough; but once clear of them, he put on speed, exhilarated by the rush through the pure morning air. So fast was the run that, on reaching Hampton Court, he found it would be a good half-hour before Lady Merivale was even due to arrive; and as punctuality was not one of her ladyship’s strong points, he knew he had almost an hour to spare.
Having put up the motor at a local garage, he strolled down to the river, where he found his dainty little skiff, Sea Foam, ready and waiting for him. It was just big enough to contain two, and its upholstery of cream leather gave it the light effect which rendered its name so appropriate.