Mr. Alfred Burton, although he was blissfully and completely ignorant of the fact, stood at the door of Fate. He was a little out of breath and his silk hat was reclining at the back of his head. In his mouth was a large cigar which he felt certain was going to disagree with him, but he smoked it because it had been presented to him a few minutes ago by the client upon whom he was in attendance. He had rather deep-set blue eyes, which might have been attractive but for a certain keenness in their outlook, which was in a sense indicative of the methods and character of the young man himself; a pale, characterless face, a straggling, sandy moustache, and an earnest, not to say convincing, manner. He was dressed in such garments as the head-clerk of Messrs. Waddington & Forbes, third-rate auctioneers and house agents, might have been expected to select. He dangled a bunch of keys in his hand.
“If this house don’t suit you, sir,” he declared, confidently, “why, there isn’t one in the whole west-end that will. That’s my opinion, anyway. There’s nothing in our books to compare with it for value and accommodation. We nearly let it last week to Lord Leconside, but Her Ladyship—she came round with me herself—decided that it was just a trifle too large. As a matter of fact, sir,” this energetic young man went on, confidentially, “the governor insisted upon a deposit and it didn’t seem to be exactly convenient. It isn’t always these people with titles who’ve got the money. That we find out in our business, sir, as quickly as anybody. As for the steam heating you were talking about, Mr. Lynn, why, that’s all very well for New York,” he continued, persuasively, “but over here the climate doesn’t call for it—you can take it from me that it doesn’t, indeed, Mr. Lynn. I have the letting in my hands of as many houses as most people, and you can take it from me, sir, as the direct result of my experience, that over here they won’t have it—won’t have it at any price, sir. Most unhealthy we find it, and always produces a rare crop of colds and coughs unknown to those that are used to an honest coal fire. It’s all a matter of climate, sir, after all, isn’t it?”
The young man paused to take breath. His client, who had been listening attentively in gloomy but not unappreciative silence, removed his cigar from his mouth. He was a middle-aged American with a wife and daughters on their way over from New York, and his business was to take a house before they arrived. It wasn’t a job he liked, but he was making the best of it. This young man appealed to his sense of business.
“Say,” he remarked, approvingly, “you’ve learned how to talk in your trade!”
Stimulated by this encouragement, Alfred Burton clapped on his hat a little more securely, took a long breath, and went at it again.