Ledsam sat up and looked around him. He was a little dazed. He had almost the feeling of a man recovering from the influence of some anaesthetic. Before his eyes were still passing visions of terrible deeds, of naked, ugly passion, of man’s unscrupulous savagery. During those few minutes he had been transported to New York and Paris, London and Rome. Crimes had been spoken of which made the murder for which Oliver Hilditch had just been tried seem like a trifling indiscretion. Hard though his mentality, sternly matter-of-fact as was his outlook, he was still unable to fully believe in himself, his surroundings, or in this woman who had just dropped a veil over her ashen cheeks. Reason persisted in asserting itself.
“But if you knew all this,” he demanded, “why on earth didn’t you come forward and give evidence?”
“Because,” she answered calmly, as she rose to her feet, “my evidence would not have been admissible. I am Oliver Hilditch’s wife.”
Francis Ledsam arrived at his club, the Sheridan, an hour later than he had anticipated. He nodded to the veteran hall-porter, hung up his hat and stick, and climbed the great staircase to the card-room without any distinct recollection of performing any of these simple and reasonable actions. In the cardroom he exchanged a few greetings with friends, accepted without comment or without the slightest tinge of gratification a little chorus of chafing congratulations upon his latest triumph, and left the room without any inclination to play, although there was a vacant place at his favourite table. From sheer purposelessness he wandered back again into the hall, and here came his first gleam of returning sensation. He came face to face with his most intimate friend, Andrew Wilmore. The latter, who had just hung up his coat and hat, greeted him with a growl of welcome.
“So you’ve brought it off again, Francis!”
“Touch and go,” the barrister remarked. “I managed to squeak home.”
Wilmore laid his hand upon his friend’s shoulder and led the way towards two easy-chairs in the lounge.
“I tell you what it is, old chap,” he confided, “you’ll be making yourself unpopular before long. Another criminal at large, thanks to that glib tongue and subtle brain of yours. The crooks of London will present you with a testimonial when you’re made a judge.”
“So you think that Oliver Hilditch was guilty, then?” Francis asked curiously.
“My dear fellow, how do I know or care?” was the indifferent reply. “I shouldn’t have thought that there had been any doubt about it. You probably know, anyway.”
“That’s just what I didn’t when I got up to make my speech,” Francis assured his friend emphatically. “The fellow was given an opportunity of making a clean breast of it, of course—Wensley, his lawyer, advised him to, in fact—but the story he told me was precisely the story he told at the inquest.”