Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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SHE sat in the middle of the lounge in the small smoking-room adjoining the bar of the Savoy Hotel and around her a little court of admirers, including the reporter, who was busy taking down the words of wisdom which flowed from her lips, and the boy who wrote things and stood a little apart from the group. She was pretty or not, according to the accident of the moment, and she had little wavy golden curls coming from unexpected places, a wonderful smile with which her eyes seemed to have something to do, and she was chic from the tips of her patent shoes to the angle of the green feather on her hat. She explained her likes and dislikes in pert little phrases, which seemed to afford her admirers continual delight. New York was really her home, but London was great—everyone had been real good to her and she was going to have another song next week. In the middle of it all, she caught the adoring gaze of the boy who wrote things, who wasn't really a boy at all, but who came from the country and was painfully shy. Someone whispered in her ear and she suddenly beamed upon him.
"Say, are you the Mr. Rankin who writes those delightful stories?" she asked him sweetly.
He stammered out something to the effect that he did write stories and she moved up to the corner of the lounge.
"You must come and sit right down by me," she declared. "I want to know how you think of all those wonderful plots."
This was where things began. Presently the reporter, finding that there was no more material for him, went away and left the boy who had been his companion behind. One by one the others dropped off, and presently the girl rose, too.
"I must go back and get a sandwich or something before I go to the theatre," she remarked, looking at her hat in the glass.
The young man Rankin was suddenly bold.
"Won't you come into the café with me and have something?" he asked eagerly.
She hesitated for a moment and glanced at him furtively. They were certainly rather a queer looking couple, she neat and chic and expensive, he in ill-fitting country clothes, an unfashionable collar and impossible tie. He was just as conscious as she was at her ease, and though the maître d'hotel handled him gently, he showed a lamentable ignorance in those small amenities which a smart young woman expects from her male escort. However, they got through the meal somehow, and after first undertipping and then overtipping the waiter, dropping his hat and treading upon her gown, they got out of the place. When he told the driver of the hansom to drive to the Carlton Theatre—stage door—he felt that he had begun to live at last.
He ventured to ask her to supper, but she had had enough for the present, and declined. But she was in her way a kindly little soul, and when she saw how disappointed he was, she made him some amends.
"You can look in for half an hour after the show if you like," she told him, "20 Carlton Mansions."
"What time may I come?" he demanded breathlessly.
"Any time, not before twelve," she answered.
He walked down to the Embankment afterwards. He felt the absolute need of being somewhere where he could think. He was an impressionable young fool, of course, but after all, he was honest and those were beautiful thoughts which came to him as he walked slowly along, his eyes travelling over the dark, slowly flowing water to the glittering arc of lights below. Up and up and up he lifted her, up beyond the stars, to the divine company of the women who had ruled the world, through the hearts of its conquerors. And yet no higher than his foolish heart which had taken her in for all the days...
IT was half past twelve when he knocked with beating heart at the door of her room. The luxury of the place rather oppressed him, wholly unused to such things—the smoothly running lift, the spacious corridors with their heavily piled carpets, the shaded electric lights, the pleasant warmth and the somewhat supercilious air of the servants. A voice called out "come in," and he entered.
She was lolling in an easy chair opposite the door. A man was sitting on its arm and she was laughing up into his face. Several other girls in negligé attire were in the room and half a dozen men. There were sandwiches and whiskey and soda upon the sideboard, the remains of a supper upon the table. It was not at all like what he had expected.
She half rose from her chair and introduced him to everybody. He felt that it was rather a trying moment. All the men were in evening dress and obviously belonged to a set with which he had come little into contact. They all spoke a few words to him and one of the girls tried to draw him into conversation. But, nevertheless he felt hopelessly an alien. They talked in a shibboleth which he did not understand; their jokes, their laughter, their flying remarks all seemed to be founded upon a common and intimate acquaintanceship. He did his best but he felt himself a ghastly failure. His hostess came over at last and sat by his side. There was no doubt at all that she was a kindly person.
"I'm afraid you're bored, as they say over here," she began.
"I'm not," he answered with unexpected boldness, "but I hate to see that fellow sit on the arm of your chair."
Then the laugh came—the laugh which he loved. Perhaps the others thought he had been amusing. He only knew.
"Why, where should he sit?" she demanded. "Wouldn't you sit there, if I asked you to? Come, I'll sit on yours. Now you can't be jealous, can you? Get me a whiskey and soda, there's a dear boy."
He went to the sideboard and mixed one. When he came back she was talking to someone else. He waited for her with the tumbler in his hand, a little awkwardly. Presently she noticed him and came over, but she continued her conversation across the room all the time. He saw that it was a very good-looking man with whom she was talking and that they seemed on excellent terms. He felt himself growing pale with misery. Suddenly she seemed to remember him again and seated herself once more on the arm of his chair.
"Say," she remarked, looking at him critically. "I thought that all you Englishmen always changed your clothes for the evening."
He felt his cheeks grow furiously hot.
"I—I forgot all about it to-night," he answered.
"What have you been doing?" she asked.
"I went for a walk," he answered. She looked at him as at some being whom she wholly failed to understand. "For a walk!" she repeated a little vaguely for a person of her direct habit of speech.
Suddenly it flashed in upon him—the whole vast incongruity, the eternal differences whose barrier between them must reach even to the skies, between the dreamer with his head in the clouds and this charming acute little person, whose feet were very much upon the earth. It was the moment which might have been the moment of his salvation. A second later and he might have broken away, lived down his pains and come out, a few years older perhaps, but his own man. The merest chance intervened. The illuminating flash fired his eyes, transformed his somewhat homely features. He seemed to her for the moment almost attractive. She bent down and lightly touched his lips with hers.
"Silly boy," she murmured.
Then indeed his case was hopeless.
SHE agreed with some misgivings, to dine with him on the following day—Sunday. She had been invited to join another party, which she should have preferred, but another girl had been asked first and she was piqued. Nevertheless she had misgivings, and they were justified. He had forgotten to engage a table at the fashionable restaurant which she named, and when they arrived they were relegated to an uncomfortable corner. He had ordered no flowers, his evening clothes were old-fashioned and she was almost certain that he was wearing a made-up tie. The maître d'hotel openly patronized him, when he attempted to order the dinner; he chose the wine recommended by the waiter, which was so sweet as to be almost undrinkable, and his nervous attempts at conversation were almost painful. She did her best to help him.
"Say," she commanded, "don't try to talk any more about the theatre. Tell me the things which interest you. Where do you write your stories? How do the thoughts come to you?"
He began to rhapsodize—to talk about the things he loved, the place he lived in, where the west wind blew salt across the marshes and the incoming tide rent long streaks of silver into the brown land. He told her of the white winged birds, the winter sunshine, the wonderful fascinating loneliness of the forgotten village from which he came. And after a moment or two's blank wonderment, she was bored. She hid it at first with gentle yawns behind her fan. He was blind to the hint, and went on—rushing against his fate. A burst of laughter from that other table towards which she had so often covertly glanced, caused her to turn her head. A hand was waved to her, a signal flashed back. A moment or two later, two of the men were by her side.
They spoke courteously to her companion—they had both been at the flat on the night of his visit. They even tried to avoid the appearance of ignoring him, but the thing was hopeless from the first. She was one of those who demands the right to be amused, as the ordinary person demands to live. Her companion had failed—failed utterly in every way. She felt herself aggrieved and the limits of her good-nature had been reached. The rest is quite easy to guess. A sort of amalgamation of the two parties took place. No one was rude to Rankin—they were all too well bred, but the thing came home to him. When the party dissolved he slipped away unnoticed—certainly unmissed.
AFTER that he began to slip and then to fall. He did no work and he lived—he scarcely knew how. He haunted the places where she was to be seen; when he could afford it he leaned over the rail of the gallery of her theatre. He was never obtrusive, a half-cut and a few evasions had been sufficient for him. Yet she was often conscious, uncomfortably conscious of him. Occasionally she saw a shabby, half-starved figure gliding way from the front of her flat when she came out, or lurking in the shadows of the narrow street in which was situated the stage door of the theatre which she still graced. At first it made her uncomfortable—afterwards, with the divine commonsense of her race and sex, she put him out of her mind as a crank—nothing to be thought of seriously. Then one day she met the reporter and he stopped her in the street.
"By the way," he asked, "do you happen to remember a young man who was with me at the Savoy, one day—a young idiot by the name of Rankin?"
She looked at him curiously. "I guess so," she answered. "What about him?"
"Nothing much," he answered, "only the idiot's disappeared—gone under, from all I can hear, and a good many people are anxious to find him out."
"Why?" she asked.
"Some uncle up in the north has left him £80,000," he answered. "Lucky fellow if he ever turns up to claim it. I can't make out what went wrong with him. Clever chap in his way, but not balanced."
MISS BELLA DELMAIN was very thoughtful for the rest of that evening. She had been having a good many late nights, she had missed rehearsal once or twice and the audience had left off encoring her one song. A new piece was being talked of and as yet the manager had said nothing to her about her part. For the next few evenings she looked about outside her flat and outside the stage door. At last she was successful. He was flitting away into the shadows but she caught him firmly by the coat sleeve.
"Why, isn't that you, Mr. Rankin?" she exclaimed. "Why do you always run away from me?"
He was speechless, but his appearance told its story. Her voice sounded very pretty and sympathetic.
"See here," she said, "it's time you quit this foolishness. You've got to come and have supper with me to-night."
He drew a quick, sobbing breath.
"Look at me," he gasped. "Fancy me supping with anyone. Let me go. I'm content. I've spoken to you once more. That's enough. I'm going to end it to-night."
"Rubbish," she said firmly. "Now listen to me. It doesn't matter a bit about your clothes. Take this and borrow what you want. I shall expect you outside at half past eleven."
She smiled at him, the same smile, and flitted in through the stage door. He found himself standing there with a gold net purse in his hand and a new life bounding through his veins. He felt the sovereigns, a dozen of them at least. Then he staggered down the street!
THE odd part of it was that their marriage is or seems to be a success. She flirts a little, of course, but discreetly; he has begun to write again and there is some talk of a play. They live in a handsome flat and entertain continually, a pleasant but somewhat Bohemian crowd. They own a motor car and go South for the winter. They are well-known figures at certain West End restaurants and he has learned to order a dinner. But they had been married a year before he dared to ask her the question, which had been on his mind since the day he met the reporter in the Strand and had a drink with him. He asked it after a little dinner at the Savoy and she leaned back in her chair and looked at him under half closed eyes and that delightful smile.
"Say, Arthur," she murmured with her irresistible drawl, "are you satisfied with your wife?"
"Of course I am," he answered fervently.
"Then don't ask silly questions," she told him.