“Have one with me for luck?” the young man invited brightly. “No? Perhaps you’re right,” he added, in valedictory fashion. “You’d better keep your head clear for Daisy!”
Miss Daisy Hyslop received Francis that afternoon, in the sitting-room of her little suite at the Milan. Her welcoming smile was plaintive and a little subdued, her manner undeniably gracious. She was dressed in black, a wonderful background for her really gorgeous hair, and her deportment indicated a recent loss.
“How nice of you to come and see me,” she murmured, with a lingering touch of the fingers. “Do take that easy-chair, please, and sit down and talk to me. Your roses were beautiful, but whatever made you send them to me?”
“Impulse,” he answered.
She laughed softly.
“Then please yield to such impulses as often as you feel them,” she begged. “I adore flowers. Just now, too,” she added, with a little sigh, “anything is welcome which helps to keep my mind off my own affairs.”
“It was very good of you to let me come,” he declared. “I can quite understand that you don’t feel like seeing many people just now.”
Francis’ manner, although deferential and courteous, had nevertheless some quality of aloofness in it to which she was unused and which she was quick to recognise. The smile, faded from her face. She seemed suddenly not quite so young.
“Haven’t I seen you before somewhere quite lately?” she asked, a little sharply.
“You saw me at Soto’s, the night that Victor Bidlake was murdered,” he reminded her. “I stood quite close to you both while you were waiting for your taxi.”
The animation evoked by this call from a presumably new admirer, suddenly left her. She became nervous and constrained. She glanced again at his card.
“Don’t tell me,” she begged, “that you have come to ask me any questions about that night! I simply could not bear it. The police have been here twice, and I had nothing to tell them, absolutely nothing.”
“Quite right,” he assented soothingly. “Police have such a clumsy way of expecting valuable information for nothing. I’m always glad to hear of their being disappointed.”
She studied her visitor for a moment carefully. Then she turned to the table by her side, picked up a note and read it through.
“Lord Southover tells me here,” she said, “that you are just a pal of his who wants to make my acquaintance. He doesn’t say why.”
“Is that necessary?” Francis asked good-naturedly.
She moved in her chair a little nervously, crossing and uncrossing her legs more than once. Her white silk stockings underneath her black skirt were exceedingly effective, a fact of which she never lost consciousness, although at that moment she was scarcely inspired to play the coquette.