“I don’t know what to make of it,” said Mrs. Paynter sotto voce. “He’s usually so regular.”
To the third floor she dispatched the colored girl Emma, to knock upon Mr. Queed’s door. Presently Emma returned with the report that she had knocked, but could obtain no answer.
“He’s probably fallen asleep over his book,” murmured Sharlee. “I feel certain it’s that kind of book.”
But Mrs. Paynter said that he rarely slept, even at night.
“... Right on my own front porch, mind you!” Major Brooke was declaiming. “And, gentlemen, I shook my finger in his face and said, ‘Sir, I never yet met a Republican who was not a rogue!’ Yes, sir, that is just what I told him—”
“I’m afraid,” said Nicolovius, smoothly,—it was the only word he uttered during the meal,—“your remark harrows Miss Weyland with reminders of the late Mr. Surface.”
The Major stopped short, and a silence fell over the table. It was promptly broken by Mrs. Paynter, who invited Mrs. Brooke to have a second cup of coffee. Sharlee looked at her plate and said nothing. Everybody thought that the old professor’s remark was in bad taste, for it was generally known that Henry G. Surface was one subject that even Miss Weyland’s intimate friends never mentioned to her. Nicolovius, however, appeared absolutely unconcerned by the boarders’ silent rebuke. He ate on, rapidly but abstemiously, and finished before Mr. Bylash, who had had twenty minutes’ start of him.
The last boarder rising drew shut the folding-doors into the parlor, while the ladies of the house remained to superintend and assist in clearing off the supper things. The last boarder this time was Mr. Bylash, who tried without success to catch Miss Weyland’s eye as he slid to the doors. He hung around in the parlor waiting for her till 8.30, at which time, having neither seen nor heard sign of her, he took Miss Miller out to the moving-picture shows. In the dining-room, when Emma had trayed out the last of the things, the ladies put away the unused silver, watered the geranium, set back some of the chairs, folded up the white cloth, placing it in the sideboard drawer, spread the pretty Turkey-red one in its stead, set the reading lamp upon it; and just then the clock struck eight.
“Now then,” said Sharlee.
So the three sat down and held a council of war as to how little Doctor Queed, the young man who wouldn’t pay his board, was to be brought into personal contact with Charlotte Lee Weyland, the grim and resolute collector. Various stratagems were proposed, amid much merriment. But the collector herself adhered to her original idea of a masterly waiting game.
“Only trust me,” said she. “He can’t spend the rest of his life shut up in that room in a state of dreadful siege. Hunger or thirst will force him out; he’ll want to buy some of those apples, or to mail a letter—”
Fifi, who sat on the arm of Sharlee’s chair, laughed and coughed. “He never writes any. And he never has gotten but one, and that came to-night.”