The shop sold those nondescript goods which seem to afford a living to a not inconsiderable class of London’s small shopkeepers. The windows and the shelves were full of dusty old books and magazines, trumpery curios and cheap china, second-hand furniture and a collection of miscellaneous odds and ends. A thick dust lay over the whole collection, and the shop and its contents presented a deserted and dirty appearance. Moreover, the door was closed as though customers were not expected. The girl tried the door and found it locked—a fact which seemed to indicate that customers were not even desired. After another hasty look up and down the street she tapped sharply on the door in a peculiar way.
The door was opened after the lapse of a few minutes by a short thickset man of over fifty, whose heavy face displayed none of the suavity and desire to please which is part of the stock-in-trade of the small shopkeeper of London. A look of annoyance crossed his face at the sight of the girl, and his first remark to her was one which no well-regulated shopkeeper would have addressed to a prospective customer.
“You!” he exclaimed. “What in God’s name has brought you here? I told you on no account to come to the shop. How do you know somebody hasn’t followed you?”
“I could not help it, Kincher,” the girl responded piteously. “I’m distracted about Fred, and I had to come over to ask your advice.”
“You women are all fools,” the man retorted. “You might have known that I would read all about the case in the papers, and that I’d let you hear from me.”
“Yes, Kincher,” she replied humbly, “but they let me see Fred for a few minutes yesterday at the police court and he told me to come over and see you. Oh, if you only knew what I’ve suffered since he was arrested. Yesterday he was committed for trial. I haven’t closed my eyes for over a week.”
“So you attended the police-court proceedings?” said Kemp. And when the girl nodded her head he went on, “The more fool you. I suppose it would be too much to expect a woman to keep away even though she knew she could do no good.”
“I knew that, Kincher, but I simply had to go. I should have died if I had stayed in that dreadful flat alone. I tried to, but I couldn’t. I got so nervous that I had to put my handkerchief into my mouth to prevent myself from screaming aloud.”
“Well, since you are here you had better come inside instead of standing there and giving yourself and me away to every passing policeman.”
He led the way inside, and the girl followed him to a dirty, cheerless room behind the shop which was furnished with a sofa-bedstead, a table, and a chair. It was evident that Kemp lived alone and attended to his own wants. The remains of an unappetising meal were on a corner of the table, and a kettle and a teapot stood by the fireplace in which a fire had recently been made with a few sticks for the purpose of boiling a kettle. Bedclothes were heaped on the sofa-bedstead in a disordered state, and in the midst of them nestled a large tortoise-shell cat.