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- The Evil Shepherd - 40/51 -


"I suppose," she said, appealing to him, "that you are very disappointed in me?"

"On the contrary," he answered, "I am delighted."

"You mean that?" she asked incredulously.

"I do," he declared. "Companionship between our sexes is very delightful so far as it goes, but the fundamental differences between a man's outlook and tastes and a woman's should never be bridged over. I myself do not wish to learn to knit. I do not care for the womenkind in whom I am interested to appreciate and understand fighting."

Margaret looked across the table in amazement.

"You are most surprising this morning, father," she declared.

"I am perhaps misunderstood," he sighed, "perhaps have acquired a reputation for greater callousness than I possess. Personally, I love fighting. I was born a fighter, and I should find no happier way of ending my life than fighting, but, to put it bluntly, fighting is a man's job."

"What about women going to see fights at the National Sporting Club?" Lady Cynthia asked curiously.

"It is their own affair, but if you ask my opinion I do not approve of it," Sir Timothy replied. "I am indifferent upon the subject, because I am indifferent upon the subject of the generality of your sex," he added, with a little smile, "but I simply hold that it is not a taste which should be developed in women, and if they do develop it, it is at the expense of those very qualities which make them most attractive."

Lady Cynthia took a cigarette from her case and leaned over to Francis for a light.

"The world is changing," she declared. "I cannot bear many more shocks. I fancied that I had written myself for ever out of Sir Timothy's good books because of my confession just now."

He smiled across at her. His words were words of courteous badinage, but Lady Cynthia was conscious of a strange little sense of pleasure.

"On the contrary," he assured her, "you found your way just a little further into my heart."

"It seems to me, in a general sort of way," Margaret observed, leaning back in her chair, "that you and my father are becoming extraordinarily friendly, Cynthia."

"I am hopefully in love with your father," Lady Cynthia confessed. "It has been coming on for a long time. I suspected it the first time I ever met him. Now I am absolutely certain."

"It's quite a new idea," Margaret remarked. "Shall we like her in the family, Francis?"

"No airs!" Lady Cynthia warned her. "You two are not properly engaged yet. It may devolve upon me to give my consent."

"In that case," Francis replied, "I hope that we may at least count upon your influence with Sir Timothy?"

"If you'll return the compliment and urge my suit with him," Lady Cynthia laughed. "I am afraid he can't quite make up his mind about me, and I am so nice. I haven't flirted nearly so much as people think, and my instincts are really quite domestic."

"My position," Sir Timothy remarked, as he made an unsuccessful attempt to possess himself of the bill which Francis had called for, "is becoming a little difficult."

"Not really difficult," Lady Cynthia objected, "because the real decision rests in your hands."

"Just listen to the woman!" Margaret exclaimed. "Do you realise, father, that Cynthia is making the most brazen advances to you? And I was going to ask her if she'd like to come back to The Sanctuary with us this evening!"

Lady Cynthia was suddenly eager. Margaret glanced across at her father. Sir Timothy seemed almost imperceptibly to stiffen a little.

"Margaret has carte blanche at The Sanctuary as regards her visitors," he said. "I am afraid that I shall be busy over at The Walled House."

"But you'd come and dine with us?"

Sir Timothy hesitated. An issue which had been looming in his mind for many hours seemed to be suddenly joined.

"Please!" Lady Cynthia begged.

Sir Timothy followed the example of the others and rose to his feet. He avoided Lady Cynthia's eyes. He seemed suddenly a little tired.

"I will come and dine," he assented quietly. "I am afraid that I cannot promise more than that. Lady Cynthia, as she knows, is always welcome at The Sanctuary."

CHAPTER XXX

Punctual to his appointment that afternoon, the man who had sought an interview with Francis was shown into the latter's study in Clarges Street.

He wore an overcoat over his livery, and directly he entered the room Francis was struck by his intense pallor. He had been trying feverishly to assure himself that all that the man required was the usual sort of help, or assistance into a hospital. Yet there was something furtive in his visitor's manner, something which suggested the bearer of a guilty secret.

"Please tell me what you want as quickly as you can," Francis begged. "I am due to start down into the country in a few minutes."

"I won't keep you long, sir," the man replied. "The matter is rather a serious one."

"Are you ill?"

"Yes, sir!"

"You had better sit down."

The man relapsed gratefully into a chair.

"I'll leave out everything that doesn't count, sir," he said. "I'll be as brief as I can. I want you to go back to the night I waited upon you at dinner the night Mr. Oliver Hilditch was found dead. You gave evidence. The jury brought it in 'suicide.' It wasn't suicide at all, sir. Mr. Hilditch was murdered."

The sense of horror against which he had been struggling during the last few hours, crept once more through the whole being of the man who listened. He was face to face once more with that terrible issue. Had he perjured himself in vain? Was the whole structure of his dreams about to collapse, to fall about his ears?

"By whom?" he faltered.

"By Sir Timothy Brast, sir."

Francis, who had been standing with his hand upon the table, felt suddenly inclined to laugh. Facile though his brain was, the change of issues was too tremendous for him to readily assimilate it. He picked up a cigarette from an open box, with shaking fingers, lit it, and threw himself into an easy-chair. He was all the time quite unconscious of what he was doing.

"Sir Timothy Brast?" he repeated.

"Yes, sir," the man reiterated. "I wish to tell you the whole story."

"I am listening," Francis assured him.

"That evening before dinner, Sir Timothy Brast called to see Mr. Hilditch, and a very stormy interview took place. I do not know the rights of that, sir. I only know that there was a fierce quarrel. Mrs. Hilditch came in and Sir Timothy left the house. His last words to Mr. Hilditch were, 'You will hear from me again.' As you know, sir--I mean as you remember, if you followed the evidence--all the servants slept at the back of the house. I slept in the butler's room downstairs, next to the plate pantry. I was awake when you left, sitting in my easy-chair, reading. Ten minutes after you had left, there was a sound at the front door as though some one had knocked with their knuckles. I got up, to open it but Mr. Hilditch was before me. He admitted Sir Timothy. They went back into the library together. It struck me that Mr. Hilditch had had a great deal to drink, and there was a queer look on Sir Timothy's face that I didn't understand. I stepped into the little room which communicates with the library by folding doors. There was a chink already between the two. I got a knife from the pantry and widened it until I could see through. I heard very little of the conversation but there was no quarrel. Mr. Hilditch took up the weapon which you know about, sat in a chair and held it to his heart. I heard him say something like this. 'This ought to appeal to you, Sir Timothy. You're a specialist in this sort of thing. One little touch, and there you are.' Mrs. Hilditch said something about putting it away. My master turned to Sir Timothy and said something in a low tone. Suddenly Sir Timothy leaned over. He caught hold of Mr. Hilditch's hand which held the hilt of the dagger, and and--well, he just drove it in, sir. Then he stood away. Mrs. Hilditch sprang up and would have screamed, but Sir Timothy placed his hand over her mouth. In a moment I heard her say, 'What have you done?' Sir


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