Henry Leroux wrote busily on. The light of the table-lamp, softened and enriched by its mosaic shade, gave an appearance of added opulence to the already handsome appointments of the room. The little table-clock ticked merrily from half-past eleven to a quarter to twelve.
Into the cozy, bookish atmosphere of the novelist’s study penetrated the muffled chime of Big Ben; it chimed the three-quarters. But, with his mind centered upon his work, Leroux wrote on ceaselessly.
An odd figure of a man was this popular novelist, with patchy and untidy hair which lessened the otherwise striking contour of his brow. A neglected and unpicturesque figure, in a baggy, neutral-colored dressing-gown; a figure more fitted to a garret than to this spacious, luxurious workroom, with the soft light playing upon rank after rank of rare and costly editions, deepening the tones in the Persian carpet, making red morocco more red, purifying the vellum and regilding the gold of the choice bindings, caressing lovingly the busts and statuettes surmounting the book-shelves, and twinkling upon the scantily-covered crown of Henry Leroux. The door bell rang.
Leroux, heedless of external matters, pursued his work. But the door bell rang again and continued to ring.
“Soames! Soames!” Leroux raised his voice irascibly, continuing to write the while. “Where the devil are you! Can’t you hear the door bell?”
Soames did not reveal himself; and to the ringing of the bell was added the unmistakable rattling of a letter-box.
“Soames!” Leroux put down his pen and stood up. “Damn it! he’s out! I have no memory!”
He retied the girdle of his dressing-gown, which had become unfastened, and opened the study door. Opposite, across the entrance lobby, was the outer door; and in the light from the lobby lamp he perceived two laughing eyes peering in under the upraised flap of the letter-box. The ringing ceased.
“Are you very angry with me for interrupting you?” cried a girl’s voice.
“My dear Miss Cumberly!” said Leroux without irritation; “on the contrary—er—I am delighted to see you—or rather to hear you. There is nobody at home, you know."...
“I do know,” replied the girl firmly, “and I know something else, also. Father assures me that you simply starve yourself when Mrs. Leroux is away! So I have brought down an omelette!”
“Omelette!” muttered Leroux, advancing toward the door; “you have—er—brought an omelette! I understand—yes; you have brought an omelette? Er—that is very good of you.”
He hesitated when about to open the outer door, raising his hands to his dishevelled hair and unshaven chin. The flap of the letter-box dropped; and the girl outside could be heard stifling her laughter.
“You must think me—er—very rude,” began Leroux; “I mean—not to open the door. But"...