Monica always felt too tired to walk after ten o’clock; moreover, the usual conversation in the dormitory which she shared with five other young women was so little to her taste that she wished to be asleep when the talkers came up to bed. But on Sunday she gladly followed the counsel of her employers. If the weather were bad, the little room at Lavender Hill offered her a retreat; when the sun shone, she liked to spend a part of the day in free wandering about London, which even yet had not quite disillusioned her.
And to-day it shone brightly. This was her birthday, the completion of her one-and-twentieth year. Alice and Virginia of course expected her early in the morning, and of course they were all to dine together—at the table measuring three feet by one and a half; but the afternoon and evening she must have to herself The afternoon, because a few hours of her sister’s talk invariably depressed her; and the evening, because she had an appointment to keep. As she left the big ugly ‘establishment’ her heart beat cheerfully, and a smile fluttered about her lips. She did not feel very well, but that was a matter of course; the ride in an omnibus would perhaps make her head clearer.
Monica’s face was of a recognized type of prettiness; a pure oval; from the smooth forehead to the dimpled little chin all its lines were soft and graceful. Her lack of colour, by heightening the effect of black eyebrows and darkly lustrous eyes, gave her at present a more spiritual cast than her character justified; but a thoughtful firmness was native to her lips, and no possibility of smirk or simper lurked in the attractive features. The slim figure was well fitted in a costume of pale blue, cheap but becoming; a modest little hat rested on her black hair; her gloves and her sunshade completed the dainty picture.
An omnibus would be met in Kennington Park Road. On her way thither, in a quiet cross-street, she was overtaken by a young man who had left the house of business a moment after her, and had followed at a short distance timidly. A young man of unhealthy countenance, with a red pimple on the side of his nose, but not otherwise ill-looking. He was clad with propriety—stove-pipe hat, diagonal frockcoat, grey trousers, and he walked with a springy gait.
He had ventured, with perturbation in his face, to overtake, Monica. She stopped.
‘What is it, Mr. Bullivant?’
Her tone was far from encouraging, but the young man smiled upon her with timorous tenderness.
‘What a beautiful morning! Are you going far?’
He had the Cockney accent, but not in an offensive degree; his manners were not flagrantly of the shop.
‘Yes; some distance.’ Monica walked slowly on.
‘Will you allow me to walk a little way with you?’ he pleaded, bending towards her.
‘I shall take the omnibus at the end of this street.’