The little man looked up at him sharply, like a bird disturbed in a meal, and then down again upon the paper. Laurie noticed that his hat and stick were laid upon the adjoining chair as if to retain it. He hesitated an instant; then he slid in on the other side, opposite the stranger, tapped his glass with his knife, and sat down.
When the waiter came, a familiarly deferential man with whiskers, Laurie, with a slight look of peevishness, gave his order, and glanced reproachfully at the occupied seat. The waiter gave the ghost of a shrug with his shoulders, significant of apologetic helplessness, and went away.
A minute later Mr. Morton entered, glanced this way and that, nodding imperceptibly to Laurie, and was just moving off to a less occupied table when the stranger looked up.
“Mr. Morton,” he cried, “Mr. Morton!” in an odd voice that seemed on the point of cracking into falsetto. Certainly he was very like a portly bird, thought Laurie.
The other turned round, nodded with short geniality, and slid into the chair from which the old man moved his hat and stick with zealous haste.
“And what are you doing here?” said Mr. Morton.
“Just taking a bite like yourself,” said the other. “Friday—worse luck.”
Laurie was conscious of a touch of interest. This man was a Catholic, then, he supposed.
“Oh, by the way,” said Mr. Morton, “have you—er—” and he indicated Laurie. “No...? Baxter, let me introduce Mr. Cathcart.”
For a moment the name meant nothing to Laurie; then he remembered; but his rising suspicions were quelled instantly by his friend’s next remark.
“By the way, Cathcart, we were talking of you a week or two ago.”
“Indeed! I am flattered,” said the old man perkily. Yes, “perky” was the word, thought Laurie.
“Mr. Baxter here is interested in Spiritualism—rump steak, waiter, and pint of bitter—and I told him you were the man for him.”
Laurie interiorly drew in his horns.
“A—er—an experimenter?” asked the old man, with courteous interest, his eyes giving a quick gleam beneath his glasses.
“Yes. Most dangerous—most dangerous.... And any success, Mr. Baxter?”
Laurie felt his annoyance deepen.
“Very considerable success,” he said shortly.
“Ah, yes—you must forgive me, sir; but I have had a good deal of experience, and I must say—You are a Catholic, I see,” he said, interrupting himself. “Or a High Churchman.”
“I am a Catholic,” said Laurie.
“So’m I. But I gave up spiritualism as soon as I became one. Very interesting experiences, too; but—well, I value my soul too much, Mr. Baxter.”
Mr. Morton put a large piece of potato into his mouth with a detached air.
It was really rather trying, thought Laurie, to be catechized in this way; so he determined to show superiority.