Wilmore began to laugh a little derisively. Then, suddenly aware of some lack of sympathy between himself and his friend, he broke off and glanced curiously at the latter.
“You’re not taking him seriously, are you?” he enquired.
“Certainly I am,” he confessed.
“You don’t believe that he was getting at us?”
“Not for a moment.”
“You believe that something is going to happen here in this place, or quite close?”
“I am convinced of it,” was the calm reply.
Wilmore was silent. For a moment he was troubled with his old fears as to his friend’s condition. A glance, however, at Francis’ set face and equable, watchful air, reassured him.
“We must see the thing through, of course, then,” he assented. “Let us see if we can spot the actors in the coming drama.”
It happened that the two men, waiting in the vestibule of the restaurant for Francis’ car to crawl up to the entrance through the fog which had unexpectedly rolled up, heard the slight altercation which was afterwards referred to as preceding the tragedy. The two young people concerned were standing only a few feet away, the girl pretty, a little peevish, an ordinary type; her companion, whose boyish features were marred with dissipation, a very passable example of the young man about town going a little beyond his tether.
“It’s no good standing here, Victor!” the girl exclaimed, frowning. “The commissionaire’s been gone ages already, and there are two others before us for taxis.”
“We can’t walk,” her escort replied gloomily. “It’s a foul night. Nothing to do but wait, what? Let’s go back and have another drink.”
The girl stamped her satin-shod foot impatiently.
“Don’t be silly,” she expostulated. “You know I promised Clara we’d be there early.”
“All very well,” the young man grumbled, “but what can we do? We shall have to wait our turn.”
“Why can’t you slip out and look for a taxi yourself?” she suggested. “Do, Victor,” she added, squeezing his arm. “You’re so clever at picking them up.”
He made a little grimace, but lit a cigarette and turned up his coat collar.
“I’ll do my best,” he promised. “Don’t go on without me.”
“Try up towards Charing Cross Road, not the other way,” she advised earnestly.
“Right-oh!” he replied, which illuminative form of assent, a word spoken as he plunged unwillingly into the thick obscurity on the other side of the revolving doors, was probably the last he ever uttered on earth.
Left alone, the girl began to shiver, as though suddenly cold. She turned around and glanced hurriedly back into the restaurant. At that moment she met the steady, questioning scrutiny of Francis’ eyes. She stood as though transfixed. Then came the sound which every one talked of for months afterwards, the sound which no one who heard it ever forgot—the death cry of Victor Bidlake, followed a second afterwards by a muffled report. A strain of frenzied surprise seemed mingled with the horror. Afterwards, silence.