“With pleasure,” Mr. Waddington assented. “Have a drink?”
Mr. Bunsome did not hesitate—it was not his custom to refuse any offer of the sort! He sat down at their table and ordered a sherry and bitters. Mr. Waddington seemed to have expanded. He did not mention the subject of architecture. More than once Mr. Bunsome glanced with some surprise at Burton. The young man completely puzzled him. They talked about Menatogen and its possibilities, and Burton kept harking back to the subject of profits. Mr. Bunsome at last could contain his curiosity no longer.
“Say,” he remarked, “you had a headache or something the other night, I think? Seemed as quiet as they make ’em down at the old professor’s. I tell you I shouldn’t have known you again.”
Burton was suddenly white. Mr. Waddington plunged in.
“Dry old stick, the professor, anyway, from what I’ve heard,” he said. “Now don’t you forget, Mr. Bunsome. I shall be round at your office at ten o’clock sharp to-morrow, and I expect to be let into the company. Three beans I’ve got, and remember they’re worth something. They took that old Egyptian Johnny—him and his family, of course—a matter of a thousand years to grow, and there’s no one else on to them. Why, they’re unique, and they do the trick, too—that I can speak for. Paid the bill, Burton?”
Burton nodded. The two men shook hands with Mr. Bunsome and prepared to leave. They walked out into the Strand.
“Got anything to do this afternoon particular?” Mr. Waddington asked, after a moment’s hesitation.
“Not a thing,” Burton replied, puffing at his cigar and unconsciously altering slightly the angle of his hat.
“Wouldn’t care about a game of billiards at the Golden Lion, I suppose?” Mr. Waddington suggested.
“Rather!” Burton assented. “Let’s buy the girls some flowers and take a taxi down. Go down in style, eh? I’ll pay.”
Mr. Waddington looked at his companion—watched him, indeed, hail the taxi—and groaned. A sudden wave of half-ashamed regret swept through him. It was gone, then, this brief peep into a wonderful world! His own fall was imminent. The click of the balls was in his ears, the taste of strong drink was inviting him. The hard laugh and playful familiarities of the buxom young lady were calling to him. He sighed and took his place by his companion’s side.
MR. WADDINGTON ALSO
With his hat at a very distinct angle indeed, with a fourpenny cigar, ornamented by a gold band, in his mouth, Burton sat before a hard-toned piano and vamped.
“Pretty music, The Chocolate Soldier,” he remarked, with an air of complete satisfaction in his performance.
Miss Maud, who was standing by his side with her hand laid lightly upon his shoulder, assented vigorously.
“And you do play it so nicely, Mr. Burton,” she said. “It makes me long to see it again. I haven’t been to the theatre for heaven knows how long!”