He now remembered that when he had first come in he had watched this youth, who had been standing in a corner indulging himself in private smiles. He had an uncommon look, as though he were in love with life—as though he regarded it as a creature to whom one could put questions to the very end—interesting, humorous, earnest questions. He looked diffident, and amiable, and independent, and he, too, was evidently English.
“Are you good at argument?” said Shelton, at a loss for a remark.
The youth smiled, blushed, and, putting back his hair, replied:
“Yes—no—I don’t know; I think my brain does n’t work fast enough for argument. You know how many motions of the brain-cells go to each remark. It ’s awfully interesting”; and, bending from the waist in a mathematical position, he extended the palm of one hand, and started to explain.
Shelton stared at the youth’s hand, at his frowns and the taps he gave his forehead while he found the expression of his meaning; he was intensely interested. The youth broke off, looked at his watch, and, blushing brightly, said:
“I ’m afraid I have to go; I have to be at the ‘Den’ before eleven.”
“I must be off, too,” said Shelton. Making their adieux together, they sought their hats and coats.
THE NIGHT CLUB
“May I ask,” said Shelton, as he and the youth came out into the chilly street, “What it is you call the ’Den’?”
His companion smilingly answered:
“Oh, the night club. We take it in turns. Thursday is my night. Would you like to come? You see a lot of types. It’s only round the corner.”
Shelton digested a momentary doubt, and answered:
They reached the corner house in an angle of a, dismal street, through the open door of which two men had just gone in. Following, they ascended some wooden, fresh-washed stairs, and entered a large boarded room smelling of sawdust, gas, stale coffee, and old clothes. It was furnished with a bagatelle board, two or three wooden tables, some wooden forms, and a wooden bookcase. Seated on these wooden chairs, or standing up, were youths, and older men of the working class, who seemed to Shelton to be peculiarly dejected. One was reading, one against the wall was drinking coffee with a disillusioned air, two were playing chess, and a group of four made a ceaseless clatter with the bagatelle.
A little man in a dark suit, with a pale face, thin lips, and deep-set, black-encircled eyes, who was obviously in charge, came up with an anaemic smile.
“You ’re rather late,” he said to Curly, and, looking ascetically at Shelton, asked, without waiting for an introduction: “Do you play chess? There ’s young Smith wants a game.”
A youth with a wooden face, already seated before a fly-blown chess-board, asked him drearily if he would have black or white. Shelton took white; he was oppressed by the virtuous odour of this room.