Francis, glad of a moment or two’s solitude in which to rearrange his somewhat distorted sensations, found an empty space in the stern of the launch and stood leaning over the rail. His pulses were still tingling with the indubitable excitement of the last half-hour. It was all there, even now, before his eyes like a cinematograph picture—the duel between those two men, a duel of knowledge, of strength, of science, of courage. From beginning to end, there had been no moment when Francis had felt that he was looking on at what was in any way a degrading or immoral spectacle. Each man had fought in his way to win. Young Wilmore, graceful as a panther, with a keen, joyous desire of youth for supremacy written in his face and in the dogged lines of his mouth; the budding champion from the East End less graceful, perhaps, but with even more strength and at least as much determination, had certainly done his best to justify his selection. There were no points to be scored. There had been no undue feinting, no holding, few of the tricks of the professional ring. It was a fight to a finish, or until Harrison gave the word. And the better man had won. But even that knock-out blow which Reggie Wilmore had delivered after a wonderful feint, had had little that was cruel in it. There was something beautiful almost in the strength and grace with which it had been delivered—the breathless eagerness, the waiting, the end.
Francis felt a touch upon his arm and looked around. A tall, sad-faced looking woman, whom he had noticed with a vague sense of familiarity in the dancing-room, was standing by his side.
“You have forgotten me, Mr. Ledsam,” she said.
“For the moment,” he admitted.
“I am Isabel Culbridge,” she told him, watching his face.
“Lady Isabel?” Francis repeated incredulously. “But surely—”
“Better not contradict me,” she interrupted. “Look again.”
Francis looked again.
“I am very sorry,” he said. “It is some time, is it not, since we met?”
She stood by his side, and for a few moments neither of them spoke. The little orchestra in the bows had commenced to play softly, but there was none of the merriment amongst the handful of men and women generally associated with a midnight river picnic. The moon was temporarily obscured, and it seemed as though some artist’s hand had so dealt with the few electric lights that the men, with their pale faces and white shirt-fronts, and the three or four women, most of them, as it happened, wearing black, were like some ghostly figures in some sombre procession. Only the music kept up the pretence that this was in any way an ordinary excursion. Amongst the human element there was an air of tenseness which seemed rather to increase as they passed into the shadowy reaches of the river.
“You have been ill, I am afraid?” Francis said tentatively.