“I’ve finished,” he said.
The man glanced at him and then remembered.
“Oh, yes, you’re the young feller. Given ’em all out, eh? Not thrown ’em on the rubbish heap? Well, what is it?”
“I want my sixpence.”
“Oh, sixpence I promised you, did I? Well, here’s a shilling seat. That’ll do better, eh, what? You can go in now.”
“I want my sixpence.”
“You don’t want—don’t want to go to the Circus?”
“I don’t like Circuses.”
The big man stared down at the white set face gazing stolidly back at him over the wooded ledge. He tossed the coin indignantly across.
“Well, of all the unnatural, ungrateful young jackanapes——”
But he was so astonished that he had to lean out of his box and watch the blasphemer—a quaint figure, bowed as though under a heavy burden, its hands thrust hard into its trousers pockets—stalk away from the great tent and without so much as a backward glance lose itself among the crowd.
They came to an idle halt near Cleopatra’s needle, and leaning against the Embankment wall, looked across the river to the warehouses opposite, which, in the evening mist, had the look of stark cliffs guarded by a solitary watchful lion. The smaller of the two young men took off his soft hat and set it beside him so that he could let the wind brush through his thick red hair. He held himself very straight, his slender body taut with solemn exultation.
“If only one could do something with it,” he said; “eat it—hug it—get inside of it somehow—belong to it. It hurts—this gaping like an outsider. Look now—one shade of purple upon another. Isn’t it unendurably beautiful? But if one could write a sonnet—or a sonata—or paint a picture—— That’s where the real artist has the pull over us poor devils who can only feel things. He wouldn’t just stand here. He’d get out his fountain pen or his paint-box and make it all his for ever and ever. Think of Whistler now—what he would do with it.”
“I can’t,” Stonehouse said. “Who’s Whistler?”
Cosgrave laughed in anticipation of his little joke. “Nobody, old fellow. At least, he never discovered any bugs.”
The wind snatched up his forgotten hat and it sailed off up river into the darkness like a large unwieldy bird. He looked after it ruefully.
“That was a new hat. I’ll have to go home without one, and the Pater will think I’ve been in a drunken brawl, and there’ll be a beastly row.”
“That’s the one thing he’ll never believe. Well, I don’t care. It’ll be over soon. If I’ve passed that exam. I’ll get away and he won’t be able to nag me any more. And you, do think I’ve passed, don’t you, Stonehouse?”
“If you didn’t imagine your answers afterwards.”