Katie had sought refuge in the need for “putting the gentlemen’s rooms straight,” against the arrival of the two families to-morrow. Duster in hand, and by the light of a single candle that barely survived the draught from the open window, she moved to and fro about the Duke’s room, a wan and listless figure, casting queerest shadows on the ceiling. There were other candles that she might have lit, but this ambiguous gloom suited her sullen humour. Yes, I am sorry to say, Katie was sullen. She had not ceased to mourn the Duke; but it was even more anger than grief that she felt at his dying. She was as sure as ever that he had not loved Miss Dobson; but this only made it the more outrageous that he had died because of her. What was there in this woman that men should so demean themselves for her? Katie, as you know, had at first been unaffected by the death of the undergraduates at large. But, because they too had died for Zuleika, she was bitterly incensed against them now. What could they have admired in such a woman? She didn’t even look like a lady. Katie caught the dim reflection of herself in the mirror. She took the candle from the table, and examined the reflection closely. She was sure she was just as pretty as Miss Dobson. It was only the clothes that made the difference—the clothes and the behaviour. Katie threw back her head, and smiled brilliantly, hand on hip. She nodded reassuringly at herself; and the black pearl and the pink danced a duet. She put the candle down, and undid her hair, roughly parting it on one side, and letting it sweep down over the further eyebrow. She fixed it in that fashion, and posed accordingly. Now! But gradually her smile relaxed, and a mist came to her eyes. For she had to admit that even so, after all, she hadn’t just that something which somehow Miss Dobson had. She put away from her the hasty dream she had had of a whole future generation of undergraduates drowning themselves, every one, in honour of her. She went wearily on with her work.
Presently, after a last look round, she went up the creaking stairs, to do Mr. Noaks’ room.
She found on the table that screed which her mother had recited so often this evening. She put it in the waste-paper basket.
Also on the table were a lexicon, a Thucydides, and some note-books. These she took and shelved without a tear for the closed labours they bore witness to.
The next disorder that met her eye was one that gave her pause—seemed, indeed, to transfix her.
Mr. Noaks had never, since he came to lodge here, possessed more than one pair of boots. This fact had been for her a lasting source of annoyance; for it meant that she had to polish Mr. Noaks’ boots always in the early morning, when there were so many other things to be done, instead of choosing her own time. Her annoyance had been all the keener because Mr. Noaks’ boots more than made up in size for what they lacked in number. Either of them singly took more time and polish than any other pair imaginable. She would have recognised them, at a glance, anywhere. Even so now, it was at a glance that she recognised the toes of them protruding from beneath the window-curtain. She dismissed the theory that Mr. Noaks might have gone utterly unshod to the river. She scouted the hypothesis that his ghost could be shod thus. By process of elimination she arrived at the truth. “Mr. Noaks,” she said quietly, “come out of there.”
There was a slight quiver of the curtain; no more. Katie repeated her words. There was a pause, then a convulsion of the curtain. Noaks stood forth.
Always, in polishing his boots, Katie had found herself thinking of him as a man of prodigious stature, well though she knew him to be quite tiny. Even so now, at recognition of his boots, she had fixed her eyes to meet his, when he should emerge, a full yard too high. With a sharp drop she focussed him.