* * * * *
They’ve brought me here for a holiday, and I’m to go back to the studio in two or three days. But they’ve said that before, and I think it’s caddish of fellows not to keep their word—and not to return a valuable diary too! But there isn’t a peephole in my room, as there is in some of them (the Emperor of Brazil told me that); and Benlian knows I haven’t forsaken him, for they take me a message every day to the studio, and Benlian always answers that it’s “all right, and I’m to stay where I am for a bit.” So as long as he knows, I don’t mind so much. But it is a bit rotten hanging on here, especially when the doctors themselves admit how reasonable it all is.... Still, if Benlian says it’s “All right ...”
As the young man put his hand to the uppermost of the four brass bell-knobs to the right of the fanlighted door he paused, withdrew the hand again, and then pulled at the lowest knob. The sawing of bell-wire answered him, and he waited for a moment, uncertain whether the bell had rung, before pulling again. Then there came from the basement a single cracked stroke; the head of a maid appeared in the whitewashed area below; and the head was withdrawn as apparently the maid recognised him. Steps were heard along the hall; the door was opened; and the maid stood aside to let him enter, the apron with which she had slipped the latch still crumpled in her greasy hand.
“Sorry, Daisy,” the young man apologised, “but I didn’t want to bring her down all those stairs. How is she? Has she been out to-day?”
The maid replied that the person spoken of had been out; and the young man walked along the wide carpeted passage.
It was cumbered like an antique-shop with alabaster busts on pedestals, dusty palms in faience vases, and trophies of spears and shields and assegais. At the foot of the stairs was a rustling portiere of strung beads, and beyond it the carpet was continued up the broad, easy flight, secured at each step by a brass rod. Where the stairs made a turn, the fading light of the December afternoon, made still dimmer by a window of decalcomanied glass, shone on a cloudy green aquarium with sallow goldfish, a number of cacti on a shabby console table, and a large and dirty white sheepskin rug. Passing along a short landing, the young man began the ascent of the second flight. This also was carpeted, but with a carpet that had done duty in some dining- or bed-room before being cut up into strips of the width of the narrow space between the wall and the handrail. Then, as he still mounted, the young man’s feet sounded loud on oilcloth; and when he finally paused and knocked at a door it was on a small landing of naked boards beneath the cold gleam of the skylight above the well of the stairs.
“Come in,” a girl’s voice called.
The room he entered had a low sagging ceiling on which shone a low glow of firelight, making colder still the patch of eastern sky beyond the roofs and the cowls and hoods of chimneys framed by the square of the single window. The glow on the ceiling was reflected dully in the old dark mirror over the mantelpiece. An open door in the farther corner, hampered with skirts and blouses, allowed a glimpse of the girl’s bedroom.