In less than half an hour afterward, Helena caught me. I was writing in my room, when the maid-servant came in with a message: "Miss Helena's compliments, sir, and would you please spare her half an hour, downstairs?"
My first excuse was of course that I was engaged. This was disposed of by a second message, provided beforehand, no doubt, for an anticipated refusal: "Miss Helena wished me to say, sir, that her time is your time." I was still obstinate; I pleaded next that my day was filled up. A third message had evidently been prepared, even for this emergency: "Miss Helena will regret, sir, having the pleasure deferred, but she will leave you to make your own appointment for to-morrow." Persistency so inveterate as this led to a result which Mr. Gracedieu's cautious daughter had not perhaps contemplated; it put me on my guard. There seemed to be a chance, to say the least of it, that I might serve Eunice's interests if I discovered what the enemy had to say. I looked up my writing--declared myself incapable of putting Miss Helena to needless inconvenience--and followed the maid to the lower floor of the house.
The room to which I was conducted proved to be empty. I looked round me.
If I had been told that a man lived there who was absolutely indifferent to appearances, I should have concluded that his views were faithfully represented by his place of abode. The chairs and tables reminded me of a railway waiting-room. The shabby little bookcase was the mute record of a life indifferent to literature. The carpet was of that dreadful drab color, still the cherished fevorite of the average English mind, in spite of every protest that can be entered against it on behalf of art. The ceiling, recently whitewashed, made my eyes ache when they looked at it. On either side of the window flaccid green curtains hung helplessly, with nothing to loop them up. The writing-desk and the paper-case, viewed as specimens of woodwork, recalled the ready-made bedrooms on show in cheap shops. The books, mostly in slate-colored bindings, were devoted to the literature which is called religious; I only discovered three worldly publications among them--Domestic Cookery, Etiquette for Ladies, and Hints on the Breeding of Poultry. An ugly little clock, ticking noisily in a black case, and two candlesticks of base metal placed on either side of it, completed the ornaments of the chimney-piece. Neither pictures nor prints hid the barren-