The day of the deferred confession came, and brought an event with it, for which both he and I were alike unprepared. Would he really have confided in me but for that event? He must either have done it, or have abandoned the purpose which had led him into my house.
We met as usual at the breakfast-table. My housekeeper brought in my letters of the morning. To my surprise, instead of leaving the room again as usual, she walked round to the other side of the table, and laid a letter before my senior pupil - the first letter, since his residence with me, which had been delivered to him under my roof.
He started, and took up the letter. He looked at the address. A spasm of suppressed fury passed across his face; his breath came quickly; his hand trembled as it held the letter. So far, I said nothing. I waited to see whether he would open the envelope in my presence or not.
He was afraid to open it in my presence. He got on his feet; he said, in tones so low that I could barely hear him: 'Please excuse me for a minute' - and left the room.
I waited for half an hour - for a quarter of an hour after that - and then I sent to ask if he had forgotten his breakfast.
In a minute more, I heard his footstep in the hall. He opened the breakfast-room door, and stood on the threshold, with a small traveling-bag in his hand.
'I beg your pardon,' he said, still standing at the door. 'I must ask for leave of absence for a day or two. Business in London.'
'Can I be of any use?' I asked. 'I am afraid your letter has brought you bad news?'
'Yes,' he said shortly. 'Bad news. I have no time for breakfast.'
'Wait a few minutes,' I urged. 'Wait long enough to treat me like your friend - to tell me what your trouble is before you go.'
He made no reply. He stepped into the hall and closed the door - then opened it again a little way, without showing himself.
'Business in London,' he repeated - as if he thought it highly important to inform me of the nature of his errand. The door closed for the second time. He was gone.
I went into my study, and carefully considered what had happened.
The result of my reflections is easily described. I determined on discontinuing my relations with my senior pupil. In writing to his father (which I did, with all due courtesy and respect, by that day's post), I mentioned as my reason for arriving at this decision: - First, that I had found it impossible to win the confidence of his son. Secondly, that his son had that morning suddenly and mysteriously left my house for London, and that I must decline accepting any further responsibility toward him, as the necessary consequence.
I had put my letter in the post-bag, and was beginning to feel a little easier after having written it, when my housekeeper appeared in the study, with a very grave face, and with something hidden apparently in her closed hand.
'Would you please look, sir, at what we have found in the gentleman's bedroom, since he went away this morning?'
I knew the housekeeper to possess a woman's full share of that amicable weakness of the sex which goes by the name of 'Curiosity.' I had also, in various indirect ways, become aware that my senior pupil's strange departure had largely increased the disposition among the women of my household to regard him as the victim of an unhappy attachment. The time was ripe, as it seemed to me, for checking any further gossip about him, and any renewed attempts at prying into his affairs in his absence.
'Your only business in my pupil's bedroom,' I said to the housekeeper, 'is to see that it is kept clean, and that it is properly aired. There must be no interference, if you please, with his letters, or his papers, or with anything else that he has left behind him. Put back directly whatever you may have found in his room.'
The housekeeper had her full share of a woman's temper as well as of a woman's curiosity. She listened to me with a rising color, and a just perceptible toss of the head.
'Must I put it back, sir, on the floor, between the bed and the wall?' she inquired, with an ironical assumption of the humblest deference to my wishes. 'That's where the girl found it when she was sweeping the room. Anybody can see for themselves,' pursued the housekeeper indignantly, 'that the poor gentleman has gone away broken-hearted. And there, in my opinion, is the hussy who is the cause of it!'
With those words, she made me a low curtsey, and laid a small photographic portrait on the desk at which I was sitting.
I looked at the photograph.
In an instant, my heart was beating wildly - my head turned giddy - the housekeeper, the furniture, the walls of the room, all swayed and whirled round me.
The portrait that had been found in my senior pupil's bedroom was the portrait of Jromette!