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- The Evil Shepherd - 30/51 -
other side of the wall. Francis moved his head in that direction.
"I hear that they are preparing for another of your wonderful entertainments over there," he remarked.
"On Thursday," Sir Timothy assented. "I shall have something to say to you about it later on."
"Am I to take it that I am likely to receive an invitation?" Francis asked.
"I should think it possible," was the calm reply.
"What about Margaret?"
"My entertainment would not appeal to her," Sir Timothy declared. "The women whom I have been in the habit of asking are not women of Margaret's type."
"And Lady Cynthia?"
Sir Timothy frowned slightly.
"I find myself in some difficulty as regards Lady Cynthia," he admitted. "I am the guardian of nobody's morals, nor am I the censor of their tastes, but my entertainments are for men. The women whom I have hitherto asked have been women in whom I have taken no personal interest. They are necessary to form a picturesque background for my rooms, in the same way that I look to the gardeners to supply the floral decorations. Lady Cynthia's instincts, however, are somewhat adventurous. She would scarcely be content to remain a decoration."
"The issuing of your invitations," Francis remarked, "is of course a matter which concerns nobody else except yourself. If you do decide to favour me with one, I shall be delighted to come, provided Margaret has no objection."
"Such a reservation promises well for the future," Sir Timothy observed, with gentle sarcasm. "Here comes Margaret, looking very well, I am glad to see."
Margaret came forward to greet her father before stepping into the car. They exchanged only a few sentences, but Francis, whose interest in their relations was almost abnormally keen, fancied that he could detect signs of some change in their demeanour towards one another. The cold propriety of deportment which had characterised her former attitude towards her father, seemed to have given place to something more uncertain, to something less formal, something which left room even for a measure of cordiality. She looked at him differently. It was as though some evil thought which lived in her heart concerning him had perished.
"You are busy over there, father?" she asked.
"In a way," he replied. "We are preparing for some festivities on Thursday."
Her face fell.
"One more," he replied. "Perhaps the last--for the present, at any rate."
She waited as though expecting him to explain. He changed the subject, however.
"I think you are wise to run up to town this morning," he said, glancing up at the grey skies. "By-the-bye, if you dine at Curzon Street to-night, do ask Hedges to serve you some of the '99 Cliquot. A marvellous wine, as you doubtless know, Ledsam, but it should be drunk. Au revoir!"
Francis, after a pleasant lunch at Ranelagh, and having arranged with Margaret to dine with her in Curzon Street, spent an hour or two that afternoon at his chambers. As he was leaving, just before five, he came face to face with Shopland descending from a taxi.
"Are you busy, Mr. Ledsam?" the latter enquired. "Can you spare me half-an-hour?"
"An hour, if you like," Francis assented.
Shopland gave the driver an address and the two men seated themselves in the taxicab.
"Any news?" Francis asked curiously.
"Not yet," was the cautious reply. "It will not be long, however."
"Before you discover Reggie Wilmore?"
The detective smiled in a superior way.
"I am no longer particularly interested in Mr. Reginald Wilmore," he declared. "I have come to the conclusion that his disappearance is not a serious affair."
"It's serious enough for his relatives," Francis objected.
"Not if they understood the situation," the detective rejoined. "Assure them from me that nothing of consequence has happened to that young man. I have made enquiries at the gymnasium in Holborn, and in other directions. I am convinced that his absence from home is voluntary, and that there is no cause for alarm as to his welfare."
"Then the sooner you make your way down to Kensington and tell his mother so, the better," Francis said, a little severely. "Don't forget that I put you on to this."
"Quite right, sir," the detective acquiesced, "and I am grateful to you. The fact of it is that in making my preliminary investigations with regard to the disappearance of Mr. Wilmore, I have stumbled upon a bigger thing. Before many weeks are past, I hope to be able to unearth one of the greatest scandals of modern times."
"The devil!" Francis muttered.
He looked thoughtfully, almost anxiously at his companion. Shopland's face reflected to the full his usual confidence. He had the air of a man buoyant with hope and with stifled self-satisfaction.
"I am engaged," he continued, "upon a study of the methods and habits of one whom I believe to be a great criminal. I think that when I place my prisoner in the bar, Wainwright and these other great artists in crime will fade from the memory."
"Is Sir Timothy Brast your man?" Francis asked quietly.
His companion frowned portentously.
"No names," he begged.
"Considering that it was I who first put you on to him," Francis expostulated, "I don't think you need be so sparing of your confidence."
"Mr. Ledsam," the detective assured him, "I shall tell you everything that is possible. At the same time, I will be frank with you. You are right when you say that it was you who first directed my attention towards Sir Timothy Brast. Since that time, however, your own relations with him, to an onlooker, have become a little puzzling."
"I see," Francis murmured. "You've been spying on me?"
Shopland shook his head in deprecating fashion.
"A study of Sir Timothy during the last month," he said, "has brought you many a time into the focus."
"Where are we going to now?" Francis asked, a little abruptly.
"Just a side show, sir. It's one of those outside things I have come across which give light and shade to the whole affair. We get out here, if you please."
The two men stepped on to the pavement. They were in a street a little north of Wardour Street, where the shops for the most part were of a miscellaneous variety. Exactly in front of them, the space behind a large plate-glass window had been transformed into a sort of show-place for dogs. There were twenty or thirty of them there, of all breeds and varieties.
"What the mischief is this?" Francis demanded.
"Come in and make enquiries," Shopland replied. "I can promise that you will find it interesting. It's a sort of dog's home."
Francis followed his companion into the place. A pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman came forward and greeted the latter.
"Do you mind telling my friend what you told me the other day?" he asked.
"Certainly, sir," she replied. "We collect stray animals here, sir," she continued, turning to Francis. "Every one who has a dog or a cat he can't afford to keep, or which he wants to get rid of, may bring it to us. We have agents all the time in the streets, and if any official of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals brings us news of a dog or a cat being ill-treated, we either purchase it or acquire it in some way or other and keep it here."
"But your dogs in the window," Francis observed, "all seem to be in wonderful condition."
The woman smiled.
"We have a large dog and cat hospital behind," she explained, "and a veterinary surgeon who is always in attendance. The
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