It was a wet and chilly night, and Singleton sat in an easy chair beside the hearth in his city quarters with an old pipe in his hand. The room was shabbily furnished, the hearthrug had a hole in it, the carpet was threadbare, and Singleton’s attire harmonized with his surroundings, though the box of cigars and one or two bottles and siphons on the table suggested that he expected visitors. The loose Tuxedo jacket he had bought in America was marked by discolored patches; his carpet slippers were dilapidated. His means, though long restricted, would have warranted better accommodations; but his clothes were comfortable and he did not think it worth while to put on anything smarter. There was a vein of rather bitter pride in the man, and he would not, out of deference to any other person’s views, alter conditions that suited him.
A notebook lay beside him and several bulky treatises on botany were scattered about, but he had ceased work and was thinking. After the shadow and silence of the tropical bush, to which he was most accustomed, the rattle of the traffic in the wet street below was stimulating; but his reflections were not pleasant. He had waited patiently for another invitation to Lansing’s house, which had not arrived, and a day or two ago he had met Sylvia Marston, upon whom his mind had steadily dwelt, in a busy street. She had bowed to him courteously, but she had made it clear that she did not expect him to stop and speak. It had been a bitter moment to Singleton, but he had calmly faced the truth. He had served his purpose, and he had been dropped. Now, however, a letter from one of the people he was expecting indicated that he might again be drawn into the rubber-exploiting scheme.
The two gentlemen who had called on Herbert were shown in presently.
“It was I who wrote you,” the first of them said; “this is my colleague, Mr. Nevis.”
“Will you take that chair, Mr. Jackson?” He turned to the other man. “I think you had better have this one; it’s comparatively sound.”
He was aware that they were looking about his apartment curiously, and no doubt inferring something from its condition; but this was of no consequence. He had learned his value and meant to insist on it, without the assistance of any signs of prosperity.
“I couldn’t get up to town, as you suggested,” he resumed when they were seated. “I’ve been rather busy of late.”
“That’s generally the case with us,” Jackson said pointedly.
He was a thin man, very neatly and quietly dressed, with a solemn face and an air of importance. Nevis was stouter and more florid, with a brisker manner, but the stamp of the city was plainly set on both.
“Well,” said Singleton, “I’m at your service, now you’re here. The cigars are nearest you, Mr. Nevis, and I can recommend the contents of the smaller bottle. It’s a Southern speciality and rather difficult to get in England.”