Mr. Skinner was not in the garb usually affected by men of the world who are invited to dine out. The long day’s exertion, too, had had its effect upon his linen. His front, indeed, through a broad gap, confessed to a foundation of blue, and one of his cuffs showed a marked inclination to escape from his wrist over his knuckles. His face was flushed, and he exhaled a strong odour of cigars and cocktails. Nevertheless, Mr. Sabin was very glad to see him, and to receive the folded sheet of paper which he at once produced.
“I have taken the liberty,” Mr. Sabin remarked, on his part, “of adding a trifle to the amount we first spoke of, which I beg you will accept from me as a mark of my gratitude for your promptness.”
“Sure!” Mr. Skinner answered tersely, receiving the little roll of bills without hesitation, and retreating into a quiet corner, where he carefully counted and examined every one. “That’s all right!” he announced at the conclusion of his task. “Come and have one with me now before you read your little billet-doux, eh?”
“I shall not read your report until after dinner,” Mr. Sabin said, “and I think if you are ready that we might as well go in. At the head-waiter’s suggestion I have ordered a cocktail with the oysters, and if we are much later he seemed to fear that it might affect the condition of the—I think it was terrapin, he said.”
Mr. Skinner stopped short. His tone betrayed emotion.
“Did you say terrapin, sir?”
Mr. Sabin nodded. Mr. Skinner at once took his arm.
“Guess we’ll go right in,” he declared. “I hate to have a good meal spoiled.”
They were an old-looking couple. Mr. Sabin quietly but faultlessly attired in the usual evening dinner garb, Mr. Skinner ill-dressed, untidy, unwashed and frowsy. But here at least Mr. Sabin’s incognito had been unavailing, for he had stayed at the hotel several times—as he remembered with an odd little pang—with Lucille, and the head-waiter, with a low bow, ushered them to their table. Mr. Skinner saw the preparations for their repast, the oysters, the cocktails in tall glasses, the magnum of champagne in ice, and chuckled. To take supper with a duke was a novelty to him, but he was not shy. He sat down and tucked his serviette into his waistcoat, raised his glass, and suddenly set it down again.
“The boss!” he exclaimed in amazement.
Mr. Sabin turned his head in the direction which his companion had indicated. Coming hastily across the room towards them, already out of breath as though with much hurrying, was a thick-set, powerful man, with the brutal face and coarse lips of a prizefighter; a beard cropped so short as to seem the growth of a few days only covered his chin, and his moustache, treated in the same way, was not thick enough to conceal a cruel mouth. He was carefully enough dressed, and a great diamond flashed from his tie. There was a red mark round his forehead where his hat had been, and the perspiration was streaming from his forehead. He strode without hesitation to the table where Mr. Sabin and his guest were sitting, and without even a glance at the former turned upon his myrmidon.