“What will you have, mademoiselle?” said the painter. “It is just nine o’clock; we must order quickly.”
“May I have one of those green things?”
“Deux cremes de menthe,” said Lavendie to the waiter.
Noel was too absorbed to see the queer, bitter little smile hovering about his face. She was busy looking at the faces of women whose eyes, furtively cold and enquiring, were fixed on her; and at the faces of men with eyes that were furtively warm and wondering.
“I wonder if Daddy was ever in a place like this?” she said, putting the glass of green stuff to her lips. “Is it nice? It smells of peppermint.”
“A beautiful colour. Good luck, mademoiselle!” and he chinked his glass with hers.
Noel sipped, held it away, and sipped again.
“It’s nice; but awfully sticky. May I have a cigarette?”
“Des cigarettes,” said Lavendie to the waiter, “Et deux cafes noirs. Now, mademoiselle,” he murmured when they were brought, “if we imagine that we have drunk a bottle of wine each, we shall have exhausted all the preliminaries of what is called Vice. Amusing, isn’t it?” He shrugged his shoulders.
His face struck Noel suddenly as tarnished and almost sullen.
“Don’t be angry, monsieur, it’s all new to me, you see.”
The painter smiled, his bright, skin-deep smile.
“Pardon! I forget myself. Only, it hurts me to see beauty in a place like this. It does not go well with that tune, and these voices, and these faces. Enjoy yourself, mademoiselle; drink it all in! See the way these people look at each other; what love shines in their eyes! A pity, too, we cannot hear what they are saying. Believe me, their talk is most subtle, tres-spirituel. These young women are ‘doing their bit,’ as you call it; bringing le plaisir to all these who are serving their country. Eat, drink, love, for tomorrow we die. Who cares for the world simple or the world beautiful, in days like these? The house of the spirit is empty.”
He was looking at her sidelong as if he would enter her very soul.
Noel got up. “I’m ready to go, monsieur.”
He put her cloak on her shoulders, paid the bill, and they went out, threading again through the little tables, through the buzz of talk and laughter and the fumes of tobacco, while another hollow little tune jingled away behind them.
“Through there,” said the painter, pointing to another door, “they dance. So it goes. London in war-time! Well, after all, it is never very different; no great town is. Did you enjoy your sight of ‘life,’ mademoiselle?”
“I think one must dance, to be happy. Is that where your friends go?”
“Oh, no! To a room much rougher, and play dominoes, and drink coffee and beer, and talk. They have no money to throw away.”
“Why didn’t you show me?”
“Mademoiselle, in that room you might see someone perhaps whom one day you would meet again; in the place we visited you were safe enough at least I hope so.”