“About a mile, sir.”
The stranger, the only passenger who had alighted, slipped sixpence into the man’s hand, buttoned his coat, and started out to walk in the direction indicated, breasting the keen east wind.
He was well-set-up, and of athletic bearing. He took long strides as with swinging gait he went up the hill. As he did so, he muttered to himself:
“I was an infernal fool not to have come down in a car! I hate these beastly muddy country roads. But Molly has the telephone—so I can ring up for a car to fetch me—which is a consolation, after all.”
And with his keen eyes set before him, he pressed forward up the steep incline to where, for ten miles, ran the straight broad highway over the high ridge known as the Hog’s Back. The road is very popular with motorists, for so high is it that on either side there stretches a wide panorama of country, the view on the north being towards the Thames Valley and London, while on the south Hindhead with the South Downs in the blue distance show beyond.
Having reached the high road the stranger paused to take breath, and incidentally to admire the magnificent view. Indeed, an expression of admiration fell involuntarily from his lips. Then he went along for another half-mile in the teeth of the cutting wind with the twilight rapidly coming on, until he came to the clump of dark firs and presently walked up a gravelled drive to a large, but somewhat inartistic, Georgian house of red brick with long square windows. In parts the ivy was trying to hide its terribly ugly architecture for around the deep porch it grew thickly and spread around one corner of the building.
A ring at the door brought a young manservant whom the caller addressed as Arthur, and, wishing him good afternoon, asked if Mrs. Bond were at home.
“Yes, sir,” was the reply.
“Oh! good,” said the caller. “Just tell her I’m here.” And he proceeded to remove his coat and to hang it up in the great flagged hall with the air of one used to the house.
The Manor was a spacious, well-furnished place, full of good pictures and much old oak furniture.
The servant passed along the corridor, and entering the drawing-room, announced:
“Mr. Benton is here, ma’am.”
“Oh! Mr. Benton! Show him in,” cried his mistress enthusiastically. “Show him in at once!”
Next moment the caller entered the fine, old-fashioned room, where a well-preserved, fair-haired woman of about forty was taking her tea alone and petting her Pekinese.
“Well, Charles? So you’ve discovered me here, eh?” she exclaimed, jumping up and taking his hand.
“Yes, Molly. And you seem to have very comfortable quarters,” laughed Benton as he threw himself unceremoniously into a chintz-covered armchair.
“They are, I assure you.”
“And I suppose you’re quite a great lady in these parts—eh?—now that you live at Shapley Manor. Where’s Louise?”