Mr. Sabin drew a little breath, partly of satisfaction because he had discovered the place he sought, and partly of disgust at the neighbourhood in which he found himself. Nevertheless, he descended three steps from the court into which he had been directed, and pushed open the swing door, behind which Emil Sachs announced his desire to supply the world with dinners at eightpence and vin ordinaire at fourpence the small bottle.
A stout black-eyed woman looked up at his entrance from behind the counter. The place was empty.
“What does monsieur require she asked, peering forward through the gloom with some suspicion. For the eightpenny dinners were the scorn of the neighbourhood, and strangers were rare in the wine shop of Emil Sachs.”
Mr. Sabin smiled.
“One of your excellent omelettes, my good Annette,” he answered, “if your hand has not lost its cunning!”
She gave a little cry.
“It is monsieur!” she exclaimed. “After all these years it is monsieur! Ah, you will pardon that I did not recognise you. This place is a cellar. Monsieur has not changed. In the daylight one would know him anywhere.”
The woman talked fast, but even in that dim light Mr. Sabin knew quite well that she was shaking with fear. He could see the corners of her mouth twitch. Her black eyes rolled incessantly, but refused to meet his. Mr. Sabin frowned.
“You are not glad to see me, Annette!”
She leaned over the counter.
“For monsieur’s own sake,” she whispered, “go!”
Mr. Sabin stood quite still for a short space of time.
“Can I rest in there for a few minutes?” he asked, pointing to the door which led into the room beyond.
The woman hesitated. She looked up at the clock and down again.
“Emil will return,” she said, “at three. Monsieur were best out of the neighbourhood before then. For ten minutes it might be safe.”
Mr. Sabin passed forward. The woman lifted the flap of the counter and followed him. Within was a smaller room, far cleaner and better appointed than the general appearance of the place promised. Mr. Sabin seated himself at one of the small tables. The linen cloth, he noticed, was spotless, the cutlery and appointments polished and clean.
“This, I presume,” he remarked, “is not where you serve the eightpenny table d’hote?”
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
“But it would not be possible,” she answered. “We have no customers for that. If one arrives we put together a few scraps. But one must make a pretense. Monsieur understands?”
Mr. Sabin nodded.
“I will take,” he said, “a small glass of fin champagne.”
She vanished, and reappeared almost immediately with the brandy in a quaintly cut liqueur glass. A glance at the clock as she passed seemed to have increased her anxiety.