How nice of you to come here and see me in my solitude. Dear Gilmore!"
I had expected that the valet would be dismissed when I appeared, but nothing of the sort happened. There he stood, in front of his master's chair, trembling under the weight of the etchings, and there Mr. Fairlie sat, serenely twirling the magnifying glass between his white fingers and thumbs.
"I have come to speak to you on a very important matter," I said, "and you will therefore excuse me, if I suggest that we had better be alone."
The unfortunate valet looked at me gratefully. Mr. Fairlie faintly repeated my last three words, "better be alone," with every appearance of the utmost possible astonishment.
I was in no humour for trifling, and I resolved to make him understand what I meant.
"Oblige me by giving that man permission to withdraw," I said, pointing to the valet.
Mr. Fairlie arched his eyebrows and pursed up his lips in sarcastic surprise.
"Man?" he repeated. "You provoking old Gilmore, what can you possibly mean by calling him a man? He's nothing of the sort. He might have been a man half an hour ago, before I wanted my etchings, and he may be a man half an hour hence, when I don't want them any longer. At present he is simply a portfolio stand. Why object, Gilmore, to a portfolio stand?"
"I DO object. For the third time, Mr. Fairlie, I beg that we may be alone."
My tone and manner left him no alternative but to comply with my request. He looked at the servant, and pointed peevishly to a chair at his side.
"Put down the etchings and go away," he said. "Don't upset me by losing my place. Have you, or have you not, lost my place? Are you sure you have not? And have you put my hand-bell quite within my reach? Yes? Then why the devil don't you go?"
The valet went out. Mr. Fairlie twisted himself round in his chair, polished the magnifying glass with his delicate cambric handkerchief, and indulged himself with a sidelong inspection of the open volume of etchings. It was not easy to keep my temper under these circumstances, but I did keep it.
"I have come here at great personal inconvenience,"