Francis suddenly took her hands. He had an overwhelming desire to escape from the miasma of those ugly days, with their train of attendant thoughts and speculations.
“Let us talk about ourselves,” he whispered.
After that, the evening glided away incoherently, with no sustained conversation, but with an increasing sense of well-being, of soothed nerves and happiness, flaming seconds of passion, sign-posts of the wonderful world which lay before them. They sat in the cool silence until the lights of the returning taxicabs and motor-cars became more frequent, until the stars crept into the sky and the yellow arc of the moon stole up over the tops of the houses. Presently they saw Sir Timothy’s Rolls-Royce glide up to the front door below and Sir Timothy himself enter the house, followed by another man whose appearance was somehow familiar.
“Your father has changed his mind,” Francis observed.
“Perhaps he has called for something,” she suggested, “or he may want to change his clothes before he goes down to the country.”
Presently, however, there was a knock at the door. Hedges made his diffident appearance.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he began, addressing Francis. “Sir Timothy has been asking if you are still here. He would be very glad if you could spare him a moment in the library.”
Francis rose at once to his feet.
“I was just leaving,” he said. “I will look in at the library and see Sir Timothy on my way out.”
Sir Timothy was standing upon the hearthrug of the very wonderful apartment which he called his library. By his side, on a black marble pedestal, stood a small statue by Rodin. Behind him, lit by a shielded electric light, was a Vandyck, “A Portrait of a Gentleman Unknown,” and Francis, as he hesitated for a moment upon the threshold, was struck by a sudden quaint likeness between the face of the man in the picture, with his sunken cheeks, his supercilious smile, his narrowed but powerful eyes, to the face of Sir Timothy himself. There was something of the same spirit there—the lawless buccaneer, perhaps the criminal.
“You asked for me, Sir Timothy,” Francis said.
Sir Timothy smiled.
“I was fortunate to find that you had not left,” he answered. “I want you to be present at this forthcoming interview. You are to a certain extent in the game. I thought it might amuse you.”
Francis for the first time was aware that his host was not alone. The room, with its odd splashes of light, was full of shadows, and he saw now that in an easy-chair a little distance away from Sir Timothy, a girl was seated. Behind her, still standing, with his hat in his hand, was a man. Francis recognised them both with surprise.
“Miss Hyslop!” he exclaimed.
She nodded a little defiantly. Sir Timothy smiled. “Ah!” he said. “You know the young lady, without a doubt. Mr. Shopland, your coadjutor in various works of philanthropy, you recognise, of course? I do not mind confessing to you, Ledsam, that I am very much afraid of Mr. Shopland. I am not at all sure that he has not a warrant for my arrest in his pocket.”