“I don’t know,” she said, pausing for a moment opposite a bust labelled “Trajan” (but obviously a portrait of Phil May), “how I am ever even to thank you for all that you have done? to say nothing of repayment.”
“There is no need to do either,” I replied. “I have enjoyed working with you, so I have had my reward. But still,” I added, “if you want to do me a great kindness, you have it in your power.”
“In connection with my friend Doctor Thorndyke. I told you he was an enthusiast. Now he is, for some reason, most keenly interested in everything relating to your uncle, and I happen to know that, if any legal proceedings should take place, he would very much like to keep a friendly eye on the case.”
“And what do you want me to do?”
“I want you, if an opportunity should occur for him to give your father advice or help of any kind, to use your influence with your father in favour of, rather than in opposition to, his accepting it—always assuming that you have no real feeling against his doing so.”
Miss Bellingham looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments, and then laughed softly.
“So the great kindness that I am to do you is to let you do me a further kindness through your friend!”
“No,” I protested; “that is where you are quite mistaken. It isn’t benevolence on Doctor Thorndyke’s part; it is professional enthusiasm.”
She smiled sceptically.
“You don’t believe in it,” I said; “but consider other cases. Why does a surgeon get out of bed on a winter’s night to do an emergency operation at a hospital? He doesn’t get paid for it. Do you think it is altruism?”
“Yes, of course. Isn’t it?”
“Certainly not. He does it because it is his job, because it is his business to fight with disease—and win.”
“I don’t see much difference,” she said. “It is work done for love instead of for payment. However, I will do what you ask if the opportunity arises; but I shan’t suppose that I am repaying your kindness to me.”
“I don’t mind, so long as you do it,” I said, and we walked on for some time in silence.
“Isn’t it odd,” she said presently, “how our talk always seems to come back to my uncle? Oh, and that reminds me that the things he gave to the Museum are in the same room as the Ahkhenaten relief. Would you like to see them?”
“Of course I should.”
“Then we will go and look at them first.” She paused, and then, rather shyly and with a rising colour, she continued: “And I think I should like to introduce you to a very dear friend of mine—with your permission, of course.”
This last addition she made hastily, seeing, I suppose, that I looked rather glum at the suggestion. Inwardly I consigned her friend to the devil, especially if of the masculine gender; outwardly I expressed my felicity at making the acquaintance of any person whom she should honour with her friendship. Whereat, to my discomfiture, she laughed enigmatically; a very soft laugh, low-pitched and musical, like the cooing of a glorified pigeon.