“I quite understand,” concluded the voice of the unseen one. “You are a most untidy object! And I shall tell Mira directly she returns that she has no right to leave you alone like this! Now I am going to hurry back upstairs; so you may appear safely. Don’t let the omelette get cold. Good night!”
“No, certainly I shall not!” cried Leroux. “So good of you—I—er—do like omelette.... Good night!”
Calmly he returned to his writing-table, where, in the pursuit of the elusive character whose exploits he was chronicling and who had brought him fame and wealth, he forgot in the same moment Helen Cumberly and the omelette.
The table-clock ticked merrily on; scratch—&
shy;scratch—splutter—scratch—went Henry Leroux’s pen; for this up-to-date litterateur, essayist by inclination, creator of “Martin Zeda, Criminal Scientist” by popular clamor, was yet old-fashioned enough, and sufficient of an enthusiast, to pen his work, while lesser men dictated.
So, amidst that classic company, smiling or frowning upon him from the oaken shelves, where Petronius Arbiter, exquisite, rubbed shoulders with Balzac, plebeian; where Omar Khayyam leaned confidentially toward Philostratus; where Mark Twain, standing squarely beside Thomas Carlyle, glared across the room at George Meredith, Henry Leroux pursued the amazing career of “Martin Zeda.”
It wanted but five minutes to the hour of midnight, when again the door bell clamored in the silence.
Leroux wrote steadily on. The bell continued to ring, and, furthermore, the ringer could be heard beating upon the outer door.
“Soames!” cried Leroux irritably, “Soames! Why the hell don’t you go to the door!”
Leroux stood up, dashing his pen upon the table.
“I shall have to sack that damned man!” he cried; “he takes too many liberties—stopping out until this hour of the night!”
He pulled open the study door, crossed the hallway, and opened the door beyond.
In, out of the darkness—for the stair lights had been extinguished—staggered a woman; a woman whose pale face exhibited, despite the ravages of sorrow or illness, signs of quite unusual beauty. Her eyes were wide opened, and terror-stricken, the pupils contracted almost to vanishing point. She wore a magnificent cloak of civet fur wrapped tightly about her, and, as Leroux opened the door, she tottered past him into the lobby, glancing back over her shoulder.
With his upraised hands plunged pathetically into the mop of his hair, Leroux turned and stared at the intruder. She groped as if a darkness had descended, clutched at the sides of the study doorway, and then, unsteadily, entered—and sank down upon the big chesterfield in utter exhaustion.
Leroux, rubbing his chin, perplexedly, walked in after her. He scarcely had his foot upon the study carpet, ere the woman started up, tremulously, and shot out from the enveloping furs a bare arm and a pointing, quivering finger.