For the first time since he had become aware of her flight, George was thankful that the girl had disappeared. He perceived that he had too quickly eliminated Percy from the list of the Things That Matter. Engrossed with his own affairs, and having regarded their late skirmish as a decisive battle from which there would be no rallying, he had overlooked the possibility of this annoying and unnecessary person following them in another cab—a task which, in the congested, slow-moving traffic, must have been a perfectly simple one. Well, here he was, his soul manifestly all stirred up and his blood-pressure at a far higher figure than his doctor would have approved of, and the matter would have to be opened all over again.
“Now then!” said the stout young man.
George regarded him with a critical and unfriendly eye. He disliked this fatty degeneration excessively. Looking him up and down, he could find no point about him that gave him the least pleasure, with the single exception of the state of his hat, in the side of which he was rejoiced to perceive there was a large and unshapely dent.
“You thought you had shaken me off! You thought you’d given me the slip! Well, you’re wrong!”
George eyed him coldly.
“I know what’s the matter with you,” he said. “Someone’s been feeding you meat.”
The young man bubbled with fury. His face turned a deeper scarlet. He gesticulated.
“You blackguard! Where’s my sister?”
At this extraordinary remark the world rocked about George dizzily. The words upset his entire diagnosis of the situation. Until that moment he had looked upon this man as a Lothario, a pursuer of damsels. That the other could possibly have any right on his side had never occurred to him. He felt unmanned by the shock. It seemed to cut the ground from under his feet.
“You heard what I said. Where is she?”
George was still endeavouring to adjust his scattered faculties. He felt foolish and apologetic. He had imagined himself unassailably in the right, and it now appeared that he was in the wrong.
For a moment he was about to become conciliatory. Then the recollection of the girl’s panic and her hints at some trouble which threatened her—presumably through the medium of this man, brother or no brother—checked him. He did not know what it was all about, but the one thing that did stand out clearly in the welter of confused happenings was the girl’s need for his assistance. Whatever might be the rights of the case, he was her accomplice, and must behave as such.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
The young man shook a large, gloved fist in his face.
A rich, deep, soft, soothing voice slid into the heated scene like the Holy Grail sliding athwart a sunbeam.
“What’s all this?”