“Well,” she asked, “how are you feeling, Mr. Ledsam?”
“As though I had spent half-an-hour in Hell,” he answered.
She screamed with laughter.
“Hear this man,” she called out, “who will send any poor ragamuffin to the gallows if his fee is large enough! Of course,” she added, turning back to him, “I ought to remember you are a normal person and to-night’s entertainment was not for normal persons. For myself I am grateful to Sir Timothy. For a few moments of this aching aftermath of life, I forgot.”
Suddenly all the lights around the launch flamed out, the music stopped. Sir Timothy came up on deck. On either side of him was a man in ordinary dinner clothes. The babel of voices ceased. Everyone was oppressed by some vague likeness. A breathless silence ensued.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sir Timothy said, and once more the smile upon his lips assumed its most mocking curve, “let me introduce you to the two artists who have given us to-night such a realistic performance, Signor Guiseppe Elito and Signor Carlos Marlini. I had the good fortune,” he went on, “to witness this very marvellous performance in a small music-hall at Palermo, and I was able to induce the two actors to pay us a visit over here. Steward, these gentlemen will take a glass of champagne.”
The two Sicilians raised their glasses and bowed expectantly to the little company. They received, however, a much greater tribute to their performance than the applause which they had been expecting. There reigned everywhere a deadly, stupefied silence. Only a half-stifled sob broke from Lady Cynthia’s lips as she leaned over the rail, her face buried in her hands, her whole frame shaking.
Francis and Margaret sat in the rose garden on the following morning. Their conversation was a little disjointed, as the conversation of lovers in a secluded and beautiful spot should be, but they came back often to the subject of Sir Timothy.
“If I have misunderstood your father,” Francis, declared, “and I admit that I have, it has been to some extent his own fault. To me he was always the deliberate scoffer against any code of morals, a rebel against the law even if not a criminal in actual deeds. I honestly believed that The Walled House was the scene of disreputable orgies, that your father was behind Fairfax in that cold-blooded murder, and that he was responsible in some sinister way for the disappearance of Reggie Wilmore. Most of these things seem to have been shams, like the fight last night.”
She moved uneasily in her place.
“I am glad I did not see that,” she said, with a shiver.
“I think,” he went on, “that the reason why your father insisted upon Lady Cynthia’s and my presence there was that he meant it as a sort of allegory. Half the vices in life he claims are unreal.”