Chapter XXIX
 

There were incidents connected with that luncheon which Francis always remembered. In the first place, Sir Timothy was a great deal more silent than usual. A certain vein of half-cynical, half-amusing comment upon things and people of the moment, which seemed, whenever he cared to exert himself, to flow from his lips without effort, had deserted him. He sat where the rather brilliant light from the high windows fell upon his face, and Francis wondered more than once whether there were not some change there, perhaps some prescience of trouble to come, which had subdued him and made him unusually thoughtful. Another slighter but more amusing feature of the luncheon was the number of people who stopped to shake hands with Sir Timothy and made more or less clumsy efforts to obtain an invitation to his coming entertainment. Sir Timothy's reply to these various hints was barely cordial. The most he ever promised was that he would consult with his secretary and see if their numbers were already full. Lady Cynthia, as a somewhat blatant but discomfited Peer of the Realm took his awkward leave of them, laughed softly.

"Of course, I think they all deserve what they get," she declared. "I never heard such brazen impudence in my life--from people who ought to know better, too."

Lord Meadowson, a sporting peer, who was one of Sir Timothy's few intimates, came over to the table. He paid his respects to the two ladies and Francis, and turned a little eagerly to Sir Timothy.

"Well?" he asked.

Sir Timothy nodded.

"We shall be quite prepared for you," he said. "Better bring your cheque-book."

"Capital!" the other exclaimed. "As I hadn't heard anything, I was beginning to wonder whether you would be ready with your end of the show."

"There will be no hitch so far as we are concerned," Sir Timothy assured him.

"More mysteries?" Margaret enquired, as Meadowson departed with a smile of satisfaction.

Her father shrugged his shoulders.

"Scarcely that," he replied. "It is a little wager between Lord Meadowson and myself which is to be settled to-morrow."

Lady Torrington, a fussy little woman, her hostess of the night before, on her way down the room stopped and shook hands with Lady Cynthia.

"Why, my dear," she exclaimed, "wherever did you vanish to last night? Claude told us all that, in the middle of a dance with him, you excused yourself for a moment and he never saw you again. I quite expected to read in the papers this morning that you had eloped."

"Precisely what I did," Lady Cynthia declared. "The only trouble was that my partner had had enough of me before the evening was over, and deposited me once more in Grosvenor Square. It is really very humiliating," she went on meditatively, "how every one always returns me."

"You talk such nonsense, Cynthia!" Lady Torrington exclaimed, a little pettishly. "However, you found your way home all right?"

"Quite safely, thank you. I was going to write you a note this afternoon. I went away on an impulse. All I can say is that I am sorry. Do forgive me."

"Certainly!" was the somewhat chilly reply. "Somehow or other, you seem to have earned the right to do exactly as you choose. Some of my young men whom you had promised to dance with, were disappointed, but after all, I suppose that doesn't matter."

"Not much," Lady Cynthia assented sweetly. "I think a few disappointments are good for most of the young men of to-day."

"What did you do last night, Cynthia?" Margaret asked her presently, when Lady Torrington had passed on.

"I eloped with your father," Lady Cynthia confessed, smiling across at Sir Timothy. "We went for a little drive together and I had a most amusing time. The only trouble was, as I have been complaining to that tiresome woman, he brought me home again."

"But where did you go to?" Margaret persisted.

"It was an errand of charity," Sir Timothy declared.

"It sounds very mysterious," Francis observed. "Is that all we are to be told?"

"I am afraid," Sir Timothy complained, "that very few people sympathise with my hobbies or my prosecution of them. That is why such little incidents as last night's generally remain undisclosed. If you really wish to know what happened," he went on, after a moment's pause, "I will tell you. As you know, I have a great many friends amongst the boxing fraternity, and I happened to hear of a man down in the East End who has made himself a terror to the whole community in which he lives. I took Peter Fields, my gymnasium instructor, down to the East End last night, and Peter Fields--dealt with him."

"There was a fight?" Margaret exclaimed, with a little shudder.

"There was a fight," Sir Timothy repeated, "if you can call it such. Fields gave him some part of the punishment he deserved."

"And you were there, Cynthia?"

"I left Lady Cynthia in the car," Sir Timothy explained. "She most improperly bribed my chauffeur to lend her his coat and hat, and followed me."

"You actually saw the fight, then?" Francis asked.

"I did," Lady Cynthia admitted. "I saw it from the beginning to the end."

Margaret looked across the table curiously. It seemed to her that her friend had turned a little paler.

"Did you like it?" she asked simply.

Lady Cynthia was silent for a moment. She glanced at Sir Timothy. He, too, was waiting for her answer with evident interest.

"I was thrilled," she acknowledged. "That was the pleasurable part of it I have been so, used to looking on at shows that bored me, listening to conversations that wearied me, attempting sensations which were repellent, that I just welcomed feeling, when it came--feeling of any sort. I was excited. I forgot everything else. I was so fascinated that I could not look away. But if you ask me whether I liked it, and I have to answer truthfully, I hated it! I felt nothing of the sort at the time, but when I tried to sleep I found myself shivering. It was justice, I know, but it was ugly."

She watched Sir Timothy, as she made her confession, a little wistfully. He said nothing, but there was a very curious change in his expression. He smiled at her in an altogether unfamiliar way,

"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."