“Margaret has carte blanche at The Sanctuary as regards her visitors,” he said. “I am afraid that I shall be busy over at The Walled House.”
“But you’d come and dine with us?”
Sir Timothy hesitated. An issue which had been looming in his mind for many hours seemed to be suddenly joined.
“Please!” Lady Cynthia begged.
Sir Timothy followed the example of the others and rose to his feet. He avoided Lady Cynthia’s eyes. He seemed suddenly a little tired.
“I will come and dine,” he assented quietly. “I am afraid that I cannot promise more than that. Lady Cynthia, as she knows, is always welcome at The Sanctuary.”
Punctual to his appointment that afternoon, the man who had sought an interview with Francis was shown into the latter’s study in Clarges Street.
He wore an overcoat over his livery, and directly he entered the room Francis was struck by his intense pallor. He had been trying feverishly to assure himself that all that the man required was the usual sort of help, or assistance into a hospital. Yet there was something furtive in his visitor’s manner, something which suggested the bearer of a guilty secret.
“Please tell me what you want as quickly as you can,” Francis begged. “I am due to start down into the country in a few minutes.”
“I won’t keep you long, sir,” the man replied. “The matter is rather a serious one.”
“Are you ill?”
“You had better sit down.”
The man relapsed gratefully into a chair.
“I’ll leave out everything that doesn’t count, sir,” he said. “I’ll be as brief as I can. I want you to go back to the night I waited upon you at dinner the night Mr. Oliver Hilditch was found dead. You gave evidence. The jury brought it in ‘suicide.’ It wasn’t suicide at all, sir. Mr. Hilditch was murdered.”
The sense of horror against which he had been struggling during the last few hours, crept once more through the whole being of the man who listened. He was face to face once more with that terrible issue. Had he perjured himself in vain? Was the whole structure of his dreams about to collapse, to fall about his ears?
“By whom?” he faltered.
“By Sir Timothy Brast, sir.”
Francis, who had been standing with his hand upon the table, felt suddenly inclined to laugh. Facile though his brain was, the change of issues was too tremendous for him to readily assimilate it. He picked up a cigarette from an open box, with shaking fingers, lit it, and threw himself into an easy-chair. He was all the time quite unconscious of what he was doing.
“Sir Timothy Brast?” he repeated.
“Yes, sir,” the man reiterated. “I wish to tell you the whole story.”
“I am listening,” Francis assured him.