At the precise moment, when both his victim’s feet were within the loop, Aubrey gave the wire a gigantic tug. The man fell like a safe, crashing against the banisters and landing in a sprawl on the floor. It was a terrific fall, and shook the house. He lay there groaning and cursing.
Barely retaining his laughter, Aubrey struck a match and held it over the sprawling figure. The man lay with his face twisted against one out-spread arm, but the beard was unmistakable. It was the assistant chef again, and he seemed partly unconscious. “Burnt hair is a grand restorative,” said Aubrey to himself, and applied the match to the bush of beard. He singed off a couple of inches of it with intense delight, and laid his carnations on the head of the stricken one. Then, hearing stirrings in the basement, he gathered up his wire and shoes and fled upstairs. He gained his room roaring with inward mirth, but entered cautiously, fearing some trap. Save for a strong tincture of cigar smoke, everything seemed correct. Listening at his door he heard Mrs. Schiller exclaiming shrilly in the hall, assisted by yappings from the pug. Doors upstairs were opened, and questions were called out. He heard guttural groans from the bearded one, mingled with oaths and some angry remark about having fallen downstairs. The pug, frenzied with excitement, yelled insanely. A female voice— possibly Mrs. J. F. Smith—cried out “What’s that smell of burning?” Someone else said, “They’re burning feathers under his nose to bring him to.”
“Yes, Hun’s feathers,” chuckled Aubrey to himself. He locked his door, and sat down by the window with his opera glasses.
Roger had spent a quiet evening in the bookshop. Sitting at his desk under a fog of tobacco, he had honestly intended to do some writing on the twelfth chapter of his great work on bookselling. This chapter was to be an (alas, entirely conjectural) “Address Delivered by a Bookseller on Being Conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by a Leading University,” and it presented so many alluring possibilities that Roger’s mind always wandered from the paper into entranced visions of his imagined scene. He loved to build up in fancy the flattering details of that fine ceremony when bookselling would at last be properly recognized as one of the learned professions. He could see the great auditorium, filled with cultivated people: men with Emersonian profiles, ladies whispering behind their fluttering programmes. He could see the academic beadle, proctor, dean (or whatever he is, Roger was a little doubtful) pronouncing the august words of presentation—
A man who, in season and out of season, forgetting private gain for public weal, has laboured with Promethean and sacrificial ardour to instil the love of reasonable letters into countless thousands; to whom, and to whose colleagues, amid the perishable caducity of human affairs, is largely due the pullulation of literary taste; in honouring whom we seek to honour the noble and self-effacing profession of which he is so representative a member——