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- Spring Days - 10/56 -
"Some of those bar girls are very pretty; rather dangerous, though, I should think."
"They seemed to me to be very nice girls; you would be surprised if you heard them talk. I assure you the one that sat next to me spoke just like a lady. You know in these hard times people must do something. Lots of ladies have to buckle to and work for their bread."
Frank lapsed into silence. Willy sat apparently watching the blue and green spectacle of the sea. Frank knew that it interested him not the least, and he wondered if his friend had heard what he had been saying. Triss, seeing that smelling and fighting were equally vain endeavours, had laid himself out in the sun, and he returned his master's caresses by deep growls. One more menacing than the others woke Willy from his meditation, and he said: "What's the time? It ought to be getting on to lunch time."
"I daresay it is."
"Where shall we go? Do you know of a good place? What about that restaurant opposite the pier?"
"Well," said Willy, with a short, abrupt laugh, "the fact is, I must lunch at my office; but I shall be very glad if you will come."
"I didn't know you had an office--an office for what?"
"I started an agency at the beginning of the year for artificial manure, but I think I shall drop it. I am arranging to go on the Stock Exchange. The difficulty is whether I shall be able to get my father to allow me to take enough money out of the business."
"Oh, but what about this office? Why are you obliged to lunch at your office? Are you expecting customers? I know nothing about that sort of thing."
"No, I wish I were. The fact is, my missis is staying in Brighton for a few weeks. The child has been ailing a good deal lately, and the doctor ordered change of air."
"Child! Missis! I know nothing of this."
"A very nice woman, I think you'll like her. She is devoted to me. We've been together now two years or more, I can't say exactly, I should have to refer to my diary."
"But the child?"
"The child isn't mine. She had the child before I knew her."
"And what is the matter with it?"
"Curvature of the spine. The doctor says she will outgrow it. Cissy will be quite strong and healthy although she may never have what you would call a good figure. But there is a matter on which I want to speak to you. The fact is, I am going to be married."
"To the lady whom you will see at lunch, Cissy's mother."
Frank said: "If you really love her I have nothing to say against it." Willy did not answer. Frank waited for an answer and then broke the silence: "But do you love her?"
"Yes, I am very fond of her; she is a very good sort."
Frank was implacable. "Do you love her like the other one?" The question wounded, but Frank was absorbed in his own special sentimentalities.
"I was younger then, it is not the same; I am getting old. How many years older am I than you--seven, I think? You are three-and-twenty, I am thirty. How time flies!"
"Yes, I am three-and-twenty--you don't look thirty."
"I feel it, though; few fellows have had so much trouble as I have. Your life has been all pleasure."
"If a man really loves a woman he is always right to marry her. Why should we suppose that a woman may not reform--that true love may not raise her? I was talking to a novelist the other day; he told me thestory of a book he is writing. It is about a woman who leaves the husband she has never loved for the man she adores; she goes away with him, he marries her, and she sinks lower and lower, until she becomes a common prostitute."
"You are quite mistaken. I am sure that when you see the missis--"
"My dear fellow, pray do not misunderstand me. I would not for worlds. I am only telling you about a book, if you will only listen. I told him that I thought the story would be ten times as interesting if, instead of being degraded, the woman were raised by the love of the man who took her away from her husband. He made the husband a snivelling little creature, and the lover good-looking--that's the old game. I would have made the lover insignificant and the husband good- looking. Nevertheless she loved the lover better. I know of nothing more noble than for a man to marry the woman he loves, and to raise her by the force of his love; he could teach her, instruct her. Nellie will never forget me. I gave her a religion, I taught her and explained to her the whole of the Catholic faith--"
"I hope you won't try to convert my sisters."
"You do pull me up so! Don't you understand that I was very young then? I was only twenty, not much more; besides, I was engaged to Nellie."
"Come back to what we were talking about."
"Well, I have said that if you love her I believe you are quite right to marry her. But do you love her?"
"Yes, I do; how many times more do you want me to say I do?"
"Of _course_ if you are going to be rude--"
"No--you understand what I mean, don't you? I am very fond of the missis; if I weren't I shouldn't marry, that goes without saying, but one likes to have things settled. I have been with her now more thantwo years. I've thought it out. There's nothing like having things settled. I'm sure I'm right."
The young men looked at each other in silence--Frank quite at a loss; he could nowise enter into the feelings of a man whom an undue sense of order and regularity compelled to marry his mistress, as it did to waste half his life in copying letters and making entries in a diary.
"Then why did you consult me?" he said, for he came to the point sharply when his brain was not muddled with sentiment.
"I am not heir to an entailed estate, like you."
"I am not heir to an entailed estate. Mount Rorke might marry to- morrow."
"He is not likely to do that. It is an understood thing that you are heir. My father might cut me off with a shilling if he were to hear I had married without his consent, and I should be left with the few hundreds which I draw out of the distillery, a poor man all my life."
"If that is so, why marry? You are not in love with her--at least not what I should call being in love."
"But can't you understand--"
"No, I can't, unless you mean that you are down with marriage fever."
"I have considered the matter carefully, and am convinced I am right," he answered, looking at Frank as if he would say, but didn't dare, "don't let's talk about it any more, it only distresses me." "The marriage must be kept a secret. If my father were to hear of it I should be ruined, whereas if Mary will consent to go on living as we are living now, one of these days she will be a rich woman. I daresay my share of his money will come to at least fifteen hundred a year, and then I shall be able to recompense her for the years she has waited for it. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly. The only thing I don't see is how I am to influence her. You've no doubt told her and fully explained to her what the consequences would be if you were to publish the banns."
"I have, but it would strengthen my hand if you were to tell her all you know of my father. Tell her that he is very obstinate, pig-headed, and would certainly cut me off; tell her that he is sixty-six, that it is a hundred to one against his living till he is eighty, even if he did there would be only fourteen years to wait for fifteen hundred a year; tell her if she tells that I have married her it is just as if she threw fifteen hundred a year out of the window."
"And when shall I tell her all this?"
"Now. We are going to have lunch at my offices, she'll be there. We'll talk the matter over after lunch."
"Very well, let's start. Come along, Triss."
With Triss tugging dangerously at the silk handkerchief whenever he saw a likely pair of legs or a dog that he fancied, the young men sauntered up West Street.
"But tell me: how do you manage to have so many people to lunch in your office; your premises must be pretty extensive?"
"I have the whole house; I was obliged to take it. I couldn't get another place that would suit me, and I thought I should be able to let the upper part; I did have a tenant for a little while, but he was obliged to leave. I believe I am the unluckiest fellow alive. Here's the place."
"Agency for Artificial Manure" was printed over the door. Willy asked
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