Adrien Leroy (Chapter 1, page 1 of 6)


 
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Chapter 1

It was a cold night in early spring, and the West End streets were
nearly deserted. The great shutters of the shops were being drawn down
with a dull rumble, and every moment the pavements grew more dreary
looking as the glories of the plate-glass windows were hidden.

Tired workers with haggard faces were making their way homeward; to them
the day was at an end. But to the occupants of the whirring taxis and
smart motors, as they sped westward, the round of their day was but
half-way through; for them, the great ones of the earth, the
all-important hour of dinner was at hand.

At the entrance of one of the most luxurious clubs in Pall Mall two men,
in immaculate evening dress, stood carelessly surveying the hurrying
throngs of people.

"Seven," said one, as the hour struck from the nearest church. "I
thought Standon said seven."

"Yes, and like a woman, meant half-past," returned the other, hiding a
yawn.

"Stan's too young to value his dinner properly, but Leroy ought to have
been punctual. Oh, here is Stan!" as a slight, well-dressed man sprang
hastily from a smart motor and came towards them.

"Hello!" said the new-comer, shaking hands, "you two fellows first? I
hope I'm not late, Shelton."

"Of course you're late," growled Shelton, with characteristic pessimism.
"You always are, and Leroy is worse. Come along, we may as well wait
inside as in this beastly draught."

In the great dining-hall the snowy-covered tables were being taken
rapidly by members about to dine; silent-footed waiters were hurrying to
and fro, carrying out their various duties, while intermittently the
sound of opening champagne bottles mingled with the buzz of conversation
and the ripple of laughter.

The three men, Mortimer Shelton, Lord Standon and Frank Parselle, seated
themselves at a table in a comfortable recess and took stock of the
room, responding to numerous nods and smiles of recognition, while
grumbling at the unpunctuality of their friend.

"Ten past seven!" groaned Shelton, looking at his watch. "I might have
known that Leroy would be late. Shall we wait?"

"Oh, yes!" said Parselle; "Adrien might not like it, you know. It is a
bore, though! The soup will be as thick as mud!"

"By Jove! I'd forgotten," interrupted Standon suddenly. "I met Leroy
yesterday, and he asked me to tell you he might be late, as he was off
to Barminster Castle last night. We were not to wait. He gave me a note,
and--if I haven't left it in my other coat--" He fumbled in his pocket.
"No; here it is." He produced the note with an air of triumph, and
Shelton, with a muttered exclamation of disgust, ordered dinner to be
served before he opened it. As he did so and ran his eye over the
contents, he frowned.

 
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