“I want to finish this matter up,” Francis continued calmly, “by making a clean breast of it to you, because from to-night I am starting afresh, with new interests in my life, what will practically amount to a new career. That is why I preferred not to dine at the club to-night, although I am looking forward to seeing them all again. I wanted instead to have this conversation with you. I lied at the inquest when I said that the relations between Oliver Hilditch and his wife that night seemed perfectly normal. I lied when I said that I knew of no cause for ill-will between them. I lied when I said that I left them on friendly terms. I lied when I said that Oliver Hilditch seemed depressed and nervous. I lied when I said that he expressed the deepest remorse for what he had done. There was every indication that night, of the hate which I happen to know existed between the woman and the man. I have not the faintest doubt in my mind but that she murdered him. In my judgment, she was perfectly justified in doing so.”
There followed a brief but enforced silence as some late arrivals passed their table. The room was well-ventilated but Andrew Wilmore felt suddenly hot and choking. A woman, one of the little group of newcomers, glanced towards Francis curiously.
“Francis Ledsam, the criminal barrister,” her companion whispered,—“the man who got Oliver Hilditch off. The man with him is Andrew Wilmore, the novelist. Discussing a case, I expect.”
The little party of late diners passed on their way to the further end of the room, leaving a wave of artificiality behind, or was it, Andrew Wilmore wondered, in a moment of half-dazed speculation, that it was they and the rest of the gay company who represented the real things, and he and his companion who were playing a sombre part in some unreal and gloomier world. Francis’ voice, however, when he recommenced his diatribe, was calm and matter-of-fact enough.
“You see,” he continued, argumentatively, “I was morally and actually responsible for the man’s being brought back into Society. And far worse than that, I was responsible for his being thrust back again upon his wife. Ergo, I was also responsible for what she did that night. The matter seems as plain as a pikestaff to me. I did what I could to atone, rightly or wrongly it doesn’t matter, because it is over and done with. There you are, old fellow, now you know what’s been making me nervy. I’ve committed wholesale perjury, but I acted according to my conscience and I think according to justice. The thing has worried me, I admit, but it has passed, and I’m glad it’s off my chest. One more liqueur, Andrew, and if you want to we’ll talk about my plans for the future.”
The brandy was brought. Wilmore studied his friend curiously, not without some relief. Francis had lost the harassed and nervous appearance upon which his club friends had commented, which had been noticeable, even, to a diminishing extent, upon the golf course at Brancaster. He was alert and eager. He had the air of a man upon the threshold of some enterprise dear to his heart.