“Back again this afternoon, sir?” some one called out.
“At half-past two,” the auctioneer replied, with a smothered groan.
Mr. Waddington called a taxicab.
“I can’t stand the Golden Lion any longer,” he explained. “Somehow or other, the place seems to have changed in the most extraordinary manner’ during the last week or so. Everybody drinks too much there. The table-linen isn’t clean, and the barmaids are too familiar. I’ve found out a little place in Jermyn Street where I go now when I have time. We can talk there.”
Burton nodded. He was, as a matter of fact, intensely interested. Only a few weeks ago, his late employer had spent nearly every moment of his time, when his services were not urgently required at the office, at the Golden Lion, and he had been seen on more than one occasion at the theatre and elsewhere with one or another of the golden-haired ladies behind the bar. Mr. Waddington—fortunately, perhaps, considering his present predicament!—was a bachelor.
The restaurant, if small, was an excellent one, and Mr. Waddington, who seemed already to be treated with the consideration of a regular customer, ordered a luncheon which, simple though it was, inspired his companion with respect. The waiter withdrew and the auctioneer and his quondam clerk sat and looked at one another. Their eyes were full of questions. Mr. Waddington made a bad lapse.
“What in hell do you suppose it all means, Burton?” he demanded. “You see, I’ve got it too!”
“Obviously,” Burton answered. “I am sure,” he added, a little hesitatingly, “that I congratulate you.”
Mr. Waddington at that moment looked scarcely a subject for congratulation. A spasm, as though of pain, had suddenly passed across his face. He clutched at the sides of his chair.
“It’s marvelous!” he murmured. “A single word like that and I suffer in an absolutely indescribable sort of way. There seems to be something pulling at me all the time, even when it rises to my lips.”
“I shouldn’t worry about that,” Burton replied. “You must get out of the habit. It’s quite easy. I expect very soon you will find all desire to use strong language has disappeared entirely.”
Mr. Waddington was inclined to be gloomy.
“That’s all very well,” he declared, “but I’ve my living to get.”
“You seem to be doing pretty well up to now,” Burton reminded him.
Mr. Waddington assented, but without enthusiasm.
“It can’t last, Burton,” he said. “I am ashamed to say it, but all my crowd have got so accustomed to hear me—er—exaggerate, that they disbelieve everything I say as a matter of habit. I tell them now that the goods I am offering are not what they should be, because I can’t help it, and they think it’s because I have some deep game up my sleeve, or because I do not want to part. I give them a week or so at the most, Burton—no more.”