Page:Hopkinson Smith--In Dickens's London.djvu/69

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year the family moved from Doughty Street to No. 1 Devonshire Terrace.

That same afternoon I again made my way through the narrow hall and out into the mouldy little plantation and began work on the rear extension. The June sun had mounted high enough in the interim to send its rays over the next roof, throwing a long slant of light into the desolate yard, as a watchman manages the gleam of a bull's-eye lantern when in search of some mysterious prowler.

The elder of the two ladies, hearing my step on the oilcloth, rose from her armchair, felt her way along the narrow, dark passageway, moved noiselessly to where I sat, and stood looking over my shoulder to assure herself, no doubt, of my promises that no polluting touch of any kind should drop from my fingers. A moment later she crept back to the angle of the extension wall and settled herself slowly into a flat, drawn-out Chinese chair, with a ready-to-be-shaved attitude, her head tilted back, her slippered feet touching the end bar. The companion lady now brought out not only a newspaper but a parrot in a tin, circular cage a red-and-green parrot with a topknot, white, horned beak, and an insistent voice. The paper she spread over the recumbent figure, which promptly went to sleep. The cage she deposited on the bricks on one side of the Chinese chair.

I worked on, the old lady breathing gently, the paper crinkling and readjusting itself to the dear woman's pulsations, the parrot regarding me all the time out of one yellow eye, ready to shriek out at any move on my part that would disturb the serenity of the sleeping figure.