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28. Chapter XXVIII
The explanation came a week later. It was about ten o' clock at night; I had been dining by myself at a restaurant, and having returned to my small apartment, was sitting in my parlour, reading I heard the cracked tinkling of the bell, and, going into the corridor, opened the door. Stroeve stood before me.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
In the dimness of the landing I could not see him very well, but there was something in his voice that surprised me. I knew he was of abstemious habit or I should have thought he had been drinking. I led the way into my sitting room and asked him to sit down.
"Thank God I've found you," he said.
"What's the matter?" I asked in astonishment at his vehemence.
I was able now to see him well. As a rule he was neat in his person, but now his clothes were in disorder. He looked suddenly bedraggled. I was convinced he had been drinking, and I smiled. I was on the point of chaffing him on his state.
"I didn't know where to go," he burst out. "I came here earlier, but you weren't in."
"I dined late," I said.
I changed my mind: it was not liquor that had driven him to this obvious desperation. His face, usually so rosy, was now strangely mottled. His hands trembled.
"Has anything happened?" I asked.
"My wife has left me."
He could hardly get the words out. He gave a little gasp, and the tears began to trickle down his round cheeks. I did not know what to say. My first thought was that she had come to the end of her forbearance with his infatuation for Strickland, and, goaded by the latter's cynical behaviour, had insisted that he should be turned out. I knew her capable of temper, for all the calmness of her manner; and if Stroeve still refused, she might easily have flung out of the studio with vows never to return. But the little man was so distressed that I could not smile.
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