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CHAPTER V THE HOME OF THE NIGHTINGALES
Mudd, with the ten-pound note and the written address, had started that morning with the intention of doing another errand as well. He first took a cab to King Charles Street. It was a relief to find it there, and that the house had not been burned down in the night. Fire was one of Mudd's haunting dreads—fire and the fear of a mistress. He had extinguishing-bombs hung in every passage, besides red, cone-shaped extinguishers. If he could have had bombs to put out the flames of love and keep women away he no doubt would have had them.

Mrs. Jukes received him, and he enquired if the plate had been locked up. Then he visited his own room and examined his bank-book to see if it were safe and untampered with; then he had a glass of ginger wine for his stomach's sake.

"Where are you off to now?" asked Mrs. Jukes.

"On business for the master," replied Mudd. "I've some law papers to take to an address. Lord! look at those brasses! Haven't the girls no hands? Place going to rack and ruin if I leave it two instant minits. And look at that fender—sure you put the chain on the hall door last night?"

"Sure."

"Well, be sure you do it, for there's another Jack-the-Ripper chap goin' about the West End, I've heard, and he may be in on you if you don't."

Having frightened Mrs. Jukes into the sense of the necessity for chains as well as bolts, Mudd put on his hat, blew his nose, and departed, banging the door behind him and making sure it was shut.

There is a flower shop in the street at the end of King Charles Street. He entered, bought his bouquet, and with it in his hand left the establishment. He was looking for a cab to hide himself in; he found none, but he met a fellow butler, Judge Ponsonby's man.

"Hello, Mr. Mudd," said the other; "going courting?"

"Mrs. Jukes asked me to take them to a female friend that's goin' to be married," said Mudd.

The bouquet was not extraordinarily large, but it seemed to grow larger.

Condemned to take an omnibus in lieu of a cab, it seemed to fill the omnibus; people looked at it and then at Mudd. It seemed to him that he was condemned to carry Simon's folly bare in the face of the world. Then he remembered what he had said about the recipient going to be married. Was that an omen?

Mudd believed in omens. If his elbow itched—and it had itched yesterday—he was going to sleep in a strange bed; he never killed spiders, and he tested "strangers" in the tea-cup to see if they were male or female.

The omen was riding him now, and he got out of the omnibus and sought the street of his destination, feeling almost as though he were a fantastic bridesmaid at some nightmare wedding, with Simon in the r?le of groom.

That Simon should select a wife in this gloomy street off Leicester Square, and in this drab-looking house at whose door he was knocking, did not occur to Mudd. What did occur to him was that some hussy living in this house had put her spell on Simon and might select him for a husband, marry him at a registrar office before his temporary youth had departed, and come and reign at Charles Street.

Mudd's dreaded imaginary mistress had always figured in his mind's eye as a stout lady—eminently a lady—who would interfere with his ideas of how the brasses ought to be polished, interfere with tradesmen, order Mudd about, and make herself generally a nuisance; this new imaginary horror was a "painted slut," who would bring ridicule and disgrace on Simon and all belonging to him.

Mudd had the fine feelings of an old maid on matters like this, backed by a fine knowledge of what elderly men are capable of in the way of folly with women.

Did not Mr. Justice Thurlow marry his cook?

He rang at the dingy hall door and it was opened by a dingy little girl in a print dress.

"Does Miss Rosinol live here?" asked Mudd.

"Yus."

"Can I see her?"

"Wait a minit," said the dingy one. She clattered up the stairs; she seemed to wear hobnailed boots to judge by the noise. A minute elapsed, and then she clattered down again.

"Come in, plaaze," said the little girl.

Mudd obeyed and followed upstairs, holding on to the shaky banister with his left hand,[Pg 148] carrying the bouquet in his right, feeling as though he were a vicious man walking upstairs in a dream; feeling no longer like Mudd.

The little girl opened a door, and there was the "painted hussy"—old Madame Rossignol sitting at a table with books spread open before her and writing.

She translated—as before said—English books into French, novels mostly.

The bouquet of last night had been broken up; there were flowers in vases and about the room; despite its shabbiness, there was an atmosphere of cleanliness and high decency that soothed the stricken soul of Mudd.

"I'm Mr. Pettigrew's man," said Mudd, "and he asked me to bring you these flowers."

"Ah, Monsieur Seemon Pattigrew," cried the old lady, her face lighting. "Come in, monsieur. Cerise!—Cerise!—a gentilmon from Mr. Pattigrew. Will you not take a seat, monsieur?"

Mudd, handing over the flowers, sat down, and at that moment in came Cerise from the bedroom adjoining. Cerise, fresh and dainty, with wide blue eyes that took in Mudd and the flowers, that seemed to take in at the same time the whole of spring and summer.

"Poor, but decent," said Mudd to himself.

"Monsieur," said the old lady, as Cerise ran off to get a bowl to put the flowers in, "you are as welcome to us as your good kind master who saved my daughter yesterday. Will you convey to him our deepest respects and our thanks?"

"Saved her?" said Mudd.
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