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- Spring Days - 20/56 -

At that moment the curtain came down, and the young men moved out of the stalls. "There are two men I know," she said, fixing her glass. "Do you see them? The elder of the two is Harding, the novelist, the other is Mr. Fletcher, an Irishman."

"I know Fletcher--or, rather, I know of him. His father was a shopkeeper in Gort, the nearest town to Mount Rorke Castle."

"He is a journalist, isn't he? I hear he is doing pretty well."

"In London, I know, you associate with that class, but in Ireland we wouldn't think of knowing them."

"I thought you were more liberal-minded than that. If they come up here, what shall I do? I mustn't introduce you?"

"I don't mind being introduced. I should like to know Harding."

"I can't introduce you to Harding and not to his friend."

"I don't mind being introduced to Fletcher; I'll bow and slink off to smoke a cigarette. Is it true what they say about him, that he is irresistible, that no woman can resist him? I don't think he is good- looking--a good figure, that's all."

"He has the most lovely hands and teeth."

"I see; perhaps you are in love with him?"

A knock came at the door; the young men entered. Lady Seveley introduced them to Frank; he bowed coldly, and addressed Harding. But Lady Seveley said: "O Mr. Harding, I want to speak to you about your last novel; I have just finished reading it."

"What do you think of this piece?" Fletcher asked Escott, in a hesitating and conciliatory manner.

"I am afraid he will not be able to tell you; he hasn't ceased talking since we came into the theatre."

"I should have done the same had I been in his place."

Lady Seveley smiled, Frank thought the words presumptuous. "Who the devil would care to hear you talk--and that filthy accent." And at that moment he remembered Lizzie Baker. Fletcher and Harding were now speaking to Lady Seveley, and taking advantage of the circumstance he slipped out, and, lighting a cigarette, entered the bar room. Behind the counter the young ladies stood in single file, and through odours of cigarettes and whisky their voices called "One coffee in order," and the cry was passed on till it reached the still-room. Frank remembered having read a description of the place somewhere, he thought for a moment, and then he remembered that it was in one of Harding's novels. He could detect no difference in the loafers that leaned over the counter talking to the barmaids; they were dingy and dull, whereas the young men from the stalls of the theatre were black and white and clean; but the keenest eye could note nothing further, and a closer inspection showed that even a first division rested on no deeper basis than the chance of evening dress. Civilisation has given us all one face and mind. He walked to where Lizzie was serving; soldiers were ordering drinks of her, so he was obliged to apply to the next girl to her for his brandy and soda. He drank slowly, hoping her admirers would leave her, but one soldier was stationery, and this spot of red grew singularly offensive in Frank's eyes, from the clumsy, characterless boots, to the close-clipped hair set off with the monotonously jaunty cap. The man sprawled over the counter drinking a glass of porter. Frank tried to listen to what he was saying. Lizzie smiled, showing many beautifully shaped teeth, so beautifully shaped that they looked like sculpture. Behind her there were shelves charged with glasses and bottles, gilt elephants, and obelisks, a hideous decoration; she passed up and down with cups of coffee, she filled glasses from various taps, she saluted Frank.

"How are you this evening? Come to see the piece again?"

"Come to see you."

"Get along; I don't believe you," she said, and she passed back to her place, and continued talking to the soldier as steadily as her many occupations would allow her.

A few moments after the bell rang, and Frank went upstairs annoyed.

"Oh, so it is you; you have come back," said Helen, turning; "sit down here. Nellie Farren has just sung such an exquisitely funny song; they have encored it; just listen to it, do," and Helen fixed her opera glass on the actress. The light and shadow played about her neck andarm in beautiful variations, but noticing nothing, Frank leaned forward.

"Isn't it funny; isn't it delightfully funny?"

"Yes, it is funny."

Having heard one song they listened to the rest of the act. "Now give me my cloak. Thank you, and now give me your arm." Frank complied. "You will come home to Green Street with me, and have some supper?"

"I am afraid, I am sorry I can't; I must get home early to-night."

"You have a key, you surely can get in at any hour."

"Yes, but I am afraid--the fact is I am dreadfully tired."

"Oh, just as you like."

Then at the end of an irritating silence, "I am afraid you will have to wait, I do not think I shall be able to get your carriage yet awhile; in a few minutes this crowd will disperse. No use getting crushed to death! What became of Harding and Fletcher? Did they remain long with you?"

"No, not very, they went away just before you came. There is Mr. Harding. How did you like the piece, Mr. Harding?"

"I always enjoy these pieces, they are so conscientiously illiterate; what I can't bear is unconscientious illiterateness. Nellie Farren has caught something of the jangle of modern life; she has something of the freshness of the music-hall about her that appeals to me very sharply."

"Do you like music-halls? I have always heard they were so vulgar."

"Vulgarity is surely preferable to popularity. The theatre is merely popular."

While Harding was thus exerting himself with epigram, Fletcher stood tall and slender, with a grey overcoat hanging over his arm, and his intense eyes fixed on Lady Seveley. His gaze troubled her, and when he withdrew his eyes she looked at him, anticipant and fearing. He spoke to her until Frank, feeling that he was receding out of all interest and attention, said abruptly, "If you will come now, Lady Seveley, I think I shall be able to get you your carriage. May I see you home?" he said, holding the door.

"No thank you, I will not take you out of your way. Go home at once and get rested, and come and see me one of these days; don't forget." Lady Seveley smiled, but Frank felt that she was annoyed.

"I wonder if she wanted me to go home with her. That impertinent brute Fletcher daring to come up to speak to us! I was very nearly telling him to go and fetch the carriage."

He pushed open the swinging doors with violence, nearly upsetting the fat porter. The bar was nearly empty, and he found Lizzie disengaged.

"You look very vexed. Has any one been pinching you?"

"I am not vexed."

"What will you have to put you straight?"

"Well, that is a question. Let me see. I don't care about another brandy and soda, and if I have coffee it may keep me awake."

"Have half milk."

"Very well." He hesitated, but the inclination to speak soon overpowered him. "I call it bad form, when you are with a lady for another fellow to come up and speak to her."

"Three of Irish, miss."

"Why, didn't he know her?"

"Of course he knew her, but that doesn't give him a right to come up and enter into a long conversation when I am with her. I wish I had knocked him down."

"He might have knocked you down."

"A glass of bitter, miss."

"I should have had to take my chance of that. In London people don't seem to me to mind whom they speak to--a low-bred Irishman, who never spoke to a lady until he left his own country."

"Oh! what a rage we are in."

"No, I am not in a rage," said Frank, who at that moment felt the folly of these confidences. "I don't care a hang. It isn't as if it were a woman I cared about. Had it been you--"

"Get along, don't you tell me."

"I assure you I speak only in a general way, and you must admit that if you go out with a fellow it would not be nice of you to begin talking to some one else."

"Oh! I never do that."

"There, then you admit I was right, I was sure you would; I don't care a hang for the lady I was with, but I don't intend to allow any one to insult me. But I wonder how you can speak to soldiers."

"They are no worse than the others. Besides, in our business we have to be polite to every one."

"Polite, yes--but I wanted to speak to you, I came down from my box on purpose to speak to you, and I couldn't, you were so engaged with that soldier."

Spring Days - 20/56

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