When ready, she met the servant who was bringing up tea.
“I shall not want it,” she said. “And probably I shall not dine at home. Nothing need be prepared.”
She entered the library, and took up from the writing-table Mallard’s note; she looked at the address that was on it.
Then she left the house, and summoned the first vacant cab.
ONWARD TO THE VAGUE
The cab drew up in a quiet road in Chelsea, by a gateway opening into a yard. Cecily alighted and paid the driver.
“Be good enough to wait a minute or two,” she said. “I may need you again at once. But if I am longer, I shall not be coming.”
Entering the yard, she came in front of a row of studios; on the door of each was the tenant’s name, and she easily discovered that of Ross Mallard. This door was half open; she looked in and saw a flight of stairs. Having ascended these, she came to another door, which was closed. Here her purpose seemed to falter; she looked back, and held her hand for a moment against her cheek. But at length she knocked. There was no answer. She knocked again, more loudly, leaning forward to listen; and this time there came a distant shout for reply. Interpreting it as summons to enter, she turned the handle; the door opened, and she stepped into a little ante-chamber. From a room within came another shout, now intelligible.
She advanced, raised a curtain, and found herself in the studio, but hidden behind some large canvases. There was a sound of some one moving, and when she had taken another step, Mallard himself, pipe in mouth, came face to face with her. With a startled look, he took the pipe from his lips, and stood regarding her; she met his gaze with the same involuntary steadiness.
“Are you alone, Mr. Mallard?” fell at length from her.
“Yes. Come and sit down.”
There was a gruffness in the invitation which under ordinary circumstances would have repelled a visitor. But Cecily was so glad to hear the familiar voice that its tone mattered nothing; she followed him, and seated herself where he bade her. There was much tobacco-smoke in the air; Mallard opened a window. She watched him with timid, anxious eyes. Then, without looking at her, he sat down near an easel on which was his painting of the temples of Paestum. This canvas held Cecily’s gaze for a moment.
“When did you get home?” Mallard asked abruptly.
“Mrs. Lessingham went on, I suppose?”
“Yes. I have been alone ever since, except that a visitor called.”
She met his eyes, and asked falteringly:
“You know why? You have heard about it?”
“Do you mean what happened the other day?” he returned, in a voice that sounded careless, unsympathetic.