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 didn’t see you frowning when I was doing that gentleman’s nails?”

The allusion was to the client who had just left—a 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 couldn’t object to that either. It was just Arthur’s silliness.

She tossed her head.

“I am gratified,” said Arthur, ponderously—in 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 isn’t fair,” she sobbed. “It isn’t. You know I can’t help it if gentlemen talk and joke with me. You know it’s all in the day’s work. I’m expected to be civil to gentlemen who come in to have their hands done. Silly I should look sitting as if I’d swallowed a poker. I do think you might understand, Arthur, you being in the profession yourself.”

He coughed.

“It isn’t so much that you talk to them as that you seem to like—”

He stopped. Maud’s 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 Arthur’s 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. Arthur’s behaviour was unexceptionable. He bought her a wrist- watch—light 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.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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