THE PRINCE OF FAR-AWAY
No. 19 McDougle Street had been chosen as a likely market by a “hokey-pokey” man, who had wheeled his cart to the curb before the entrance. There, despite Mrs. Hastings’ coach-man’s peremptory appeal, he continued to dispense stained ice-cream to the little denizens of No. 19 and the other houses in the row. The brougham, however, at once proved a counter-attraction and immediately an opposition group formed about the carriage step and exchanged penetrating comments upon the livery.
“Mrs. Hastings, you and Miss Holland would better sit here, perhaps,” suggested St. George, alighting hurriedly, “until I see if this man is to be found.”
“Please,” said Miss Holland, “I’ve always been longing to go into one of these houses, and now I’m going. Aren’t we, Aunt Dora?”
“If you think—” ventured Mr. Frothingham in perplexity; but Mr. Frothingham’s perplexity always impressed one as duty-born rather than judicious, and Miss Holland had already risen.
“Olivia!” protested Mrs. Hastings faintly, accepting St. George’s hand, “do look at those children’s aprons. I’m afraid we’ll all contract fever after fever, just coming this far.”
Unkempt women were occupying the doorstep of No. 19. St. George accosted them and asked the way to the rooms of a Mr. Tabnit. They smiled, displaying their wonderful teeth, consulted together, and finally with many labials and uncouth pointings of shapely hands they indicated the door of the “first floor front,” whose wooden shutters were closely barred. St. George led the way and entered the bare, unclean passage where discordant voices and the odours of cooking wrought together to poison the air. He tapped smartly at the door.
Immediately it was opened by a graceful boy, dressed in a long, belted coat of dun-colour. He had straight black hair, and eyes which one saw before one saw his face, and he gravely bowed to each of the party in turn before answering St. George’s question.
“Assuredly,” said the youth in perfect English, “enter.”
They found themselves in an ample room extending the full depth of the house; and partly because the light was dim and partly in sheer amazement they involuntarily paused as the door clicked behind them. The room’s contrast to the squalid neighbourhood was complete. The apartment was carpeted in soft rugs laid one upon another so that footfalls were silenced. The walls and ceiling were smoothly covered with a neutral-tinted silk, patterned in dim figures; and from a fluted pillar of exceeding lightness an enormous candelabrum shed clear radiance upon the objects in the room. The couches and divans were woven of some light reed, made with high fantastic backs, in perfect purity of line however, and laid with white mattresses. A little reed table showed slender pipes above its surface and these, at a touch from the boy, sent to