“Who are you?” she demanded. “How dare you come here? Maggie, put this man out.”
But Maggie had disappeared, so the woman was left to face the man alone.
“I won’t harm you, madame,” he smilingly informed her, as he moved closer to the fire and stretched put his hands. “I’m as harmless as a kitten.”
“Keep back,” the woman ordered. “Don’t come so close.”
“Oh, I’m all right. Don’t you worry about me.”
Again the man smiled as he rubbed his hands together.
“I wasn’t worrying about you,” the woman retorted. “I would like to see you burn yourself for your impudence.”
Her fear had now vanished, and she was angry. She carefully noted the man’s slight figure, and threadbare clothes. But his face was what attracted her most of all. It was somewhat chubby, and when the mouth was expanded by the almost incessant smile the cheeks were wrinkled like corrugated iron. His head was bald, save for a few tufts of hair above the ears. His bulging eyes twinkled with good humour, causing an observer to feel that their owner was well satisfied with himself and the entire world.
“Who are you?” the woman again demanded. “How dare you come uninvited into my room?”
The man straightened, himself up, and standing with his back to the fire brought forth a package of cigarettes, selected one, and deliberately lighted it.
“You don’t mind if I have a smoke, do you?” he asked. “It’s good for the nerves.”
“Indeed I do,” the woman replied. “I hate smoking. I never allow it in this room.”
“I’m sorry, madame, but you’ll soon forget all about it. I have come to see you to-night on very important business, and when I tell you what it is you won’t think any more about the smoke.”
“Important business! With me? Why, I never saw you before, and I have not the slightest idea who you are. What do you want, anyway?”
“Yes, it’s important business, as I have just said, and when I learned that you would see no one to-night I was compelled to force myself upon your presence.”
“How did you know that I would see no one to-night? Were you listening at the door?”
“Madame, when you get to know me better you will learn that I am able to read people’s thoughts, though doors may intervene. Words are unnecessary to me. I know all.”
The man blew a cloud of smoke into the air, and smiled. “Yes,” he continued, “I even read your thoughts to-night as you sat before this fire.”
“You did!” The woman’s eyes grew wide with fear and amazement. “Who are you, anyway?”
“I am merely a stand-between; that has been my business for years.”
“Yes, I stand between people and ignorance. I supply them with mental food, books of the first-water. They all know me, and look upon me as a public benefactor.”