This the first time these two had each other at large, was clearly not a comfortable event for either of them. The girl blushed, and hastily got off her seat. Hilary, who raised his hat and frowned, sat down on it.
"Don't get up," he said; "I want to talk to you."
The little model obediently resumed her seat. A silence followed. She had on the old brown skirt and knitted jersey, the old blue-green tam-o'-shanter cap, and there were marks of weariness beneath her eyes.
At last Hilary remarked: "How are you getting on?"
The little model looked at her feet.
"Pretty well, thank you, Mr. Dallison."
"I came to see you yesterday."
She slid a look at him which might have meant nothing or meant much, so perfect its shy stolidity.
"I was out," she said, "sitting to Miss Boyle."
"So you have some work?"
"It's finished now."
"Then you're only getting the two shillings a day from Mr. Stone?"
The unexpected fervour of this grunt seemed to animate the little model.
"Three and sixpence for my rent, and breakfast costs threepence nearly--only bread-and-butter--that's five and two; and washing's always at least tenpence--that's six; and little things last week was a shilling--even when I don't take buses--seven; that leaves five shillings for my dinners. Mr. Stone always gives me tea. It's my clothes worries me." She tucked her feet farther beneath the seat, and Hilary refrained from looking down. "My hat is awful, and I do want some---" She looked Hilary in the face for the first time. "I do wish I was rich."
"I don't wonder."
The little model gritted her teeth, and, twisting at her dirty gloves, said: "Mr. Dallison, d'you know the first thing I'd buy if I was rich?"
"I'd buy everything new on me from top to toe, and I wouldn't ever wear any of these old things again."
Hilary got up: "Come with me now, and buy everything new from top to toe."
Hilary had already perceived that he had made an awkward, even dangerous, proposal; short, however, of giving her money, the idea of which offended his sense of delicacy, there was no way out of it. He said brusquely: "Come along!"
The little model rose obediently. Hilary noticed that her boots were split, and this--as though he had seen someone strike a child--so moved his indignation that he felt no more qualms, but rather a sort of pleasant glow, such as will come to the most studious man when he levels a blow at the conventions.
He looked down at his companion--her eyes were lowered; he could not tell at all what she was thinking of.
"This is what I was going to speak to you about," he said: "I don't like that house you're in; I think you ought to be somewhere else. What do you say?"
"Yes, Mr. Dallison."
"You'd better make a change, I think; you could find another room, couldn't you?"
The little model answered as before: "Yes, Mr. Dallison."
"I'm afraid that Hughs is-a dangerous sort of fellow."
"He's a funny man."
"Does he annoy you?"
Her expression baffled Hilary; there seemed a sort of slow enjoyment in it. She looked up knowingly.
"I don't mind him--he won't hurt me. Mr. Dallison, do you think blue or green?"
Hilary answered shortly: "Bluey-green."
She clasped her hands, changed her feet with a hop, and went on walking as before.
"Listen to me," said Hilary; "has Mrs. Hughs been talking to you about her husband?"
The little model smiled again.
"She goes on," she said.
Hilary bit his lips.
"Mr. Dallison, please--about my hat?"
"What about your hat?"
"Would you like me to get a large one or a small one?"
"For God's sake," answered Hilary, "a small one--no feathers."
"Can you attend to me a minute? Have either Hughs or Mrs. Hughs spoken to you about--coming to my house, about--me?"
The little model's face remained impassive, but by the movement of her fingers Hilary saw that she was attending now.
"I don't care what they say."
Hilary looked away; an angry flush slowly mounted in his face.
With surprising suddenness the little model said:
"Of course, if I was a lady, I might mind!"
"Don't talk like that!" said Hilary; "every woman is a lady."
The stolidity of the girl's face, more mocking far than any smile, warned him of the cheapness of this verbiage.
"If I was a lady," she repeated simply, "I shouldn't be livin' there, should I?"
"No," said Hilary; "and you had better not go on living there, anyway."
The little model making no answer, Hilary did not quite know what to say. It was becoming apparent to him that she viewed the situation with a very different outlook from himself, and that he did not understand that outlook.
He felt thoroughly at sea, conscious that this girl's life contained a thousand things he did not know, a thousand points of view he did not share.
Their two figures attracted some attention in the crowded street, for Hilary-tall and slight, with his thin, bearded face and soft felt hat--was what is known as "a distinguished-looking man"; and the little model, though not "distinguished-looking" in her old brown skirt and tam-o'shanter cap, had the sort of face which made men and even women turn to look at her. To men she was a little bit of strangely interesting, not too usual, flesh and blood; to women, she was that which made men turn to look at her. Yet now and again there would rise in some passer-by a feeling more impersonal, as though the God of Pity had shaken wings overhead, and dropped a tiny feather.
So walking, and exciting vague interest, they reached the first of the hundred doors of Messrs. Rose and Thorn.
Hilary had determined on this end door, for, as the adventure grew warmer, he was more alive to its dangers. To take this child into the very shop frequented by his wife and friends seemed a little mad; but that same reason which caused them to frequent it--the fact that there was no other shop of the sort half so handy--was the reason which caused Hilary to go there now. He had acted on impulse; he knew that if he let his impulse cool he would not act at all. The bold course was the wise one; this was why he chose the end door round the corner. Standing aside for her to go in first, he noticed the girl's brightened eyes and cheeks; she had never looked so pretty. He glanced hastily round; the department was barren for their purposes, filled entirely with pyjamas. He felt a touch on his arm. The little model, rather pink, was looking up at him.
"Mr. Dallison, am I to get more than one set of--underthings?"
"Three-three," muttered Hilary; and suddenly he saw that they were on the threshold of that sanctuary. "Buy them," he said, "and bring me the bill."
He waited close beside a man with a pink face, a moustache, and an almost perfect figure, who was standing very still, dressed from head to foot in blue-and-white stripes. He seemed the apotheosis of what a man should be, his face composed in a deathless simper: "Long, long have been the struggles of man, but civilization has produced me at last. Further than this it cannot go. Nothing shall make me continue my line. In me the end is reached. See my back: 'The Amateur. This perfect style, 8s. 11d. Great reduction.'"
He would not talk to Hilary, and the latter was compelled to watch the shopmen. It was but half an hour to closing time; the youths were moving languidly, bickering a little, in the absence of their customers--like flies on a pane unable to get out into the sun. Two of them came and asked him what they might serve him with; they were so refined and pleasant that Hilary was on the point of buying what he did not want. The reappearance of the little model saved him.
"It's thirty shillings; five and eleven was the cheapest, and stockings, and I bought some sta---"
Hilary produced the money hastily.
"This is a very dear shop," she said.
When she had paid the bill, and Hilary had taken from her a large brown-paper parcel, they journeyed on together. He had armoured his face now in a slightly startled quizzicality, as though, himself detached, he were watching the adventure from a distance.
On the central velvet seat of the boot and shoe department, a lady, with an egret in her hat, was stretching out a slim silk-stockinged foot, waiting for a boot. She looked with negligent amusement at this common little girl and her singular companion. This look of hers seemed to affect the women serving, for none came near the little model. Hilary saw them eyeing her boots, and, suddenly forgetting his role of looker-on, he became very angry. Taking out his watch, he went up to the eldest woman.
"If somebody," he said, "does not attend this young lady within a minute, I shall make a personal complaint to Mr. Thorn."
The hand of the watch, however, had not completed its round before a woman was at the little model's side. Hilary saw her taking off her boot, and by a sudden impulse he placed himself between her and the lady. In doing this, he so far forgot his delicacy as to fix his eyes on the little model's foot. The sense of physical discomfort which first attacked him became a sort of aching in his heart. That brown, dingy stocking was darned till no stocking, only darning, and one toe and two little white bits of foot were seen, where the threads refused to hold together any longer.
The little model wagged the toe uneasily--she had hoped, no doubt, that it would not protrude, then concealed it with her skirt. Hilary moved hastily away; when he looked again, it was not at her, but at the lady.
Her face had changed; it was no longer amused and negligent, but stamped with an expression of offence. 'Intolerable,' it seemed to say, 'to bring a girl like that into a shop like this! I shall never come here again!' The expression was but the outward sign of that inner physical discomfort Hilary himself had felt when he first saw the little model's stocking. This naturally did not serve to lessen his anger, especially as he saw her animus mechanically reproduced on the faces of the serving women.
He went back to the little model, and sat down by her side.
"Does it fit? You'd better walk in it and see."
The little model walked.
"It squeezes me," she said.
"Try another, then," said Hilary.
The lady rose, stood for a second with her eyebrows raised and her nostrils slightly distended, then went away, and left a peculiarly pleasant scent of violets behind.
The second pair of boots not "squeezing" her, the little model was soon ready to go down. She had all her trousseau now, except the dress--selected and, indeed, paid for, but which, as she told Hilary, she was coming back to try on tomorrow, when--when---. She had obviously meant to say when she was all new underneath. She was laden with one large and two small parcels, and in her eyes there was a holy look.
Outside the shop she gazed up in his face.
"Well, you are happy now?" asked Hilary.
Between the short black lashes were seen two very bright, wet shining eyes; her parted lips began to quiver.
"Good-night, then," he said abruptly, and walked away.
But looking round, he saw her still standing there, half buried in parcels, gazing after him. Raising his hat, he turned into the High Street towards home....
The old man, known to that low class of fellow with whom he was now condemned to associate as "Westminister," was taking a whiff or two out of his old clay pipe, and trying to forget his feet. He saw Hilary coming, and carefully extended a copy of the last edition.
"Good-evenin', sir! Quite seasonable to-day for the time of year! Ho, yes! 'Westminister!'"
His eyes followed Hilary's retreat. He thought:
"Oh dear! He's a-given me an 'arf-a-crown. He does look well--I like to see 'im look as well as that--quite young! Oh dear!"
The sun-that smoky, faring ball, which in its time had seen so many last editions of the Westminster Gazette--was dropping down to pass the night in Shepherd's Bush. It made the old butler's eyelids blink when he turned to see if the coin really was a half-crown, or too good to be true.
And all the spires and house-roofs, and the spaces up above and underneath them, glittered and swam, and men and horses looked as if they had been powdered with golden dust.
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