It is possible that, at about the time at which this story opens, you may have gone into the Hotel Belvoir for a hair-cut. Many people did; for the young man behind the scissors, though of a singularly gloomy countenance, was undoubtedly an artist in his line. He clipped judiciously. He left no ridges. He never talked about the weather. And he allowed you to go away unburdened by any bottle of hair-food.
It is possible, too, that, being there, you decided that you might as well go the whole hog and be manicured at the same time.
It is not unlikely, moreover, that when you had got over the first shock of finding your hands so unexpectedly large and red, you felt disposed to chat with the young lady who looked after that branch of the business. In your genial way you may have permitted a note of gay (but gentlemanly) badinage to creep into your end of the dialogue.
In which case, if you had raised your eyes to the mirror, you would certainly have observed a marked increase of gloom in the demeanour of the young man attending to your apex. He took no official notice of the matter. A quick frown. A tightening of the lips. Nothing more. Jealous as Arthur Welsh was of all who inflicted gay badinage, however gentlemanly, on Maud Peters, he never forgot that he was an artist. Never, even in his blackest moments, had he yielded to the temptation to dig the point of the scissors the merest fraction of an inch into a client's skull.
But Maud, who saw, would understand. And, if the customer was an observant man, he would notice that her replies at that juncture became somewhat absent, her smile a little mechanical.
* * * * *
Jealousy, according to an eminent authority, is the 'hydra of calamities, the sevenfold death'. Arthur Welsh's was all that and a bit over. It was a constant shadow on Maud's happiness. No fair-minded girl objects to a certain tinge of jealousy. Kept within proper bounds, it is a compliment; it makes for piquancy; it is the gin in the ginger-beer of devotion. But it should be a condiment, not a fluid.
It was the unfairness of the thing which hurt Maud. Her conscience was clear. She knew girls--several girls--who gave the young men with whom they walked out ample excuse for being perfect Othellos. If she had ever flirted on the open beach with the baritone of the troupe of pierrots, like Jane Oddy, she could have excused Arthur's attitude. If, like Pauline Dicey, she had roller-skated for a solid hour with a black-moustached stranger while her fiance floundered in Mug's Alley she could have understood his frowning disapprovingly. But she was not like Pauline. She scorned the coquetries of Jane. Arthur was the centre of her world, and he knew it. Ever since the rainy evening when he had sheltered her under his umbrella to her Tube station, he had known perfectly well how things were with her. And yet just because, in a strictly business-like way, she was civil to her customers, he must scowl and bite his lip and behave generally as if it had been brought to his notice that he had been nurturing a serpent in his bosom. It was worse than wicked--it was unprofessional.
She remonstrated with him.
'It isn't fair,' she said, one morning when the rush of customers had ceased and they had the shop to themselves.
Matters had been worse than usual that morning. After days of rain and greyness the weather had turned over a new leaf. The sun glinted among the bottles of Unfailing Lotion in the window, and everything in the world seemed to have relaxed and become cheerful. Unfortunately, everything had included the customers. During the last few days they had taken their seats in moist gloom, and, brooding over the prospect of coming colds in the head, had had little that was pleasant to say to the divinity who was shaping their ends. But today it had been different. Warm and happy, they had bubbled over with gay small-talk.
'It isn't fair,' she repeated.
Arthur, who was stropping a razor and whistling tunelessly, raised his eyebrows. His manner was frosty.
'I fail to understand your meaning,' he said.
'You know what I mean. Do you think I didn't see you frowning when I was doing that gentleman's nails?'
The allusion was to the client who had just left--a jovial individual with a red face, who certainly had made Maud giggle a good deal. And why not? If a gentleman tells really funny stories, what harm is there in giggling? You had to be pleasant to people. If you snubbed customers, what happened? Why, sooner or later, it got round to the boss, and then where were you? Besides, it was not as if the red-faced customer had been rude. Write down on paper what he had said to her, and nobody could object to it. Write down on paper what she had said to him, and you couldn't object to that either. It was just Arthur's silliness.
She tossed her head.
'I am gratified,' said Arthur, ponderously--in happier moments Maud had admired his gift of language; he read a great deal: encyclopedias and papers and things--'I am gratified to find that you had time to bestow a glance on me. You appeared absorbed.'
Maud sniffed unhappily. She had meant to be cold and dignified throughout the conversation, but the sense of her wrongs was beginning to be too much for her. A large tear splashed on to her tray of orange-sticks. She wiped it away with the chamois leather.
'It isn't fair,' she sobbed. 'It isn't. You know I can't help it if gentlemen talk and joke with me. You know it's all in the day's work. I'm expected to be civil to gentlemen who come in to have their hands done. Silly I should look sitting as if I'd swallowed a poker. I do think you might understand, Arthur, you being in the profession yourself.'
'It isn't so much that you talk to them as that you seem to like--'
He stopped. Maud's dignity had melted completely. Her face was buried in her arms. She did not care if a million customers came in, all at the same time.
She heard him moving towards her, but she did not look up. The next moment his arms were round her, and he was babbling.
And a customer, pushing open the door unnoticed two minutes later, retired hurriedly to get shaved elsewhere, doubting whether Arthur's mind was on his job.
For a time this little thunderstorm undoubtedly cleared the air. For a day or two Maud was happier than she ever remembered to have been. Arthur's behaviour was unexceptionable. He bought her a wrist-watch-- light brown leather, very smart. He gave her some chocolates to eat in the Tube. He entertained her with amazing statistics, culled from the weekly paper which he bought on Tuesdays. He was, in short, the perfect lover. On the second day the red-faced man came in again. Arthur joined in the laughter at his stories. Everything seemed ideal.
It could not last. Gradually things slipped back into the old routine. Maud, looking up from her work, would see the frown and the bitten lip. She began again to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious as she worked. Sometimes their conversation on the way to the Tube was almost formal.
It was useless to say anything. She had a wholesome horror of being one of those women who nagged; and she felt that to complain again would amount to nagging. She tried to put the thing out of her mind, but it insisted on staying there. In a way she understood his feelings. He loved her so much, she supposed, that he hated the idea of her exchanging a single word with another man. This, in the abstract, was gratifying; but in practice it distressed her. She wished she were some sort of foreigner, so that nobody could talk to her. But then they would look at her, and that probably would produce much the same results. It was a hard world for a girl.
And then the strange thing happened. Arthur reformed. One might almost say that he reformed with a jerk. It was a parallel case to those sudden conversions at Welsh revival meetings. On Monday evening he had been at his worst. On the following morning he was a changed man. Not even after the original thunderstorm had he been more docile. Maud could not believe that first. The lip, once bitten, was stretched in a smile. She looked for the frown. It was not there.
Next day it was the same; and the day after that. When a week had gone by, and still the improvement was maintained, Maud felt that she might now look upon it as permanent. A great load seemed to have been taken off her mind. She revised her views on the world. It was a very good world, quite one of the best, with Arthur beaming upon it like a sun.
A number of eminent poets and essayists, in the course of the last few centuries, have recorded, in their several ways, their opinion that one can have too much of a good thing. The truth applies even to such a good thing as absence of jealousy. Little by little Maud began to grow uneasy. It began to come home to her that she preferred the old Arthur, of the scowl and the gnawed lip. Of him she had at least been sure. Whatever discomfort she may have suffered from his spirited imitations of Othello, at any rate they had proved that he loved her. She would have accepted gladly an equal amount of discomfort now in exchange for the same certainty. She could not read this new Arthur. His thoughts were a closed book. Superficially, he was all that she could have wished. He still continued to escort her to the Tube, to buy her occasional presents, to tap, when conversing, the pleasantly sentimental vein. But now these things were not enough. Her heart was troubled. Her thoughts frightened her. The little black imp at the back of her mind kept whispering and whispering, till at last she was forced to listen. 'He's tired of you. He doesn't love you any more. He's tired of you.'
* * * * *
It is not everybody who, in times of mental stress, can find ready to hand among his or her personal acquaintances an expert counsellor, prepared at a moment's notice to listen with sympathy and advise with tact and skill. Everyone's world is full of friends, relatives, and others, who will give advice on any subject that may be presented to them; but there are crises in life which cannot be left to the amateur. It is the aim of a certain widely read class of paper to fill this void.
Of this class Fireside Chat was one of the best-known representatives. In exchange for one penny its five hundred thousand readers received every week a serial story about life in highest circles, a short story packed with heart-interest, articles on the removal of stains and the best method of coping with the cold mutton, anecdotes of Royalty, photographs of peeresses, hints on dress, chats about baby, brief but pointed dialogues between Blogson and Snogson, poems, Great Thoughts from the Dead and Brainy, half-hours in the editor's cosy sanctum, a slab of brown paper, and--the journal's leading feature--Advice on Matters of the Heart. The weekly contribution of the advice specialist of Fireside Chat, entitled 'In the Consulting Room, by Dr Cupid', was made up mainly of Answers to Correspondents. He affected the bedside manner of the kind, breezy old physician; and probably gave a good deal of comfort. At any rate, he always seemed to have plenty of cases on his hands.
It was to this expert that Maud took her trouble. She had been a regular reader of the paper for several years; and had, indeed, consulted the great man once before, when he had replied favourably to her query as to whether it would be right for her to accept caramels from Arthur, then almost a stranger. It was only natural that she should go to him now, in an even greater dilemma. The letter was not easy to write, but she finished it at last; and, after an anxious interval, judgement was delivered as follows:
'Well, well, well! Bless my soul, what is all this? M. P. writes me:
'I am a young lady, and until recently was very, very happy, except that my fiance, though truly loving me, was of a very jealous disposition, though I am sure I gave him no cause. He would scowl when I spoke to any other man, and this used to make me unhappy. But for some time now he has quite changed, and does not seem to mind at all, and though at first this made me feel happy, to think that he had got over his jealousy, I now feel unhappy because I am beginning to be afraid that he no longer cares for me. Do you think this is so, and what ought I to do?'
'My dear young lady, I should like to be able to reassure you; but it is kindest sometimes, you know, to be candid, however it may hurt. It has been my experience that, when jealousy flies out of the window, indifference comes in at the door. In the old days a knight would joust for the love of a ladye, risking physical injury rather than permit others to rival him in her affections. I think, M. P., that you should endeavour to discover the true state of your fiance's feelings. I do not, of course, advocate anything in the shape of unwomanly behaviour, of which I am sure, my dear young lady, you are incapable; but I think that you should certainly try to pique your fiance, to test him. At your next ball, for instance, refuse him a certain number of dances, on the plea that your programme is full. At garden-parties, at-homes, and so on, exhibit pleasure in the society and conversation of other gentlemen, and mark his demeanour as you do so. These little tests should serve either to relieve your apprehensions, provided they are groundless, or to show you the truth. And, after all, if it is the truth, it must be faced, must it not, M. P.?'
Before the end of the day Maud knew the whole passage by heart. The more her mind dwelt on it, the more clearly did it seem to express what she had felt but could not put into words. The point about jousting struck her as particularly well taken. She had looked up 'joust' in the dictionary, and it seemed to her that in these few words was contained the kernel of her trouble. In the old days, if any man had attempted to rival him in her affections (outside business hours), Arthur would undoubtedly have jousted--and jousted with the vigour of one who means to make his presence felt. Now, in similar circumstances, he would probably step aside politely, as who should say, 'After you, my dear Alphonse.'
There was no time to lose. An hour after her first perusal of Dr Cupid's advice, Maud had begun to act upon it. By the time the first lull in the morning's work had come, and there was a chance for private conversation, she had invented an imaginary young man, a shadowy Lothario, who, being introduced into her home on the previous Sunday by her brother Horace, had carried on in a way you wouldn't believe, paying all manner of compliments.
'He said I had such white hands,' said Maud.
Arthur nodded, stropping a razor the while. He appeared to be bearing the revelations with complete fortitude. Yet, only a few weeks before, a customer's comment on this same whiteness had stirred him to his depths.
'And this morning--what do you think? Why, he meets me as bold as you please, and gives me a cake of toilet soap. Like his impudence!'
She paused, hopefully.
'Always useful, soap,' said Arthur, politely sententious.
'Lovely it was,' went on Maud, dully conscious of failure, but stippling in like an artist the little touches which give atmosphere and verisimilitude to a story. 'All scented. Horace will tease me about it, I can tell you.'
She paused. Surely he must--Why, a sea-anemone would be torn with jealousy at such a tale.
Arthur did not even wince. He was charming about it. Thought it very kind of the young fellow. Didn't blame him for being struck by the whiteness of her hands. Touched on the history of soap, which he happened to have been reading up in the encyclopedia at the free library. And behaved altogether in such a thoroughly gentlemanly fashion that Maud stayed awake half the night, crying.
* * * * *
If Maud had waited another twenty-four hours there would have been no need for her to have taxed her powers of invention, for on the following day there entered the shop and her life a young man who was not imaginary--a Lothario of flesh and blood. He made his entry with that air of having bought most of the neighbouring property which belongs exclusively to minor actors, men of weight on the Stock Exchange, and American professional pugilists.
Mr 'Skipper' Shute belonged to the last-named of the three classes. He had arrived in England two months previously for the purpose of holding a conference at eight-stone four with one Joseph Edwardes, to settle a question of superiority at that weight which had been vexing the sporting public of two countries for over a year. Having successfully out-argued Mr Edwardes, mainly by means of strenuous work in the clinches, he was now on the eve of starting on a lucrative music-hall tour with his celebrated inaudible monologue. As a result of these things he was feeling very, very pleased with the world in general, and with Mr Skipper Shute in particular. And when Mr Shute was pleased with himself his manner was apt to be of the breeziest.
He breezed into the shop, took a seat, and, having cast an experienced eye at Maud, and found her pleasing, extended both hands, and observed, 'Go the limit, kid.'
At any other time Maud might have resented being addressed as 'kid' by a customer, but now she welcomed it. With the exception of a slight thickening of the lobe of one ear, Mr Shute bore no outward signs of his profession. And being, to use his own phrase, a 'swell dresser', he was really a most presentable young man. Just, in fact, what Maud needed. She saw in him her last hope. If any faint spark of his ancient fire still lingered in Arthur, it was through Mr Shute that it must be fanned.
She smiled upon Mr Shute. She worked on his robust fingers as if it were an artistic treat to be permitted to handle them. So carefully did she toil that she was still busy when Arthur, taking off his apron and putting on his hat, went out for his twenty-minutes' lunch, leaving them alone together.
The door had scarcely shut when Mr Shute bent forward.
He sank his voice to a winning whisper.
'You look good to muh,' he said, gallantly.
'The idea!' said Maud, tossing her head.
'On the level,' Mr Shute assured her.
Maud laid down her orange-sticks.
'Don't be silly,' she said. 'There--I've finished.'
'I've not,' said Mr Shute. 'Not by a mile. Say!'
'What do you do with your evenings?'
'I go home.'
'Sure. But when you don't? It's a poor heart that never rejoices. Don't you ever whoop it up?'
'Whoop it up?'
'The mad whirl,' explained Mr Shute. 'Ice-cream soda and buck-wheat cakes, and a happy evening at lovely Luna Park.'
'I don't know where Luna Park is.'
'What did they teach you at school? It's out in that direction,' said Mr Shute, pointing over his shoulder. 'You go straight on about three thousand miles till you hit little old New York; then you turn to the right. Say, don't you ever get a little treat? Why not come along to the White City some old evening? This evening?'
'Mr Welsh is taking me to the White City tonight.'
'And who is Mr Welsh?'
'The gentleman who has just gone out.'
'Is that so? Well, he doesn't look a live one, but maybe it's just because he's had bad news today. You never can tell.' He rose. 'Farewell, Evelina, fairest of your sex. We shall meet again; so keep a stout heart.'
And, taking up his cane, straw hat, and yellow gloves, Mr Shute departed, leaving Maud to her thoughts.
She was disappointed. She had expected better results. Mr Shute had lowered with ease the record for gay badinage, hitherto held by the red-faced customer; yet to all appearances there had been no change in Arthur's manner. But perhaps he had scowled (or bitten his lip), and she had not noticed it. Apparently he had struck Mr Shute, an unbiased spectator, as gloomy. Perhaps at some moment when her eyes had been on her work--She hoped for the best.
Whatever his feelings may have been during the afternoon, Arthur was undeniably cheerful that evening. He was in excellent spirits. His light-hearted abandon on the Wiggle-Woggle had been noted and commented upon by several lookers-on. Confronted with the Hairy Ainus, he had touched a high level of facetiousness. And now, as he sat with her listening to the band, he was crooning joyously to himself in accompaniment to the music, without, it would appear, a care in the world.
Maud was hurt and anxious. In a mere acquaintance this blithe attitude would have been welcome. It would have helped her to enjoy her evening. But from Arthur at that particular moment she looked for something else. Why was he cheerful? Only a few hours ago she had been--yes, flirting with another man before his very eyes. What right had he to be cheerful? He ought to be heated, full of passionate demands for an explanation--a flushed, throaty thing to be coaxed back into a good temper and then forgiven--all this at great length--for having been in a bad one. Yes, she told herself, she had wanted certainty one way or the other, and here it was. Now she knew. He no longer cared for her.
'Cold?' said Arthur. 'Let's walk. Evenings beginning to draw in now. Lum-da-diddley-ah. That's what I call a good tune. Give me something lively and bright. Dumty-umpty-iddley-ah. Dum tum--'
'Funny thing--' said Maud, deliberately.
'What's a funny thing?'
'The gentleman in the brown suit whose hands I did this afternoon--'
'He was,' agreed Arthur, brightly. 'A very funny thing.'
Maud frowned. Wit at the expense of Hairy Ainus was one thing--at her own another.
'I was about to say,' she went on precisely, 'that it was a funny thing, a coincidence, seeing that I was already engaged, that the gentleman in the brown suit whose hands I did this afternoon should have asked me to come here, to the White City, with him tonight.'
For a moment they walked on in silence. To Maud it seemed a hopeful silence. Surely it must be the prelude to an outburst.
'Oh!' he said, and stopped.
Maud's heart gave a leap. Surely that was the old tone?
A couple of paces, and he spoke again.
'I didn't hear him ask you.'
His voice was disappointingly level.
'He asked me after you had gone out to lunch.'
'It's a nuisance,' said Arthur, cheerily, 'when things clash like that. But perhaps he'll ask you again. Nothing to prevent you coming here twice. Well repays a second visit, I always say. I think--'
'You shouldn't,' said a voice behind him. 'It hurts the head. Well, kid, being shown a good time?'
The possibility of meeting Mr Shute had not occurred to Maud. She had assumed that, being aware that she would be there with another, he would have stayed away. It may, however, be remarked that she did not know Mr Shute. He was not one of your sensitive plants. He smiled pleasantly upon her, looking very dapper in evening dress and a silk hat that, though a size too small for him, shone like a mirror.
Maud hardly knew whether she was glad or sorry to see him. It did not seem to matter much now either way. Nothing seemed to matter much, in fact. Arthur's cheery acceptance of the news that she received invitations from others had been like a blow, leaving her numb and listless.
She made the introductions. The two men eyed each other.
'Pleased to meet you,' said Mr Shute.
'Weather keeps up,' said Arthur.
And from that point onward Mr Shute took command.
It is to be assumed that this was not the first time that Mr Shute had made one of a trio in these circumstances, for the swift dexterity with which he lost Arthur was certainly not that of a novice. So smoothly was it done that it was not until she emerged from the Witching Waves, guided by the pugilist's slim but formidable right arm, that Maud realized that Arthur had gone.
She gave a little cry of dismay. Secretly she was beginning to be somewhat afraid of Mr Shute. He was showing signs of being about to step out of the role she had assigned to him and attempt something on a larger scale. His manner had that extra touch of warmth which makes all the difference.
'Oh! He's gone!' she cried.
'Sure,' said Mr Shute. 'He's got a hurry-call from the Uji Village. The chief's cousin wants a hair-cut.'
'We must find him. We must.'
'Surest thing you know,' said Mr Shute. 'Plenty of time.'
'We must find him.'
Mr Shute regarded her with some displeasure.
'Seems to be ace-high with you, that dub,' he said.
'I don't understand you.'
'My observation was,' explained Mr Shute, coldly, 'that, judging from appearances, that dough-faced lemon was Willie-boy, the first and only love.'
Maud turned on him with flaming cheeks.
'Mr Welsh is nothing to me! Nothing! Nothing!' she cried.
She walked quickly on.
'Then, if there's a vacancy, star-eyes,' said the pugilist at her side, holding on a hat which showed a tendency to wobble, 'count me in. Directly I saw you--see here, what's the idea of this road-work? We aren't racing--'
Maud slowed down.
'That's better. As I was saying, directly I saw you, I said to myself, "That's the one you need. The original candy kid. The--"'
His hat lurched drunkenly as he answered the girl's increase of speed. He cursed it in a brief aside.
'That's what I said. "The original candy kid." So--'
He shot out a restraining hand. 'Arthur!' cried Maud. 'Arthur!'
'It's not my name' breathed Mr Shute, tenderly. 'Call me Clarence.'
Considered as an embrace, it was imperfect. At these moments a silk hat a size too small handicaps a man. The necessity of having to be careful about the nap prevented Mr Shute from doing himself complete justice. But he did enough to induce Arthur Welsh, who, having sighted the missing ones from afar, had been approaching them at a walking pace, to substitute a run for the walk, and arrive just as Maud wrenched herself free.
Mr Shute took off his hat, smoothed it, replaced it with extreme care, and turned his attention to the new-comer.
'Arthur!' said Maud.
Her heart gave a great leap. There was no mistaking the meaning in the eye that met hers. He cared! He cared!
He took no notice. His face was pale and working. He strode up to Mr Shute.
'Well?' he said between his teeth.
An eight-stone-four champion of the world has many unusual experiences in his life, but he rarely encounters men who say 'Well?' to him between their teeth. Mr Shute eyed this freak with profound wonder.
'I'll teach you to--to kiss young ladies!'
Mr Shute removed his hat again and gave it another brush. This gave him the necessary time for reflection.
'I don't need it,' he said. 'I've graduated.'
'Put them up!' hissed Arthur.
Almost a shocked look spread itself over the pugilist's face. So might Raphael have looked if requested to draw a pavement-picture.
'You aren't speaking to ME?' he said, incredulously.
'Put them up!'
Maud, trembling from head to foot, was conscious of one overwhelming emotion. She was terrified--yes. But stronger than the terror was the great wave of elation which swept over her. All her doubts had vanished. At last, after weary weeks of uncertainty, Arthur was about to give the supreme proof. He was going to joust for her.
A couple of passers-by had paused, interested, to watch developments. You could never tell, of course. Many an apparently promising row never got any farther than words. But, glancing at Arthur's face, they certainly felt justified in pausing. Mr Shute spoke.
'If it wasn't,' he said, carefully, 'that I don't want trouble with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I'd--'
He broke off, for, to the accompaniment of a shout of approval from the two spectators, Arthur had swung his right fist, and it had taken him smartly on the side of the head.
Compared with the blows Mr Shute was wont to receive in the exercise of his profession, Arthur's was a gentle tap. But there was one circumstance which gave it a deadliness all its own. Achilles had his heel. Mr Shute's vulnerable point was at the other extremity. Instead of countering, he uttered a cry of agony, and clutched wildly with both hands at his hat.
He was too late. It fell to the ground and bounded away, with its proprietor in passionate chase. Arthur snorted and gently chafed his knuckles.
There was a calm about Mr Shute's demeanour as, having given his treasure a final polish and laid it carefully down, he began to advance on his adversary, which was more than ominous. His lips were a thin line of steel. The muscles stood out over his jaw-bones. Crouching in his professional manner, he moved forward softly, like a cat.
And it was at this precise moment, just as the two spectators, reinforced now by eleven other men of sporting tastes, were congratulating themselves on their acumen in having stopped to watch, that Police-Constable Robert Bryce, intruding fourteen stones of bone and muscle between the combatants, addressed to Mr Shute these memorable words: ''Ullo, 'ullo! 'Ullo, 'ullo, 'ul-lo!'
Mr Shute appealed to his sense of justice.
'The mutt knocked me hat off.'
'And I'd do it again,' said Arthur, truculently.
'Not while I'm here you wouldn't, young fellow,' said Mr Bryce, with decision. 'I'm surprised at you,' he went on, pained. 'And you look a respectable young chap, too. You pop off.'
A shrill voice from the crowd at this point offered the constable all cinematograph rights if he would allow the contest to proceed.
'And you pop off, too, all of you,' continued Mr Bryce. 'Blest if I know what kids are coming to nowadays. And as for you,' he said, addressing Mr Shute, 'all you've got to do is to keep that face of yours closed. That's what you've got to do. I've got my eye on you, mind, and if I catch you a-follerin' of him'--he jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Arthur's departing figure--'I'll pinch you. Sure as you're alive.' He paused. 'I'd have done it already,' he added, pensively, 'if it wasn't me birthday.'
* * * * *
Arthur Welsh turned sharply. For some time he had been dimly aware that somebody was calling his name.
She was breathing quickly. He could see the tears in her eyes.
'I've been running. You walked so fast.'
He stared down at her gloomily.
'Go away,' he said. 'I've done with you.'
She clutched at his coat.
'Arthur, listen--listen! It's all a mistake. I thought you--you didn't care for me any more, and I was miserable, and I wrote to the paper and asked what should I do, and they said I ought to test you and try and make you jealous, and that that would relieve my apprehensions. And I hated it, but I did it, and you didn't seem to care till now. And you know that there's nobody but you.'
'You--The paper? What?' he stammered.
'Yes, yes, yes. I wrote to Fireside Chat, and Dr Cupid said that when jealousy flew out of the window indifference came in at the door, and that I must exhibit pleasure in the society of other gentlemen and mark your demeanour. So I--Oh!'
Arthur, luckier than Mr Shute, was not hampered by a too small silk hat.
It was a few moments later, as they moved slowly towards the Flip-Flap--which had seemed to both of them a fitting climax for the evening's emotions--that Arthur, fumbling in his waist-coat pocket, produced a small slip of paper.
'What's that?' Maud asked.
'Read it,' said Arthur. 'It's from Home Moments, in answer to a letter I sent them. And,' he added with heat, 'I'd like to have five minutes alone with the chap who wrote it.'
And under the electric light Maud read
ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS
By the Heart Specialist
Arthur W.--Jealousy, Arthur W., is not only the most wicked, but the most foolish of passions. Shakespeare says:
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
You admit that you have frequently caused great distress to the young lady of your affections by your exhibition of this weakness. Exactly. There is nothing a girl dislikes or despises more than jealousy. Be a man, Arthur W. Fight against it. You may find it hard at first, but persevere. Keep a smiling face. If she seems to enjoy talking to other men, show no resentment. Be merry and bright. Believe me, it is the only way.