Burton took up his hat and stole softly out of the room. As quickly as he could, he made his way to the offices of the Piccadilly Gazette and sought his friend the sub-editor. The sub-editor greeted him with a nod.
“Heard about your novel yet?” he inquired.
“I had it back this morning,” his caller replied. “I have sent it away somewhere else. I have written you a little study of ’The Children of London.’ I hope you will like it.”
The sub-editor nodded and glanced it through. He laid it down by his side and for the first time there seemed to be a shadow of hesitation in his tone.
“Don’t force yourself, Burton,” he advised, looking curiously at his contributor. “We will use this in a day or two. You can apply at the cashier’s office for your cheque when you like. But if you don’t mind my saying so, there are little touches here, repetitions, that might be improved, I think.”
Burton thanked him and went home with money in his pocket. He undressed the boy, who sleepily demanded a bath, put him to sleep in his own bed, and threw himself into an easy-chair. It was late, but he had not troubled to light a lamp. He sat for hours looking out into the shadows. A new responsibility, indeed, had come into life. He was powerless to grapple with it. The grotesqueness of the situation appalled him. How could he plan or dream like other men when the measure of the child’s existence, as of his own, could be counted by weeks? For the first time since his emancipation he looked back into the past without a shudder. If one had realized, if one had only taken a little pains, would it not have been possible to have escaped from the life of bondage by less violent but more permanent means? It was only the impulse which was lacking. He sat dreaming there until he fell into a deep sleep.
Mr. Bomford in his town clothes was a strikingly adequate reflection of the fashion of the times. From the tips of his patent boots, his neatly tied black satin tie, his waistcoat with its immaculate white slip, to his glossy silk hat, he was an entirely satisfactory reproduction. The caretaker who admitted him to Burton’s rooms sighed as she let him in. He represented exactly her ideal of a gentleman.
“Mr. Burton and the little boy are both in the sitting-room, sir,” she announced, opening the door. “A gentleman to see you, sir.”
Burton looked up from his writing-table for a moment somewhat vaguely. Mr. Bomford, who had withdrawn his glove, held out his hand.
“I trust, Mr. Burton, that you have not entirely forgotten me,” he said. “I had the pleasure of dining with you a short time ago at Professor Cowper’s. You will doubtless remember our conversation?”
Burton welcomed his visitor civilly and motioned him to a seat. He was conscious of feeling a little disturbed. Mr. Bomford brought him once more into touch with memories which were ever assailing him by night and by day.