In this hot weather the window of Mr. Polteed’s room was positively open, and the only precaution was a wire gauze, preventing the intrusion of flies. Two or three had tried to come in, and been caught, so that they seemed to be clinging there with the intention of being devoured presently. Mr. Polteed, following the direction of his client’s eye, rose apologetically and closed the window.
‘Posing ass!’ thought Soames. Like all who fundamentally believe in themselves he was rising to the occasion, and, with his little sideway smile, he said: “I’ve had your letter. I’m going to act. I suppose you know who the lady you’ve been watching really is?” Mr. Polteed’s expression at that moment was a masterpiece. It so clearly said: ’Well, what do you think? But mere professional knowledge, I assure you—pray forgive it!’ He made a little half airy movement with his hand, as who should say: ‘Such things—such things will happen to us all!’
“Very well, then,” said Soames, moistening his lips: “there’s no need to say more. I’m instructing Linkman and Laver of Budge Row to act for me. I don’t want to hear your evidence, but kindly make your report to them at five o’clock, and continue to observe the utmost secrecy.”
Mr. Polteed half closed his eyes, as if to comply at once. “My dear sir,” he said.
“Are you convinced,” asked Soames with sudden energy, “that there is enough?”
The faintest movement occurred to Mr. Polteed’s shoulders.
“You can risk it,” he murmured; “with what we have, and human nature, you can risk it.”
Soames rose. “You will ask for Mr. Linkman. Thanks; don’t get up.” He could not bear Mr. Polteed to slide as usual between him and the door. In the sunlight of Piccadilly he wiped his forehead. This had been the worst of it—he could stand the strangers better. And he went back into the City to do what still lay before him.
That evening in Park Lane, watching his father dine, he was overwhelmed by his old longing for a son—a son, to watch him eat as he went down the years, to be taken on his knee as James on a time had been wont to take him; a son of his own begetting, who could understand him because he was the same flesh and blood—understand, and comfort him, and become more rich and cultured than himself because he would start even better off. To get old—like that thin, grey wiry-frail