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- The Tempting of Tavernake - 3/65 -
have passed the girl who has just gone out, upon the stairs, and she almost frightened me. She had just the same look in her eyes. I noticed it yesterday--it was just before dinner, too -- but she never came down."
"She paid so much for her room and extra for meals," Mrs. Lawrence said thoughtfully. "She never would have a meal unless she paid for it at the time. To tell you the truth, I was feeling a bit uneasy about her. She hasn't been in the diningroom for two days, and from what they tell me there's no signs of her having eaten anything in her room. As for getting anything out, why should she? It would be cheaper for her here than anywhere, if she'd got any money at all."
There was an uncomfortable silence. The little old lady with the knitting looked down the street into the sultry darkness which had swallowed up the girl.
"I wonder whether Mr. Tavernake knows anything about her," some one suggested.
But Tavernake was not in the room.
A TETE-A-TETE SUPPER
Tavernake caught her up in New Oxford Street and fell at once into step with her. He wasted no time whatever upon preliminaries.
"I should be glad," he said, "if you would tell me your name."
Her first glance at him was fierce enough to have terrified a different sort of man. Upon Tavernake it had absolutely no effect.
"You need not unless you like, of course," he went on, "but I wish to talk to you for a few moments and I thought that it would be more convenient if I addressed you by name. I do not remember to have heard it mentioned at Blenheim House, and Mrs. Lawrence, as you know, does not introduce her guests."
By this time they had walked a score or so of paces together. The girl, after her first furious glance, had taken absolutely no notice of him except to quicken her pace a little. Tavernake remained by her side, however, showing not the slightest sense of embarrassment or annoyance. He seemed perfectly content to wait and he had not in the least the appearance of a man who could be easily shaken off. From a fit of furious anger she passed suddenly and without warning to a state of half hysterical amusement.
"You are a foolish, absurd person," she declared. "Please go away. I do not wish you to walk with me."
Tavernake remained imperturbable. She remembered suddenly his intervention on her behalf.
"If you insist upon knowing," she said, "my name at Blenheim House was Beatrice Burnay. I am much obliged to you for what you did for me there, but that is finished. I do not wish to have any conversation with you, and I absolutely object to your company. Please leave me at once."
"I am sorry," he answered, "but that is not possible."
"Not possible?" she repeated, wonderingly.
He shook his head.
"You have no money, you have eaten no dinner, and I do not believe that you have any idea where you are going," he declared, deliberately.
Her face was once more dark with anger.
"Even if that were the truth," she insisted, "tell me what concern it is of yours? Your reminding me of these facts is simply an impertinence."
"I am sorry that you look upon it in that light," he remarked, still without the least sign of discomposure. "We will, if you do not mind, waive the discussion for the moment. Do you prefer a small restaurant or a corner in a big one? There is music at Frascati's but there are not so many people in the smaller ones."
She turned half around upon the pavement and looked at him steadfastly. His personality was at last beginning to interest her. His square jaw and measured speech were indices of a character at least unusual. She recognized certain invincible qualities under an exterior absolutely commonplace.
"Are you as persistent about everything in life?" she asked him.
"Why not?" he replied. "I try always to be consistent."
"What is your name?"
"Leonard Tavernake," he answered, promptly.
"Are you well off--I mean moderately well off?"
"I have a quite sufficient income."
"Have you any one dependent upon you?"
"Not a soul," he declared. "I am my own master in every sense of the word."
She laughed in an odd sort of way.
"Then you shall pay for your persistence," she said, ---"I mean that I may as well rob you of a sovereign as the restaurant people."
"You must tell me now where you would like to go to," he insisted. "It is getting late."
"I do not like these foreign places," she replied. "I should prefer to go to the grill-room of a good restaurant."
"We will take a taxicab," he announced. "You have no objection?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"If you have the money and don't mind spending it," she said, "I will admit that I have had all the walking I want. Besides, the toe of my boot is worn through and I find it painful. Yesterday I tramped ten miles trying to find a man who was getting up a concert party for the provinces."
"And did you find him?" he asked, hailing a cab.
"Yes, I found him," she answered, indifferently. "We went through the usual programme. He heard me sing, tried to kiss me and promised to let me know. Nobody ever refuses anything in my profession, you see. They promise to let you know."
"Are you a singer, then, or an actress?"
"I am neither," she told him. "I said 'my profession' because it is the only one to which I have ever tried to belong. I have never succeeded in obtaining an engagement in this country. I do not suppose that even if I had persevered I should ever have had one."
"You have given up the idea, then," he remarked.
"I have given it up," she admitted, a little curtly. "Please do not think, because I am allowing you to be my companion for a short time, that you may ask me questions. How fast these taxies go!"
They drew up at their destination--a well-known restaurant in Regent Street. He paid the cabman and they descended a flight of stairs into the grill-room.
"I hope that this place will suit you," he said. "I have not much experience of restaurants."
She looked around and nodded.
"Yes," she replied, "I think that it will do."
She was very shabbily dressed, and he, although his appearance was by no means ordinary, was certainly not of the type which inspires immediate respect in even the grill-room of a fashionable restaurant. Nevertheless, they received prompt and almost ofcious service. Tavernake, as he watched his companion's air, her manner of seating herself and accepting the attentions of the head waiter, felt that nameless impulse which was responsible for his having followed her from Blenheim House and which he could only call curiosity, becoming stronger. An exceedingly matter-of-fact person, he was also by instinct and habit observant. He never doubted but that she belonged to a class of society from which the guests at the boarding-house where they had both lived were seldom recruited, and of which he himself knew little. He was not in the least a snob, this young man, but he found the fact interesting. Life with him was already very much the same as a ledger account--a matter of debits and credits, and he had never failed to include among the latter that curious gift of breeding for which he himself, denied it by heritage, had somehow substituted a complete and exceedingly rare naturalness.
"I should like," she announced, laying down the carte, "a fried sole, some cutlets, an ice, and black coffee."
The waiter bowed.
"And for Monsieur?"
Tavernake glanced at his watch; it was already ten o'clock.
"I will take the same," he declared.
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