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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    THE TWO SOLOS

    Their tryst was at the Charing Cross bookstall at one o'clock, and so Mr. Frank Crosse was there at quarter-past twelve, striding impatiently up and down, and stopping dead whenever a woman emerged from the entrance, like a pointer dog before a partridge. Before he came he had been haunted by the idea that possibly Maude might have an impulse to come early--and what if she were to arrive and not find him there! Every second of her company was so dear to him, that when driving to meet her he had sometimes changed from one cab to another upon the way, because the second seemed to have the faster horse. But now that he was on the ground he realised that she was very exact to her word, and that she would neither be early nor late. And yet, in the illogical fashion of a lover, he soon forgot that it was he who was too soon, and he chafed and chafed as the minutes passed, until at about quarter to one he was striding gloomily about with despondent features and melancholy forebodings, imagining a thousand miserable reasons for her inexplicable delay. A good many people stared at him as they passed, and we may do so among the number.

    In person Frank Crosse was neither tall nor short, five feet eight and a half to be exact, with the well-knit frame and springy step of a young man who had been an athlete from his boyhood. He was slim, but wiry, and carried his head with a half-defiant backward slant which told of pluck and breed. His face was tanned brown, in spite of his City hours, but his hair and slight moustache were flaxen, and his eyes, which were his best features, were of a delicate blue, and could vary in expression from something very tender to something particularly hard. He was an orphan, and had inherited nothing from his parents save a dash of the artist from his mother. It was not enough to help him to earn a living, but it transformed itself into a keen appreciation and some ambitions in literature, and it gave a light and shade to his character which made him rather complex, and therefore interesting. His best friends could not deny the shade, and yet it was but the shadow thrown by the light. Strength, virility, emotional force, power of deep feeling--these are traits which have to be paid for. There was sometimes just a touch of the savage, or at least there were indications of the possibility of a touch of the savage, in Frank Crosse. His intense love of the open air and of physical exercise was a sign of it. He left upon women the impression, not altogether unwelcome, that there were unexplored recesses of his nature to which the most intimate of them had never penetrated. In those dark corners of the spirit either a saint or a sinner might be lurking, and there was a pleasurable excitement in peering into them, and wondering which it was. No woman ever found him dull. Perhaps it would have been better for him if they had, for his impulsive nature had never been long content with a chilly friendship. He was, as we may see, a man with a past, but it WAS a past, now that Maude Selby had come like an angel of light across the shadowed path of his life. In age he was nearly twenty-seven.

    There are one or two things which might be said for him which he would not have said for himself. He was an only child and an orphan, but he had adopted his grandparents, who had been left penniless through his father's death, and through all his struggles he had managed to keep them happy and comfortable in a little cottage in Worcestershire. Nor did he ever tell them that he had a struggle-- fearing lest it should make their position painful; and so when their quarterly cheque arrived, they took it as a kindly but not remarkable act of duty upon the part of their wealthy grandson in the City, with no suspicion as to the difference which their allowance was making to him. Nor did he himself look upon his action as a virtuous one, but simply as a thing which must obviously be done. In the meantime, he had stuck closely to his work, had won rapid promotion in the Insurance Office in which he had started as junior clerk, had gained the goodwill of his superiors through his frank, unaffected ways, and had been asked to play for the second Surrey eleven at cricket. So without going the length of saying that he was worthy of Maude Selby, one might perhaps claim--if it could be done without endangering that natural modesty which was one of his charms--that he was as worthy as any other young man who was available.

    That unfortunate artistic soul of his, which had been in the tropics of expectation, and was now in the arctic of reaction, had just finally settled down to black despair, with a grim recognition of the fact that Maude had certainly and absolutely given him up, when one boomed from the station clock, and on the very stroke she hurried on to the platform. How could he have strained his eyes after other women, as if a second glance were ever needed when it was really she! The perfectly graceful figure, the trimness and neatness of it, the beautiful womanly poise of the head, the quick elastic step, he could have sworn to her among ten thousand. His heart gave a bound at the sight of her, but he had the English aversion to giving himself away, and so he walked quickly forward to meet her with an impassive face, but with a look in his eyes which was all that she wanted.

    'How are you?'

    'How do you do?'

    He stood for a few moments looking at her in silence. She had on the dress which he loved so much, a silver-grey merino skirt and jacket, with a blouse of white pongee silk showing in front. Some lighter coloured trimming fringed the cloth. She wore a grey toque, with a dash of white at the side, and a white veil which softened without concealing the dark brown curls and fresh girlish face beneath it. Her gloves were of grey suede, and the two little pointed tan shoes peeping from the edge of her skirt were the only touches of a darker tint in her attire. Crosse had the hereditary artist's eye, and he could only stand and stare and enjoy it. He was filled with admiration, with reverence, and with wonder that this perfect thing should really proclaim itself to be all his own. Whatever had he done, or could he do, to deserve it?

    She looked up at him in a roguish sidelong way, with the bright mischievous smile which was one of her charms.

    'Well, sir, do you approve?'

    'By Jove, it is splendid--beautiful!'

    'So glad! I hoped you would, since you are so fond of greys. Besides, it is cooler in this weather. I hope you have not been waiting.'

    'Oh no, that's all right.'

    'You looked so solemn when first I saw you.'

    'Did I?'

    'And then you just jumped.'

    'Did I? I'm sorry.'

    'Why?'

    'I don't know. I like our feelings to be our very very own, and never to show them to any one else at all. I dare say it is absurd, but that is my instinct.'

    'Never mind, dear, it wasn't such a big jump as all that. Where are we going?'

    'Come here, Maude, into the waiting-room.'

    She followed him into the gloomy, smoky, dingy room. Bare yellow benches framed an empty square of brown linoleum. A labouring man with his wife and a child sat waiting with the stolid patience of the poor in one corner. They were starting on some Saturday afternoon excursion, and had mistimed their train. Maude Selby and Frank Crosse took the other corner. He drew a jeweller's box from his pocket and removed the lid. Something sparkled among the wadding.

    'O Frank! Is that really it?'

    'Do you like it?'

    'What a broad one it is! Mother's is quite thin.'

    'They wear thin in time.'

    'It is beautiful. Shall I try it on?'

    'No, don't. There is some superstition about it.'

    'But suppose it won't fit?'

    'That is quite safe. I measured it with your sapphire ring.'

    'I haven't half scolded you enough about that sapphire ring. How could you go and give twenty-two guineas for a ring?--oh yes, sir, that was the price, for I saw a duplicate yesterday in the Goldsmith's Company. You dear extravagant old boy!'

    'I had saved the money.'

    'But not for that!'

    'For nothing half or quarter as important. But I had the other to the same size, so it is sure to fit.'

    Maude had pushed up her veil, and sat with the little golden circlet in her hand, looking down at it, while the dim watery London sunlight poured through the window, and tagged all her wandering curls with a coppery gleam. It was a face beautiful in itself, but more beautiful for its expression--sensitive, refined, womanly, full of innocent archness and girlish mischief, but with a depth of expression in the eyes, and a tender delicacy about the mouth, which spoke of a great spirit with all its capacities for suffering and devotion within. The gross admirer of merely physical charms might have passed her over unnoticed. So might the man who is attracted only by outward and obvious signs of character. But to the man who could see, to the man whose own soul had enough of spirituality to respond to hers, and whose eye could appreciate the subtlety of a beauty which is of the mind as well as of the body, there was not in all wide London upon that midsummer day a sweeter girl than Maude Selby, as she sat in her grey merino dress with the London sun tagging her brown curls with that coppery glimmer.

    She handed back the ring, and a graver expression passed over her mobile face.

    'I feel as you said in your letter, Frank. There IS something tragic in it. It will be with me for ever. All the future will arrange itself round that little ring.'

    'Are you afraid of it?'

    'Afraid!' her grey glove rested for an instant upon the back of his hand. 'I COULDN'T be afraid of anything if you were with me. It is really extraordinary, for by nature I am so easily frightened. But if I were with you in a railway accident or anywhere, it would be just the same. You see I become for the time part of you, as it were, and you are brave enough for two.'

    'I don't profess to be so brave as all that,' said Frank. 'I expect I have as many nerves as my neighbours.'

    Maude's grey toque nodded up and down. 'I know all about that,' said she.

    'You have such a false idea of me. It makes me happy at the time and miserable afterwards, for I feel such a rank impostor. You imagine me to be a hero, and a genius, and all sorts of things, while I KNOW that I am about as ordinary a young fellow as walks the streets of London, and no more worthy of you than--well, than any one else is.'

    She laughed with shining eyes.

    'I like to hear you talk like that,' said she. 'That is just what is so beautiful about you.'

    It is hopeless to prove that you are not a hero when your disclaimers are themselves taken as a proof of heroism. Frank shrugged his shoulders.

    'I only hope you'll find me out gradually and not suddenly,' said he. 'Now, Maude, we have all day and all London before us. What shall we do? I want you to choose.'

    'I am quite happy whatever we do. I am content to sit here with you until evening.'

    Her idea of a happy holiday set them both laughing.

    'Come along,' said he, 'we shall discuss it as we go.'

    The workman's family was still waiting, and Maude handed the child a shilling as she went out. She was so happy herself that she wanted every one else to be happy also. The people turned to look at her as she passed. With the slight flush upon her cheeks and the light in her eyes, she seemed the personification of youth, and life, and love. One tall old gentleman started as he looked, and watched her with a rapt face until she disappeared. Some cheek had flushed and some eye had brightened at his words once, and sweet old days had for an instant lived again.

    'Shall we have a cab?'

    'O Frank, we must learn to be economical. Let us walk.'

    'I can't and won't be economical to-day.'

    'There now! See what a bad influence I have upon you.'

    'Most demoralising! But we have not settled yet where we are to go to.'

    'What DOES it matter, if we are together?'

    'There is a good match at the Oval, the Australians against Surrey. Would you care to see that?'

    'Yes, dear, if you would.'

    'And there are matinees at all the theatres.'

    'You would rather be in the open air.'

    'All I want is that you should enjoy yourself.'

    'Never fear. I shall do that.'

    'Well, then, first of all I vote that we go and have some lunch.'

    They started across the station yard, and passed the beautiful old stone cross. Among the hansoms and the four-wheelers, the hurrying travellers, and the lounging cabmen, there rose that lovely reconstruction of mediaevalism, the pious memorial of a great Plantagenet king to his beloved wife.

    'Six hundred years ago,' said Frank, as they paused and looked up, 'that old stone cross was completed, with heralds and armoured knights around it to honour her whose memory was honoured by the king. Now the corduroyed porters stand where the knights stood, and the engines whistle where the heralds trumpeted, but the old cross is the same as ever in the same old place. It is a little thing of that sort which makes one realise the unbroken history of our country.'

    Maude insisted upon hearing about Queen Eleanor, and Frank imparted the little that he knew as they walked out into the crowded Strand.

    'She was Edward the First's wife, and a splendid woman. It was she, you remember, who sucked the wound when he was stabbed with a poisoned dagger. She died somewhere in the north, and he had the body carried south to bury it in Westminster Abbey. Wherever it rested for a night he built a cross, and so you have a line of crosses all down England to show where that sad journey was broken.'

    They had turned down Whitehall, and passed the big cuirassiers upon their black chargers at the gate of the Horse Guards. Frank pointed to one of the windows of the old banqueting-hall.

    'You've seen a memorial of a queen of England,' said he. 'That window is the memorial of a king.'

    'Why so, Frank?'

    'I believe that it was through that window that Charles the First passed out to the scaffold when his head was cut off. It was the first time that the people had ever shown that they claimed authority over their king.'

    'Poor fellow!' said Maude. 'He was so handsome, and such a good husband and father.'

    'It is the good kings who may be the dangerous ones.'

    'O Frank!'

    'If a king thinks only of pleasure, then he does not interfere with matters of state. But if he is conscientious, he tries to do what he imagines to be his duty, and so he causes trouble. Look at Charles, for example. He was a very good man, and yet he caused a civil war. George the Third was a most exemplary character, but his stupidity lost us America, and nearly lost us Ireland. They were each succeeded by thoroughly bad men, who did far less harm.'

    They had reached the end of Whitehall, and the splendid panorama of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament lay before them. The most stately of ancient English buildings was contrasted with the most beautiful of modern ones. How anything so graceful came to be built by this tasteless and utilitarian nation must remain a marvel to the traveller. The sun was shining upon the gold-work of the roof, and the grand towers sprang up amid the light London haze, like some gorgeous palace in a dream. It was a fit centre for the rule to whose mild sway one-fifth of the human race acquiesces--a rule upheld by so small a force that only the consent of the governed can sustain it.

    Frank and Maude stood together looking up at it.

    'How beautiful it is!' she cried. 'How the gilding lights up the whole building!'

    'And how absurd it is not to employ it more in our gloomy London architecture!' said Frank. 'Imagine how grand a gilded dome of St. Paul's would look, hanging like a rising sun over the City. But here is our restaurant, Maude, and Big Ben says that it is a quarter to two.
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