The Evil Shepherd HTML version

Chapter 18
It was one of those faultless June evenings when the only mission of the faintly stirring
breeze seems to be to carry perfumes from garden to garden and to make the lightest of
music amongst the rustling leaves. The dinner-table had been set out of doors, underneath
the odorous cedar-tree. Above, the sky was an arc of the deepest blue through which the
web of stars had scarcely yet found its way. Every now and then came the sound of the
splash of oars from the river; more rarely still, the murmur of light voices as a punt
passed up the stream. The little party at The Sanctuary sat over their coffee and liqueurs
long after the fall of the first twilight, till the points of their cigarettes glowed like little
specks of fire through the enveloping darkness. Conversation had been from the first
curiously desultory, edited, in a way, Francis felt, for his benefit. There was an
atmosphere about his host and Lady Cynthia, shared in a negative way by Margaret
Hilditch, which baffled Francis. It seemed to establish more than a lack of sympathy--to
suggest, even, a life lived upon a different plane. Yet every now and then their references
to everyday happenings were trite enough. Sir Timothy had assailed the recent craze for
drugs, a diatribe to which Lady Cynthia had listened in silence for reasons which Francis
could surmise.
"If one must soothe the senses," Sir Timothy declared, "for the purpose of forgetting a
distasteful or painful present, I cannot see why the average mind does not turn to the
contemplation of beauty in some shape or other. A night like to-night is surely sedative
enough. Watch these lights, drink in these perfumes, listen to the fall and flow of the
water long enough, and you would arrive at precisely the same mental inertia as though
you had taken a dose of cocaine, with far less harmful an aftermath."
Lady Cynthia shrugged her shoulders.
"Cocaine is in one's dressing-room," she objected, "and beauty is hard to seek in
Grosvenor Square."
"The common mistake of all men," Sir Timothy continued, "and women, too, for the
matter of that, is that we will persist in formulating doctrines for other people. Every man
or woman is an entity of humanity, with a separate heaven and a separate hell. No two
people can breathe the same air in the same way, or see the same picture with the same
Lady Cynthia rose to her feet and shook out the folds of her diaphanous gown, daring
alike in its shapelessness and scantiness. She lit a cigarette and laid her hand upon Sir
Timothy's arm.
"Come," she said, "must I remind you of your promise? You are to show me the stables at
The Walled House before it is dark."