Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
Release Date: May, 2004 [EBook #5743] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on August 21, 2002]
Character set encoding: ASCII
*** Start of the project gutenberg EBOOK the evil shepherd ***
Produced by an anonymous volunteer.
Francis Ledsam, alert, well-satisfied with himself and the world, the echo of a little buzz of congratulations still in his ears, paused on the steps of the modern Temple of Justice to light a cigarette before calling for a taxi to take him to his club. Visions of a whisky and soda—his throat was a little parched —and a rubber of easy-going bridge at his favourite table, were already before his eyes. A woman who had followed him from the Court touched him on the shoulder.
“Can I speak to you for a moment, Mr. Ledsam?”
The barrister frowned slightly as he swung around to confront his questioner. It was such a familiar form of address.
“What do you want?” he asked, a little curtly.
“A few minutes’ conversation with you,” was the calm reply. “The matter is important.”
The woman’s tone and manner, notwithstanding her plain, inconspicuous clothes, commanded attention. Francis Ledsam was a little puzzled. Small things meant much to him in life, and he had been looking forward almost with the zest of a schoolboy to that hour of relaxation at his club. He was impatient of even a brief delay, a sentiment which he tried to express in his response.
“What do you want to speak to me about?” he repeated bluntly. “I shall be in my rooms in the Temple to-morrow morning, any time after eleven.”
“It is necessary for me to speak to you now,” she insisted. “There is a tea-shop across the way. Please accompany me there.”
Ledsam, a little surprised at the coolness of her request, subjected his accoster to a closer scrutiny. As he did so, his irritation diminished. He shrugged his shoulders slightly.
“If you really have business with me,” he said, “I will give you a few minutes.”
They crossed the street together, the woman self-possessed, negative, wholly without the embarrassment of one performing an unusual action. Her companion felt the awakening of curiosity. Zealously though she had, to all appearance, endeavoured to conceal the fact, she was without a doubt personable. Her voice and manner lacked nothing of refinement. Yet her attraction to Francis Ledsam, who, although a perfectly normal human being, was no seeker after promiscuous adventures, did not lie in these externals. As a barrister whose success at the criminal bar had been phenomenal, he had attained to a certain knowledge of human nature. He was able, at any rate, to realise that this woman was no imposter. He knew that she had vital things to say.