Another knock, half an hour later, found Elfrida finishing her coffee. Out-of-doors the world was gray, the little square windows were beaten with rain. Inside the dreariness was redeemed to the extent of a breath, a suggestion. An essence came out of the pictures and the trappings, and blended itself with the lingering fragrance of the joss-sticks and the roses and the cigarettes in a delightful manner. The room was almost warm with it. It seemed to centre in Elfrida; as she sat beside the writing-table, whose tumultuous papers had been pushed away to make room for the breakfast dishes, she was instinct with it.
Miss Bell glanced hurriedly around the room. It was unimpeachable—not so much as a strayed collar interfered with its character as an apartment where a young lady might receive. “Come in,” she said. She knew the knock.
The door opened slowly to a hesitating push, and disclosed Mr. Golightly Ticke by degrees. Mr. Ticke was accustomed to boudoirs less rigid in their exclusiveness, and always handled Miss Bell’s door with a certain amount of embarrassment. If she wanted a chance to whisk anything out of the way he would give her that chance. Fully in view of the lady and the coffee-pot Mr. Ticke made a stage bow. “Here is my apology,” he said, holding out a letter; “I found it in the box as I came in.”
It was another long thick envelope, and in its upper left hand corner was printed, in early English lettering, The St. George’s Gazette. Elfrida took it with the faintest perceptible change of countenance. It was another discomfiture, but it did not prevent her from opening her dark eyes with a remote effect of pathos entirely disconnected with its reception. “And you climbed all these flights to give it to me!” she said, with gravely smiling plaintiveness. “Thank you. Why should you have been so good? Please, please sit down.”
Mr. Ticke looked at her expressively. “I don’t know, Miss Bell, really. I don’t usually take much trouble for people. I say it without shame. Most people are not worth it. You don’t mind my saying that you’re an exception, though. Besides, I’m afraid I had my eye on my reward.”