“No,” thought Shelton; and for some time sat without a word. “When you can;” he said at last, “come and see me; here’s my card.”
The aged butler became conscious with a jerk, for he was nodding.
“Thank ye, sir; I will,” he said, with pitiful alacrity. “Down by Belgravia? Oh, I know it well; I lived down in them parts with a gentleman of the name of Bateson—perhaps you knew him; he ’s dead now—the Honourable Bateson. Thank ye, sir; I’ll be sure to come”; and, snatching at his battered hat, he toilsomely secreted Shelton’s card amongst his character. A minute later he began again to nod.
The policeman passed a second time; his gaze seemed to say, “Now, what’s a toff doing on that seat with those two rotters?” And Shelton caught his eye.
“Ah!” he thought; “exactly! You don’t know what to make of me—a man of my position sitting here! Poor devil! to spend your days in spying on your fellow-creatures! Poor devil! But you don’t know that you ’re a poor devil, and so you ’re not one.”
The man on the next bench sneezed—a shrill and disapproving sneeze.
The policeman passed again, and, seeing that the lower creatures were both dozing, he spoke to Shelton:
“Not very safe on these ’ere benches, sir,” he said; “you never know who you may be sittin’ next to. If I were you, sir, I should be gettin’ on—if you ‘re not goin’ to spend the night here, that is”; and he laughed, as at an admirable joke.
Shelton looked at him, and itched to say, “Why shouldn’t I?” but it struck him that it would sound very odd. “Besides,” he thought, “I shall only catch a cold”; and, without speaking, he left the seat, and went along towards his rooms.
He reached his rooms at midnight so exhausted that, without waiting to light up, he dropped into a chair. The curtains and blinds had been removed for cleaning, and the tall windows admitted the night’s staring gaze. Shelton fixed his eyes on that outside darkness, as one lost man might fix his eyes upon another.
An unaired, dusty odour clung about the room, but, like some God-sent whiff of grass or flowers wafted to one sometimes in the streets, a perfume came to him, the spice from the withered clove carnation still clinging, to his button-hole; and he suddenly awoke from his queer trance. There was a decision to be made. He rose to light a candle; the dust was thick on everything he touched. “Ugh!” he thought, “how wretched!” and the loneliness that had seized him on the stone seat at Holm Oaks the day before returned with fearful force.
On his table, heaped without order, were a pile of bills and circulars. He opened them, tearing at their covers with the random haste of men back from their holidays. A single long envelope was placed apart.
My dear Dick [he read],