It was about eight o’clock at night, and Gaston was busy in his rooms packing up to go away next morning. He had disposed of his apartments to Bellthorp, as that young gentleman had lately come in for some money and was dissatisfied with the paternal roof, where he was kept too strictly tied up.
Vandeloup, seated in his shirt sleeves in the midst of a chaos of articles of clothing, portmanteaux, and boxes, was, with the experience of an accomplished traveller, rapidly putting these all away in the most expeditious and neatest manner. He wanted to get finished before ten o’clock, so that he could go down to his club and show himself, in order to obviate any suspicion as to his going away. He did not intend to send out any P.P.C. cards, as he was a modest young man and wanted to slip unostentatiously out of the country; besides, there was nothing like precaution, as the least intimation of his approaching departure would certainly put Dr Gollipeck on the alert and cause trouble. The gas was lighted, there was a bright glare through all the room, and everything was in confusion, with M. Vandeloup seated in the centre, like Marius amid the ruins of Carthage. While thus engaged there came a ring at the outer door, and shortly afterwards Gaston’s landlady entered his room with a card.
‘A gentleman wants to see you, sir,’ she said, holding out the card.
‘I’m not at home,’ replied Vandeloup, coolly, removing the cigarette he was smoking from his mouth; ‘I can’t see anyone tonight.’
‘He says you’d like to see him, sir,’ answered the woman, standing at the door.
‘The deuce he does,’ muttered Vandeloup, uneasily; ’I wonder what this pertinacious gentleman’s name is? and he glanced at the card, whereon was written ‘Dr Gollipeck’.
Vandeloup felt a chill running through him as he rose to his feet. The battle was about to begin, and he knew he would need all his wit and skill to get himself out safely. Dr Gollipeck had thrown down the gauntlet, and he would have to pick it up. Well, it was best to know the worst at once, so he told the landlady he would see Gollipeck downstairs. He did not want him to come up there, as he would see all the evidences of his intention to leave the country.
‘I’ll see him downstairs,’ he said, sharply, to the landlady; ’ask the gentleman to wait.’
The landlady, however, was pushed roughly to one side, and Dr Gollipeck, rusty and dingy-looking as ever, entered the room.
‘No need, my dear friend,’ he said in his grating voice, blinking at the young man through his spectacles, ‘we can talk here.’
Vandeloup signed to the landlady to leave the room, which she did, closing the door after her, and then, pulling himself together with a great effort, he advanced smilingly on the doctor.
‘Ah, my dear Monsieur,’ he said, in his musical voice, holding out both hands, ‘how pleased I am to see you.’