And she was gone. Her companion rushed to the street, and almost ran to his Victoria Street chambers. It was six o’clock. He had to dress and drive all the way to Hampstead for dinner at 7.30.
At ten minutes past nine Sir Charles Dyke entered Wensley House. A handsome, quiet, gentlemanly man was Sir Charles. He was rich – a Guardsman until the baronetcy devolved upon him, a popular figure in Society, esteemed a trifle fast prior to his marriage, but sobered down by the cares of a great estate and a vast fortune.
His wife and he were not well-matched in disposition.
She was too earnest, too prim, for the easy-going baronet. He respected her, that was all. A man of his nature found it impossible to realize that the depths of passion are frequently coated over with ice. Their union was irreproachable, like their marriage settlements; but there are more features in matrimony than can be disposed of by broad seals and legal phrases.
Unfortunately, they were childless, and were thus deprived of the one great bond which unites when others may fail.
Sir Charles was hurried, if not flurried. His boots were muddy and his clothes splashed by the mire of passing vehicles.
“I fear I am very late for dinner,” he said to the footman who took his hat and overcoat. “But I shall not be five minutes in dressing. Tell her ladyship – ”
“Milady is not at home, Sir Charles.”
“Not at home!”
“Milady went out at half-past five, saying that she was going to Richmond to see Lady Edith Talbot, and that you were not to wait dinner if she was late in returning.”
Sir Charles was surprised. He looked steadily at the man as he said:
“Are you quite sure of her ladyship’s orders?”
“Quite sure, Sir Charles.”
“Did she drive?”
“No, Sir Charles. She would not order the carriage when I suggested it.”
The baronet, somewhat perplexed, hesitated a moment. Then he appeared to dismiss the matter as hardly worth discussion, saying, as he went up stairs:
“Dinner almost immediately, James.”
During the solitary meal he was preoccupied, but ate more than usual, in the butler’s judgment. Finding his own company distasteful, he discussed the November Handicap with the butler, and ultimately sent for an evening paper.
Opening it, the first words that caught his eye were, “Murder in the West End.” He read the paragraph, the record of some tragic orgy, and turned to the butler.
“A lot of these beastly crimes have occurred recently, Thompson.”
“Yes, Sir Charles. There’s bin three since the beginning of the month.”
After a pause. “Did you hear that her ladyship had gone to Richmond?”
“Yes, Sir Charles.”
“Do you know how she went?”
“No, Sir Charles.”
“I wanted to see her to-night, very particularly. Order the brougham in ten minutes. I am going to the Travellers’ Club. I shall be home soon – say eleven o’clock – when her ladyship arrives.”
The baronet was driven to and from the club by his own coachman, but on returning to Wensley House was told that his wife was still absent.
“No telegram or message?”
“No, Sir Charles.”
“I suppose she will stay with her sister all night, and I shall have a note in the morning to say so. Just like a woman. Now if I did that, James, there would be no end of a row. Anxiety, and that sort of thing. Call me at 8.30.”
An hour later Sir Charles Dyke left the library and went to bed.
At breakfast next morning the master of the house rapidly scanned the letters near his plate for the expected missive from his wife. There was none.
A maid was waiting. He sent her to call the butler.
“Look here, Thompson,” he cried, “her ladyship has not written. Don’t you think I had better wire? It’s curious, to say the least, going off to Richmond in this fashion, in a beastly fog, too.”
Thompson was puzzled. He had examined the letters an hour earlier. But he agreed that a telegram was the thing.
Sir Charles wrote: “Expected to hear from you. Will you be home to lunch? Want to see you about some hunters”; and addressed it to his wife at her sister’s residence.
“There,” he said, turning to his coffee and sole. “That will fetch her. We are off to Leicestershire next week, Thompson. By the way, I am going to a sale at Tattersall’s. Send a groom there with her ladyship’s answer when it comes.”
He had not been long at the sale yard when a servant arrived with a telegram.
“Ah, the post-office people are quick this morning,” he said, smiling. He opened the envelope and read:
“Want to see you at once. – Dick.”
He was so surprised by the unexpected nature of the message that he read the words aloud mechanically. But he soon understood, and smiled again.
“Go back quickly,” he said to the man, “and tell Thompson to send along the next telegram.”
A consignment of Waterford hunters was being sold at the time, and the baronet was checking the animals’ descriptions on the catalogue, when he was cheerily addressed:
“Hallo, Dyke, preparing for the shires, eh?”
Wheeling round, the baronet shook hands with Claude Bruce.
“Yes – that is, I am looking out for a couple of nice-mannered ones for my wife. I have six eating their heads off at Market Harborough now.”
Bruce hesitated. “Will Lady Dyke hunt this season?” he asked.
“Well, hardly that. But she likes to dodge about the lanes with the parson and the doctor.”
“I only inquired because she told me last night that she would probably winter in the South of France.”
“Told you – last night – South of France!” Sir Charles Dyke positively gasped in his amazement.