“I am asking your pardon, sir, for taking a great liberty,” he confessed. “No one wants you on the telephone. I wished to speak to you.”
Francis looked at him in surprise. The man was evidently agitated. Somehow or other, his face was vaguely familiar.
“Who are you, and what do you want with me?” Francis asked.
“I was butler to Mr. Hilditch, sir,” the man replied. “I waited upon you the night you dined there, sir—the night of Mr. Hilditch’s death.”
“I have a revelation to make with regard to that night, sir,” the man went on, “which I should like to place in your hands. It is a very serious matter, and there are reasons why something must be done about it at once. Can I come and see you at your rooms, sir?”
Francis studied the man for a moment intently. He was evidently agitated—evidently, too, in very bad health. His furtive manner was against him. On the other hand, that might have arisen from nervousness.
“I shall be in at half-past three, number 13 b, Clarges Street,” Francis told him.
“I can get off for half-an-hour then, sir,” the man replied. “I shall be very glad to come. I must apologise for having troubled you, sir.”
Francis went slowly back to his trio of guests. All the way down the carpeted vestibule he was haunted by the grim shadow of a spectral fear. The frozen horror of that ghastly evening was before him like a hateful tableau. Hilditch’s mocking words rang in his cars: “My death is the one thing in the world which would make my wife happy.” The Court scene, with all its gloomy tragedy, rose before his eyes—only in the dock, instead of Hilditch, he saw another!
There were incidents connected with that luncheon which Francis always remembered. In the first place, Sir Timothy was a great deal more silent than usual. A certain vein of half-cynical, half-amusing comment upon things and people of the moment, which seemed, whenever he cared to exert himself, to flow from his lips without effort, had deserted him. He sat where the rather brilliant light from the high windows fell upon his face, and Francis wondered more than once whether there were not some change there, perhaps some prescience of trouble to come, which had subdued him and made him unusually thoughtful. Another slighter but more amusing feature of the luncheon was the number of people who stopped to shake hands with Sir Timothy and made more or less clumsy efforts to obtain an invitation to his coming entertainment. Sir Timothy’s reply to these various hints was barely cordial. The most he ever promised was that he would consult with his secretary and see if their numbers were already full. Lady Cynthia, as a somewhat blatant but discomfited Peer of the Realm took his awkward leave of them, laughed softly.
“Of course, I think they all deserve what they get,” she declared. “I never heard such brazen impudence in my life—from people who ought to know better, too.”