Most of the thirty or so little tables covered by red cloths with a white design
stood ranged at right angles to the deep brown wainscoting of the underground
hall. Bronze chandeliers with many globes depended from the low, slightly
vaulted ceiling, and the fresco paintings ran flat and dull all round the walls
without windows, representing scenes of the chase and of outdoor revelry in
mediaeval costumes. Varlets in green jerkins brandished hunting knives and
raised on high tankards of foaming beer.
"Unless I am very much mistaken, you are the man who would know the inside of
this confounded affair," said the robust Ossipon, leaning over, his elbows far out
on the table and his feet tucked back completely under his chair. His eyes stared
with wild eagerness.
An upright semi-grand piano near the door, flanked by two palms in pots,
executed suddenly all by itself a valse tune with aggressive virtuosity. The din it
raised was deafening. When it ceased, as abruptly as it had started, the be-
spectacled, dingy little man who faced Ossipon behind a heavy glass mug full of
beer emitted calmly what had the sound of a general proposition.
"In principle what one of us may or may not know as to any given fact can't be a
matter for inquiry to the others."
"Certainly not," Comrade Ossipon agreed in a quiet undertone. "In principle."
With his big florid face held between his hands he continued to stare hard, while
the dingy little man in spectacles coolly took a drink of beer and stood the glass
mug back on the table. His flat, large ears departed widely from the sides of his
skull, which looked frail enough for Ossipon to crush between thumb and
forefinger; the dome of the forehead seemed to rest on the rim of the spectacles;
the flat cheeks, of a greasy, unhealthy complexion, were merely smudged by the
miserable poverty of a thin dark whisker. The lamentable inferiority of the whole
physique was made ludicrous by the supremely self-confident bearing of the
individual. His speech was curt, and he had a particularly impressive manner of
Ossipon spoke again from between his hands in a mutter.
"Have you been out much to-day?"
"No. I stayed in bed all the morning," answered the other. "Why?"
"Oh! Nothing," said Ossipon, gazing earnestly and quivering inwardly with the
desire to find out something, but obviously intimidated by the little man's