“Certainly—I quite understand"...
“Mrs. Leroux will engage you this afternoon—her husband is a mere cipher in the household—and you will commence your duties on Monday. Later in the week, Wednesday or Thursday, we will meet by appointment, and discuss further details.”
“Where can I see you?”
“Ring up this number: 18642 East, and ask for Mr. King. No! don’t write it down; remember it! I will come to the telephone, and arrange a meeting.”
Shortly after this, then, the interview concluded; and later in the afternoon of that day Mr. Soames presented himself at Palace Mansions.
He was received by Mrs. Leroux—a pretty woman with a pathetically weak mouth. She had fair hair, not very abundant, and large eyes; which, since they exhibited the unusual phenomenon, in a blonde, of long dark lashes (Mr. Soames judged their blackness to be natural), would have been beautiful had they not been of too light a color, too small in the pupils, and utterly expressionless. Indeed, her whole face lacked color, as did her personality, and the exquisite tea-gown which she wore conveyed that odd impression of slovenliness, which is often an indication of secret vice. She was quite young and indisputably pretty, but this malproprete, together with a certain aimlessness of manner, struck an incongruous note; for essentially she was of a type which for its complement needs vivacity.
Mr. Soames, a man of experience, scented an intrigue and a neglectful husband. Since he was engaged on the spot without reference to the invisible Leroux, he was immediately confirmed in the latter part of his surmise. He departed well satisfied with his affairs, and with the promise of the future, over which Mr. Gianapolis, the cherubic, radiantly presided.
THE DRAFT ON PARIS
For close upon a month Soames performed the duties imposed upon him in the household of Henry Leroux. He was unable to discover, despite a careful course of inquiry from the cook and the housemaid, that Mrs. Leroux frequently absented herself. But the servants were newly engaged, for the flat in Palace Mansions had only recently been leased by the Leroux. He gathered that they had formerly lived much abroad, and that their marriage had taken place in Paris. Mrs. Leroux had been to visit a friend in the French capital once, he understood, since the housemaid had been in her employ.
The mistress (said the housemaid) did not care twopence-ha’penny for her husband; she had married him for his money, and for nothing else. She had had an earlier love (declared the cook) and was pining away to a mere shadow because of her painful memories. During the last six months (the period of the cook’s service) Mrs. Leroux had altered out of all recognition. The cook was of opinion that she drank secretly.
Of Mr. Leroux, Soames formed the poorest opinion. He counted him a spiritless being, whose world was bounded by his book-shelves, and whose wife would be a fool if she did not avail herself of the liberty which his neglect invited her to enjoy. Soames felt himself, not a snake in the grass, but a benefactor—a friend in need—a champion come to the defense of an unhappy and persecuted woman.