THE hard-faced man with the thin, straggling beard and shaven upper lip glanced about him with a certain sour contempt. He had no approval for this frivolity. He lived by time and rule himself—he was partially shaven because his father and grandfather had been so before him; he wore an old-fashioned pepper-and-salt suit for the same reason. So long as he could remember, he had dined every Sunday at one o'clock on cold beef and a cold suet-pudding. He had lived in the same house for sixty years with the same polished mahogany, the same hard, strong horsehair chairs, waited on practically by the same sour, hard servants. Year in and year out, he had travelled the same round to the same dingy office where he made the same money almost to a penny, keeping to the same faiths and prejudices. The dreary monotony of it had killed his wife, and with her the one touch of romance in his grey existence; it had driven his only daughter away (to his great anger and indignation), for he regarded his house off Keppel Street as the acme of luxury and refinement.
In his way, Samuel Burton was a type. It is a type happily getting rare now, but he was an individuality all the same. The man was rigidly just and fair according to his lights, cold and unfeeling and ready always to justify some hard deed with appropriate extracts from Holy Writ. That he was lonely and unhappy and miserable he did not dream. The knowledge would have astonished him. That there was a deep humanity under his hard grey exterior would have astonished him still more.
He had not gone deliberately to the charitable entertainment given by the Bloomsbury Thespian Society—he had been more or less drawn there by false pretences. By mistake he had found himself in the lesser hall instead of the greater one, and, having paid his half-crown, decided, in his characteristic way, to get the full benefit of it. A pretty girl dressed as a theatre attendant thrust a programme into his hand. He smiled sourly as he read it.
He had not been to a frivolous gathering like this for five-and-twenty years. For one brief month in the long ago he had tasted of these insidious joys. There were many reasons why he did not care to think of that period now. Had he kept clear of that, he would never have married, he would never have had a daughter to leave him in his old age. There was another side to the model, but Samuel Burton never glanced at that. To do so was to doubt his own judgment.
The first item on the programme was a three-part comedy. It was a light and amusing little piece, and it pleased the audience immensely. Burton sat it out without the moving of a muscle. It seemed odd that people should laugh at that kind of thing. It wasn't a bit like life either. No woman would be such a fool as to cry because her young husband had pretended to forget her birthday. Everything in the little comedy depended on that. It seemed silly to Burton; it seemed absurd that a pleasant-looking girl by him should wipe her eyes as the curtain came down. Burton had no idea that he was watching a dainty little masterpiece of French comedy, written by a master of his craft, skilled in the art of blending laughter and tears. He could not recognise the human document. It was impossible for him to know that the people round him were feeling all the better for it. It was all a silly waste of time and money.
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||736 KB|