“That’s like Ellen Nagle—that girl ...” and so on.
“I’m awfully happy since I’ve known you, Jacob. You’re such a good man.”
The room got fuller and fuller; talk louder; knives more clattering.
“Well, you see what makes her say things like that is ...”
She stopped. So did every one.
“To-morrow ... Sunday ... a beastly ... you tell me ... go then!” Crash! And out she swept.
It was at the table next them that the voice spun higher and higher. Suddenly the woman dashed the plates to the floor. The man was left there. Everybody stared. Then—“Well, poor chap, we mustn’t sit staring. What a go! Did you hear what she said? By God, he looks a fool! Didn’t come up to the scratch, I suppose. All the mustard on the tablecloth. The waiters laughing.”
Jacob observed Florinda. In her face there seemed to him something horribly brainless—as she sat staring.
Out she swept, the black woman with the dancing feather in her hat.
Yet she had to go somewhere. The night is not a tumultuous black ocean in which you sink or sail as a star. As a matter of fact it was a wet November night. The lamps of Soho made large greasy spots of light upon the pavement. The by-streets were dark enough to shelter man or woman leaning against the doorways. One detached herself as Jacob and Florinda approached.
“She’s dropped her glove,” said Florinda.
Jacob, pressing forward, gave it her.
Effusively she thanked him; retraced her steps; dropped her glove again. But why? For whom? Meanwhile, where had the other woman got to? And the man?
The street lamps do not carry far enough to tell us. The voices, angry, lustful, despairing, passionate, were scarcely more than the voices of caged beasts at night. Only they are not caged, nor beasts. Stop a man; ask him the way; he’ll tell it you; but one’s afraid to ask him the way. What does one fear?—the human eye. At once the pavement narrows, the chasm deepens. There! They’ve melted into it—both man and woman. Further on, blatantly advertising its meritorious solidity, a boarding-house exhibits behind uncurtained windows its testimony to the soundness of London. There they sit, plainly illuminated, dressed like ladies and gentlemen, in bamboo chairs. The widows of business men prove laboriously that they are related to judges. The wives of coal merchants instantly retort that their fathers kept coachmen. A servant brings coffee, and the crochet basket has to be moved. And so on again into the dark, passing a girl here for sale, or there an old woman with only matches to offer, passing the crowd from the Tube station, the women with veiled hair, passing at length no one but shut doors, carved door-posts, and a solitary policeman, Jacob, with Florinda on his arm, reached his room and, lighting the lamp, said nothing at all.
“I don’t like you when you look like that,” said Florinda.