“Do I gather,” Sir Timothy asked, in a perfectly level tone, “that the deed is already done?”
“It’s already done and done thoroughly,” was the uncompromising answer. “I’m not ringing up to ask you to change your mind. If you were to offer me five thousand now, or ten, I couldn’t stop the bally thing. You’ve a sporting chance of getting away if you start at once. That’s all there is to it.”
“You have nothing more to say?”
“Nothing! Only I wish to God I’d never stepped into that Mayfair agency. I wish I’d never gone to Mrs. Hilditch’s as a temporary butler. I wish I’d never seen any one of you! That’s all. You can go to Hell which way you like, only, if you take my advice, you’ll go by the way of South America. The scaffold isn’t every man’s fancy.”
There was a burr of the instrument and then silence. Sir Timothy carefully replaced the receiver, paused on his way out of the room to smell a great bowl of lavender, and passed back into the garden.
“More applicants for invitations?” Lady Cynthia enquired lazily.
Her host smiled.
“Not exactly! Although,” he added, “as a matter of fact my party would have been perhaps a little more complete with the presence of the person to whom I have been speaking.”
Lady Cynthia pointed to the stream, down which the punt was slowly drifting. The moon had gone behind a cloud, and Francis’ figure, as he stood there, was undefined and ghostly. A thought seemed to flash into her mind. She leaned forward.
“Once,” she said, “he told me that he was your enemy.”
“The term is a little melodramatic,” Sir Timothy protested. “We look at certain things from opposite points of view. You see, my prospective son-in-law, if ever he becomes that, represents the law—the Law with a capital ’L’—which recognises no human errors or weaknesses, and judges crime out of the musty books of the law-givers of old. He makes of the law a mechanical thing which can neither bend nor give, and he judges humanity from the same standpoint. Yet at heart he is a good fellow and I like him.”
“My weakness lies the other way,” he confessed, “and my sympathy is with those who do not fear to make their own laws.”
She held out her hand, white and spectral in the momentary gloom. At the other end of the lawn, Francis and Margaret were disembarking from the punt.
“Does it sound too shockingly obvious,” she murmured, “if I say that I want to make you my law?”
It would have puzzled anybody, except, perhaps, Lady Cynthia herself, to have detected the slightest alteration in Sir Timothy’s demeanour during the following day, when he made fitful appearances at The Sanctuary, or at the dinner which was served a little earlier than usual, before his final departure for the scene of the festivities. Once he paused in the act of helping himself to some dish and listened for a moment to the sound of voices in the hall, and when a taxicab drove up he set down his glass and again betrayed some interest.