The weather had cleared to a compromise. The dome of St. Paul’s swelled dimly out of the fog as Elfrida turned into Fleet Street, and the railway bridge that hangs over the heads of the people at the bottom of Ludgate Hill seemed a curiously solid structure connecting space with space. Fleet Street, wet and brown, and standing in all unremembered fashions, lifted its antiquated head and waited for more rain; the pavements glistened briefly, till the tracking heels of the crowd gave them back their squalor; and there was everywhere that newness of turmoil that seems to burst even in the turbulent streets of the City when it stops raining. The girl made her way toward Charing Cross with the westward-going crowd. It went with a steady, respectable jog-trot, very careful of its skirts and umbrellas and the bottoms of its trousers; she took pleasure in hastening past it with her light gait. She would walk to the Consul office, which was in the vicinity of the Haymarket; indeed, she must, for the sake of economy. “I ought really to be very careful,” thought Elfrida. “I’ve only eight sovereigns left, and I can’t —oh, I can’t ask them for any more at home.” So she went swiftly on, pausing once before a picture-dealer’s in the Strand to make a mocking mouth at the particularly British quality of the art which formed the day’s exhibit, and once to glance at a news-stand where two women of the street, one still young and pretty, the other old and foul, were buying the Police Gazette from a stolid-faced boy. “What a subject for Nadie,” she said to herself, smiling, and hurried on. Twenty yards further a carter’s horse lay dying with its head upon the pavement. She made an impulsive detour of nearly half a mile to avoid passing the place, and her thoughts recurred painfully to the animal half a dozen times. The rain came down again before she reached the Consul office; a policeman misinformed her, she had a difficulty in finding it. She arrived at last, with damp skirts and muddy boots. It had been a long walk, and the article upon American social ideals was limp and spotted. A door confronted her, flush with the street. She opened it. and found herself at the bottom of a flight of stairs, steep, dark, and silent. She hesitated a moment, and then went up. At the top another closed door met her, with The Consul painted in black letters on the part of it that consisted of ground glass somewhat the worse for pencil-points and finger-nails. Elfrida lifted her hand to knock, then changed her mind and opened the door.
It was a small room lined on two sides with deal compartments bulging with dusty papers. There were two or three shelves of uninteresting-looking books, and a desk which extended into a counter. The upper panes of the window were ragged with cobwebs, and the air of the place was redolent of stale publications. A thick-set little man in spectacles sat at the desk. It was not Mr. Curtis.