Suddenly my strained hearing detected what I had been listening for all the time. There was a faint but audible rustling in the shrubs overgrowing the wall on my left. I made a quick dash forward, tripped against some invisible obstacle stretched across the lane, and went staggering sideways, struggling to preserve my balance. Almost at the same moment two dark forms dropped from the shelter of the shrubs on to the lane by my side. I felt the soft splash of a wet cloth upon my cheeks, an arm round my neck, and the sickening odour of chloroform in my nostrils. But already I had regained by balance. I wrenched myself free from the arm, and was suddenly blinded by the glare of a small electric hand-light within a foot of my face. I struck a sweeping blow at it with my stick, and from the soft impact it seemed to me that the blow must have descended upon the head of one of my assailants. I heard a groan, and I saw the shadowy form of the second man spring at me. What followed was not, I believe, cowardice on my part, for my blood was up and my sense of fear gone. I dashed my stick straight at the approaching figure, and I leaped forward and ran. I had won the hundred yards and the quarter of a mile at Oxford, and I was in fair training. I knew how to get off fast, and after the first dozen yards I felt that I was safe. The footsteps which had started in pursuit ceased in a few minutes. Breathless, but with the dispatch-box safe under my arm, I sprinted across the marsh, and never paused till I reached the road. Then I looked back and listened. I could see or hear nothing, but from one of the top rooms in the Grange a faint but steady light was shining out.
LADY ANGELA APPROVES
It was the only breath of fresh air which I had allowed myself all the morning, though the dazzling sunlight and the soft west wind had tempted me all the time. And now, as ill luck would have it, I had walked straight into the presence of the one person in the world whom I wished most earnestly to avoid. She was standing on the edge of the cliff, her hands behind her, gazing seawards, and though I stopped short at the sight of her, and for a moment entertained wild thoughts of flight, it was not possible for me to carry them out. A dry twig snapped beneath my feet, and, turning quickly round, she had seen me. She came forward at once, and for some reason or other I knew that she was glad. She smiled upon me almost gaily.
“So this sunshine has even tempted you out, Sir Hermit,” she exclaimed. “Is it not good to feel the Spring coming?”
“Delightful,” I answered.
She looked at me curiously.
“How pale you are!” she said. “You are working too hard, Mr. Ducaine.”
“I came down from London by the mail last night,” I said. “I saw Colonel Ray—had dinner with him, in fact.”
She nodded, but asked me no questions.