He wondered when an opportunity should arise which would enable him to commence his chivalrous operations; almost daily he anticipated instructions to the effect that Mrs. Leroux would be leaving for Paris immediately. But the days glided by and the weeks glided by, without anything occurring to break the monotony of the Leroux household.
Mr. Soames sought an opportunity to express his respectful readiness to Mrs. Leroux; but the lady was rarely visible outside her own apartments until late in the day, when she would be engaged in preparing for the serious business of the evening: one night a dance, another, a bridge-party; so it went. Mr. Leroux rarely joined her upon these festive expeditions, but clung to his study like Diogenes to his tub.
Great was Mr. Soames’ contempt; bitter were the reproaches of the cook; dark were the predictions of the housemaid.
At last, however, Soames, feeling himself neglected, seized an opportunity which offered to cement the secret bond (the too secret bond) existing between himself and the mistress of the house.
Meeting her one afternoon in the lobby, which she was crossing on the way from her bedroom to the drawing-room, he stood aside to let her pass, whispering:
“At your service, whenever you are ready, madam!”
It was a non-committal remark, which, if she chose to keep up the comedy, he could explain away by claiming it to refer to the summoning of the car from the garage—for Mrs. Leroux was driving out that afternoon.
She did not endeavor to evade the occult meaning of the words, however. In the wearily dreamy manner which, when first he had seen her, had aroused Soames’ respectful interest, she raised her thin hand to her hair, slowly pressing it back from her brow, and directed her big eyes vacantly upon him.
“Yes, Soames,” she said (her voice had a faraway quality in keeping with the rest of her personality), “Mr. King speaks well of you. But please do not refer again to”—she glanced in a manner at once furtive and sorrowful, in the direction of the study-door—“to the ... little arrangement of"...
She passed on, with the slow, gliding gait, which, together with her fragility, sometimes lent her an almost phantomesque appearance.
This was comforting, in its degree; since it proved that the smiling Gianapolis had in no way misled him (Soames). But as a man of business, Mr. Soames was not fully satisfied. He selected an evening when Mrs. Leroux was absent—and indeed she was absent almost every evening, for Leroux entertained but little. The cook and the housemaid were absent, also; therefore, to all intents and purposes, Soames had the flat to himself; since Henry Leroux counted in that establishment, not as an entity, but rather as a necessary, if unornamental, portion of the fittings.
Standing in the lobby, Soames raised the telephone receiver, and having paused with closed eyes preparing the exact form of words in which he should address his invisible employer, he gave the number: East 18642.