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Bill shook his head.

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'Well, good-bye for the present, then. You must come round again. Any friend of Claire's--and it was bully of you to bother about looking in to tell of Eustace.'

Bill had reached the door. He was about to turn the handle when someone turned it on the other side.

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'Why, here is Dudley,' said Lady Wetherby. 'Dudley, this is a friend of Claire's.'

Dudley Pickering was one of those men who take the ceremony of introduction with a measured solemnity. It was his practice to grasp the party of the second part firmly by the hand, hold it, look into his eyes in a reverent manner, and get off some little speech of appreciation, short but full of feeling. The opening part of this ceremony he performed now. He grasped Bill's hand firmly, held it, and looked into his eyes. And then, having performed his business, he fell down on his lines. Not a word proceeded from him. He dropped the hand and stared at Bill amazedly and--more than that--with fear.

Bill, too, uttered no word. It was not one of those chatty meetings.

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But if they were short on words, both Bill and Mr Pickering were long on looks. Bill stared at Mr Pickering. Mr Pickering stared at Bill.

Bill was drinking in Mr Pickering. The stoutness of Mr Pickering--the orderliness of Mr Pickering--the dullness of Mr Pickering--all these things he perceived. And illumination broke upon him.

Mr Pickering was drinking in Bill. The largeness of Bill--the embarrassment of Bill--the obvious villainy of Bill--none of these things escaped his notice. And illumination broke upon him also.

For Dudley Pickering, in the first moment of their meeting, had recognized Bill as the man who had been lurking in the grounds and peering in at the window, the man at whom on the night when he had become engaged to Claire he had shouted 'Hi!'

'Where's Claire, Dudley?' asked Lady Wetherby.

Mr Pickering withdrew his gaze reluctantly from Bill.

'Gone upstairs.'

I'll go and tell her that you're here, Mr--You never told me your name.'

Bill came to life with an almost acrobatic abruptness. There were many things of which at that moment he felt absolutely incapable, and meeting Claire was one of them.

'No; I must be going,' he said, hurriedly. 'Good-bye.'

He came very near running out of the room. Lady Wetherby regarded the practically slammed door with wide eyes.

'Quick exit of Nut Comedian!' she said. 'Whatever was the matter with the man? He's scorched a trail in the carpet.'

Mr Pickering was trembling violently.