Plain but Fascinating—The Swell in the Stalls—Overtures—Persistence—Introduction at Last—Her Story—His Kindness—Happiness crept in—Love—An Ecstasy of Joy—His Story—A Rude Awakening—The Result of Deception—The Injustice of Silence—Back to Town—Illness—Sleep.
THE curtain had just risen; the orchestra was playing the music of the famous operetta Penso, when a man in the prime of life in a handsome fur coat entered the stalls. He was alone. Having paid for his programme and taken off his furs, he quietly sat down to survey the scene.
The chorus was upon the stage; sweeping his glasses from end to end of the line of girls upon the boards, his eyes suddenly lighted upon the second girl on the left. She was not beautiful. She had a pretty figure, and a most expressive face; but her features were irregular and her mouth was large. Far more lovely girls stood in that row, many taller, with finely chiselled features and elegant figures, but only that girl—Number II. on the Left—caught and riveted his attention. He looked and looked again. What charm[Pg 346] did she possess, he wondered, which seemed to draw him towards her? She was singing, and making little curtsies like the others in time to the music: she was waving her arms with those automatic gesticulations the chorus learn; she was smiling, and yet behind it all he seemed to see an unutterable sadness in the depths of her dark grey eyes. The girl fascinated him; he listened not to the music of Penso, he hardly looked at any one else; so long as Number II. on the Left remained upon the stage his entire thoughts were with her. She enchained, she almost seemed to hypnotise him, and yet she seldom looked his way. During the entr’acte Allan Murray went outside to try and discover the name of Number II. on the Left. No one, however, was able to tell him, or if they were, they would not.
Disappointed he returned to his seat in time for the second act. She had changed her dress, and the new one was perhaps less becoming than the first.
“She is not pretty,” he kept repeating to himself, “but she is young. She is neither a great singer nor a dancer, but she is a gentlewoman.”
So great was the fascination she had exerted over the man of the world, that he returned the next night to a seat in the stalls, and as he gazed upon the operetta he felt more than ever convinced that there was some great tragedy lying hidden behind the smiling face of Number II. on the Left. He desired to unravel it.
A short time before Christmas, being absolutely determined to find out who she was, he succeeded in worming the information
from some one behind the[Pg 347] scenes. Her real name was Sarah Hopper—could anything be more hideous?—her professional one Alwyn FitzClare—could anything be more euphonious? He went off to his club after one of the performances was over, and wrote her a note. Days went by and he received no answer. Then he purchased some beautiful flowers and sent them to the stage door for Miss Alwyn FitzClare with his compliments. Still no answer; but in the meantime he had been back to the theatre, and had been even more struck than before with the appearance of the girl, and felt sorry for the look of distress he thought he saw lurking behind her smiles.
It was now two days before Christmas, and writing her a note begging her not to take it amiss from a stranger, who wished her a very pleasant Christmas, he enclosed two five-pound
notes, hoping she would drink his health and remember she had given great pleasure to one of her audience.
Christmas morning brought him back the two notes with a formal stiff little letter, saying that Miss FitzClare begged to return her thanks and was quite unable to accept gifts from a stranger.
For weeks and weeks he occupied a stall at the theatre, whenever he had an off-night. He continued to write little notes to Miss Alwyn FitzClare, but never received any reply. However, at last he ventured to beg that she would grant him an interview. If she would only tell him where she came from, or give him an inkling of her position, he would find some means to obtain a formal introduction. She answered[Pg 348] this letter not quite so stiffly as the former one containing the bank-notes, and stated that she came from Ipswich. Time passed; he succeeded in gaining an introduction, and sent it formally to Number II. on the Left. At the same time he invited her to lunch with him at a famous restaurant. She accepted; she came out of curiosity, she ultimately vowed, although in spite of the introduction, and in spite of the months of persuasion on his part, she felt doubtful as to the wisdom of doing so.
The girl who had looked plain but interesting upon the stage, appeared before him in a neat blue serge costume, well fitting and undecorated, and struck Mr. Murray as very much better looking, and smarter altogether in the capacity of a private person than she did in the chorus. “A gentlewoman” was writ big all over her. No one could look at her a second time and not feel that she was well born.
“Do you know,” she said, “I often have funny letters from people on the other side of the footlights; but yours is the only one I ever answered in my life. Tell me why you have been so persistent?”
“Because of the trouble in your face,” he answered.
“In mine? But I am always laughing on the stage—that is part of the duty of the chorus.”
“Yes,” he replied, “you laugh outwardly; but you cry inwardly. It was your sad expression which first attracted my attention.”
He was very sympathetic and very kind, and gradually she told him her story. Her father had been a solicitor of good birth. He had a large practice,[Pg 349] but dying suddenly left a family of nine children, all under the age of twenty, practically unprovided for, for the small amount for 长沙桑拿微信 which his life was insured soon dwindled away in meeting the funeral expenses and settling outstanding bills.
“I was not clever enough to become a governess,” she said, “I had not been educated for a secretary—in fact, I had no talent of any sort or kind except the ability to sing a little. Luck and hard work brought me the chance of being able to earn a guinea a week on the stage, out of which I manage to live and send home a shilling or so to help mother and the children.”
It was a tragic little story—one of many which a great metropolis can unfold, where men bring children into the world without giving a thought to their future, and leave them to be dragged up on the bitter bread of charity, or to work in that starvation-mill which so many well-born gentlewomen grind year after year.
The rich gentleman and Number II. 长沙桑拿攻略 on the Left became warm friends. Months went by and they often met. She lunched with him sometimes; they spent an occasional Sunday on the river, and she wrote to him, and he to her, on the days when they did not meet. She was very proud; she would accept none of his presents, she would not take money, and was always most circumspect in her behaviour. Gradually that sad look melted away from her eyes, and a certain beauty took its place. He was kind to her, and by degrees, little by little, the interest aroused by her[Pg 350] mournful expression deepened—as it disappeared—into love. She, on her side, looked upon him as a true friend, practically the only disinterested friend she had in London; and so time wore on, bringing happiness to both: neither paused to think. Her life was a happy one. She grew not to mind her work at the 长沙桑拿吧 theatre, or the sewing she did for the children at home, sitting hour by hour alone in her little attic lodging, looking forward to those pleasant Sunday trips which brought a new joy into her existence. His companionship and friendship were very precious to this lonely girl in London.
One glorious hot July Sunday which they spent near Marlow-on-Thames seemed to Sarah Hopper the happiest day of her life. She loved him, and she knew it. He loved her; and had often told her so; but more than that had never passed between them. It was nearly two years since they first met, during which time the only bright hours in the life of Number II. on the Left had been those spent in Allan Murray’s company. His kindness never changed. His consideration for her seemed to Alwyn delightful.
On that sunny afternoon they pulled up under the 长沙桑拿SPA会所 willows for tea, which she made from a little basket they always took with them. They were sitting chatting pleasantly, watching the water-flies buzzing on the stream, throwing an occasional bit of cake to a swan, and thoroughly enjoying that delightful sense of laziness which comes upon most of us at the close of a hot day, when seated beneath the shady trees that overhang the river.
He took her hand, and played with it absently for a while.
“Little girl,” he said at last, “this cannot go on. I love you, and you know it; you love me, and I know that too; but do you love me sufficiently to give yourself to me?”
“I don’t think I could love you any more,” she replied, “however hard I tried, for you have been my good angel for two happy years, you have been the one bright star of hope, the one pleasant thing in my life. I love you, I love you, I love you,” she murmured, as she leaned forward and laid her cheek upon his hand. He felt her warm breath thrill through him.