Arthur, who was stropping a razor and whistling tunelessly, raised his eyebrows. His manner was frosty.
I fail to understand your meaning, he said.
You know what I mean. Do you think I didnt see you frowning when I was doing that gentlemans nails?
The allusion was to the client who had just lefta jovial individual with a red face, who certainly had made Maud giggle a good deal. And why not? If a gentleman tells really funny stories, what harm is there in giggling? You had to be pleasant to people. If you snubbed customers, what happened? Why, sooner or later, it got round to the boss, and then where were you? Besides, it was not as if the red- faced customer had been rude. Write down on paper what he had said to her, and nobody could object to it. Write down on paper what she had said to him, and you couldnt object to that either. It was just Arthurs silliness.
She tossed her head.
I am gratified, said Arthur, ponderouslyin happier moments Maud had admired his gift of language; he read a great deal: encyclopædias and papers and things I am gratified to find that you had time to bestow a glance on me. You appeared absorbed.
Maud sniffed unhappily. She had meant to be cold and dignified throughout the conversation, but the sense of her wrongs was beginning to be too much for her. A large tear splashed on to her tray of orange- sticks. She wiped it away with the chamois leather.
It isnt fair, she sobbed. It isnt. You know I cant help it if gentlemen talk and joke with me. You know its all in the days work. Im expected to be civil to gentlemen who come in to have their hands done. Silly I should look sitting as if Id swallowed a poker. I do think you might understand, Arthur, you being in the profession yourself.
It isnt so much that you talk to them as that you seem to like
He stopped. Mauds dignity had melted completely. Her face was buried in her arms. She did not care if a million customers came in, all at the same time.
She heard him moving towards her, but she did not look up. The next moment his arms were round her, and he was babbling.
And a customer, pushing open the door unnoticed two minutes later, retired hurriedly to get shaved elsewhere, doubting whether Arthurs mind was on his job.
For a time this little thunderstorm undoubtedly cleared the air. For a day or two Maud was happier than she ever remembered to have been. Arthurs behaviour was unexceptionable. He bought her a wrist- watchlight brown leather, very smart. He gave her some chocolates to eat in the Tube. He entertained her with amazing statistics, culled from the weekly paper which he bought on Tuesdays. He was, in short, the perfect lover. On the second day the red-faced man came in again. Arthur joined in the laughter at his stories. Everything seemed ideal.
It could not last. Gradually things slipped back into the old routine. Maud, looking up from her work, would see the frown and the bitten lip. She began again to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious as she worked. Sometimes their conversation on the way to the Tube was almost formal.
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