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- The Unclassed - 16/74 -
"Straight or not, you won't get no change over this counter, so there you've the straight tip. Now sling yer 'ook, Slimy, an' get it somewhere else."
"If you've any accusion to make--"
"Hold yer noise!--What's he ordered, Liz?"
"Pot o' old six," answered the girl.
"Got sixpence, Slimy?"
"No, I ain't, Mrs. Sprowl," muttered the creature. "I've got arf a suvrin."
"Then go an' get change for it. Now, once more, sling yer 'ook."
The man moved away, sending back a horrible glare from his one fiery eyeball.
Mrs. Sprowl re-entered the parlour.
"I wish you'd take me on as barmaid, Sarah," Harriet said, when she had drunk her glass of spirits.
"Take you on?" exclaimed the other, with surprise. "Why, have you fallen out with your cousin? I thought you was goin' to be married soon."
"I didn't say for sure that I was; I only said I might be. Any way it won't be just yet, and I'm tired of my place in the shop."
"Don't you be a fool, Harriet," said the other, with genial frankness. "You're well enough off. You stick where you are till you get married. You wouldn't make nothin' at our business; 'tain't all sugar an' lemon, an' sittin' drinkin' twos o' whisky till further orders. You want a quiet, easy business, you do, an' you've got it. If you keep worritin' yerself this way, you won't never make old bones, an' that's the truth. You wait a bit, an' give yer cousin a chance to arst you,--if that's what you're troublin' about"
"I've given him lots o' chances," said Harriet peevishly.
"Eh well, give him lots more, an' it'll all come right. We're all born, but we're not buried.--Hev' another Irish?"
Harriet allowed herself to be persuaded to take another glass.
When the clock pointed to half-past nine, she rose and prepared to depart. She had told Mrs. Sprowl that she would take the 'bus and go straight home; but something seemed to have led her to alter her purpose, for she made her way to Westminster Bridge, and crossed the river. Then she made some inquiries of a policeman, and, in consequence, got into a Kennington omnibus. Very shortly she was set down close by Walcot Square. She walked about till, with some difficulty in the darkness, she had discovered the number at which Julian had told her his friend lived. The house found, she began to pace up and down on the opposite pavement, always keeping her eyes fixed on the same door. She was soon shivering in the cold night air, and quickened her walk. It was rather more than an hour before the door she was watching at length opened, and two friends came out together. Harriet followed them as closely as she could, until she saw that she herself was observed. Thereupon she walked away, and, by a circuit, ultimately came back into the main road, where she took a 'bus going northwards.
Harriet's cousin, when alone of an evening, sat in his bedroom, the world shut out, his thoughts in long past times, rebuilding the ruins of a fallen Empire.
When he was eighteen, the lad had the good luck to light upon a cheap copy of Gibbon in a second-hand book-shop. It was the first edition; six noble quarto volumes, clean and firm in the old bindings. Often he had turned longing eyes upon newer copies of the great book, but the price had always put them beyond his reach. That very night he solemnly laid open the first volume at the first page, propping it on a couple of meaner books, and, after glancing through the short Preface, began to read with a mind as devoutly disposed as that of any pious believer poring upon his Bible. "In the second century of the Christian AEra, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour." With what a grand epic roll, with what anticipations of solemn music, did the noble history begin! Far, far into the night Julian turned over page after page, thoughtless of sleep and the commonplace duties of the morrow.
Since then he had mastered his Gibbon, knew him from end to end, and joyed in him more than ever. Whenever he had a chance of obtaining any of the writers, ancient or modern, to whom Gibbon refers, he read them and added to his knowledge. About a year ago, he had picked up an old Claudian, and the reading of the poet had settled him to a task which he had before that doubtfully sought. He wanted to write either a poem or a drama on some subject taken from the "Decline and Fall," and now, with Claudian's help, he fixed upon Stilicho for his hero. The form, he then decided, should be dramatic. Upon "Stilicho" he had now been engaged for a year, and to-night he is writing the last words of the last scene. Shortly after twelve he has finished it, and, throwing down his pen, he paces about the room with enviable feelings.
He had not as yet mentioned to Waymark the work he was engaged upon, though he had confessed that he wrote verses at times. He wished to complete it, and then read it to his friend. It was now only the middle of the week, and though he had decided previously to wait till his visit to Walcot Square next Sunday before saying a word about "Stilicho," he could not refrain now from hastily penning a note to Waymark, and going out to post it at once.
When the day came, the weather would not allow the usual walk with Harriet, and Julian could not help feeling glad that it was so. He was too pre-occupied to talk in the usual way with the girl, and he knew how vain it would be to try and make her understand his state of mind. Still, he went to see her as usual, and sat for an hour in Mrs. Ogle's parlour. At times, throughout the week, he had thought of the curious resemblance between Harriet and the girl he had noticed on leaving Waymark's house last Sunday, and now he asked her, in a half-jesting way, whether it had really been she.
"How could it be?" said Harriet carelessly. "I can't be in two places at once."
"Did you stay at home that evening?"
"No,--not all the evening."
"What friends are they you go to, when you are out at night, Harriet?"
"Oh, some relations of the Colchester people.--I suppose you've been spending most of your time in Kennington since Sunday?"
"I haven't left home. In fact, I've been very busy. I've just finished some work that has occupied me for nearly a year."
After all, he could not refrain from speaking of it, though he had made up his mind not to do so.
"Work? What work?" asked Harriet, with the suspicious look which came into her grey eyes whenever she heard something she could not understand.
"Some writing. I've written a play."
"A play? Will it be acted?"
"Oh no, it isn't meant for acting."
"What's the good of it then?"
"It's written in verse. I shall perhaps try to get it published."
"Shall you get money for it?"
"That is scarcely likely. In all probability I shall not be able to get it printed at all."
"Then what's the good of it?" repeated Harriet, still suspicious, and a little contemptuous.
"It has given me pleasure, that's all."
Julian was glad when at length he could take his leave. Waymark received him with a pleased smile, and much questioning.
"Why did you keep it such a secret? I shall try my hand at a play some day or other, but, as you can guess, the material will scarcely be sought in Gibbon. It will be desperately modern, and possibly not altogether in accordance with the views of the Lord Chamberlain. What's the time? Four o'clock. We'll have a cup of coffee and then fall to. I'm eager to hear your 'deep-chested music,' your 'hollow oes and aes.'"
The reading took some three hours; Waymark smoked a vast number of pipes the while, and was silent till the close. Then he got up from his easy-chair, took a step forward, and held out his hand. His face shone with the frankest enthusiasm. He could not express himself with sufficient vehemence. Julian sat with the manuscript rolled up in his hands, on his face a glow of delight.
"It's very kind of you to speak in this way," he faltered at length.
"Kind! How the deuce should I speak? But come, we will have this off to a publisher's forth with. Have you any ideas for the next work?"
"Yes; but so daring that they hardly bear putting into words."
"Try the effect on me."
"I have thought," said Julian, with embarrassment, "of a long poem --an Epic. Virgil wrote of the founding of Rome; her dissolution is as grand a subject. It would mean years of preparation, and again years in the writing. The siege and capture of Rome by Alaric-- what do you think?"
"A work not to be raised from the heat of youth, or the vapours of wine. But who knows?"
There was high talk in Walcot Square that evening. All unknown to
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