Mr. and Mrs. Belrose occupied a small bedroom at the top of their house. A_or her sister and his sister, they fitted their amplitudes into some vague
"somewhere else," and those of the curious who in the way of business o_therwise knew how nearly the entire house was devoted to "wholesale,"
wondered where the two sisters-in-law did in fact stow themselves. The servan_lept out.
In the middle of the night Mrs. Belrose raised her magnificent form out of th_verburdened bed and went to the window to look forth on the Steps.
"Charlie," said she, coming back to the bed and shaking her husband. He awok_nwillingly and grunted, and muttered that she was taking cold; an absur_uggestion, as he knew well, for she never took cold, and it was inconceivabl_hat she should take cold.
"That light's still burning at T. T.'s—in the shop. I don't like the look o_t."
She lit the room, and the fancies of night seemed to be dispelled by an onrus_f realism, dailiness and sagacity. Mr. and Mrs. Belrose considered themselve_o be two of the most sagacious and imperturbable persons that ever lived, an_hey probably were.
No circumstances were too much for their sagacity and their presence of mind.
Each had complete confidence in the kindly but unsentimental horse-sense o_he other. Mrs. Belrose, despite her youngishness, was the more impressive.
She it was who usually said the final word in shaping a policy; yet in he_tterances there was an implication that Charles had a super-wisdom which sh_lone could inspire, and also that he, being a man, could do certain thing_hat she, being a woman, was ever so slightly incapable of.
"I don't like the look of it at all," she said.
"Well, I don't see we can do anything till morning," said Charles. Not that h_as allowing his judgment to be warped by the desire to sleep. No; he wa_eing quite impartial.
"That girl's got too much on her hands, looking after that funny old man al_y herself, day and night. She isn't a fool, far from it; but it's too muc_or one girl."
"You'd better go over, perhaps, and have a look at things."
"I was thinking you'd go, Charlie."
"But I can't do anything if I do go. I can't help the girl."
"I'm afraid," said the authoritative and sagacious wife simply.
"What of?" asked the wizened slip of a husband.
"Well, I don't know; but I am. It'll be better for you to go—anyway first. _ould come afterwards. We can't leave the girl in the lurch."
Nevertheless Mrs. Belrose did know what she was afraid of and so did Mr.
Belrose. She helped him to put on some clothes; it was a gesture of sympath_ather than of aid. And she exhorted him not to waken "those girls," meanin_er sister and his.
He went out, shivering. A fine night with a harsh wind moving dust from on_art of the Steps to another. Nobody about. The church clock struck three. Mr.
Belrose peered through the slit between the edge of the door-blind and th_oor-frame, but could see nothing except that a light was burning somewhere i_he background. He rapped quietly and then loudly on the glass. No response.
The explanation of the scene doubtless was that Elsie had come down into th_hop on some errand and returned upstairs, having forgotten to extinguish th_ight. Mr. Belrose was very cold. He was about to leave the place and repor_o his wife when his hand discovered that the door was not fastened. (Elsie,
in the perturbation caused by doing a kindness to the boy Jerry, had forgotte_o secure it.) Mr. Belrose entered and saw Mr. Earlforward, wearing a smar_ew suit, moveless in a peculiar posture in his office-chair. He now knew mor_urely than before what his wife had been afraid of. But he had a very stou_nd stolid heart, and he advanced firmly into the office. A faint glow of re_howed in the ash-strewn grate. The electric light descended in almos_alpable rays on Mr. Earlforward's grizzled head. The safe was open and ther_as a bag of money on the floor. Mr. Earlforward's chair was tilted and ha_nly been saved from toppling over, with Mr. Earlforward in it, by the fac_hat its left arm had caught under the ledge of the desk. The electric ligh_as patient; so was Mr. Earlforward. He was leaning over the right arm of th_hair, his body at half a right angle to the perpendicular, and his fac_owards the floor.
"I've never seen anything like this before," thought Mr. Belrose. "This wil_pset the Steps, this will."
He was afraid. He had what he would have called the "creeps." Gingerly h_ouched Mr. Earlforward's left hand which lay on the desk. It was cold an_ather stiff. He bent down in order to look into Mr. Earlforward's averte_ace. What a dreadful face! White, blotched, hairy skin drawn tightly ove_ones and muscles—very tightly. An expression of torment in the tiny, unseein_yes! None of the proverbial repose of death in that face!
"Mustn't touch it! Mustn't disturb anything!" thought Mr. Belrose,
straightening his knees.
He left the office and peered up the dark stairs. No light. No sound. He fel_or his matches, but he had come away without them, and he suspected that h_as not sufficiently master of himself to look effectively for matches. Still,
the house must be searched. Although much averse from returning into th_ffice, he did return, on the chance of finding a box of matches, and th_irst thing he saw was a box on the mantelpiece. Striking matches, he stumble_p the stairs and came first to the bathroom. Empty. Nothing unusual therei_xcept thick strings stretched across it and an orange box in the bath. _edroom, well furnished, the bed unmade; a cup and saucer on the night-table;
one door of the wardrobe ajar. Everything still, expectant. Then he found th_iving-room similarly still and expectant. He went back to the landing. N_ound. The second flight of stairs dreadfully invited him to ascend. As h_eached and pushed against the door at the head of those stairs another of hi_atches died. He struck a fresh one, and when it slowly flamed he stepped int_he faintly fire-lit room and was amazed, astounded, thrilled, shocked, an_ery seriously shaken to descry a young man lying on the bed in the corner an_ young woman, Elsie, lying in abandonment across him, her head sunk in hi_reast. And he heard a regular sound of breathing. There was something in th_ituation of the pair which penetrated right through Mr. Belrose's horse-sens_nd profoundly touched his heart. Never had he had such a sensation at onc_ainful and ravishing (yes, ravishing to the awed cheesemonger) as he ha_hen. The young man raised his head an inch from the pillow and dropped i_gain.
"She's asleep," said the young man in a low, deep, tired voice. "Don't wak_er."