« PoprzedniaDalej »
covered with brushes and ivory jars, gleaming brightly in the rays of the little electric lights which framed the mirror. A huge wardrobe, full of clothes neatly folded and put away, suggested a man about town, a dandy with many sartorial interests. An arm-chair of soft green leather, stamped with red-gold pomegranates, stood by a small black table stencilled with orange-coloured bees. On the table stood a cigarette-box of finely plaited creamcoloured straw, woven over silver and cedar-wood, and with Llwellyn's initials in turquoise on one lid.
He threw off his coat and sank into the chair with a sigh of pleasure at the embracing comfort of it. Then his fingers plunged into the tea which filled the box on the table and drew out a tiny yellow cigarette.
He smoked in luxurious silence.
He had already half forgotten the menacing letter from Constantine Schuabe, the imperative summons to the flat in Bloomsbury Court Mansions. This was a moment of intense physical ease. The flavour of his saffron Sa. lonika cigarrette, a tiny glass of garnet-coloured cassis which he had poured out, were alike excellent. All day long he had been at work on a brilliant monograph dealing with the new Hebrew mosaics. Only two other living men could have written it. But his work also had fallen out of his brain. At that moment he was no more than a great animal, soulless, with the lusts of the flesh pouring round him, whispering evil and stinging his blood.
A timid knock fell upon the door outside. It opened and Mrs. Llwellyn came slowly in.
The Professor's wife was a tall, thin woman. Her untidy clothes hung round her body in unlovely folds. Her complexion was muddy and unwholesome; but the unsmiling, withered lips revealed a row of fair, white, even teeth. It was in her eyes that one read the
secret of this lady. They were large and blue, once beautiful, so one might have fancied. Now the light had faded from them and they were blurred and full of pain.
She came slowly up to her husband's chair, placing one hand timidly upon it.
"Oh, is that you ?” he said, not brutally, but with a complete and utter in difference. “I shall want some dinner at home to-night. I shall be going out about ten to a supper engagement. See about it now, something light. And tell one of the maids to bring up some hot water."
“Yes, Robert,” she said, and went out with no further word, but sighing a little as she closed the door quietly.
They had been married fifteen years. For fourteen of them he had hardly ever spoken to her except in anger at some household accident. On her own private income of six hundred a year she had to do what she could to keep the house going. Llwellyn never gave her anything of the thousand a year which was his salary at the Museum, and the greater sums he earned by his work outside it. She knew no one, the Professor went into none but official society, and indeed but few of his colleagues knew that he was a married man. He treated the house as a hotel, sleeping there occasionally, breakfasting, and dressing. His private rooms were the only habitable parts of the house. All the rest was old, faded, and without comfort. Mrs. Llwellyn spent most of her life with the two servants in the kitchen.
She always swept and tidied her husband's rooms herself. That afternoon she had built and coaxed the fire with her own hands.
She slept in a small room at the top of the house, next to the maids, for company.
This was her life.
Over the head of the little iron bedstead of her room hung a great crucifix.
That was her hope.
When Llwellyn was rioting in nameless places she prayed for him during the night. She prayed for him, for herself, and for the two servant girls, very simplythat Heaven might receive them all some day.
The maid brought up some dinner for the Professor a little soup, a sole, and some camembert.
He ate slowly, and smoked a short light-brown cigar with his coffee. Then he bathed, put on evening clothes, dressing himself with care and circumspection, and left the house.
In the Edgeware Road he got into a hansom and told the man to drive him to Bloomsbury Court Mansions.
OBERT LLWELLYN paid the cabman outside the main gateway
which led into the courtyard, and dismissed him.
The Court Mansions were but a few hundred yards from the British Museum itself, though he never visited them in the day time. A huge building, like a great hotel, rose skyward in a square. In the quadrangle in the centre, which was paved with asphalt, was an ornamental fountain surrounded by evergreen plants in tubs.
The Professor strode under the archway, his feet echoing in the stillness, and passed over the open space, which was brilliantly lit with the hectic radiance of arc lamps. He entered one of the doorways, and turning to the right of the ground floor, away from the lift which was in waiting to convey passengers to the higher storeys, he stopped at No. 15.
He took a latch-key from his pocket, opened the door, and entered. It was very warm and close inside, and very silent also. The narrow hall was lit by a crimson-globed electric lamp. It was heavily carpeted, and thick curtains of plum-coloured plush, edged with round, fluffy balls of the same colour, hung over the doors leading into it.
He hung his hat up on a peg, and stood perfectly silent for a moment in the warm, scented air. He could hear no sound but the ticking of a French clock. The
flat was obviously empty; and pulling aside one of the curtains, he went into the dining-room.
The place was full of light. Gertrude Hunt, or her maid, had, with characteristic carelessness, forgotten to turn off the switches. Llwellyn sat down and looked around him. How familiar the place was! The casual visitor would have recognised at a glance that the occupant of the room belonged to the dramatic profession.
Photographs abounded everywhere. The satinwood overmantel was crowded with them in heavy frames of chased silver. Bold enlargements hung on the crimson walls; they were upright, and stacked in disorderly heaps upon the grand piano.
All were of one woman-a dark Jewish girl with eyes full of a fixed fascination, a trained regard of allurement.
The eyes pursued him everywhere; bold and inviting, he was conscious of their multitude, and moved uneasily.
The dining-table was in a curious litter. Half-empty cups of egg-shell china stood upon a tray of Japanese lacquer inlaid with ivory and silver; a cake basket held pink and honey-coloured bon-bons, among which some cigarette ends had fallen. Two empty bottles, which had held champagne, stood side by side, cheek by jowl, with a gilt tray, on which was a miniature methyl lamp and some steel curling tongs.
The arm-chairs were upholstered in pink satin. On one of them was a long fawn-coloured tailor-made coat, hanging collar downwards over the back. A handful of silver and a tiny gun-metal cigarette case had dropped out of a pocket on to the seat of the chair.
The whole place reeked with a well-known perfume an evil, sickly smell of ripe lilies and the acrid smoke of Egyptian tobacco. A frilled dressing jacket covered with yellowish lace lay in a tumbled heap upon the hearth-rug.