In the dreary days when autumn is being choked by the first fogs, Sidney Kirkwood had to bestir himself and to find new lodgings. The cheerless task came upon him just when he had already more than sufficient trouble, and to tear himself out of the abode in which he had spent eight years caused him more than regret; he felt superstitiously about it, and questioned fate as to what sorrows might be lurking for him behind this corner in life’s journey. Move he must; his landlady was dead, and the house would perhaps be vacant for a long time. After making search about Islington one rainy evening, he found himself at the end of Hanover Street, and was drawn to the familiar house; not, however, to visit the Snowdons, but to redeem a promise recently made to Bessie Byass, who declared herself vastly indignant at the neglect with which he treated her. So, instead of going up the steps to the front door, he descended into the area. Bessie herself opened to him, and after a shrewd glance, made as though she would close the door again. ’Nothing for you! The idea of beggars coming down the area-steps Be off!’
‘I’m worse than a beggar,’ replied Sidney. ’Housebreaking’s more in my line,’
And he attempted to force an entrance. Bessie struggled, but had to give in, overcome with laughter. Samuel was enjoying a pipe in the front kitchen; in spite of the dignity of keeping a servant (to whom the back kitchen was sacred), Mr. and Mrs. Byass frequently spent their evenings below stairs in the same manner as of old.
The talk began with Sidney’s immediate difficulties.
‘Now if it had only happened half a year ago,’ said Bessie, ’I should have got you into our first-floor rooms.’
‘Shouldn’t wonder if we have him there yet, some day,’ remarked Sam, winking at his wife.
‘Not him,’ was Bessie’s rejoinder, with a meaning smile. ’He’s a cool hand, is Mr. Kirkwood. He knows how to wait. When something happens, we shall have him taking a house out at Highbury, you see if he don’t.’
Sidney turned upon her with anything but a jesting look.
‘What do you mean by that, Mrs. Byass?’ he asked, sharply. ’When what happens? What are you hinting at?’
‘Bless us and save us!’ cried Bessie. ’Here, Sam, he’s going to swallow me. What harm have I done?’
‘Please tell me what you meant?’ Sidney urged, his face expressing strong annoyance. ’Why do you call me a “cool hand,” and say that “I know how to wait”? What did you mean? I’m serious; I want you to explain.’
Whilst he was speaking there came a knock at the kitchen door. Bessie cried, ‘Come in,’ and Jane showed herself; she glanced in a startled way at Sidney, murmured a ‘good-evening’ to him, and made a request of Bessie for some trifle she needed. Sidney, after just looking round, kept his seat and paid no further attention to Jane, who speedily retired.