11,041 vagabonds plus:
"Yes. What is it?"
"A visitor, Ma'am". The girl, both hands clutching her apron, took one step closer. "It's the American, Ma'am," the mousy maid said briefly. She looked back over her shoulder as though the man was already present.
Lady Browning, the most beautiful woman in England, glimpsed at her brother. He shrugged his shoulders, yawned and looked away. She sat up defiant in a young dowager pose.
"Show him in." Her brother looked at her, eyes squinting in disappointment, but said nothing as he lit a cigarette.
"Well, it IS raining after all, Charley." He shook his head.
The man walked out of the shadow and stood before The Lady, his dull cream-colored full length second-hand coat dripping wet upon the glossy wooden floor in a dining room resembling a museum, head bowed shamed-like, shivering from cold.
The maid stooped behind the young man quietly, wiping the floor furiously with a clean white cloth, living up to her mousiness. The man looked up as though he wished not to speak first, but cleared his throat to do so. Lady Browning spoke first.
He was silent.
"You were at dinner, I remember you, the writer opposite my niece".
He cleared his throat again, but it did not help.
Charley broke in, boisterously, "What is it, boy"?
It startled the man, and he turned as to exit, but looked not to have the strength. He reached inside his coat and brandished three fine pieces - a small elegant silver trophy, a small high precision wind-up clock of gold, and a silver Tiffany pipe lighter.
"I took these", he said, barely audible, looking into the eyes of The Lady, "and I'm here to return them". She didn't move. He was confused at her lack of outrage or wonderment. She waved the little maid away. He continued, his voice returning to normal. "I was almost to the trains. It started to rain hard and I ducked into the doorway of a pub, my coat bumping a man walking out oblivious to the rain." He tried to smile, unsuccessful, fearing that he was rambling. "When he hit me, everything rattled inside my coat, and it seemed to rattle my lack of senses as well thinking I could ever hock these. Entering Wilford's Pub out of the downpour, sitting alone over a mug of ale, I had time to look closely at...at...this."
He held up the clock. "I saw the endearing inscription dedicated to you, Lady Browning, and I tried to ignore the meaning of it all, but guessing it was priceless..". His voice trailed at these last words, his mouth dry, soaked shoulders hunching in complete defeat, sorrowful eyes flooded with tears. She tried to hide her embarrassment, glanced at her brother, his thumb at lips looking away. The only sound was the rains upon the hardened sand shingles above. A singular lamp centered on a dark cherry table behind dimmed, almost extinguished, but warmed softly anew, and he noticed Lady Browning's sparkling necklace for the first time. The visitor stepped up and set the items delicately before her.
Lady Browning grasped her cup with both hands. Charles, resigned lips pressed tight together, let out two strong streams of smoke and watched them rise.
"Come", said she, "have some coffee then. I must send Billy for the constable, you see".
John Singer Sargent painting
A Dinner Table at Night (1884)
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