There was a momentary glow in her eyes. Her lips quivered. The few words which he saw framed there—he fancied of reproof —remained unspoken. Sir Timothy was waiting for them at the entrance.
“I have been asking Mrs. Hilditch’s permission to call in Curzon Street,” Francis said boldly.
“I am sure my daughter will be delighted,” was the cold but courteous reply.
Margaret herself made no comment. The car drew up and she stepped into it—a tall, slim figure, wonderfully graceful in her unrelieved black, her hair gleaming as though with some sort of burnish, as she passed underneath the electric light. She looked back at him with a smile of farewell as he stood bareheaded upon the steps, a smile which reminded him somehow of her father, a little sardonic, a little tender, having in it some faintly challenging quality. The car rolled away. People around were gossiping—rather freely.
“The wife of that man Oliver Hilditch,” he heard a woman say, “the man who was tried for murder, and committed suicide the night after his acquittal. Why, that can’t be much more than three months ago.”
“If you are the daughter of a millionaire,” her escort observed, “you can defy convention.”
“Yes, that was Sir Timothy Brast,” another man was saying. “He’s supposed to be worth a cool five millions.”
“If the truth about him were known,” his companion confided, dropping his voice, “it would cost him all that to keep out of the Old Bailey. They say that his orgies at Hatch End— Our taxi. Come on, Sharpe.”
Francis strolled thoughtfully homewards.
Francis Ledsam was himself again, the lightest-hearted and most popular member of his club, still a brilliant figure in the courts, although his appearances there were less frequent, still devoting the greater portion of his time, to his profession, although his work in connection with it had become less spectacular. One morning, at the corner of Clarges Street and Curzon Street, about three weeks after his visit to the Opera, he came face to face with Sir Timothy Brast.
“Well, my altruistic peerer into other people’s affairs, how goes it?” the latter enquired pleasantly.
“How does it seem, my arch-criminal, to be still breathing God’s fresh air?” Francis retorted in the same vein. “Make the most of it. It may not last for ever.”
Sir Timothy smiled. He was looking exceedingly well that morning, the very prototype of a man contented with life and his part in it. He was wearing a morning coat and silk hat, his patent boots were faultlessly polished, his trousers pressed to perfection, his grey silk tie neat and fashionable. Notwithstanding his waxenlike pallor, his slim figure and lithe, athletic walk seemed to speak of good health.
“You may catch the minnow,” he murmured. “The big fish swim on. By-the-bye,” he added, “I do not notice that your sledge-hammer blows at crime are having much effect. Two undetected murders last week, and one the week before. What are you about, my astute friend?”