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- Winding Paths - 10/78 -
hopelessness of it all."
"But it isn't hopeless at all. Nothing is hopeless. And then, knowing the misery is there, and doing nothing, is far worse than seeing it and doing what one can."
"Oh no, because one can forget so often."
"Some can. I can't. Therefore I can only choose to go and wrestle with it."
"Of course it is heroic of you, but still! - "
Harold St. Quintin gave a gay laugh.
"It is not a bit more heroic than your work on the stage to give people pleasure. I get as much satisfaction in return as you do; and that is the main point. Slum humanity is seething with interest, and it is by no means all sad, nor all discouraging. There is probably more humour and heroism there per square mile than anywhere else."
"And no doubt more animal life also," put in Dick Bruce. "It's the superfluous things that put me off, not the want of anything."
"It's feeling such an ass puts me off," added Hermon; "they're all so busy and alert about one thing or another down there, they make me feel a mere cumberer of the earth. A woman manages a husband, and a family, and some sort of a home, and does the breadwinning as well. The children try to earn pennies in their playtime; and the men work at trying to get work.""
"Whereas you? ..." suggested Hal with a twinkle, "work at trying not to get work."
"Come to supper, and don't be so personal, Hal," said her cousin. "I wrote a poem on you last week, and called it 'Why Men Die Young.' It is in a rag called _The Woman's Own Newspaper_. It is also in _The Youth's Journal_, with the pronouns altered, and a different title; but I forget what."
"What a waste of time - writing such drivel," Hal flung at him. "Why don't you compose a masterpiece, and scale Olympus?"
"Too commonplace. Lots of men have done that. Very few are positive geniuses at writing drivel. I claim to be in the front rank."
They sat down to a lively repast, and Lorraine found herself, instead of an awe-inspiring, distinguished guest, treated with a frank camaraderie that was both amusing and refreshing. They all made a butt of Hal, who was quite equal to the three of them; and when the giant paraphrased one of her (Lorraine's) most tragic utterances on the stage into a serio-comic dissertation on a fruit salad they were eating, lacking in wine, she laughed as gaily as any, and felt she had known them of years.
Then Hal insisted upon playing a game she had that moment invented, which consisted of each one confessing his or her greatest failing, and the gaiety grew.
She led off by informing them that she found she always jumped eagerly at any excuse to avoid her morning bath. Dick Bruce followed it up with a confession that he found he was never satisfied with fewer than four "best girls", because he liked to compare notes between them, and write silly verses on his observations; while Harold St. Quintin owned to an objectionable fancy for bull's-eye peppermints and blowing eggs.
Alymer Hermon confessed that he loved giving advice to people years older than himself, concerning things he knew nothing whatever about.
Lorraine tried to cry off, but, hard pressed, she admitted that she liked the excitement of spending money she had not got, and then having to pawn something to satisfy her creditors. "Spending money you will not miss," she finished, "is very dull beside spending money you do not possess."
Alymer Hermon then suggested they should tell each other of besetting faults, and at once informed Hal her colossal opinion of herself and all she did was only equalled by its entire lack of foundation.
Hal hurled back at him that every inch in height after six feet absorbed vitality from the brain, and that, though his dense stupidity was most trying, the reason for it claimed their compassion.
"You pride yourself beyond all reason on your stature," she said, "and are too dense to perceive it is your undoing."
Lorraine leant towards him and said:
"Inches give magnanimity: big men are always big-hearted; you can afford to forgive her, and retaliate that too much brain-power sinks individuality into mere machinery. I should say Hal's besetting fault was rapping every one on the knuckles, as if they were the keys of a typewriting machine."
"And yours, my dear Lorraine, is smiling into every one's eyes, as if the world held no others for you. Were I a man, and you smiled at me so, I would strangle you before you had time to repeat the glance on some one else."
"And Dick's besetting sin," murmured St. Quintin plaintively, "is a persistent fancy for other people's ties and other people's boots. I have cause to bless the benign and other people's boots. I have cause to bless the benign providence who fashioned my shoulders sufficiently smaller than his to prevent his wearing my coats."
"And yours, Quin," broke in Hermon, "is a fond and loathsome affection for pipes so seasoned that the Board of Trade ought to prohibit their use."
"After all," Hal rapped out at him, "that's not so bad as love of a looking-glass."
"And love of a looking-glass is no worse than love of throwing stones from glass houses," he retorted.
"Of course it isn't, Hal," broke in her cousin, "and probably if you had anything nice to look at in your glass - "
Hal stood up.
"The meeting is adjourned," she announced solemnly, "and the honourable member who was just spoken has the president's leave to absent himself on the occasion of the next gathering."
"Excellent," cried Quin, while Hermon in great glee rapped the table with his knife handle and exclaimed, "Capital, Dick!... That drew her... I think you might say it took the middle stump."
"Oh, thank goodness he's got on to cricket," breathed Hal. "He does know a little about that, and may possibly talk sense for ten minutes. Come along, Lorraine, and don't address Baby at present, for fear you distract him from his game and start him off struggling to be clever again. As it is Sunday night, perhaps Dick would like to read us his latest effusions in the way of boisterous hymns!"
She led the way back to the bachelor sitting-room, and for some little time Dick amused them greatly with his experiences over editors and magazines, and then the two went off together to Lorraine's flat.
At this time she was living at the bottom of Lower Sloane Street, with windows looking over the river, and it was generally supposed that her mother lived with her.
As a matter of fact, Mrs. Vivian only occupied the ground floor flat in company with a friend. Lorraine give her an income on condition she should live there, and so, in a sense, act as a sort of chaperone to silence the tongues ever ready to find food for scandal in the fact of brilliance and beauty living alone; but mother and daughter had never again been on terms of cordiality.
So Hal was often Lorraine's companion for several nights, coming and going as she fancied, always sure of a welcome. To her the flat was a constant delight, and in the evening she loved to sit on the verandah and watch the gliding river - not to sentimentalise and dream, but because she loved London with all her heart and soul and strenght, and to her the river was as the city's pulsing heart.
The moist freshness of the air coming across from Battersea Park was only the more refreshing after Bloomsbury, and the vicinity of several well-known names in the world of art and letters appealed porwerfully to her imagination. Lorraine usually sat just inside the long French window, taking care of her voice, and listening contentedly to Hal's chatter.
They sat thus for a little while after their return from Cromwell Road, and it was noticeable that Lorraine was even more silent than usual. Hald told her something about each of their three hosts in turn, while showing an unmistakable preference for the slum-worker and her cousin. At last Lorraine interrupted her.
"Why do you say so little about Mr. Hermon?... you merely told me he was a cricketer,which doesn't, as a matter of fact, describe him at all."
Hal shrugged her shoulders.
"I suppose he doesn't interest me except in that way."
"But it is a mere side issue. If he weren't a cricketer he would be just as remarkable."
"But he isn't remarkable. He's only exceptionally big."
"He's one of the most remarkable men I've ever seen, anyway."
"Oh, nonsense, Lorraine. Besides, he is hardly a man yet. He's only twenty-four."
"I can't help that," with a little laugh. "I've seen a great many men in my life, but I've never seen any one before like Alymer Hermon."
"Why in the world not? What do you mean?"
"Well, to begin with, he's the most perfect specimen of manhood I've ever beheld. He's abnormally big without the slightest suggestion of being either too big or awkward. He's simply magnificent. Most men of that size are just leggy and gawky: he is neither. Again, other men built as he, are usually rather brainless and weak, or probably made so much of by women that they become wrapped up in themselves, and are always expecting admiration. Alymer Hermon has the freshness of a
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