The hour of six had rung out from the neighbouring clocks, yet this girl showed no signs of finishing her work. From down in the street you could see her bent over the machine, her fingers pounding the keys—human hammers monotonously striving to beat out a pattern upon metal, a pattern that would never come. The light from the green-shaded lamp above her, fell obliquely on her head. It lit up her pale, golden hair like a sun-ray; it drew out the round, gentle curve of her face and threw it up against the darkness of the room beyond. So well as it could, with its harsh methods, it made a picture. One instinctively paused to look at it. A man coming out of the shadows of the Covent Garden Market stopped as he passed down King Street and gazed up at the window.
For five minutes he stood and watched her, assuming, by looking up and down the street when anybody passed him by, the attitude of a person who is waiting for some one.
It is impossible to say whether it is really the woman herself, or a combination of the woman and the moment, which seizes and drags a man’s attention towards her. In this case it may have been the combined result of the two. The girl was pretty. In the ray of that electric light, the soft, childish outline of her face and the pale, sensuous strands of her hair were probably lent a glamour such as that given by the footlights. The man, too, was on his way back to companionless chambers. The lower end of Regent Street may be a far from lonely spot in which to take up one’s abode; but there is nothing so empty as an empty room, no matter on to what crowded thoroughfare it may look. Say, then, it was a combination of impulses, the woman and the moment—the girl pretty and the man oppressed by a sense of loneliness. Whatever it was, he stood there, without any apparent intention of moving, and watched her.
She was the last, amongst all those workers who could be seen within the lighted apertures of the windows, to leave her post. One by one they performed their weary play of actions, the shutting up of ledgers, the putting away of papers—out went the lights, and a moment later dim figures stole out of the darkened doorways into the drizzling rain, and hurried away into the shadows of the streets. But she still remained, and the man, with a certain amount of dogged persistence, continued to watch her movements. Once he took out his watch, as his impatience became more insistent. Then, with the continual watching of her, the continual sight of her hands dancing laboriously on those keys, the noise of the typewriter at last reached the ears of his imagination. He could hear, above the sounds of the street, that everlasting metallic tapping.
“God! What a life!” he exclaimed to himself.