He looked up and found the sardonic Italian eyes of the old professor fixed on him with a most curious expression.... No, no! Better even Mrs. Paynter’s than solitude shared with this stagey old man, with his repellent face and his purring voice which his eyes so belied.
“I must be going,” said Queed hastily.
His host came forward with suave expressions of regret. “However, I feel much complimented that you came at all. Pray honor me again very soon—”
“I’ll return this book sometime,” continued the young man, already at the door. “You won’t mind if I mark it, of course?”
“My dear sir—most certainly not. Indeed I hoped that you would consent to accept it for your own, as a—”
“No, I’ll return it. I daresay you will find,” he added with a faint smile, but his grossest one, “that my notes have not lessened its value exactly!”
In the hall Queed looked at his watch; ten minutes to ten. Twenty-five minutes to his visit upon the old professor!
However, let us be calm and just about it. The twenty-five minutes was not a flat loss: he had got Crozier by it. Crozier was worth twenty-five minutes; thirty-five, if it came to that—fifty!... But how to fit such a thing as this into the Schedule—and Klinker’s visits—and the time he had given to Fifi to-night and very likely would have to give through an endless chain of to-morrows? Here was the burning crux. Was it endurable that the Schedule must be corrupted yet again?
So far as little Fifi was concerned, it turned out that these agonies were superfluous; he had helped her with her lessons for the last time. She did not appear in the dining-room the next night, or the next, or the next. Inquiries from the boarders drew from Mrs. Paynter the information that the child’s cough had pulled her down so that she had been remanded to bed for a day or two to rest up. But resting up appeared not to prove so simple a process as had been anticipated, and the day or two was soon running into weeks.
Halcyon nights Queed enjoyed in the dining-room in Fifi’s absence, yet faintly marred in a most singular way by the very absence which alone made them halcyon. It is a fact that you cannot give to any person fifteen minutes of valuable time every night, and not have your consciousness somewhat involved in that person’s abrupt disappearance from your horizon. Messages from Fifi on matters of most trivial import came to Queed occasionally, and these served to keep alive his subtle awareness of her absence. But he never took any notice of the messages, not even of the one which said that he could look in and see her some afternoon if he wanted to.
Concerning a Plan to make a Small Gift to a Fellow-Boarder, and what it led to in the Way of Calls; also touching upon Mr. Queed’s Dismissal from the Post, and the Generous Resolve of the Young Lady, Charles Weyland.