The Evil Shepherd
Indecision had never been one of Francis Ledsam's faults, but four times during the
following day he wrote out a carefully worded telegraphic message to Mrs. Oliver
Hilditch, 10 b, Hill Street, regretting his inability to dine that night, and each time he
destroyed it. He carried the first message around Richmond golf course with him,
intending to dispatch his caddy with it immediately on the conclusion of the round. The
fresh air, however, and the concentration required by the game, seemed to dispel the
nervous apprehensions with which he had anticipated his visit, and over an aperitif in the
club bar he tore the telegram into small pieces and found himself even able to derive a
certain half-fearful pleasure from the thought of meeting again the woman who, together
with her terrible story, had never for one moment been out of his thoughts. Andrew
Wilmore, who had observed his action, spoke of it as they settled down to lunch.
"So you are going to keep your engagement tonight, Francis?" he observed.
The latter nodded.
"After all, why not?" he asked, a little defiantly. "It ought to be interesting."
"Well, there's nothing of the sordid criminal, at any rate, about Oliver Hilditch," Wilmore
declared. "Neither, if one comes to think of it, does his wife appear to be the prototype of
suffering virtue. I wonder if you are wise to go, Francis?"
"Why not?" the man who had asked himself that question a dozen times already,
"Because," Wilmore replied coolly, "underneath that steely hardness of manner for which
your profession is responsible, you have a vein of sentiment, of chivalrous sentiment, I
should say, which some day or other is bound to get you into trouble. The woman is
beautiful enough to turn any one's head. As a matter of fact, I believe that you are more
than half in love with her already."
Francis Ledsam sat where the sunlight fell upon his strong, forceful face, shone, too,
upon the table with its simple but pleasant appointments, upon the tankard of beer by his
side, upon the plate of roast beef to which he was already doing ample justice. He
laughed with the easy confidence of a man awakened from some haunting nightmare,
relieved to find his feet once more firm upon the ground.
"I have been a fool to take the whole matter so seriously, Andrew," he declared. "I expect
to walk back to Clarges Street to-night, disillusioned. The man will probably present me
with a gold pencil-case, and the woman--"
"Well, what about the woman?" Wilmore asked, after a brief pause.