Chapter XXVII: Mrs. Scully of Morrison’s

The Firm of Girdlestone

The Firm of Girdlestone

One day Major Tobias Clutterbuck was sitting at the window of his little room smoking his cigarette and sipping his glass of wine, as was his custom if times were reasonably good. While thus agreeably employed he chanced to look across the road and perceived a little fringe of dark hair, and a still darker eye, which surveyed him round the border of one of the curtains which flanked a window opposite. The gallant major was much interested in this apparition, and rose to make a closer inspection of it, but, alas! before he could focus it with his eye-glass it was gone! He bent his gaze resolutely in that direction for a long time, and smoked at least half a dozen cigarettes, besides finishing the bottle of wine; but although he thought he saw certain flittings and whiskings of garments in the dark background of the opposite room, he could not make out anything more definite.

Next day the soldier was on the look-out at the same hour, and was rewarded by the appearance of two eyes, very mischievous and dangerous ones too, which were set in a buxom and by no means unprepossessing face. The lady who owned these charms looked very deliberately up the street, and very deliberately down the street, after which she bethought herself to look across the street, and started to perceive a stout, middle-aged gentleman, with a fiery face, who was looking at her with an expression of intense admiration. So much alarmed was she that she vanished behind the curtains and the major feared that he would see her no more. Fortunately, however, it became evident that the lady’s alarm was not very overpowering, for within five minutes she was back at the window, where her eyes again fell upon the beaming face and jaunty figure of the major, who had posed himself in a striking attitude, which was somewhat marred by the fact that he was still enveloped in his purple dressing-gown. This time her eyes lingered a little longer than before and the suspicion of a smile appeared upon her features. On this the major smiled and bowed, and she smiled also, showing a pretty little line of white teeth as she did so. What the veteran’s next move might have been no one can tell, for the lady solved the problem by disappearing, and this time permanently. He was very well satisfied, however, and chuckled much to himself while arraying himself in his long frock coat and immaculate collar before setting out for the club. He had been a sly old dog in his day, and had followed Venus almost as much as he had Mars during his chequered career.

All day the recollection of this little episode haunted him. So much pre-occupied was he at the club that he actually played out the thirteenth trump upon his partner’s long suit and so sacrificed the game—being the first and only time that he was ever known to throw away a point. He told Von Baumser all about it when he came back.

“She’s a demned foine-looking woman, whoever she may be,” he remarked, at they sat together before turning in. “Be George! she’s the foinest woman I’ve seen for a long time.”

“She’s a window,” said the German.

“A what?”

“A window—the window of an engineer.”

“Is it a widow you mane? What d’ye know about her? What’s her name, and where does she come from?”

“I have heard from the slavey that a win—a widow lives over dere in those rooms. She boards mit Madame Morrison, and that window belongs to her privacy zimmer—dat is, chamber. As to her name, I have not heard it, or else I disremember it.”

“Ged!” said the major, “she’d eyes that looked right through ye, and a figure like Juno.”

“She’s vierzig if she’s a day—dat is, forty,” Von Baumser remarked.

“Well, if she is, me boy, a woman of forty is just in the proime o’ loife. If you’d seen her at the window, she would have taken ye by storm. She stands like this, and she looks up like this, and then down in this way.” The major pursed up his warlike features into what he imagined to be an innocent and captivating expression. Then she looks across and sees me, and down go the lids of her eyes, like the shutting off of a bull’s-eye lantern. Then she blushed and stole just one more glance at me round the corner of the curtain. She had two peeps, the divil a doubt of it.”

“Dat is very good,” the German said encouragingly.

“Ah, me boy, twinty years ago, when I was forty inches round the chest and thirty-three round the waist, I was worth looking at twice. Bedad, when a man gets ould and lonely he sees what a fool he was not to make better use of his time when he’d the chance.”

“Mein Gott!” cried Von Baumser. “You don’t mean to say that you would marry suppose you had the chance?”

“I don’t know,” the major answered reflectively.

“The vomens is not to be trusted,” the German said sadly. “I knew a voman in my own country which was the daughter of a man dat kept a hotel—and she and I was promised to be married to each others. Karl Hagelstein, he was to be vat you call my best man. A very handsome man was Karl, and I sent him often mit little presents of one thing or another to my girl, for there were reasons why I could not go myself. He was nicer than me because my hair was red, and pretty soon she began to like him, and he liked her too. So the day before the vedding she went down the Rhine to Frankfort by the boat, and he went down by train, and there they met and was married the one to the other.”

“And what did you do?” the major asked with interest.

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