Page:Court Royal.djvu/398

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Miss Jones went on to say that she charged for her lodgings a pound per week, exclusive of ale and washing, inclusive of a dinner on Sundays and Christmas Day.

Miss Jones did not provide the gentlemen with toilette soap, for she found them more fastidious in this particular than in their meat and drink. One liked glycerine, another oatmeal, and a third would use nothing but carbolic soap.

Mr. Cheek listened to Miss Jones without interrupting her, looking the faded woman through and through with his piercing eyes, taking stock of her. He was probably satisfied that, with a good deal of affectation, she was a worthy woman at core, for he gave a grunt, stood up, interrupted her flow of information, and begged to be conducted upstairs to his son’s bedroom.

‘Quite Alpine, I have been told,’ said Miss Jones, as she conducted him to the very top of the house. ‘The air at this altitude is keen, salubrious, and invigorating. The gentlemen all like the top storey, where they can see over the roofs. But, between ourselves, your son is my favourite, and I have accommodated him where he can have the finest view and the purest air. Yonder, sir, you can catch Doulton’s Pottery Works; the effect, with the morning’s sun on them, is very fine.’

Mr. Cheek looked round the little bedroom. It was in the roof, with a sloping ceiling. There was a fireplace, but the grate had not been used during Miss Jones’s tenancy. The walls were hung with the cheapest of papers in two dingy colours. The furniture consisted of one chair, a chest of drawers with the mahogany veneering scaling away, a wash-handstand of painted deal suffering from cutaneous disorder, and a bed, above which hung a photograph in a frame. Mr. Cheek knew the picture. A duplicate had been sent to him some time ago. Through the ring of the frame, with its head drooping over the picture, hung a withered lily of the valley.

Mr. Cheek came slowly down-stairs, holding the banisters with one hand and rubbing his nose with the other.

‘Will this last?’ he said to himself. ‘What can be the meaning of it all? As for his taking offence at any words I may have said when annoyed, that’s absurd—a mere excuse. Words are wind, and wind blows away.’

When he reached the parlour again, he said to the landlady, ‘Look here, ma’am. I don’t want you to tell my boy that I have been here to-day. Give him your best bedroom, not an