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Title: Coquette
Author: Swinnerton, Frank, 1884-1982
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Coquette" ***

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COQUETTE

       *       *       *       *       *

THE NOVELS OF
FRANK SWINNERTON

  THE HAPPY FAMILY
  ON THE STAIRCASE
  THE CHASTE WIFE
  SHOPS AND HOUSES
  NOCTURNE
  SEPTEMBER
  COQUETTE


COQUETTE

FRANK SWINNERTON

       *       *       *       *       *

BY FRANK SWINNERTON

  COQUETTE
  SEPTEMBER
  SHOPS AND HOUSES
  NOCTURNE
  THE CHASTE WIFE
  ON THE STAIRCASE
  THE HAPPY FAMILY
  THE CASEMENT
  THE YOUNG IDEA
  THE MERRY HEART
  GEORGE GISSING
    _A Critical Study_
  R. L. STEVENSON
    _A Critical Study_

       *       *       *       *       *


COQUETTE

by

FRANK SWINNERTON

Author of "September," "Shops and
Houses," "Nocturne," Etc.



New York
George H. Doran Company

Copyright, 1921,
by George H. Doran Company



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

  BOOK ONE

    TOBY                                                               9

  BOOK TWO

    GAGA                                                              89

  BOOK THREE

    CONSEQUENCES                                                     209



BOOK ONE: TOBY


i

It was Saturday night--a winter night in which the wind hummed through
every draughty crevice between the windows and under the doors and down
the chimneys. Outside, in the Hornsey Road, horse-omnibuses rattled by
and the shops that were still open at eleven o'clock glistened with
light. Up the road, at the butcher's just below the Plough public-house,
a small crowd lingered, turning over scraps of meat, while the butcher
himself, chanting "Lovely, lovely, lovely!" in a kind of ecstasy,
plunged again into a fresh piece of meat the attractive legend, "Oh,
mother, look! Three ha'pence a pound!" Just over the way, at the Supply
Stores, they had begun to roll down the heavy shutter, hiding the bright
windows, and leaving only a narrow doorway, through which light streamed
and made rainbow colours on the pavement outside. The noise of the
street was a racketting roar, hardly lower now than it had been all the
evening. Sally crouched at the window of the first floor flat, looking
down at the black roadway, and watching the stragglers from the Supply
Stores.

In the flat above there was the sound of one who sang, vamping an
accompaniment upon the piano and emphasising the simple time of his
carol by a dully stamped foot upon the floor. His foot--making in soft
slippers a dead "dump-dump-dump"--shook the ceiling of the Mintos'
flat. They could hear his dry voice huskily roaring, "There you are,
there you are, there you ain't--ain't--ain't." They had heard it a
thousand times, always with the familiar stamp. It was very gay. Old
Perce, as he was called, was a carver in a City restaurant. It was he
who received orders from the knowing; and in return for apparent
tit-bits he received acknowledgments in coin--twopence or threepence a
time. Therefore, when he reached home each evening, nicely cheery and
about a quarter drunk, his first act after having tea was to withdraw
from his pockets a paper bag or two--such as those supplied by banks for
the carriage of silver--which he would empty of greasy coppers. He piled
these coppers in mounds of twelve, and counted them over several times.
He then smoked his pipe, went into his front room, and played, "There
you are, there you are, there you ain't--ain't--ain't." Sally did not
remember ever having heard him sing anything else. He was singing it:
now with customary gusto. Sally thought he must be a very rich man. Old
Perce's wife, who let her practise on their piano, hinted as much. His
wages were low, she said, but in a week his tips often came to three or
four pounds. Three or four pounds! Whew! Sally's father only made
thirty-five shillings in a week, everything included. Mrs. Perce told
Sally many other things, which Sally shrewdly treasured in memory. It
was well to know these things, Sally thought: any day they might be ...
useful. For a girl not yet seventeen, Sally had a strangely abundant
sense of possible utilities. All old Perce's relatives were licensed
victuallers, she had learned; and one day he too would take a "little
'ouse" and stand behind his own bar, instead of behind the counter of a
city restaurant. Those would be days! "'Ave a trap and go outa Sunday
afternoons," Mrs. Perce said. "Oo, I wish you'd take me!" Sally cried.
"Course I will!" answered Mrs. Perce, with the greatest good-humour.
Meanwhile old Perce had money out on loan. "I'd like," thought Sally,
with considering eyes, "to have money out on loan. I will, too. One day.
Why shouldn't I?"

Sally's mother, Mrs. Minto, was yawning by the small fire in the grate.
She was a meagre little woman of about forty, tired and energetic. The
Mintos' flat, although very bare, was very clean. Even when there was
nothing to eat, there was water for scouring; and Mrs. Minto's hands
were a sort of red-grey, hard and lined, all the little folds of the
discoloured skin looking as if they had been bitten deep with acid that
made them black. Her hair was very thin, and she drew it closely back
from her forehead into a tiny knob like a bell-pull, leaving the brow
high and dry as if the tide of hair had receded. Her lids were heavy
over anxious eyes; her mouth was a bitter stroke across her face, under
the small, inquiring nose. Her breast was flat, and her body bent
through daily housework and too little care of herself, too little
personal pride.

Sally resembled her mother. She too was small and thin. Her hair was
pale brown, an insipid colour with a slight sandiness in it. Her cheeks
were faintly freckled just under the eyes, and her nose, equally small
and inquiring, had some freckles upon it too. Her eyelashes were light;
her eyes a grey with splashes of amber. She was sitting huddled up near
the window, breathing intently, looking out of it with eager, fascinated
interest. The streets were full of lures. Outside, there was something
which drew and absorbed her whole nature. The noise and the lights
intoxicated her; the darkness was even more bewilderingly full of
dangerous attractiveness. It was night, and night was the time when
thrills came, when her heart beat closely with a sense of timid
impudence, a sort of leashed daring. In darkness she brushed hands
against the hands of boys, and got into conversation with strangers, and
felt herself romantically transfigured. They couldn't see how plain she
was in the dark: she herself forgot it. In the dark she felt that she
was bolder, with nobody to observe her and carry tales to her mother.
Boys who wouldn't look at her in daylight followed her at night along
dark streets. She was getting very experienced with boys. She could look
after herself with them. Her eyes interestedly and appraisingly scanned
every male, so that she came to know a great deal about the ways of men,
although she never put her knowledge into words. She scrutinised them.
In daylight her plainness was a help in that, because they did not take
any notice of so insignificant a figure, and she absorbed every detail
of the "fellows" she met, without having to do it under their return
observation, by means of side-glances. This was a benefit, and at heart
made her bolder, more ruthless.

At this moment, watching the people come out from the little door in the
shutter of the Supply Stores, Sally ignored the silhouettes of women;
but she peered quite intensely at those of the men. Men filled her
thoughts. She was always choosing which men she liked, and which did not
interest her, and which were weak and easily exploited. Or, if she were
prevented from doing that, she could still look at them, seeing that
they were men, and not women. The noise was good, the lights were good;
but the darkness, such as there now was in the street below, in all the
diminished labour of late traffic, was best of all. She saw the last
customer at the Stores shown to the door by Mr. Beddow, the keeper of
the shop; and the narrow door in the shutters closed. The last stream of
light was abruptly cut off. The face of the Stores was black. All the
opposite side of the roadway was now black. There were no more
silhouettes.

Mr. Beddow's cheeks were very fat, and when he smiled his eyes
disappeared into slits just behind the top of his bulging cheeks. He
wore a light frizzly beard. Once Mr. Beddow had given her a little
bottle of acid-drops. All the acid-drops were gone now. She had given
some of them to May Pearcey, who worked with her. They had eaten the
remainder next day over their work, while Miss Jubb was out of the room;
and the drops had made them thirsty and had given them hot, sweet
breath. Funny she should remember it all so clearly.

May Pearcey and she were both learners at a small dressmaker's shop in a
street off Holloway Road. They used to walk together along Grove Road in
the mornings, and at dinner-time, and in the evenings. But the boys all
looked at May, who was a big girl with rosy cheeks and eyes that were
bold with many conquests. Sally only got the soppy ones. That was her
luck. Sally wondered why a good-looking boy so often had a soppy one
with him. She wasn't soppy herself. The boys thought she was; they never
looked at her. But May picked up the good-looking ones, and Sally had to
take what was left. She hated to see her boy always looking on at the
others, at May, and never at herself; she hated to know that her boy
didn't like the look of her, and that he couldn't think of anything to
say to her; and didn't take the trouble to think very hard. It made
Sally snap her teeth. One day, she reassured herself, it would be
different. One day, they'd _know_.

Slowly she stretched, with her arms high above her head and her mouth
stretched sideways in a yawn. Was mother asleep? She felt cramped and
tired, and as she turned round to the light her eyes blinked at the
contrast with the outer darkness.


ii

"Oo!" groaned Sally. "Tired!"

She yawned again, a yawn that ended in a breathless gasp. Mrs. Minto
looked across the room at her.

"D'you want any supper?" she asked.

"Wotcher got? Peaches and cream, and a glass of champagne?"

Mrs. Minto wriggled her skinny shoulders and fingered her chin.

"Don't you be saucy to me, my gel. There's a bit of dry bread on the
plate there. And half a glass of stout. You might think yourself lucky
to get _that_."

"Well, I s'pose I might. But somehow I don't. Dry bread! It's Saturday,
ain't it? What I mean, pay-day."

There was a sour glance. Mrs. Minto sighed, and looked at the clock,
frowning and wriggling her shoulders. It was a form of constant drill or
shudder that affected her.

"Yes," she said. "And your father not home. Pubs are closed. Wonder
where he is. Come on, Sally. Get your supper and get to bed. Sharp,
now."

Sally rose to her feet and walked across the room. She cut a hunk of
bread, and stood about munching it, little crumbs gathering upon her
lips. You could see how thin she was when her arm was raised. Yet she
made a few little dancing steps as she ate, and her face was not without
a comical air of mischief. She was an urchin, and she looked it. She was
unscrupulous, and a liar; but she knew a great deal for her years, and
she never shrank from knowledge, because she was athirst for it.
Knowledge which could be turned to account was her preoccupation. She
stood looking at her mother, weighing her up, and in the midst of her
daughterly contempt she had room for a little admiration also. They were
not altogether unlike; but Mrs. Minto had taken the wrong turning. She
had married a drinker, and was a slave. Well, Sally had benefited by
knowledge of that. She might marry a fool--probably would have to do so,
as the wily ones took what they could get and went off on their own; but
she would never marry so incautiously as her mother had done. Why should
she? If one generation does not react to the follies of the earlier
generation, and seek an exactly contrary evil, what becomes of progress?
Sally had her wits. She thought they would never fail her.

As she sat down near her mother, they both heard a sudden slamming of
the front door, two flights of stairs below. Their eyes flew in an
exchanged glance that held trepidation. It was probably dad, and at this
time on a Saturday night dad was usually the worse for wear. Both
listened. There was a heavy step. Then the sound of voices--a woman's
raised voice, and dad's. It was evidently a row. Sally ran to the door,
and they listened to what was passing. Down the half-lighted stairway
they could just discern two figures, faintly outlined in the wavering
flutter of gas. Obviously dad was drunk, for he was haranguing a rather
hysterical Mrs. Clancy, who stood at the foot of the stairs and shouted
after him. She said that he was drunk, that he ought not to come in at
that time of night stumbling about like an ostrich, that decent people
liked a little quiet, if he pleased. Mr. Minto said he would come in
when he chose, and in what state he preferred. He was not obliged to
consult such an indiscriminate mother as Mrs. Clancy, and he would not
do it. Far from it. Far from it. He stood for liberty. He had as good a
right to the staircase as anybody else in the house. More right, in
fact. Let her bring out Mr. Clancy if she wanted a fight.... He then
proceeded to the top of the first flight of stairs. He climbed with
difficulty, missing a stair once in a while, and breathing hard. He was
pursued by an outcry. A third voice was heard--that of Mr. Clancy. It
was directed at first entirely to the woman, and begged her to come back
into the kitchen. They could see her arm caught by Mr. Clancy, from whom
she freed herself by a blow. There was a pause. But Mrs. Clancy broke
out afresh. She was beyond control, passionately shrill, and quite
wildly resentful of what had been said and done in her despite.

"Oh dear, oh dear!" cried Mrs. Minto, with inadequate petulance. She
stepped out on to the landing, fingering her mouth. Sally tiptoed after,
hardly moved, but intensely curious. She was grinning, but nervously and
with contempt of the row. "Joe!" called Mrs. Minto. "Joe! Come upstairs.
Don't get quarrelling like that. Ought to be ashamed of yourself. Come
upstairs!" She looked over the rails at her husband, like a sparrow on a
twig. He was a flight below. "Come up here!"

There was a fresh outburst from Mrs. Clancy.

"You put your 'usband to bed, Mrs. Minto. Pore woman! Pore soul! Fancy
'aving a thing like that for a 'usband! 'Usband, indeed! A great noisy
drunkard, a great beastly elephant, boozing all his money away. Drunken
fool, stamping about...."

"You shut your mouth!" bawled dad, thickly. "You shut your mouth. See?
When I want.... You shut your bloody jaw. See?"

"Joe!" called Mrs. Minto, urgently, a mean little slip peering over the
bannisters.

"Joe!" mimicked Mrs. Clancy. "You take him to bed, Mrs. Minto. Take his
boots off. He's not safe. He's a danger, that's what he is. I shall tell
the police, Mr. Minto. It's got to come. You got to stop it. I shall
tell the police. I will, I swear it...."

Mr. Minto retorted. His retort provoked Mrs. Clancy to rebuke. The
quarrel was suddenly intensified. It became rougher. Even Sally was
excited, and her hands were clasped together. Mr. Minto lost his temper.
He became mad. A fierce brutality seized him in its unmanageable grip.
They heard him give a kind of frenzied cry of passion, saw him raise his
hands, heard a hurried scuffle at the foot of the stairs, where the
Clancys, both alarmed, drew back towards their room. And then the rattle
of an arm against a rail, a slither, a bumping, and a low thud. Dad,
overbalancing in his rage, had pitched and fallen headlong down the
stairs. Mrs. Minto and Sally set up a thin screaming. The gas flickered
and burned steadily again. A shriek came from Mrs. Clancy. It was
repeated. Mr. Minto lay quite still in a confused heap in the lower
passage.


iii

Dad was dead. It was the end of that stage in Sally's life. After the
funeral, Sally and her mother were quite without money. Everything was
so wretched and unforeseen that the two were lost in this miserable new
aspect of poverty and improvidence. For a time Mrs. Perce was good to
them, and Mrs. Clancy would have been the same if Mrs. Minto had not
stared through her as through a pane of glass. But when that was done,
and the funeral was over, they had nothing. Together they sat in their
bare room above the noisy traffic of Hornsey Road, not speaking much,
but all the time turning and turning in their heads all possible ways of
making money. In another two or three years Sally might have earned
more; but she was not now much above sixteen, and at sixteen, in the
dressmaking, one does not earn a living. And while at first they thought
that Mrs. Minto might get needlework to do, with which Sally could help,
they found this out of the question. Mrs. Minto's eyes were weak, and
she could not keep her seams straight. The machine they had was
ricketty. Sewing, for her, was impossible. For a few days she was
stunned with the new demand for which she was unprepared. She was
nerveless. It made Sally sick to watch her mother and to realise from
the vacancy which so soon appeared upon her face that memory and a kind
of futile pondering had robbed her brains of activity. With a bitter
sense of grudge against life, a tightening of lips already thin, and a
narrowing of eyes already discomfitingly merciless, Sally savagely told
herself that she had to do everything alone. It was she who must save
the situation. The arrogant grasp of this fact made a great impression
upon her mind and her character. Henceforward she no longer dreamed
about men, but was alert in her intention to make everything her tool,
and everybody. From a young girl she had been converted into an
unscrupulous taker from all. The death of her father was a blow which
had suddenly drawn together all those vague determinations which had
lain concealed. There was nothing except dangerous theft from which her
mind shrank. Looking afresh at her mother, she felt stirred by a new
impatience, and a succeeding indifferent contempt. Love had been killed,
and from now onwards she would play for her own hand. Small teeth met
with a snap. Her thin lips were drawn back. Mrs. Minto shrank from the
strange venomous snarl which she saw disfiguring Sally's face.

It was as though Sally felt trapped. Everything had been spoilt by this
unexpected happening, and Sally's unconscious helplessness revealed. It
was a blow to her vanity, a douche to her crude romanticism. She had
felt cramped and irritable before; but now she was made to realise how
little she had with which to fight against calamity and the
encroachments of others. Compared with this new danger, of starvation or
slavery, all old discomforts were shown to have been trivial, because
they had been accidents in a life which, however rough and ugly had been
at least absorbed in plans for enjoyment. Now plans for enjoyment gave
place to expedients for protection. Sally was indeed fierce and
resentful. It was with animosity that she put together the few sticks of
rubbish which remained to them and helped her mother to rearrange these
things in a single room which they had taken on the other side of
Holloway Road. No more for them the delights of Hornsey Road and three
rooms; but the confined space surrounded by these four dingy walls. What
wonder that Sally was desperate for fresh air, for escape, and ran out
of doors as soon as she could wriggle free! What wonder that she walked
quickly about the dark streets! Tears came to her eyes, and with
clenched fists she secretly whimpered in this new angry despair. Of what
avail? She was alone, and the streets were dark; and behind her lay that
one room, gloomy and wretched, with a speechless ruminating mother for
solitary welcome; and no hope ... no hope.

The roads she now so wildly trod were familiar ground to Sally. They
were all gravelled roads, upon which in the evenings boys and girls
cycled and flirted, and in which on Saturdays and after school hours
children bowled their hoops and played together. As the darkness grew,
the roads were more deserted, for the children were in bed, and the boys
and girls were not allowed out. Then appeared young men and girls of
slightly greater age and of a different class, the girls walking two by
two, the young men likewise. The young men cleared their throats, the
girls peeped and a little raised their voices, a relation was
established, and still the pairs continued to promenade, safe in
couples, and relishing the thought that they were enjoying stolen
acquaintance. Sally knew the whole thing through and through. She had
walked so with May. She had tried to talk to the boys and found them
soppy, and herself soppy, and everything soppy. She had wanted more and
more excitement, and all this strolling and holding hands in the dark,
and snatching them away, and running, and being caught, was tame to her
eager longing for greater adventure. And now she walked rapidly about
the roads, her eyes full of despair, her heart heavy, her brain active
and contemptuous. She knew her own cleverness. She knew it too well. And
it was smarting now at being proved such an ignominiously valueless
possession. She might be clever, she might have brains enough to despise
May Pearcey; but she had not the power to make a living. She must still
pinch and starve beside her mother. Trapped! Trapped!

It was a matter of weeks, this mood of indignant despair, of baffled
powerlessness in face of reality. And each night, after such a lonely
walk, in such a vehement mood, Sally would return to the miserable room
in which for the present she was to spend her life. It was at the back
of the house, on the second floor, and there was another floor above.
The room had a stained ceiling and a wallpaper that had discoloured in
streaks. The original pattern had been of small flowers on a
pseudo-primrose background. Now all was merged in a general stagnation
of Cambridge blue and coffee colour. Mrs. Minto had carefully put the
washstand beneath a patch that had been washed nearly white by splashes;
and Sally had insisted that it should stand in another part of the room.
"But that's where a washstand's stood before," wailed Mrs. Minto.
"That's _why_," explained Sally, brutally. "Put the chest-of-drawers
there. _I_ don't want to splash exactly where other people have
splashed. Not likely! The place ought to have been papered new."

When their bed and the washstand and a table and the chairs and
chest-of-drawers were in there was not much to arrange. Nor was there
room for very much, because the bed took up about a quarter of the
space. The Mintos had no pictures. They thus anticipated the best modern
taste. But the consequence was that if Sally happened to be irritable
she saw the wallpaper, and the wallpaper drove her crazy. It was a
constant exasperation to her. Her extremely good taste was beginning to
bud, and wallpaper is as vital an æsthetic test as any other. She had
not yet the power or the knowledge to dress effectively, but she was
already learning intuitively such things as harmony and colour-values.
She gave an eye to neatness and cleanliness, and knew how to riddle the
costumes of girls of her own class, beginning with May Pearcey. She also
was becoming aware of all Miss Jubb's deficiencies. Higher than her own
class she could not well go, because she never had opportunities for
seeing well-dressed women. It was so much the Minto habit to rise late
on Sundays, to sit about during the afternoon, and to go out only when
other people were generally indoors, that Sundays were wasted days.
Moreover, Sally had not in the past thought much of other girls. She had
thought only of boys. Even her new spruceness was a comparatively recent
manifestation. She was growing.

She was growing so fast that her old knowledges had been undermined. She
felt raw. She felt merely exasperated with the past, so that she desired
only to forget it. All she had seemed to know and to relish had become
insipid to Sally. She was chafing at her new position, and was
unconsciously looking round and round her, bewildered, for a new path to
follow. She could no longer take the old silly pleasure in hearing of
May's fresh conquests, which gave May such monotonous delight. She
abandoned "boys," and was rewarded for her emancipation by May's
indignant sniffs at her loss of spirit. May was driven to take a new
comrade, a girl prettier than Sally, and therefore more of a rival. So
May was equally dissatisfied with the present position. She had lost
ground, and some of her victories were invented. Nellie Cavendish had a
sharp tongue, and that helped May; but Nellie was less coarsely
confident than May, and annexed the boys by means of her demureness in
face of double meanings. May could not refrain from turning away to hide
a burst of laughter. That gave Nellie an advantage, and May secretly
longed to hunt once more with Sally. When the old times could not be
recaptured, May sneered in self-defence. The two girls did not chatter
over their work now when they were left alone. They became hostile, each
aggrieved, and both mutually contemptuous. Sally kept to her stitching,
and glowered. May thought to herself. Sally abruptly announced the
soppiness of May's continued exploits. When asked by her mother if she
were not going out with May, Sally returned the cold answer that May was
soft, and continued to walk alone, much disturbed, and privately
indignant that her mother should be so blind as to ignore the alteration
that had come about. She was lonely and wretched, spoiling for any
mischief that might offer.

Material for the use of such desperation never lacks. It arose
naturally. Toby came into her life.

Toby was a young man of about twenty years of age, who lived in the
house. She caught sight of him one night as she returned home, for he
was running down the stairs as she went up them. He was of middle
height, very dark and rather stoutly built; and he wore a cap. That was
all she noticed at their first encounter, since the stairs were dark:
that, and the fact that he did not draw to one side as they met. The
contact filled her mind with sudden interest. She thought about him as
she munched her supper, and wondered what he was really like. She
wreathed around Toby quite a host of guesses--not very deep or vivid,
but sufficiently so to make her think of him still as she undressed and
slipped into bed beside her mother. Her last thought before sleep came
was a faint enjoyment of the knowledge that a young man lived in the
same house. It was the faintest of thoughts, due solely to her
restlessness; but in the gloom she was conscious of him and of the
conviction that they would meet again upon the stairs. For that time
this was as far as speculation could carry her. Sally did not think of
herself at all--only that there was a young man, and that she should see
him again. The rest of her attention was absorbed in the endeavour to
remember all she had noticed of his appearance in that hasty meeting.
She had seen enough to be sure of recognising him again with the house
as associative background. That was all. Knowing it, she feel asleep,
and dreamed of a sudden gift of beauty and attractiveness.


iv

For several days Sally did not see the young man, and so she half forgot
him, lost him in the mixture of her more pressing preoccupations. Every
morning she rose at eight o'clock, after her mother had left the house
for her first situation, and then, breakfasting slowly, she had just
time to reach Miss Jubb's by nine. She did not like Miss Jubb, who was a
thin-faced and fussy person who always wore a grey pinafore and felt
that her untidy grey hair looked as though it might hint a sorrow rather
than betray advancing years. Miss Jubb was full of the futile vanity of
the elderly spinster, her mouth full of pins, and her head full of paper
patterns. She lived with her mother on two floors of an old house, and
one of the downstairs rooms was used on Sundays for sitting in and
during the week for trying on. The work she did never suggested
anything of the enormous pains Miss Jubb took in fitting, in fastening
pins and cutting out. She was incurably a bad dressmaker; but she gave
her clients the impression that she knew her business. This was because
she was so careful, and because they knew no better than she did what
women may and may not wear with propriety. The backs of all skirts
coming from Miss Jubb drooped lower than the fronts. Her bodices always
went wrong upon the shoulders. She was great on tucks. But she was
cheap, and she was Sybil-like in her mysterious assurance. So she
supported herself and her mother; while May and Sally did the rough
basting and all sorts of odd jobs in the room behind the parlour. Here
were the big cutting-out table, the treadled sewing machine, three or
four chairs, many fragments of material, several half-made garments,
and, upon the walls, a number of coloured prints from fashion papers. In
such surroundings Sally spent her days. She ate her lunch at twelve
o'clock, and had her tea at four. And as her fingers worked, or her feet
occasionally by special permission propelled the sewing machine, she
thought of the future and planned to get into the West End.

It was the West End that now lured her. If only she could get into the
West End all her troubles would be wiped away at once, she felt. She
could possibly make more money there; but even if she did not succeed in
that aim she would still be in the running for better work. That she
could do better work she never doubted. And she knew that as long as she
was with Miss Jubb she would never do anything at all. Some instinct
told her that. She knew it. She knew it as clearly as if she had
surveyed the future from above. It was not that she was suddenly wise;
but only that ambition had come into her consciousness. The blow she had
received by her father's death had struck deep into her character. She
had now to make something of her life, or starve. With a quick circle of
thought she imagined her mother dead. What would happen then? What
chance had she? Only vaguely did Sally glimpse the possibilities. She
knew she could not keep herself. She had one aunt--her mother's
sister--with two boy children who were both younger than Sally; but Aunt
Emmy had a rough time herself, and could hardly be a help. Sally saw
clearly enough that she had to fight alone. Very well, if she had to
fight alone she would do it, and fight hard. As she scowled, it became
evident that Sally would in this fight unscrupulously use every weapon
that she could seize. She would not shrink from anything that put
opportunity into her head. She was already hardened--a kind of hardening
on the surface, or in strata, which left curious soft places in her
nature, streaks of good and layers and patches of armour and grit and
callous cruelty. Above all, she was determined upon having money. Money
was the essential thing. Money meant safety. And safety, when starvation
threatens, becomes the one imperious if ignominious ideal. Once one has
known physical hunger, no act is inconceivable as a means of averting
the risk of a similar experience.

Thus Sally's thoughts ran, not coherently or explicitly, but in vehement
revolts and resolves. Thus she ruminated, while Miss Jubb was out of the
room or had her attention so distracted that she could not observe an
idle apprentice. When Miss Jubb came back to the room or to supervision
work had a little to be hurried, so that she might not find occasion for
complaint. For Miss Jubb had a sharp tongue, and although she took the
pins out of her mouth before she talked she showed that they had left
their influence upon her tongue, which was sharp to a fault. And there,
across the room, was the rosy-cheeked May Pearcey, so silly, so
incapable of more than momentary resentment, that she was always
forgetting that Sally and she no longer spoke, but was always trying to
encourage Sally into a return to their former relation. Sometimes Sally
would glower across at May, bitterly hating her and riddling her
plumpness and folly with the keen eye of malice. May, unconscious of the
scrutiny, would go on with her work, self-satisfied, much coarser and
more physical in her appetites than Sally, still in spite of all the
rebuffs she had received grinning about her boys and what they had said
and what they had meant....

"Oo, he is awful!" she would burst out to Sally. "The things he said. I
dint half blush."

May had enjoyed his boldness, it seemed. She told Sally what he had
said. She told her things and things in the irresistible splurge of the
silly girl whose mind is full of adolescent impurity. Well, Sally knew
all that. She knew all the things that boys said; and a few more things
she had noticed and thought for herself. She was not a prude. May didn't
know anything that Sally did not know; but she talked about it. Sally
did not talk. Her sexual knowledges, so far as they went, were as close
and searching as a small-tooth comb, and collected as much that was
undesirable. She despised May. May was a fool. She was soppy, talking
about all these things as if they were new marvels, when they were as
old as the hills and as old as the crude coquetries of boys and girls.
May was the soppiest girl in Holloway. Yet the boys liked her for her
plump face and arms and legs, and her red cheeks, and her self-conscious
laugh, and her eyes that held guilt and evil and general silliness
and vanity. The boys liked May. They did not like Sally. She was too
small and sandy; too obviously critical and contemptuous in face of
their small stock of talk, and too greedy of their poor and
pompously-displayed schemes for economical entertainment. Sally's teeth
showed like the teeth of a cat, very small and sharp, emblems of her
nature. Conceit took firmer root in her heart because of her contempt
for May and her inevitable suppressions of pain and resentment in face
of neglect, as well as her suppressions of knowledge gained by a mental
process so quick that May could never have had the smallest notion of
it. Sally became secret, and her determination was made more emphatic.
She began to study her face, and her body. One day her mother found her
naked in front of a mirror, twisting herself so that she could see the
poise of her figure. It was a pretty figure, if underdeveloped, and from
that time of thorough examination onwards Sally never had the smallest
doubt of her own attractiveness and its principal constituents. Only her
face was wrong, she felt with bitter chagrin; her face and her hair. If
her face were fatter and less freckled, and if her hair were not so
sandy and pale, she would be pretty. Really pretty. Pretty enough to
make a man go silly. Well, such things could be cured, couldn't they?
Or, if not cured, then at least improved.... That was a notion that
dwelt constantly in Sally's thoughts.


v

The point was, that she must have actual experience in rousing men. It
was not that she had determined upon marriage as a way out of her
present difficulties. At the back of her mind, perhaps, was always the
knowledge that she must get a man to work for her; but this never became
an obsession. She was simply a growing girl, hungry for experience, and
at the outset hampered by circumstance. Unless something happened to
her, Sally was doomed to poverty and suffering. Therefore, full of raw
confidence, she was determined that she should be the heroine of her own
romance. Her impulse was not to give, but to take. She did not long to
be the loving help of a good man, but was ever craftily bent upon
exploiting the weaker sides of those she met for the furtherance of her
own ends.

It was several days before she met Toby again; but she waited with a
kind of patience wholly in keeping with the rest of her nature. She
always expected to meet him upon the stairs, and never did so. In the
streets she looked for him. Nights, however, were dark and Toby
apparently elusive. But one evening she was running down the three steps
at the front door just as he arrived home. With a quick breath she
ventured a "good evening." When he answered, she was filled with a
pleasure which she would have found it hard to explain. "Evening," said
Toby, surlily, and passed on. Sally gave a small grimace, a faint jerk
of the head. That was done. A few more days passed. Still in the
darkness she saw him a third time, now as she closed the door of the
room, while Toby hurried to the floor above. By questions, she had found
out that he lived exactly over them, and that his aunt had the room next
to his, in the front of the house. This aunt she never saw, as she was
very exclusive, and did not associate at all with her neighbours. Toby's
surname she could not learn; but his aunt was called Mrs. Tapping. The
aunt had an annuity. Toby worked somewhere in the neighbourhood; and
Sally soon discovered the time of his departure and return. She knew
these so well that she could have told you to the minute when his foot
might be expected upon the stairs. If he happened to be late she could
have remarked upon it to her mother if she had been in the habit of
telling her mother anything at all.

Later, when they had been in the house about three weeks, she had a
triumph. She was going out one evening and was barely down the first
two or three stairs when she heard him running behind her. He was forced
to pull up, and, from a peep, she saw that he was still half a flight
above. Their progress from that instant coincided. They reached the
front door almost at the same time. She left it open, and as Toby came
out she turned and smiled "good evening." He replied. Sally followed
with "Beautiful, isn't it!" and then went slowly towards Tollington
Park. Would he follow? She was almost breathless, her eyes downcast, her
ears strained. He did not follow. Sally frowned. A sneer came to her
lips. Then a pensiveness succeeded, and resolve became fixed. All right;
he did not follow. He was a man. All the more worthy of her address.

Moreover, she had noticed him more clearly than ever before, because the
gas in the hall had lighted his face as she turned upon the threshold.
He was strong, and she adored strength. He was broad and muscular and
dark. He had dark eyes under heavy brows. His age she supposed to be
about twenty or slightly above. As she recollected these details Sally's
face became inscrutable. All the same, her walk had lost its savour, and
she returned home earlier than usual. How miserable it was that she had
no other girl of her own age to go about with. Boys always went in twos.
So did girls. The one gave the other courage. Yet Sally was done with
May. May was soppy. She did not, in thinking this, do anything but envy
May; but all the same she knew that Toby's solitariness matched her own.
It was an augury. She lay awake until he came home, listening to her
mother breathing; and then, in a few minutes, heard eleven o'clock
strike.


vi

The next time this happened, and they met so definitely, Toby looked
sharply at her. Sally did nothing, but paused an instant. He followed
her with his eyes. Then, he stepped to her side. It was the moment and
Sally stopped sharply, shrinking a little from him.

"Going out alone?" Toby said. "Mind if I come too?" He walked beside
her. "I mean ... live in the same house."

Oh, he had plenty of assurance.

"All right; you can come," Sally vouchsafed. She was not going to show
eagerness; but she was thrilling with excitement. She moistened her
lips, her nostrils pinched and her eyes suddenly shrewd. She felt her
heart beating terribly in her breast, and was half the calculating
victor and half a genuinely shrinking young girl engaged in her first
serious exploit.

For a few moments both Toby and Sally were silent. Everything depended
upon the establishment of some instant connection between them, for
otherwise the nerve of both might fail, and a fiasco result. Toby's step
hesitated, as though he was beset by an impulse to leave her. Sally shot
a quick glance. He was wavering, and must be held.

"Nice night, isn't it?" she remarked, in a ladylike way.

The inclination to fly was checked. Toby remained by her side. They
walked together about the streets for an hour, he smoking cigarette
after cheap cigarette, and every now and then saying something that was
nothing. He was not a good talker. He could not express himself, but
said "er" between words, and moved his hands. Partly it was nervousness.
Sally often grinned at knowledge of this and of his bad way of speaking,
which made him sometimes appear almost loutish. But behind every
roughness there lay a hidden strength that she was ready to worship. She
walked beside him with steps quicker than his own, but a good swing;
exulting in their power to walk in unison, a thin little figure beside
his stoutness, her large black straw hat hiding her every expression
except when she tilted up her head and in the light of a street lamp
showed a tiny white face. Toby slouched along, one hand sometimes in a
trouser pocket, but more often with both hands in restless motion. She
could hear him: "I mean to say ... these yobs go about ... penn'orth of
chocolates and a drink at the fountain. That's all the dinner they get.
Wear a tiddy little bowler hat and never brush their boots.... Office
boys, they are; and call 'emselves junior clurks. And what's it come to?
I mean to say.... I'd rather work with my hands, like a man.... What's
the matter with a little dirt? Comes off, doesn't it?"

"Oo ... yes ..." sighed Sally, admiringly.

At last, pursuing this theme, Toby told her an anecdote about one of the
other fellows at his work. Sally listened with a breathless interest
that was only half-feigned. She wanted him to think she understood. She
wanted him to like her. She even wanted to sympathise. It was such a
mixture of feelings she had--some good, some mischievous and deliberate.
All her vanities were involved. Her nerves were taut with the strain of
such a show of absorption, while her mind ran on at top speed. She asked
pseudo-timid questions, just to show her interest and her cleverness,
and to encourage Toby to keep on telling her things that threw light
upon himself and his likes and dislikes. She walked delicately, stifled
yawns, interjected "fancy" and "there" as if she understood all he said.
She beguiled him. And all the time, under the design, her heart was
soft towards him, soft and admiring.

They walked along the darkened streets at a slow pace, and the passers
were few. Once or twice they encountered hushed couples, sometimes
laughing groups. Always Sally glanced stealthily, and summed up those
whom they saw; and had a tail glance for Toby. He appeared to ignore
everything, and slouched along at her side, as he must have done when
alone, with his head lowered. She could not make him out. In some ways
he was so self-confident, in others so much as though he had never
looked at a girl before. Did he know girls? Did he know what they were
like? What a mystery--a delicious mystery! He wasn't soppy, yet he
hardly looked at her. Funny ... funny! So she mused; continuing to give
his talk quite half her attention.

At last ten o'clock struck, and, although both wanted to stay out
longer, Sally was prudent and firm. She said "mother would wonder what
had happened," and laughed a little in her excitement, at the innuendo,
and in encouraging flattery. "_Must_ go," she added, lingering. So Toby
took her back to the corner of their road, it being a strict unspoken
covenant that they should not enter the house together, in case they
should be seen. There was no handshake; but Sally had the satisfaction
of seeing Toby awkwardly move the peak of his cap in parting. That was
ever so good, she thought. Her hard scrutiny of his manner found as yet
no cause for suspicion, but only for a renewal of her curiosity
concerning him. Toby showed no sign of any feeling beyond satisfaction
with her, and this was an irresistible flattery. She ran in, full of
excitement.


vii

What was the truth about him? Sally's thoughts bit into her observation
with intense gusto. She turned and twisted all her impressions during a
couple of wakeful hours; and she remained full of glee. What a piece of
luck. Toby! Toby, Toby, Toby! How quickly her mind worked! It was like
acid, testing and comparing; and yet its action was soft and caressing
when she remembered his figure and his voice--some of the little
gestures, some turns of speech, his sturdy contempt for what he called
"yobs," which she discovered to be the word "boys" spelt in an
unfamiliar way. Those were the things she loved. The rest she had
exploited. The mixture of pleasure and tactics filled her with delicious
dread and hunger.

When the following evening came, Sally deliberately waited until she
heard Toby go out. Only after a delay of five minutes did she put on her
hat and coat in opposition to her mother's command. What was mother?
There was a faint flush on Sally's cheeks, and a new sparkle in her
eyes. She was engaged upon an adventure. She dallied as she went down
the stairs. At the door she checked herself once more. What if he were
not there? To herself she said that she would not mind; but that was a
lie which she told to her wits. Her heart gave a different message.

How dark it was! At first Sally could see nothing. The moon, if there
was one, hid itself behind black clouds. Only specks of light came from
street lamps and between the slats of Venetian blinds. A wind hustled
about, blowing up for rain, and uncomfortably draughty. As Sally stood
on the step the door slammed behind her, and she heard a rattling run
all through the house, a banging of other doors and trembling of
window-panes. And then, as she lowered her head to meet the dusty
breeze, she felt Toby beside her, at her elbow, expectant. Sally gave a
start and a cry, for he had been so silent in the midst of all these
alarms as to come unexpectedly.

"How you startled me!" she exclaimed coquettishly. "Thought you'd gone
out _long_ ago!"

Toby gave a sort of half-confused laughing grunt.

"Hours ago I went out," he said, very close to her, deliciously bold.

"Didn't think you'd remember.... I didn't _say_ I'd come.... Have you
been waiting?" Sally sounded very nearly affected in her unplanned
speech. Toby answered with a sort of off-hand nonchalance.

"Only a minute. That's all right. I was afraid you weren't coming."
Afraid! What a lovely word! He continued, with his hand quickly at her
elbow: "Shall we go round Fairmead?"

When he spoke as he was doing now, Toby's rough voice dropped to a low
note that he believed to be gentle. It was in fact still vibrant; but
Sally liked everything about his tone and his manner. It made her feel
that he was a man; and manliness was everything to her. She longed while
she was with him to meet May ... to show her.... It would have given
Sally fierce joy. For the rest, she was content. He was by her side.
Their arms touched from time to time. When the wind blew extra strong,
she clutched him, and they stood together to resist the onset. And at
every touch Sally had fresh sense of strength and adventure.

"What you been doing to-day?" she asked, as talk flagged. He told her.
He told her a great deal more about himself, and about his aunt. He had
had the most marvellous adventures. Sally could not believe them all;
but she was charmed by the narrative. Toby talked more freely. He
hesitated less, and was more confident. Sally felt sure he must have
known other girls. You didn't talk like that if you were new to it. She
was again curious. Once she almost blurted out the question; but she
stayed the words in time. It would have been a mistake to ask anything
at this stage. It would have seemed possessive. It might have alarmed
him. Anyway, she thought, if he _has_, what does that matter? To her it
was an added pleasure, that he _might_ be wise and experienced. It was a
greater flattery; it called for greater resource in herself.

Once, when they had stopped and Sally had stood close to him so that he
might light a fresh cigarette under the shelter of her body, Toby blew
forth a puff of smoke and put his arm round her. Very coolly did Sally
free herself, perfectly mistress of the situation; but she liked him the
better for his boldness. It was the sort of thing she had dreamed--a
lover who was ardent, a lover who had to be repelled, so that the
delight of ultimate surrender should be fully savoured. Was he a lover?
Sally shivered. The attempt and the rebuff made them more intimate, as
though an understanding had been reached between them. They walked along
elbow to elbow, at first silent, and then talking freely, both in
good-humor and with continued interest. In the safe darkness Sally's
eyes glistened. The very faintest smile made her mouth enigmatic.
Already she carried herself with fresh assurance. She was conscious of
her power, and altogether resolved to maintain it by prudence.


viii

All this time Toby had never seen Sally in daylight. He had seen her in
a glimpse under the flickering hall gas, and again from time to time in
the shine of street lamps; but he had never once been with her in
daylight. She herself was conscious of this, at first accidental, but
now deliberate, mystification; and she dreaded the disclosure that was
bound to come. It was not, she knew, that she was ugly; but only that to
a man like Toby her small face and sandy hair might mark her down and
ruin everything. She feared to notice a change in him, a change from
their present and increasingly confidential relation to an indifference,
a contempt, which she might find unbearable. The feeling was acute. It
was not solely due to dependence upon Toby, but was a part of her
long-suffered self-disparagement and a fear, almost fatalistic, that she
could never keep a man's interest. The fear grew more intense as she
fell into the bitter-sweets of a lover's doubtings. The day must come,
and then what would happen? She longed to twine herself into his life
before he could see her clearly. Perhaps then he would not notice?
Perhaps even now he knew, and did not mind?

That was one mood. Another was a recognition of her own piquancy. In
this stronger mood, she concentrated upon her own prettiness, the
slimness of her body, her power to please him. But the confidence did
not last, because he had become a necessity to her. Having
half-determined to snare him, Sally was herself snared by the gins of
love. She was hard, but she was soft. She was cold, but she was warm.
And as each day she used the sewing machine or roughly stitched the raw
material for Miss Jubb's costumes, Sally always looked to the nights.
When it rained, and she had to stay indoors, she chafed irritably and
went early to bed. When she met Toby she was full of unwonted high
spirits. For a long time she did not know what had happened to her. Then
at last the truth flashed out one morning as she lay in bed, and with a
little laughing sound Sally knew that she was in love.

She was in love. And Toby, how did he feel? A new stage had been
reached, when her caution was directed to an altogether different end.
She did not now seek so coolly to play with his inclinations. She had
great need for care lest she should betray her own secret. The
occasional contacts with him had become an eager need, and must be
checked so as to make them appear as accidental as they were deliberate.
Sally was not withholding from coquetry, but from dread lest she should
give herself away and show herself over-willing. She noticed everything
he did, without watchful scrutiny, and with the merest quickness of her
caressing glance. She loved everything in him, his speech and his
movements, his strength, his stubbornness, his rough carriage and
silence. She loved him. She feared him. She did not dare to risk losing
him. Above all, she longed to be in Toby's arms, to be desired by him.

Once, when she was examining her face in the mirror, and trying to
imagine just how pretty Toby might be made to think her, Sally lost her
nerve. She was tearful all that day, tearful and speechless, so that a
rebuke from Miss Jubb brought about a real fit of crying. Miss Jubb,
astounded at such a collapse, instantly abandoned blame and showed true
kindness of heart, while May Pearcey looked on with round saucer eyes
above her round apple cheeks. And Sally went home early, ashamed of
herself, once more irritable to viciousness, and spent the time before
her mother's return lying upon the bed and trying to sleep. There was no
walk that night. Toby went out as usual, and even ventured a whistle
when she did not come; but Sally remained indoors. She did not, indeed,
hear the whistle, as she was at the back of the house; but she knew he
was waiting. She dared not go. In half an hour she heard Toby return,
and go tramping indignantly up to his room directly above. The sound
made her cry more than ever, but very quietly, in case her mother should
hear and awaken.

The next night was even more wretched, for Toby went out and was nowhere
to be seen when Sally followed him. She walked fruitlessly in the
directions they had taken upon previous evenings, and came back
disconsolate and exhausted. Pale and ill, Sally could not sleep. She had
been living poorly, and her spirit was low. The future was dismal. Toby
must have thrown her over. It was in vain that her wits consoled her
with the certainty that he must have missed her, that a boy who did not
care about her would never have shown such surly pique as his. So great
had her love become that she could not listen to such reassurance. Only
the worst was convincing enough for her misery. He was gone. He was done
with her. She had lost him. No wonder then when she was alone Sally's
eyes filled with weak tears.

Fortunately enough the next day was a Saturday, and she was able to go
alone up to Waterlow Park, on Highgate Hill. She walked up the Holloway
Road alone, and saw the autumn sun flashing upon the cross which stands
erect above St. Joseph's dome. The air was already murky with the
heaviness of the season. Leaves lay upon the ground and in the pathways.
The cable-cars grunted and groaned upon the hill, and the Park looked
bleak in the daylight. But the exercise did Sally good, and she saw
other people, and watched some children playing touch until the Park
bell rang to show that the gates were going to be closed. Even then she
lingered, watching the moving figures and noticing the greenness of the
grass under the shrivelling leaves.

From that walk she returned more healthy and in better spirits. She
determined to go out marketing with her mother in the evening, and
walked back past the flaring lamps, at which women were already
crowding, with her head in the air and her courage high. She almost
forgot Toby while she was bathed in this flustering brilliance of light
and noise. Only far below, in her heart, continued that inexhaustible
consciousness of her love. Even in this temporary oblivion she shivered
as she came to the darker part of the road.

Sally was once again among shops; and then she went down a side road.
And her heart was beating rather fast as she approached the house, in
case Toby should meet her. It was with a mingled relief and chagrin that
she reached the house alone. She was inside the door now, and the woman
on the ground floor was just standing on a chair to light the gas. Sally
had to wait for a minute until she plunged heavily down and dragged the
chair aside.

"Oh," said the woman. "There's a letter for you. It's just come. This
minute."

It was not often that Sally had a letter. Had Toby written to her? She
pounced upon the envelope. Fancy his doing that! Oh, no. It was only
from Aunt Emmy, at Brixton. Well, perhaps Aunt Emmy knew somebody in the
West End. What could she have written about?

"Is mother in, d'you know?" Sally asked the woman.

"I _fancy_ ... yes, I _fancy_ she just went out. Shoppin', I expect.
It's a nice evening. You know, what I call crisp. Not that sort of muggy
... ugh...." She gave a great shudder, as the man in the fairy tale did
when his wife poured gudgeon upon him while he slept.

Sally, threatened with a lengthy conversation, made for the stairs. She
reached their room, which was lighted; and so she knew that her mother
would not be long. A kettle was singing on a small fire of coal blocks,
and the teapot was laid to warm. Sally looked round the room, guessed
that her mother had gone out for tea or sugar, and tore open her letter.
In ugly crude writing she read the kind words Aunt Emmy had sent.

     "Dear Sally. How are you and your mother? She takes no notice when
     I write to her, so perhaps I'd better start writing to you. Such
     news I've got. I've won thirty-five pounds in a competition. I
     don't know how I did it any more than you do. Anyway, Sally, I
     don't want to forget my little niece, and so here's a little
     something for you. I'm giving the boys some, and buying a new
     dress, and then I'm going to bank the rest against a rainy day.
     Waste not, want not, you know. Don't tell mummy I've sent you
     anything, but spend it on yourself, love. Get a bit of something
     nice. Your affectionate Aunt Emmy."

Enclosed was a postal-order for a pound. Sally's heart seemed to stop
beating for an instant. She looked again at the postal-order, and with a
sharp movement put it inside her blouse. Then she put the letter in the
fire, and watched it flame and blacken and flick to pieces in the
draught. Slowly, thinking with all her might, she took off her
out-of-doors jacket and hung it up. A pound! She was rich! With a pound
you could do a lot. You could ... you could buy material for a frock.
You could buy underclothes, stockings, shoes. Not all of them, but what
you wanted. Or you could buy a hat and sweets and scent and ... oh, lots
of things! A whole pound to spend! Slowly, slowly came Sally's mind
round to something from which it instantly darted away. It crept back
again. It seized upon her will. With a pound you could ... you could
make your hair look nice and your face....

After the resolve, Sally was quite cool. She turned to greet her mother
with entire self-possession. But her ears were strained, because
overhead she heard a heavy footstep.


ix

The thing determined, Sally was faced with a great difficulty. She did
not know how to do things. She had to find out. You couldn't make a fool
of yourself and ask at a shop. She had talked to May once or twice about
... making your hair look nice ... well, dyeing it, if you wanted to
know; and May could only show her advertisements clipped from the Sunday
paper. She had not kept those advertisements: she had not liked the look
of them. Mother wouldn't know. She must do it at once. A bold plan had
come into her mind. She was near the end of her second year with Miss
Jubb. She could go into the West End if only she looked nice enough. If
she could do it to-night or to-morrow she could meet May Pearcey first
thing on Monday morning, get her to tell Miss Jubb Sally was ill, and
perhaps go after some situation during the day. What a game! But how was
she to get the stuff? That was the difficulty. No, it was the easiest
thing of all. Mrs. Perce! Mrs. Perce used peroxide, because she had once
been a barmaid. But that meant a long time. Sally must have something
quick in its action. Mrs. Perce would know. Mrs. Perce knew everything
of that kind. The notion of going shopping with her mother was
abandoned. She had more important things to do. She would go and see
Mrs. Perce immediately after tea. Then, while old Perce was playing the
piano, she would get to know everything. Sally became wildly animated.
She glimpsed the future. Transformed, she would conquer. Toby would be
won. She would be in the West End. A whole new vista opened before her,
glittering with promise. Never had she been so excited, even when Toby
first spoke to her.

Mrs. Minto wearily threw off her dingy cloak and raked the fire, so that
the kettle began to boil. She looked in a lethargic way at Sally, as a
cat looks at a stranger in whom it is not at all interested; and then
mechanically took down the tea-caddy from the mantelpiece. As she
stooped over the kettle there seemed to be cramp in all her limbs. The
little bell-pull of hair was smaller than ever, and the hair itself was
more grey. Her whole bearing expressed a lifeless dejection. Panting
faintly as the result of her late posture, Mrs. Minto brought the teapot
to the spotless table, and clumsily touched the teacups and spoons so
that they jarred upon Sally's nerves. Everything her mother did now
annoyed Sally. The slow motions, the awkward way in which her fingers
turned to thumbs, the shortsightedness that made her unable to thread a
needle or read a paper except through an old magnifying glass, the
general air of debility and discouragement. Sally felt furious with her
all the time--"Old fool ... old fool!" she would frantically murmur to
herself; and then would fall again into despair at her own sensation of
frustrate youth. She had lost love for her mother, had no pity to give
in its place; and only awoke in these moments of dreadful exasperation
to the sense that she was still dependent upon Mrs. Minto for her
existence. During this tea-time, while her mother mutely ate bread and
margarine, Sally was away in the clouds, dreaming of all that her
windfall was to produce. It was to produce beauty, opportunity,
happiness. So much for a pound to do! Sally was so impatient to call on
Mrs. Perce that she could hardly eat anything or drink her tea.

"You _are_ worritting and fidgetting, Sally," cried Mrs. Minto,
peevishly. "Sit still, there's a good girl. I don't know what's come to
my 'ead. It feels all funny inside, and if I put my hand there it's like
I got a bruise. And yet I don't remember knockin' myself anywheres, and
I can't understand it at all, because it's not as if I'd taken anything
to disagree with me; and yet there it is, a nasty pain all inside my
'ead and a feeling as though I'd got a bruise on the outside. I was
telling Mrs. ... oh, dear, what is her name?... Mrs. ... Roberson about
it, and she said that's what her 'usband used to suffer from, and ...
_he_ took...."

Sally ignored the rest of the speech. Her mother rambled on; and Sally
looked at the clock. She'd get to Hornsey Road about six. That would be
time enough. There would be the Clancy kids playing in the doorway, so
she would go straight upstairs to Mrs. Perce; and she would say....

Self-absorbed, both went mechanically on with the unappetising meal.
Upstairs Toby walked once more into his own room; and then came running
heavily down the stairs and past their door and then right down to the
street. Sally's heart was in a flutter, and her eyes flew once again to
the clock. It was so early for Toby to be going out. She would not see
him, then. She would not see him, and all her excitement was gone like
an exploded toy balloon. The heart was taken out of her enterprise. He
was going out: he did not want her: he was finished with her. Sally
could not repress the single sob that rose to her lips.

"... so I asked Mr. Flack if they'd ever kep' it, and he said no, they
never had, and told me to try at Boots's, down by the Nag's Head...."

"Oh, _mother_," cried Sally, beside herself. "Do shut up about your
head. It gives me the hump." Then, as she became aware of what she had
said, she defensively proceeded. "Well, you keep on talking about it,
and it doesn't do any _good_ to talk about it. If you want to know, I'm
ill myself. I've got a headache, and I've got the rats...."

"You got no call to speak to your mother that way," said Mrs. Minto. "If
I'd a spoke to _my_ mother like that, I should have got the strap. So
mind that, Sally. It's not nice. I've noticed you getting very
unmannerly and out of hand lately. Very rude. I don't know what to do
with you, you're so rude. It's not right, and it worries me so that I
can't think what I'm doing. I was talking about it the other day to Mrs.
Roberson, and _she_ says...."

"Yes, ma," said Sally, rising, and going to the door to take her hat
down from the peg. "She seems to have got a lot to say. Doesn't seem to
be much sense in what she says."

"Now, you're not to...." By this time Sally had one sleeve on and was
feeling for the other. In a glance at her little peaked determined face,
and obstinate mouth, Mrs. Minto's spirit suddenly failed. Where she had
meant to be maternally peremptory she became querulous. "Wherever you
going now?" she asked weakly. "Oh, you _are_ a naughty wilful girl."

"Out," said Sally, bluntly. Unheeding the outcry that followed, she was
out of the door and down the stairs before her mother could check her;
and with a new ugly sense of revolt was on her way to see Mrs. Perce in
a mood of reckless despair. Left alone, Mrs. Minto washed feebly up, and
sighingly dried the cups and plates and rearranged them in the cupboard.
Presently she sat in a limp curve over the fire, in a kind of stupor,
dreaming of she knew not what. Every now and then she would give a jerk
in anger at Sally's rudeness and recently uncontrollable highhandedness,
which recurred to her attention whenever her thoughts touched reality.
For the rest she sat motionless, until the coal-blocks subsided and the
fire went black.


x

Out in the dark streets, Sally was as if enveloped. First she looked
this way and that for Toby; but he was gone. A wave of hysteria passed
over her. She hated him. She hated him for such loutish cruelty. He
didn't care. And because he did not care, although she tried to feel
indifferent, she loved him the more. Blindly she walked away from the
house, and heard the trams grinding, and the rattle of carts over the
rough paving. Holloway Road at this point is at its worst--dull and
ugly, with an air of third-rate respectable indigence. She crossed the
road, and passed into a squalid thoroughfare called Grove Road, and
marched past the ugly houses with her head in the air, pretending that
she had no interest whatever in Toby. All her thoughts were busy
inventing indifference; and her consciousness was at each turn confusing
and contradicting her thoughts. If solitude had been possible to her,
Sally would have cried; but as a rule she cried very little, both
because she was rarely alone and because she was not naturally
hysterical. Fighting, therefore, against what she felt to be weakness,
she proceeded on her way, trying to laugh at rival butchers shouting
insults and challenges across the street. At the post office near her
old home she changed her open postal-order, and was given a
half-sovereign and ten shillings-worth of silver. This money she
carefully put, in paper, inside her blouse. She was then ready for her
interview.

At the old address new tenants already occupied the first floor flat,
and Mr. Clancy stood at the gate smoking his pipe. The man who lived in
the ground floor flat next door still showed his glass-covered sign "Why
Pay Rent?" Children littered the few inches of asphalt which served as
front garden to the two houses. Seeing Sally, Mr. Clancy took his pipe
out of his mouth, spat, and nodded at her in a friendly way.

"Hello, Sally. Keepin' well? Look fine."

"I've come to see Mrs. Perce-- Mrs. Barrow, you know."

Mr. Clancy jerked his head, receptive of the news, and as Sally passed
him continued to smoke and to regard the traffic. He must have been
bitterly cold, she thought; but she knew he must be standing outside
either because Mrs. Clancy was out or because she was in. The stairs
were just as steep as of old, and as dark. Sally had absolutely no
memory of her father's fall. She was merely curious about the new people
in the flat. But she did not see them, for all the doors were closed,
and she kicked her feet against the stairs, stumbling a little in the
darkness.

At her further progress a door flew open above, and Mrs. Perce looked
out.

"Sally! Well I never!" she ejaculated. "Perce! Here's Sally come to see
you!" Perce's reply did not reach Sally, but there was an exchanged kiss
with Mrs. Perce, and then her coat and hat were off and she was
conscious of overpowering warmth and kippers and a general sizzle of
comfort and plenty. "Had your tea?" demanded Mrs. Perce. "Have another.
Come on. Plenty of kippers. Perce! Sally's eating your kippers!"

Perce appeared, rubbing the back of his neck with a towel--a large fair
red-faced man with a broad grin. He put his hand on Sally's shoulder,
and shook her. Then he went out of the room again, and Sally began
almost immediately upon the feast. It was such a jolly, cosy, close
room, so bright and gaudy in its decoration, that it was Sally's idea of
what a kitchen should be. The walls were a varnished brown, so that they
shone in the lamplight. Polished candlesticks stood by a shiny clock on
the mantelpiece. There were bright pictures and a brilliant lamp and a
glittering tablecloth covered with polished dishes and silver. She had a
great admiration for old Perce and Mrs. Perce. They both loved comfort
and food and drink, and both had hearty laughs that showed all their
teeth. Both had shrewd, glistening, money-engrossed eyes; both were
large and stout and cheerful and noisy. To anybody as young as Sally
noise goes a long way towards cheeriness, because it deadens thought. So
when old Perce came and took his place at the table she suddenly threw
off her despair with the volatility of childhood, and laughed aloud and
ate and drank, and made sly remarks, until she became an altogether
different Sally from the one who had taken an earlier tea with her
mother. She was now in high spirits. All sorts of funny things came into
her head--things she had seen and thought since their last meeting; and
when she repeated them the Barrows laughed in great roars that filled
her with conceited exultation. It was so long since she had laughed. It
was so long since she had fed properly. This was like a dream, a riotous
dream of noise and colour. She looked from old Perce's red face to Mrs.
Perce's almost equally florid cheeks, her eyes travelling like
dragon-flies, as bright and eager as possible.

And all the time she was taking in Mrs. Perce's appearance. Mrs. Perce
wore a black silk dress, very plain, but well-cut. She had a gold
brooch at her throat, and a thin gold chain round her neck. Her hair was
abundant, and was dressed in a great blob upon the top of her head. It
was a noticeable colour, fair and startling. She did not decorate her
eyebrows and eyelashes, which were darker than her hair. And she wore
high corsets, because her bosom, although firm, was inclined to be
over-flowing. The bodice of her dress fitted closely and emphasised what
was still a very shapely figure. She was what would be called a fine
woman. Her eyes were full and clear; her lips were well-moulded; her
teeth, rather protruding, were unimpaired. Sally was filled with renewed
envy of her personal advantages. Then her eyes went back to Mrs. Perce's
hair. It was too obviously doctored. She didn't want anything like that.
She wanted something more delicate....

The truth flashed upon her. Mrs. Perce was a trifle on the coarse side.
Sally quickly compared Mrs. Perce's plump hands with her own lean ones.
At the scrutiny, she put her hands below the table, for they were not
clean. But if they had been clean she would have taken pride in them;
for where the fingers of Mrs. Perce were stubby her own were slim and
pretty. She understood her own shortcomings, but in the quick
observations and comparisons she had been making, Sally had learnt a
great deal more clearly than ever before how careful she must be to
avoid exaggeration in all she did. Dressed and adorned as Mrs. Perce was
dressed and adorned, she would have looked a guy. It was a new lesson to
her, and a valuable one.

"Have you noticed," said Mrs. Perce, "how me and Perce's dressed up
to-day?"

Sally was staggered. She looked quickly at old Perce and saw that he was
in his best clothes, with a lovely new spotted blue and white tie, and
a dahlia in his buttonhole.

"Of course," she said. "I noticed everything. Didn't like to ask. What
is it? Is it your birthday? Wish I'd known," she added, half-truthfully.
"I'd a brought you a present."

"No," laughed Mrs. Perce. "Very good guess. Not a birthday. It's the
anniversary of our wedding-day. Been married nine years, we have."

"Nine years!" echoed Sally, awestruck. "Nine years! And you haven't had
a baby yet!"

There was a startling guffaw. Old Perce slapped his leg and bayed. Mrs.
Perce threw herself back in her chair, showing every brilliant tooth.
The noise was tremendous.

"The things she says!" shrieked Mrs. Perce. "Perce, I always said that
child was a caution!" They both laughed until they were in an extremity
of mirth.

Sally recognised herself as a wit, flushed, and laughed as heartily as
they. She had spoken incautiously, as a child, and without
sophistication. But she accepted responsibility for her joke. She was
not in the least flurried, but was pleased at being considered an adept
in the ways of marriage. At heart she was despising herself for not
having been more truly observant of their clothes, because in reality
she had been so concentrated upon Mrs. Perce that she had never thought
to spare an eye for Mrs. Perce's husband. She was thankful to have
ridden off so easily upon her naïveté. Meanwhile, having laughed amply,
the Barrows had resumed their tea.

"Nine years, eh!" said old Perce, reflectively. "Takes some believing,
Poll. Nine years. Nine years, and no baby, eh!" He shook his head, like
a cat sneezing, and laughed again. "Here, Sally. Have some more kipper.
More tea, then. Poll, here's a lady will have some more tea, if you
please, ma'am. Sweet enough, Sally? As before, if you please, Poll."

"See, where was you then, Perce?" asked Mrs. Perce. "Nine years ago."

"This time nine years ago----" murmured old Perce, reflectively. "I was
at Potter's. Yes, Sally, I waddn't makin' above two pound a week when I
got married--if that. Two pound a week was about my top-notch in those
days. Well, it's different now." He shrugged his shoulders. "And I'll
tell you for why, Sally. It was Poll, there. Don't you forget it. If a
man's got a good wife--say there's something in him--he'll end his days
in comfort. _She'll_ see to that. Now, the man you marry----"

"Here, Perce! Steady on!" cried Mrs. Perce. "Sally's not seventeen yet,
remember."

"Wait!" Old Perce directed a finger. Sally was brimming with gladness,
at the topic and the confidence in herself which she saw he was going to
express. "The man you marry, Sally--he'll have to _be_ a man. Understan'
what I mean? None of these fine la-di-da fellows, but a Man. And--if he
works, you save. Not to scrape, you understand. Just save. For the first
five years, be careful. Have your fun. No harm in that. But be careful.
No kids. No swank. Stability, that's what's wanted. Stability. If you've
got a bit of money behind you---- See what I mean?"

"Oo yes, Mr. Barrow," said Sally, incoherent with pride. "That's just
what I think."

Old Perce looked at Mrs. Perce, raising his shoulders as if to exhibit
Sally to her. There was a nod between them. For some time all became
rather thoughtful, perhaps thinking--as she was uncontrollably doing--of
Sally's future. Old Perce took out his pipe at last.

"I'm just going to step in the other room, Sally," he remarked, "and
have a pipe and a bit of a tune. I'll see you later--you ladies," he
added gallantly, with a bow. And then he withdrew, leaving them alone,
with Sally's cheeks flushed at the warmth and the subject they had been
considering. All the time old Perce had been talking she had been
wishing that Toby had been there to hear. Then he'd have seen what these
people thought of her. They didn't think of her face; they didn't go off
in a huff because she had been too ill to go out one evening. They
knew.... Tears filled her eyes. She stared at the red fire in the grate.
Mrs. Perce had her back turned, filling the kettle for the inevitable
washing-up, and so she did not see this sudden arrival of tragic
reflection. All she saw was a willing Sally gathering the dishes and
scraping the fishbones together ready for throwing behind the fire. How
was Mrs. Perce to visualise that other tea, that lonely figure in the
other room? How was anybody to understand why Sally was so different
from what she had been at home?

Over the washing-up, the two became confidential. Sally broached the
subject of the West End. She dilated upon it. Mrs. Perce was all
sympathy, and full of agreement.

"You're quite right," she said. "And I'm glad. I wish I could help you.
Now, can I?" She thought a moment. "Wait a bit. Wait a bit."

She went out of the room. Amid the din of "There you are, there you are,
there you ain't--ain't--ain't," Sally heard her call: "Perce, what's the
name Maggie Merrick calls herself now?" There was a silence. The door of
the other room was closed. Sally, standing by the kitchen table, drying
a plate, strained her ears unavailingly. A silence was upon the flat.
Only the fire huskily caved in, and little darting sparks flew into the
air. It was as though her life hung suspended. Then, in a few minutes,
Mrs. Perce returned, a triumphant beam upon her face. "You go and see
Maggie on Monday," she said. "I'll write her a letter. She calls herself
Gala--Madame Gala. Got a place round behind Regent Street, and about
twenty hands. She's a very old friend of mine.... I'll give you a letter
to-night. Just say you come from Polly Barrow. She'll see you. Course, I
can't be sure...."

"No, no!" Sally's concurrence was eager. Her heart was like a flame.
"You _are_ kind to me, Mrs. Perce."

"If I can help you, Sally...." Mrs. Perce's voice took on a tone of
kindness almost solemn. "Well, that's all right. Just wait till these
things are washed."

Trembling, Sally introduced her other problem. At first Mrs. Perce gave
a great laugh, and looked very sharply at Sally. She looked at her
dress, at her face, at her hair.

"I don't want to look...."

"It wouldn't help you to look made-up. Not with Maggie. So there _is_ a
boy!"

"No!" Sally's tone was fierce.

"Oh, all right." Mrs. Perce was evidently not altogether convinced. She
dried her hands, her head consideringly upon one side.

"Who'd look at me?" There was a vain effort in this speech to
corroborate the disclaimer; but there was also an ingenuous and pathetic
appeal for some sort of reassurance, for this was Sally's hidden fear.

"Don't be a fool, Sally. If a girl makes up her mind to have a man...."

Sally's heart leapt. She looked with shining eyes of glory at Mrs.
Perce. It was the announcement of her dream, a confirmation of her hope.
She was for a moment ecstatic.

"Oh, Mrs. Perce!"

"You just look at him like that, my dear. Well, I'll tell you.... You
don't want to look _too_ fresh. Don't use peroxide. Henna's the stuff
for you."

"Henna! How much?" Sally was desperate. The word was open sesame to her.

"Wait a bit. I'll think. Henna. And a face cream. But mind, Sally, be
careful. Not too much of it. And whatever you do, remember your neck.
_You_ don't see it; but others do. All that's above your dress. And a
bit below. Some people are inquisitive. And just a bit of lip
salve--just a tinge. See, your lips aren't red enough. But you've got to
be on the watch not to overdo it. No good looking like a tart."

"No. It's just the hair and the freckles," breathed Sally.

"Oh, well.... We'll make a picture of you. And the eyebrows, Sally. But
only a bit, Sally. Only a bit. You've got to be moderate...."

Mrs. Perce went off into a delighted silence. She was in her element.
She had before her a great opportunity, and all her vanity was roused.
They understood one another. And for all Sally's disclaimer Mrs. Perce
was in no way deceived about her ultimate object. She was as aware of
Toby as if she knew the facts. But she was too shrewd to force a
confidence. To herself she was laughing with the full enjoyment which
some women, if not most of them, bring to the contemplation of an
intrigue and its ultimate consequences. Later, she resolved to add a
word of warning upon the handling of that subject. But more thought
encouraged her to be silent. There was that in Sally's bearing which
gave Mrs. Perce to understand that in the long run Sally knew what she
was about. Mrs. Perce was conscious of a smart feeling of admiration for
this child.


xi

Clasping tightly the precious henna and her other purchases, Sally
hurried home through the dark streets. Within her blouse was the letter
to Madame Gala. Her head was full of her plans, her delighted
anticipations of victory. For this moment she could not contemplate the
possibility that all would not go well. She was intoxicated. Her heart
was swelling. Thoughts galloped away, like steam from a boiling kettle.
She kept no memory of them. It was enough for her that she was thrilled
with her own prospects. Of course Mrs. Perce's friend would take her on.
Of course Toby would fall in love with her. She could make him. Once let
her achieve her immediate objects, and there was no end to future
possibilities. How strange, how wonderful, the difference which the last
few hours had made to her! It really seemed true for once that in the
darkest hour dawn was most nearly at hand. She let herself into the
house and crept up the stairs, subdued but exultant. It would now have
taken much more than the coldness and darkness of the horrible room to
spoil her excited happiness. She even welcomed them, because if her
mother awoke there would be the less need for explanations. She stood a
candle upon the washstand, screened from the bed, and lighted the oil
stove which they always used for preparing the breakfast. Her purchases
were carefully arrayed, and then hidden. She removed her outer clothes,
and let down her hair, shivering slightly, but tense with resolve and
the absorption of the moment. Round her shoulders she hung a big towel,
and kicked it out, looking down at her legs and feet. She was conscious
of pride, of physical freedom. She made small dancing steps, as happy as
a child, while she waited and waited for the slow kettle to boil.

Later, Sally stole to bed, careful not to touch her sleeping mother,
lest her own chill body should awaken her and provoke a querulous scene.
She was shuddering from head to foot. It seemed to take hours to shake
off the frozen feeling, and if she raised her feet and touched them with
her hands they were like pieces of ice. They were still cold when she
forgot everything; and she awoke, the towel still about her head, with
the sun up and the day well advanced. A careful hand to her hair, a
quick scurry to the mirror, a leap of apprehensiveness; and then she was
back in bed, shamming sleep, because her mother had stirred. The two lay
side by side for ever so long, until Sally could once again allow
herself to breathe freely. She did not examine her feelings: she only
knew that she was afraid and confident, alternately timid and ashamed,
and then again breathing deep with satisfaction. She had begun. She was
set out upon her adventure. At a blow she had to put everything to the
test. How she longed for the next day! How she longed for her interview
with Mrs. Perce's friend, and for her next encounter with Toby!


xii

At night she allowed her mother to go to bed first, and waited a little
while before beginning her preparations. She was so long that her
mother, although still engrossed by the pain in her head, began to
grumble.

"What you doing, Sally?" she cried sharply.

"Washing my hair," answered Sally, like a shot.

"Ought to have done it in daylight, silly girl. And dried it in front
the fire. I don't know what's _come_ to you, Sally. You seem to do
everything you can to worrit me. Now I want to go to sleep, and you keep
the lamp burning, and the fire burning, and it's all alight, so I can't
get off."

Sally shaded the lamp. Her lip was curled. She did not deign to answer
the complaint. Silly old fool; always grumbling! Let her wait. Let her
wait and see what happened! Sally was less excited, and less clumsy,
to-night. She was warmer, too; and that gave her more assurance. Once
her mother had fallen asleep, as she knew from the loud breathing, she
became leisurely. Her actions were even luxurious, so much more at ease
was she. First of all she combed her hair, wishing it were longer. Then
she made all her dispositions. For the next hour she was busy, and by
the time she was in bed she had begun to giggle almost hysterically. She
lay quite still, and quite warm, listening for some sound of Toby. But
none came. Wherever he was, she did not hear him before she went to
sleep.

And then in the dark morning her mother could not see the transformation
that had occurred; and Sally could not see it, either. They made a slow
and tasteless breakfast, and Mrs. Minto slipped out to her first
situation, where she had to be at half-past seven. From that she would
go on to another at half-past ten that would keep her for the greater
part of the afternoon. Sally, instead of going back to bed, as she often
did when the two breakfasted together, dressed herself with great care
and prepared to go out and meet May Pearcey. She tried to see herself in
the mirror, but could only get a lamplight view that frightened her. She
had washed very carefully, and as she had made her own dress it fitted
well and suited her. She had a big black hat and was going to get new
gloves before calling upon Madame Gala. Her shoes were bad, but she
brushed them well. Stockings she had bought on Saturday night. Turning
round and round before the mirror, extending her arms, and patting down
her skirt, she was content with everything but the incalculable effect
of her recent activities. But the part of her hair which showed beneath
her hat was a rich shade, and if her face looked artificially pale it
still appeared smooth and fresh.

What doubt she may have had was set at rest by May Pearcey when they
met. The encounter took place in Grove Road at the corner of Hornsey
Road, just where the shops are; and the two girls walked westward
together.

"Oo, Sally, you _do_ look smart!" May irrepressibly cried. "Oo, what you
bin doing to your hair! Looks lervly! Oo, and your face. Got off with a
earl?"

She was all attention at Sally's tale, and Sally showed her the letter
to Madame Gala. They stood together reading it. For the moment May was
honestly full of congratulation. She was so simple-minded, and so little
attached to the dressmaking, that she had no envy. A boy would have been
a different matter. And she was honestly delighted with Sally's
appearance.

"You look lervly!" she kept saying. "Oo, I do hope you get it. I say,
come out 's evening, and tell me. Will you?" May was very coaxing
indeed. She was sincerely impressed.

It was a compliment, as well as a curiosity. Sally hesitated. She had
planned to see Toby; but if Toby was going to be a lout she might just
as well show him she didn't care.

"All right," she said. "Look here, if I'm not there by half-past seven,
you'll know I've been kept--mother's kept me. See?"

"Mother!" laughed May. "Well, I'll be there quarter-past. See! Shouldn't
come any further, case old Mother Jubb's lookin' out the window. She
might not believe you was ill if she saw you lookin' so smart. Might
think you was takin' a day off to go to the Zoo."

They parted, May Pearcey to spin a tale of Sally's illness to Miss
Jubb, and Sally to proceed, after getting a pair of black cotton gloves,
to the West End. In the shop, half hidden among the rolls of flannel and
little racks and trays of smaller articles of haberdashery, there was a
full-length strip of mirror. It stood gloomily in the half-light of the
shop, which, like all suburban drapers' shops, had the air of a crowded
and airless cavern full of stale adornments. Sally did not see the
mirror at first, but while the shop girl went to fetch the gloves, she
was looking idly round when she caught sight of a slim young lady in
black. The young lady was very trim, dressed all in black, with slim
ankles and pretty hands, and a big black hat--and it was herself!
Herself, looking like a lady. Quickly, she stepped to the mirror,
examining her cheeks, her neck, her brows, and her gloriously
richly-tinted hair. She was amazed and delighted. A proud smile twisted
her thin little lips, so slightly touched with Lipsol that they did not
seem to have been touched at all, but only to be prettier than usual.
After the first curiosity, the first flush of recognition, followed
precise scrutiny. Sally nodded to herself. She would do. There was no
doubt of it. From that moment she was no longer triumphant or excited:
she was sure. She had learnt a great lesson, that excitement is no
criterion of victory or happiness, and that the artist is cool,
confident, free from triumph. At a bound, Sally had become an artist.
She had always been potentially an artist; but she at last had attained
vision.


xiii

Precious pennies went to pay her tram fare to Tottenham Court Road; and
from there she walked to Madame Gala's, asking the way, and getting
rather flustered and bewildered at the pushing crowds and the big shops
with their irresistible windows, and the extraordinary amount of
traffic that seemed to make Oxford Street one continuous torrent of
carts and omnibuses. The big furniture shops in Tottenham Court Road had
impressed her; but the shops in Oxford Street were beyond anything she
ever remembered to have seen. A flash of comparison with Holloway--even
with Jones's magnificent row of shops on the way to Highbury, or the big
drapers and clothiers in the Upper Street--made her realise how right
had been her longing for the West End. It had been more than a dream. It
had been an inspiration. Holloway was seen in its dinginess, its greasy
mud on the rough roads, the general air it had of being a step or two
behind the times; and here was the brilliance, the enthralling reality,
of the West to take its place. Sally was conscious of new buoyancy. If
she had been pleased with Tottenham Court Road, and delighted with the
essentially commonplace Oxford Street, she exulted in that alluring
curve which will always make Regent Street a fascination for the visitor
to London and even a satisfaction to the Londoner himself. Sally was
both a Londoner and a visitor, and her feelings were proportionate. She
did not know that she was proud of being London born and bred; but her
eye was possessive, and she would not have given London in exchange for
the dozen other great capitals of the world put together. She looked
round at the shops, at the buildings and the traffic; and she made a
historic remark.

"Cooh," she said. "Fine! Fancy _living_ here! This is the place for me."

It was final. It took no account of the risks of a peradventure. Madame
Gala was a mere cog in the great wheel of Sally's progress through life.
Even Toby had at first no place in her survey. Then she wondered if he
knew Regent Street. He could come one Saturday and wait for her outside
Madame Gala's. They would swank, and go and have tea at an A. B. C. or
Lyons's; and perhaps go into Hyde Park. Gradually it came back to her
that her father used to take them to Hyde Park on Sundays. But that was
long ago, and on Sundays the traffic was less and the shops were all
shuttered. She gave a sigh at the memory, awoke, and marched up to a
colossal policeman who was wagging a pair of gloves in his right
hand--as if to keep the flies away, but in reality to encourage the
traffic. He inclined an ear, and an eye to her letter, and trumpeted out
directions.

And at last Sally reached Madame Gala's, and with Madame Gala's another
turning-point in her life. It was the first time she had been conscious
of so all-important an event. When she came to the building she was
trembling. Her eyes closed, almost in an expression of prayer. She took
five minutes to climb the stairs to the second floor, and then turned to
fly. She recovered, and hung about for a while, hoping for some accident
to carry her right into the place. Then, with a feeble air of
confidence, she pushed open the door and walked in without knocking.

Sally could have fallen down in horror; for as she entered she saw a
very tall young woman talking to the most beautifully dressed person she
had ever seen. And they were in a room such as Sally had never been in
before--a room entirely decorated in a sort of grey-blue. Wallpaper,
hangings, and chair-upholsterings were exactly uniform. The effect,
although beautiful and restful, was to Sally's eye so sumptuous that she
felt she must by some terrible mischance have come into a drawing-room.
But she heard the young woman say, "Yes, meddam.... I'll tell Madame
Gala.... Yes, meddam.... Yes, meddam ... quite ... yes, I quite....
_Good_ morning, meddam." And then as the wonderful creature disappeared
in a whirl of richness, like a fairy godmother, the tall young woman
turned almost pouncingly upon Sally, and in a contemptuous voice said
"Yes?"

Sally shook herself. It was the gesture of one who has been dreaming.

"I want to see Madame Gala," she said, very distinctly. "I've got a
letter for her from Mrs. Barrow."

"Where is it?" demanded the young woman. "That it?"

She took from Sally's unwilling but unresisting hand the letter which
Mrs. Perce had written, pulled it from the open envelope, read it, and
looked again at Sally.

"I want to _see_ Madame Gala," said Sally, stubbornly. Her little mouth
was now very savagely set, and if there had been any refusal upon the
young woman's part there would have been a scene.

"All right. Keep your hair on," said the inquisitive young woman. "Are
you Miss Minto?"

"Yes, I am." Sally nodded energetically, flushing. She wondered if the
word "hair"....

Her interlocutor turned, and went into an inner room, replacing the
letter as she did so, and folding over the flap, so that it would seem
as though she knew nothing of the contents. Sally quickly saw the kind
of person she was--an interfering creature, with "Miss Pry" written all
over her. She was tall and thin, and had gooseberry eyes and a small
nose and a large sycophantic mouth. Sally had a picture of her all the
time she was away--grey-blue dress and all. She didn't like her. She
hated her. She knew that they would never get on together. Miss Nosey!
"Yes, meddam; no, meddam ... yes, I _quite_...." Sally tried to
pronounce quite "quaite," as she had done. After all, she was only a
sort of maid--somebody to take the names of callers. She'd got no right
to be saucy. Old six-foot. Old match-legs. She'd got a nose in
everybody's business. Mind she didn't get it pulled!... But what a
lovely room! Must have cost pounds and pounds! All grey-blue--even to
the little ornaments on the mantelpiece, all except the black tiger.
Fancy working in a place like this! Different to Miss Jubb's! Sally gave
a sort of internal giggle, a noiseless affair that was almost just a
wriggle of delight. Miss Jubb! Did you ever see anything like the dress
she made for Mrs. Miller, of 17 Tavistock! Chronic, it was! Like a
concertina! And poor old Annie Jubb getting flurried when the material
frayed in the scissors! Cooh! Call her a dressmaker! More like a figure
of fun!

"Come in, please," said Nosey, jerking her nose. And Sally started once
again from reverie, to follow the tall young woman from the grey-blue
room into another one which was all in a warm colour between orange and
biscuit. She swallowed quickly, and heard a little runnel of moisture in
her dry throat. There was a throbbing behind her eyes. She became very
small and clumsy, and kept her head lowered, and her hands clasped.

When a voice bade her sit down, Sally stole a quick glance at Madame
Gala. At once she lowered her eyes again, because they had met
unexpectedly a pair of eyes more disconcerting than any she had known
since her schooldays. Madame Gala did not employ a score of hands for
nothing! She had looked at Sally the moment Sally came into the room,
and did not cease to look at her. And she had very cold grey eyes, and
was very cold (really very deficient in stamina) herself. She was
terribly thin, and chilling, and capable. She was dressed in grey; but
you could not see the dress except at the bottom of the skirt and the
middle of the sleeves, because she wore a large pinafore-overall, of a
lighter grey and a softer material. She had no pins in her mouth, and
there were no pictures of costumes or sheets of paper patterns to be
seen. But the room, all the same, was a workroom, and there was a
beautiful large table in it which could have served for cutting out a
costume for a giantess.

"You're Miss Minto. How old are you? Hn, small for your age. Mother and
father? When did your--oh, you're in mourning for him. How did he die?
What sort of accident? Hn.... What experience have you had? Miss _What?_
Oh, yes ... two years. Have you left? I see. Well, Mrs. Barrow's an old
friend of mine, and I'd like to oblige her. Also, I want more help. My
business is increasing. If you can start in a fortnight I'll pay you
six--no, I'll pay you seven shillings a week. You get here at nine in
the morning. You'll do as you're told, and behave yourself. You'll work
under a very clever lady, Miss Summers, in that room. I'll show you.
Come in here...."

Sally, shaking with jubilation, followed her into a very large room
adjoining, where a number of girls were (apparently) frantically
busy--far too busy to be conscious that their employer had entered the
room. Sally did not believe that they were always so intent upon their
work. She knew too much. To herself she said "Swank!" It was a
beautifully light place, all decorated in a pale grey; and there was a
long deep bench all round the room. It was lighted by windows and a
skylight, and it was plain that a considerable amount of work was in
progress. Sally gave a dazed glance round, and looked again, saying,
"Yes, ma'am; Yes, ma'am," to everything Madame Gala said; and a few
minutes later was out in the street again, engaged at seven shillings a
week, and not knowing whether she was alive or dead, awake or dreaming.
The day was still before her; she had nearly ten shillings hidden in her
bodice; and she was a queen amid all the surging traffic of the West
End--her West End--the place of her dreams, her pilgrimage, her triumph.
Sally's eyes were filmed with tears. She walked away from the building
passionately fighting with sobs that rose from deep within her. The
tears trickled down her white cheeks. And all at once she was laughing
again, chuckling and chuckling as if this was the most splendid joke in
the world. And then, when the laughter was done, she was once again
Sally, deliberate, cool and unflinching. This was what she had
determined. There were other steps to follow. She must not be too sure;
she must go carefully. But all the same she would win. She was Sally.
She was going to get on. She was going to be cautious. She was going to
be secure. That was her touchstone--security. Without it, she would
never know peace. At all costs, security. That meant keeping cool. That
meant watching your step. And in the end it meant making money, and
having enough to eat, and nice clothes, and pleasures, and all that she
had never yet had. Into the eyes that had been brimming with tears, and,
immediately after, with glee, there came once again a hardness, a
determination. It was the expression of a wary animal, treading among
dangers.


xiv

By an instinct, Sally turned west, so that she presently found herself
in a confusing number of small streets; but when she had extricated
herself and had mastered the geography of that part of London she was
rewarded by coming out into Park Lane, with the fine breadth of Hyde
Park open to her eyes and her impulse towards exploration. She pretended
that she knew the Park; but in fact to her older eyes and in its weekday
freedom from crowds it looked so different that she could not link it
with ancient memories. Thus, for a time, its paths and its greenness and
its air of great space gave her unqualified pleasure. She wandered on,
observing the fallen leaves, and the few pedestrians; and looked up at
the blue sky, and marvelled to herself; and then presently she sat down
upon one of the public seats and tried to get some coherence into her
thoughts. She sat there for some time, her shabby little toes cocked up
on the gravel before her, and she began to feel lonely and tired and
restless, as though something further had still to be done. There was
the whole day before her. She could not stay here, because although the
day was clear and fine there was a chill wind, and she was not warmly
clad. Already her hands were feeling numb in the cotton gloves, and her
feet were losing the pleasant tired tingle they had had a short time
before. The sense of innumerable hours which had to be filled was strong
upon Sally, who had never previously had so much time to herself, alone.
So she rose briskly from her seat, walked along the broad pathway, and
came back to the Marble Arch, where Oxford Street began again. This time
she was bent upon looking at the shops, and browsed for a time at the
windows of Lewis's, at the end of Orchard Street. And then she had her
inspiration. A clock told her it was after half-past eleven. May's words
came into her mind: "She might think you was takin' a day off to go to
the Zoo."

"Here, where's the Zoo," she suddenly, without a tremor, asked a
policeman.

"They got plenty white mice," the policeman said. "No good you a-goin'
there."

"Saucy!" rebuked Sally. "Suppose they let you out ... on a chain."

"Quite right," said the policeman. "Didn't want to let me go. Everybody
loved little Sammy. But the Police Force wanted me."

"Fancy wanting _you_!" remarked Sally, witheringly, staring at his
good-tempered face, and, under his helmet, at a pair of bright blue
eyes. He was a "red" man. "Give 'em a bit of ginger, I suppose."

"As you go by the Marrabon Road, you just cross over and go into Madame
Tussaud's. You'll see a lot of old friends and relations there. Charlie
Peace, and Mother Dyer...."

"Who's she?" Sally demanded. "Mother Dyer. Never heard of her."

"Mother Dyer? Baby-farmer. Her you used to call 'Nursie.' Go straight
along here, and when you've looked at Madame Tussaud's, keep down the
Marrabon Road till you come to the Park. See? Regent's Park, that is.
And walk along the nice broad road, and you'll find the Zoo on your
left. Good morning, my dear.... Don't let 'em keep you, will you?...
Cahm alahng, 'ere; cahm alahng, 'ere." He broke off to attend to the
traffic, which he addressed in a very different way from that in which
he had spoken to Sally; and she, rather cheered by the exchange of
badinage, set off towards Baker Street and the Marylebone Road with a
new interest in hand. Madame Tussaud's and the Zoo in one day! What a
day it would have been by the time she reached the end of it. What a
tale she would be able to tell May in the evening!

Apart from the two visits which she made, to the wax-works and the
menagerie, both of which took so long that she did not get home until
six o'clock, Sally had no other adventure. She had lunch in the Zoo, and
arrived back in Holloway with less than five shillings remaining from
her windfall. But it had been a day, and it still held marvellous
possibilities of an encounter with Toby. Her first thought on reaching
home was of him. That was why she was so deaf to her mother's
complaining. She did not hear it. And she did not tell her mother of the
day's outing. There would be time for that later. If she told her now
there would only be trouble, and Sally was tired of trouble. When she
had explained to Miss Jubb, and had left Miss Jubb on Saturday week, she
would airily say to her mother: "I got a job in the West End, now." See
ma jump! Sally was conscious for the first time of a slightly sinking
heart. Suppose she didn't suit Madame Gala? Suppose she lost her new job
after a week or two? Oh, rubbish.... Rot! Time enough for the gripes
when she got the sack!

She could hear no sound at all from the room above. Was Toby not home
yet? He used to get home about ten minutes past six, as a rule. It was
now a quarter-past. If she did not hear him she would go and meet May,
and then call in to tell Mrs. Perce all about the news, and then come
home after her mother had gone to bed. She had her tea, turning up her
nose at it, and all the time wishing for something better. For some time
after the meal she stood about reflecting upon her day and upon the
possibilities of the future. Consideringly, she at last said in a
matter-of-fact tone:

"One day we'll have jam for tea, ma. And kippers. And fried sausages.
And steak and chips."

"Good gracious!" cried Mrs. Minto. "Whatever's put such ideas into your
head!"

"And we'll have real coal, and thick blankets, and a new mattress, and
new curtains, and a brass fender. And everything in the room'll be a
beautiful gray-blue. And you'll sit here, doing nothing."

"I'm sure I shan't," exclaimed Mrs. Minto, fingering her mouth to hide a
nervous smile of pleasure.

"Doing nothing. And Elbert, the footman, will come in with the tea and
take it away again; and you'll say, Elbert'--mustn't say 'Elbert
dear'--you'll say, 'Elbert, just bring me my glass of hot water at ten
o'clock.' And he'll say, 'Yes, me lady.' No, he won't. He'll say, 'Yes,
meddam ... quite.... Yes, meddam.' That's what he'll say. Lick your
shoes, he will, because you're rich."

"Rich!" sighed Mrs. Minto. "Who's to make me rich?"

"I'm going to make us all rich," explained Sally. "You mark my words and
wait and see."

"I wouldn't mind not being rich," Mrs. Minto said, "if it wasn't that my
poor 'ed...."

"O-oh!" cried Sally, in wrath. Her mood was crushed by this inexorable
return to the subject she had been chattering to avert. "Give your old
head a rest, ma. Here, come out for a walk with me."

"You're not to go out, Sally. Mrs. Roberson says...."

"_That_ for Mrs. Roberson," said Sally, already on her feet. "You don't
suppose I'm going to stick in here and get frozen stiff. There's nothing
to do indoors. I got no sewing. Only makes me fret if I stay at home.
I'm going to see Mrs. Perce...."

She moved hastily to the door, and closed it quietly after her, for she
had heard below her the shutting of the front door, and she thought it
might be Toby at last. It was nearly a quarter to seven. Her guess had
been right. It was he. Seeming not to have heard him, she ran lightly
down the stairs as he heavily mounted them. Her heart was thumping so
that she felt quite sick and faint. She could no longer run, but could
only totter down towards the inevitable confrontation. It was there, and
it was past--a plain, boorish "Evening." She managed the rest of the
flight at a run; but when she was out of doors Sally turned to the
darkness and could no longer restrain her tears of anguish. This was the
end of her day. Laugh in the morning, cry before night. That was the
truest proverb that ever was made. She was heartbroken.


xv

There was no question of seeing May or calling upon Mrs. Perce. Sally
was beaten. She was full of expostulations and arguments, but all were
addressed to Toby, and she could not have borne any other society. So
she wandered about the streets for an hour, miserably aware that once or
twice she was followed by an aimless strolling youth who did not know
how to occupy a lonely evening and who yet was too much of a coward to
address her. In her mind she went over every detail of her friendship
with Toby. It had become suddenly unreal, like a thing that had happened
years before. And yet the throb of pain belonging to her sense of his
cruelty was immediate. Every detail was clear to her; and the whole was
blurred. He was a stranger; and yet his presence would at once have
given life to her memories. They had been written, as it were, in
invisible ink, which needed only the warmth of a fire to produce their
message vividly once again. Sally sobbed from time to time; but she was
no longer crying. Her pain was too deep to be relieved by tears, which
with her were the result of weakness, since she was not naturally
liquid. And as the memory was exhausted in its evocation she began to
think as of old. Her quick brain was recovering its sway. She was no
longer an overwrought child. And yet when she strove to plan a
discomfiture for Toby, who had so wickedly hurt her, she shrank from
that also; so it was still a restless and undetermined Sally who
returned home to find her mother dozing by the feeble warmth of a dying
fire.

The next day passed in a variety of moods, and in the evening Sally
found in herself the determination to call upon Mrs. Perce. She had
explained her non-arrival of the previous night to May, and had removed
her grievance with a recital of all she had done during the stolen day.
She had endured Miss Jubb's sour scrutiny of her hair, which was
accomplished without comment. And she had almost, but not quite, told
Miss Jubb of her proposed change. At times her courage was very nearly
high enough, but it never reached the necessary point, or the
opportunity was ruined at the vital moment by some interruption. So Miss
Jubb worked innocently, not guessing the blow that was to fall. That it
would be a serious blow only Sally suspected. Miss Jubb had never even
supposed it possible that Sally would leave her. The three of them spent
the day in the little workroom, which managed by the end of the
afternoon to be the coldest and the closest room in the neighbourhood,
perhaps owing to Miss Jubb's use of a defective stove for heating, and
her own radical immunity from chilblains.

After tea Sally went straight to Hornsey Road. In thinking of Toby as
she left the house she made a light gesture with her fingers to show
that he no longer existed. If she had met him she would have attempted
no greeting, for such was her present temper. At the Barrows' she was
received with acclamation. Old Perce, who had enjoyed a good deal of
four-ale during the day, and had a jugful of it now at his elbow,
collapsed at sight of her. He bayed a little, but with an expression of
admiring wonder that gave Sally her best tribute. Mrs. Perce, the
expert, nodded. She had received a letter in the morning from Madame
Gala. So to her all the news was known. All the same, Sally spent a
happy couple of hours in the flat, and collected her outdoor clothes
with unwillingness. Each time she had been to see Mrs. Perce she had
felt more strongly than of old the contrast between her always-cheerless
home and their warm, prosperity-laden atmosphere. The recognition acted
powerfully upon her. It was the creation in her mind of a standard of
physical comfort, as the visit to Madame Gala had created a standard of
decorative colour. She was frowning at the new perception as she left
the house, and was half-absorbed in her consciousness of it.

The feeling did not prevent her, at first with a sharp tingling of
surprise, and then, as she grasped the significance of the fact, a start
of emotional disorder, from seeing a familiar figure in the light of the
Supply Stores. Her heart jumped, and began to flurry in her breast. The
figure she saw was that of Toby. He stood a little to the side of the
Stores, watching the doorway from which Sally came. As she flinched, he
came across the road. Sally pretended not to notice him, and knew that
he was following her. But Toby made no attempt to speak to her while
they were in the light of the shops. She saw that he had his cap pulled
very low down over his eyes, and that his hands were not in his pockets,
but hanging loose. He was dressed in a rough dark tweed suit, and looked
like a fighter, but not a professional boxer. His carriage was clumsy,
but light. His dark face was marked by a sort of determination--not
bravado, not impudence, but a solid resoluteness. His eyes she had never
properly seen. His mouth was large, but the lips were thin; the nose was
coarse, but not big. He was ugly, but he was very obviously strong. He
was not tall, but was very sturdily built, and gave the air of
considerable strength. As he followed her she could hardly keep from
looking back; it was only with a great effort that she kept her eyes
forward, and as she turned into Grove Road she increased her pace. Sally
knew quite well what he would do. He would wait until she had passed the
block of shops and had come to the comparative darkness of the houses
beyond. Then he would walk abreast and speak to her. And while she tried
to think what to do her heart was strangling her. She was so excited
that her breath was coming almost in sobs. She was excited, but she did
not therefore feel at his mercy.

It happened as Sally had foreseen. As soon as she was past the shops she
heard his urgent voice at her elbow--"Sally!" For a moment she ignored
it. Then she turned, very coldly, and with a slight sneer looked at him.
They were side by side now. He was keeping step with her as easily as he
could have kept step with a child. "Sally," he repeated. Sally stopped
dead.

"What are you following me for?" she asked, viciously. "Why can't you
leave me alone? Following me like that! I never heard of such a thing."

"I been waiting outside for you all the time. I've had no grub. I
followed you from the house. I saw you start out just as I was getting
home."

"Well, what of it? I didn't ask you to follow me, did I?" demanded
Sally. But in the darkness of the street her eyes softened. Her heart
swelled at the thought that he had waited for her in the Hornsey Road
for fully two hours. Toby took her defiance as a matter of course. He
was still standing doggedly before her, and as she began once again to
walk rapidly in the direction of home he followed her, half a step
behind. At the darkest part of the road he put out a hand to check her
progress. Sally snatched away her arm, but he had been prepared for
that, and caught her immediately. He held her, panting, as she pressed
against a big stone gate-post.

"Let me be!" cried Sally, hoarsely and breathlessly. "Let me be." She
did not scream. She was too impressed by his exhibition of strength. He
continued to hold her, and they stood breast to breast, Sally panting,
and Toby with a kind of stolid determination.

"Will you come for a walk quietly?" he asked, jerking his head.

"No," said Sally, "I won't." There was no mercy, no humility. Only a
hard defiance.

"Yes, you will." He pulled her towards him, so that Sally could not
escape. She was now wholly within the circle of his arm, not struggling,
but with her poor thin arms staving him off. Her body was tense. But she
made no sound, and if there were any passers they knew that this was
only a typical lovers' tiff, common to the neighbourhood, and largely a
matter of physical strength and feminine vituperation. "Yes, you will.
See? Come on, Sally."

"You let me go," she demanded.

"Say you'll come. I'll let you go the moment you say that."

Sally hesitated, then bowed her head in a slow acquiescence. He released
her, and she ran; but he easily overtook her, and she was once again
held, still with her back to a pillar. Both were now breathing hard.
Sally's head was lowered. She was suffocating. She seemed to be in
complete darkness. And she had no sense of what was happening. The mere
technique of the row absorbed her. They were almost like two quarrelling
cats, both sullen, both glowering and full of resentment rather than
burning anger.

"Will you come?" asked Toby. "Just for a walk. Half an hour."

"What d'you want me to come for?"

"Want to talk to you."

"Yes, well, I don't want to talk to you. Understand?" Sally was suddenly
trembling with a passionate rage. Her voice quivered as she spoke, and
the words tumbled out in a savage incoherence.

"I'm going to talk to you. So you may as well make up your mind to come.
You don't want to stand here all night, do you?" He was as savage as
she, and more grim. Sally made an attempt to escape, and was further
pinned. He was breaking down the defence of her tired arms. One of his
knees was against her leg. She was slipping, slipping, and her resolve
to fight against him was fading as rapidly in her sense of the physical
contact. She burst into tears. For an instant he loosed her, at that,
but as she sobbingly began to run away he resumed his former hold,
pressing her against him, a broken little girl, and no longer the
triumphant Sally of the morning. Her hand was to her eyes, and she was
biting her lip to restrain her sobs. Toby put his free hand up and
touched hers, held it, drew it away from her wet face.

"Sally," he said. "I want you. Don't cry, Sally."

His arm tightened. His face was close. Although she turned away her
head, and tried to wrench herself free, Sally knew his lips were
relentlessly following her own. She was conscious of all the joy of
surrender, incapable of moving from those strong arms, incapable of
avoiding his kiss. Her eyes closed, her heart rose; she was limp in his
embrace, not as yet returning his caresses, but accepting them with a
feeling of miserable thankfulness. Her hat was tilted back, and she felt
his cheek against hers, his body against her own. How long they stood
she did not know; but at last she put her hands up, put them round his
neck, and feverishly kissed him, welcoming this joy that was half pain.

"D'you love me?" she asked breathlessly.

They were alone in the dark street, in the invisible world; and she had
never been so happy. So at last Toby had his way, and they walked about
the streets for an hour, until it was long past the time when Sally
should have been in bed. Only then did they part, and Sally was
half-undressed when she heard Toby passing upon his way upstairs. Her
cheeks were burning, her eyes shining, her heart exultant. Sometimes,
as she lay wakeful during the long night, she was so happy that she
could hardly breathe. But a moment came when happiness seemed
overwhelmed in a poignance of emotion that resembled rather a terrible
apprehensiveness, and it was then that Sally felt the tears trickling
from her eyes. It was only the reaction from excessive joy; but she was
deeply affected. She longed again for Toby's arms to be round her,
pressing her face into the pillow to comfort herself with the pretence
that he was still there. Exhausted, she slept.


xvi

All the next day she could not work for preoccupation with her
happiness. She was mad with it, and reckless in her madness. It even,
when rebuke came from Miss Jubb, gave her courage to mention Madame
Gala. And that was a further cause for delight, since Miss Jubb's mouth
dropped open at the news and she could hardly speak to her two girls for
the rest of the afternoon. Sally, chuckling to herself, and every now
and then grimacing at May Pearcey, abandoned herself to anticipations of
the evening. She would see her dear Toby, would show how much she loved
him, would feel herself loved, would hear and say all the little secrets
they had never spoken until now. She would know at last what it was to
be in love, and with the man who loved her. How wonderful it was! What
joy! What fun! Sally could not conceal her grin of happiness. Her white
face was as if it had become plump, so immediately did happiness
transfigure her. And she looked at silly old Miss Jubb, and soppy May,
and thought how they had no lovers. May had her boys--she could keep
them. Sally had Toby. Toby was not a boy: he was a man. He shaved; she
had felt the roughness of his chin. May's boys looked as if they had
smooth faces, or if they shaved it made their skins powdery. Miss Jubb
had never had a boy at all, she shouldn't think. You couldn't fancy Miss
Jubb as a young girl. She must be quite old--as old as Sally's
mother--perhaps forty. But ma had been unlucky to strike dad. He had
never been any good. Not like Toby. Toby was getting almost a pound a
week already, he said; and when he was older he would have lots of
money, and never be out of a job, because he worked with his hands, with
engines, and a man who understood engines would never want for work. He
was twenty, and he kept himself. He just took his meals with his aunt,
and lived in his own room the rest of the time. How she would like to
see his room. She longed for them both to get older. But she wanted to
get on herself, first. She thought: if Toby's out all day, and we just
have a little home, I shall be able.... She thought she might be a
dressmaker herself, and employ twenty hands, and have a waiting-room
that was all grey-blue. She had told Toby about Madame Gala, and how he
could come to fetch her Saturdays, and they'd have the afternoons
together. Sally was brimming with plans.

In the middle of them there came a knock at Miss Jubb's door. Miss Jubb
went, thinking it might be a customer. But she came back again in a
minute, with a face even longer than it had been since she heard Sally's
news. She could hardly speak, but stood against the dingy door, which
she held closed, and swallowed quickly before she could say a word.

"Sally dear, there's a man here from the hospital. Get on your hat and
coat, there's a good girl. He says your mother's been taken there. She
turned dizzy just now when she was crossing the road, and was knocked
down by a van, and run over. She's asking for you, Sally. You're to go.
It's not serious, he says. So don't worry about it. You're just to go
and see her."

Mother? Ma knocked down by a van! Sally was on her feet in an instant.
As Miss Jubb went out again to glean further details from the man, Sally
struggled into her hat and coat. She turned with a callousness which
showed that she did not in the least realise what might have happened,
and addressed the startled and gaping May.

"We may not be princesses," she said with a sort of wild gaiety; "but we
do see life!"


xvii

After she had seen her mother in the hospital Sally was again aware of
that sinking feeling of having time to fill--a feeling of emptiness of
immediate plan,--which she had felt in Hyde Park on the Monday. At seven
she was to see Toby outside the house. It was not yet five. What was she
to do? Not go back to Miss Jubb's, that was certain! Her mother had been
lying in a cot in a big ward, and her arm was bandaged, and she said
both her legs felt as though they had red-hot nails in them; but she was
conscious, and they had told her she would soon be about again. Sally
was to see Mrs. Roberson and tell her the news, and to go to two other
places to let them know that Mrs. Minto would not be able to come for a
time. And she was to be a good girl, and not worry, but to take the
three shillings and ninepence which was in Mrs. Minto's purse, and look
after herself, and explain to the landlady what had happened.... She had
a host of things to do, and she paid her three calls within ten minutes.
So far the question of money had not troubled her. She did not think
that three shillings and ninepence was very little to live on for
perhaps a month. Her emotions at the moment were so blithe that all she
perceived in herself was a sense of liberty. Ma would not be worrying
her every minute she was indoors to do this or that, and not to do the
other. Ma would not be talking all the time about her head. Ma would not
be watching her, asking what she was doing, playing the policeman,
grumble, grumble, grumble. It was a fine liberation for Sally. That was
the way in which she saw it.

Her first shock was when she arrived home and found her own breakfast
dishes still strewn about the table as she had left them, the fire
unlighted and the old ashes still lying in the grate and upon the
hearth, the bed unmade. She was sobered. She first of all found the oil,
filled the lamp, and set a match to it. Then she swept the hearth and
carefully made a small fire. The coal-blocks took a long time to catch,
as they always did, and they quickly burned dull. Upon them she set a
kettle, washed the dishes in cold water, and laid the table for tea. The
kettle took a century to boil, and she knelt close to the fire, warming
herself and waiting for the first spiral of steam. Everything now made
her feel splendid. She invented a game that she was married to Toby, and
that she was expecting him home; so that for this evening all her work
was thoroughly done. Even the bed was made with care. And when she had
finished tea she cleared away, and spread a little old red cloth upon
the table, and once more snuggled close to the puny fire. As she did so
all her thoughts were for Toby. Already she began to listen for him,
although it was long before his time. Thought of her mother's accident
did not disturb her at all. Thought of the future was abandoned. Only
the sweet delight of being with Toby again was her incessant reverie.

At last she heard him, and started to her feet. Her impulse was to run
to the door and whisper to him at once; but on the way thither she
checked herself. Some scruple of prudence, lest he should think her too
eager for him, made Sally allow the steps to pass on up the stairs. But
for all that she watched the clock, and listened almost passionately for
any sound from above. The fire died. She put on her coat and hat,
standing near the fireplace to catch the last waves of heat, with her
foot upon the fender and her eyes fixed upon the purplish glow, so
rapidly fading to mauve and to grey. She was tense with expectancy. She
had no consciousness of anything but her strained hearing.
Tick-tick-tick. The clock raced on, but the hands all the time appeared
to remain still, by so much did her eager heart outstrip them.

Then there was a thud upstairs, as of a door closed; and quick steps
sounded in Toby's room. He stayed there a few minutes, his feet moving a
little, and Sally guessed that he was washing himself. Then, noisily, he
came down the stairs and left the house. He was barely past the door
when Sally blew out the lamp; but she stood mutely in the darkness for
more than a minute afterwards. Only when her own patience was gone did
she obey her impulse and follow him, creeping down the stairs in the
subdued brown light of the house. Out of doors all was black. She peered
for Toby. He was there just under the lamp at a few yards distance, and
she saw him move farther away at her approach. That action, and the
sense of him, gave Sally the most extraordinary tremor of excitement and
happiness, and her cheeks grew warm. She greeted him with the lightest
touch of the arm, and felt in return his hand to her elbow. They walked
without speech to the end of the road, and by common impulse to a dark
turning where at this time of the evening they knew there would be no
passers; and there Toby caught her in his arms. There was no moon, and
no sound in the street. They were entirely alone, and separated from the
rest of mankind by an impassable wall of obsession. They stood pressed
close to one another, kissing from time to time, and did not speak. They
had at first nothing to say, but there was no shyness between them. They
were absorbed in this physical contact. But after some time Sally told
him her news, and made him tell her what he had done during the day, and
felt a great proprietary interest in him all the while. They spoke in
low tones, lovers and amorous lovers even in the middle of humdrum
confidences. Toby was shocked about Mrs. Minto--far more shocked than
Sally had been or could have been; but she airily reassured him in her
first delicious abandonment to a sense of common life. She said "Oo,
she's all right. Quite comfortable. More than if she was at home. And
it's nicer for me, being alone. See, she grumbles at me--always at
it--what Mrs. Roberson says, and about her head, and what I ought to do,
and that. 'Tisn't that there's really anything to grumble at; only, you
know, it's her nature. I never grumble. That's one thing about me.
Doesn't matter _what_ happens, I never ... you know ... keep on at it,
like mother does. What's the good? Crying won't do any good, or
grumbling either. I shall be happier while she's away--do what I like.
Be on my own."

"Won't you be lonely?" Toby asked.

"Not with you. Different if I hadn't got you. But if I get frightened I
shall just yell for you; and I shall think of you all the time,
upstairs, and wonder if you're thinking of me. Will you be?"

"Course I shall," Toby swore, hugging her until she gasped. "All the
time."

"Will you? It's nice to have somebody to ... you know, like you."

"Is it?" he asked gruffly.

"Don't _you_ feel like that?" she asked artfully. Her reward, another
choking hug, was immediately forthcoming. "You _are_ strong," Sally went
on, and with a sense of daring and ownership and pride felt his arm for
muscle. "I'm strong. In a way. Not massive, or anything of that kind. I
can stand a lot. Mustn't think I'm weak because I'm small; but.... Well,
you know what I mean."

"Strong, but got no strength," suggested Toby. Sally shook him,
chuckling proudly at his wit and will to tease. It was like shaking a
tree, so immovable was he by the exerted strength of her weak arms.

"Saucy!" she said. "Though I s'pose it's what I meant. Toby, you do like
... you know ... _this_?" she suddenly asked, not bent upon a caress,
but in a sudden doubt. Her arms were warmly about his neck as she spoke.
Toby left her no doubt. He was not talkative; he had no ready flow of
compliment; but he could speak the language which a young girl in love
best understands. He could crush her almost to ecstatic forgetfulness in
his vigorous arms. Thus embraced, Sally was in Paradise, and her one
desire was to remain there, in a sort of annulment of every other
interest; but even in Paradise she found her thoughts irrepressible. So
she chattered on, while Toby grunted or did not say anything, or
occasionally grew marvellously glib and told something about his work,
or an anecdote about himself which she sometimes thought he must have
read somewhere. And ever and anon they were lost in silence, and their
closeness to one another, and their long breathless kisses, which made
Sally lean her forehead against Toby's breast and enjoy exquisitely the
sense of being weaker than he and of surrendering all her will to his.

If it had not been so cold they might have stood in this way for the
whole evening; but the wind was searching, and presently they began to
walk along, he with his arm about her so closely that they walked almost
with one motion. Toby smoked his cigarettes, and when he wanted one he
put his left hand in his pocket, and drew out a cigarette, and Sally
felt for his matches, and struck one, and held it for him, and received
smoke in her face, and blew the match out, and received a kiss, Toby all
the time never ceasing to hold her within his right arm. She wished
there were more cigarettes, so much did she enjoy the sense of intimacy.
Sometimes she could not resist the temptation to put her arm round
Toby's waist, and give him a little private hug of her own, to show how
happy she was. She loved the darkness more and more, because it made her
bolder. And the sky was so dark that the lamps were like small nickers,
and if anybody passed it was impossible for a face to be seen. And Sally
was alone in this dream world with Toby. She wished it might continue
like this for ever, night and day, beautifully quiet and secret, with
Toby all the time loving her as much as he did now. It was lovely. It
was lovely. She was happy. She did not feel tired or cross or mean or
worldly any longer; but only happy, and full of love.

At last they heard a clock striking eleven, and Sally gave a jump.

"Mercy! Eleven o'clock. Must go home. Good job mother's not there. Else
she'd be asking questions." She laughed as she spoke. "She'd want to
know something. I shouldn't half have a time. 'Eleven o'clock: where you
been?' I shouldn't mind. I'd take no notice. I don't take any notice of
her, because ... you know ... it encourages her if you take any notice.
Oo, the way she keeps on. You wouldn't believe. Drive me to drink, it
would, if I had it all the time. But she's not there...." Sally hugged
Toby. "Isn't it lovely! Nobody to grumble. Nobody to mind what time I
get in.... Well, you know what I mean. I must go in now." But when it
came to the moment of parting she clung to him. "I don't want to go. I
don't want to go," she cried. "It's been so nice, and I've been so
happy." To her horror she felt that she had begun to cry. With an effort
she pulled herself free. "Well, I suppose I _must_. And you'll think of
me, won't you? Just downstairs. And I'll think of you, and wish you were
there.... Oh, fancy me saying that! Toby...." She was passionately
serious. "Say you love me!"

"Love you!" said Toby.

She turned and waved to him when she was a few steps away, flew back to
his arms, and stayed there for a few minutes. Then, this time with more
resolution, she ran towards home, letting herself in with a sense of
brazen guilt at her lateness, and treading softly up the stairs. When
she was in the room, she shuddered a little, at the cold, and in her
excitement. Then she lighted the lamp and looked at herself in the
mirror--at her bright, betraying eyes, at her mouth, which was also
betraying, and at her hair and cheeks and brows and hands. She was
laughing, but not aloud. Her laughter was the mirth of happy excitement.
And, still so happy, she began to undress; and then thought she would
make herself a cup of tea. So she finished undressing while the kettle
boiled, and was sitting up in bed drinking her tea when she heard Toby
go upstairs. His movements made her start, and the tea dribbed over the
side of the cup. Into her head suddenly came a memory of her own words:
"And I'll think of you, and wish you were there."

"And so I do," she suddenly whispered. "So I do. Oh, I'm wicked. I'm
wicked!" She was trembling, and forgetting everything, her eyes fixed
upon the wall vaguely grey before her, outside the pale ray of the lamp.
Mechanically, she sipped again, and the tea ran warmly into her throat.
"No, I'm not wicked," Sally argued. "I'm not. 'Tisn't wicked to love any
one like I do Toby. It's wonderful. Fancy me in love! And Toby ... well,
liking me. Oo, he is strong and big. Wonder if he's brave? I should
think so. You couldn't be as strong as him and not be brave. Oh, I love
him." She remembered their caresses, unembarrassed and exulting. She
knew what it was to be loved. She knew ... she knew everything.
Everything that made people love each other and want to be always
together. Her mind persistently went on kneading into a general memory
the detached memories of the evening, and she was excited and full of
longing for Toby. Slowly she drank her tea, without thinking of it at
all, but accepting its comfort. Her shoulders began to feel cold, and
she shivered as she finished the cup.

Sally slid out of bed to replace the cup and to put out the lamp. As her
hand was outstretched she thought she heard a faint noise, but a
moment's startled listening reassured her. It had been nothing. She
lowered the wick, and blew out the remaining small blue rim of light.
Another instant, and she would have been back in bed, snuggled down in
the warmth. But at that instant she heard a further sound, this time the
turning of the door handle. She froze with sudden dread. In the darkness
she could see nothing.

"Who's there?" she whispered.

The door must slightly have opened. She could now see it open in the
gloom.

"Sally."

It was Toby. Joy took the place of fear. He was inside the door, and
she was in his arms, and the door was closed again behind them.

"My dear," Sally was saying, in a thick little caressing voice. "My
dear."

"Had to come," mumbled Toby, hoarsely. "Thought of you all alone. I
wanted you. See, I had to come."

"Of course you did," murmured Sally, her spirit leaping up and up in
tempestuous excitement. "Toby, you do love me? You _do_ truly love me?"

She had no sense then of anything but her love for him and his love for
her. She was carried right past caution and thought. She was in his
arms, and she was happy. And Toby, a dim figure of burly strength, was
kissing her until she was blinded and choking with excitement beyond all
she had ever felt. Everything conspired to affect her--all suppressions,
all knowledges, all curiosities and vanities. Nothing but caution could
have restrained her, and caution was forgotten. She was vehemently moved
and beyond judgment or reflection. Her one desire was to give herself to
the man she loved, the man who loved her. And the opportunity was upon
them as they were in the first fever of their passion.



BOOK TWO: GAGA


i

Ten days later, Sally began her work with Madame Gala. She arrived
punctually, but found Nosey before her, keeping a record of arrivals.
She also found one or two other girls, who stared at her in an
inquisitive fashion and went on talking among themselves. Only when a
forewoman--Miss Summers--arrived did the big room take on any air of
being used for work, and within five minutes all the girls were in a
state of preparation. Sally saw that they all had sleeved pinafores or
overalls; she had none. As she had not a farthing to buy material to
make such a thing, and had only a couple of slices of bread and
margarine in her coat pocket for lunch, and would have to walk all the
way home, Sally could not fight against the chilling of her heart which
quick glances about the workroom produced. The girls were of all sorts
and sizes, some of them smartly dressed and coiffed; others wearing
clothes less expensive even than her own, and with a general air of not
knowing how to make the best of themselves. Looking round at the faces
she could see none that indicated cleverness or special intelligence.
One ferrety-looking little thing seemed as though she might be either
sharp or half-witted; a tall dark girl who was rather pretty and had
beautiful hair used her hands with assurance; but observation did not
make Sally feel ashamed of herself or of her ability. These girls could
do almost as they were told, but not quite. But the pinafore was a
serious question. Sally had never been used to such a thing. She had not
even brought an apron.

While the others settled down, whispering among themselves and looking
sharply at Sally, the forewoman, after a greeting, ignored her until she
had attended to all that was more important. In her hands was the giving
out of work. Sally saw that she was supposed to know what each girl
could do. She also saw that some girls were favourites and others not.
If she were to make progress here she must be a favourite. She must show
quickly that she had the brains and could work well. It took a very
short time to make her realise that. For a moment she was inclined to be
over-confident; but that mood collapsed before a side glance and a
titter from two of the girls. Their instinctive ridicule warned and
stiffened Sally. They did not know her. She would have to prove her
qualities. She then concentrated upon Miss Summers, watching how she
turned, how she smiled and frowned, and how she explained what had to be
done to each girl who was receiving new work. Miss Summers was a short
stout woman with cat's eyes and a long nose. She licked her lips like a
cat. She was inconsistent and short-tempered; but Sally afterwards found
that while she was extraordinarily vain she was rarely unkind. But in
general she was severe, because severity was the only course to pursue
with these chattering girls, who were full of scratches and jealousies,
and who would have taken advantage of weakness with rapid
unscrupulousness. So the little stout woman, feline and easily
exasperated, was a good person to control the room. Her kindness might
be part of her vanity, but it was not assumed. She loved her work, and
she was always glad to praise good work from the girls, and to encourage
it by favouritism to good workers. It was not the pretty ones or the sly
ones who were the favourites. It was the workers. Following each girl
with her eye, Sally could not observe that at the beginning; but it did
not take her long to add it to her now formidable collection of facts.

When at last Sally was called to Miss Summers's side, and questioned,
she walked the length of the room feeling as though her legs had no
joints, and as though her shoulders were fixed. There were only eleven
girls in the room besides herself, but they were all looking at her. And
when she stood before Miss Summers in her little black dress she looked
so slight, with her slim body and thin pale face, that several of the
girls went on with their work again immediately, having lost interest in
her. Sally, confronted by Miss Summers's cat-like eyes, which were a
gooseberry green, twisted her fingers, and blurted out:

"I'm sorry, I got no pinafore. I didn't know I had to have one."

She was relieved when Miss Summers smiled and licked her lips.

"Well, let's make you one for a start-off. Shall we?"

Sally could have fallen down, so astonished was she at this retort.
Still she blurted further:

"I got no money for the material."

Again Miss Summers smiled. She might almost have given a purr. She
rubbed her cold nose with the back of her hand, like a cat washing its
face.

"That's all right," she said. "We'll find some stuff. It can come off
your wages. I want to see what you can do, d'you see? And that's as good
a way as any. I shall be able to notice how you do it, and give you a
word of advice if you want it. And you won't waste much time, and you
won't waste much material. And so why not? Just stand here while I get
the length." As she measured the length of Sally's frock, and allowed a
few additional inches for the pinafore, she sharply said in a low voice
that only Sally could hear: "That's right: never use scent. It's
vulgar. From the look of you I was afraid you'd use scent and be saucy.
But I'm glad you aren't."

"Oh, no, miss," answered Sally. Quite truthfully, she added: "I've never
thought of using scent. I don't like it. Only common girls use it."
Unconsciously she was emphasising all her sibilants.

"Well, some of the girls here do," said Miss Summers. "Hold still."

The pinafore was a simple matter for both Miss Summers and Sally; and
before the morning was over Miss Summers had visited Madame Gala.

"The new little girl's a quick worker," she said. "Very clever. I think
she'll be very useful."

At which Madame Gala raised her straight brows and looked piercingly at
Miss Summers. If Sally could have heard and appreciated the speech as
Madame Gala did she would have known that she had become a favourite at
a bound. She did not even guess it, so absorbed was she in deserving
commendation, until the end of the week, when she received her full
wages, without deduction. She was tempted. How easy to say nothing, and
take the risk of it being remembered! She could easily say she was sorry
she had forgotten all about it. Then some strong impulse of honesty made
her go up to Miss Summers.

"You haven't taken off the money for the pinafore," she whispered.

"That's all right," said Miss Summers. "Good girl to come to me about
it."

Good girl! Sally wondered if she really was such a very good girl.


ii

She was not, morally, being a very good girl; for her mother was still
in the hospital, and she and Toby were taking risks. So far there had
been no discovery; but they were getting bolder, and only the day before
going to Madame Gala's, when his aunt had been out for the afternoon and
evening, Toby had had Sally to tea in his aunt's room, and they had sat
together over a good fire, and had silently made love to each other for
hours. The more love-making they had, the more they wanted, and Sally
had been living all the week for the time she spent with Toby. But her
mother would be coming home soon, even though she would be unable to
work; and both knew that the wild ecstasy would end with her return. It
was that, probably, which made them less careful, or, if not less
careful, at any rate less cautious in the use of their opportunity.
Sally had a dread, which she would not face, and if Toby had any dread
he never told her. For all her feeling of intimacy with him, Sally never
reached below his manner and his strength; and her ignorance of him it
was that gave the whole relation its charm for her. He was mysterious, a
compelling strength outside her, a strange man who responded to all her
wishes and who loved her as she wished to be loved--brutally and
dominatingly. She was dazzled and infatuated. But already, in her first
days with Madame Gala, she had recovered sufficient of her old coolness
to be set upon definite personal success. This was her strongest
impulse. Her love was outside it, a gratification now, and not a
torment. She had no sense whatever of wrong-doing; only of hostility to
her mother because her mother's return would interrupt the tenour of her
life. Once only she said to Toby, secure in her trust of his love and
care: "Toby ... if I have a baby, you'll ... you'll marry me, won't
you?" And Toby gave her the necessary promise in obvious good faith.
Neither, therefore, troubled about the future. They were both too
anxious to live only in the exhilarating present.

But at last Mrs. Minto returned, and by that time Sally was living upon
money borrowed from Mrs. Perce, her one friend and protector. Mrs. Minto
could not work. She wrote to Aunt Emmy, and Aunt Emmy helped her from
her prizewinnings, and for several weeks they were thus enabled to stave
off want. Once Mrs. Minto was back at home the old order of parsimony
was revived, and it cost them very little to keep life going on from day
to day. Sally's seven shillings a week helped. And at last Mrs. Minto
was allowed to go out, and Mrs. Roberson took her back. Slowly,
half-starving, they managed to exist. Sally still had her evenings with
Toby, with their glory dimmed; and as the weeks went on she knew that
she was safe from the causes of her dread, and carried herself jauntily,
and she began to earn a little extra money by working in the evenings
for Miss Jubb. This meant that she saw Toby less often, and Toby now had
a man friend from the works where he was employed, and was sometimes
with this man Jackson. Sally had her seventeenth birthday: her figure
had improved, and so had her appearance. She was still meagre, because
she had not enough to eat; but some compensation of Nature allowed her
to maintain her health and to mature.

One day, when she had gone to practise upon Mrs. Perce's piano, as she
had not done all the time they had been away from the flat, Sally
attracted Mrs. Perce's attention by singing unusually well. Her friend
listened; and then looked into the room.

"What's that you're singing?" she demanded. "Suits you. You'll never be
able to play the piano, Sally, because you'd have to practise every day
for hours to do that; but you've got a big voice for your body. I
suppose your lungs are good. Ever heard me sing? It's like a baby
crying. But that song 'The Love Path' suits you. You might do something
with your voice. Not much, I expect; but something. You just try and get
hold of somebody who knows about such things. Might do a turn on the
Halls. You never know. If I come across anybody I'll ask them; but I
don't see many people now, and what I do are all in the 'public' line.
It's worth thinking about, for a girl like you, with your way to make.
Unless you marry, of course; and you say you're not going to do that in
a hurry. So there you are. Make the most of yourself, I say; and let the
Devil go hang himself if he's a mind to it."

Sally, who had never thought of such a thing, promised. For a time she
was flattered by the vision of singing to audiences. But that soon
faded. She met nobody outside Madame's, except for one or two young men
who spoke to her on the way home; and so she kept to her sewing and
machining for Miss Jubb. It pleased her to be able to tell Toby, who,
however, frowned, and did not seem pleased.

"Seems to me you're always thinking you'll do something wonderful," he
said sourly. "Doesn't seem to come to much, as fur as I can see."

"Oh, doesn't it!" cried Sally. She shook herself free from him, and
marched off in anger. And Toby did not follow. It was a tiff. By the
next evening both were contrite, and the matter was never spoken of
again. All the same, Sally remembered it. She remembered it the more
unforgivingly because Toby's remark had been true. Nothing so far had
happened to prove definitely that her confidence in exceptional powers
was justified. He was jealous of her! Sally laughed almost scornfully.
Fancy a big fellow like Toby being jealous of a little thing like her.
Men! They were all alike. All right as long as they were playing first
fiddle! That was it: Toby didn't want her to have a chance at all. He
wanted her always to be number two. Sally shook her head obstinately.

"All right, Master Toby!" she said to herself. There was no more in it
than that--a momentary revolt;--but once the notion had arisen it began
to revolve in her mind. She could not remember if she had ever told Toby
of her plan to be a successful dressmaker; but what would he say to
that? Would he like his wife to make money, and to have real ladies
coming to her as they did to Madam? It seemed from this that he would
not. He preferred to be top dog. Sally was to be nothing upon her own
account--merely to fetch and carry, and do what she was told, and
husband his paltry little earnings. He'd rather be poor than owe
anything to his wife, in case she became bigger than himself. Was that
it? Was that Master Toby's idea? If so, it was not Sally's. She suddenly
understood that Toby thought of her as his wife, as his chattel; and
that she had never ceased, except in the passionate excitement of their
early relations, to think of herself as one who belonged to herself and
was going to make some sort of life for herself. This came as a shock to
Sally. She had never thought of it before. She was beginning to grow up.
From that time she first began to criticise Toby. Until then he had been
the burly man she loved. Her thoughts of him, as her love for him, had
been merely physical. She was now to search more deeply into the needs
of life, still crudely, but examiningly. It was not enough, then, to
love a man if you were going to have something else to do in life
besides love him. The idea was new. It puzzled her. It was something
outside the novelettes she had read, and outside her own precocious
thoughts. Love was love--all knew that. She loved Toby; she had given
herself to him; they were practically married; and now it appeared that
something was wrong somewhere. Toby did not want her to be Sally: he
wanted her to be just a sort of moon-Toby. Another girl would have
wanted nothing better. Sally told herself that she was different. She
went out by herself, one evening, instead of working; and walked up to
Highgate. And as she went up the hill she sang to herself the ballad
"The Love Path." It began:

  "When you and I go down the love path together,
  Birds shall be singing and the day so long,"

and she could play the simple accompaniment to it with very few
mistakes. She remembered Mrs. Perce's words. What if she _could_ do
something with her voice? Did she sing well? She allowed herself to
glimpse another glorious future.

In the middle of the walk Sally stopped dead.

"Oh, _doesn't_ it...." she said aloud. "Well, we'll just _see_. We'll
just see about it. That's all." And having as it were made her formal
protest she resumed the journey, and arrived home tired out, ready for
bed; and before she had been in bed more than two minutes she was fast
asleep, dreaming of motor cars and footmen standing on the pavement with
fur rugs in their hands. In her dream she was alone in the cars. Even
the chauffeur had no smallest resemblance to Toby. And yet she still
loved him with all her heart, and when she was with him she felt that
she extraordinarily belonged to him. Love had again at last encountered
ambition, and battle was joined.


iii

Dreams of luxurious motor-cars, and footmen with fur capes and long
fawn-coloured overcoats, holding fur rugs to cover her knees, were now
constant in Sally's mind. She saw such things occasionally in Regent
Street, and loved to look in at the windows of motor broughams
upholstered in fawn-coloured corduroy, with arm straps and little
hanging vases of fresh flowers. The freshness of these cars was her
delight. She had no notion of the income it was necessary to have in
order to possess such cars, with their attendant footman and chauffeur;
but that income, whatever it was, became her ideal. Money! Lots of
money! With money you could have comfort. When she said that, and was
warned by conventional wiseacres that money did not produce happiness,
she sneered at the timid ones. "Bet _I'd_ be happy," she said. "What's
happiness?" She wondered what it was. For her it had been oblivion in
Toby's arms. It was so no longer. That was not all she desired. It was
not by any means all. And she shrank more and more strongly from a life
of squalid toil such as her mother had had--such as she would still have
had if Mr. Minto had been a sober man. All her life she had slaved and
slaved, and now she was worn out with it. Not for Sally! She had other
plans. She had gone to the West End, and the West End was in her blood.
She was looking round at life with some of her old calculating
determination to exploit it. The death of her father, the passion for
Toby,--these had distracted her. With increasing confidence in her
position at Madam's, and a new sense of what money could actually do in
the way of procuring food and clothes and ordinary or extraordinary
physical comforts, Sally had returned to her old faith. She began to
have a little money to buy things for herself. Once or twice Miss
Summers gave her quite good-sized pieces of material, and there were
always scraps to be gathered and utilized. And Sally was enabled to
dress carefully. She became the smartest of the girls in the room, for
she had a natural sense of smartness. The other girls did not like her,
but they all envied her and admired her. It was not that she was
unpopular; but that they felt in her the hard determination to get on,
and were resentful of her manifest ability to achieve what she meant to
do.

The other girls were all sorted out in Sally's mind. There was not one
of them into whose nature she had not some biting insight. She had
become so practised that she knew all their dresses (as of course all
the others did, so that a new one was an event), and knew what
everything they owned had cost. She could recognise anything that had
been dyed, any brooch or adornment, any stockings. She would have made a
good house-detective. But she never told tales. If she knew, she knew,
and that was all. It was not for Sally to play the policeman. All
knowledge went into her memory. It would be devastatingly produced on
the occasion of a row, but Sally rarely quarrelled. With her, nothing
ever came to a quarrel. There was no need for it to do so. She was
neither jealous nor censorious. One does not quarrel with one who
neither loves nor blames nor is stupid or too anxious to show
cleverness. Sally merely "was," and the other girls knew it. For this
reason she was not liked, but neither was she feared or unpopular. They
did not hide things from her, but they did not show them eagerly. Sally
was Sally. She enjoyed being Sally. She meant always to be Sally.

And at last there came into Sally's life, when she had been at Madame
Gala's for about six months, a new interest, and a singular one. One
day, when they were all working very hard, and the electric light was
on, Madame came into the workroom with another person. And this person
was a young man with a grey, thin face, rather tall and stooping, with a
hesitating manner, and a general air of weakness. He followed Madame
Gala round the room in an idle way, nodding to several of the girls; and
Sally thought he had a very attractive smile. She found him looking at
herself with a pair of large soft brown eyes, like chocolate which has
been in a warm place. It was a rather dumb look. A little nick came
between Sally's brows. She was busy making an inventory of the young man
visitor's traits, his features, his clothes. He dressed well, and he was
not bad-looking. With more stamina he might have been almost handsome;
but he was obviously not in good health. The stoop, the vagueness of all
his movements, his soft eye, all betokened as much. Sally turned to
Muriel Barrett, who worked next to her.

"Who's he?" she asked, indicating the stranger.

"That's Bertram ... Madame's son. Mr. Merrick, his real name is. But we
call him Gaga."

"Wodjer call him that for?" asked Sally. "Isn't he right in his head?"

"Oo, well one of the gels--she's gone now, Mary Smith,--made it up. She
said he was Mr. Gala, you know. Then she called him Bertie Gaga, for
fun; and it got to Gaga. I never spoken to him, so I don't know. Look
out, he's looking at us. Oo, I believe he's got a crush on you, Sally."

Presently the young man followed his mother out of the room, and there
was a little buzz when they were gone. The girls leaned together, and
whispered, laughing among themselves. Muriel Barrett turned again to
Sally, and became confidential. She herself was a pink, snub-nosed
blonde, with untidy hair, who was always sniffing over her work. She
jerked her head at Rose Anstey, the tall dark girl whom Sally had
noticed when first she came.

"Rose thought he was in love with her once," Muriel said. "Well, he was,
a bit; but not as much as she thought. I mean, he used to look at her,
and all that, but he never give her anything, or took her out. I think
... you know ... she's a bit struck on him. That's more like it. She
thinks he's a very tall handsome man. Well, he's not my taste. Funny, if
you're tall, I s'pose you want a tall man to fall in love with you. It's
different, being small, I suppose. My Elf's only about inch taller than
me. You can't hardly see there's any difference between us. If I've got
my hair frizzed he looks...."

Muriel went on talking. Sally took a glance at Rose, who, with eyes
downcast, was sewing rapidly. Sally wished she had known that about Rose
and Gaga while he was in the room: then she would have been able to look
at Rose and make up her mind about that affair. She did not suppose
really that there was anything in it, either way. Muriel was a little
fool--like a little pink pig. That was just what she was like. And she
chattered like a monkey. She had said that because he looked at her
twice Gaga had got a crush on Sally. Well, Sally didn't mind. He could
have any old crush he liked, for all she cared. Gaga was dismissed from
her immediate attention, although she sometimes recollected a pair of
soft brown eyes, that made her want to say "Moo" as if in response to
their dumb longing.

The outcome of this visit, which occurred towards the end of May, was a
day's outing for the girls at the beginning of June. They all went into
the country by train, on a day which at first promised to be typical of
all days unfortunately chosen for staff outings, but which cheered up
later and became brilliantly fine. Only the girls were there, with Miss
Summers and another forewoman, Miss Rapson, to see that nobody fell
into mischief. They had a good picnic lunch in woods, and ran or walked
or sat about all the afternoon, until it was time for tea. They then
trooped into an hotel in which a room had been engaged, and scrimmaged
for places round a big table. The tea was an enormous meal: Sally, who
had not hitherto enjoyed herself any more than most of the other girls
had noisily done, felt herself grown to twice her normal size. It was
the biggest meal she had ever eaten, and there were cream and milk and
sugar, and there were cakes and lettuce and jam and all sorts of other
encouragements to appetite. And every time anybody laughed the sound
went up to the varnished rafters, and billowed so much that the two
elder women had at last to break in upon a laughter competition. Sally
held aloof from the laughter, scornfully regarding the laughers. She had
been rather serious all day.

And when the noise and fun were at their height Madam and Gaga and
another man and woman came into the room, having motored to the hotel,
taken their tea in another room, and determined to join the party. The
tea had been so late, and so prolonged, that it was already nearly eight
o'clock, and as the sky had grown overcast and the day was drawing to a
close the lights suddenly popped up to illumine the faces of both
feasters and visitors. A piano was opened at the far end of the room,
and the woman who was with Madam sat down at it and began to play. But
only one or two of the girls danced: the others had eaten too much to be
able to do so. Then Rose sang a song, in which she said that her heart
was aching and breaking at somebody's forsaking, and the girls looked at
one another significantly; and there were more songs, and the girls sat
back in their chairs with flushed faces, and each of them in turn seemed
to be doing something to entertain the party. With a bored feeling,
Sally was sipping her last cup of tea, when she became aware that Gaga
had taken the chair next to her, and with his chocolate eyes was looking
pleadingly into her face.

"Don't _you_ sing?" he asked. "I wish you'd sing."

"I got no music," said Sally.

"Mrs. Roach would be able to make an accompaniment. She understands
music very well--if you hummed her a song. I wish you'd sing."

Sally rose to her feet. The other girls all watched her with narrowed
eyes. She was wearing such a pretty dress of light grey cotton poplin
that she looked smarter than ever, they thought--in fact, almost pretty.
She went close to the piano, and spoke to the pianist. "_Oo, swank!_"
whispered the girls, when they saw that Sally was to play her own
accompaniment. It was a thing none of them could have done.

  "'When you and I go down the love path together,
  Birds shall be singing and the day so long....'"

sang Sally, in her clear voice, and made everybody arch their brows in
surprise.

  "'Your heart mine, and mine in your keeping,
  List while I sing to you love's tender song.
    Ah, love, have done with your repining,
    See how the day is clear;
    Heart of my heart,
    On your fond heart reclining
    Dear, oh my Dear....'"

She played with care, and struck no false notes. She sang her best. Her
voice was the best voice of the afternoon, a mezzo-soprano, but with
clear upper register and a fulness that suggested training. It was not
a great performance, but it thrilled the others. Sally had triumphed.
With one accord the girls clapped.

"My best worker," said Miss Summers, rubbing her cold nose and turning
to the accompanist of the afternoon.

"A clever little girl," agreed her neighbour.

But Gaga was stupefied. He had remained in the chair next to Sally's,
and when she resumed her place his mouth was still open with delight and
admiration. Again he leaned forward, and she met his melting chocolate
eyes.

"That was beautiful," he said, in a low tone of commendation.
"Beautiful!"

"Glad you liked it," she said, almost brusquely. Instinctively she shot
a glance in Rose's direction. Rose, her cheeks mantling, was observing
the two with interest. Sally's brain clicked an impression, and she
listened to a stammering from Gaga which aroused her contempt. "He's
hardly a man at all," she thought. "He's soppy. Rose can have him. I
wish her joy of him. She can have him--and twenty like him, if she
wants.... I don't know so much about that. Why should she? She's stuck
up. Why shouldn't I have some fun, if I want to? It's nothing to do with
Rose Anstey what I do, and what Gaga does...."

Her demand was unanswerable, because it was addressed to one who did not
habitually withdraw herself lest she should give pain to others. If Rose
was jealous, that showed the sort of cat she was. And in any case, who
was Rose? Sally was bright in her responses to the soft voice, so that
Gaga was pleased; but the girls could all see that her manner was cool,
and not the flustered eagerness of a beggar. Rose's neighbour whispered.
When the evening was over and Gaga and his mother had gone, and the
girls had all piled into two railway compartments, somebody, whose
voice was unrecognisable in the darkness, called from the other
carriage:

"What price Gaga on the love path? Whey!"

There was great laughter. Even Sally joined in it. Going home, the other
girls in her carriage all insisted upon hearing the song again, and as
they all had the quick ear of Cockneys they could sing it in chorus by
the time the train reached its journey's end. Sally had become, for a
time, the heroine of the occasion. Only Rose, in the other carriage, had
made her protest against the song and its singer.

"Love path!" she said, in a warm voice of indignation. "She's nothing
but a cocket--a white-faced cocket. That's what she is. She nothing but
a white-faced cocket, that Sally Minto!"

From that time onward that was Sally's name among the girls--"Cocket,"
or "White-faced Cocket." Rose had coined the phrase which would stick.
When Sally heard her name the next day, through Muriel's indiscretion,
she looked over at Rose with pinched nostrils and a little dry smile.
She was flattered. The name was the product of Rose's jealousy and
injured vanity; but it was life to Sally, for it was a testimony--the
first she had ever had--to her charm and her dangerousness.


iv

She did not tell Toby the next night about her singing. She rather
carefully refrained from telling him, not out of considerateness, but
from a sort of scorn for his jealousy. To herself she said "Anything for
a quiet life." Toby never dreamed that such a person as Gaga existed,
any more than he guessed at any of Sally's encounters with young men on
the way home. Sally had discretion. Had he been a lover, she might have
told him; but as he was more to her than that she saw no reason to
arouse his jealousy. And really, if a man spoke to her, and looked all
right, where was the harm in letting him walk a little way with her? She
never made appointments, and after a time, when they found she could
take care of herself, and did not want a non-committed male friend,
these fellow-pedestrians soon left her alone. For Sally, each of them
was practice. To mention them to Toby would have been to give them all
too great importance. And he might have made a fuss, and unnecessarily
interrupted her fun. "Where ignorance is bliss," thought Sally, "'tis
folly to call out the guard." And, further, "Let sleeping dogs lie until
the milk is stolen." And so Toby pursued his own path, and never knew a
tenth of what went on in Sally's life and mind. Compared with Sally, he
knew nothing at all. She grew each day more _rusée_, more cunning in
knowledge of the world. And Toby blundered where he should have been
most astute. It was his fate.

Sally told him about the outing, because she saw he was in a gloomy mood
on the day--a Sunday--after the girls' treat. She described it at length
as they walked in Waterlow Park, hanging on to his arm, and all the time
searching his tell-tale face and guessing at the cause of his manifest
depression. She told about the picnic and the woods, and the tea, and
the journey home; and she saw his mouth slightly open as he grunted. She
could see the tiny points of hair that were beginning to make a
perceptible blueness upon his chin, and the moulding of his cheek, and a
little patch of fine down upon his cheek bone, and the hair at his
temples which she had so often kissed. And she knew by his averted eye
that something was the matter with him. She began to try drawing him on
the subject--his aunt, had he heard from his mother (who had married
again when Toby was a baby, and lived with her husband in the North),
what had he been doing at the Works? Ah! That was it. Toby had started,
and frowned. It was something at the Works. Oh, he was easy for Sally to
read!

"What's the matter?" she suddenly asked. Toby flushed and scowled down
at her, very dark and ugly in his irritation, his mouth twisted.

"Matter?" he demanded. "What d'you mean? Nothing's the matter."

"That's why you're so cheerful, I suppose," retorted Sally--"At the
Works, I mean." Toby gave her a quick, angry look in which there was an
admixture of fear and suspicion.

"There's _nothing_ the matter," he said, in a tyrannic voice.

"Have you got the sack?" Sally was merciless. She replied to his
tyrannic voice with one as hard and stabbing as a gimlet. "Ah, I thought
that was it. What you been doing?"

"Nothing," said Toby. "And anyway, what's it to do with you?"

"Well, I'm out walking with you. See? And I got to do all the talking.
See? And if you're going to be surly I'll go home by myself. That's what
it's got to do with me. And, besides, it _is_ something to do with me,
and don't you forget it. You got no right to keep things from me."

Toby was cowed by her handling of him. He might be strong, but brains
are always more potent than muscle in such circumstances. And men are
always afraid of the women they love.

"Yes, I got the push," he defiantly said.

"And what's _that_ for?" demanded Sally, with the severity of a mother
to her baby. There was no answer. "What's _that_ for?" she repeated.
"Come on, Toby, you'll feel better if you tell me about it. Toby, d'you
love me? Well, there's nobody about ... quick!" They kissed, and her
arms had been round his neck, and Toby was her sheepish, scowling,
smiling slave. Sally had a faint consciousness of joy in her power.

"Well, you see...." he began, haltingly. "Jackson and I ... we been ...
well, we wanted to make a bit, you see. And--tiddent _his fault_, but
he...."

"Been pinching stuff," said Sally. "Clumsy. Got found out. Well?"

"Well, they found out about me, too."

"What had _you_ been doing?"

"I never took anything; but I found a lot of old things among the
rubbish, and I showed them to Jackson. Well, they asked him if anybody
had been with him; and he said 'no.'"

"That was all right," Sally said. "I like Jackson."

"But then the man he'd been dealing with said Jackson had talked about
his 'mate.' And they knew that was me. And I ... told 'em a tale."

"_I_ bet!" cried Sally, scornfully. "And got caught in it, too. Badly!"

"Well, they fired us both yesterday, and said we was lucky they didn't
prosecute."

"Did they pay you? What you going to do now?"

"I dunno." Toby stared stubbornly before him. "Get something else, I
suppose. Jackson's going for a sailor. Guess I'll do that, too."

"Go for a sailor?" demanded Sally, with a heart that went dump into her
boots. "What d'you want to do that for?"

"I'd be with Jackson, see, if I went for a sailor."

"And what about me?" Sally's voice was no longer hard or dry. "D'you
want to leave me? Are you tired of me, Toby? I believe you are. Are
you?"

"No, I'm not. And I don't want to leave you. But if I went for a sailor
I'd make a bit of money, perhaps, and then after a little while I could
come back and begin again. It would get over having no reference. They'd
say 'Where you been working?' and I'd say 'Been at sea for the last
year.' Then they wouldn't know anything but what I told 'em. I wouldn't
go long voyages, Sally. Only just short ones. I'd often come home, and
we'd have a spree."

Sally's quick brain was at work. She did not want him to go; but if he
went, and if she saw him often, in spite of his being away, perhaps it
would not be so bad.

"But suppose you got wrecked?" she exclaimed.

"Rot. D'you suppose every ship gets wrecked? Don't be a fool!"

"No. But yours might get wrecked. How am I to know, supposing there's a
storm? It won't not get wrecked because you're on it. Would you come
home very often? Would you wear sailor clothes? Wonder how you'd look!
Oh, I know--you mean a jersey. Would it have letters across your chest?
Where d'you have to go?"

Sally was so interested that she was even making up Toby's mind for him.
By the time they went in it was decided that he and Jackson were going
to sea, and that Sally should be taken down to visit his ship if it
happened to be at the Docks or at Tilbury. She had dancing visions of
Toby in a navy blue jersey, with "Queen of the Earth" or "La Marguerite"
or "Juanita" across it in white letters. She could see his dark hair
blown by the wind, and the veins in his wrists standing out as he hauled
a rope. It was rather fun! she thought. "My boy's a sailor." She would
be able to touch him for luck. Sailors were lucky. She sang to herself
a song one of the workgirls knew:

  "Sailors are lads. Sailors are lads.
  Sailors they make you laugh!"

Before night she was wholly reconciled to the idea that Toby would go to
sea. She soon had a dim perception of the fact that it would do him good
to go. It would get him away from the atmosphere of the Works, where
there seemed to be a lot of stupid larking and work-dodging. Now that he
was dismissed she began to realise all this. She was glad he was away
from it. She was glad he was going to sea. It would be a complete
change. It would do him good. He had been fiddling about too long at the
Works, in his overalls and in the grime and oil and general dodginess of
the place. The ship would take him about, and show him the way people
did things. It would open his eyes and his brains. Electrically,
something self-protective within her added the further message: it would
keep him out of the way for a time. Sally breathed deeply. An unreadable
smile was upon her lips, and no smile at all was in her eyes. Afar off
she scented change; but what manner of change she did not as yet
recognise. It was her instinct at work, her instinct for turning life to
her own advantage. It was an infallible instinct, like that of birds for
a coming storm.


v

It was some weeks before Sally again saw Gaga, and this time he came
into the premises of Madame Gala one Saturday morning. Sally had taken
something in to Madam, and was waiting her judgment, when one door
opened and Gaga came in. He was dressed, as usual, in a morning coat and
top hat, and his trousers were creased to an inconceivable point of
accuracy. Besides which, his tailors had been able to do what most
tailors cannot achieve; the creases arrived at the precise centre of
Gaga's fawn spats. Sally was not such an expert in male clothing to
recognise from this that Gaga's tailors were supermen; but she could
tell that he looked like a gentleman of leisure. She was the more
astonished, therefore, to see him carrying a parcel of some size under
his arm. His mother was evidently quite as astonished.

"What on earth's that, Bertie?" she demanded. Gaga looked at her in a
timid way.

"Oh--er--it's ... it's a new fertiliser," he said. "I.... I'm going to
take it on to the office after lunch. Goodmayes is coming back then.
Perrip says it's wonderful stuff, and I want Goodmayes to go into it.
We're going into all that matter--good morning, Miss Minto--this
afternoon. I.... I think we may be able to get through quite a lot. You
see, as it's Saturday, we shan't be interrupted...."

"That will do, Sally," said Madam, gravely and slowly nodding her head
in dismissal.

Sally went with regret. She had been interested in the conversation. She
had taken it for granted that Gaga did nothing for a living. Now he
talked of going to an office, and of two men whose opinions he evidently
valued, and of fertiliser; and although his words and his manner were
still those of a hesitating man he did not speak as an absolute fool.
Sally felt a stir of curiosity. What sort of business was it that he was
in? Fertiliser ... wonderful stuff ... something to do with gardening,
would it be? As she was closing the door, Sally looked back and saw
mother and son standing together. The likeness was remarkable. Both were
tall, grey-faced, and slightly stooping. Gaga was weak-looking for a
man, and Madam had more severity; but there were such lines upon her
face that she looked like an old woman. A sudden realisation shook
Sally. As she went back to Miss Summers with an explanation of Madam's
deferred judgment she had this sharp new knowledge about Madame Gala.

"Well _she_ won't live for ever," thought Sally, definitely.

And then she had recourse to her usual informant, Muriel, and asked her
Gaga's business. Muriel did not know. Sally was therefore left to
conjecture. She forgot all about Madam and Gaga, for Toby was going to
meet her after business on his first leave from the "Florence Drake."
She was dressed in her most destructive raiment, had searched the skies
for rain, and was watching the clock. So fertilisers went the way of all
secondary things, and Toby became her dominating thought. He had become
the more splendid by his absence. She imagined him standing in the
street below, dressed equally in his best clothes, and looking the
finest boy on earth. They were going into Hyde Park and Kensington
Gardens, and he had promised to take her in a boat on the Serpentine, if
one could be hired, and somewhere to tea, and at night to the
Marlborough Theatre in Holloway Road. It was worth while to lose him for
a time in order to recover a Toby more dear, and so much more
extravagant on her behalf. He explained his generosity by the fact that
he would be drawing his wages that day. Good to be a sailor, and have
your money in a lump like that! Sally thought she would not altogether
mind if he remained at sea for a time. He could save, and she could get
on; and then they would both be happy, with a house somewhere, and a
maid, and everything spick and span. No babies. Sally had taken that to
heart, and she appreciated the value of old Perce's advice. A girl who
wanted to get on did not need babies to drag her down. She wanted
freedom.

As the clock slowly crawled to the hour of liberation all the girls
began to put away their things, so that a real busyness was observable
in the room. Sally was apparently no more eager than the others, and yet
she could hardly keep herself from running to the window to see if Toby
was in the street below. Sedately she prepared to leave, walking down
the stairs slowly instead of rushing at them as she wished to do. She
buttoned her little gloves, and set her hat straight, and made herself
appear nonchalant. And that was how it happened that Gaga overtook her
at the front door, and stood with her for a moment upon the doorstep.

"Lovely day it is," Gaga said, agreeably. "You going to get away?"

"Away? Oh, no, I'm going home," Sally said brightly. Then, looking at
him, she saw that there was nothing to disturb the impression that he
was a gentleman of leisure. "Oh Mr. Ga-- Mr. Bertram ... you haven't got
your parcel!" she cried.

He slapped one hand upon the other, with a most dramatic gesture.

"Idiot!" he exclaimed. "Thank you _so_ much, Miss Minto. You've saved my
afternoon." And with that, raising his top hat, he went back up the
stairs, leaving Sally to congratulate herself upon her memory and her
presence of mind. For she knew the rooms would all be locked by Miss
Summers before she left.

She looked round for Toby, and saw him, as fine as a bird, upon the
opposite path. Crossing over, she took his arm with such pride and
delight that Toby, who had been frowning as he greeted her, was almost
appeased. She looked so charming in her very pale green dress with the
artfully-brimmed hat that he also had looked proud and happy at her
first appearance. But Toby had received a shock. Standing there in his
dark tweed suit, with a rakish Trilby hat and a fascinating cane, he had
felt a fit companion for any girl, and as he was shaven, and his square
face was browned with the sun and the sea wind, he had been content. And
then Sally, looking like a princess....

"Who the devil's that silly fop?" he demanded, jerking his head.

Sally gave a jump, and a mischievous peep up into Toby's brown face.

"Jealous?" she asked. "That's right: be a man. They're never happy
unless they're jealous. That's Gaga. And if you want to know who Gaga
is, he's Madam's son. See?"

"Well, he'd better not come fooling around you," growled Toby. "Or he'll
get a thick ear. With his top hat and his kid gloves and all."

"Hark at it!" jeered Sally. "Quite the little man! Don't you think he's
awfully good-looking, Toby? We're all mad about him. All us girls."

"No, I don't," said Toby, deliberately. "But I expect he's the sort the
girls like. Well, he's got a harem there, and no mistake, all fussing
round him. Is he there all the time?"

"No. Toby, what's fertilisers?" Sally's curiosity had been revived.
"Don't you know? Oh, shut up about Gaga. Anybody'd think he was a devil.
He isn't. He's soppy. He wouldn't dare to make love to any of us girls.
If I was to look at him he'd run away."

"Yes," said Toby, grimly. "I see he didn't like you looking at him."

"Well, I'll tell you something else, Toby," added Sally, with a
persuasively dry candour. "If Madam was to see me looking at him I
should get the sack--spiff! See?"

Toby was impressed. More, he was silenced. They spent a happy afternoon
and evening, with no further reference to Gaga. Nor did Sally think of
Gaga during the whole of the weekend. He might have been mixed and
pounded with his own fertiliser for all she cared. For Sally had Toby.


vi

One night Miss Summers and Sally were working late upon a "rush job,"
and Madam was also in her room. The girls had all gone; but Sally had
been chosen by Miss Summers to help her, and Sally was always ready to
do this because it meant a small addition to her weekly money. Madam was
doing her books, and Gaga was helping her. Sally was sewing
busily--beautiful fine work that caused Miss Summers to purr and lick
her lips with relish;--and as they worked they exchanged remarks which
would have been impossible if they had not been alone. Miss Summers
always spoke of the business, which absorbed her, and Sally gleaned
innumerable details in this way, without seeming to be doing such a
thing. She, on her side, gave Miss Summers a low-toned picture of her
own life, concentrating upon domestic circumstances and enhancing Miss
Summers' respect for her bravery and her willingness. When they had been
silent once for a little while, and Sally had finished the first of her
difficult and gratifying tasks, Sally fell into thought, and at last
said to Miss Summers:

"Wish I knew about accounts. I don't know anything. Is it hard to
learn?"

Miss Summers shook her plump face, and rubbed the tip of her nose with
the back of her hand.

"No," she reassuringly said. "It's easy. You know what twice one are?
Well, that's all it is. You put down on one side how much you charged,
and when you get the money you put it down on the other side, and draw a
line to show they balance. And every month or every quarter you go
through your books, and see who hasn't paid; and if it isn't anybody
special you send them a fresh account. And if it's a real lady you don't
worry her. You have to know who's who in a business like this. That's
the chief thing."

"Does Gaga--Mr. Bertram know who's who?"

"No!" Miss Summers's tone was conclusive. "But his mother tells him who
to write to, or who to send an account to, and he knows book-keeping,
and how much is at the bank; and he draws cheques for her to sign, and
that sort of thing. Between you and me, Sally--mind, this is _quite_
between ourselves,--I don't think Mr. Bertram's got a very good head for
figures. You have to be a bit smarter than he is. Of course, he's very
kind and good-looking; but if I wanted good sound common sense I
wouldn't go to him. Not a good head for figures. He's not very sharp.
Now Madam's as sharp as a needle. It's funny how a really sharp woman
sometimes has a son who's--well, not so sharp...."

"Would you say _I_ was sharp?" asked Sally innocently.

"Like a knife," declared Miss Summers, with a quick dart of her feline
eyes.

"Really?" Sally was eager. She gave a little chuckle of pleasure at such
emphatic praise.

"You'd be able to do the books, but you're better where you are. When
you've been here another three months, Sally, you'll be getting more
money. It isn't only that you're a good worker, and quick, but you've
got more sense than the other girls. I oughtn't to say this to you. I
don't generally praise the girls here. But if you want to get on, you've
only got to stay where you are. You'll find Madam appreciates you. And
so do I."

"You've been awfully good to me," murmured Sally, with downcast eyes.
"I'm not just saying that, Miss Summers; I mean it, every word. When I
came here I didn't know anything; and now I don't know a lot; but...."
She gave a small cluck of her tongue, and a smile to show how much she
had learned. It was true. And she was even learning to speak better,
through listening to Madam and Miss Summers and at times a customer; and
she had enough sense to avoid the extravagant refinements of Nosey.
Presently she resumed: "Miss Summers, what does Mr. Bertram do? He's got
a business of his own, hasn't he?"

Miss Summers looked across at the door leading to Madam's room, and
lowered her voice.

"It's only something Madam put him into. It's a business all to do with
farms."

"Farms?" Sally laughed. "Well, _he_ doesn't look much like a farmer."

"No, it isn't exactly farms; but chemical things they use on farms. Now
you see there's the soil." Sally nodded, so deeply interested that she
ceased her work. "Some soil's good for growing things, and some isn't.
Well, when a soil's not good the farmers mix stuff with it, to make it
better."

"I know," cried Sally, joyously. "Fertiliser."

"Yes. And then from the good soil they'll get a crop early in the year,
and then, by using stuff, they'll get another crop later. All that sort
of thing. And if cows have the mange, or the rickets, or whatever it is
cows have, Mr. Bertram's got something to give them. D'you see what I
mean? And all sorts of chemical things. Stuff to kill weeds, stuff to
give chickens to make them have bigger eggs.... He's got an inventor,
and a manager, and others who are interested in the business, and he's
got a share, and he goes to the office and goes about the country
sometimes." Miss Summers screwed up her nose and lips, looking very like
an old pussy, and in a whisper added: "Doesn't really do very much." She
put her finger to her lips at that, and Sally, resuming her work,
reassured her by a glance. "Of course," said Miss Summers, "he's very
agreeable, and good-looking, and he's got plenty of money."

Money! Sally's eyelids flickered. She gave a charming grin.

"Wish I'd got plenty money," she said.

"You will have," answered Miss Summers, confidently. "Don't fret. Your
time's coming. You're young yet, and all sorts of things might happen to
you."

Sally made no response. She fell into silence for a time. She had learnt
with the greatest interest about Gaga's business, and about the books.
She learned a great deal from Miss Summers, whom she had grown to like
very much. She was by no means insensitive to kindness, although she was
not sentimental over it. And, as she thought, she came round again to
the two workers in the next room.

"D'you think Madam will live long?" she unexpectedly asked.


vii

Within half an hour the job was finished, and Miss Summers took it in to
Madam. She closed the door after her, and so Sally could not hear what
was said. She stood up, stretching her arms, and looking down into the
street, for it was barely growing dusk, and she could see a few men and
women walking along in either direction. She yawned slightly, raising
her hand to her mouth, her muscles stiff. And as she stood thus she
heard the door opened and closed again, and, still yawning, said
sleepily:

"Oo, I'm _so_ tired!"

"Are you?" she heard behind her, in a very soft and sympathetic voice.
Sally wheeled.

"I thought it was Miss Summers," she cried.

Gaga stood there smiling shyly, and looking at her with his appealing
eyes. In this light he looked very handsome, and Sally felt almost sorry
to see that he also looked tired. His face was quite grey, and his
movements were those of an exceedingly nervous person who would always
shrink from roughness.

"I'm so sorry you should have had to work so late," he said.

"Oo, it's nothing," cried Sally. "Do me good. If I was at home I should
only be working there," she added, explanatorily. "Work, work, work."

"Don't you ever get any fun?" asked Gaga, timidly. "I mean, go out, or
anything?"

Sally shook her head. She was silhouetted against the light.

"No," she told him. "Not often." It was strange how refined her voice
automatically became when she was talking to Gaga. She was altogether
restrained. "You can't if you've got to earn your own living. And have
to get here early in the morning."

Gaga hesitated, half turned away, came back.

"I'm very sorry," he said, in his gentle, weak way. "Don't you like it?
I mean going out. Or is it just that you don't get the chance? Poor
little girl. Er-- I'm sorry. Er--it's a beautiful night, isn't it?"

"Lovely," agreed Sally. "I'm going to walk home."

He considered that. He did not seem to have anything more to say. Sally
moved to her place, and mechanically put away her scissors and thimble.
She was still in her pinafore, and she could not take that off and roll
it up while Gage was in the room. So they stood there, separated by
several yards. He took out a cigarette case, and lighted a cigarette,
throwing the match under the long table at the side of the room.

"Yes," he said reflectively. "Are you going to have dinner first?"

"Me?" laughed Sally. She shook her head. "When I get home. If I had
dinner in London it would take all my wages, and more, at a single go."
She laughed again, but not woundingly.

Gaga looked at his shoes, again at Sally, again at his shoes.

"Look here," he blurted out, "I wish you'd...."

Sally's ears were pricked; but they heard only the opening of the door
of Madam's room as Miss Summers returned. Both Sally and Gaga turned
away, as if in slight chagrin. Then Gaga backed out of the workroom. The
conversation was over. It was time to go home. Slowly Sally removed her
pinafore and rolled it, thinking rapidly. Miss Summers was so pleased at
Madam's satisfaction with the dress that she was beaming and purring and
rubbing her hands together. She nodded benevolently at Sally.

"Well, you get off, Sally," she said, in a full tone of delight. "It's
quite all right. Madam's very pleased with the dress. Don't hang about
now, but get home to your supper. You've been a very good girl."

Sally put on her hat.

"Good night, Miss Summers." And as she passed the door of Madam's room
she gave a little silent nod towards it, and a little grimace also. She
was out upon the stairs. She was out of doors. And as she walked along
she heard rapid footsteps behind her, shrank a little, and looked up to
see Gaga standing beside her, quite breathless, as if with a hurried
journey.

"Er-- Miss Minto," he panted. "I'm sorry.... I ... will you take these?
Er--good night."

He raised his hat, and went into the building, leaving Sally mutely
clasping a box of chocolates which he had thrust into her hand. She
looked round, but he had disappeared, and she began to march homeward,
still clasping the chocolates. Only when she was in Regent Street with
her treasure did Sally dare to laugh. Then the whole scene came back to
her so vividly that she could control her mirth no longer, but stared,
shaking, into a shop window. He must have hurried out to buy the
chocolates after being interrupted by Miss Summers.

"My!" she whispered to herself. "My!" For a time that was all she could
say; but as she resumed her journey she exclaimed: "Chocolates! He never
gave Rose anything at all. Ee! He was going to ask me to dinner. Wish he
had! He didn't dare! My word, he hasn't half got a crush on me! Old
Gaga!" She was consumed with delighted laughter, that made her break
into smiles at intervals during the whole of the dismal walk which
followed.


viii

"Here, have a chocolate, ma," said Sally. Mrs. Minto was sitting beside
the empty grate reading, with the aid of a magnifying glass, a piece of
newspaper which had been wrapped around Sally's mended shoes. She looked
very frail and meagre, but she was very much better than she had been,
and but for the ugliness of the room and the drabness of her clothes she
would not have appeared miserable. She was, in fact, a pathetic figure;
but thanks to Sally they were no longer starving, or in immediate danger
of it.

"Chocolates!" cried Mrs. Minto. Then, sternly and suspiciously, she said
in her weak voice of warning, "Where did you get _them_ from, Sally?"

"Won 'em in a raffle," declared Sally.

"Oo, gambling!" reproved Mrs. Minto. "It's very wrong of young
girls----"

"Fiddlesticks! They're good chocolates, too," said Sally. "Don't make
yourself sick. It's a nuisance. Besides, I want some myself. I _am_
hungry. I've been working all the evening."

"Working!" grumbled her mother, incredulously.

"Well.... I ... _have_!" asserted Sally. "Perhaps you'd like me to get
Miss Summers to give me a certificate? You'll see. I shall have a bit
more money at the end of the week. Then you'll rub your eyes. You'll
apologise--I don't think! No, I'm a bad girl, wasting my time gadding
about. You never think of that when you get the money, or the money if
I'm late."

"Hush! Hush!" begged her mother. "I never said you was a bad girl.
You're a very good girl. But when you bring home a box of chocolates at
this hour--nine o'clock, and past--and say you won them in a raffle, and
you've been working--well!"

"What's that you're reading?" asked Sally, pointing to the small print.

Mrs. Minto straightened the sheet of newspaper, and held it up to the
light.

"It's an old paper," she said. "A trial."

"Lor! Murder?" Sally almost left her supper. "What's it all about?"

"Well ... oo, he must a been a wicked wretch. He poisoned the old lady.
He'd robbed her before he did it. Took all her money to give her an
annuity, and then he poisoned her."

"Poison! Whew! What sort of poison?"

"Flypapers, it was. Not them sticky ones, but the brown, what you put in
water. Got arsenic in them, they have."

"What's arsenic?"

Mrs. Minto looked over her magnifying glass at Sally in a bewildered
way.

"I don't know. It's poison. I never poisoned anybody. Not that I know
of."

"No," agreed Sally. She thought to herself: "She ought to have poisoned
dad. All of us." Melancholy seized her, a dreadful passing fit of
depression. Suddenly she longed for Toby. Aloud, she proceeded, more
seriously: "If it's in the flypapers, why don't we all get poisoned,
ma?"

"Well, it seems he soaked the papers, and drained off the water, with
the poison in it, and mixed it with her food--beef tea, and that. _She_
never noticed anything. She had awful pains, and diarrhoea, and was
sick; and then she died, poor thing."

"Hn," said Sally, reaching out for the chocolates. "I'll read it. I like
murders."

"Hush!" cried Mrs. Minto, in horror. "Read them--yes; but say you like
murders! What wicked people there are in the world, to be sure. I hope
they hanged him."

"Doesn't it say?" mumbled Sally, dealing with a chocolate with caramel
inside it.

"It's torn across. It's what I got your shoes in, Sally. It's a.... It's
'Stories of Famous Trials,' in the Weekly Something.... I can't see what
it is."

For the next quarter of an hour Sally ate chocolates and read about the
trial of Seddon for murdering Miss Barrow.

"Miss Barrow!" she exclaimed. "Wonder if she was any relation to old
Perce! I'll ask Mrs. Perce about it. Oo--fancy Tollington Park! Quite
near us in Hornsey Road."

Mrs. Minto shuddered, and looked furtively at the clock, longing for
her bedtime. Sally caught the glance, shut up the box of chocolates, and
folded the paper.

"You going to work?" asked her mother.

"Wash my hair."

"You're always washing ... _washing_, you call it!" cried Mrs. Minto.

Sally ignored the sneer, and proceeded to her occupation. There was a
silence. Mrs. Minto yawned. She looked at Sally making her preparations,
and into her face came a watchful anxiety that was mingled with profound
esteem. There was a _chic_ about her girl that made Mrs. Minto assume
this expression quite often, and Sally knew it. She knew it now, and was
elaborately unconscious of it. As she waited for the kettle and moved
the lamp so that it would illumine the washstand, she whistled to show
how blind she was to any sign of emotion from her mother. When the
whistle was unavailing, she said sharply:

"Don't you think this is a pretty frock, ma?"

Mrs. Minto sighed heavily, and pulled herself up out of her chair.

"Far _too_ pretty, if you ask me," she said. "Looks to me fast." She was
full of concern, and did not try to hide it from Sally.

"Oo!" cried Sally. "You _are_ stupid, ma!" And with that she whipped the
dress over her head and revealed the fact that she wore no petticoat.
Her mother was the more outraged.

Sally began to sing.

  "'When you and I go down the love path together,
  Stars shall be shining and the night so fair.'"

"Well, it's a good thing nobody else sees you like that," sniffed her
mother, rebukingly. "I don't know what they _would_ think!"

Sally forebore to make the obvious retort. Her mother prepared for bed.


ix

For the next fortnight Sally did not see Gaga, and only at the end of
the period did she learn that he had been away from London on business.
This was one of the journeys of which Miss Summers had spoken, to the
agricultural districts. Sally could not discover whether Gaga actually
acted as traveller for his own firm; but she gathered that he found it
useful to see how the country was behaving itself in the matter of
agriculture. She suspected also that he went away for his health. She
speculated as to what he looked like with his handsome coat off, and
recalled wrists that could have been spanned with ease by her own small
fingers. In contrast, when she saw Toby, she saw with swelling pride how
big his hands were, and felt his already increased muscles. Once he
swung her clear from the ground with one arm, so that her feet kicked
against his leg in helplessness. He was getting stronger and stouter
than ever, and his eyes were clear and his skin tanned and smoothed by
the breeze. She adored him. He wanted her to go away with him during one
of his leaves; but Sally did not dare to go, because her mother had been
specially grumbling and suspicious. So they saw each other rarely for
the rest of the year, and their meetings became the more precious for
that reason.

Soon after Gaga returned, Madam went away. She had had no holiday, and
she had fallen ill, with headaches and bilious attacks and a threat of
jaundice. So it happened that Gaga came each day to the dressmaking
establishment and took charge of the cash and the accounts, while Miss
Summers and Miss Rapson interviewed any customers who came about
dresses. Miss Rapson, a tall, thin, dark woman, was in another room,
with eight girls under her; but Miss Summers was really in charge while
Madam was away, because she understood the whole business, and was a
more experienced woman than Miss Rapson. Sally had hardly ever seen Miss
Rapson until this time, so much did she keep to her own room; but now,
when the two who were in charge had to arrange their work together,
there was more interchange. Sally had often to go into the other room
with messages or work, and she came to understand very quickly what went
on there. Miss Rapson was strict, and rather disagreeable. Her girls
were like mice, unless she was absent; and her sallow face gave the clue
to her disagreeableness. She did not like Sally at all, because she was
jealous of her. Sally was quick to perceive this, but she did not
retaliate. She formed her own cool conclusions about Miss Rapson. She
understood the complexion, and she was more concerned with the details
of the work than with anything else. Besides, she was in a strong
position. She had nothing to fear from Miss Rapson. She soon recognised
that she had not much to learn from her, either. Miss Rapson was forty,
angular, shortsighted. She was inclined to be fussy and self-important
and lacking in self-reliance. If anything went wrong she lost first her
head and then her temper. "Hysterics!" thought Sally, cruelly. And Miss
Rapson was very anxious indeed to have the reversion of Miss Summers'
place of trust. She had set her heart upon it, although she knew that as
Miss Summers was no older than herself, and as little likely to marry,
she might fruitlessly wait a lifetime. Anything which suggested a
possible rival, even though it might only be in the distant future, was
a cause of sleeplessness to her, and after a sleepless night, when all
possible causes of grief, summoned from memory and the inventions of her
own unquiet spirit, came into her head, Miss Rapson was one of the most
insufferable women in the dressmaking. "If I was boss here," thought
Sally, "and I had any trouble with her, she'd go like a shot. Easily get
someone in _her_ place." But she did not show that she was thinking
this. She said: "Yes, Miss Rapson. No, Miss Rapson. I'll tell Miss
Summers, Miss Rapson," in the most respectful way. It was Miss Rapson
who first suspiciously sounded Miss Summers about Sally. "Do you think
she's _deep_?" she asked.

Now that Miss Summers had more to do, Sally was very useful to her.
Also, Sally came to admire Miss Summers more than ever. She might be
funny, with her eternally cold nose and her cat-like appearance, but she
was an extraordinarily capable woman. She rose to emergencies, which is
the sign of essential greatness. Not once did Sally see Miss Summers
lose her nerve. True, there was no need for diplomacy or large
generalship; but when work has to be arranged so that all customers are
satisfied, not only with its quality but with the promptness of its
delivery, a good deal of skill and management is required. It was
forthcoming; and Sally was at hand to give important aid. The weak spot
in the government of the business seemed to be Gaga, who betrayed
incessant vacillation, and came in so often to consult Miss Summers that
she became quite ruffled and indignant with him. "Such nonsense!" she
would say to Sally. "A grown up man like that asking such silly
questions. Why a _girl_ would do it better." She had all the capable
woman's contempt for the average member of her own sex. "Girls!" she
would sniff. Shrewdly, Sally watched the comedy; but for all her
shrewdness she never quite understood the cause of Gaga's weakness. It
was that Madam had insisted upon early obedience in days when Gaga's
precocious ill-health made him pliable; and a docile child becomes a
tractable boy and finally a man who needs constant guidance. Sally only
saw the last stage. She nodded grimly to herself one day. "Wants
somebody to look after him," she said. "Somebody to manage him." With
one of her unerring supplements she added confidently: "I could manage
him. And look after him, too, for that matter. Poor lamb!"

The extra work kept Miss Summers and Miss Rapson late almost every
evening, and Sally also stayed, so that in the evenings she often saw
Gaga. She even, once or twice, when Miss Summers had gone to consult
Miss Rapson (who stood upon her dignity and kept to her own room),
sought pretexts for going into the room where Gaga was. She went in to
look at the Directory, or she pretended that she had supposed Miss
Summers with him; and on these occasions she stood at the door, and
talked, until Miss Summers' imminent return made her fly innocently back
to her seat. She enjoyed observing Gaga's pleasure, and even excitement,
at her approach. It gratified her naughty vanity and her impulse to the
exploitation of others. One evening when she had thus stolen five
minutes, she found Gaga ruffling his hair over an account, and at his
great sigh of bewilderment she turned from the book she was needlessly
consulting.

"Got a headache, Mr. Bertram?" she timidly and commiseratingly asked.

Gaga looked up at her gratefully, a comic expression of dismay upon his
face. The books lay before him upon the table, and an account had been
transferred from one to another. A litter of papers was also there. He
was in the last stages of perplexity.

"No," he said. "It's this account. I can't make it out. See if you can."

Sally went and stood close to him, leaning over to examine the books, so
that his shoulder touched her side. She knew that the contact thrilled
him, and for an instant was so occupied with the recognition that she
could not collect her thoughts. He had been adding up in pencil on a
sheet of paper the two series of entries, and there was a discrepancy
between them. Sally checked his figures: there seemed nothing wrong with
them. She herself added the two series of entries. Then, with a pointed
finger she counted the entries. One of them had been omitted. Another
examination showed which of them it was. She had solved his
mystification. Her small forefinger pointed to that entry which
accounted for the difference in the two casts. Gaga looked up at her in
wondering admiration.

"What a marvellous girl you are!" he impulsively ejaculated. "I've been
worrying over this for ten minutes. Thank you. Er--thank you."

Still she did not immediately leave him, and he made no attempt to move.
It would have been the easiest thing for Gaga to encircle her with his
arm, but he did not do so. At last Sally started away.

"I must go," she said breathlessly.

"Thank you, Miss Minto. I'm.... I'm so much ... obliged," stammered
Gaga. She was at the door. "Oh, Miss Minto...." Sally turned, a
mischievous expectancy upon her face. "Er...." Gaga swallowed. A faint
colour rose to his grey cheeks. "I say, I wish you'd come out to dinner
with me. I...."

"Oh, Mr. Bertram," murmured Sally. "It's very kind of you. I...."

"_Do_ come. I'm ... so much obliged to you, you know. I mean, I...."

Sally gave a quick nod. She peeped to see that Miss Summers had not
returned.

"Well, you see," she said. Then: "All right, I will. Thank you very
much."

"To-night? In half an hour? Splendid. I'll be at the corner of the
street. Just outside that big corner place. Thank you. That'll be fine."
He was jubilant. Sally went back to her place with her mouth puckered
into a curious smile that nobody could have understood. She felt that
she had embarked at last upon the inevitable adventure with Gaga, and
her sensation for the moment was one of pure triumph. A moment later,
triumph was suffused with a faint derision. She thought how easy it was
to handle Gaga. She felt how easy, how temptingly easy, it would be
always to handle him. But all the same she was rather excited. It was
the first time she had been out to dinner with a man. She knew he would
look handsome and like a gentleman; she knew he would have plenty of
money. She was glad to think that she was wearing her newest frock, the
smartest she had. Well, she demanded of herself, why not? It'll please
him, or he wouldn't have asked me! Would they have wine to drink? she
wondered. A momentary self-distrust seized her in the matter of
table-manners; but she shook it off. She would watch what Gaga did. She
mustn't drink too much. She must mind her step. Then, irresistibly:
"What a lark!" murmured Sally. She was very demure upon Miss Summers'
return, and listened with equanimity to a few remarks made by Miss
Summers as to the capacity of Miss Rapson. In reality her thoughts were
occupied with speculations as to the entertainment which lay ahead. So
Gaga had never given Rose anything; more fool Rose! Rose! She didn't
know how to manage a man! She didn't know anything at all. She had been
born pretty, and she thought that was all you had to do. Sally had not
been born pretty; she had had to fight against physical disadvantages.
It had taught her a great deal. It had taught her the art of tactics.
Sally was very much wiser than she had been a year earlier. She had
learnt immeasurably from her contact with Toby. She had kept her eyes
open. She was unscrupulous. It was of no use to be scrupulous in this
world; you lost all the fun of the fair. Sally was hilarious at her own
irreverent unscrupulousness.

Half an hour later she slipped out, and along the street Gaga was
waiting. He raised his hat--a thing Toby would never have done if he had
left her so recently--and fell into step beside her. Sally shot a bright
eye full of assurance. As Gaga showed himself nervous, so her assurance
increased.

"Where would you like to go?" asked Gaga.

"Oo, you know better than ... I do," answered Sally, meekly. He stopped
for a moment; then turned eastward; then stopped afresh, hesitating
until Sally slightly frowned.

"Yes, we'll go to the Singe d'Or," he explained. "Unless you.... No,
we'll go to the Rezzonico. You'd like to have music, I expect. You know,
it's awfully good of you to come. I've wanted to talk to you ever since
I heard you sing so beautifully."

The Love Path! Sally gave a start. What had Mrs. Perce said! Sally might
not have a fortune in her voice, she mischievously thought; but at least
she had a dinner! Well, master Toby; and what did he think of that, if
you please?

"I'm very fond of music," she said, glibly.

"I could tell...." There was a pause. "Do you ... do you sing much?"

"No, not much." Sally was speaking like a lady. "Ai ... a ... don't get
very much taime. I'm very fond of. It's so ... it's so...." She was
rather lost for a phrase that should sound well.

"Quite, quite," agreed Gaga, eagerly.

"I wish I could play," Sally hurried to say, feeling that she had failed
in effectiveness. He was loud in protest against her modesty. "Well, I
mean, I've never--well, hardly ever--had any lessons. No, nor my voice.
It's just ear. Mrs. P---- a friend of maine says I've got a very quick
ear." Every now and then Sally was betrayed into Nosey-like refinement.
She fought against it from an instinctive feeling that it was
meretricious. But at the same time she was speaking with instinctive
care, so as to avoid Cockney phrases, and pronunciations, and tones. She
wanted him to think her--something that she called "nice." They walked
the length of Regent Street, chatting thus; and at last reached the
gilded Rezzonico, where there were liveried men who seized Gaga's hat
and stick, and maîtres d'hôtel who hurried them this way and that in
search of a table in the crowded, din-filled room. The walls were
covered with enormous mirrors which were surrounded by gaudy mouldings.
Tables were everywhere, and all appeared to be occupied. Men and women
in evening dress, men and women in morning clothes, some of the women
painted, others ordinary respectable members of the bourgeoisie, were
sitting and dining and smoking and chattering loudly. Glasses,
cigarettes, bottles, all sorts of dishes, strewn upon the tables, caught
Sally's bewildered eye. Above all, a scratching orchestra rasped out a
selection from one of Verdi's operas. A huge unmanageable noise of talk
and laughter swelled the torrent of sound. Deafened, her nerve
destroyed, Sally timidly followed the apparently aimless wanderings
of Gaga and the maîtres d'hôtel, her shoulders stiff with
self-consciousness in face of so many staring eyes and well-fed,
well-dressed creatures; and at last they found a table. It was a bad
table, in the middle of the room, near the band and the cash desk and a
sort of sideboard into which bottles were ceaselessly dumped. A very old
waiter, with white side whiskers like those of the late Emperor Franz
Josef, very foreign and therefore particularly liable to misconstrue
Gaga's stammered orders, served them with hors d'oeuvres, slashing down
upon Sally's plate inconceivable mixtures of white and red and green
fragments; and then hurried away as fast as his bunions allowed. Gaga
was left to choose the wine, which he managed to do after many
consultations with Sally and the waiter, and many changes of mind upon
his own account. Sally riddled all his uncertainties with a merciless
eye. He apparently knew a wine-list when he saw one; but his nervousness
was so palpable that she was inclined even to suspect his knowledge. It
was an injustice. She soon realised that the band was too noisy for
talk, and the sideboard too shattering even for coherent thought. She
knew, in fact, at the first encounter, that this was a bad table, and
that bad tables were to be avoided by any expert eye. She knew the
waiter was a bad waiter, and that Gaga was a bad host. She had her first
lesson in the art of dining out at a restaurant.

But she dined! She drank more wine than she had intended to do, and it
went to her head. She laughed, and became talkative, forgetting her
refined accent, and thereby enjoying herself very much more than she
would otherwise have done, and becoming a good and lively companion for
the meal. Gaga could not respond to her talk, because it quickly became
evident that, with all the good will in the world, he could not talk;
but as the wine reached his head also he began to laugh at her remarks,
and to look at her with such an expression of adoration in his chocolate
eyes that Sally grew more and more at ease and more and more familiar
with the passing of each minute, and the increasing effect of the wine
she had taken. She sparkled, less in her speech than in her exhilarated
and exhilarating manner. She was all nerves, all dancing coquettry.

"_Don't_ look at me like that!" she pleaded, archly. Gaga's eyes
glowed, and his mouth was stretched with laughing. "Make me feel as
if...."

"How do I look at you? How does it make you feel?" asked Gaga with that
kind of persistent seriousness with which a man talks to a pretty girl
when he has drunk enough wine. "Tell me, Sally, how does it make you
feel, Sally?" He reached his hand across the table, and laid it upon
hers. "I mean, Sally.... I mean, if it makes you feel.... I'm sorry,
d'you see? I look at you as I feel. I don't know how I look at you. I
look at you...."

Gaga was not at all drunk; he was merely sententious and sentimental.
Sally darted a roguish eye, first round her, and then at Gaga, enjoying
very specially this stage of the meal. It was all fun to her, all
flattering to her vanity, all a part of the noise and excitement and
well-being that was making her spirits mount. She allowed her hand to
remain under his for a moment; then tried to draw it away; then pinched
his thumb gently and recovered her liberty. Gaga was unlike Toby. He had
not the assurance of the physically vigorous. He was gentle, mild,
stammering, and ineffective. But he was giving Sally a glorious
evening's entertainment. At one step they had overleapt all that
separated them, and were friends. He began to tell her, unasked, about
his business, about his mother, about everything.

"My mother's a wonderful woman," he said. "Wonderful! She's made that
business with her own hands. She began in a small way, and the business
is almost out of her control. Not quite; but.... She's done it all
herself. All herself. Wonderful woman. And yet, you know, Sally; she's
hard. I wonder if you understand what I mean? She's always been a good
mother to me. I wish I could _tell_ you how good. There's the business
I'm in, for example. But Sally.... I'm not a business man.... If I had
somebody to do the business side, I've got.... I can design dresses.
That's what I'm good at. She knows. She lets me design them, sometimes.
I've got a touch, d'you see? But she's hard. She's so afraid of anybody
meddling. She's made that business herself, and she won't let anybody
else touch it. She has me to help her with the accounts; but, as I say,
I'm not a business man. She thinks I'm a fool. _You_ don't think I'm a
fool, do you, Sally?"

"Me? You?" cried Sally, looking at him guilelessly. "Mr. Bertram!"

"She's very ill, Sally. Very ill indeed. I can see it. You know, you
_feel_ something. You see her keeping on and keeping on. Something's
bound to go, sooner or later. It worries me, Sally. It worries me." From
his long and unusually consecutive speech, Gaga fell into a silence.
Meaninglessly, he repeated: "It worries me. That's one reason I asked
you to come out to-night, Sally. I'm worried."

"Poor man!" murmured Sally.

"You know, you're kind, Sally. I can see your little bright eyes
shining; and they make me ... they make me...." He was once again the
old, incoherent Gaga, fingering his unused cheese knife and looking at
her with an expression of pathetic helplessness that made Sally wary
lest she should betray amusement. "I feel you understand. You're not
very old, Sally; but I feel you understand. And.... I've always felt
that. You're such a wonderful little girl. I mean...." He broke off with
a gesture of vague despair of his power to say what he actually did
mean. "I feel you can help me."

"Can I?" asked Sally, swiftly. "I'd love to."

"Would you really?" Gaga's tone was a fresh one, one of hope and light.

"Course I would," responded Sally. Already she was aware of practical
advantages. Her heightened spirits were sobered immediately. But her
face did not betray this. Her face continued the demure face of a young
girl, not from any artfulness, but because she was in fact a demure
young girl, and her hidden mental calculations did not yet show in her
habitual expression.

"You'll be friends with me?" Gaga said, as though he asked a great
favour.

"If you'll let me," answered Sally, as though she conferred one.

The movement of hands was almost simultaneous, but it began with Sally.
Gaga clasped her left one in his right. Only for a minute. Then Sally
could not resist a giggle, and the compact was unsignalised. They talked
further, Sally once again in a state of delight, and Gaga inclined to be
repetitious. And then, as it was nine o'clock, Sally said she must go.
He saw her to her omnibus, and they parted as friends. From her seat
inside, as the bus moved off, Sally waved to him; and afterwards settled
down to the journey, full of memories and reflections of a curious and
enchanting character. Not of Gaga were these reflections, save with an
occasionally frowning brow of doubt; but of the remarkable vista which
had been opened by his demand for friendship and help. An excited
recollection of the lights and the mirrors and the overwhelming noise of
the restaurant intoxicated her afresh. Her whole face was shining with
excitement. She smiled to herself, occupied with such a mixture of
sensations and imaginings that at one moment she wondered whether she
was Sally Minto at all, and whether some magician had not changed that
Sally for a new creature born to spend her days in gaudy restaurants and
among all the noise and luxury of such a life as she had led this
evening for an hour and a half.

One moment at home was enough to convince Sally that no magician had
been at work. It was the same squalid house, and the same squalid room
that she reached after the splendour of her dinner. And it was the same
fretful mother who complained of her lateness and chided her for the
dangers she ran in being about the streets so late. Sally made no
answer. She looked in the mirror at the dilated pupils of her glowing
eyes, and at her flushed cheeks and laughing lips; and her heart first
sank and then violently rebelled against the contrast of this hideous
place with the light and colour she had left. She was a rebel. The
contrast was too great. How could she live in a room like this? How
could anybody live? It was not life at all, but a mere grovelling. And
Sally had tasted something that thrilled her. She had come into contact
with a life resembling the life led by those who travelled in the motor
broughams she so much admired. She was ravenous for such a life. Her
natural arrogance was roused and inflamed by the comparison she so
instinctively made between her natural surroundings and those to which
she felt she was entitled by her capacities. She thought with contempt
of the other girls at Madame Gala's. The wine she had drunk, the noises
she had heard, mounted higher. She was primed with conceit and
excitement. Hitherto she had only determined by ambition to use the
world and attain comfort and success. Now she felt the _power_ to attain
this success. She could not experience the feeling without despising
every other feeling. She looked round the room in scorn--at the dull,
shabby bed, and the meagre furniture, and at the little old woman who
sat by the empty fireplace with so miserable an air of confirmed
poverty. She looked higher, at Miss Jubb, and saw afresh the stupid
incompetence of such a creature. Even old Perce and Mrs. Perce led in
her new vision a life that was good enough for them, but not good enough
for Sally. There was a better way, and Sally would not rest until she
had secured that way. And she had the opportunity opening to her. Gaga
had shown her as much. With the vehement exaggeration of youth that is
still half-childhood, Sally saw her own genius. She felt that the world
was already in her grasp. She felt like a financier before a coup. She
felt like a commander who sees the enemy waver. For this night triumph
seemed at hand, through some means which the heat of her brain did not
allow her to analyse, but only to relish with exultation.


x

In the morning Sally had a heavy head as the result of her unusual
entertainment, and she awoke to a sense of disillusion. The room was the
same ugly room, but her dreams had fled. So must Cinderella have felt
upon awaking after her first ball. The colours had faded; the rapturous
consciousness of power had died in the night. Sally felt a little girl
once more, younger and more impotent than she had been for months. The
walk to Regent Street restored her. She once again imagined herself into
the talk with Gaga; she stressed his offer of friendship and his plea
for help. It would be all right; it _was_ all right. She had made no
mistake. Only, she was not as carelessly happy as she had been in the
first realisation. She had recognised that the battle was not yet won,
and that much had still to be done before she could claim the victory
which last night had seemed in her hands. At all events, hatred of her
little ugly home was undiminished. She felt horror of it.

Arrived at the work room, Sally saw it in a new light. She was
permanently changed. The girls had become nothing; even Miss Summers had
become a very good sort of woman, but subtly inferior. There was not
one of the girls who could help Gaga as she was going to do; not one of
them who could earn the advantages which Sally was going to reap. She
settled almost with impatience to work which last night had been left
unfinished. All the time that she was engaged upon it her thoughts were
with other prospects, other deliberate intentions. She was restless and
uneasy--first of all until she had seen Gaga and gauged her effect upon
him in the morning's grey, finally because another secret conflict was
going on beneath her attention. She did not understand what she was
feeling, and this made her the more easily exasperated when cotton
knotted or a sudden noise made her head throb. "I'm out of sorts," she
thought. She tried to laugh in saying: "The morning after the night
before." Her malaise was something more than that.

Gaga came into the room during the morning, haggard and anxious-looking.
The lines in his pallid face were emphasised; his eyes had a faintly
yellowish tinge like the white of a stale egg. In shooting her first
lightning observation of him Sally clicked "Bilious." There was a little
smile between them, and Gaga went out of the room again, languid and
indifferent to everything that was occurring round him. Sally had an
impulse to find some reason for going into his room, but she did not
dare to go. She sewed busily. Perhaps she would see him later. She
peeped into the room at lunch-time, but he was not there, and in the
afternoon she heard from Miss Summers that he was unwell, and would not
be coming back that day. She heard the news with relief; but also with
sudden fright. If--if--if he should have become afraid of her! If he
should have repented! If, instead of allowing her to help and to
benefit, Gaga should become her enemy! Men were so strange in the way
they behaved to girls--so suspicious and funny and brusque--that
anything might have happened in Gaga's mind. Sally recollected herself.
This mood was a bad mood; any loss of self-confidence was with her a
sign of temporary ill-health. She magnificently recovered her natural
conceitedness. She was Sally.

In the evening she went home early, to her mother's interest and
pleasure; but there was nothing to do at home and the atmosphere was
insufferable. It drove her forth, and she walked in the twilight,
longing for Toby to be with her. He would not have understood all she
was thinking--he would angrily have hated most of it--but his company
would have distracted her mind and occupied her attention. She thought
of Toby at sea on this beautiful evening, with the stars pale in an opal
sky; and she could see him standing upon the deck of the "Florence
Drake" in his blue jersey without a hat, with the breeze playing on his
crisp hair and his brown face. A yearning for Toby filled her. Tears
started to her eyes. She loved him, she felt, more than she had ever
done: she needed him with her, not to understand her, but to brace her
with the support of his strong arms. Sally dried her eyes and blew her
nose. "Here!" she said to herself. "Stop it! I'm getting soppy!"

She presently passed the ugly building of a Board School, not the one
which she had attended, but one nearer her present home. Outside it, and
within the railings protecting the asphalted playground from the
footpath, was a notice-board upon which was pasted a bill advertising
the evening classes which would be held there during the Autumn Session.
Idly, Sally stopped to read down the list of subjects--and the first
that caught her eye, of course, was dressmaking. She gave a sniff. Funny
lot of girls would go to that. Girls trying to do Miss Jubb out of a
job. Sally glimpsed their efforts. She had seen girls in dresses which
they had made themselves. Poor mites! she thought. Paper patterns for
somebody twice their size, and bad calculations of the necessary
reductions. Tape-measures round their own waists, and twisted two or
three times at the back, which they could not see. Blunt scissors,
clumsy hands, bad material.... It was a nightmare to Sally. She did not
go far enough to imagine the despairs, the aching hands, the tears,
which attended the realisation of an evening's botch. She was not really
a very humane person. She had both too much imagination for that
infirmity of the will, and not enough. She passed from dressmaking to
the other subjects.

There was one that made her jump, so much did it seem to be named there
for her own especial benefit. It was "Book-keeping." Sally was taken
aback. She scanned the details. Two lessons a week, on Mondays and
Thursdays, at eight o'clock. A disdain filled her. She would not be as
the other girls. She would learn book-keeping. She would understand
figures. Then she could help Gaga with precisely that work which he
confessed himself unable to do. Sally memorised the details. It was
enough; she was ready for anything. As the following Monday was the
first night of the session she would be present then.

And so, her ambition mounting once more to arrogance, Sally returned to
bed and her mother, and bread and margarine, and the dingy room on the
second-floor-back.


xi

The book-keeping class was held in one of the ordinary classrooms,
separated from others by high partitions of wood which were continued to
the ceiling in panes of glass. The room was filled with forms and desks,
but the class was so small that all those composing it (and there were
fewer still after the first six lessons) were put into the first two or
three rows of desks. The teacher was a little sandy man who made
well-trodden jokes and talked in a wheezy voice well suited to his
appearance. He used the blackboard, and stood upon tiptoe to scrawl upon
it in a large handwriting. That was at the beginning. Later, methods
developed; but for the present Sally and the others were merely
initiated into the first movements of the difficult craft. With
amazement she began to learn the mysteries of the signs "Dr." and "Cr.",
the words "Balances", "carried forward", etc. and the meanings of such
things as ruled diagonal lines. It was to her like the game of learning
chess, and she had the additional pleasure of knowing that with the
solution of each problem she was adding appreciably to her knowledge,
and to a knowledge which henceforward would not be wasted, as she could
turn it, as of all things she most desired, to immediate use. Madam's
accounts would no longer be a source of trouble or bewilderment to her.
She knew very soon that they would be mere child's play to her
instructed intelligence.

From the teacher and the lessons, Sally turned to her fellow pupils.
There were about twenty of these, the sexes almost equally represented,
but with the girls in a slight majority. One or two of the young men
were pale and spectacled, and so they did not interest her. The girls
were generally of a higher class than her own, were obviously already
employed as clerks in offices, and were rather older than herself. They
were the daughters of tradesmen or clerks, and all lived at home in the
better streets of the neighbourhood. They were neatly dressed, but she
was easily the smartest of the audience. The other girls looked at her
hair and her complexion, and then at each other; and a feud began. Sally
was consoled by the evident interest of the young men, who often cast
glances in her direction. She sat demurely, as if unconscious, but in
her wicked heart there was glee at the knowledge that this same young
person Sally, once the despised companion of May Pearcey, had in a year
attained such new charm as to be attractive to these young men. She
shrugged her shoulders at the thought of it. Had she been an onlooker
she would have been amused or cynical. As she was the cynosure of the
emotional eye of the whole class she could view the natural processes of
all such gatherings with satisfaction. Her shrugs were for the
respectable and alienated girls, who were like sparrows chattering over
a brilliant intruder; to the young men she offered an air of
imperviousness to their cajoleries which made her seem to at least three
of them a young person whom it might be pleasant and titillating to
know. The general arrangement of feelings towards her was evident at the
third lesson. By the fourth it had taken a quite definite form. She had
exchanged conversation with the three men: she had smiled provokingly at
the girls. The girls mentioned her at home, and to their friends; the
young men did not mention her to anybody.

The men were all older than she, were in employment, and although some
of them were still at home the majority of them were in lodgings in
Holloway, were lonely, and were desirous of improving their positions.
This was the case with Sally's three admirers. Of the three, her
immediate favourite, because he most nearly resembled Toby in physical
type, was a thickset dark young man with a budding black moustache and
polished eyes and a strong pink upon his cheekbones. But after she had
looked at him a few times she decided that he had Jewish blood, and Jews
were among her aversions. So, although his name was Robertson, she
passed him over in favour of a tall, rather bony fair youth of about
three and twenty with smooth hair and a lean, conceited humorous face.
He had assurance, which she adored, and his great length made it queer
to be talking to him, because she had to look high up to see his face.
He always wore a light-coloured tweed suit, and a knitted tie of about
ten different colours, and his aquiline nose and jaunty manner gave him
an air of knowingness which she much appreciated. He was a stockkeeper
in a publishing house, and came from the South of England. His voice was
light in tone, and he had a delightful burr. This young man, Harry
Simmons, became her friend and soon walked part of the way home with her
after each lesson. He talked politics to her, and explained all sorts of
things which she had never before known. He told her how books were
made, and how they were delivered unbound in great bales; and when she
said "a book" meaning "a paper," he corrected her. Sally liked him. Of
the three men she now knew well he was the best-informed. Accordingly
she learnt more, intellectually, from him than from either of the
others. He quickly fell in love with her, which was an added pleasure;
and she once or twice let him kiss her, without promising anything or
revealing the existence of Toby. She never kissed Harry in return, a
fact which she cherished as a proof of her innocence. But she liked him
very much, and told him more about herself than she had ever told
anybody else. And as there is nothing like the use of such care and such
flexible and uncertain kindness, when it is not calculated, for
tantalising a young man who is agreeably in love with a young girl,
Sally had a new delight, a new self-flattery, to cosset. The affair did
not become very desperate in Harry's case--he was too conceited, and he
knew the rules of the game too well--and at length it subsided normally;
but it lasted pleasantly and instructively enough for perhaps four
months, and the memory for both was one of smiling amusement,
untempered by chagrin. Sally's one dread in the whole course of her
friendship with Harry was a dread lest Toby should see them together.
That Harry should see her with Toby she did not mind, because she could
at any time have relinquished Harry without a qualm; but she loved Toby,
and took care to keep secret from him on their infrequent meetings
anything which might disturb his ardent thoughts of the little girl he
had left at home.

So book-keeping went on. And so Harry went on. But by now Sally's
interests had become many, for she was leading a busy life, and the
difficulty of maintaining all her affairs at the necessary pitch of
freshness and importance in her attention was increasing. She had to
think of her work, of Madam and her now frequent fits of illness, of
Gaga, of Miss Summers, of money, of Harry, of book-keeping, of clothes,
and of her mother. Mrs. Perce she rarely saw during this period, because
as Sally found new preoccupations she was bound to shed some of her old
ones. She thought very nicely of Mrs. Perce; but she had at the moment
no time for her. Mrs. Perce belonged to a passing stage, and had not yet
a niche in the new one. Toby she saw still more seldom than anybody; but
for Toby Sally's feelings underwent no obvious change. They developed as
her character matured, but they did not alter. She embraced him, as it
were, with her mind. Toby was somehow different from all the others. He
was a part of herself. She did not know why, but he stood alone,
whenever she thought of him, wonderfully strange, and strong, and
enduring, as much Toby as she was Sally. She did not fear him. In some
ways she despised him, for being so little pliable, so little supple in
his way of managing the world. But she adored him as a man, and as a
simple-minded baby who unerringly made her happy by his assurance, and
flighted her by behaving as though she was something belonging solely
to himself. So long as she was confident that about nine-tenths of her
life was outside the range of Toby's understanding, Sally enjoyed his
delusion. It gave her such a sense of superiority that she relished her
submission to his will in all trifles. She never felt that his absences
made him a stranger. Rather, she felt that they increased and
intensified her love and her desire for him. These at least were
unabated--more ardent than ever. And the absences certainly made Toby
all the more boisterously glad to see her whenever he returned from a
voyage, and more demonstratively affectionate when they were alone
together.


xii

Madame Gala had returned to work and Gaga had gone into the country by
the time Sally had joined her book-keeping class; and so that matter
seemed to be in abeyance. The ease with which the fabric of her newest
plan had been made to collapse discomfited Sally, who was always
impatient for quick results; but she did not abandon hope. She believed
in her star. She had seen very little of Gaga since their dinner. He had
avoided her, with some tokens of slight constraint, although his
greetings had been almost furtively reassuring. That alone would have
made her believe that he had not forgotten his promise. Sally bade
despair stand back. Always, hitherto, she had found her own level: she
would do it again in this instance. She had the grit of the ambitious
person who succeeds. Hers was not a vague or unwarrantable conceit: she
would work for its fulfilment. It is the mark of the great.

While she was waiting, she one day received a letter from Toby,
announcing his imminent arrival in London. He would wait outside Madame
Gala's, and they would spend his leave together. It was now the
beginning of October, and a fine Autumn had begun. The days, although
rapidly growing shorter, were warm and cordial. They were better than
the summer days. There was a crispness in the air, but there was no
chill. Filled with pleasure, Sally wore her prettiest clothes that
morning, and Toby was waiting in the sunshine at the corner of the
street, and they met with light hearts. It was just one o'clock. At once
they found a tea-shop, and had lunch; and then Toby sprang upon her a
proposal that they should go to Richmond for the afternoon, and to
Brighton the following day. He appeared to have plenty of money for both
jaunts. He had planned them as soon as he knew the date of his arrival.

"O-o-o!" cried Sally. "Brighton! The sea! Will you take me out in a
boat? Better not: I should be sick. Take me on the river this afternoon,
instead. No: we'll just walk in Richmond Park. Ever been to Kew, Toby?
The girls say it's lovely there. What's Brighton like? I went there once
when I was a kid. Wasn't half fine. What d'you do there? Sit on the
beach and throw stones in the water? We might paddle. Like to see me
paddling? What time do we start?"

"Here, hold on," said Toby. They were walking to catch a Richmond
omnibus. "You ask a lot of questions and don't wait for no answers. I
say ... look at that young woman there.... Look at her!"

"Well?" demanded Sally. "It's only because her shoes don't fit. She
doesn't know how to wear high heels. That's all it is. That frock cost a
bit."

"Did it?" Toby jerked his head. "Well, you ought to know, I suppose.
It's not as smart as yours."

"D'you like it, Toby?" asked Sally, eagerly. He had never said anything
before about her clothes. She was suddenly sportive with pride in his
interest.

Toby nodded. He had been betrayed into his speech of approval. It was
not natural to him.

"It's all right," he nonchalantly said. "I've seen worse."

Sally shook his arm, provoked by a variety of feelings. She loved him to
tease her. How strange! She felt a hundred years older than Toby, and
yet she felt like a little girl. And when she was with him she did not
have to mind her tongue, but could be as slangy and as natural as she
pleased. Toby did not know any better. She had not always to be
thinking, with him, of what a real lady might be expected to say. He was
a relaxation for her.

"That's right," she said. "Flatter me. Make me get swelled head. Don't
think of the consequences. Ladle it out. Tell me I look a little
princess."

"No, Sally. I wouldn't do that," answered Toby, possessively. "I don't
want you to get above yourself. You're a bit uppish as it is. Noticed
it? Well, I have. And that's a thing I want to talk to you about."

"Oh," said Sally in a dangerous tone. "What is? Look, there's a bus!"

With Sally's nimbleness and Toby's muscle they obtained seats upon the
top of the bus, and, seated together, resumed their conversation in low,
grumbling tones. She first repeated her question with new
aggressiveness, not at all deterred from the possibility of a row by her
delight in Toby's company.

"About you," said Toby. "You see, smartness is all very well; but if
you're going to be a sailor's wife you got to look where you're going.
Now, your last letter. It said you was being a good girl, and taking
evening classes--that's because I told you my aunt see you out with a
fellow one night, coming from the schools. Now what the Hell's the good
of evening classes to a sailor's wife; and who _is_ this fellow aunt
seen you with?"

"I suppose even a sailor's wife wants to know how to cook," remarked
Sally.

"Oh cooking," grimly said Toby. "Does the fellow learn cooking, too?"

Sally was impudent. She was enjoying herself. She rejoiced that he
should be so jealous and authoritative when she knew that she could
always play with him.

"I don't know which fellow your aunt saw," she answered flippantly.
"There's so many of them at the classes. I can't tell which it might be.
Did she tell you what he was like?"

"She told me you was arm in arm."

"That's a lie," said Sally, curtly. "Nosey old cat. She never saw me arm
in arm with anybody. And even if I had been, what business is it of
hers? What does she know about me? About me and you?"

"She see us last time I was home. See us twice. That's why she told me
about you and this other fellow. See? She says--that girl I see you with
seems to have got another young man--light come, light go."

"O-o-oh!" Sally gritted her teeth. "I _would_ like to have your aunt by
the back hair, Toby! Old cat! She's made it up, I expect. Interfering
old beast! But, after all, there's a lot of fellows at the class, and we
all come out together, and sometimes they walk a bit of the way home
with me. That's all it is. Nothing to make a fuss about. I'm not a nun,
got to pass men by on the other side of the road, am I?"

"Well, I won't have it!" cried Toby, restless in his seat. His dark face
was darker. There was a red under his tan, and a gleam of his teeth that
made him like an angry dog. "And that's enough of it. I won't have it.
You belong to me. See? And if I catch another fellow nosing round I'll
split his head open. Damned sauce! Just because I'm away, you think you
can go marching about...."

He sulked for several minutes, frowning, and biting a torn thumbnail.

"What you done to your thumb?" demanded Sally taking it quickly between
her own fingers. Toby made no answer, but, very flushed, drew his thumb
away. With her chin a little out, and an air of quietly humming to
herself, Sally looked at all the shops and houses upon their route, and
at the people walking sedately upon the pavements. As it was Saturday
afternoon, many of the West End stores were shuttered; but as the bus
went farther west, and into suburban areas, there was great marketing
activity. Sally watched all the people and observed all the shops with
an absorbed childish interest that was almost passionate in its
intensity. She took no notice of Toby for a quarter of an hour. He might
not have been there. This was his punishment for being outspoken and
suspicious. She was not going to have that sort of thing from anybody.
But if Sally was supercilious, Toby was stubborn. Once his grievance had
been voiced, and had been taken flippantly, he was reduced to glowering.
At Sally's continued disregard, and after a going over in his own mind
of all they had said, Toby began to feel uncomfortable. He began to feel
a fool. At the precise moment when his sensation of foolishness was
strongest upon him, Sally turned and slipped her arm within his, and
pressed his elbow warmly against her side. They did not speak; but peace
was made. Presently Sally began to draw Toby's attention to things they
passed, and although at first he was surly in his responses, Toby was
gradually and surely appeased by her masterly handling of him. He was
not free from suspicion--she did not want him to be, because it enhanced
her value; but he was dominated by her cajolery.

When they arrived in Richmond, and had climbed the hill, and had looked
down from the Terrace Gardens upon that lovely piece of the Thames which
is to be seen from the height, Sally and Toby walked arm in arm about
the Deer Park. They saw the leaves falling, quite yellow, although the
trees were still dense with foliage; and the crisp air exhilarated them.
In the sun it was hot and dazzlingly bright.

"Tell me about what you've seen, Toby," suddenly asked Sally.

"Seen?" Toby fumbled a minute in his mind. "What d'you mean--seen?"

"At sea, and when you go ashore. _You_ know. Ships and places."

Toby looked puzzled. "Well, what's there to tell?" he questioned. "A
ship's a ship. You wouldn't understand if I was to tell you I'd seen a
schooner, or a barque, or a cattle-boat, or a dinghy." He was rather
lofty. "I mean, you wouldn't _know_."

"How do _you_ know, then? How can _you_ tell the difference?" she
persisted.

Toby laughed at the fact that she had not recognised how he had slipped
in the dinghy among recognisable ships. He had supposed everybody knew
what a dinghy was. He pointed that fact out to Sally, who could not see
that she had betrayed such glaring foolishness. Pressed to confine
himself to comparable vessels, Toby condescendingly resumed:

"It's a question of the size, and the rig.... All that." He was
elaborately the expert, sure that an amateur could never understand.
Sally might have retorted with baffling words about seams and camisoles
and voile; but she was shrewd in mystic silence. "You'd have to see the
ships.... Then I could point it all out to you. I mean, a gunboat or a
cruiser or a trawler.... What I mean, they're _different_. See a big
liner going out from Liverpool: I tell you, it's a sight. Flocks of
people, and the old thing moving along like grease. Leaves you standing.
At first you don't half feel a fool. But on a boat like ours there's no
time to look about. We're under-manned. That's what it is. Not enough of
us to make it light for everybody. Ought to be altered. Got to be doing
chores the whole time. Swabbing down, cooking----"

"Can _you_ cook?" Sally was swift, arch, incredulous.

Toby grinned. Then he remembered her classes--her "cooking" classes--and
his aunt's message, and grew suddenly serious.

"Look here, Sally. That cooking. I don't like them other fellows," he
said. "I mean to say, meeting them at classes, and walking home, and
that."

Sally held his arm tightly. A look of scorn appeared upon her face. In
her heart a feeling arose of impatience and amused enjoyment of his
concern about a thing that was to her so trivial compared with her love
for himself.

"You going to begin that again?" she demanded. "Silly. Here, put your
face down. There! D'you think I don't love you. Think I don't believe
you're worth ten of those others? Well, I do. And that's enough of
that."

Toby was obstinate. He wanted her to be his property. Nevertheless, his
tone was milder.

"It's not right, Sally, you going about with other fellows. What I mean,
_you_ think it's all right, but what do _they_ think?"

"I don't care _what_ they think. I don't care what anybody thinks,
except you. And if you don't trust me, well...."

Toby was manifestly terrified at the removal of her arm from his. He
caught it again, but she wrenched free. For a few moments they walked
along together in dead silence, gloomy and disunited. Toby clenched his
fists. He looked about him, and uneasily rocked his head and cleared his
throat. Sally knew that he was reassuring himself by saying internally
that if that was the tone she was going to take....

"You see...." he began.

"Oh, shut up!" cried Sally, savagely. "I've had enough of it." A moment
later he heard a little sob from her, and moved close, overcome with his
consternation. At his touch she started away. Here it was that Toby's
physical strength served. He was easily able to put his arms round her,
and hold her closely. A voice from the faintly struggling Sally wailed:
"You don't trust me.... You'd better get some other girl...."

"I do! I do!" Toby swore. "Damn it all, Sally. I mean to say...."

"Bring me out ... make me miserable...." came the strangled little
voice.

Toby was conquered. Sally knew that she had him at her mercy. She had
known it all along. She had been enjoying herself, enjoying this second
quarrel as much as the first one, because she knew exactly what the
outcome would be. A quarrel is always worth while to a loving girl, for
the sake of the reconciliation. They were the sweetest moments of the
day, because in them was begun the true softening of hearts and rousing
of the emotions which later gave them so much delight. Toby and Sally
were happy all the rest of the afternoon and evening, and loved one
another; and when it was dark, and none could observe them, Toby kissed
Sally with all the fervour that he had saved up in his long days away
from her. He kissed her lips and her cheeks and her eyes, and crushed
the life out of her with his powerful arms. And Sally, at first
laughing, had grown quieter and quieter in his arms as her joy in his
love had deepened. They stood there, far above the river, in the
gloaming, with the leaves whispering and slowly floating down through
the air as they fell from above. Presently the moon rose, and in the
moonlight the two wandered together, and forgot all their plans and
ambitions and jealousies. Both were given over entirely to the moment
and to the passion of the moment, which was still as strong as it had
ever been.


xiii

A fortnight passed. Gaga came and went. Sally had no word with him,
because he could not speak to her in the workroom or in his mother's
room, and because she never met him (as she half expected to do) in the
street. Sally often thought of their evening together, but gradually, as
Gaga took no further step, she became sceptical about his plan, and she
hardened towards him. Already her active mind was casting about for new
outlets. She visited Mrs. Perce, and repaid ten shillings of the amount
she owed her. She wrote to Toby, walked with Harry Simmons, had
conversations with Miss Summers and Muriel and Mrs. Minto. And so the
days passed. But at length Gaga took the awaited step. He met her one
evening, as if by accident, upon the stairs, and immediately stopped.
She had gone past him when Gaga found his tongue, and checked Sally's
progress by a stammering. She waited.

"Er ... I never ... see you now," he began. Sally looked up at his tall
figure, thrown sharply into relief by the clear light from a window upon
the stairs, and by the pale grey distemper of the wall behind him. Again
she noticed that creeping redness under the grey of his cheeks, and the
almost liquid appeal which he directed at her. "I ... er ... I meant to
ask you.... To-morrow...."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Bertram! I'd love to," cried Sally, quickly. He was
passionately relieved, as she could see. Not only by her acceptance of
his intended suggestion, but at the salvation of his tongue.

"At the corner? Seven o'clock? At the corner? Where ... where ... where
we met before? Really? Fine!" He nodded, and took off his hat, and
climbed the stair. Sally, very sedate, descended. Well, she was still
all right, then. How strange, she was quite cool! She was not at all
elated! That was because of the delay, which had encouraged
indifference; but it was also because the invitation was expected and
because Sally was no longer to be shaken as she would have been by a
novelty. She was ready. She was once again a general surveying the
certainties of combat with a foe inferior in resources to herself.

So the next evening she deliberately stayed later than the other girls,
and worked on with a garment which had occupied her attention all the
afternoon. She was doing some plain embroidery upon a silk frock. It was
upon this occasion that she received a great mark of favour from Miss
Summers. Miss Summers, trusting Sally entirely, showed her how to lock
the door after her. She had just to slip the catch, and slam the door,
and nobody could enter the room without first using a key. And Miss
Summers went, leaving Sally alone in the workroom. It was a thing
hitherto unknown. It showed trust which had never been given to one of
the other girls. Apart from Madam and Gaga, if one or both of them
should still be working in Madam's room, Sally was at liberty, and in
sole occupation of the establishment. It did not occur to Sally to think
so; but Miss Summers would never have given her this privilege if she
had not known that Madam also would approve. It would have been too
dangerous a responsibility for Miss Summers unsupported. Madam must
have seen that petty theft was a thing which did not tempt Sally. She
was too ambitious for that, and obviously so. Keen judge of character as
Madam was she must have known it all. But neither Madam nor Miss Summers
could have realised--as both, with their experience of girls, should
have done--that there were possibilities other than theft. Sally had
listened to the explanation of the door catch, and had promised to shake
the door when she left, so as to make sure that it was fast; but her
only conscious thought had been one of surprise and delight that she
should be left alone. Alone to do as she pleased. Alone to sing, dance,
loiter. Alone, perhaps, with Gaga. At that notion she had a curious
little thrill of excitement. Her eyes became fixed for a moment. She did
not speak, or give any other sign. She was not thinking. Merely, her
general awareness was pierced by a sudden ray.

Had she been sure that Gaga was by himself in the next room, Sally would
have found some excuse to go in there. It would have been such an
opportunity as she had never had before. But although she went close to
the door, and listened eagerly, there was no sound within. The room
might have been empty. Or Madam might be there; and if Sally sang, which
would please Gaga, Madam might come out, find her in the workroom
without real excuse, and give her the sack. Sally was too wise to
believe that in such a case Gaga could save her. She could imagine him
stammering a defence, and being crushed, and perhaps being kind to her
for a little while and fussing about to find her a job elsewhere. And
that would be the end of that. She neither sang nor whistled. Every now
and then she again listened, until she was impatient with uncertainty.
Her impatience made her laugh. Fancy being impatient for seven o'clock!
And for Gaga! It wasn't natural. It was--like Gaga himself--ridiculous.

Seven o'clock struck before she was ready; but Sally did not care. She
had no objection to the thought of Gaga waiting in patience at the
corner of the street. Toby would have been a slightly different matter.
Not that she was more afraid of Toby now than she was of Gaga. All the
same, she would not have kept him waiting. Neither Toby nor Gaga would
have kept Sally waiting. Toby would have been punctual; Gaga had been
standing at the corner already for five minutes. It was a curious moral
effect that Sally had. She was not to be treated lightly. Even now, she
was learning her power, and in this case she was illustrating it. She
did not join Gaga until she was satisfied that every smallest fold in
her dress was in perfect order, her hat precisely at the desired angle,
her gloves buttoned. Then, shutting the door with a steady bang which
rendered any shaking needless, she kept her appointment, not a timid
dressmaker's assistant, but a woman of the world. At seventeen--for she
had not yet reached her eighteenth birthday, although it was now very
near--she was more of a woman of the world than she would be at
twenty-eight, when her first intuitions had been blunted by actual
experience.

Gaga was standing thoughtfully leaning upon his walking stick. His
shoulders were bent, and the slim, and rather graceful, outline of his
figure made him appear almost pathetic in his loneliness. Sally--Sally
the hard and ambitious--was struck by a sharp irritation and pity,
almost by compunction. She did not know what her feeling for Gaga was;
but principally it was composed of contempt. He had good looks, and he
had money. He could help her at present as nobody else could do. But at
heart Sally dismissed him with a word which, to her, was fatal. He was
soppy. Not mad, not altogether stupid, but painfully lacking in vital
energy and confidence. Of all things Sally best loved assurance, and
Gaga had none of it. He drooped in waiting, and the message of his fine
clothes was contradicted by his pose, and not reinforced by it.

"I'm sorry I'm late," she said perfunctorily, at his start of
recognition and delight. Gaga's face changed completely. From one of
gloom, his expression became one of joy. "I didn't notice the time. I
was working there alone-- Miss Summers had gone. I was finishing
something. I didn't know if you'd gone or not. I couldn't hear anything
from Madam's room. Didn't like to knock, or anything."

Gaga said nothing. He walked by her side, and Sally looked up at him
almost as she might have done at a policeman or a lamp-post. He _was_
tall, she thought, when he straightened his back. And he dressed like a
prince. At that instant she was proud to be walking by his side. She
thought: "I must look a shrimp beside him! Him so big--so tall, and me
so little. But I'm as smart as he is, any day in the week. Wish he
always held himself up like that! What salmony lips he's got, and ...
it's his long lashes that make his eyes look so soft. Chocolate eyes....
Funny! He's got a weak chin. No, his _chin's_ all right. It's ... you
can't see his jaw at all: goes right in, and gets lost. And a funny
nose--got no shape to it. Just a nose." She had the curiosity to wonder
what his grey cheek felt like. She would like, one day, to touch it with
her finger, just to see. It looked dry and soft. All this she glimpsed
and considered like lightning while they walked quickly towards
Piccadilly Circus; and her notions gathered and grew in Gaga's silence.

"Were you working?" Sally presently asked, trying to say something to
begin a conversation.

Gaga shook his head, stealing a shy glance down at her.

"No. Not working," he said. "I had rather a headache, so I went for a
walk in the Park."

"Oo. Sorry you've got a headache." Sally unconsciously became
sympathetic. "Is it very bad? It's nerves, I expect. If you're nervous
you have splitting headaches. My mother's _always_ talking about her
head. She gets so tired, you know; and it goes to her head; and she sits
still and can't think about anything else. Is ... is Madam quite well
now? She was looking so ill...."

Gaga became mournful. The mention of his mother always, it seemed to
Sally, made him miserable. Silly Gaga! He then did something which had
an imperceptible effect upon Sally's thought of him. It was a mistake,
because it illustrated his lack of initiative and his powerlessness to
strike out a fresh path. He made straight for the Rezzonico again. He
ought to have taken Sally to another restaurant; but he instinctively
took her to the place where they had dined happily before. In that he
betrayed to her merciless judgment the fact of his inexperience.
Silently, they entered the big dining-room. The band was not playing at
the moment, and, as they were early, the room was less full than it had
been upon the first occasion. The enormous mirrors reflected their
hesitating movements. Gaga made his way vaguely towards their former
table; but Sally laid a hand upon his arm. It was time for her to take
command. Into her expression there crept the faintest hardness, almost a
tough assurance, that was tinged with the contempt which was her deepest
feeling for Gaga.

"Couldn't we get a table against the wall ... down there?" she demanded,
pointing.

It was done. They were installed, and a young and rapid waiter was
attending to them. This time Sally helped to choose the dinner. She
could not read the menu, because she knew no French; but the waiter,
with an uncanny insight, realised that he would do well to address her
and to explain the dishes to Sally instead of to Gaga; and so, to the
relief of all three, they were quickly served, and wine was brought, and
Sally began to feel creeping upon her all the old pleasure and
excitement of noise and wine and an intriguing situation. Her hardness
vanished. She sat almost with complacency, breaking her roll with two
small hands, and looking at Gaga with that thin little grin which caused
her meagre face to be so impish and attractive. The brilliant lights
which made Sally more and more piquante had a ghastly effect upon Gaga.
His grey cheeks were cruelly betrayed.

"I'm afraid mother's ... mother's not what she ought.... I'm afraid
mother's ill," began Gaga, stammering. Then, impulsively: "I say.... I'm
so glad you came to-night. I.... I've been--you know, my head-- I've
been miserable, and.... I've been bad-tempered all day. But I'm better
now. Couldn't help ... feeling better, seeing you there...."

Sally grinned again. If her cheeks had been plumper he could have seen
two dimples; but all that was observable was the row of tiny pointed
teeth that made her smile so mischievous. Sally's eyes looked green in
the electric light--green and dark and dangerous, like deep sea; and her
pallor was enhanced, so that she was almost beautiful. There was
something both naïve and cat-like in her manner, and the tilt of her
head. She surveyed Gaga with eyes that were instinctively half-closed.
She could delightedly perceive the effect she was having upon him. He
sometimes could not look at her at all, but fixed his attention upon
his plate while she was speaking, or no higher than her neck when he was
himself--as he rarely did--making an attempt to entertain. And all
Gaga's hesitations and shynesses made Sally amused and sure of herself,
and she began to take pleasure in dominating him. When she found that
Gaga not only did not resent this, but was pleased and thrilled by her
domination, Sally grew triumphant. She chose the sweet for them both,
sweeping her eye down the prices and listening to the waiter's
translation of each title. She sipped her wine with a royal air of
connoisseurship. And she kept such control of the situation that Gaga
was afraid to give words to the timid ardour which shone from his
expressive glance. Sally was herself: it was still she who conferred
every favour, and not Gaga.

Presently she had a thought that whipped across her mind like a sting.

"D'you know what I've been doing since we came here before?" she
demanded. "I've been taking lessons in book-keeping. I'm getting on
fine. The teacher says I've got a proper head for figures. He says I
shall be a cashier in no time, and understand all that you can know
about accounts. Isn't that good? So I shall be able to help you--like
you said...."

Gaga gave an admiring gesture. He was overwhelmed.

"Oh, but you're ... marvellous!" he cried. "Simply marvellous! Here's
Miss Summers says you're the best hand, for your age, that she's
got...."

"Did she say that?" Sally jumped for joy. "Really?" She gave a
triumphant laugh, so naïve and full of ingenuous conceitedness that Gaga
was overcome afresh with admiration.

"You ought to have been two people," he answered. "Two little girls."

"Half a dozen!" Sally proclaimed. "You see, I'm--it sounds conceited,
and I expect I am; but it's true-- I'm clever. I'm not soppy. Other
girls-- Rose Anstey.... They're soppy. They can't do anything. I can do
all sorts of things because I'm clever-- I can sew, and ... you know,
all sorts of things."

Gaga glowed at her words.

"I know," he eagerly agreed. "That's why you're so wonderful. Most girls
can only do one thing. They can't even do that very well."

"That's true. Takes them a week to do it; and then somebody has to do it
over again for them. They haven't got any brains. They got no _sense_.
They don't _think_." Sally was impetuous.

"They've got no brains at all," said Gaga. "They're like vegetables."
Both laughed, in great spirits and familiarity. "Well, Sally.... My
mother's.... She's a wonderful woman, too. She's been marvellous.
Marvellous! She must have been like you...."

Sally shrugged.

"Bigger than me," she murmured, brooding upon an unwelcome comparison.

"No. Not bigger. She's nearly three times as old as you. My father died,
you see.... I was a child. She had to make a living. _Had_ to."

"So have I got to," whispered Sally. "I got no father; and mother's in
her second childhood."

Gaga stopped. He looked at her. A singular expression crossed his face.

"Now, you have to," he said. "Er, I mean.... Well, ... you won't
always."

"Mean, I'll marry?" demanded Sally, sharply. "Give it all up to cook the
dinner and wash the front step?" She shrugged again.

Gaga reddened slightly.

"I.... I didn't think you'd do that," he said, hesitatingly. "I only
meant.... What I wanted to say ... mother's not well. She's ill. She's
really ill. She'll have to take a holiday. I wonder...." His hesitation
was more prolonged than usual. He became as it were lost in a kind of
doubtful reverie. Sally could not tell whether he was thinking or
whether the wheels of his mind had altogether ceased to revolve. His
mouth gaped a little. At last he concluded: "I wonder if I could ... if
I could borrow you from Miss Summers. If she'd mind. If she'd let you
go."

There was a silence, while both thought of this possibility.

"Look here," cried Sally, confidently. "Like this evening, Miss Summers
left me there--all alone. I mean to say, she didn't _mind_. She wouldn't
leave any of the other girls like that; but she left me. She knew it was
all right. Well, I wouldn't mind stopping in the evenings and helping
you. I'd like to. I'm quick. I could get through a lot of work."

"Oh, but it wouldn't be fair," he objected.

"Why not? I'd love it. See, I'd get overtime."

Sally was really prompting Gaga in this last sentence. He frowned, and
moved one of his long hands impatiently across some crumbs which lay
before him on the table.

"Oh, money...." he said. "More than overtime. We'd.... I say, it's
splendid of you. It's a splendid way to do it."

"Would you like it?" breathed Sally, her heart beating faster at the
implication. Gaga reddened. His lips were pressed together.

"It would be perfect!" he cried, vigorously.

"How lovely!" Sally's face broke once more into that expressive grin.
They sat smiling at each other, almost as lovers do who have stumbled
upon an unsuspected agreement in taste. The mood lasted perhaps a
minute Then it changed ever so slightly. "Would Madam mind?" next urged
Sally.

Gaga's face clouded. She was watching him breathlessly, and saw his
fists clenched. His tongue moistened the lips so lately compressed. His
head was inclined. At last, dubiously, he spoke.

"I wonder," he muttered. "I haven't said anything to her. I don't
think...." His face fell still more, until it was undetermined. "I'm
afraid.... I'm afraid ... perhaps she mightn't like it. You see, she's
... she's ... rather.... She doesn't like anybody.... She mightn't quite
... understand."

Sally's contentment vanished abruptly. Her heart became fierce, and her
tone followed. It was rough and hard, with a suggestion of despair and
of something less than respect for Gaga.

"It's no good!" she cried. "It's no good. I'm a girl. Girls can never do
anything! A man can do all sorts of things; but, just because she _is_ a
girl, a girl can't do one of them!"

She was watching him all the time she was speaking, and only half
realised that her indignation was warmly simulated in order to produce
an effect upon him and stiffen a wavering determination. For a moment
Gaga did not speak. He was turning the matter over in his mind, and
Sally saw the changes of opinion that passed across his face. Weakness,
submission, obstinacy, bewilderment were all to be observed. Above all,
weakness; but a weakness that could be diverted into defiance through
dread of her own contempt. The moment was desperate. Tears sprang to
Sally's eyes. She became tense with chagrin and stubbornness. A gesture
would have swept her wineglass to the floor.

"Never mind!" she cried, savagely, now really moved to anger and
despair. "You see how it is! I always knew it wouldn't be any good. Knew
it! Oh, I ought to have...."

Gaga was roused. His voice, when he spoke, was strangled.

"Don't be silly!" he cried. "We'll do it ... er ... we'll ... somehow
we'll do it." Sally waited, her anger cooling, a hope rising once again
in her breast. Cruel knowledge of him surged into her thoughts. At last
the determination she desired came from Gaga. He said, in a grim tone:
"She needn't know. We won't tell her."

Sally's eyes closed for a moment. As if she had willed this, she had
attained her end. No longer was there to be any doubt. They had an
understanding. They were going to do something together which must be
kept secret between themselves. She did not make even a tactical display
of unwillingness. She too greatly desired the end to endanger (though it
should be to confirm) her aim by any further display of finesse. It was
enough. She was hot in her glimpse of the triumph she had secured. She
would be able to stay. The rest of their evening was now unimportant,
because they had need only to speak of details, and of matters
unconnected with the plan.


xiv

Upon the day following this dinner and momentous conversation, Sally was
working listlessly amid the hum of girls' chatter, which proceeded
unchecked while Miss Summers was out of the room, when she had a
singular knowledge of something in store. She was struck almost by fear.
Quickly she looked up, and across at Rose Anstey, and beyond Rose to the
door of Madam's room. Miss Summers stood in the doorway, smiling, and
beckoning to Sally. Smiling--so it could not be anything.... Madam
wanted Sally; but Madam would not tell Miss Summers.... Had she found
out about Gaga? Sally's heart was like lead. But Miss Summers was
smiling kindly and significantly, which she would not have done if she
had thought the interview promised to be unpleasant. Besides, Gaga had
said Miss Summers called Sally her best worker. It was nevertheless a
nervous girl who went into the room, heard the door close behind her,
and found herself alone with Madam.

The room was that tawny one in which Sally had first seen Madame Gala.
It was lighted by one large window and it was not really a large room,
although it contained Madam's enormous table and a bureau and a number
of shelves upon which reference books stood. It was very quiet and cool
in summer, and warm in winter; and Madam sat at her writing desk in a
stylish costume unconcealed by any overall. Seated, she did not look so
terrifyingly tall; but her faded eyes had still that piercing scrutiny
which had disturbed Sally at the first encounter. Her face was lined;
her hair bleached and brittle; but the long thin nose, and hard thin
mouth, and parched thin cheeks all gave to her glance a chilling quality
hard to endure. Her hands were those of a skeleton: all the bones could
be seen white under the cream skin. Sally, abashed and full of
flutterings of secret guilt, stood before her as she might have stood
before one omniscient; but her brain was not abashed, and her hearing
was as strained as her alert wits. So the two hard personalities
encountered. Presently Madam smiled--a smile that was tortured, like
Gaga's, and showed anæmic gums but a row of astonishingly good teeth.

"Sally," she said. "Sit down there, will you. Now, you've been here
nearly a year. D'you know that? You were seventeen when you came. You're
eighteen now.

"Nearly," interjected Sally.

"Well, when you came you had seven shillings a week. We're going to make
it ten shillings from now. And of course overtime as usual. You
understand that I don't want you to talk outside about your wages. At
the end of what we call the financial year we may be able to give you
more. I can't promise that. But Miss Summers tells me that you are a
good and willing worker; and I can tell for myself that you are
intelligent. I think it will be worth while for you to stay here; and if
you go on as you have begun I shall hope to keep you. Now don't get the
idea that you're indispensable. Don't get conceited. But be encouraged
by knowing that I take an interest in you. That will do, Sally, thank
you...."

"Thank you, Madam," responded Sally, demurely. She stood in an attitude
of humility, a tremulous smile of candid satisfaction playing round her
mouth.

Nobody in the workroom could have guessed from her manner the turbulence
of Sally's emotions. Pleasure, relief, self-confidence struggled within
her. She felt an enormous creature surveying a pigmy world; and yet,
mechanically, she resumed her sewing at the point where she had left it.
The other girls all turned inquisitive faces in her direction. Was it
the sack? A row? A rise? Nothing at all? Sally was a baffling creature
... a white-faced cocket. She was deep. That word of Miss Rapson's had
entered the hearts of the girls. Sally had heard it; she knew that they
felt her superiority, and gaped at it with faint resentment. A flash
told her now that they were all on tiptoe, and her nonchalance was a
piece of acting which she enjoyed for its effect upon the others. She
most mischievously enjoyed her privilege. And she had a new cause for
triumph, a double success. She felt herself a schemer, an intriguer,
which she was not. She was merely an opportunist, seizing the main
chance. Not only had she a secret understanding with Gaga; she had also
a secret understanding with Gaga's mother. She was most marvellously
Sally Minto. The world was open to her. It was not the extra three
shillings a week that intoxicated her: it was the sense of a difficult
and engaging future. Her ambition had never been so strong. She turned
her thoughts to the miserable room at home, to her mother, to Mrs.
Perce. She wandered afield to the dinners with Gaga, to her recent talk
with Madam. Not merely wealth, but power, seemed to lie ahead. She saw
once more Madam's bad health; the probable exaltation of Miss Summers.
If she took care, she would presently lie in the very heart of the
business. Its accounts would be under her hand in the evenings; its work
visible to her eye in the daytime. Miss Summers liked her and trusted
her; she was sure of her own ability, her own shrewdness; without
deliberately planning it, she had earned the good-will of the three
people who really mattered, so far as her progress was concerned.

What if Madam were away ill? What if she died? Sally trembled at the
prospect. She trembled lest some accident should interfere with what was
otherwise inevitable. She knew that with Miss Summers she had no rival;
her compact with Gaga was secure, unless his weakness betrayed them.
Even here, she knew she might rely upon his integrity. Gaga would keep
to his word. Sally saw herself installed as bookkeeper--oh, if she were
only older! If she were older, if she were twenty-five, she would hold
the business in the hollow of her hand. She was already learning how to
speak to the ladies who came to give orders; her shrewdness would
quickly show her which were good accounts and which required watching;
and her work never grew careless. With each perception Sally's brain and
her capacity for adapting herself to every circumstance seemed to
expand. She was already much older than her years. With a little more
experience she would be in a commanding position. But Madam must be ill,
Madam must.... Madam must be very ill; and yet not before Sally had made
sure of Gaga. Gaga was the key with which she would enter into her
proper sphere. He must be her mascot.

With her head bent Sally stitched busily on, never allowing ambition to
distract her from the immediate task. Baffled, the girls fell again to
their work. That Sally Minto was deep--you couldn't tell what she was
doing, what she was thinking. She was deep. Under her breath Sally was
humming a tune, a familiar tune. A slow grin spread over her white face,
and faded again. Looking up, she caught Miss Summers's eye, and smiled
faintly, gratefully, reassuringly. She recognised at once how pleased
and proud Miss Summers was at Sally's progress. If her mind had not been
so busy, Sally would have felt a little warmth stealing into her heart;
but she was not aware of anything except Sally Minto and her plans for
worldly advancement. She for this moment saw Miss Summers also merely as
an instrument, a plump, pussy-faced woman with an eternally cold nose
and a heart quick to respond to the best efforts of her favourite hand.


xv

It was with a jump of excitement that Sally heard, in the following
week, that Madam was very ill indeed. Gaga came in the morning with a
haggard face, having spent the night by his mother's bedside. He had a
few words with Miss Summers, who came out of the room with a comically
solemn look upon her plump face. She made no remark to the girls, but at
lunch time, when the others were out, or were dispersed in the part of
the building where they were allowed to eat whatever they had brought
for lunch, Sally stole into Madam's room and found Gaga there, sitting
at the desk with his hands covering his face. When Sally approached him
he did not seem to have heard her, but continued sitting thus lost in a
depressed stupor. Sally knew that there was nobody in the room behind
her: they were quite alone.

"Mr. Bertram!" she said, quietly. Still he made no response. Her heart
quickened. Was he asleep? Was he--was he dead? She took a further step,
and then spoke his name again. There was a slight movement. He was
awake, and merely very unhappy and perhaps exhausted. With the slightest
feeling of self-consciousness she advanced to Gaga's side, and laid a
hand upon his shoulder. She could see the thinning hair upon the top of
his head, and the long slim fingers pressed to his temples.

"Mr. Bertram, I'm so sorry," whispered Sally. Her arm slipped farther
round his shoulders, and her breast was against his head, so gently
pressing there that Gaga was only conscious of the faintest contact. He
relaxed slightly, and his hands fell. Two gloomy eyes looked up into
Sally's face. She withdrew her arm, standing now beside him, altogether
apart.

"You made me feel queer," Sally went on. "Thought you were in a faint or
something. Are you ill? Oh, say something, say _something_!"

All Sally's little thin body grew rigid as she spoke, for Gaga looked at
her with an air of distraction. He seemed not to recognise her. His eyes
were yellow and suffused, his mouth was open, his appearance that of one
who was hardly sane.

"I'm all right," came at last with an effort from his dry lips. "All
right, Sally. Only tired ... ever so tired." There followed a stiff
attempt to smile, and then his face was hidden once again by the long
hands. "My head's throbbing. It's like pincers in my head."

"Have you got any medicine?" she asked, quite moved by his weakness. "Go
out and get some. Quick! Get a chemist to...." The head was slowly
shaken. "You _ought_ to. You can't do anything if you're ill. Can't do
any work, or help Madam, or anything."

"Better presently," groaned Gaga. "That's ... that's all right, Sally.
Good little girl to be so kind. I've been up all night. She's very bad,
Sally; very bad. I've been up all night. Never mind; I'll be better
presently." He relapsed into his former comatose state, nerveless and
lethargic.

"You ought to get some sleep now. Go home to bed," urged Sally. "It's no
good trying to work if you're sick. Go home now." She did not know how
motherly, how caressing and wise, her voice had become. She was absorbed
in his state of exhaustion and passivity. "It's not right," she went on.
"You can't do any good. Get the doctor to give you something to make you
sleep."

Gaga groaned again, still lost in his own sensations.

"No good," he murmured. "I can't sleep. That's what's the matter.
Nothing does any good. I can't sleep--can't forget. Only sit here like
this, and feel stupid. Never mind, Sally. Good little girl." He spoke
thickly, like a man who has been drinking; but he was stupidly
unshakable. She could do nothing with him. Having withdrawn her arm she
could not again lay it upon his shoulders; but stood silent, feeling
helpless and on tiptoe, with a sense of strain. She was not miserable
nor anxious about him; she could almost hear her own voice, so nearly
had detachment come upon her. And with something like cramp in her
limbs, and paralysis of her ingenuity, she remained by his side, one
hand resting for support upon Gaga's desk. Presently he withdrew one of
his own hands, and patted hers; and as if that released her Sally went
very quietly back to the workroom. There she saw two or three of the
girls busy reading a paper, and in a little while Miss Summers came back
and work was resumed. By the time Sally could again go into Madam's room
Gaga had disappeared, and they did not see him all the following day.


xvi

Two days later he returned, and dully went on with his work as though it
had no interest for him. Miss Summers had several times to suffer the
ordeal of debilitating interviews; and towards the end of the afternoon
was exasperated to tears. Sally could tell this from the sniffs and
nose-rubbings that became more and more frequent. Miss Summers's
eye-rims were quite pink, and her funny eyes were moist. She looked more
than ever like a disconsolate tabby, and her hands were restless and
clumsy. She had to ask Sally to thread her needle, and even to finish
work that she was doing badly because of her agitation.

"Thank you, my dear," murmured Miss Summers. "So kind." Then, in a low
tone, "Do for goodness' sake go in and see what Mr. Bertram's doing.
He's quite absurd, like somebody mad. He's not in his senses, that's
clear; and it's enough to drive anybody crazy."

Sally left the girls and slipped into Madam's tawny room. At her
entrance Gaga gave a start, and his ruler fell clattering to the floor.
But when he saw who was there his face brightened. A faint smile spread
across the grey cheeks, making Gaga look so charming, in spite of his
illness, that Sally was unexpectedly relieved. Her own smile was
instantly responsive, and she stood almost roguishly before him in her
short frock, and the demure pinafore which she was wearing over it.

"Miss Summers sent me," she explained. "Thought you might want some
help."

Gaga shook his head, the smile still apparent. He shook his head again,
trying to find words to express himself, and failing.

"No, Sally," he at last ventured. "No help. I'm better ... almost
better, to-day. I can understand ... understand what I'm doing. I'm
afraid ... er ... afraid I was very stupid the other day. I've thought
of that since. Er.... I say.... I wish you'd ... come out to dinner
to-night."

"Really?" Sally beamed upon him. She gave her little grin, and nodded.
"If you'd like me to, of course I will. I'll be ready. Thank you very
much."

Gaga made a heroic effort. He began to stammer, checked himself, and at
last succeeded in imposing coherence upon his wandering words.

"It's you who ... ought to be thanked," he answered. "You cheer me up."

"Do I?" Sally's tone was eager, her reply instant. "I'm so glad. I like
to feel I ... you know, cheer you. Does _me_ good."

They exchanged shy smiles, and parted; Gaga to resume his labours, Sally
to report his increasing sanity to Miss Summers. And then there followed
the unwanted hours that always lie between the making of a desired
appointment and the enjoyment of its arrival. Sally stitched with a
will, for her anticipations for this evening were not of an ambitious
kind. She knew all the time she was working that she looked forward to
the outing, and she was not at all puzzled at her own expectancy,
because in any case a dinner with Gaga would always make a break in her
often monotonous days and evenings. But she could never altogether fail
to make impulsive plans and it was as the result of unconscious
reflection that she checked Gaga in the course of their walk together.

"Don't let's go to the Rezzonico," she said, quickly. "Let's go
somewhere quiet."

As a result, they turned eastward, into the region of the smaller
restaurants, and looked at several before Sally picked one called "Le
Chat Blanc." It seemed to her to be the quietest and cleanest they had
seen, and at any rate it would be a new experience to dine there. The
doorway was modest, and the windows curtained low enough (in a red and
white check) to permit a glimpse of the small but shining interior.
Within, all was grey and white. Sally led the way into the place, and to
a remote table, and seated herself with an air of confidence remarkable
in one who dined, as it were, for the third time only. She glanced at
the two waitresses--both very dark girls with earrings, who wore their
black hair coiffed high upon their heads. They were Italians, agreeable
and inquisitive; and the food-smells also were Italian and full
flavoured. As soon as the two were seated they became the property of
one of the two waitresses, who stood over them so maternally that she
seemed to have no desire but for their good-fortune in choosing the meal
aright. She plunged both Sally and Gaga into a muddle by her persuasive
translations of the menu, but she made up for her linguistic
deficiencies by this anxious interest and by a capricious smile. Scared
and curious, they looked round the plain grey walls of the clean little
room, and at the four or five other people who sat near them, and at the
ceiling, and at each other.

"It's funny!" whispered Sally, exultingly. "Never seen anything like
it."

"I.... I've never seen one ... so ... so clean," stammered Gaga.

Near them a conceited young man with a hard voice and small eyes was
talking impressively to an untidy-looking girl in green with a mauve
chiffon scarf. While he talked, the girl smoked his cigarettes, and
interjected remarks of superior quality. Sally heard her say "Ah," in
sign of agreement, and once "Oh, yes, of course Flaubert...."

"What's Flaubert?" she asked Gaga. He appeared startled.

"Er ... I don't know," he answered. "What put it into your head?"

"That girl said it. Listen." They listened. The young man was arguing
about something. He was arguing about something of which neither Sally
nor Gaga could discover the purport. Sally said: "They're both woolly.
Woolly-wits, they are. Both got maggots. What's 'art,' anyway? Pitchers?
And all that about values?"

Gaga was buried. He had a sudden inspiration.

"Don't listen to them," he said. "It's something they ... they
understand."

"I bet they don't," remarked Sally. "You don't talk about things you
understand."

"Well, let's talk about what _we_ don't understand...." He was
beseeching in his tone, and his soft eyes glowed. The waitress
approached, bearing two large plates piled high with spaghetti.

"Golly!" ejaculated Sally. "Howjer eat it? Fingers?"

They had little time to talk while they were engaged with the capers of
this surprising food; but when both were tired of playing with the
spaghetti they turned their attention to the straw-covered bottle of
Chianti which had been brought. Sally made a wry mouth at her first
venture. She had yet to learn that the wine was heavier than any she had
yet drunk. She strained her ears to catch more of what the
fascinatingly conceited young man was saying about his inexhaustible
topic. Good-looking boy, if he cut his hair and shaved his moustache
off. She saw Gaga look anxiously and wonderingly across at her, with a
kind of hunger; and she was shaken by a mischievous notion. She had
never done such a thing before, but she put her foot forward so that it
touched one of his, and smiled right into Gaga's chocolate eyes. The
slow red crept up under his skin, and they had no need to talk. Sally
was laughing to herself, and eating some beautifully cooked veal, and
she knew that Gaga was glowing with contentment. She at last observed
the two talkers slouch out of the restaurant, the man in very
baggy-kneed trousers and a loose coat, and the girl in a dress of home
make. A quick wrinkle showed in Sally's grimacing nose as she brought
her professional eye to bear; and then the two talkers were gone and
were forgotten. Sally and Gaga were quite alone at their end of the
room, in a corner, favorably remote for intimate conversation from the
remaining diners.

"Funny us not knowing what they were talking about," mused Sally. "You
don't, you know. It's very hard to know what anybody talks about. To
understand it, I mean. Hard to know anybody, too."

"I shouldn't have thought I was hard to know," ventured Gaga.

"I wasn't thinking about you," said Sally, with unconscious cruelty. "I
was thinking.... I've forgotten. Isn't this wine sour! No, I'm getting
used to it--getting to like it. Hasn't half-- I mean, it's got a nice
smooth way of going down." As Sally checked herself she realised that
she was now so much at ease with Gaga that she no longer worried about
her pronunciation or her words when she was with him. Worry? Sally's
conceitedness soared into the air and frowned down upon the faltering
Gaga with something like scorn. Poor Gaga! thought Sally. Instantly her
hardness returned, and she looked at his lined face and the pale lips
that hung a little away from his teeth in sign of ill-health. She saw
his dark grey morning coat, and the slip inside the waistcoat, and his
sober tie. And it seemed to Sally that she saw right into the simple
mind of Gaga. He was so simple, like the hire purchase system. He was
about the simplest man she had ever seen, for his tongue could hardly
utter more than the tamest of words and phrases, and he never seemed to
Sally to keep anything back.

"And yet, you know," she went on, following Gaga's remark and this train
of thought, "there's lots more to know about people than just what you
see--and what they do and say. If you know them ever so well, you only
know a bit of them. You don't know me. You think I'm a little girl in
the workroom, and a worker, and all that."

"I think you're a marvel!" ejaculated Gaga.

"Yes, well, when you've got to the end of thinking I'm a marvel, what
happens? You don't _know_ me any better. I might be a poisoner, or a ...
or a...." Sally's invention failed her. "I might keep a shop, or serve a
bar, or be an actress," she went on, recovering fertility. "I mean, in
the evenings."

"Yes," said Gaga, dubiously. "I suppose you might." He was struck with a
rather superfine notion. "But you're not," he concluded. He enjoyed a
manifest triumph.

"No." Sally raised a declamatory finger. "But if I _was_, you wouldn't
know it."

They had reached an impassable spot in their talk. Sally had confounded
Gaga. Neither he nor she was quite as mentally alert as they had both
been when hungry; and the Chianti was beginning to make them drowsy and
rather slow-witted. But having embarked upon the question of possible
knowledge of character they could not, in consideration of their slight
heaviness, be expected to relinquish a topic so circular and so
suggestive of personal intimacy. As the wine acted more powerfully upon
them it was more and more to themselves that their thoughts and speeches
turned.

"I feel sometimes that I'm a great fool," confessed Gaga. "But I'm not
really a fool. I see a lot, and ... I don't seem able to act on it.
D'you understand what I mean?"

"Weak," Sally vouchsafed, wine-candid. Gaga glanced quickly at her.

"I don't think I'm weak. I...." His thoughts strayed. "See, I've never
had much of a chance to show what I can do. My mother's such a much
stronger character than I am."

Sally nodded, and sipped again at the thick glass from which she was
drinking.

"I'm strong," she said. "I'm hard ... tough. If I make up my _mind_...."

"Yes. I'm like that," insisted Gaga. It was so preposterous that Sally
could only look measuringly at him with a puzzled contempt that might
have been read.

"I'm stronger'n you are," she answered. "I'm small; but I don't mind
what I do. You're a _good_ boy. I'm not. I'm bad. I'm ... you don't know
what goes on in my head." Suddenly exasperated, she went on: "That's
what I meant. You think I'm just a quiet little thing. I'm not. You
don't know _what_ I think about. I want to do all sorts of things. I
want to be rich, and have a good time, and have lots of ... lots of
_power_. I want to get on. If anybody gets in my way I push 'em out of
it. If anybody gets in _your_ way you stand aside."

"I don't. I get my own way, but not by fighting," Gaga said.

"Oho! I don't fight," retorted Sally. "They're afraid to fight me."

Gaga smiled.

"They're afraid of hurting you," he suggested. "But I know just what you
mean." His confidence was unshakable.

"I kick 'em in the stomach," Sally asserted. "Anywhere."

"Yes. They wouldn't take liberties with you."

"Not unless I wanted them to," said Sally, abruptly sober. "They
wouldn't try it on. None of the girls ever worry me. When I first came
they did. They were saucy. I soon stopped that. I got a tongue, and they
found it out. Now Miss Summers----"

"Don't let's talk about the business," pleaded Gaga. Sally was arrested.

"Funny!" she exclaimed. "We haven't, have we!"

"It's so much nicer being ... friends."

One of Gaga's hands was stretched across the table. With a sense of
mischief Sally allowed him to take her own hand. Then she moved it
quickly.

"They're looking at us," she whispered to him. "Those waitress girls."
Instantly she was free. She had the thought that a real man would have
held her hand for a moment longer. All the same, she enjoyed her power
over Gaga. The little unreadable smile that so excited him was upon her
face, and the knowledge of power was in her heart.

They sat for a little while over coffee; and then Sally began to put on
her gloves. A few minutes later they were out in the dark street, and
pausing to discover the points of the compass. As they stood, a great
gust of wind came sweeping along from the southeast, and at its onset
the two became strangely embraced, Gaga's arm being round Sally, and the
brim of her hat against his breast. They both laughed, and Sally stood
upright; but she did not move so violently that Gaga must withdraw his
arm. She was amused and elated at contact with him. Gaga, encouraged,
drew her closer.

"Oo!" murmured Sally. She let him see her laughing face.

Gaga, very excited, lowered his head. Sally jerked her own head upon one
side with lightning speed, and felt his lips clumsily upon her ear.
Twice he kissed her convulsively hugging her to his side. Then Sally,
rather breathless, but not at all discomposed, pulled herself away.

"Now, now; that's enough," she said. They were both grinning; but of the
two only Sally was cool. She could tell that Gaga was trembling
slightly, and when a little later they parted he held her hand for a
long time, and sought timidly to draw her to him again for another kiss.
Sally, however, ignored the pressure, and left him standing in the
yellow shop and street lights, while she rode securely homeward in her
omnibus. Her last glimpse was of newspaper bills lying upon the
pavement, and of men and women in motion against the lights, and Gaga
standing watching her out of sight. Then she looked round the omnibus,
at some other girls, and an old man who wore two waistcoats, and the
conductor; and her face again puckered into a smile.

"Doesn't half think he's a devil," she thought, demurely.

Then other thoughts of Gaga arose, and Sally frowned a little. She had a
sudden feeling that she was on difficult ground. She was not afraid, not
nervous; but her imaginings darted swiftly here and there at the bidding
of a knowledge that she must not at this juncture make any false step.


xvii

All the way home Sally had the one subject, the one series of
speculations, hammering at her attention. She was again sensible; she
was shrewd and perceptive. Gaga was a funny old stick, she thought;
funny and weak and nice. She could play upon him with ease. A touch, and
he was thrilled; a kiss, and he was beside himself. And yet what did he
want--what did he _think_ he wanted? And what did Sally herself want?
She did not know. She felt at a loss, excited and almost wanton. Yet so
much depended upon all this that she dared not make a mistake. Gaga's
good-will was of enormous importance. In his hands lay some of her
future. If she could help him, earn rewards, understand the business,
she could master everything. And Madam--what if Madam died? Supposing
she suddenly died, and left Gaga in control of the business, what would
happen? Sally hoisted her shoulders in doubt. Gaga might sell the whole
thing. He might run it himself. He would keep Miss Summers....

"Oh, I wish I was older!" cried Sally, impatiently. "I could do it, but
they wouldn't let me. They'd think I couldn't. I could! Not all at once,
but in a little while. If he'd hold on. Supposing he ... wants me...."
Her thoughts flitted away. She had a quick picture of Gaga as a lover,
of herself managing everything by keeping him at her side with cajolery
and parsimoniously-yielded delights. But he might grow tired of her; and
then where would she be? Sally did not trust men now; she too clearly
saw that once they were no longer tantalised they were liable to become
sated and uneager. She was face to face with that speculation here. It
all depended upon Gaga, upon the strength of her hold upon him. Could
she so play that she reaped all the advantage she needed without giving
anything at all? She was desperately tempted. She so greatly craved the
power which only Gaga could give her. Well, what did he want? It was not
enough that she should recognise her power to excite him: she needed
much more than a few odd favours. And she was afraid to do anything to
force him to grant whatever he could. In any case, what could he give
her? She was too observant to be deceived as to his powerlessness. She
saw him as a cypher; but as one who might one day--perhaps quite
soon--own the whole business. Who else was there to make him do anything
with it? There was nobody. Sally knew her own strength. What she could
not guess was the best means of using it to her own advantage.

She arrived home to find her mother in bed, with her short grey hair
scantily bedecking the pillow. At Sally's entrance, Mrs. Minto opened
weary eyes, and looked at her with a sort of hatred. Sally knew the
expression: it was full of suspicion and dread and solicitude, the
result of Mrs. Minto's lonely evening of speculation.

"Hullo, ma!" she cried, recklessly. "Here I am. And I haven't been
working. And there's nothing to fuss about. And that's all about that."

"Where you been?" sternly demanded Mrs. Minto.

"Well," began Sally, "if you _must_ know, Madam's worse. She's ill.
Think she's going to die. And I been talking to Mr. Bertram, and giving
him good advice. I'm a mother to that man. What he'd do without me I
can't think."

"Oo, Mr. Bertram!" It was clearly a warning cry. "Mr. Bertram! Oo,
Sally!"

"Soppy, ma. We call him 'Gaga.' He's weak, you know. Cries over his
work, like a kid. Wants somebody to give him a bit of backbone."

"Confidence," suggested Mrs. Minto, intrigued by the picture. She said
no more, but rolled over and stared at the dim wall until sleep crept
upon her and annulled her reflections.

Sally was struck by the word. Confidence! That was what Gaga needed!
Half the time he was afraid of his own shadow. Quickly her brain
refashioned the meal she had had with Gaga. Poor lamb, he hadn't got any
confidence! Madam had kept him down. He wanted rousing. Once get his
blood up, and he might do something really.... For the first time Sally
was genuinely interested in Gaga. She had never honestly thought of
helping him for his own sake. All she had thought of was her own future.
And now her mother had put Gaga in a new light. Sally almost thought
well of him. He might be rather bigger than she had supposed. What if he
were?

Yes, but what did Gaga want of Sally? You don't kiss a girl because she
is anything but a girl. It was a profundity. Gaga had kissed Sally
because....

Sally turned away to hide from any glance of her sleeping mother the
gleeful smile which had made her face radiant. She had been kissed
because she had encouraged Gaga to kiss her; but he was so timid that he
would never have done it if he had not very greatly desired to kiss her.
She wondered what he thought about her. He talked of their being
"friends"; he was half silly about her; he had kissed her and had wanted
to kiss her again. Having begun, he would want to go on kissing her. And
then, what? He would be afraid to kiss her at their next meeting; but he
would all the time be watching his opportunity to do so. Was Sally going
to give him his opportunity? Was she going to give him the confidence
necessary for the task of using his opportunity? She was still gay,
still amused and self-confident; but there was a doubt in her eyes. She
wanted to know more. She wanted to know all that was still hidden from
her. All the same, during the whole of her questioning of Gaga's
ultimate aspirations, she never once lost the consciousness that the
next step lay with herself. Was she going to give him that necessary
confidence?

"Oh, I think so," thought Sally, deliberately; and smiled almost to
laughter as she lay with her face upon the pillow and was aware of the
whole of her warm body, from the tip of her nose to her round heels and
the eager fingers bunched close to her breast. "I think so...." she
repeated, with more humorousness. She had a vision of Gaga with his
chocolate eyes glowing into her own as the result of the wine and his
proximity to herself. She saw his thin lips stretched, and the faint red
under his grey cheeks, and his thin hair. She felt his lips clumsily
kissing her ear, the nervous clutching of his arms. Sally was pleased.
She knew that sleep was almost upon her, and heard Mrs. Minto's deep
breathing a foot away from the back of her head. Yawningly, she snuggled
more comfortably into her pillow, and as consciousness slipped away a
distant murmur seemed to repeat: "Yes ... yes.... I ... think so." In a
mood of expectant triumph she slept, sure for the moment of the course
of future events.


xviii

All the next day Sally's nerves were on edge. She had slept heavily, and
had awakened unrefreshed. She had made her way to Madame Gala's in a
tame morning mood, once again self-distrustful, very much waiting upon
events. The sight of Nosey checking the times of arrival, and still more
the gloomy aspect of a half-empty workroom, chilled her. Miss Summers
looked spiteful, Rose Anstey was sniffling with a cold, the others were
listless and tired. It was a muggy morning, and all spirits were low.
Sally's were lower than any others in the room. She began to work with
only half her ordinary attentiveness, broke her cotton, snapped a
needle, fidgetted. Her eyelids were hot, and she felt a headache begin
to throb faintly in promise of greater effort later in the day. She was
restless and wretched, looking at the door which probably hid Gaga. Even
the memory of last night's kisses was stale and unsatisfactory. As she
drew her breath in a half-sob, Sally longed suddenly for Toby. She
longed for his strong arms, his possessive air, his muscular strength.
And as she thought of Toby a tear came to her eye, and she felt that
life was not worth living. A consciousness of childish need for support
destroyed all her confidence at a blow. How she hated all these stupid
girls! How she longed for something--she could not imagine what--which
should take her out of their company. Complaint filled her mind. Why
should she have to work, to go backwards and forwards between the
workroom and that miserable home where her mother stewed incessantly and
followed the course of her monotonous days? It was a mood of pure
reaction, but it made Sally desperate. Her head began to ache more
noticeably. She was almost crying.

That, perhaps, was the condition of them all. None of the girls spoke,
and all looked black and miserable as they bent over their work, or
slacked and glanced around them. Outside, the rain began to fall, and
the sky was grey with cloud. The lights had to be switched on, and they
cast a deceptive glow upon all work, and idiotic shadows of the moving
fingers of the girls. Miss Summers glowered and rubbed the tip of her
nose; and at each crack or rustle of a chair or a piece of material she
glanced sharply up, as though she were fighting with an impulse to
scream. Sally felt that if Miss Summers had screamed they would all
have screamed. She herself was tempted to scream first, so as to see
what would happen. She thought that all work would be instantly thrown
down, and that everybody would answer her cry, and then begin noisily to
sob. Even miserable as she was, the thought of this avalanche of
feminine excitability made Sally snuffle with amusement. She pictured
Gaga running out of his room, distraught, looking yellow and bilious,
his eyes staring wildly out of his head, as do the eyes of prawns. And
then? And then Rose Anstey would fall bellowing into his arms, and Sally
would tear her away, and claim Gaga before them all....

How astounded he would be! But anything would be better than this
wretched suppressed exasperation which was making the atmosphere of the
workroom unbearable. Fortunately a girl finished the work she was doing,
and took it to Miss Summers.

"Very bad!" snapped Miss Summers. "It's not even straight! You must do
it again. Naughty girl, to waste that silk like this!"

The girl began weakly to cry. All the others stared viciously at her,
gloating over her distress, hating her, and thankful to have some object
at which to discharge their suppressed venom. They would have liked to
beat her. Savagery shone in their malignant eyes. All became sadistic in
their enjoyment of the weeping girl as she crept back to her place. Only
Miss Summers grew rather red, and swallowed quickly, and was ashamed.

"Nancy!" she called. "What is it? Aren't you well?"

Nancy put her head upon her outstretched arms, and they could hear the
long dreadful sobs that shook her body. Upon every face Sally read the
same message; the curled lips, the pinched nostrils, all indicated the
general strain.

"We're all like that this morning, Miss Summers," she said, almost with
defiance. "It's the weather. That's what it is."

The other girls all turned from Nancy and transferred to Sally their
mounting malevolence. They would have liked to see her swept from her
place. They could have scratched and bitten her with fury. And yet, a
moment or two after she had spoken, there was a perceptible relief.
Nancy stole out of the room, to finish her cry and bathe her face, and
one of the girls--her friend--went after her. There was a pause in work.
A window was opened, and some air lightened the oppression. Sally
remained seated, while the others crowded to the window, and slowly
recovered her own composure. And then, in five minutes, when everybody
resumed, it was found that things were not so bad after all, and Nancy's
work was rectified, and Rose Anstey blew her nose and looked
disagreeable, and some of them talked; so that presently all became more
animated, and the sky lightened, and the day was less trying. Only
Sally's head continued to ache, and her spirits to falter. But she no
longer sighed for Toby. A curious dread of him came into her
consciousness, which she could not understand. She was afraid. She felt
defensive towards him, and explanatory. Under her attention all sorts of
impulses were at work. Pictures of Toby in different circumstances began
to flash into her mind, always blurring in an instant; while the memory
of her dinner with Gaga grew stronger and more remarkable. Not knowing
what she was doing, Sally pushed her work away, and sat in a brown
study, until she became aware that she was under observation.

Sally met these cruel stares with immediately assumed equanimity, and
she once more drew the work towards her; and in a few moments the girls
forgot Sally, and chattered a little together. And by the time their
attention was withdrawn wholly it was the luncheon interval which meant
more to all of them than usual, since it once more gave the girls an
opportunity for standing up and moving about. They grouped, and went
slowly towards the room where they always ate; and Sally was able to
open the other door for an instant, only to discover that Madam's room
was empty. With a sinking heart she followed the others, again beset by
a loss of confidence.

In the afternoon she was sent out by Miss Summers to match some silk,
and this gave Sally relief without which she must have ended the day
feeling ill. As it was she came back just as they were making tea, and
her own cup of tea sent the headache away. For the first time that day,
Sally heard herself laughing. She was telling Muriel of a fight between
two dogs, and how a man had been overthrown in the mud through trying to
part the dogs; and when Muriel laughed Sally laughed also, which made
the other girls prick up their ears and grow more lively. There was a
great change in the general atmosphere after tea. The constraint
disappeared, and everybody became more normal. Needles were more
adroitly used; the light improved; a general air of contentment arose.
Sally no longer thought of Toby, or of Gaga. She was making a dream for
herself, out of a motor car she had seen, and a handsome soldier, and
the way a commissionaire had stepped out of her way. She needed few
materials for her dream, and was a fine lady for the rest of the
afternoon.

Dreaming, however, has its penalties; and for this occasion Sally was
punished by having to stay rather late in order to finish what she was
doing. The other girls began to go home; but Sally and Miss Summers
remained at their tasks. The delay produced a strange experience for
Sally, because when they were alone together Miss Summers began
abruptly to talk. She hummed a little at first, and then broke into a
long speech which had been seething all day in her mind.

"I hope you don't think I was nasty to Nancy this morning, Sally. She's
a funny girl. She's in love, you know; and thinks of nothing but this
man. And he's a married man, too, and not a good man, Sally. He'd think
nothing of leading a girl like Nancy into doing wrong, and leaving her
to get on as well as she can. Well, that's not right, Sally." Miss
Summers felt for her handkerchief, and Sally noticed with astonishment
that there were tears in her eyes. "You see, when a man's married he
ought to be careful what he does. Now once, when I was a girl, I'd got
my head full of the sort of things that young girls have--not you,
Sally; you're too sensible;--and I met a man, and thought he was the ...
well, I thought he was the finest man in the world. He wasn't. He'd got
a poor wretched wife that he neglected, and he drank, and when he ran
away they found he'd been betting with money that didn't belong to him.
And he very nearly took me with him. Fortunately, I didn't go. I was
afraid to go--though I didn't know about his wife. He said he'd marry me
when we got away. Well, I thought it was funny. I said, 'Why not
before?' and he said, 'You don't understand. What if we didn't suit each
other?' I said, 'Why shouldn't we? Other people get married.' And all
that sort of thing I said. Well, I wanted to go, and wanted to go; and
at last I didn't, and I was thankful afterwards. Now Nancy's man is a
shopwalker somewhere. He's got no money, but he's good-looking, you
know, and girls think a lot of that when they're young; and also he's
one of those men who give a girl the idea that he can have twenty others
if he wants them. That's what upsets a girl. She thinks she's got to
make her mind up in a hurry, or lose him, d'you see?"

"More fool she," remarked Sally. "Pooh!"

"So _I_ say. Mind, in Nancy's case, she's just in love. He may not want
her. She doesn't know. And it's the uncertainty that keeps her like
this. Far better if she married some steady young fellow who'd make her
a good husband. But girls don't think of that. They don't like steady
fellows, any more than young fellows like steady girls."

"That's true," said Sally, thoughtfully. "They want a bit of ginger."

"Well, sometimes I think nobody ought to marry until they're well on in
life."

"They'd miss a lot," Sally murmured.

"Eh? Well, it's a puzzle to me. Look at Nancy. What is it she wants?
She's got forty or fifty years more to live."

"But you don't think like that," breathed Sally. "It's love."

Miss Summers gave a great sigh, and rubbed the tip of her nose with the
back of her forefinger. She was seriously perplexed at the interruption
from one so sagacious.

"_You'll_ think twice before you marry for just love, and nothing else,"
said she.

Sally's little white face was turned away. She was apparently
concentrated upon her work.

"Perhaps I shall," she admitted. "You never know what you'll do till the
time comes."

"You can make up your mind to be careful," said Miss Summers. "It's not
the first man who makes the best husband."

Sally crouched in her place. Her heart was beating so fast that she felt
as though she were suffocating. Miss Summers could not appreciate the
effect of her words, because she had gone back again to the subject of
Nancy and her married shopwalker.

"You ought to have _seen_ that child's work to-day!"

"Perhaps she's going to have a baby?" suggested Sally. It gave Miss
Summers a great shock.

"Oh! D'you think so?" she exclaimed, her eyes wide open with horror.
"Oh, no!"

"You'd have thought they were all going to have 'em, the way the girls
all looked and acted this morning. They were all potty. Silly fools."

Miss Summers gave a sigh of relief, and then she laughed a little.

"We were all rather grumpy this morning," she admitted. "It's the
weather. Always upsets people. Doctor Johnson said it didn't."

"Who's he? Doctors don't know anything at all. Only take advantage of
other people's ignorance. They frighten people, you know, looking wise,
and making you put out your tongue, and all."

"I don't know what we should do without them," sighed Miss Summers. "Of
course, there's always the patent medicines; but I never found anything
that cured my indigestion."

"Only chewing prop'ly," grimly suggested Sally.

Miss Summers abruptly rolled up her work at this unsympathetic remark,
and took off her pinafore. She stood uncertainly by the window.

"I've been keeping you," she said. "But I _am_ worried about that child.
I do hope she hasn't been silly. At her age they've got no sense at all.
They can't see an inch before their nose. You coming now, Sally? All
right, slam the door after you.... Don't stay too late."

Ten minutes afterwards Miss Summers had gone. Sally waited a little
while, to give her time to reach the street and remember anything that
might bring her back. Then, very quietly, she took off her own pinafore,
and stole across the room and listened at Gaga's door. She could hear
nothing. Sharply, she tapped, and listened again.

"Come in!" said a voice.

Sally opened the door, standing there in her grey dress, with her hair
brilliant, and her whole face smiling. And Gaga, looking up from his
work, saw her thus as a vision, a happy vision for tired eyes. He smiled
in return and Sally advanced, without any shyness or assumed shyness,
into the room.

"Wondered if you were here," she said cheerfully. "Everybody else has
gone. Miss Summers and all. I'm working on something. Oo, hasn't it been
a day! The girls all had the fidgets. I've been quite ill all day."

"Ill?" demanded Gaga. "Not ... not really ill? Oh, I'm.... I'm so sorry.
Poor Sally!"

"Headache," mentioned Sally, rather lugubriously, so as to encourage his
pity.

"Headache? Oh, poor little girl! So have I."

Sally gave a little laugh. It contained all sorts of provocative shades
of meaning.

"Hn," she said. "Funny us _both_ having headaches. You still got yours?"

Gaga nodded. She went farther towards him, hesitated, and then still
nearer.

"Very bad," groaned Gaga, and Sally could see the heaviness round his
eyes.

"I'm so sorry," she said in a soft voice. Then: "My hand's cool. Shall
I?" She put her hand to Gaga's forehead, and felt how burning it was.
She felt him grow rigid at the contact, and saw his face betray his
sensitiveness to her touch. Sally's smile deepened in mischief. She was
playing with him, playing with fire and Gaga at the same time, and only
lightly amused at her employment. But she was still apart from him,
standing erect, with her right arm outstretched. There was not yet any
intimacy in her attitude. Nor could she see his face very plainly
without peeping over her arm.

"That better?" she asked.

"Beautiful." Gaga tried to move his head. Failing, he put his hand to
her wrist, pulled it down, and pressed his lips to her fingers.

"Now, now!" warned Sally. "I'm curing your headache."

Mildly he permitted the withdrawal of her hand and its replacement upon
his brow. But in a moment Sally, perhaps growing more daring, exchanged
her right hand for her left; and this meant approaching Gaga more
closely, and the partial encirclement of his head with her arm. She was
quite near him, as Gaga must have known; but he did not dare to put his
arm round her, as he might easily have done. Sally, so experienced,
guessed at his temptation, at his fear, and relished both. She was also
aware of a singular tenderness towards him, a protective, superior
wisdom that made Gaga seem to be a child in his trepidation. To her an
embrace meant so much less than it meant to him, and she knew quite well
that a flirtatious man would have recognised the game that was in
progress and risked a rebuff because of the successive return. Sally was
still so far from deliberately exploiting Gaga that she did not feel
impatient at his slowness. She savoured it, appreciating the fact that
he shrank, knowing that when she wanted him to do anything she could
always manage Gaga with the lightest touch. And that was why, in a
moment, she allowed herself contact with his shoulder. Gaga's arm
mechanically rose, and was about her waist, quite unpossessively. His
face was moved with a conflict of emotions. Sally recognised temptation
and self-consciousness, and also with amusement, a sense of his own
incomparable daring.

"You _are_ a devil, aren't you!" she whispered. Instantly she knew that
she had made a mistake. His arm relaxed. It was only when she drew his
aching head to her breast that she recovered her mastery of him. It was
the only mistake she had made, and it was at that time the last, for she
learnt at once that he was sensitive to ridicule. She had stepped too
far, and had thereby, for a moment, endangered her sport. She was
smiling again, but she had breathed quickly, at the knowledge of danger.

"How's the head?" she asked. "My hand's getting hot."

"Very bad," answered Gaga, dreading her withdrawal.

"Let me get a wet handkerchief."

"No, no. Don't move. I.... I don't want you to move."

Unconsciously, Sally gave a little sigh. It was all so easy, so much a
question of his being content with whatever she gave, that the adventure
was fading. It was ceasing to amuse her.

"That's enough," she said. "Now I'm going home." She did not move, and
Gaga's clasp tightened.

"No," he murmured entreatingly. "Not yet."

"_Must_ go." She took her hand away from his forehead, lingeringly. Gaga
held her to him with rigidity. "Let me go." He took no notice, and
Sally's hand rested gently upon his shoulder. At last: "Well?" said she.

"Don't go."

There was the slightest struggle, and Sally was free. Gaga's face was
quite red. She stood looking down at him, on her lips that same
quizzical smile. Gaga could not bear it. He rose quickly, and at her
flight followed breathlessly. She was again lightly imprisoned, her head
to his breast, and his arms giving small convulsive pressures as he
sought to retain her. She could tell his physical weakness, and his
feeble, excited desire for her, and she felt his face pressed to her
hair. Again Gaga kissed Sally, but she continued to withhold her lips,
so that he approached no nearer than her cheek.

"You ... you _must_ know I love you," breathed Gaga.

"Do I?" asked Sally, coolly. "I don't. Why should I?"

"Can't you tell?" He was speaking directly into her ear, so that she
felt his breath. "I love you ... like this!" He held her with all his
strength, and gave her cheek a fevered, gnawing kiss. "D'you see, Sally?
I love you."

"How's your headache?" asked Sally.

"I ... oh, Sally. Better ... better. But Sally! I love you. Don't you
love me a little? Sally!" There was a long silence. Consideringly, Sally
looked down, faintly excited, but unemotional. He vainly sought to
achieve a mutual kiss; but she kept her head turned away. Strange! Her
brain was perfectly clear! She was aware of every contact with him, knew
his every wish; and was unmoved. How different it was from when she was
with Toby! Gaga's voice resumed: "I think you ... love me a little,
Sally, my dear, my angel."

"Angel! Good lord!" ejaculated Sally. She put her hands to his breast,
forcing him a little away. "D'you think I'm an angel?"

"Yes!" came defiantly from Gaga.

"You're mad!" cried Sally, with contempt. "You don't know what you're
talking about. And even if you _are_ in love with me, as you say, what
does it mean? You'd soon get tired of me. You'd begin to think I
_wasn't_ an angel. What's the good of it all?"

Gaga looked astounded.

"But if _you_ love _me_," he stammered.

Sally's face was darkened. She had tears in her eyes, and her mouth was
thin and hard. There was altogether a hardness in her expression that
terrified Gaga.

"Even if I did," she said in a grim voice.

"But we could be married," he urged.

Married! Sally's heart gave a jump. Her cheeks were suffused. Married!
She could hardly conceal her amazement. He had flown right past her
expectation by that single word. Sally was aghast, forced to exercise
all her self-control to prevent him from seeing how staggered she was.

"Married!" she said, deprecatingly. "What would you want to marry a girl
like me for?" But as she spoke she no longer meant the words which had
been conceived in honesty. A storm of temptation was upon her. Married
to Gaga! Why, _nothing_ could stop her! Married to him, she would be
unassailable. It was not to be believed.

"Because I love you. Sally, do say 'yes.'" He was beseeching. His grey
face was flushed, his lips eagerly parted, his eyes radiant. Gaga seemed
transfigured. And his embrace was strengthened each instant by his
vehement desire for her.

"You love me?" Sally's voice had become thick and stupid as she
struggled to maintain her clearness of judgment in face of this
overwhelming proposal.

"Say 'yes,'" urged Gaga. "Say 'yes.' It would be so wonderful. Sally,
I've never ... never been in love before. I've ... never wanted a girl
like this. You're so...."

"What am I?" Sally's voice was tender, lingering. The tears came again
to her eyes, so touched was she by his earnestness and his gentleness,
so puzzled by the unforeseen situation.

"So lovely," Gaga breathed. His lips came nearer, and she did not
withdraw. He kissed her mouth at last, and again; and at her response
the kiss became long and possessive. "You lovely girl," he went on.
"We'll be married ... and ... and so happy."

"I don't know," cried Sally. "I don't know."

"Dear!" he begged.

"I'm not sure. Perhaps you'll be sorry to-morrow that you asked me. Will
you? Sorry? Such things _have_ been known to happen." Her voice was
quite hard, because her temptation was so great.

"I'll never change. I love you."

"I wonder." Sally shook her head. "I'll tell you to-morrow." She was
still dubious, suspicious.

"Let me get a license."

Sally's heart jumped again. He had once more surprised her, and she had
supposed herself altogether beyond surprise. A license! Her quick glance
could fathom no deceit, no inconceivable sportiveness in Gaga.

"Oh! You _are_ in a hurry!" she exclaimed, delayingly. "Frightened you
_will_ change."

"I'm frightened of losing you."

Sally laughed a little, held up her face, and kissed him. Still she was
puzzled.

"To-morrow. But you'll be sorry by then. I won't promise."

She found it not unpleasant to be loved in this fervid, nervous fashion.
It amused her. But she was curiously unmoved, and when he had put her
into her omnibus Sally breathed almost with relief. Strange to feel that
relief after parting from the man you might be going to marry! Sally
jerked her head. She remembered suddenly that Miss Summers had said
earlier in the day. "_You'll_ think twice before you marry for just
love, and nothing else," Miss Summers had said. "You're right, my dear,"
thought Sally. And then there came galloping into her memory a
recollection that made Sally blanch. "It's not the first man who makes
the best husband," Miss Summers had said. Not the first man! The reason
for Sally's fear was explained. She had known all along why she was
afraid and had pressed back the knowledge from her attention, so that it
should not interfere with her actions. The first man was Toby; and it
was of Toby that she was afraid--of Toby and his love for her; and, more
than all, of her strangely smouldering love for Toby.


xix

What had she been doing to forget Toby? Had she forgotten him at all?
Somehow Toby had a little faded from her mind in these days, because he
was on a voyage longer than usual, and she had not heard from him. Toby,
her lover! Only when she had been a little frightened or distressed had
she longed for his protective arms. Otherwise he had slipped into a sure
place in her self-knowledge. He was the man she loved, strong and rough,
the first to capture her heart, and until now the only man to hold her
imagination. At the thought of deserting him Sally shrank. She belonged
to Toby. Toby belonged to her. She had been going to marry him. If she
had not loved Toby she would ruthlessly have shouldered him aside; but
she could not do that, because he was her lover. And she was afraid. If
once she betrayed him, Toby might kill her. She became terrified at the
idea. Men killed their girls for jealousy's sake. She had often read in
the papers of what were called "love tragedies."

Sally did not want to die. She wanted to rise to power, to riches. And
Gaga offered her the way to attain her ambition. Married to him she
could have all, or almost all, she wanted. If she refused him she might
lose everything. She might lose her place with Madame Gala, she
might.... How harassed she was! It was such a temptation! Gaga, with
money, and everything that he could offer; and Toby, with love that she
craved, and years of waiting, and a poky house, and his opposition to
all she might want to do upon her own account. She had a vision of his
lowering face, his savage mouth. She remembered all her joys in his
arms. A shudder shook Sally at thought of his vengefulness, his fierce
strength. And then, when she was married to Gaga, she would be mistress
of so much that she desired. It was a desperate problem. The more she
thought of it, the more tormented Sally became.

She was still in active distress when she reached home; and her headache
of the morning had returned. Bright colour showed in her pale cheeks,
and her eyes were brilliant with excitement. She was at high tension.
The first sight of their room, and her mother's squalid figure, produced
a violent effect upon Sally's thoughts. Anything to escape from this!
Anything! But what of Toby? His strong hands could crush the life out of
her. His jealousy would be so unmeasured.... He would kill Gaga. He
would kill her. Sally was carried to an extreme pitch of fear. Life was
so precious to her. And she loved Toby.

Did she still love him? Did he still love her? They were both older;
separation had made each of them less dependent upon the other than they
had been at first, and even although her love was jubilant when Toby
returned on leave she was no longer the rapturous girl of even a year
before. Long and long Sally remained torn between her two desires. She
did not sleep at all, but lay turning from side to side and longing for
oblivion or the daylight. She had never been so confronted with great
temptation and great fear. Her head ached more and more. She could not
cry, or sleep, or forget. She lay with open eyes, watching the window
for the dawn. And when the morning broke she was still undetermined.
The choice was too difficult.

Breakfast was uneatable; her journey to work was a dream. She shrank
from going into the workroom, from seeing Gaga. All her confidence had
disappeared. She was a bewildered little girl--not eighteen, but a child
still without sense of direction. At one minute Toby seemed the only
choice to make, but principally because she was afraid of what he might
do if she married Gaga; and when she forgot her fear she no longer
hesitated between love and ambition. She argued that she no longer loved
Toby. She never once considered her feeling for Gaga. She hardly thought
of him, or of what marriage to him might mean. Her eye was all to the
consequences. It was so throughout, whether she thought of Toby or his
new rival. All her thoughts were anticipations.

As she sat at work she began to lose fear of Toby. She felt she could
always manage him, explain to him. She pretended that they would be
friends; though the thought of Toby married to another girl gave her a
sharp horror. If she married, it was different. She did not imagine what
Toby might feel--only what he might do. She was thus the complete
egoist. Not Toby's happiness or unhappiness was implicated; but only her
own dominant desire. If she had still been unsatisfied in her love for
Toby, she might have valued him more; but she knew all that he could
teach her of love, and already her strong eagerness for him was becoming
old and accustomed. The one restraint she had was fear of what he might
do; and that fear was beginning to decline in face of stronger impulses
towards the opportunity which marriage with Gaga would produce. And just
in this crucial stage of her reflections came a most striking fresh
influence. It was brought by Miss Summers, who returned from the
telephone with a solemn expression upon her face.

"Sally," she said. "Come here." When Sally approached her, Miss Summers
pretended to give some instructions; but in reality, under her breath,
she murmured: "Sally, don't tell the other girls; but Madam's worse this
morning. Her temperature's 103." Her warning frown emphasised the
meaning of the words. It made Sally's heart begin to beat fast. Madam
... Madam....

With her head low, Sally bent over her work. But that frown had brought
decision to her mind. She would marry Gaga. It was so important that she
should not miss this chance that she would marry him at once. She _must_
do so. It was essential. What if he had grown frightened?

That was her new spur of fear. Toby was forgotten. She was on fire for
the marriage. It had now become the only conclusion to her doubts. She
must take the earliest opportunity of seeing Gaga, of conveying her
acceptance, of making sure of him. Her fingers trembled, so important
did time now seem to Sally. Her one anxiety was lest she should have to
kindle his eagerness anew. Troubled but resolute, she tried in vain to
work. Every sound made her start. All her attention was distracted from
the sewing and concentrated upon the possibility of an interview with
Gaga. Yet a shyness made her afraid to leave her place and go into
Madam's room. The other girls would notice. What if they did? They would
soon know that they could not treat her with anything but humility. She
would have untold power over them. Sally almost recoiled from the
knowledge of what power she would wield in the business once she was
Gaga's wife. It seemed to her incredible. Her mind strayed to Miss
Summers, Miss Rapson, the jealous Rose.... How would they like it? What
would they do? Sally imagined the news reaching them, imagined their
fear of her, their jealousy, their cutting remarks about herself. And
she laughed, knowing that she would be out of reach of any of the harm
that they might wish her.

While she was thus contemplating a development, the door of Gaga's room
opened, and he came quickly into the workroom. Sally's heart seemed to
stop beating. She felt sick with dread. He wore a flower in his
buttonhole. His first glance was for Sally, as her own lightning
scrutiny showed. He was white, but he smiled. His eagerness of inquiry
was manifest. Sally could not help smiling in return, although she was
trembling, and knew that he too must be trembling. She gave the faintest
possible nod, and saw the colour start to his cheek. Gaga was checked
for an instant in his progress. His smile broadened, his head was thrown
back. At that moment he looked almost like a determined man, so vividly
did Sally's nod cause a new ichor of confidence to run in his veins.


xx

On a bright morning about ten days later, Sally lay in bed watching her
mother prepare the breakfast upon their oil stove. Although the year was
in its last months it was still warm and sunny, and Mrs. Minto clambered
about the room half-dressed, with her grey hair hanging behind in ragged
tails. With her bodice off she looked more than ever meagre, her thin
face sharper and greyer than of old, and her movements more uncertain.
As Sally watched her mother she realised that the unsightly walls and
battered furniture were just of a piece with the creeping figure. What
she did not understand was that Mrs. Minto was so used to the furniture,
which she had known during the whole of her married life, that she did
not recognise its dilapidation. But Sally had no time for thought of her
mother. She was excited. Her tongue came out between her teeth, and she
looked at the ceiling. At last, in a laconic voice, she said:

"Ma!" Mrs. Minto glanced wearily at her. Sally considered her speech
with a further smile, so that Mrs. Minto became irritated, and went on
with her preparations in a rather indignant way. "Ma," resumed Sally,
relishingly, "I shan't be home to-night."

Mrs. Minto started. She became instantly alert.

"Oh yes you will, my girl," she cried sternly. "None o' that!"

"Yes, I shan't be home to-night," repeated Sally. "Nor to-morrow night,
either."

Mrs. Minto left her work and came to the bedside. She was like a
snarling bitch, savage over her threatened young.

"Sally!" she exclaimed, in a rough voice. "What you doing! What d'you
mean? Of course you'll be home. You're not going to play any tricks with
me, my gel."

"I shan't be coming home," continued Sally. "Not ever. I'm getting
married to-day."

Mrs. Minto sat down upon the bed.

"Married!" she screamed. "Married! Why, who you going to marry! What
d'you mean? Silly girl, trying to frighten me!"

"Don't get excited, ma. I'm going to look after you. The fact is, I'm
... well, _you'll_ be all right. Nothing to worry about."

"Who _is_ he?" demanded Mrs. Minto. "Who _is_ he?" She was desperately
agitated. "Sally, I'm your mother.... Oh, you bad girl! You been
hiding.... I knew you was hiding something. I knew where them fast
frocks was leading you!"

Sally was enjoying the scene. But she suddenly checked herself.

"Ma, I'm marrying a rich man. I'm marrying Madam's son."

"Madam's _son_!"

"Yes." She was complacent. "Those fast frocks lead to the registry
office."

"Reg.... Not in church? It's.... Sally!"

"What I say," cried Sally.

"A rich man!"

"Mr. Bertram. And what's more he loves me. And you won't have to do any
more charing. Only sit here and gorge yourself on the police news, like
a lady, and...."

"Married!" gasped Mrs. Minto. She gave a foolish giggling laugh, and the
tears ran down her cheeks. "Is it _true_, Sally?"

Sally held up her left hand, brought it blazing from under the
bedclothes. Mrs. Minto seized the hand, squeezed it hard, and pored over
the brilliants.

"Well!" she exclaimed. Then she shook her head, and wiped the tears from
her cheeks. A great sobriety appeared in her expression. Anxiety was her
dominating concern. "D'you love him, Sally? You ought to have told me. I
ought to have seen him. He hasn't asked for you. He ought to have come
and asked your mother."

"Madam's ill. I told him I'd tell you. You got to give your consent,
'cause I'm so young. He's got no time to get away. I'm very fond of him,
and he thinks I'm...." Sally hoisted her shoulders. She had spoken very
deliberately.

"You said he was soppy."

Sally turned a cold eye upon her mother.

"You got too good a memory," she remarked. "What I've said to you....
Well, I knew you'd worry about him, and think I was going to get into
trouble, and.... Anyway, we're getting married this morning, and going
for our honeymoon this afternoon."

"Where you going?"

"In the country. Penterby. It's on the river, near the sea. You get to
the sea in no time. Ga-- Bertram-- Bert says it's lovely. Quiet, and ...
you know, you can get about."

"Married! I can't believe it!"

"I'll show you my certificate, when I get it. Don't you believe me?"

Mrs. Minto sat quite still upon the bed for a minute, her face intensely
pale. She seemed unable to say anything more. Then, very slowly indeed,
she recovered the power of motion, and rose wearily to her feet. She did
not look at Sally, but kept her eyes away. She stood upright, and took
two or three steps. But as she paused again her emotion became
overwhelming, and she clutched feebly at the bedrail. With her head
resting upon both thin arms she began to cry aloud--great turbulent sobs
which shook her whole body.

"My baby! My baby!" she wailed noisily. "Oh, what shall I do! My baby!"

Sally's lips quivered. She tried to smile. Slowly she crept out of bed,
and put her arms round her mother.

"Sh! Sh!" she whispered. "Ma! Ma! You're making me blubber, too. You old
fool! It's not a funeral!"

Strange emotion shook Sally as well as her mother. But they were
different. A thoughtful pucker came between her brows, and she had a
smile that was almost contemptuous.

"Ma!" she repeated, as the sobs remained vehement. "Shut up, ma! Oh,
what an old image! Talk about a noise! Anybody'd think it was _you_ who
was getting married!"

She had recovered her own nerve. She could not see the future; but her
head was cool, and she stared over her mother's shoulder at the sunlight
bleaching the outer grime of the neighbouring roofs. In her thin
nightgown she looked like a child, and her face was so impish that she
seemed to regard her marriage as one more in a long series of good
jokes. Her eyes were wide open, and her lips smiling.



BOOK THREE: CONSEQUENCES


i

The Merricks--Sally and Bertram--went for their honeymoon to Penterby, a
little South of England town near the sea but not actually upon the
coast. The honeymoon was to be a short one, the barest weekend, and so
they could not go far from London; and for some reason Gaga could not
stand the sea itself. Strong air made him ill, and even sight of rolling
waves made him feel sick. Sally, still elated and not as yet very
confident or assertive, immediately agreed when he suggested this
country town; but she had no real notion of what was in store for her.
She was all half-amused trepidation. The scuffled marriage-ceremony,
after which the registrar's clerk hurried to call for her for the first
time by her new name, was fun to her. It meant nothing: "I, Sarah,
Margaret Minto, call on these present...." It was all a part of a game,
a rather exciting game; and Gaga was no more to her after the ceremony
than he had been before it. He was a tall agitated grey creature, very
tremulous and muffled in his speech, and nothing like a husband. What
_was_ a husband? How did one feel towards a husband? All Sally knew was
that her husband was a stranger. He was one man out of millions of men,
no more and no less than the others. The thought that she was binding
herself to him for life did not trouble her. It did not enter her head.

Nevertheless, she felt triumph at her wedding ring, and clutched Gaga's
arm as they came out of the register office with their two
casually-acquired witnesses. They were instantly alone, and walking
along the street together in the autumn sunshine, married and excited,
but merely two strangers on their way to lunch. And yet that was not
quite all, because when they were seated at lunch Sally felt the
slightest sensation of flurry at Gaga's possessive stare. She returned
it boldly, quite unembarrassed; but across her mind flitted a knowledge
which came there of its own accord. He was a weak man, weak in his
possessiveness as he had been weak in his stammering; and the
possessiveness (which in a strong man might have excited her) gave Sally
an uncomfortable sense that Gaga might bother her. She had never
realised this. She saw in this instant that he would be jealous,
exacting, amorous. She did not love him, and the amorousness of the
unloved is a bore. Sally knew she could always deal with Gaga; but she
did not want a profusion of excited caresses from him. It was this
realisation that gave her a jerk of dismay. It was not that she shrank
from him. It was that with her cold little brain she imagined him in a
fever about her, fretful, tantalised by her coolness, rebuffed, sulky,
ineffably tedious.... As she knew all this her eyes darkened. It was all
very well to play with Gaga; but he was now her husband, and that meant
an association so constant that in future, so far from tempting him, she
would forever be engaged in battles with his exasperating, petty claims
to her person and her attention. He would not ever be able to understand
her wish to be alone, or to be self-engrossed. Febrile himself, he would
be dumfounded at her reserve, which he would take for hostility.

The knowledge came to Sally so unexpectedly that she did not respond to
Gaga's unspoken appeals. The frown in her eyes deepened. All round her
were the gilded mirrors of the Rezzonico, and the general noise and
movement of a busy restaurant. Opposite was Gaga, smiling with a sort
of joy which made his long face appear to shine. She could tell that he
was almost beside himself with excitement. And she was cool. There was
no current of understanding between them. They had neither physical nor
spiritual _rapport_. Slowly Sally's gaze took in all that was revealed
in Gaga's face and his nervously extended hands. Slowly a little cruel
smile played round her small mouth. She had married him. She was sure of
him. But there was a price. He would be a nuisance, a futile nuisance to
her. He would demand kisses, he would pry, would watch her, would fuss.
He would be a lover with all the empty ardour of the neurotic man.
Sally's heart sank. She did not want a restrained lover, because she was
young and high-spirited; but this singular trembling possessiveness
would soon be intolerable. He would be a nuisance. Again and again the
threat pressed itself upon Sally's consciousness.

Men! That was what Sally thought. She had no deliberate mental process.
All her intuitions were summarised in the one word. Men! Toby.... Gaga!
Gravely, she looked round the restaurant. There were fat men and thin
men, dark and fair, ugly and good-looking and negligible. And as she
looked at them in turn, puzzled, Sally shrugged her shoulders. She came
back to Gaga. She gave him a false, alluring smile, secure in her power
to excite him still further; but her gravity was constant. She had
glimpsed for the first time a thing which she could not have known
before marriage. It was that one married for different reasons, but that
one had to endure the disadvantages accompanying any choice. She was not
afraid, but she was ruffled. She was ruffled by that exulting
possessiveness which shone from Gaga. Had she loved him, her joy might
have been comparable with his. If she had loved him and he had seemed
not to desire her, Sally's happiness would have been undermined. But in
her present coolness, the sense that Gaga was personally inescapable was
enough to depress her. He would be a nuisance.

She found it so when they were in the taxicab on their way to Victoria.
Her smallness made her unable to stem the torrent of his excited
caresses. For a time she submitted to them, still entirely serious. Then
a kind of petulant composure enabled her to chill him. Gaga laughed in a
sort of giggle, holding Sally's hands, and looking adoringly into her
eyes, and trying to kiss her. Instead of giving him kisses, instead of
wishing him to kiss her, Sally found herself aware already of a slight
repugnance. As she looked forward to spending days and nights with him
her heart sank. She was not shocked. She was not afraid. She knew that
there would come a time when, after boring her, Gaga's kisses would
become troublesome. And it was too late now to withdraw. She was too
deeply into her new scheme of life. But this feverish, insatiably
amorous, weak Gaga would get on her nerves. So this was what marriage
might be. Sally's jaw stiffened. Yes, if she allowed it to be so. But
Sally was Sally. Kisses should presently be favours. Gaga should learn
his place. A hardness showed. She pushed aside the clinging arms, and
sat erect.

"No," cried Sally, sharply, at his convulsive motion of return. "Not
now. We're.... People looking at us...."

She did not want to be hard. She did not want to grow hard and bitter.
She had seen women who were both, and she disliked them. But with Gaga
she would have to be hard. Otherwise he would bore her to desperation.
So there was at this moment no longer any softness in Sally's heart
towards Gaga. She resented him. As they pushed through the crowd at
Victoria, Sally had a sudden impulse to run away. A shudder fled through
her. A girl with less resolute will, or perhaps of greater delicacy,
would have made some movement. But Sally merely stood with her head
lowered, and considered the position. It was not his love that she
minded; it was his hysterical possessiveness, the sense that he would
always be there and claiming convulsively those small incessant
intimacies which accompany marriage. Sally could not put her perception
into coherent terms; but she was assured of the fact. Gaga would want
too much, and that not in an adorably masterful way, but with exacting
and pertinacious excitement bred from his weakness and neurotic avidity.
The domination of the weak man would be a tyranny, as it always is.
Sally thought: "He'll be a nuisance. I shall want to do him in by the
time we get back. Oh, Lor! You done for yourself, Sally, my gel! You
come a mucker! Look at your husband! Look at him!" She could see Gaga in
the distance, moving agitatedly about a porter and the guard, and
tripping over luggage, and interrupting other eager passengers, and
stretching his long arm over their shoulders in order to touch the
guard. "That's your _husband_, that is! Man who's lost his head. Man
they all love. Fancy living with it for fifty years! Oh, Lor! A whole
lifetime. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days in the year, too. All day,
every day! Makes you start thinking!" And she watched Gaga speeding
exultantly towards her.

"All right. We've got a first," he panted, quite out of breath. "To
ourselves. I've tipped the guard. It's ... it's all right. Come along.
This way. Come along!"

"Oo!" cried Sally, with archness. "To ourselves! What a surprise!
Strange!" And to herself, returning to her own sober thoughts: "If you
did too much thinking you'd lose the use of your legs. And if girls
thought a bit before they got marrying, they'd.... Funny! I wonder what
they _would_ do!"


ii

What she would herself have done Sally had no time to consider; for they
were hurried to their compartment and were locked in by the obliging and
amused guard. They then sat demurely upon opposite sides of the carriage
until the train began to move. Every time anybody peered in at the
window Sally, who had recovered her good spirits, began to laugh; and
Gaga was full of consternation. But at last even that anxiety was
removed, and in the afternoon sunlight the country began to glow under
their eyes and race round in a sweeping circle with an intoxicating
effect not to be appreciated by those who are staled for railway
travelling. Sally allowed Gaga to embrace her; but she kept her face
resolutely turned from him for a long time while she relished her new
joy in rushing thus through the increasingly-beautiful districts which
bordered the track. It was only when Gaga became expostulatory that she
abandoned this pleasure and yielded to his tumultuous affection, with a
listlessness and a sense of criticism which was new to her. Silly fool;
why couldn't he sit still and be quiet! She belonged to herself, not to
him. Almost, she thrust him away from her.

They reached Penterby by four o'clock in the afternoon, and were turned
out upon the platform with their two light bags, like the stranded
wanderers they were. And then they walked out into the roughly paved
road leading through the town to higher land behind, and onward, along a
road to which they turned their backs, and which wavered, past the
railroad station, up an incline in the direction of the distant sea.
Gaga carried both bags, and led the way, and Sally saw for the first
time a wide street, and shops and houses quaintly built, and a church
spire with houses below it, arranged in terraces, all warm in the dying
sun. It was still summer here, she thought, and the atmosphere was
pleasant. The houses were not at all crowded, but stood up at the first
glance as if they were proud of great age and their height above the
road from the station.

"We going up there?" demanded Sally, pointing to the hill, and the
houses erect upon it.

"No, darling.... See ... that ... that ... lamp."

Sally looked up at Gaga's face. Oh, if it had only been Toby! The blood
suddenly rushed to her cheeks. Toby! She wanted Toby! As quickly, she
was chilled by fear. What would Toby do? What would he try to do? Yes,
well Toby didn't know yet that she was married. And she was married to
Gaga, and she had done this thing with her eyes open. There was no going
back. Marriage was a thing you could not repudiate. It was final. The
blood flowed away from Sally's face. She was cool again in an instant.
Her eyes were fixed upon the lamp which Gaga had indicated, and upon the
ivy behind it. Upon a suspended board she read in gold the letters
"RIVER HOTEL", and as she appreciated the meaning of this name Sally
observed that the street went onward past the hotel over an unmistakable
bridge.

"Is that the river?" she asked. "Is the hotel _on_ the river? Where we
stay?"

"Yes. You'll see.... You'll like it." Gaga was entreating, now rather
frightened by Sally's lack of response to his feverish endearments,
already inclined to suspicion and sidelong glances of doubt.

"Sure I shall!" cried Sally, perfectly composed once more. "It's nice.
Does the river go just there?"

Gaga became suddenly very enthusiastic. He motioned with the hand in
which both small bags were carried. He began to walk at a quicker pace.

"You see the front of the hotel--all ... all ivy. Well at the end the
wall goes ... goes right down into the water. And there's a balcony ...
all ... all covered with glass, on the first floor. Our room opens on
this balcony. You can look right down into the river.

"Is it a nice river?"

He was rather hesitating in face of her sharp tone of inquiry.

"Well, er.... Nice? It's ... it's a tidal river. It flows up and down.
In ... in the summer things get carried.... I mean, it's not ... not
very clean. It's mud."

"Oo." Sally's little nose wrinkled. "Does it smell? I mean, is it
healthy?" But at this new question Gaga looked very perplexed and rather
unhappy, so that she quickly abandoned her curiosity about the river,
knowing that she would presently be able to satisfy it more effectively
by personal observation. Without further speech they came abreast of the
hotel, and turned in under the arched entrance. To the left of them was
a door with the legend "COFFEE ROOM"; to the right another door above
which hung a little sign "HOTEL." It was by this right-hand door that
they entered, and it was here, by a glass enclosed bar, that they
waited. Upon an extended shelf there was lying a newspaper which had
come through the post for some departed visitor. Beyond the bar Sally
noticed decanters and bottles and upturned glasses. Before her was
another door, open, which revealed a table upon which glasses had left
little circular stains. She was all curiosity. This must be the saloon.
She gave a sharp mischievous hunching of the shoulders, and hugged
Gaga's arm. Then, as a stout woman came out of another room, she grew
sedate, and stood free from her husband in case they should be supposed
to be upon their honeymoon.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Merrick."

She knew him, then. He was no stranger here.

"Mrs. Tennant.... How ... how d'you do? This.... I've brought my wife
with me this time," stammered Gaga proudly. "Sally, this is Mrs.
Tennant."

"Pleased to meet you," announced the stout woman. Sally scrutinised her.
She had been pretty, but had grown fat. She had puffs round her eyes,
and swollen lips, and a cat-like expression of geniality. Behind her
agreeable smile there was suspicion of all mankind, suspicion and
wariness, due to her constant need of self-control in the difficult
business of managing noisy or cantankerous guests. Sally did not like
her. "Tabby!" she thought at once. But immediately afterwards she knew
that it would be worth while to make a friend of Mrs. Tennant. She gave
her little friendly grin, and saw its effect. "That's that," reflected
Sally. And it was so. Mrs. Tennant cordially led the way up to the first
floor, talking of the weather, and of the number of visitors who were at
present staying at the River Hotel.

"Does Mrs. Merrick play?" she asked. "Do you? We've got a very good
piano in the drawing-room.... I'm passionately fond of music myself.
It's the sorrow of my life I can't play."

Sally grimaced. The drawing-room was glimpsed--a room with settees and
big chairs and a strident carpet and antimacassars and small palms in
pots. Large windows made it beautifully light. And as she took in these
details Sally hurried on, and found herself in a narrow dun-coloured
passage, where brown doors with numbers upon them indicated the
bedrooms. It was into the second of these rooms that she was led, and in
spite of the frowst she looked with eagerness at a further door and
windows that opened upon the balcony of which Gaga had spoken. The
windows were lace-curtained, but she could see through the curtains to
what seemed like a conservatory.

"You see the door opens on to the balcony," explained Mrs. Tennant,
while Gaga put down the bags and wiped his hands with his handkerchief.
"Looks right across the river. I'm afraid the tide's out now; but when
it's up you see all sorts of things floating up and down."

"What sort of things?" demanded Sally, going to the glass sides of the
building and peering down at the mud.

"Oh, _all_ sorts...." Mrs. Tennant was a little confused, but
conversational. "That old building you see across there is ... well, it
used to be a granary; but nobody's used it for a long time. There's a
dinghy in the mud over there. It's Mr. Scuffle's...."

Dinghy! Instantly Sally's mind jerked back to a day she had spent with
Toby, when he had teased her about her ignorance of boats. Toby! So that
was a dinghy! Just like any other boat.

The balcony was empty; but trays still lay upon two of the light iron
tables, and a newspaper had been tossed upon the matted floor. All the
chairs were of wicker, and in them lay little hard cushions covered with
dirtied cretonne. Through the long glass side one could see the
slowly-flowing river (for the tide was about to turn), and the already
dimming sky, and the houses upon the rising ground that lay beyond the
farther bank, and the bridge upon which people were walking. Sally
looked up and down the momentarily sinister river. She was afraid of
water, afraid of its secrecy and its current; and she turned away from
her contemplation with a sense of chill.

"I'm cold," she said, brightly. "Bertram.... Could we have some tea,
Mrs. Tennant?"

"Certainly. You'd like a wash? I'll get the tea at once...."

Back in the room, Sally was immediately again embraced. She did not now
trouble about Gaga; she was glad of his arms around her, and his breast
upon which she could lay her head. Married ... river ... married ...
river ... ran her thoughts. And she turned away from Gaga to the
washstand, and poured cold water from the ewer into the basin.

"Let me alone...." she laughingly said. "Be ... get away.... I'm going
to wash."

And when the water touched her face Sally was alert once more, cleansed
and freshened. With tea before her she could face even marriage and that
drearily-flowing river and the hideous mud, so thick and so oozily
sinister.


iii

On the following day Sally, dogged everywhere by Gaga, was perfectly
aware of her contempt for him. Twenty-four hours had been enough to show
her the exacting and irritating characteristics of her new husband. Did
she stir, he looked up; his hand was ever ready for her hand; those
chocolate eyes were eternally suffused with a love that moved Sally to
impatience. He did not even amuse her by his calf-like pursuit. All that
was ruthless in her rose up and sneered at his weakness and his timid
assurance, which had the same effect as one of those horrible streamers
of cobweb that catch the face as one walks unwarily along a dusky lane.
Only her native resoluteness enabled her to show Gaga a false patience.
Only her insensitiveness made his constant caress endurable. Sally
blinked sometimes at his grabbing sentimentality; but she already began
to slip neatly aside and avoid his carefully-planned contacts. She was
not yet hard or perverse.

And while Gaga lay down in the afternoon, as she found he was in the
habit of doing, in order that his physical strength might last through
the day, Sally found the empty drawing-room and with often-strained ears
began the difficult task which she had set herself. Below her was the
thick, powerful current of the now sinking river, laden with refuse
which flowed backwards and forwards past the hotel; and upon the windows
and casual brightnesses of the tall houses on the hill across the river
she could see the crystal sparkling of reflected sunshine. She had a
feeling that all about Penterby was open green country, sometimes flat,
but always in the distance crowned and adorned with hills; and she knew
the brown of the river and the mud, and the green slime which decorated
the wall opposite. It was unforgettable. She would always think of it.
And her task was the writing of a letter to Toby. She had planned to
write to him upon this day--the first free day of her married life; and
she was bent upon keeping to her plan. He must be told at once, and yet
as she held the pen above a sheet of plain paper she was stunned by the
extraordinary difficulty of the composition. Only then, for the first
time, did she grasp the definiteness of the step she had taken. She
would never see Toby again. Never? Never--never--never. Sally's eyes
filled with tears. A thick, painful sob forced its way through her.
Never.

She began to write. She put no address, but only, in her plain
handwriting, still that of a schoolgirl, the words "My dear." It was at
this point that Sally began to discard all the phrases which she had
earlier composed in her head. She considered that if she were never to
see Toby again it did not matter what he thought of her. The bald
announcement would do very well. It was best, and easiest, and safest.
And then she knew again that she was afraid of Toby, and of what he
might do. She was a true woman in being unable to face a conclusion.
She could not imagine that she would never see him again. It was
incredible. So incapable was she of realising the fact of a complete
break that she thought herself possessed by an instinct that they must
meet and continue as before. Sally was much more afraid that he would
kill her. It was the reason why she was putting no address at the head
of the letter. He must not find her with Gaga. She wrote at last.

     "My dear. I have been a bad wicked girl and married another man.
     Do not try to find me. I shall be all right. Find some other girl,
     and be happy with her. I shall never be happy without you. My
     husband is very kind and good. Don't forget me."

At the end of this letter she put no signature, but a single cross to
indicate a kiss. Then she addressed an envelope, stamped it, slipped
down the stairs and along to the post office. By the time Toby got the
letter she and Gaga would no longer be there; and he would not be able
to find her afterwards. London was so big. She was afraid of him, and
yet she longed to see him again. Five minutes later she was back in the
drawing-room, seated at the piano, and singing softly in her clear voice
the song that had first so greatly charmed Gaga.

  "'Your heart mine, and mine in your keeping,
  List while I sing to you love's tender song.'"

As she sang, Sally looked up and at the doorway. There, adoringly, stood
Gaga, all his love making a radiance in his face which she had not
previously seen so distinctly. He came slowly towards her, and as she
continued her song he kissed the back of her neck where the hair was
brushed up in the first soft incalculable wave. Sally for the first
time shrank a little; but she pursued her song unhesitatingly, so
schooled was she in her determination that the price she was paying was
to be borne.

  "'When you and I go down the love path together,
  Stars shall be shining and the night so fair.'"

"We'll go ... go walking in the moonlight to-night ... shall we?"
whispered Gaga. Sally nodded, making her voice quaver by the motion.
Gaga could not see her face; but Sally knew that even if he had done so
he would have been quite unable to read her thoughts, which were dry and
inflexible. He remained by her side until she had finished the song, and
then fiercely pressed her head back until he was able by stooping to
kiss her lips from above. His hand was under her chin. He kissed her
many times, oppressively--little ravenous pecks that were febrile rather
than loving; and assertive of his new proprietorship. His kisses left
Sally unmoved and slightly frowning. She was surprised at Gaga's
simplicity in imagining that any girl valued or could possibly value
such ceaseless demonstrative action, such ugly hard little parrot-like
caresses.

"Only a soppy kid would," she thought. "She'd like it, I suppose. Think
quantity meant love. It doesn't. Like a beak. Silly fool!" And aloud she
said quite firmly: "There, that's enough. Shan't have any face left, at
this rate. I shall come out in spots. What's the time?"

To soften her words she held and pressed his hand; but only for an
instant. Then she rose abruptly from the piano and walked over to the
window. With his arm immediately at her waist Gaga followed, like a
long, abject greyhound.

"The tide's out," he said, indicating the sun illumined mud by the
opposite wall.

"Ugh!" shuddered Sally. "Fancy getting your feet in that stuff! You'd
never get out.... Gives me the horrors, it does!" She leaned back into
his arms.


iv

They left Penterby by a very early train on the Monday morning, and
while Gaga took the two bags to an hotel where the Merricks were to stay
for the present Sally went direct to Madame Gala's. She had obtained
special permission to be an hour late in the morning, and so she entered
the workroom without confusion. It was the same as it had always
been--the long benches, and the girls, and Miss Summers sitting apart,
as plump and feline as ever. There was, of course, curiosity about
Sally. Few of the girls supposed that she had been away with a girl
friend, which had been the story; and all looked at her with a knowing
suspicion. Only Miss Summers was completely trusting. Sally had slipped
off her wedding-ring, and it lay in her purse. She took in the whole
scene as she entered, and measured the assumptions of the girls with
cool indifference. But she would have done that in any case; for Sally
had nothing to learn about workgirls and their thoughts and
interpretations, and she had also none of the false self-consciousness
which makes wrong-doers imagine that their actions have been
providentially revealed to all observers. Had she and Gaga arrived
together the case would have been different; but nothing had occurred to
make the girls suppose that there was any relation between them, and
Sally was perfectly safe from that most dangerous of all recognitions.
She was still, to the girls, Sally Minto; and to some of them still the
white-faced cocket of Rose Anstey's jealous outburst. Sally looked
boldly at Rose as she sat industriously working. Then, with greater
stealth, at Miss Summers. That plump face had a solemnly preoccupied
expression that gave Sally a faint start of doubt. Immediately, however,
she knew that Miss Summers must be worried, not upon Sally's account,
but on account of some message respecting Madam which had been received
earlier in the morning. This made her seize an excuse to approach Miss
Summers.

"How's Madam?" she whispered, surreptitiously.

Miss Summers shook her head with foreboding.

"Still the same. No better; no worse. Sally, I'm _afraid_."

Sally looked down at Miss Summers. How strangely their relation had been
altered by this weekend's doings! Wherever Sally glanced she knew that
what she saw was now potentially her own. By the simple act of marrying
Gaga she had become, as it were, mistress of the place. And she knew it.
She knew it plainly and without swollen conceitedness. Not yet was her
power unquestionable; but it was none the less genuine. Even Miss
Summers....

"I hope she gets better," said Sally.

Miss Summers shot a quick glance upwards. She started, and a faint
redness came into her plump cheeks. The tip of her nose was irritated,
and she rubbed it with her knuckle.

"Oh, I do _hope_ so," breathed Miss Summers. "It would be awful--awful
for all of us--if she didn't. You see...."

"She'll have to die some time," remarked Sally.

"But now!" The head was shaken afresh. Miss Summers gave a heavy sigh.
She had no such youthful confidence as Sally's. She was a born follower,
a born sheep; and with Madam removed she could see nothing ahead but
disaster to the business. Sally had a little difficulty in keeping back
her smile. She thought of this poor old pussycat in fear of her life,
and her lip slightly curled at the knowledge that she alone had superior
knowledge of the situation. Already Sally was casting round for channels
in which her new power might be used. She wanted opportunity. It was
both a chagrin and a secret relief to her that Madam could not yet be
told of the marriage. If she knew it, and disapproved, as Sally knew
that she must do, Madam could at any moment annul Sally's hopes of
taking a leading part in the business. She could alter her will.
Therefore, if she lived, she must be kept ignorant. It would be a
trouble. And yet in spite of her assurance Sally was still suspicious of
her own ability to master every detail in time to carry on the whole
establishment without a great lapse into momentary failure. She planned
as a middle-aged woman. At eighteen her plans were profound. But
instinctively, and in spite of colossal conceit, she understood that
eighteen was not an age at which control can successfully be taken of a
large business. Therefore she was fighting against unacknowledged fear.

During that day she hardly saw Gaga at all. He was at home with his
mother, and did not come to business until the afternoon. Only in the
evening did she creep into his room and submit to his endearments. She
then left, and went to the hotel at which for the present they were to
stay; and here, in the little sitting-room attached to their bedroom,
she was for the first time able to be alone for half-an-hour with her
post-nuptial reflections. They were not all pleasant, and they called
for the exercise of her natural resoluteness. She had comfort, and the
knowledge that she need never again trouble about food and clothing. But
she also knew that a husband is a different sort of person from a lover.
He seemed to her to be a sort of omnipresent nuisance. Her trouble was
that thoughts and ambitions were in conflict with Gaga's amorousness.
He could never understand her. He could understand her no better than
Toby, and as she had no use for him otherwise than as the instrument of
her ambition, she was already, within two days of marriage, bored with
him. Sally awaited Gaga's arrival with calm unwillingness. She did not
realise how rapid would be her instinctive progress to repugnance; but
she had no illusions about her marriage.

At last Gaga arrived, his own eagerness unabated, but he was still
shaken by the fact that his mother was seriously ill. With Sally in his
arms he whispered or murmured alternately professions of love and
anxiety. She was all the time secretly astonished at his devotion to
Madam, because it corresponded to nothing in her own nature; but she
comforted Gaga because it was her impulse to do so. She did not dislike
him in this mood. She felt pity for him. It was only for his tremulous
persistency in caress that Sally felt contempt. Gradually she began to
be able to divert his mind to other matters--to their own future, and
the flat they were to take and to furnish; and to the plans they must
make for a slow change of her position in the business. Already Sally
was obtaining a grasp of the details, but she could go little further
until her access to the books and accounts was free. She could do
nothing until some scheme had been made. So the two sat together after
dinner and discussed what they were to do, and where they were to live,
and how the rooms of the flat were to be furnished. It was all, upon
Sally's side, practical and clear; and for Gaga a wonderful revelation
of Sally's wisdom. He became more and more infatuated, as Sally became
more and more cool. And they talked the whole evening through, without
realising that with each moment Sally's dominion was more firmly
established.

It was only towards the end of the evening that Gaga, unhinged by
excitement, became desperately pale, and confessed to a headache. He
found his customary drugs, and took them. But to Sally this headache was
a new and emphatic indication of Gaga's troublesome temperament.
Ugliness and squalor she knew; but sickliness was new to her. In face of
a groaning and prostrate man, she turned away. Her heart sank a little.
Then, with a shrug, she turned to the advertisements of flats to let in
London which she found in various newspapers; and made notes of the
addresses of house agents. This occupation she continued until Gaga
called almost fretfully from the next room, when she turned off the
electric light and joined him. An hour later, while Gaga still lay
staring into the darkness, Sally was fast asleep. She had no dreams. For
the present she was occupied with facts alone; and she did not suspect
that she was unhappy, because she had been absorbing too many details to
be able to reflect upon the sinking of her heart and its meaning.


v

The next evening Sally went to see her mother. Her first object was to
get Mrs. Minto away from the room in which they had lived; because it
was essential that if Toby came back, as she believed he could not do
for some days, he should be unable to trace Sally or her mother. It was
for fear of Toby that the removal was to be made. Once get Mrs. Minto
away, to some other part of North London, and Toby might seek news of
Sally in vain. Only if he came and waited outside Madam's would he be
able to find her; and in that case she could still baulk him, as she was
going to stay late every evening for the future in order to work with
Gaga. But first of all, Sally must arrange to get her mother out of the
old house. She would not want to go. She must go. She would pretend
that she could keep herself. She would show the stubborn pride of many
old people of the working class, who will work until they kill
themselves rather than accept charitable doles. Very well, Sally knew
that Mrs. Minto could not keep herself; and she knew also that these
same old people have no similar delicacy in taking from their children's
earnings. She was going to explain that she was still working, and that
what Mrs. Minto would receive came from Sally herself, and not from
Sally's husband. And she would herself find a room for her mother in
Stoke Newington, a suburb which is farther from Holloway than many more
distant places for the reason that no dweller in Holloway has any
curiosity about Stoke Newington or any impulse to go there as an
adventure.

Sally found Mrs. Minto in a familiar attitude, stooping over a very
small fire; but as she ran up the stairs very softly, with a nervous
dread of Toby, she had no conception of the welcome which awaited her.
She opened the door and went into the dingy room, and stood smiling; and
to her great surprise she saw her mother rise almost wildly and come
towards her. Two thin arms pressed and fondled her, and a thin old cheek
was pressed hard against her own. To herself Mrs. Minto was ejaculating
in a shivering way: "My baby, my baby!" Only then did Sally understand
how much the separation had meant to her mother. She herself had never
once thought of that lonely figure at home.

"Poor old thing!" Sally found herself saying. "Was she lonely then?" She
patted her mother's bony shoulders, and hugged her, affected by this
involuntary betrayal of love. Mrs. Minto had never been demonstrative.
"I wish I'd brought you something, now. A present. I never thought of
it."

"Is it all right? Are you happy, my dearie?" demanded Mrs. Minto, with a
searching glance.

"I knew what I was doing, ma," proclaimed Sally. "There's not much I
don't know."

It was an evasion; a confession of something quite other than the
happiness about which she had been asked.

"Ah, that's what I was afraid of...." breathed her mother. "That's what
young people always think. You don't know nothing at all, Sally."

"I know more'n you do!" It was a defiance.

"You think you do. Why, you're only a baby...." Mrs. Minto shook her
head several times, with lugubrious effect. But her last words had been
full of a smothered affection, more truly precious than a hundred of
Gaga's kisses or a dozen of Toby's animal hugs.

"In your days I should have been." Sally withdrew herself, and led her
mother back to her chair. "Not know! Why, the girls know a lot more now
than they used to when _you_ was a girl. No more timid little
creatures."

"They only _think_ they know more," declared Mrs. Minto, trembling. "And
it takes 'em longer to find out they don't know nothing at all. It takes
a lot of time to get to know. You're in too much of a hurry, my gel. You
don't know nothing. Nothing whatever, for all your talk of it. I been
thinking about it all these days--frantic, I've been."

"All these _years_!" jeered Sally. "Look here, ma.... Here's my marriage
license!" And as she spoke she waved the folded paper before her
mother's eyes in such a way that it fell open and showed the official
entries. Even as she did this so lightly, Sally was able to catch the
sharply hidden expression of relief which crossed Mrs. Minto's face at
the reassurance. She made no pretence of misunderstanding. "Say I don't
know anything?" she demanded. "Think I don't know enough for that? Silly
old fool? What did I tell you? There's about twenty million things I
know that you don't know. And never _will_ know, what's more. Wake up! I
tell you one thing, ma. The people who _don't_ know think a lot worse
than the people who do. They fancy more. See? It's a little way they
got. All goes on inside their heads, and shakes about. People like me
haven't got time to think a lot of muck. We _do_ things ... and do them
thorough."

Mrs. Minto, reproved, sank into contemplation.

"Well, I don't know, Sally," she went on, after a pause. "You talk a
lot. I'd rather think than talk. You say he's rich. Sometimes girls get
left."

"Not me, though," Sally assured her. "Soppy ones do. I'm not soppy. And
I'll tell you what. I'm going to get you out of this place."

"I ain't going to live with you and him!" declared Mrs. Minto in alarm.
"I wouldn't!"

"No. You're going to live somewhere else. I want you to get away from
here. You're going to have two decent rooms ... in Stoke Newington. Real
paper on the walls, and a carpet, and new mattress that isn't like two
horse troughs."

"I won't take nothing from him."

"No. From me. Out of my wages."

"You ain't going to have.... Don't be silly. I'm well off where I am."

"I'm going to keep on at Madam's. I'm going to have plenty money. And
you're going to move. Got it? I'll see about it to-morrow night, get you
in Thursday or Friday. Won't take an hour to settle you in. Then you'll
be comfortable."

"I'm very well as I am," said Mrs. Minto, obstinately. "I can keep
myself. I'm not going to sponge on you. Not likely."

"You'll move Thursday or Friday, I tell you."

It was final. The poor thin little old woman had no fight in her. She
looked up at Sally, and her face was the anxious face of a monkey, or of
a sick beast that is being tended. Now that she had been comforted about
Sally she had nothing left to say. She made a last feeble effort.

"I don't want to move. Mrs. Roberson...."

"Fiddlesticks!"

"My 'ead!"

"Your head'll get better if you keep quiet and have real coal and a bath
or two." Sally was imperious, and enjoyingly so. Her spirits had risen.
She was a general. She looked down protectingly at her mother, and a
ghost of ancient love rose breathing in her heart. "Silly old thing!"
she murmured, with a touch of softness; and knelt suddenly. "Got to look
after you a bit," she added. "It's you who's the baby now. What a lot of
kids people are! Makes me feel a hundred--and over--when I see what
fools they are. I'm sorry for you, and that's the truth. You and Miss
Summers and Gaga."

"Who's Gaga?"

"He's Mr. Sally Minto," said Sally with mystic insolence. "That's who
Gaga is. He calls himself my husband, but he's no more my husband than
you are, ma. And never will be. But oh, Lor! He's going to be the worry
of my life! Ma, did Pa chase you all over the place when you was
married? I mean, chase you all about trying to kiss you and fuss you?"

"No, dear," said Mrs. Minto. "He was drunk. He didn't know what he was
doing."

"Hn," Sally grunted. Then she stood up again. "I'm going now," she
announced. "I'm going back to Gaga. He's ill. I expect he's being sick."

And before her mother could make startled enquiries, Sally had kissed
her and gone to the door. She ran in high spirits down the stairs and
out of the front door not laughing, but in a curious way moved by this
conversation and the strange turn which it had taken. She slammed the
door after her, and met with a sudden squall of wind. And as she went
away from the house she was conscious of a feeling of relief. She had
escaped from it, and her heart was beating rather fast. All the time,
under her speech and her thoughts, she had unconsciously been listening
for Toby's step upon the stair. Even now, she knew that her shoulders
were contracted with apprehensiveness.

She hurried along in the direction of Holloway Road, still flinching,
with her nerves uncommonly strained. It was such an odd feeling that she
had in thus revisiting her ugly old home. She had noticed it all
afresh--the tired linoleum, and the oil stove and the tiny fire made
from coal blocks, and the stupid old bed and the browned wallpaper--and
she felt that it all belonged to a time when she had been a different
girl altogether. She had never before been away from home, without her
mother, for so long. She had never once been away from this room for a
night, until her marriage. And to come thus into the dark street, in a
wind, with the door slamming behind her, took Sally's memories
uncontrollably back to the days which followed their first arrival, the
days when she had met Toby and talked to him and walked with him about
the streets. She recalled her visit to Mrs. Perce, and the sight of that
grim figure relentlessly waiting for her outside the Stores; and the
struggle with Toby, and her resultant happiness; and the night when he
had first come to the room while her mother lay in the hospital. Heigho!
She had been young in those days; now she felt an old woman, with all
the sense of ageless age which the young feel after a transition from
one kind of life to another. She was in a sense disillusioned. She had
taken her step, and cut the link that bound her to this neighbourhood
and the starveling room. She had cut the link that bound her to Toby.
And he was now swiftly back in her consciousness, in her heart; so that
she knew she would never forget him because he was the first man she had
loved, and thus forever her idea of a lover. So strong was her emotion
that she felt a strange little dryness in her throat and her burning
eyes, and fancied she heard his voice. It was as though two years had
been taken away, as though she once again--as she done two years
ago--longed and feared to meet Toby.

As Sally, with her head bent and her thoughts active, pressed onward,
she heard the clanging bell of a passing tramcar, and saw its brilliant
lights rush by along the Holloway Road. A cart rattled on the rough
stones of the road, and the wind blew the leaves of the bushes in the
gardens she passed. And as she shivered a little at the wind's onset she
again imagined that she heard Toby's voice, and inevitably turned in the
direction from which the sound had appeared to reach her. Everything was
quite dark; but there was a blackness just behind her that was like the
figure of a man. It took shape; it came nearer and nearer. Sally's heart
stopped beating, and she shrank back against the railing of one of the
houses. She felt a deadly sickness upon her, a dreadful horror.

"Sally!"

It _was_ Toby. He was abreast, inescapable. He loomed over her like a
figure of vengeance. Her heart was like water. She was hysterically
afraid.


vi

"Hallo, Sally!" Toby was by her side, and his arms round her, and his
kisses on her cheek. "Why, aren't you going to kiss me?"

Sally's eyes opened wide at his tone of innocent surprise. She suffered
him to kiss her lips. Toby had not received her letter! He was on leave,
and.... She gasped. An indescribable relief caused her to rest limply
and unprotestingly in his arms. Once again they were engulfed in
merciful darkness, hidden from each other and from anybody who might
happen to pass. She could not think at all; but she was thankful at this
reprieve. Not yet would he kill her. And as they stood embraced she was
suddenly happy, with a passion that astonished her. Toby-- Toby, her
love; and she herself in his arms again, as she had never thought to be.
A strange laugh, low and tender, came from her lips. Her cheek was
gently rubbed against his, and her body quite relaxed. Every one of
Sally's difficulties suffered an oblivion; they were all dispersed in
the extraordinary mist of sensation which enwrapped her.

"I _was_ surprised," she murmured, kissing him with all her heart.
"Didn't expect to see you. Funny to see you ... _so funny_ ... and when
I was thinking of you. I must have known you were coming."

"I just got in," Toby said. "I say, where you going, Sal?"

Sally flinched again. Immediately she was conscious of terror.

"Stoke Newington," she cried; in a flash. What was she to do? What _was_
she to do? She was desperate. Fear was strong; but love was stronger. It
was not only now that she did not dare to tell him the truth in case he
killed her; much more than that was her understanding of the fact that
she could not bear to lose him. Such gust of thankfulness had shaken
Sally when she knew that Toby had not received her letter that she was
brimming now with joy. It was impossible to lose her rapture at the
moment of its full glory. She _could_ not tell him.

"Stoke Newington? Whatever for? Here, wait till I've had some grub....
No, I'll come with you now. Get some grub later. Have you got to go
there now?"

"You musn't come, Toby."

"Why not?" He was instantly suspicious. His grip tightened, and he
forced her to look at him.

"Didn't you get my letter?"

"When? Now? I've had no letter. What you going to Stoke Newington for?
No, I want to know. You going to meet another chap? I believe you are,
you little devil! By Christ! If you.... I _will_ come!" Toby was now
fiercely suspicious. She could tell from his ferocious grip, and the
urgency of his tone. "If you're playing that game, I'll kill you. By
Christ, I will!"

"I'm not. I'm not," cried Sally. "You're hurting me, Toby!"

"You swear it?" He relaxed his hold, which was strangling her. In the
darkness he again strove to see her expression and judge for himself of
her honesty.

"I'm not going to see anybody. I swear I'm not."

"Why did you ask if I'd had your letter? What you bin writing to me?"

"Oo, a lot of lies...." breathed Sally. "Silly talk and rubbish. That's
all it was."

"What about?" He was still intense. Sally could hardly breathe, and her
courage was fading. They were so much in the darkness that they could
not be seen, and she was entirely dominated by Toby's physical strength.
Within his grasp she was helpless, and not all her dartingly-imagined
expedients would be enough to secure her escape. Hastily she improvised
a story.

"Well, I'm not living with ma any longer. I gone out to live in," she
lied.

"Stoke Newington?"

"No."

"Lost your job?"

"No."

He was baffled! but he knew that something was amiss. Sally could feel
him drawing deep breaths. In the shadow she could imagine that his jaw
was firmly set. It was strange to feel so happy in his arms, so afraid
of death, so frustrated in the composition of any tale by which she
could free herself and thus gain time to make some fresh plan. Sally had
never been in a comparable quandary.

"Where you living?" he next demanded.

"Don't be rough. You're hurting. Well, I'm living. I forget the address.
Only went there last night. I'm with a friend."

"What sort of a friend? A girl? What's her name?"

"Miss Summers."

Toby considered. He had heard that name, Sally knew, and must remember
it. She felt that at last she had stumbled upon something which would
seem to him probable enough to allay immediate suspicion.

"She's your forewoman or something, isn't she?" he demanded.

"Yes. She's very kind. She's ever so nice." Sally prayed that he might
believe her. There was a long pause of doubt, during which hysteria,
rising, nearly provoked a frantic struggle for freedom and flight. But
she remembered a former occasion, and her knees were weak at the
foreknowledge of failure. He would not be merciful. She feared him and
adored him.

"Well," Toby said at last, in a grumble; "when do I see you? Eh?" Thank
God, his voice had changed. He had spoken slowly and in acceptance of
the tale. Sally conquered a sob that would have betrayed her. Toby had
been tricked. There was still a chance that she might be able to manage
him for the present.

Sally thought for a moment, but in a distracted blur. All her plans,
made upon the assumption that he would be at sea for at least a week
longer, had miscarried. There was now no sense in moving her mother
hurriedly and secretly. Toby, in the room above, would be aware of
everything. She must arrange this differently. It would need a careful
scheme. When would Toby receive his letter? Probably it would not be
forwarded at all, but would be kept at the offices of the shipping
company. That was what had happened once or twice before. He would be at
home a week. She had a week. How tired she was! She must get away now,
and have a chance to think; but she must see Toby again. She _must_.

"To-morrow," Sally gasped. "To-morrow night. Eight o'clock. Marble Arch.
Eight o'clock, or a bit after. I might be kept a little late."

To her inexpressable thankfulness, Toby rather grumblingly agreed.

"We'll go to the pictures," he said. "There's a picture house there."

"Wherever you like. Toby, I _must_ go."

They kissed long and passionately; and when Sally was alone, sitting in
the tramcar on its way to Holborn, she found that she was trembling from
head to foot. She was in consternation, and prevented from crying only
by the steadily inquisitive stare of a stout woman opposite. Sally had
never been so afraid, so distraught. She had never been in such a
bewildering and terrifying difficulty. She was only half conscious.


vii

And when she reached the hotel their sitting-room was in darkness. Gaga
had evidently been home, for the evening paper had been thrown upon the
floor, and his hat and coat were upon one of the chairs. Sally
remembered what she had told her mother, and went quickly to the bedroom
door. It was true. Gaga lay groaning in bed, and there was a faint smell
of sickness in the air. Sally instinctively recoiled, and went back into
the sitting-room. Her hands came together and jerked in a gesture of
despair. Everything was against her. The white face was whiter; the
mischievous eyes were sombre. She was a lonely and frightened child
without any support in her life. She was too young, in spite of her
vivacity, to endure such trials unbroken; and in this situation she was
overwhelmed.

With her hands to her mouth, Sally stumbled to the hearthrug, and bowed
her head against the arm of a chair. Painful sobs shook her body.

"Oh, I wish I was dead! I wish I was dead!" she wailed.

In that moment of lost hope she was faced only with the impossibility of
dealing with all her trials. She had been over-excited, and she was
desperate. Everything had gone wrong. She was thus early face to face
with the consequences of her own blithe and over-confident actions; and
the consequences threatened disaster. Death would really at this moment
have seemed better than the effort she must make to grapple with her
problems. It would have been so much easier, and she was without
courage. Afraid lest her sobs might arouse Gaga and bring him groaning
to her side, she stifled them. But they made her body heave for a long
time, until at last with tear-filled eyes she stared at the fire, and
knew that the fit was over.

What was Sally to do? There was the fatal letter already waiting
somewhere for Toby, or on its way to him. The thought of it made her
body feel as though it were covered with prickles. She could not keep
still, but started to her feet and took several paces, her hand to her
cheek, as she remained deep in disturbed thought. If she saw Toby the
next night, and was again afraid to tell him of her marriage, what would
become of her? Sooner or later he was bound to know. The letter would
tell him. Oh, if only she had not written that letter! She would have
had time, and time was what she needed--time to remove her mother, to
cover her own tracks. And yet she knew now that she could not give Toby
up. And yet to give up her ambitions was now a proposition equally
impossible. She could not. She would not. She wanted everything. She
wanted Toby; but she wanted her opportunity with the business. If Toby
would only ... what? She could not bear the idea of his marrying another
girl. She wanted him for herself. But if he would only accept the
situation--for the present. If he would keep quiet. He would not. She
could not control him, because he was another human being, with desires
and impulses as insistent as her own.

Her mind came round to another position. If she had not married Gaga--if
she had kept on playing with him, tantalising him, until she had been
indispensable! No; that was impossible. Wretched creature though she
felt him at this moment to be, Gaga also was a human being. Sally was in
conflict with the world, because the world opposes to the wilfulness of
the individual a steady pressure that is without mercy because it is
without considerateness. Nothing is more selfish than the individual,
except the mass of individuals, which has greater power. Again, in her
torment, Sally longed for death. Then, quickly tangential, she returned
to Toby and their coming meeting. If she did not tell him, but let him
find her letter--she would have lost him. He would be savagely angry. He
would infallibly kill her, because she would have deserved his vengeful
hatred.

A moan reached Sally's ears. Her name was called. Gaga must have seen
from his bed the light in the next room. She hesitated, repugnance and
cruelty struggling in her mind with the knowledge that she must submit
to her burden. Then she again turned to the bedroom, fighting down her
distaste, her horror of sickness and illness, of invalidism, of Gaga in
particular. She saw his grey face all pointed and sunken in the electric
light, and took in the general bareness of the bedroom, with its plain
iron bedstead and cream coloured crockery and worn carpet and walls of a
cold pale blue.

"Sally," groaned Gaga. "I've been waiting for you."

"You ill?" she asked, perfunctorily. "Is your head bad?"

"Dreadful! How long you've been." Gaga's voice was feeble. He spoke with
difficulty. His hand was reached out for hers. With an effort Sally took
it, and bent and kissed Gaga's temple. He looked ghastly, and his face
was moist with perspiration. Had Gaga seen the aversion in Sally's eyes
he would have released her in horror; but he was self-engrossed. He had
been longing for her, and as Sally sat on the edge of the bed smoothing
the hair back from his brow he nestled closer to her, appeased by the
contact, and genuinely comforted by her presence. His eyes closed. He
made no attempt to speak.

So they remained for several moments. Then Sally tried to move, and he
resisted her movement with a clinging protest.

"I'm just going to tidy up a bit," she said. "Then I'm coming to bed."

"I wish you'd get me something.... Some Bovril ... or ... something."
Gaga was like a wasted child, not fractious, but fretful and wanting to
be petted. Sally shuddered as she took steps to gratify him; and was
glad to have some occupation that carried her out of the room and gave
her something to do. She was momentarily diverted from thought of Toby;
but she had a new desire to be away from the hotel, and in some house or
flat which she could control by herself. It would be so much easier. It
would....

When she was in bed she was prevented from sleeping by her now recurring
difficulties. She was absolutely unable to make a plan for Toby. She was
disgusted with Gaga and his sickness. She was afraid and rebellious and
exasperated. And as she lay there she felt Gaga moving, and heard his
faint groaning, and shook with a frenzy that was a thousand times more
than irritation at the tangle in which she was placed. Like all young
people, she imperiously demanded a fresh start--to cut all this mess
away, and begin again as though nothing at all had happened. She tried
to repudiate her own actions. It was no good. She could not cancel them.
What she had done was done, and the consequences were inexorable. It was
with consequences alone that she had to deal. Stifled screams rose
within her. She turned frantically from side to side.

"Sally!" peevishly protested Gaga. "I can't get ... get to sleep if you
fidget like that. You're keeping me ... awake. Disturbing me."

"Am I?" cried Sally, with suppressed anger steeling her voice. "I can't
get to sleep either. It's deadly!"

"But you're ... fidgetting."

"Oh.... I thought I was lying quite still!" she exclaimed, with irony. A
bitter laugh was checked upon her lips.

There was a silence, and Sally tried to sleep. It was of no use. With a
deep sigh that was almost a passionate exclamation, she once again gave
way to her uncontrollable restlessness.

"Sally!" came the grizzling voice of Gaga.

"What?" she shouted, past all self-restraint.

"You're fidgetting!"

"Well! Who wouldn't? You groaning--groaning--groaning. Enough to make
anybody fidget. Why, you're making me sick! Why can't you look after
yourself?... What's the use of eating things that make you ill?"

"I didn't," groaned Gaga. "I only want to get to sleep."

"O--oh!" It was a savage, inhuman sound of horror and despair. Sally,
unendurably exasperated, slipped out of bed, and put on a skirt and
coat. Then she went into the sitting-room, made up the fire, and curled
herself up in one of the armchairs. A thin voice followed her.

"Sally!" It was a direct call to hysteria. "Sally.... Sally...."

"Oh, shut up!" cried Sally. "I can't stand it. I can't stand it."

"My dearest...."

She ignored Gaga; but she could not sleep. Although he called no more,
she heard him still occasionally making some plaintive sound, while she
continued to lie curled in the chair until her limbs were cramped. Long
she pondered upon her fate and her situation; and the morning found her
still irresolute, filled with distaste for Gaga, and fear of Toby, and a
general loathing of the difficulties which she and they had jointly
created. She was unhappy in a way that she had never previously known,
helplessly indignant, and all the time argumentative and explanatory to
herself because she knew that for all that was now threatening her she
alone was at heart to blame. But this did not prevent Sally from
disliking Gaga as she had not hitherto disliked him; for Gaga was the
person whom she had most injured, and the person who now stood in the
way of complete liberty. It was as yet only an hysterical exasperation
due to her search for some scapegoat; but his sickness and his peevish
complaints of her restlessness had added to Sally's feeling an
ingredient of distaste which she could not overcome.


viii

In the morning, when they met, Gaga was sulkily distant; and Sally sat
opposite to him at their chilly breakfast with a puckered brow and a
curled lip. It was not hatred that fired her, but repugnance. If Gaga
had made any motion towards an embrace she would wildly have pushed him
from her. She could not have borne his touch. She was even thankful that
he was so silent. In this estrangement she found momentary relief. And
all the time, hammering in her head, was the one thought--Toby, Toby.
What was she to do with Toby? As she left Gaga at breakfast she was
still on the borders of hysteria. She was suffering so much from the
trials of the night that she was hardly in her senses.

The workroom, with its routine and the need for hiding her feelings,
gave her more relief. She could at least take some pains to sew
accurately, to watch the other girls, and to notice how Miss Summers
started at the slightest noise. Miss Summers, Sally knew, was worrying
about Madam and Madam's health. By now Gaga would be on his way to his
mother's home, equally concerned. Only Sally was indifferent to Madam's
health. She had no interest in it. Where she would, but for Toby, have
followed every report with curiosity, she was now more than callous.
Madam was the least of her dilemmas. Sally's eyes closed; slowly she
rocked to and fro, forgetting even the girls, and ignoring her work
altogether. Toby. Her heart contracted with fear. Toby.

And yet the day wore on, and she came to no conclusion. Late in the
afternoon there came a telephone message. Gaga was on the line, asking
for Sally. A thrill went round the workroom. Gaga-- Sally! All the girls
looked at one another. With a quickly-beating heart Sally went into the
telephone box and answered. As if directly in her ear, Gaga spoke; but
his voice was so strained that she hardly recognised it. She was still
unforgiven. The voice said: "Sally, my ... my mother's very ill. I must
stay here. I shan't come to the hotel to-night. You ... you'll be all
right."

Like lightning Sally answered: "I'll go home to-night."

The voice said "Wha-at?" and she repeated her reply. Gaga seemed almost
pleased. He commended the plan. And Sally hung up the receiver with a
sudden flush that made her whole body feel warm. It was a profound
relief to her. And in the midst of relief she found another emotion more
vehement still. She found passionate joy, and overwhelming temptation,
and then again a sharp icy fear. The emotions were all gone in an
instant. She was once more self-possessed. She returned to the workroom
with an impassive face.

"He didn't say anything about Madam. He wants me to take round a parcel
he left here last night," she glibly explained. "He's not coming in
to-day at all. I'm to take it round after I leave work."

With immediate care, she went into Madam's room and made up a small
parcel containing a cheap novel which Gaga had left there. This she
brought to her place and kept before her. Incredulously, the other girls
watched and sneered. It was the first inkling they had had of any
special relationship between Sally and Gaga. To the minds of all
occurred memory of that scene in the country, when Gaga had been
entranced by Sally's song. They remembered the unknown girl's joyous
yell, "What price Gaga on the love path! Whey!" And they remembered
Miss Rapson's word about Sally--"deep." The white-faced cocket! Rose
Anstey stared angrily at Sally, who returned the glance with a coolness
the more destructive because it arose from indifference. But Sally knew
all that was going on around her. Gaga had been a fool to ask for her
pointedly; and yet what else, in the circumstances, could he have done?

Her excitement rose as the afternoon progressed; and by the evening she
was in a fever. When all the other girls were gathering together their
work and their out-of-door clothes she joined the general mêlée with
something that approached fierceness. It was not that Sally had any need
to hurry, for there were two hours ahead of her; but she was on fire to
be gone, to take her little parcel to the hotel, to give the clerk there
news of her intended absence for the night, and to make a careful
toilette before her appointment. The time was too slow for Sally. She
was biting her lips with impatience more than an hour before the time
agreed upon for the meeting. Her old longing for Toby had come back with
extraordinary strength. As the darkness grew she slipped out of the
hotel and into the night-sheltered streets. For long she walked rapidly
about London, examining each clock she passed until the vagaries of them
all so heightened her passion that she could have shrieked at their
fresh discrepancies.

And at last it was nearly eight o'clock, and she walked round and round
the Marble Arch in the tortured light of the ballooned lamps, and round
the outer side of the wide road thereabouts. There was as yet no sign of
Toby. It wanted two or three minutes to the hour. A rush of traffic made
Oxford Street roar as if with fury. It was like the sea, but without
gradations of sound. Big red motor-omnibuses thundered along, and cabs
flew by. There were occasional electric broughams such as she coveted,
which tinkled a bell instead of sounding some one of the ugly horns
which added their noise to the general racket. And Toby did not come. A
panic seized her. Perhaps her letter after all had been forwarded to
him? Perhaps he was not coming? Much as she had dreaded his violence,
such a failure now impressed her as even more sinister. She had stopped
dead in the violence of this sudden thought, and was for the moment
blinded and deafened, when Toby gently took her arm. Sally's first jump
of horror was followed by such an abandonment to his arms that she was
rendered quite unconscious of the place and the notice of those who
passed. Only she recognised that Toby was there, that he was not angry,
that he was the same strong lover she had always known, ready and
determined, her lover among all men.

"Not the pictures. Not the pictures," she pleaded, with tears in her
voice. "Come for a walk. Come this way!"

She pulled at Toby's arm, and drew him towards the entrance to Hyde
Park. Her arm was hugging his, her body pressed against Toby's. Only
when they were out of that circle of light did she feel safe, appeased,
able to think with any of her old clearness. She had been a frightened
child. Now she was an exultantly happy one, given over to the great joy
of the moment.


ix

They were immediately lost in the darkness of the Park, hidden from all,
and oblivious of the flashing lamps of vehicles which drove endlessly up
the broad road from Piccadilly. And Sally was in Toby's arms, straining
him to her, sobbing and uttering little sounds of love and relief.

"Hullo, hullo!" cried Toby, jerking her chin up with a rough hand.

"I thought you'd never come! I thought you wouldn't come!" whispered
Sally. "Oh, Toby, I thought you'd never come!" She was hysterical in her
joy.

"Course I come!" exclaimed Toby. "Wodjer take me for?"

"Well, _I_ didn't know." Sally was quite unguarded. "Thought you might
have...." She checked herself. Her body was shaken with a little thrill
of laughter--laughter of silly joy. She hugged him closer. "Been away a
long time this time," she said. "Quite a sailor, ain't you?... Did you
have rough weather? Ship all sloppy with the waves? And you dancing
about to keep your feet?"

"It's _always_ rough weather," gloried Toby. "Sea goin' all the time.
But she's a daisy to keep steady. Wouldn't hardly notice you was
moving."

"_I'm_ sure!" cried Sally, ironically. "And you and the captain chatting
together in the cabin, and all."

"No." Toby was condescending under chaff. "But we're quite.... Skipper,
he's called. You don't call him captain. He's just like me. He's no
better; only he...."

"Only he knows how to sail a boat," mocked Sally.

"So do I. I sailed her up the river." He was recklessly and untruthfully
boastful, as instinct told her.

"_I_ should think so." Sally's voice was so jeering that it laughed his
pretensions to nothing at all. "And then you woke up."

Toby became expostulatory. But all the time Sally was not listening. She
was not thinking of his words at all; but was only conscious of the warm
glow running through her at his nearness and his strong clasp. Every now
and then she prompted him to kiss her; and when Toby kissed her she
felt as though she did not know what unhappiness was. He was so strong,
and his chin so firm and rough; and he had such an air of the salt sea
about him, that she was like a baby at the breast. She loved him. No
thought of Gaga came. Only the moment's delight absorbed them both.

Presently they began to walk along the dark path, Toby's arm still
pressing Sally to his side, and his head every now and then almost
savagely down against her hair. The small hat she had worn was taken
off, and was carried, swinging. Sally was so small and so comparatively
weak beside Toby's burly strength that she was all the time relishing
his power entirely to subdue her; and her wits were so quick that she
never had a moment's hesitation as to the right way to tease him. She
was without any least sensation of unhappiness. She had never been so
glad of Toby since their first exulting days of passion, and her whole
nature was bubbling and trembling towards him in the old way, as if they
had come together again after some long dreadful estrangement.

And then Sally remembered Gaga. She had been laughing so much in herself
at this long evening of freedom, that the recollection was like ice to
her heart. It was all a mockery, a fantasy; and Toby was no more hers.
She was separated from him for ever, and the more closely she was
embraced by him the less she felt herself free to belong to him. A
revulsion of feeling shook her. With an instinctive movement almost
savage, she escaped from his arm and walked onward, her face set and her
spirits banished.

"No," she cried, when Toby sought to re-establish his protective hold.
She was as if deep in thought; but in fact she was not thinking at all,
but was only overwhelmed by the old horror of her situation which had
newly arisen after this short respite of dreaming. Toby let her walk
alone, and lighted a cigarette, slouching beside her with his hands in
the pockets of his jacket. He was a dim hunched figure in the gloom.
Sally could not see him clearly; her sense of him was simply of his
strength and his responsiveness to her own physical inclinations. The
sense evoked in her heart longing which made Sally bow her head. She
sighed deeply; her fixed eyes were closed. She was quite blind. For an
instant she was lost in grave humility. Her smile in the darkness held
such sweetness that it gave proof of her true love, her beautiful and
entranced adoration.

"What time you got to be back?" Toby abruptly questioned in a
matter-of-fact tone. It was like the unexpected tearing of calico, so
sharply did such a demand break the vision and show his insensitiveness
to her mood.

"Back?" Sally was dazed. She could not understand Toby's speech. "Back
where?" She had an extraordinary feeling of shock. Her peace was
destroyed.

"To-night."

Sally caught her breath. In a strained tone that sounded, as she meant
it to sound, as though she had been merely inattentive, she made answer:

"Oh, I.... I'm going home to-night. Holloway. Stopping with mother."

Toby had looked at his watch before throwing his match away.

"It's ha' parce eight," he mentioned.

A fierceness shook Sally. It was more than she could bear. She turned
upon him in a fury. With such a snarling venom did she speak that Toby
drew himself almost defensively to his full height.

"Don't let me keep you!" she cried. "I didn't know you were in a hurry.
If you want to go home, _go_. Go!" She ended almost in a scream, and
her fists were frantically jerked.

"Here!" Toby was disconcerted. "What you talking about? I only said the
time." He seized her, and Sally struggled as of old. But she could not
resist him. There was too great a discrepancy in their strength, and in
their will, when her own will so dangerously betrayed her. Toby held her
closer and closer. His grip was tyrannic. Sally's breath was short,
sobbing; her eyes were again closed, and her lips tragically pressed
together. Her face might have been marble. And as he held her fast, Toby
forced back Sally's head and many times kissed her hotly and
possessively. "What's the row?" he demanded. She heard the savagery of
his tone, and felt his warm breath on her cheek; and some undertone of
his husky voice vibrated in her ear. "Ain't you well, Sal?" he
whispered. "I never meant I wanted to go home. I don't. You know that. I
only said the time. Only ... how long had we got? Sally, old girl...."

"All right, all right!" Sally did not know what she was saying. Her
brows were knitted in distraction. Then: "Oh, any old time...." And as
she spoke temptation suddenly swept her with a tingling heat, and her
mouth was dry and her body tense with the excitement of the overwhelming
moment. Her heart beat so fast that she was quite breathless. With an
impulse too strong for resistance she returned her lips to Toby's,
half-crying, and in vehement surrender. She could see no further, could
endure no more. At the withdrawal she cried gaspingly: "I needn't ...
needn't go home at all ... to-night. Nobody ... expects me. Toby!"


x

In the morning Sally awoke with a heavy heart. Foreboding was more
gloomy than she had ever known it. The hotel bedroom in which they had
slept was very small, and the walls towered above her. It was a dirty
room, and the bright sunlight that came through the slats of the blinds
revealed the thick London dust in the curtains and on the walls. Toby
was by her side, fast asleep. She had no sense of wrong-doing--it never
troubled Sally, who judged her own conduct by exceptional standards; but
she was again full of fear. Lightly she touched Toby's thick strong
hair, and kissed it, half raised from her pillow; and bending over him.
Her love was undiminished, but her fear of him was suddenly increased.
And as she withdrew her hand and sat upright she caught sight of the
wedding-ring which she had taken from her purse and slipped onto her
finger before they reached the hotel. They had come without luggage, and
it had been an impulse of caution which had led her to wear the ring.
Slowly she turned it round and round upon her finger, not recalling that
it was Gaga's ring, not considering her use of it an added dishonour to
Gaga, but looking at it abstractedly. The ring meant so much, and so
little. Her marriage had meant so much and so little. A faint smile
stole to her lips and played about them.

A stirring of Toby's body made her glance quickly down. His eyes were
open, and he was staring solemnly at her. His hair was all roughened,
and his dark face was puffed with sleep. He looked like her big baby,
irresistibly lovable. The smile deepened; but she did not speak. She
made no movement at all; and Toby, stretching out a lazy arm, put it
round her waist.

"Ugh!" he said, grunting with satisfaction. With calm pleasure she
enjoyed the knowledge of his great muscular strength; but she did not
respond to him at all. Toby jerked towards her, so that his head rested
against her side, and Sally mechanically crooked her arm lightly over
his further cheek. Toby blinked a little, and yawned, and looked at the
sunshine. "Wha's time?" he gaped. "Oh-o-oo."

"Dunno. Oo, bless me!" Sally roused herself. "I mustn't be late." She
reached out for Toby's watch, on the table at his side of the bed, and
held it up to the light. The time was half-past-seven. She looked at the
old watch, a cheap one with a loud tick. "I'll give you a _watch_, one
day," she said, condescendingly. "A _watch_."

"Here!" Toby's voice changed. He caught her wrist sharply--so sharply
that Sally almost dropped the watch on the quilt. "What's that?" His
tone was so strange that she was surprised, and tried to follow his
glance. It rested upon her hand--upon the wedding ring. Sally's blood
froze.

"Oh, that?" she said, with an attempt to be easy. "Can't come into a
place like this.... I mean, without a ring of some sort."

"Oh?" asked Toby, sternly. "You know all about it, don't you?"

"Well?" Sally was frightened, but simulating defiance. "It's true, isn't
it?"

"Where'd you get it?"

"Shop." She was so afraid that she was insolent.

"I s'pose you're _used_ to this sort of thing," cried Toby. He sat up
beside her, his face deeply crimsoned, his expression accusing. "Used to
it, are you?"

"No!" answered Sally.

"What did you get it for?"

Sally could not hide her trembling. She was blanched, and her shoulder
was raised as if to avoid a blow. It came. Toby released her wrist, and
seized her shoulder. Roughly, he so shoved her away from him that she
was thrown upon her face. She scrambled out of bed, and stood panting
before him, while Toby, kicking down the bedclothes, seemed crouched
upon the bed as if he might murderously spring at her. She watched his
hands, fascinated by an imagination of their grip upon her throat.

"What did you get it for?" Toby repeated, in a voice of madness.

"To come here."

"Liar!" He leapt out of bed, and Sally, in a panic, turned to fly. She
could not escape. Toby held her shoulder again. Again he savagely pushed
her, so that she fell against the wall, her head striking it. Sally slid
to the floor, shrinking from him, terrified now that death seemed so
near. She did not scream. She could still have done so; but it was not
her instinct to cry out. "You liar!" Toby said again. "What did you get
it for? Christ!" He dragged Sally once again to her feet. His fingers
were bruising her arm. She was physically helpless and half-stunned. "Is
that the way you make your living?" demanded Toby, beside himself.

"No!" It was Sally's turn to shout. "No, you fool. You _fool_!"

"You dirty little liar! It is!"

"It's not!" cried Sally. With a tremendous effort for self-control she
checked a sob that would have plunged her into hysteria. "I'm married!"

Toby fell away, his mouth open. The release sent Sally against the wall
once more. He stood looking at her, his face grey, his eyes smouldering.

"You tell me _that_?" he said. "Married!"

"Yes. Married."

He did not speak. He eyed her with a sombre and threatening
appraisement. Then, more quietly, he went on:

"You _can't_ be. You're mine. You belong to _me_. Nobody else can't have
you!"

"Nobody else can have me. But I'm married, all right," Sally told him.
She was recovering some composure. When she moistened her lips she
glanced sideways at him, like lightning. Toby had not struck her. He was
too surprised.

"Married.... And you come here with me. Liar!"

"My husband's away.... We don't.... His mother's ill. I don't love
him--never did. We were only married a few days ago. I wrote to you. You
never got the letter."

"Oh, _that's_ why...." Toby's tone was vengeful. His fists were
clenched.

"See, Toby, I only love you. Only you. But he's rich. We.... I don't
sleep with him, Toby. He's never...."

"You liar!" Toby approached her. Sally could see his teeth glistening.

"I swear it's true. Toby!"

Toby suddenly caught her a blow on the arm which sent her spinning
across the tiny room. She held on to the mantelpiece to save a fall.
They were both panting now; but Toby was like a bulldog. The colour was
returning to his cheeks. He was watching Sally, as she was watching him.
She was ready to dodge a further blow; but she knew that if he was
determined to kill her nothing would stop him. She was filled with
abject fear at her own physical powerlessness. But by now her wits were
alert again. Toby made a movement, and Sally started, ready to dart
away. He did not come nearer. A stupidity seemed to descend upon him.

A loud rap at the door startled them both.

"Hot water. Half-past seven. And less noise there!" came a loud voice.
The whole scene was transformed by the interruption. Both became
listless.

"Married!" Toby said, as if to himself. He shook his head.

"I love _you_," Sally told him.

He sat dully upon the bed. Timidly, for fear of another outburst, Sally
approached him. At last, standing by his side, she held Toby's head to
her breast, kissing him with little fierce kisses that must have carried
their message to his heart. At last Toby's arms were raised, and around
her, and she was pressed to him once more. Their lips met. Toby made a
muffled, snarling sound that was a mixture of love and hatred and
masterfulness. He held her with ferocity. Then, as suddenly, his muscles
relaxed, until Sally by repeated endearments baffled his indignation and
softened his anger. She was struggling with all her might to keep
possession of him, moving each instant with more assurance among his
dull thoughts and his easily-roused passions. As the moments passed she
knew that she had kept him, and at this knowledge her own passion rose
until it equalled Toby's.

"My love," she whispered. "My dear love."


xi

Later in the day, when she was able to think of all that had happened,
Sally had an unexpected glimpse of the situation. She realised that she
was a victor. She was almost too satisfied. She had no shame, no
contrition; she merely knew that if she might still keep Toby her
marriage with Gaga would be bearable. She had none of the turmoil of the
conventional married woman who takes a lover; but then she had never
been trained to be scrupulous. She was still young enough to be
intoxicated by her own prowess. She could manage Gaga; she could manage
Toby; she could manage the business--there was no end to her power. More
than anything else, it was necessity to her to gratify her sense of
power. If that necessity had been removed she would have known herself
for a reckless fool; but the demand for power obliterated every
inconvenient thought of risk. As for a sense of honour, Sally had been
born without one.

All the girls looked at her "very old-fashioned," as they would have
said, when she arrived in the morning; but as the day wore on, and there
was no further telephone message for her from Gaga, they began to forget
what had happened on the previous day. Sally worked like a mouse, her
brain exulting in its vivid memories of her time with Toby; and she did
not think of Gaga at all. She only hoped that he would not come to the
office. She was feeling too tired to deal effectively with any
peevishness from Gaga; although, the causes of her hysteria having been
removed, she was not likely to repeat the failure of that other restless
night. A heaviness hung upon her as the day wore on; a kind of thick
readiness for sleep. She yawned over her work. The workroom seemed
stuffy, the day unusually long. The nervous strain of the past few days
was reacting, and even Sally's vitality was shaken by the consequences
of her successive excitements. When tea-time came she was relieved. But
there had been no news of Gaga, or from him: not even a message through
Miss Summers. Miss Summers grew more and more fidgetty and anxious as
the hours went by.

"I do hope nothing's happened," she clucked. "So funny not having heard.
I wonder if I ought to telephone to ask. Perhaps Mr. Bertram's ill. Did
you _see_ him last night? D'you think I ought to ring up? I'm so
worried. It's so strange, and Madam being so ill, and that."

"I shouldn't worry," urged Sally. "He'll 'phone fast enough if there's
anything to say. Look at yesterday."

"Yes; but perhaps he's ill himself."

"Sick," commented Sally. "He's bilious, you know."

Miss Summers shook her head, and sighed.

"Yes," she readily agreed. "I'm afraid he's not the man his mother is."

They had hardly finished speaking when Miss Summers was called to the
telephone. She was away for two or three minutes; and returned with
tears streaming down her cheeks. All their pink plumpness was softened
into a blur of tearful weakness. She was bent and dissolved under
disaster. As she made her way up the long workroom to her place the
girls all craned their necks to look at Miss Summers, and one or
two--the kinder ones--rose to see if they could do anything to comfort
her. But it was to Sally that Miss Summers turned, and within an inch of
Sally's cheeks that she shook her tear-stained face. At first she could
not speak; but grimaced like a child, as if her cold nose was smarting.
Sally was first to hear the news; but all of them had known it from the
first glimpse of Miss Summers in tears.

"She's gone," cried Miss Summers, "Poor soul, she's gone. And what will
happen to us I don't know."

"_We'll_ be all right," Sally murmured, with singular confidence. A
shock had slightly discomposed her, but it was not a shock of sorrow for
the death of Madame Gala. Rather was it a passing thrill of dismay at
her own responsibility, which her reassuring speech had been intended to
remove.

"She's dead.... Madam's dead...." ran through the workroom. One girl
hurried to tell Miss Rapson and the workers in her department, who came
crowding immediately into the room, agog with excitement. They all
gathered together in a body, and then in detached groups, talking fast.

"I s'pose we'll all have a day off for the funeral," somebody said with
a giggle.

"Oo, yes. Sure to. And have to wear mourning," added another girl, more
solemnly and hopefully.

Sally stood, as if by right, with Miss Summers and Miss Rapson. She was
definitely a principal figure in the scene. Just as the other girls
began to notice this, and murmuringly to comment upon it as a piece of
characteristic impudence, Miss Summers had a quick return of memory.
Gesticulating with helpless impatience, she said:

"Oh, Sally; I'd quite forgotten. Mr. Bertram _is_ ill. And the nurse
said he was asking to see you. Yes, asking to see ... Miss Minto."

Asking to see Sally Minto! There was a thrill among the girls that was
even greater than the one which they had felt at the news of Madam's
death. Gaga asking to see Sally Minto! Whew! Everything became electric.
Rose Anstey coloured deeply, and turned upon her heel. Sally knew they
were all staring at her, like fish in an aquarium. With something
approaching dignity she ignored them and directly addressed Miss
Summers.

"Did you mean he wanted me to go at once?" she asked.

"Yes, child. Yes. At once. Better run along now...." Miss Summers was
distracted, tearful, inclined to kiss Sally, and altogether without
knowledge of what she was doing or what she ought to do. "Wait.... Tell
him--perhaps I ought to write a letter? Oh, dear! I don't know...." She
pressed her fingers to her temples. "No, tell him how sorry we all are.
Say if he wants _me_.... Run along, run along!"

"Yes, Miss Summers."

In a very leisurely manner, Sally rolled up her pinafore and put her
work away. Then she washed and dressed herself to go out. She walked
back through the workroom like a queen, sedately bidding Miss Summers
"good-afternoon" and smiling a cool farewell to the girls. The buzz of
their amazed whispering followed her into the waiting-room. She felt
their eyes like stings in her back. On the way downstairs the memory of
the scene and an understanding of the girls' feelings made her laugh.
Well, that was that; and she was face to face with her problem in its
entirety. Unconsciously, Sally walked more erect.


xii

Sally never went back to the workroom. She hurried from it to the old
house in Kensington in which the Merricks had lived for years; and as
she saw the house, so black with dust, and the steps that led up to the
heavy front door, even Sally's heart quailed. She hesitated for several
minutes before going up the steps, and loitered there, a little figure
in a grey dress, trim and _chic_, but not at all the girl to take
control of such a mansion and of the difficulties which lay within. She
could not tell what a mass of custom the house indicated; but her
instinct was enough to make her feel extraordinarily small,
extraordinarily untrained and incapable. It had been very well for her
to suppose that everything could be seized and controlled at a glance.
The reality was too solid for a longer dream. Thoughtless,
over-confident as her fantasy had been, she had the sense which a child
has when a running man comes threateningly near--of a great shape, of
unexpected size and dangerousness, looming out of the focussed picture,
and setting all previous conceptions at nought. Here was this giant
house, and Madam lying dead in it, and servants who would resent her
appearance, and Gaga; and Sally was such a little girl in the face of a
definite trial. She was a little girl, and she would never be able to
deal with what lay ahead. It was a long, devastating spasm of doubt,
like a trembling of the earth. The house towered above her, huge and
gloomy; and other houses, equally oppressive, continued from the
Merricks' house, with basements and railings and great black fronts and
lace curtains, until the road turned and its end was unseen. And Sally,
who had lived all her life in small flats and single rooms, was shaken.
Her heart sank. She entered the house. Her head was high, from pride;
but her qualms were intense. An atmosphere of solemn melancholy made
everybody speak in low tones. She had difficulty in remaining calm.

All the rooms were large rooms, filled with large furniture and old
pictures and prints. Madam had made her home for comfort; and the taste
which had marked her other work was here subdued. An old clock ticked
steadily; and if there were no ancient horrors at least the house within
did not belie its serious front. Sally was like a little doll, shrinking
under the weight of such solid comfort, and not yet able to appraise it
in terms of possession and disposal. She was still shy and timid.
Wherever, upon this first entrance, she looked round for encouragement,
she found none. During that first evening she was so miserable that she
could have run away. She was like a child that goes for the first time
to school, and feels bereft of every familiar support and association.

But in the morning Sally found everything better. She saw Gaga's
doctor, and she talked to the three servants. She telephoned to Miss
Summers and asked her to come to the house in the afternoon. She wrote
to Mrs. Perce and to Toby. She nursed Gaga and refused to see the dead
body of his mother. Every minute which she spent in the house increased
her familiarity with it; and her youth and smallness captivated the
three middle-aged servants, who were glad to have somebody there whom
they could advise. Sally had long been able to behave as somebody other
than a workgirl, and the servants were so well-behaved that they did not
make any attempt to be too much at ease with her. Sally, moreover,
looked down with all the contempt of her class upon women who worked in
domestic service--SKIVVIES! She was drawlingly refined with them, but
not grotesquely so, and they respected her.

First in importance among the things which Sally had to seem to arrange
was the funeral. She handed all the details to the undertaker. This
showed her to be a general. From the first she followed the only
possible plan--to give _carte blanche_ to those who had to deal with
matters of urgency. Gaga was all the time ill. His mother's death had so
broken down his strength and his self-control that Sally often found him
weak with crying; a pathetic figure, in bed, woebegone and feeble. His
delight at seeing her was so violent that he had covered her hands with
kisses before he fell back exhausted upon his pillow. He constantly
called for her. The servants noticed with clucked tongues how feverish
was his devotion; but they also recognised Sally's patience. Sally was
angelic to Gaga. She tended him so protectively that one might have
thought her loving. And in the rest of her free time she tried hard to
learn about the house. Mistakes she made, of course, and many of them;
but she was still shrewd, and if she was often superficial and hasty,
at least she was alert.

Miss Summers Sally found invaluable. Once Miss Summers had overcome her
surprise at the new order and once she had found that Sally was the old
Sally, who relied upon her, she rose to every call. Her kindness and her
generalship were unfailing. She it was who kept the business moving at a
trying time. In her hands orders were filled with the expected
promptitude and the customary excellence. She obsequiously interviewed
those who came to be fitted; and her knowledge of the business enabled
her to satisfy these customers and make them understand that in spite of
the extraordinary conditions they could still rely upon proper
attention. She was unsparing of her time and her devotion. She had at
last a satisfactory mission.

And all this Sally recognised. While Gaga claimed her attention, and
household affairs worried her, she did not trouble very much about the
business. Miss Summers would come in the evening to Kensington, tell her
the news, and give advice upon other matters. The two had long talks at
night. Sally suddenly knew how valuable a friend she had in Miss
Summers. She knew the value of an unselfish readiness to serve; and she
herself was generous enough and, in a sense, imaginative enough not to
exploit Miss Summers. There was a good understanding between them. And
Sally, as she looked round at the mahogany furniture in this old house,
and saw the dull carpets and engravings which Madam had gathered
together in other days for the suitable adornment of her rooms, could
think of no better repayment than a gift of some of the things which
Miss Summers might prize, and which Sally and Gaga could never use. It
was characteristic of her that she made this definite reservation; but
with Gaga's consent she finally made Miss Summers happy by such a
lavish present that Sally might have done many strange things without
ever losing the loyalty of her adjutant.

She slept by herself in a room connected with Gaga's room by an open
door. She was thus able to tend him during his frequent fits of sickness
and weakness, which often took the form of long hypochondriacal attacks;
and was at the same time given opportunity for active thought and
planning. Sally was very happy in these days, for nothing gives greater
happiness than incessant occupation that is flattering to the vanity.
She walked with a new air, looked about her with confidence and a sense
of ownership. Above all, she had reached that almost super-human
state--she knew herself to be indispensable.


xiii

When Gaga seemed to be well enough, they went out for a time each day,
and Sally tried to interest him in plans for a change of home. He was
still so feeble that he was rather listless and querulous; but when she
told him the sort of flat she wanted nearer town, and the sort of
furniture, Gaga caught fire, and became enthusiastic. His eyes glowed.
Much more gently than ever before, and to that extent more tolerably, he
kissed her. He proclaimed Sally's genius. Everything she suggested
appeared to him more excellent than the last thing: if she had been a
silly girl she might have been made reckless. But having interested him
she became rather afraid of his eager support. The flat was to be _her_
flat. She did not want Gaga blundering in with enthusiastic mistakes.
And another thing was that the doctor warned her about the dangers of
excitement.

"Your husband's not a strong man, Mrs. Merrick," he said. "He's not
even a sound man. You don't want him to get too excited. It's bad for
him. Go slow."

"I'll try," agreed Sally. But it was with a shrug. "You see how he is. I
mustn't be out of his sight; and yet _something's_ got to be done."

"You're a very plucky girl," remarked the doctor feebly; and he went
away.

Sally's shrug had been sincere. She would have preferred to do
everything alone; but to do so would have been to make Gaga fully as ill
as any over-excitement could do. They accordingly went about together,
looking for a flat. They discovered one at last in Mayfair; and
decorations were begun there. It was not a large flat, and the rooms
were not all large; but it was cosy, and the furnishing of it was going
to give Sally a satisfaction hard to exceed. The two of them exulted in
the flat. They walked through and through it. They saw the wallpapers
and the paint, and admired everything in the most delicious manner
possible.

And then the doctor's warning was justified. Gaga collapsed. He fainted
in the flat, overcome by the smell of paint and the excitement of
proprietorship. With the help of one of the painters Sally took him home
in a cab and put him to bed. The doctor arrived, nodded, and was not in
the least surprised or alarmed. Sally was merely to be Gaga's nurse once
more. It did not matter to the doctor, who had no interest in Gaga
except as a patient.

"It's rough on you, though," he said to Sally. He was a bald man of
fifty, with a cold eye and a cold, fish-like hand. He was interested in
nothing outside his profession and his meals. To him Sally was a plucky
little thing; but Sally could not find that he thought anything more
about her. She shrugged again. "So sorry," said the doctor. "Good-bye."

When he had gone, Sally frowned. Bother! All her plans were interrupted.
Her energies were subdued. Thoughtfully, she began to consider how far
she might act alone. She wondered whether she might persuade Gaga to let
her go out in the mornings or the afternoons. He _must_ do so, and yet
she knew he would not like it. Although the decision always lay with
her, he had the sick and nervous man's fussy wish to seem to make a
choice. He wanted to be there, to be heard, to announce Sally's decision
in a loud voice as his own.

"What a man he is!" thought Sally. "Big kid. Got to have a say in
everything. And he _can't_!" The last words were spoken aloud, so
vehemently did she feel them. "He can't, because he doesn't know.
O-o-oh!"

She beat one hand upon the other, in a sudden passion. For a moment she
had an unexpected return of hysteria. And as she took two or three
fierce paces Sally without warning felt dizzy. She clung to a chair; and
the dizziness immediately passed. It frightened her, none the less,
because she had been feeling unwell for some days, and she had a horror
of illness.

"Here, here!" she exclaimed. "None of that. _I_ mustn't get ill. Oh,
lor! If I was to get ill _wouldn't_ there be a shimozzle! Gaga'd go off
his head. And everything else--pouf!"

It amused her to realise this. It made her forget the unexplained sick
dizziness which had given rise to her reflections, because the thing
which Sally above everything else had always desired was to be as
important as she now found herself. At the age of eighteen she was
dominating a world which she had long since determined to conquer.


xiv

During the week following, Sally had no time for any thing but
attendance upon Gaga. She was herself feeling sick and wretched; and
Gaga was very ill indeed. He was sometimes extremely feeble, so that a
lethargy fell upon him and he lay so quiet that Sally believed him to be
asleep. But at her first movement he would unclose his eyes and groan
her name, groping with his finger to detain her. So she sat in his big
square bedroom with the drab walls and the plain furniture, watching the
daylight fade and pondering to herself. It was a gloom period, and it
had a perceptible effect upon her vitality. At other times Gaga would
rally, would even sit up and talk in his old stammer, his grey face
whitened and sharpened by illness. Always he demanded her kisses,
although at times she had such horror of being made love to by one so
ill that she was pricked by a perfect frenzy of nerves. He would sit by
the fire, passing his thin hand across her shoulders, stooping and
caressing her and catching her neck with his fingers in order to bring
her cheek the more submissively to his own. His lips were ever
encroaching, and his fevered clasp was so incessant and so vibrant with
overstrung excitement as to create a sense of repulsion. It was a
tyranny, to which Sally listlessly yielded because she had not the
spirit to resist. She also knew that resistance would make him ill
again; and however much she chafed at his kisses she chafed still more
at the constant attention demanded by Gaga's state of health, which kept
her ever there and delayed intolerably the execution of those plans
which would have interposed a relief from these intimacies. Then again
he would be seized with fits of vomiting which shook his frame and made
him so ill that he had to be helped back to bed and comforted as if he
were a child. It was a weary time, much shorter than it appeared to be
in her slow watching of the clock; and she could not have endured it at
all if her resolution had been less tough. Sometimes, too, Sally knew
that she was rather fond of Gaga. Her feeling for him was a mixture of
emotion; but she never actively disliked him, even when she was bored by
his constant show of possessiveness. The truth was that she had grown to
be afraid. She was like a Frankenstein, and her monstrous plan had
become too great to be carried through alone. She was frightened that
Gaga would die; and she did not want him to die. He was necessary to
her, because at present he was the key to her scheme of immediate life.

Each evening Miss Summers came; and the tale she brought of orders given
and executed was satisfactory. But even Miss Summers knew that things
were not going well. All that practical direction which Madam had
brought to the business was lost. Everything that had given distinction
in the choice of material and style was in danger. There were new
purchases to be made, and new designs furnished. All that vast part in
the business which occurred before a customer entered into negotiations
had been managed entirely by Madam, and it was suspended in her absence.
Some of this work was routine, and could be conducted without her; but
as the days passed it became evident that important matters were being
delayed, that they were accumulating, that unless something could be
done quickly to check the slide the business would become mechanical and
its individuality be destroyed. Thus Sally learnt that her ambition had
led her to grasp at power which she could not wield. If she had been
able to go to work she could have learnt very easily. She had such quick
taste, and such confidence, that, with Miss Summers at her side, in
spite of many mistakes, she could have dealt with much that was now
slipping. But she was unable to leave Gaga. When she tried to explain
the needs of the moment to him Gaga turned weakly away, incapable of
grasping more than the fact that she was his wife and that he needed
her. At a speech concerning the business he shrugged his shoulders, and
became stupidly ineffective.

One night, when she was in bed, Sally thought of all this, and was first
despondent and then dispirited. The mood intensified. Once it had
gripped her she knew no peace. She was in helpless torment. Before she
knew quite what she was doing she had drawn the bedclothes over her head
and was bitterly sobbing. Little disjointed phrases were jerked from her
lips in this painful abandonment to fear and the sense of lonely
powerlessness. She was at last unrestrained in her admission of failure.
She did not know ... she did not _know_. By herself she could do
nothing. And there was nobody to whom she could turn for succour. Her
mother was useless, Mrs. Perce was useless. Her one support was Miss
Summers, and Miss Summers this evening had been unable to hide her
trepidation, but had sat licking her lips and blinking her eyes, which
held such concern that she could in no way disguise the cause of her
gloom. Miss Summers also, then, was full of foreboding; and Sally, tied
fast here, a child, thrown off her balance by illness and nervous
excitement, had lost confidence in her star.

When she was calm again she slept; but in the morning the preoccupation
returned to her, and her head ached, and the tears filled her eyes as
though she were fighting against grief. And her first visit to Gaga
disgusted her and made her feel the more miserable. She had often been
more poignantly affected, but never had she experienced such a sense of
complete distaste for life. She was like a child given an impossible
task to perform; and instead of being able to rise on the wings of her
arrogance as she was in the habit of doing, Sally was weighed down by
leaden sickness and fear. She went slowly downstairs to have her
breakfast, and sat solitary in the big brown dining-room which
overlooked a square of grass and a high wall. A dismal grey oppressed
the atmosphere, and an autumn chill. She could not eat, could only sniff
despairingly and drink a cup of tea and wander to the fire and lay her
forehead against the mantelpiece, which was cooling indeed, but without
comfort. Its hard coldness was unbearable. Sally's arms crept up as a
pillow. She stared downwards at the dead fire.

"O-o-oh!" she groaned bitterly. "I wish I was dead! I do wish I was
dead!" And at the sound of her wretched voice Sally once more gave way
completely and began to sob aloud. She was beaten, and her spirit was
gone.


xv

And so more days passed, each filled with a sort of numbing dread. Sally
thought of the business, of her future, of Toby--from whom she had
received several letter reflecting his moods of ferociousness and
resentment,--and of the bonds which kept her tied to the house. She knew
during all this time no peace. She grew thinner, and began to take less
care of herself. She was not aware of the beginning of a loss of
self-respect, but it was there. She--she who had always been so strict
in regard to her toilette and dress, whatever her state of mind--went
down to breakfast one morning in a kimono which she had found in Madam's
wardrobe and shortened for herself. It was a proof that she no longer
cared for her appearance. She lay through the nights often only
half-asleep, in a stupor which presently led her to an attitude almost
of indifference to the needs of the day. And for the rest of the time
Sally was so lethargic that it one morning occurred to her to think that
she had caught from Gaga whatever was the unnamed illness from which he
was suffering. The thought once arisen, flew to her head. It became a
horror. She had heard of bad fruit corrupting fruit that was sound and
this was a new preoccupation for her. When Gaga would have kissed her
lips she turned away in sudden nausea, fighting instinctively against a
subjection which her indifference had hitherto made allowable. And she
had several times to invent an excuse to be alone, so active had her
distress become; and in these absences she would walk vehemently up and
down the dining-room until she was forced by exhaustion to sit or by a
message from Gaga to return to his room.

"Why, whatever's _come_ to me?" she demanded. "It's awful! I'm ill."

The doctor called every day to see Gaga, and spoke as though there was a
definite improvement in his patient's health. The medicine Gaga was
taking would finally give him strength. Already he was beginning to eat
more, and beginning also to retain what he had eaten.

"It's nerves, you know," the doctor told Sally one day. "Mere nerves.
Your husband's run down. He's not strong. He's had a shock. As soon as
he's well enough he ought to be got away for a holiday. You take him
away. About the end of next week, if he makes good progress. Take him to
the sea."

"He hates it," cried Sally. "Upsets him."

"Oh." The doctor considered. "Where did you go for your honeymoon?
Penterby--well, that would do, if you can take drives to the sea. He
doesn't want too bracing a place. And now, Mrs. Merrick, I've been
noticing _you_ lately. You're run down, too. We can't have you ill.
You've been very plucky; but you've had a great strain, and all this
nursing has worn you out. I'm going to have a look at you...."

Sally was conscious of a sinking of the heart.

"I'm quite all right!" she protested. She could not have told what
intuition had created this panic; but her heart had begun instantly to
thump in her breast, and she became, as she had done once before, almost
dizzy. She could not say anything more. She submitted to his
examination, and answered his questions. It was an ordeal, and she
watched his serious face with its cold eyes, and felt his chilly hand,
and guessed at what he would say. The doctor seemed appallingly slow,
appallingly deliberate and immovable and ruthless in his perceptions.
She was terrified. The room wavered before her; and her fright grew
greater and greater. He was very patient. She felt strange trust in him;
but always the same dread, which made her teeth chatter a little. Soon
he had finished; and then he looked at her with a slight smile and a
nod.

"Yes," he said, reflectively. "Oh, there's nothing to be alarmed about
at all. Nothing. All you've got to do is to take care of yourself, and
not worry; and it will do you good to get away. Women in your condition,
especially if it's the first, often...."

"_My_ condition!" exclaimed Sally. It was like a blow. "Doctor!"

"Nothing to be alarmed at," he repeated. "You'll be very happy after a
bit. You know, you're going to have a baby." He stood away from her,
smiling in a friendly way.

"A baby!" Sally was shaken from head to foot. She stared at the doctor
in an extremity of horror. "A baby!"

He patted her arm. Before she was able to collect herself he had gone--a
busy doctor with a long round and a large practice. Sally sat looking
at the fire. Then she rose. A scream came to her lips. Again and again
she shuddered. A baby! A baby! Toby's baby!


xvi

The news confirmed what Sally had never consciously thought, but what
she now felt she had known for days. If anything had been needed to
complete her despair it was this. She felt suicidal. She could have
borne illness, even failure in the business, even all the complications
of distress which she had been already experiencing; but the knowledge
of ultimate disgrace so inevitable drove her mad. Vainly Sally's mind
flew in every direction for relief--the doctor might be wrong; the
coming of babies could be prevented; perhaps Gaga might never know--she
could persuade him to go away, could go away herself, could do a hundred
things to tide over the difficulty. And at the end of all these
twistings of the mind she would find herself still terribly in danger,
and would fight against hideous screaming fits by lying on the floor or
on a couch and crushing her handkerchief into her mouth. She was quite
overcome by her new disaster, the fruit of wild temptation, and the
consequence of her whole course of action. Used as Sally was to meeting
every emergency with cool shrewdness, she could not bring to her present
situation the necessary philosophy, because she was ill, and
fear-stricken, and made crazy by the impossibility of finding a solution
to her anxieties.

Hour after hour was spent with horrible nightmarish imaginings, in
frenzied self-excuses and improvised expedients. And never did there
come one moment of peace in the midst of all this panic. Sally had no
friend. More and more she began to realise this. She had no friend. She
had made use of people, they were fond of her, would submit to her; but
she had no friend. More than anything in the world she now needed a
friend. There was nobody in whom she could confide, from whose love and
sympathy she could draw the strength which at this point she so greatly
needed. She had a husband, a lover, a mother--to none of these could she
go with the truth. It needed all Sally's egotism to make the truth seem
capable of justification, or indeed to make it seem even credible, so
different is the standard by which we judge our own actions from that
which we apply to others. Sally saw everything so much in relation to
all that she had ever thought and felt that she could not understand how
her impulses might horrify one coming to them only after translation
into action. She only knew that she could not betray herself
unreservedly to anybody with the hope of being found innocent. The
knowledge made her at first full of terror; and the terror and the
successive elaborate self-explanation, given to an unresponsive silence
which she could easily suppose to be hostile, made her obstinate; then
she became the more passionately afraid. She could have stormed, lied,
wriggled; but she could never hope to escape the consequences that she
dreaded.

At times Sally could not bear to be with Gaga at all. She told him she
was ill, and that the doctor said she must go out; and in spite of his
protests she would run from the house and walk rapidly for an hour about
Kensington, and even into Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The weather
made no difference to her. She was desperate, and must seek some relief
from the horror of being cooped up in that house with her secret. She
had begged the doctor to give no hint of it to Gaga, and had tried to
pretend to herself that he had been mistaken in his diagnosis; but her
pretence was of no avail, because each day she became more certain that
he had been right. And still she could not think of any way out. She had
been betrayed by a single act of irresistible passion.

Presently, as her frenzy spent itself, Sally began to think more
collectedly. She remembered Toby's last letter. She began to think of
him. She thought even that she could run away and be divorced and
abandon all her schemes for the sake of the baby. But as soon as Sally
had such an imagining she knew that it was an impossibility for her.
Only as a last resource could she accept her disaster. All her
self-confidence fought against it. She must find some other way. At
first she thought it would be simple to do so; but as her brain worked
upon the problem she found so many difficulties in the way that she
again lost hope. The baby would ruin everything. Finally the return of
Toby seemed to her to be the first necessity. She must see him. She
could do nothing until she saw him. Longing seized her--a quick sense
that at least he was her lover, and therefore her partner. She wrote to
Toby, asking him to come and meet her as soon as he reached London. Then
she waited, her exhausted torments having left her in a mood of
glittering-eyed sullen misery that might at any moment rise sharply to
angry shrillness. Calm hid genuine fear, and it was the calm of one who
has no hope other than self-control.

Gradually Sally came to know the big house in exact detail, because in
these days she was forced to find occupation for herself. The
drawing-room, the dining-room, all the rooms upstairs, were ransacked.
They held no treasures, indeed; but they gave Sally a rather distracting
interest because they aroused her sense of possession. She had wanted to
own things--and these, although they were not what she had pictured,
were property. There was the beginning of bourgeoise acquisitiveness
and pride of ownership in her, after all. Scratch the worker and you
found the bourgeoise. There were carefully-hoarded lengths of rich
material in the cupboards, lace and ribbons and shawls in different
chests of drawers; upon Madam's dressing-table was a manicure set and a
set of tortoiseshell-backed brushes; in the drawers of the same table
were perfumes in great variety. Far below stairs, Sally found the wine
cellar, and although it was small in size it contained more kinds of
wine than she had been able to imagine hitherto, and filled her with an
almost grinning satisfaction. Not yet was her sense of social ambition
roused; but it was born. She began to look ahead. Parties, with the wine
as a feature of them, were imagined. She began, in a manner, to picture
what she would lose by defeat. The baby would ruin all. And she was
helpless, because she could speak to nobody. She was condemned. There
would be ruin, dreadful ruin, and she was glimpsing the very things
which she might have enjoyed. Fresh paroxysms shook Sally.
Somehow--somehow, and by some means not as yet to be discovered, she
must save the situation. And Toby must save her. Toby must find a way.
He must do it because he loved her. It was his duty. He _must_ find a
way to save her. And even as she frantically said this, Sally knew that
she herself must control the situation. Thus early in her life she had
learnt that for a girl of her type men, whatever her desire for any
other state, must always be employed under her direction. Toby would
obey. He might do the donkey-work; but in fact Sally must lead. It was
her fate, the fate of the girl with her own star to follow.

Nevertheless, it was upon Toby that the immediate future depended. Not
yet has woman the power to attain her ends except by and through men.
Sally waited in ever-increasing excitement for some word from Toby,
some hint of his coming. She was kept within the house at all times
except during her short flights in the morning or afternoon. She could
not be long away from the house. And she must rely upon a letter, and
then perhaps a brief meeting, for her purposes. The time was going. Gaga
was getting better, was growing more and more like the man in whose
company she had gone to Penterby. His demand upon her presence was
increasing in power, because he was sitting up, leaving his room, coming
in search of her. Sally felt that already he was beginning to exercise
an inquisition. A tremor shook her nerves. Sometimes it seemed to her
that Gaga's glance held a strangeness, almost a faint suspicion. When
she thought that she was conscious of a feeling akin to aversion.

Aversion had not yet arrived. Gaga was still to be despised. But Sally
already felt that she might presently find her task of deception very
hard under the constant scrutiny of such futile devotedness as he
displayed. And Toby did not write. She had no means of knowing where he
was, whether the voyage upon which he was engaged would be long or
short, how much more time must elapse before their meeting. The suspense
was killing her. More than once, hearing Gaga calling to her, Sally had
hidden from him, and, at discovery, had been unable to conceal the hard
coldness of her feeling for him. If Toby would only come! If he would
only come! She thought that her nerve must before long give way, and
once it had gone she would be prematurely ruined. She felt trapped. She
even, desperately, would slip on a coat at nights and walk up and down
outside the house, in case Toby should be lurking near on the chance of
seeing her. She thought he might come thus. And on each occasion when
she went out of the house in this way she returned to find Gaga
standing in the dining-room, with the door open in such a way that he
could command a view of the inside of the front door. The knowledge that
he was waiting for her, and watching her, filled Sally with cold fury.
His innocent delight at her return had the air of being a pretence. She
could not suppose his eager caresses to be other than penitence for
suspicion or an assertion of his claims upon her in perpetuity. The
distress made her unresponsive, even repressive. Her foot tapped upon
the floor even while she could not wholly quell his convulsive nervous
embrace. And Toby did not come.

At last, one evening, her guess was justified. She had taken her coat,
and had walked to the end of the road; and just as she turned back,
without hope, she saw a burly figure almost opposite. It was Toby, in a
sailor's short thick jacket, and his neck muffled, and a cap over his
eyes. He was standing in the shadow, and as she crossed to him allowed
Sally to enter that same embracing darkness which safely hid them both.
She gave a little savage cry, and was in his strong arms, almost crazed
with relief and her physical sense of his so long withheld nearness. She
could feel herself shuddering and trembling, but she was not directly
conscious of this. All she felt was a passionate joy at being able to
abandon all her nervous self-control to this firmness and clenched
vigour.

"Oh, Toby, Toby!" she whimpered, clutching him; and then no more for
several minutes. Toby did not speak. He hugged Sally until she was
breathless, and his hot kiss made her cheek burn. She pressed her
forehead with all her strength against his breast, and longed that in
this moment she might for ever lose all knowledge of the trials which
beset her. The trembling persisted for a long time; and then, as she
was comforted, it began to subside.

"My girl, my girl!" muttered Toby, in a thick voice, warm against her
ear.

"Toby, listen.... Toby, I'm going to have a baby--it's your baby. What
_shall_ I do? Toby!" Sally clung to him. "I'm so frightened, Toby."

"Baby? Christ!" As suddenly, he repulsed her. "You say it's _me_. It's a
lie! How d'you know? You little liar, you. What's your game?"

"Of course it's yours," fiercely cried Sally. "I told you."

"D'you think I believe that!" He was brutally incredulous. He held her
away. "Why, you dirty little liar, you'd swear _anything_."

A ghastly anger took command of Sally.

"I told you," she steadily repeated. But she made no attempt to go back
to him. They stood quite apart in the difficult gloom.

"I know you did. You told me you loved me. You married _him_."

"I _told_ you," she obstinately went on. "I told you. I don't know what
to do. He'll find out. He's bound to find out."

"He'll think it's his," said Toby. "By God, I believe it is."

"You're mad!" cried Sally. "He knows it _can't_ be. And you know it,
too. I tell you I shall be found out and disgraced." She was not crying.
Her pride was aroused. She was full of scorn for one who could
disbelieve what she herself knew to be true.

"Well?" Toby demanded. "What of it? Whose fault is it?" He was brutally
angry, and a little frightened and blustering. They were still at arm's
length in the darkness of the deserted street. There was no lamp near
them, and the houses behind were unlighted. Sally's heart fell. She was
almost paralysed at Toby's tone. She was puzzled and chagrined and
angry. And then a change of mood came abruptly upon her.

"Don't you love me?" she mournfully asked. "I thought you did. I love
_you_, Toby. I thought you loved me.

"I used to," came the grim reply out of the night. He sounded cautious,
doubtful.

"Not any longer?" She withdrew herself wholly from him. They were
completely sundered. Toby was failing her. She was stone cold to
him--cold to all the world.

"Who says I don't?" asked Toby, in a grumbling way. He put out his arm,
but Sally stepped back. "Here."

"No," she cried, sharply. Toby was not to take her for granted, not to
hold her and make love to her. She was in earnest, and he was giving
himself away as one who had taken what he could get.

"I do." At last Toby's sullen assent reached Sally.

"You think I'm a liar," she persisted. "You don't love me." It was
bitter.

There was a silence. Toby was almost invisible. Both were lost in the
dull estrangement of that troubled mood.

"Yes, I do," he muttered. "You _are_ a liar."

"I'm not. It's true what I say. If Gaga finds out...."

"Well? What d'you suppose _I_ can do? _I_ can't do anything. It's you
who's got to do something."

Sally thought for a moment at that savagely bullying tone, which was
without love or understanding. She had a sudden sweep of hatred of Toby
as an animal that took no heed of responsibility or consequences. The
chill she had felt already deepened and filled her heart. Her loneliness
was intensified. She gave a short laugh of bitter distraction. A
greater fierceness shook her, and she began to walk slowly away from
him.

"Oh, well then, I'm done," she said, with cold recklessness. "All
right."

"Sally!" He came slowly after her; but his pursuit was not the old
vigorous insistence for which she longed. He wanted Sally--not a baby,
not a difficulty. He would shirk anything but the fulfilment of his
passion. Instantly, she felt that he never would have married her if the
time had come.

"No!" It was a harsh cry. "Don't touch me. Go on, push off.... I'm done
with you." She walked more rapidly. She was only a little way now from
the house, a hatless, disconsolate figure, oppressed and rigid.

"Sally." But he was still slow to follow. Sally cracked her fingers. She
was finished with him. Her heart and her feet alike were leaden. She was
too far gone for tears or sobs. It was not anguish that she felt; but
bitterness so great that she could only hate Toby. She had loved him so
much! And this was the end of him. She felt her love killed at a blow,
and she was without resource.

Suddenly strong fingers were upon Sally's shoulder. In other days she
would have been dominated. Not so now. She wrenched herself free, and
walked on. There was no attempt to run. She was finished ... finished.
Some further sound she heard; but it was unintelligible. Toby, presented
with a real problem which a man who loved her would have solved, had
been proved a doubting coward. She felt wronged, deceived. She had
always expected violence from him, but she had always expected him to
know that she truly loved him, whatever her actions might seem otherwise
to suggest. Realisation of his ignorance destroyed her. Even at the gate
Sally might still have been won; but as she came abreast of it she saw
that the front door was open, and Gaga standing upon the top step.
Coldly, she shut the gate; and walked resolutely up the steps. Toby was
left dodging out of the circle of light, a pitiful conspirator. Gaga was
silhouetted, a long lean figure, against the light of the hall. He
peered down into the darkness.

"Sally, is that you?" he exclaimed. "I was quite anxious."

"Were you?" It was listless, scornful.

As she passed him, Gaga gazed still into the darkness.

"Is that somebody with you?" he asked. "It looks...."

Sally went into the house, and as he followed her she closed the front
door quietly. It was strange to come from the black chilliness of the
street into this new solid warmth and comfort. In the hall they faced
one another. For once Sally was as grey as he--as grey and trembling.

"I thought.... I thought it was a man," said Gaga.

"Oh, did you?" Sally slipped off her coat, and threw it upon a chair.
She was listening intently.

"Wasn't it?" Gaga did not touch her. He looked down with a startled
expression. "It looked like a man out there.... Wasn't it?"

"You'd better go out and see," advised Sally, with snapping teeth. "Then
you'll be sure." As a fury possessed her, she turned upon him like a cat
at bay, all her teeth showing. "Funny if you were spying on me without
any reason, wouldn't it be!"

She was so reckless that she did not measure consequences. She was in no
mood to be cautious or considerate. Leaving him there Sally went into
the dining-room, and when Gaga entered upon her heels she went out of
the room again and slowly up the stairs.


xvii

But all the time, although she seemed to ignore him, Sally with a part
of her consciousness was listening and watching. She dreaded to hear the
groan of the gate upon its rusted hinges, the noise of a knock, or the
gentle sound which the front door would make if Gaga accepted her
challenge. Her heart was almost silent as she waited, and then, as the
minutes passed without interruption, her relaxation was half relief and
half disappointment. Something within her had craved this crisis which
had not arrived. Some sensual longing for violence was frustrate. Sally
was alone with Gaga, and Gaga, humble and obedient, was in her track,
coming slowly and affectionately after her. As she saw from the landing
the top of his dark, grey-streaked head she almost screamed with fury.
It was in that moment that aversion for him rose in a tumult from her
heart. She hated Toby, but for his base cruelty alone. She hated Gaga
for his inescapable possessiveness and gentle persecution. It was a
horror to Sally in her abnormal condition. She began to run up the next
flight of stairs, and tripped upon her skirt. The stumble brought some
little sense to her. She rose, holding the balustrade. Shot through and
through with bitterness as she was, she yet clutched at sanity. When
Gaga came abreast of her Sally took his arm; and they completed the
journey together.

"Sorry I was beastly," she said, with a little pinch of the arm. "Got
the jumps."

"I know.... I know," whispered Gaga. "We'll go away. We'll go very ...
very soon."

"Now?" Sally demanded. "To-morrow? Could we go to-morrow?"

"Well ... well, perhaps not ... to-morrow. The day after?" He was
hesitant, and did not oppose her. Sally's lip curled. What a man! Yes
... yes ... yes; but the baby! She was again desperately shaken.

"Why not to-morrow?" she cried, almost spitefully. "Why hang about?"

Gaga wavered. He began to kiss her. His hands, holding hers, were
clammy. She had a glimpse of the black space under his eyes, and the
swollen yellowness of the whites of his eyes, and his grey cheeks, so
lined and creased, and the dreadful salmon colour of his dry lips. In
his arms though she was, Sally shuddered violently, aversion recurring
with such strength that she could not control her repugnance. This was
her husband--her _husband_. Her eyes were strained away from him.

"You're cold," Gaga murmured. "Poor little girl.... You're ... you're
cold."

"Yes, I'm cold," agreed Sally, with a violent effort for grim
self-repression. "That's what's the matter with me. I stayed out too
long. I oughtn't to have gone out this evening." She again laughed
slightly, her laugh so sneering that even Gaga looked up as though he
had been startled.

"We'll go to bed early," he said. "It's cold to-night. Let's have
something hot, and go to bed. We can't have ... have you falling ill.
It's nursing me that's made you ... queer."

"Yes, it's all my nursing." Sally spoke in a dry voice, and when he
released her she went over to the fire without heeding Gaga, and looked
down at its brightness. Still her ears were alert to catch some violence
below; and as there was none her heart sank once more. Toby was gone.
She had dismissed him and he had gone. She was more forlornly alone than
ever. If Gaga had not been with her she must have sought relief in some
physical effort, some vehement thumping of the mantelpiece and a burst
into wild crying. The repression which Sally was forced to exercise
tortured her. The agony she suffered was almost unbearable. Her mouth
was stretched in a horrible grimace, so poignant was her feeling.

"I.... I'd like something hot," Gaga proceeded, in innocence. "Some ...
some cocoa ... or...."

"I'll get you some." It was with passionate exasperation that Sally
spoke; but she was thankful to know that she might leave him for a few
minutes. The room seemed to stifle her. She plunged to the door, walking
past Gaga with her head averted, so that he might not see her face. The
stairs were cold, and she was upon the ground floor in an instant. A
servant, called from below, came slowly to receive instructions; but
there was no cocoa in the house. Nothing? No coffee? Nothing of the kind
was available. Still thankful for the opportunity of turning her mind to
details, Sally hurried upstairs again. Gaga was already half-undressed,
and stood in front of the fire folding his coat. His thinness was
grotesque in the bright light of the gas.

"Oh dear!" he cried. "I wanted it."

"All the shops'll be shut now," declared Sally.

Gaga thought for a moment, his face drawn. He was forced to sit down
upon the edge of the bed.

"I.... I used ... used to have cocoa in my ... my study," he said.

"I'll look." Sally went down to the half-landing and into the small room
which Gaga had always used for evening work before his marriage. It was
quite tiny, and there was a gas fire there, and an armchair, and above
the fireplace were some small shelves with a few books upon them. Upon
other shelves were many tins and packets and bottles, most of them
containing preparations handled by the firm in which Gaga had an
interest. Strange: she had not had to trouble at all about that! The
room was very cold, and Sally shivered as she stood examining the
contents of the shelves. The tins and packets were all in confusion,
large and small jostling one another; and many had their descriptive
labels turned to the wall. Sally read upon some of them words the
meaning of which she could not understand. Nearly all of them were
chemicals relating to the enrichment of soil or to the general
improvement of farm produce. Some were quite tiny, with little crystals
in them. Others were large, and still within wrappings. She hurriedly
read the lettering, darted away to the cupboard, back again to the
shelves, and once more to the cupboard. Here there was a litter of
papers also, for Gaga was temperamentally fussy and untidy, and
everything he owned was in disorder. She put her hand upon a cocoa-tin.
It contained white pellets which looked like rice. There was another
tin, and this was half-full of cocoa. She gave a cry of satisfaction.
And then, as she replaced the lid of this tin she saw another; straight
before her eyes; and something made her stop as if she had been
paralysed. Fascinated, she read: "POISON: This preparation of Sheep Dip
contains Arsenic." There followed some particulars, of which she caught
only the word "grains." Poison! Sally cautiously took the tin in her
hand, reading again more carefully the words printed upon the label.
Funny thing to have in the house, she thought.... Poison. She replaced
the tin upon the cupboard shelf, and carried the cocoa to Gaga.

"That cocoa?" she demanded. "It's all mixed up with poison and stuff.
Don't want to _kill_ you."

Gaga, by this time in bed, looked at the cocoa, and proclaimed its
reality.

"Yes ... that's ... co ... cocoa," he stammered.

There was a pause of some minutes while the cocoa was mixed; and they
both drank it slowly, Sally conscious, as its warmth stole through her
body, that she was less extremely unhappy than she had been. She felt a
little better. She even kissed Gaga in wishing him goodnight, and
received his eager kisses in return without flinching. At last she too
went to her bed in the adjoining room, and undressed and lay down in the
darkness. From where she lay Sally could hear Gaga moving, and could see
the glimmer of the light in his room which would burn until the morning.
And as she lay there all her tragic thoughts came flooding back with the
intensity of a nightmare. The horrors, for a short time repelled, were
stronger than ever. She was tensely awake. Every word exchanged between
Toby and herself came ringing into her head. She was aghast at the
stupidity, the cruel and brutal stupidity, of her lover. He her lover!
Love! why he didn't know what love meant! He would take everything she
had to give; and when he was asked to stand by her Toby would repudiate
her claim upon him. She was filled with vicious hatred at his betrayal.
That was what men were! That was what they did! Shirkers! They were all
like that, except when they were ridiculous half-men like Gaga. What was
she to do? What _could_ she do? Her brain became very clear and active.
It was working with painful alertness, so rapidly that she often did not
reach the end of one channel before she was embarked upon another. Toby
was hopeless. She must act by herself. And what could she do?

Supposing she could do nothing? Disgrace, failure.... She was
frightened. Better anything than disclosure so ignominious. She thought
of Gaga: very well, there was still time. He would be better soon, and
once he was better she could easily persuade him that he was the father
of her baby. That was the simplest plan, and one which had been so much
taken for granted that she had not taken it sufficiently into account as
the only safe course. Gaga could be deceived because he had no suspicion
of all that went on in her mind, or of anything that had happened in her
life. He would soon be better, and when once they were united he would
be wholly in Sally's hands. Not yet, though. He must get well. A quick
rush of relief came to her as a reassurance. She could have laughed at
her own panic. Of course Gaga was the solution. He could be made to
believe almost anything. But supposing ... supposing that he would
always be ill? Then indeed she would be better dead. Dead? But how could
she die? She might long for death; but death was not an oblivion that
could be called up at will. Sally pondered upon the possibilities.

The word "POISON" returned to her memory. Quickly there followed the
word "arsenic." Arsenic: what did she recall? Suddenly Sally remembered
that evening long ago when she had found her mother reading an account
of the Seddon trial. What had Seddon done? All the details came crowding
to her attention. He had given poison in food ... in food. And Miss ...
what was her name? Same as old Perce's-- Barrow. Seddon had given Miss
Barrow arsenic. It had made her sick. Sally shuddered. She did not want
to be sick. She had had enough of sickness in these past few weeks. To
her sickness was the abomination of disease.

A terrible shock ran through Sally's body. She lay panting, her heart
seeming to throb from her temples to her feet. Miss Barrow had been
constantly sick through taking arsenic, and they had only found it
out.... Gaga.... Sally's face grew violently hot. She could not breathe.
She sat feverishly up in bed, staring wildly. An idea had occurred to
her so monstrous that she was stricken with a sense of guilt and
self-horror such as she had never known.


xviii

All that night Sally dwelt with her terrible temptation. The more she
shrank from it the more stealthily it returned to her, like the slow
fingers of an incoming tide. So many circumstances gave colour to her
belief that the poison could be given without discovery that Sally found
every detail too easy to conceive. Gaga would be sick again and again,
would weaken, would.... Always her imagination refused to complete the
story. She covered her face with her hands and sought frantically to
hide from this loathsome whisper that pressed temptation upon her. Ill
and frightened, she lay turning into every posture of defiance and
weakness and irresolution, until the daylight was fully come; and then
Gaga's voice called feebly from the next room, and she must rise to tend
him with something of the guilt of a murderess oppressing her and
causing her during the whole talk to keep her face turned away.

But she found in the interview strength enough for the moment to baffle
temptation. To know that Gaga lay helpless there before her--hardly
moulded into recognisable form by the clinging bedclothes--was a
reinforcement to Sally's good will. His position appealed to the pity
she felt--the pity and the contempt. He was so thin and weak, so
exceedingly fragile, that Sally could not deliberately have hurt him.
Instead, she was bent upon his salvation.

"Bertram," she said. "We _must_ get away to-day. This morning. D'you
see? We _must_."

"O-o-oh!" groaned Gaga, in unformulated opposition.

"We _must_. We'll go to Penterby this morning."

"But my dear!" it was a long wailing cry, like that of an old woman.

"We've got to go. _Got_ to go. _I'll_ get _everything_ ready. You shan't
have to worry about anything at all."

"Sal-ly!" Again Gaga wailed. He tried to pull her down to him, gently
and coaxingly. In a sort of hysteria, Sally jerked herself free, looking
steadily away. Her mouth was open, and brooding resolve was in her eyes.
She was not tragic; she was in confusion, set only upon a single
purpose, and otherwise passively in distress. Obstinately she repulsed
him.

"It's no good talking. We _must_ go. I'm ill, as well as you. The doctor
says we must both go away. At once." She was so resolute that Gaga could
not resist her. He lay quite still, and for that reason she was forced
to look down at him. To Sally's surprise there was upon Gaga's face an
expression of such sweetness that she was almost touched. He loved her.
"There!" she murmured, as if to a baby; and bent and kissed him. Gaga
kissed her several times in return and continued to watch her, still
with that strange expression of kindness that was almost worship. He
stirred at last.

"I'll get up," he said. "I'll get up now. It's a ... it's a fine idea.
We'll catch the morning train, if we hurry. We'll be ... be there in
time for lunch."

Sally was in such a whirl of thankfulness that she flew to her dressing
and packing. She and Gaga were both downstairs and at breakfast within
half-an-hour, seated at the big dining-table, and looking very small in
that great room. As they sat, Gaga was so happy that he repented of his
promise to go away, and wanted to remain at ease in such pleasant
circumstances. He began to think of reasons why they should not go away
at all. He spoke with regret of the new flat, of their preparations ...
even of the business. But already Sally was upon her feet. A few
minutes later she was telephoning to Miss Summers explaining the sudden
change of situation; and then immediately began to pack. It was not a
difficult task. She herself had few things to take away. Presently Gaga
joined idly in the work; and the two of them neatly folded his clothes
and slipped into his dressing-case the articles he was bound to need
while they were away.

"My medicine!" exclaimed Gaga, clutching at an excuse.

"Got enough for to-day; and I've got the prescription." Sally was grim.
She was more--she was driven by instinct. It was essential that they
should go immediately. For one thing Toby might return, and any thought
of Toby was so horrible to her at this moment, when her first hatred was
giving way to uncontrollable longing for him, that it was like a
scourge. And for another thing Sally was in terror of the nightmare
temptation. She was fighting against that with all the strength that
remained. Even now, if she looked at Gaga, she shuddered deeply.

"What's the time?" called Gaga.

"Miriam ... telephone for a cab!" Sally was simultaneously giving
instructions to a servant. She went to a desk in which she kept money,
and found that she had very little remaining. "Bert, got any money?
Well, your cheque book?"

"In the study."

It was a fatal word, so carelessly spoken, but like a blow in its sharp
revival of something that was being suppressed. Sally hurried to the
door of her bedroom. As suddenly, she stopped dead. The study! In a wave
all her memory of the previous night's wicked temptation came back to
her. It was only with a great effort that she went further. More than a
moment passed in a silent struggle. Almost blindly, she entered the
study, and its chill atmosphere was tomb-like in its effect upon her.
Again Sally shuddered. Groping, she found Gaga's cheque book, and turned
again to the door. The walls of the tiny room seemed to rise
forbiddingly around her, to come closer, to begin to topple over as if
in ruin. Sally gasped for breath. She cowered. Everything became
dark.... A long time passed before she was again conscious. Clasping the
cheque book, Sally felt her way unsteadily, with her eyes closed, until
she stood upon the threshold. She was breathing slowly and deeply, and
she could see nothing. And at last, fighting still, but incapable of
conquering the stronger influence which was being exercised upon her
will, she went back into the room, and stood there with her face towards
the cupboard. Quietly, as if on tiptoe, she passed in a dream to the
cupboard and unfastened it, and without ever once looking about among
the other contents of the shelf put her hand upon the fatal tin which
she had found while looking for Gaga's cocoa. With this tin in her hand
she hastened back to her room, closing the door as silently as she had
opened it. The tin was quickly laid among her clothes, right in the
corner of her dressing-case, hidden from any prying eye. Then Sally
straightened herself, listened and bent down again to fasten the bag.
Within ten minutes she and Gaga were out of the house, sitting in a taxi
on their way to Victoria Station. Sally pressed herself back in the
corner of the cab, not touching Gaga, so that nobody should see her; and
at the station she was on fire until they were settled in the railway
carriage and the train was slipping gently out from the platform. Then
at last she sighed deeply, as if with relief, and the corners of her
mouth drooped until she looked like a little girl who was going to cry.
The houses became blurred.


xix

Gaga and Sally reached Penterby in a very different mood and a very
different state of health from that which had marked their arrival on
the previous visit. The station, with its confusing platforms and
connecting bridges, was by now familiar to Sally, and she was able to
turn at once to a porter and give him instructions. Whereas before they
had walked the short distance between the station and the hotel they
were now forced to take an open, horse-drawn, cab. It stood waiting when
they reached the small station yard, the horse still nibbling feebly at
dropped oats upon the paving and with its breath blowing them farther
away. The few little cottages near the station were passed in an
instant, and the old-fashioned main street of Penterby, reached after a
short run between a hedge upon one side and a tall wooden paling upon
the other, was about them. Above, the sky was brilliantly blue. In front
the houses rose towards the hill-top as of old. There was peace here, if
Sally could find it. And she could see the bridge, and the ivy-covered
hotel, and the gold-lettered board. She sat as if crushed in her seat in
the cab, staring out at the hotel with an expression of strain and
eagerness. Beside her Gaga, tired by the journey, yawned behind his long
hand, his hat tilted over his eyes, and his mouth always a little open.
It was a strange return, and Sally had ado to preserve any lightness of
step and tone as she jumped down from the cab and went into the hotel.
As before, she noticed the silence and emptiness of the small bar, and
the room beyond; and as she tapped loudly Mrs. Tennant came from another
room. This time it was Sally who took charge of everything. Gaga drooped
in the background, a feeble figure. But he gathered strength to smile at
Mrs. Tennant and to greet her.

"I'm not well, Mrs. Tennant," he said. "I've come to get ... get ... get
well. My wife's ill, too. You ... you must be very kind to us."

"My!" exclaimed Mrs. Tennant, in a fat voice of concern. Her swollen
lips were parted in dismay. "But you _both_ look so bad! Of course: you
can have the same room you had before. Come up!"

She led the way. Sally again caught a glimpse of the drawing-room carpet
in its brilliant mixture of reds and blues and yellows, and was
immediately afterwards drawn into the old dark bedroom opening upon the
glass-covered balcony. She stood in dismay, suddenly regretful that they
had come to be stifled there.

"Can we have some lunch?" she asked. "My husband's...."

"Of course." Mrs. Tennant's geniality was benignant. But in her eyes
there remained that unappeasable caution which Sally had previously
noticed. "At once."

Sally slipped out of the room with her. They stood in the narrow drab
passage--two black-clothed figures notably contrasted in age and
development. Mrs. Tennant was so stout, and Sally so slim, that the
difference between them was emphasised by the similarity of clothing.

"My husband's mother's dead. He was awfully fond of her. He's been ill
ever since, and the doctor said he'd better come away."

"You're ill yourself, you know, Mrs. Merrick," exclaimed Mrs. Tennant.

"I've been nursing him a month--night and day. He's not strong. We'd
barely got back when she died. What with his illness, and the
business--it's been terrible!"

Sally was watching Mrs. Tennant--she did not know why. She felt
defensive. All was the result of her own position and the dreadful
knowledge which she had of her last night's temptation. She looked like
a young girl, but so pale and hollow-eyed that she would have aroused
pity in any woman of experience.

"But it's _you_. I know Mr. Merrick. I've often seen him queer. But
you're so changed. When you were here before...."

"I know. I'm ill."

"I said to my sister how strong and bright you were. We both thought
you'd make a--well, a _new_ man of Mr. Merrick."

"It's only his mother's dying like that. He was worried about her, and
then she died; and he just went to pieces. He had to be put to bed at
once. I'll put him to bed again as soon as we've had something to eat.
He's so _weak_. It's the change he wants, and the fresh air."

"And you too, my dear." Mrs. Tennant seemed really to be kind.

"When he's asleep I'll go for a walk. I'll soon be well." Sally was
reassuring; but she was made aware of her own weakness by having had
attention drawn to the appearance of it.

They parted with smiles. Sally made as if to re-enter the bedroom; but,
instead, she went through the drawing-room and on to the balcony. The
river was running swiftly up-stream, so that the thick mud was hidden.
Back along its course came little floating masses of collected material,
like miniature islands in progress up and down the river. Sally stood
watching one of these masses, until it grew indistinct as the result of
her intentness. The sun was making the houses beyond the river glitter
anew, and the whole town was beautified in its light. A feeling of great
misery seized Sally. She stared down at the discoloured stream, and her
eyes filled with tears. She was again consumed with a sense of
loneliness; and a faint horror of the returning tide caused her to break
once again from her contemplation, to walk back through the
drawing-room, and to rejoin Gaga. He was sitting upon the bed, regarding
with a vacant expression the two dressing-cases which had been brought
up to the room and which stood together against the wall. The room was
cold and dark. Sally impulsively went to the French windows opening upon
the balcony and drew back the curtains.

"There now," she said. "You're going to get better. You can see the
sun."

Gaga smiled gently. Sally came back to him and stood with her hand
ruffling his thin hair. She too smiled, but with abstraction. She was
numbed by illness and horror and the journey and her vision of the dirty
merciless water.


xx

When they had eaten their lunch, Sally helped Gaga to undress and left
him in bed with the curtains again closed and the bedroom, thus
darkened, smelling close and dank, as if it were the haunt of
blackbeetles. When the curtains were drawn the whole room faded to a
uniformity of grey-brown, and the pictures and ornaments became dim
shadows, and the mirror upon the dressing-table took upon itself a
mysterious air, as though in its depths one might read something of the
hidden future. All was sunk in a sorrowful gloom, and the
barely-outlined recumbent figure of Gaga might have been that of a dead
man. Upon tiptoe, Sally stole quietly from the room. For a little while
she sat alone over a fire which had been lighted in the drawing-room;
but the evening was beginning to cast darkness over everything; and in
the west the last hot reflections of the sun were cast upon two or
three casual clouds. Sally therefore rose, and took her hat and coat,
which were lying near the piano. As it was the middle of the week, and
in autumn, the hotel was almost empty, and would not be occupied with
any visitors for two or three more days. It was a dull place once the
sun had set. For a moment Sally hesitated in putting on her hat; but at
last she ventured forth, and was out in the greying street, and upon the
bridge across the river. The water, as she hurried by, ran silently
below, blackened and threatening, and as there would be no moon the
night was coming with great darkness. Over the bridge Sally noticed the
early lights in the post office, and a few street lamps. One road ran a
little way up the hill and was immediately checked by houses. Another
turned off to the north-west, and it was here that she would find a shop
at which she could leave the prescription for Gaga's medicine. Once she
had performed her task Sally walked briskly on until she came to the end
of the houses and into a road to the edges of which trees grew and grass
came irregularly running. Beneath the trees darkness already obliterated
all shape, and the fringes of the wood were so bare of leafage that she
could already look up to the grey sky between the boughs and their filmy
branches. No vehicles passed. She was alone upon this broad road, with
nothing upon either hand but unexplored depths of shadow and silence.
Every now and then a stationary light spotted the dusk. She was appalled
by her loneliness.

Quickly as she had walked away from Penterby, Sally returned to the town
with even greater speed, warmed by the exercise, but chilled by her
thoughts and perplexities. When she was alone, and so hemmed in by
sinister darkness, Sally was brought quickly back to her forebodings.
She remembered the solitary figure which she had left, and thought of
Gaga was shrinking. Of Toby she could only find herself thinking with
anger. Yet it was not wholly anger, for she was also afraid and filled
with longing. Her anger was even obliterated by her love, so much did
she adore Toby's strength. His cruelty, his brutal indifference, were
spurs to her unreasoning affection. Whatever Toby might do, Sally loved
him. The love which she had believed herself indignantly to have cast
out was still paramount. Finally, in all her fleeting considerations of
the moment and the future, she could not ignore the baby which was
coming. She had no thought of it other than fear and loathing. Not yet
had desire for a child created in her mind a new longing. If she could
have killed it she would have done so; and she was prevented from
contemplating this possibility only by the ignorance which inexperience
and friendlessness imposed upon her. Sally was awed and terrified by the
gloom which gathered in her heart and about her. She sped onwards until
she reached the bridge, and here for several minutes she uncontrollably
paused. All was now black, and the tide had turned. Already the water
was flowing to the sea, and she could imagine the coagulated masses
vaguely swirling beneath her, borne unresisting upon the outgoing tide.
The hotel was in darkness, excepting for the room beneath the balcony
where the walls descended straight to the water and the mud. Here there
was a dim light. All above was sombre until she reached in her steady
upward glance the sky's faint background and saw its unfathomable arch
of grey.

The bar of the hotel was empty. Unperceived, Sally went upstairs and
into the bedroom where Gaga lay. She closed the door behind her and
switched on the electric light. To her surprise Gaga was lying on his
side, and his face was turned towards her.

"You awake?" she whispered. At his soft sound of greeting she went
forward and sat upon the bed. "It's half-past-four," Sally continued.
"Like some tea? Going to get up again?"

"I.... I'm so tired," murmured Gaga. He had taken her hand, and held it
to his cheek, so that Sally had to lean forward. In this mood he was so
like a child that Sally's heart softened. She found him pathetic, and
her own strength was emphasised by his weakness.

"Better stay in bed," she said.

"But you? Aren't you ... aren't you lonely?"

"Mm. Nobody here. Nothing to do. I been for a walk and got frightened."

"I'll get up. Yes, I will. After tea we'll walk along that av ...
avenue. In the moonlight. Like your song."

"There's no moon up yet," Sally told him, not moving. "You stay where
you are. Stay nice and warm in bed. I shall be all right. I'll go for a
walk along the avenue by myself."

"And be f ... frightened again."

"Shan't wait to be frightened," Sally said. "See me dart back!"

Gaga fondled her hand and reached for the other one, which she patiently
yielded.

"You ... you're so nice," he murmured. "So good to me."

"I? Good?" Sally's shoulders were hoisted. She almost withdrew her
hands.

"Yes. But Sally.... I...." He was overcome, and could not proceed. Tears
had started to his eyes. "I haven't been sleeping. I've been thinking.
Last night...."

"Last night!" Sally convulsively jerked her hands away, and as quickly
restored them.

"You thought I'd ... I'd ... been ... been spying."

"Of course you weren't. I was ill. I was a beast."

"Sally, I never did. You ... you have a lot.... I've been thinking ... a
lot to put up with. Marrying a ... a sick man; and you...."

Sally could not bear him to talk thus. She freed herself, and rose.

"Here's a lot of talk!" she protested. "You get well, old son. Then
we'll see."

Gaga did not say anything for a moment. At last he spoke again.

"Sally, would you ... would you mind very much if I did ... didn't get
well?" he asked.

"Course I should!" But Sally was filled with alarm at this conversation.
She turned upon Gaga, but she could not meet his soft eyes. "Here,
you're talking silly!"

"Sally.... I.... I wasn't spying," said Gaga, slowly. "But I.... I _did_
see a man at the gate last night."

Sally clutched the back of a chair. For a moment she thought she must be
going to faint. Then, with a tremendous effort, she controlled herself.

"What d'you mean?" she demanded.

"Behind you. _With_ you."

"Never!"

Gaga continued to regard her. His smile was no longer visible. She only
noticed that he was paler, that his nostrils were pinched and his eyes
dark.

"I wish you'd tell me the truth," he said.

"I tell you there was nobody _with_ me," lied Sally. "Nobody. There may
have been a man behind me. I _did_ get a bit of a start. Somebody came
out of a gate. I didn't notice."

"Sally.... I.... I heard him call you 'Sally.'"

She was stricken with terror at his quietness.

"Nobody called me Sally!" she cried. "I don't _know_ anybody."

Gaga sighed, and his head fell sideways, so that he no longer looked at
her. They spoke no more. She believed that he knew she had been lying;
but she had been caught unawares, and could not retract her assertions.
Without a further word she began to prepare a basin of water, and washed
herself. Then she went to ask that tea might be brought to the bedroom.
They drank the tea in silence, both very grave. When they had finished,
Sally took the tray to the end of the passage, where there was a
projecting ledge, and then returned to the room.

"Shall I go and sing to you?" she asked.

"Not ... not now. Go for your wa ... walk. I shan't have any dinner.
I'll just have a cup of cocoa."

Cocoa! Sally was transfixed.

"Oh, not _cocoa_!" she cried. "Not _cocoa_!" It was a desperate appeal.
It came from the depths of her heart. She had been alarmed at his
speech. She had been afraid of what he might do. But more than all she
was afraid of the horrible voice that had followed fear with its
imaginings of the means to her own salvation. At his further silence,
she went quickly out of the room and out of the hotel. She walked at a
rapid pace along the avenue, where others also were walking, as it was a
favourite promenade; and she found herself shaking with emotion as the
result of the disclosure which Gaga had made. He knew. He _knew_. What
did he know? And what would he do? Sally laughed hysterically. Oh, let
him do it _soon_! It was suspense that she could not bear. It was the
ghastly sense of muddle and falsehood that was oppressing her now.
Death--punishment--these were things of indifference. It was the fear of
either that made her torture. To know the worst, to face it, to suffer
for all she had done that was wrong, would satisfy her. But to be kept
in this horrible suspense much longer would send her mad. Why had she
not told Gaga the truth? She began hysterically to condemn herself. She
should have told him the truth. She should have said that Toby was an
old lover, jealous, angry, threatening. Now she could not tell any such
tale, because she had denied that a man had used her name. To confess
would make him disbelieve anything she ever said. Sally shrugged. He did
not believe her now. He would never believe her. Once he was well he
would find out everything. He would suspect her. He would persecute her
with suspicions. He would suspect that she was going to have a baby. He
would suspect ... he would _know_....

Creeping, creeping into Sally's mind came temptation. She walked more
swiftly until she reached a part of the road which bordered the river.
The water was less muddy here. The river looked in this aspect like a
big pool of liquid lead. It was less sinister. It carried to her heart
no sense of horror. She turned and began to walk back, meeting every now
and then a couple of pedestrians, or little knots of people, or solitary
individuals like herself, who strolled to and fro along the broad
avenue. But it was very dark, and she could not well see the faces of
those who passed, except when they were in the neighbourhood of a light.
She did not recognise anybody; and when she came once more to the bridge
she did not tarry, but walked straight across it. Upon the face of the
river were reflected the lights of the hotel, for the balcony was now
faintly illumined, and she could see that the curtains had been drawn at
the corner windows, although not elsewhere. Again unperceived, she made
her way upstairs and into the drawing-room, where she removed her coat
and hat and seated herself at the piano.


xxi

But Sally did not stay at the piano. She was restless and apprehensive.
She did not dare to strike a note, in case Gaga should be asleep. And
she could not go into the bedroom. She tried to do so, but she so shrank
from meeting Gaga after their talk that every impulse held her faltering
here. Instead, Sally went through the door which led from the
drawing-room to the balcony. Only one light was burning, at the farther
end, and this cast such a tiny ray that it threw up the shadows of no
more than a single enamelled iron table and wicker chair. For the rest,
everything was in a monotonous grey twilight, bereft of all incidental
colourings and of all significance. The electric bulb was grimed with
age and the action of the air, and the light was quite yellow, as that
from an oil lamp would have been. The matting with which the floor of
the balcony was covered was in shadow. Through the windows Sally could
see only a blackness in which the water and the opposite bank and the
buildings farther away were all obscured. She went towards the light,
and sat here in an armchair, staring straight before her, and thinking
the one word ... poison ... poison ... poison.

She must have been sitting upon the balcony for several minutes in this
state approaching stupor, when she heard a faint sound. It was like the
brushing of leaves against a passing body. Her heart quickened, and she
looked quickly towards the darker end of the balcony, near the door
leading to the drawing-room. She could see nothing at all, but her
nerves did not relax their tenseness. She could see nothing; but she
felt that something--somebody was there, watching her. Somebody--whom
could it be? Sally knew how deserted the bar was, how easy it would be
for a man to slip up the stairs without being seen. She was
defenceless. If she had been well, she would have gone straight along
the balcony, to discover the cause of her alarm; but she was ill, and
she shrank back in her chair, watching the pulsing dimness.

Sally knew that there were only two people who could wish her harm--Gaga
and Toby. If Gaga had gone out of his bedroom by the inner door he might
have come round through the drawing-room, and might be standing there in
the darkness. He might have gone away again. He might have found the
poison. In a passion of fear, she rose. If it was Gaga, she would soon
confront him. She would satisfy herself of his presence in the bedroom.
She took two steps, and then stopped, her heart frantically beating.
There _was_ somebody there.

"Sally," came a sharp whisper. "Sally. Don't be afraid."

It was Toby, hidden still from sight, but waiting there at the dark end
of the balcony.


xxii

Sally's eyes flew instantly to the window of the bedroom. All there was
dark. She could not tell if the blinds were drawn or not. She no longer
dreaded Toby: she too violently desired to see him, to be in his arms
and saved from her nightmare thoughts by a moment's oblivion.

"Hush!" she whispered, and went silently along the balcony. "What d'you
want?"

"I want you." Toby's voice came hissing into her ear, and she saw him at
last. He was standing, a burly figure, in the shadow of a screen, and
remained quite still, hidden.

"What did you come for? How did you get here?"

"Went to your house. Frightened 'em." Toby laughed grimly. "Thought
you'd got away, didn't you? Well, here I am." His tone became suddenly
ferocious. "See?"

"You can't ... we can't talk. My husband's there--in that room. He'll
hear. He saw you last night."

"I got to see you," Toby whispered, obstinately. "See? I mean to say, I
got to know what you're going to do."

Sally gave a contemptuous laugh. So he had followed her for that!

"Well, I'm well rid of _you_," she answered. "I see what _you_ are."

"Oh, you do, do you...." said Toby. He gripped her arm. "Not so much of
that, Sal. D'you see? I won't have it. You belong to me."

"I don't!" But Sally was only waiting for his fierce embrace, and
longing for it. "I don't like you. I don't want you. I've had enough.
You let me down."

Toby started. His voice became thick with anger.

"My Christ! Who let anybody down? What did you do to me? Eh? You married
this chap. You did it for yourself. Let you down, do I? Oh, I'm a good
mind to kill you, Sal."

Sally shivered. She knew he might do it. He _could_ do it. It was his
nature. But she answered him defiantly, sneeringly.

"Yes, if you want to be hung for it."

Toby was holding her so that her arms were being bruised. He pulled her
towards him, and kissed her again and again. He was crushing her.

"See?" he said. "That's how you belong to me."

"Well, what about it?" panted Sally. "Let me go.... Just because you're
strong."

"You're coming off with me. See? Now."

"I'm not." She was equally determined.

"Now. Can you get your hat?"

"I'm not," repeated Sally.

Toby swung her off her feet with one arm.

"See?" he announced again. "That's what."

"Go on, that's all you can do," answered Sally, savagely. "You clear
off. I've had enough of it." She dived suddenly, and escaped from him.
She was a few steps away, and Toby was in pursuit. As he followed, he
kicked against one of the little iron tables, which he had not seen in
the half-light, and sent it crashing to the floor. Amid their silence it
made a hideous noise. Sally drew herself upright, terrified into
rigidity. This was the finish--the finish. It was all over now. She was
beaten. She.... And as she stared she saw that the French window of the
bedroom was open--had been open, perhaps, all the time,--and that Gaga
was standing there, as if he had overheard all that they had said.

"Sally!" he cried in a sharp voice of alarm. "Oh, my God! Oh, my _God_!"

Gaga came leaping out upon the balcony as Toby stumbled on towards
Sally. The two men were sharply in conflict, and Gaga's arm was raised.
She could see it even in the shadow--the raised arm, and the impact of
the two bodies. Gaga was in his sleeping-suit, spectral in his gauntness
and his pallor. Maddened, Toby swept his enemy aside with one violent
blow that would have killed the strongest man. Gaga went down, his head
and body thrown with great force against the brick wall of the hotel,
and sliding to the ground with such momentum that there was a further
concussion.

"Toby!" shrieked Sally. "Toby! You've killed him!"

Gaga lay in the shadow, quite motionless, a horrible twisted body
without life. And the two others stood panting in the twilight, staring
down at his ghastly upturned face. Toby was as if paralysed by the
sight, his hand sleepily raised to his brow.

A voice sounded from downstairs.

"Did you call, Mrs. Merrick?" And then ascending steps followed.

Sally made a frantic gesture.

"Get out!" she cried. "Quick. They're coming. They'll find you. He's
dead. Get out!" She waved to the windows.

With one glance round, and with fear at his heels, Toby ran to the side
of the balcony, pulled aside one of the windows, and climbed out into
the darkness. Sally saw him no more. She was only aware that something
terrible happened, and that he missed his footing and plunged downwards
towards the running water and the sickening mud. Then, as she
convulsively jerked the window close again, she was overcome with deadly
faintness, and herself fell upon the matting, striking her head as she
fell, and losing consciousness.





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