“I don’t give up my theory that it’s a fake of some kind, though. He could leave behind a good many creditors besides his landlord. The authorities have sealed up his effects, and they’ve done everything but call out the fire department; that’s on duty looking after the freshet, and it couldn’t be spared. I’ll go out now and slop round a little more in the cause,” Hinkle looked down at his shoes and his drabbled trousers, and wiped the perspiration from his face, “but I thought I’d drop in, and tell you not to worry about it, Miss Clementina. I would stake anything you pleased on Mr. Belsky’s safety. Mr. Gregory, here, looks like he would be willing to take odds,” he suggested.
Gregory commanded himself from his misery to say, “I wish I could believe—I mean—”
“Of course, we don’t want to think that the man’s a fraud, any more than that he’s dead. Perhaps we might hit upon some middle course. At any rate, it’s worth trying.”
“May I—do you object to my joining you?” Gregory asked.
“Why, come!” Hinkle hospitably assented. “Glad to have you. I’ll be back again, Miss Clementina!”
Gregory was going away without any form of leavetaking; but he turned back to ask, “Will you let me come back, too?”
“Why, suttainly, Mr. Gregory,” said Clementina, and she went to find Mrs. Lander, whom she found in bed.
“I thought I’d lay down,” she explained. “I don’t believe I’m goin’ to be sick, but it’s one of my pooa days, and I might just as well be in bed as not.” Clementina agreed with her, and Mrs. Lander asked: “You hea’d anything moa?”
“No. Mr. Hinkle has just been he’a, but he hadn’t any news.”
Mrs. Lander turned her face toward the wall. “Next thing, he’ll be drownin’ himself. I neva wanted you should have anything to do with the fellas that go to that woman’s. There ain’t any of ’em to be depended on.”
It was the first time that her growing jealousy of Miss Milray had openly declared itself; but Clementina had felt it before, without knowing how to meet it. As an escape from it now she was almost willing to say, “Mrs. Lander, I want to tell you that Mr. Gregory has just been he’a, too.”
“Yes. Don’t you remember? At the Middlemount? The first summa? He was the headwaita—that student.”
Mrs. Lander jerked her head round on the pillow. “Well, of all the—What does he want, over he’a?”
“Nothing. That is—he’s travelling with a pupil that he’s preparing for college, and—he came to see us—”
“D’you tell him I couldn’t see him?”
“I guess he’d think I was a pretty changed pusson! Now, I want you should stay with me, Clementina, and if anybody else comes—”
Maddalena entered the room with a card which she gave to the girl.
“Who is it?” Mrs. Lander demanded.
“Of cou’se! Well, you may just send wo’d that you can’t—Or, no; you must! She’d have it all ova the place, by night, that I wouldn’t let you see her. But don’t you make any excuse for me! If she asks after me, don’t you say I’m sick! You say I’m not at home.”