“Sir Timothy has been showing me some of the wonders of his villa—do you call it a villa or a palace?” she asked.
“It is certainly not a palace,” Sir Timothy protested, “and I fear that it has scarcely the atmosphere of a villa. It is an attempt to combine certain ideas of my own with the requirements of modern entertainment. Come and have a drink with us, Ledsam.”
“I have just had one,” Francis replied. “Mrs. Hilditch is in the rose garden and I am on my way to join her.”
He passed on and the two moved towards the open French windows. He crossed the rustic bridge that led into the flower garden, turned down the pergola and came to a sudden standstill before the seat which Margaret had indicated. It was empty, but in the corner lay the long-stalked lily which she had picked in the backwater. He stood there for a moment, transfixed. There were other seats and chairs in the garden, but he knew before he started his search that it was in vain. She had gone. The flower, drooping a little now though the stalk was still wet with the moisture of the river, seemed to him like her farewell.
Francis was surprised, when he descended for breakfast the next morning, to find the table laid for one only. The butler who was waiting, handed him the daily papers and wheeled the electric heater to his side.
“Is no one else breakfasting?” Francis asked.
“Sir Timothy and Mrs. Hilditch are always served in their rooms, sir. Her ladyship is taking her coffee upstairs.”
Francis ate his breakfast, glanced through the Times, lit a cigarette and went round to the garage for his car. The butler met him as he drove up before the porch.
“Sir Timothy begs you to excuse him this morning, sir,” he announced. “His secretary has arrived from town with a very large correspondence which they are now engaged upon.”
“And Mrs. Hilditch?” Francis ventured.
“I have not seen her maid this morning, sir,” the man replied, “but Mrs. Hilditch never rises before midday. Sir Timothy hopes that you slept well, sir, and would like you to sign the visitors’ book.”
Francis signed his name mechanically, and was turning away when Lady Cynthia called to him from the stairs. She was dressed for travelling and followed by a maid, carrying her dressing-case.
“Will you take me up to town, Mr. Ledsam?” she asked.
“Delighted,” he answered.
Their dressing-cases were strapped together behind and Lady Cynthia sank into the cushions by his side. They drove away from the house, Francis with a backward glance of regret. The striped sun-blinds had been lowered over all the windows, thrushes and blackbirds were twittering on the lawn, the air was sweet with the perfume of flowers, a boatman was busy with the boats. Out beyond, through the trees, the river wound its placid way.