Chapter XI
 

Miss Daisy Hyslop received Francis that afternoon, in the sitting-room of her little suite at the Milan. Her welcoming smile was plaintive and a little subdued, her manner undeniably gracious. She was dressed in black, a wonderful background for her really gorgeous hair, and her deportment indicated a recent loss.

"How nice of you to come and see me," she murmured, with a lingering touch of the fingers. "Do take that easy-chair, please, and sit down and talk to me. Your roses were beautiful, but whatever made you send them to me?"

"Impulse," he answered.

She laughed softly.

"Then please yield to such impulses as often as you feel them," she begged. "I adore flowers. Just now, too," she added, with a little sigh, "anything is welcome which helps to keep my mind off my own affairs."

"It was very good of you to let me come," he declared. "I can quite understand that you don't feel like seeing many people just now."

Francis' manner, although deferential and courteous, had nevertheless some quality of aloofness in it to which she was unused and which she was quick to recognise. The smile, faded from her face. She seemed suddenly not quite so young.

"Haven't I seen you before somewhere quite lately?" she asked, a little sharply.

"You saw me at Soto's, the night that Victor Bidlake was murdered," he reminded her. "I stood quite close to you both while you were waiting for your taxi."

The animation evoked by this call from a presumably new admirer, suddenly left her. She became nervous and constrained. She glanced again at his card.

"Don't tell me," she begged, "that you have come to ask me any questions about that night! I simply could not bear it. The police have been here twice, and I had nothing to tell them, absolutely nothing."

"Quite right," he assented soothingly. "Police have such a clumsy way of expecting valuable information for nothing. I'm always glad to hear of their being disappointed."

She studied her visitor for a moment carefully. Then she turned to the table by her side, picked up a note and read it through.

"Lord Southover tells me here," she said, "that you are just a pal of his who wants to make my acquaintance. He doesn't say why."

"Is that necessary?" Francis asked good-naturedly.

She moved in her chair a little nervously, crossing and uncrossing her legs more than once. Her white silk stockings underneath her black skirt were exceedingly effective, a fact of which she never lost consciousness, although at that moment she was scarcely inspired to play the coquette.

"I'd like to think it wasn't," she admitted frankly.

"I've seen you repeatedly upon the stage," he told her, "and, though musical comedy is rather out of my line, I have always admired you immensely."

She studied him once more almost wistfully.

"You look very nice," she acknowledged, "but you don't look at all the kind of man who admires girls who do the sort of rubbish I do on the stage."

"What do I look like?" he asked, smiling.

"A man with a purpose," she answered.

"I begin to think," he ventured, "that we shall get on. You are really a very astute young lady."

"You are quite sure you're not one of these amateur detectives one reads about?" she demanded.

"Certainly not," he assured her. "I will confess that I am interested in Victor Bidlake's death, and I should like to discover the truth about it, but I have a reason for that which I may tell you some day. It has nothing whatever to do with the young man himself. To the best of my belief, I never saw or heard of him before in my life. My interest lies with another person. You have lost a great friend, I know. If you felt disposed to tell me the whole story, it might make such a difference."

She sighed. Her confidence was returning--also her self-pity. The latter at once betrayed itself.

"You see," she confided, "Victor and I were engaged to be married, so naturally I let him help me a little. I shan't be able to stay on here now. They are bothering me about their bill already," she added, with a side-glance at an envelope which stood on a table by her side.

He drew a little nearer to her.

"Miss Hyslop--" he began.

"Daisy," she interrupted.

"Miss Daisy Hyslop, then," he continued, smiling, "I suggested just now that I did not want to come and bother you for information without any return. If I can be of any assistance to you in that matter," he added, glancing towards the envelope, "I shall be very pleased."

She sighed gratefully.

"Just till Victor's people return to town," she said. "I know that they mean to do something for me."

"How much?" he asked.

"Two hundred pounds would keep me going," she told him.

He wrote out a cheque. Miss Hyslop drew a sigh of relief as she laid it on one side with the envelope. Then she swung round in her chair to face him where he sat at the writing-table.

"I am afraid you will think that what I have to tell is very insignificant," she confessed. "Victor was one of those boys who always fancied themselves bored. He was bored with polo, bored with motoring, bored with the country and bored with town. Then quite suddenly during the last few weeks he seemed changed. All that he would tell me was that he had found a new interest in life. I don't know what it was but I don't think it was a nice one. He seemed to drop all his old friends, too, and go about with a new set altogether--not a nice set at all. He used to stay out all night, and he quite gave up going to dances and places where he could take me. Once or twice he came here in the afternoon, dead beat, without having been to bed at all, and before he could say half-a-dozen words he was asleep in my easy-chair. He used to mutter such horrible things that I had to wake him up."

"Was he ever short of money?" Francis asked.

She shook her head.

"Not seriously," she answered. "He was quite well-off, besides what his people allowed him. I was going to have a wonderful settlement as soon as our engagement was announced. However, to go on with what I was telling you, the very night before--it happened--he came in to see me, looking like nothing on earth. He cried like a baby, behaved like a lunatic, and called himself all manner of names. He had had a great deal too much to drink, and I gathered that he had seen something horrible. It was then he asked me to dine with him the next night, and told me that he was going to break altogether with his new friends. Something in connection with them seemed to have given him a terrible fright."

Francis nodded. He had the tact to abandon his curiosity at this precise point.

"The old story," he declared, "bad company and rotten habits. I suppose some one got to know that the young man usually carried a great deal of money about with him."

"It was so foolish of him," she assented eagerly: "I warned him about it so often. The police won't listen to it but I am absolutely certain that he was robbed. I noticed when he paid the bill that he had a great wad of bank-notes which were never discovered afterwards."

Francis rose to his feet.

"What are you doing to-night?" he enquired.

"Nothing," she acknowledged eagerly.

"Then let's dine somewhere and see the show at the Frivolity," he suggested.

"You dear man!" she assented with enthusiasm. "The one thing I wanted to do, and the one person I wanted to do it with."