UPON a day Bennett Lawrie escaped early from his office, leaving his day’s work to be finished by a co-junior clerk on a promise to do as much for him when he should require it. He was feeling very tired, having had only a walk and two cigarettes for dinner, a practice so common among junior clerks that they have a name for it—Flag Hash. Twice during Gertrude’s absence he had taken Annette and her mother to the theatre—three dress-circle seats at five shillings—a heavy drain upon his income, which was now one pound fifteen shillings a week, paid monthly. His mother knew nothing of the advance of five shillings a week that he had obtained on the third application with the plea that he was engaged to be married. That helped a little, but, even so, his position was serious, and at moments made him feel very sick at heart. He had been making efforts to save money when Mrs. Folyat’s expression of regret that she had not been to the theatre plunged him into the rash offer to pay for seats. He had no thought but that she would pay for two of them at least. But no; Mrs. Folyat regarded it as the feminine privilege to enjoy entertainment at the expense of the masculine pocket.
Further cause had Bennett for anxiety in that his correspondence with Gertrude had dwindled from the devoted daily letter to an effusion with great difficulty squeezed out twice a week. That her letter had come at longer and longer intervals comforted him not at all. He had never asked testimony of devotion from his [Pg 201]betrothed; it was enough that she should so far stoop as to be engaged to him. . . . Also, as he walked to the station through the dark railway arches, through Town Hall Square with its statues of John Bright, the late Bishop, the Prince Consort, and a local philanthropic sweater, past the Infirmary, he was dogged by an unhappy realisation that it gave him no pleasure to be going to meet Gertrude. She had written him a romantic little note:
“Dear, I am coming back to you. I have no thought but for you. I shall arrive by the 5.45. Yours, G. F.”
Bennett rehearsed the meeting. He would greet her warmly and with dignity. He would kiss her hand; not her cheek. He would then silently convey that he was fully aware of his delinquences, but asked no pardon for them. Scoundrel as he had shown himself, he would have her “pass on and thank God she was rid of a knave.” . . . However, he reflected that upon former occasions his most eloquent silence had conveyed nothing at all to Gertrude, and he began to rehearse the scene from another standpoint. He would say; “You bade me come. I have come. In spite of what has happened, in spite of my sins of thought and deed, I will be loyal. I will keep my troth.” That was better, but not altogether appropriate from a station platform. He was still rehearsing when the train came in. He stood by the engine thinking that there he would be sure not to miss his quarry. There was a considerable crowd to meet the train, for in those days a journey from London was an important affair, and travellers were welcomed by their nearest and dearest, glad that they had escaped the perils of the way, hopeful that they had not succumbed to its fatigues, and mindful of the presents that would be in bag or trunk. . . . Bennett Lawrie thought not at all of presents. He was only bothered because he had not yet discovered the right mode of address.