A Daughter of To-day - Cover

A Daughter of To-day

Copyright© 2011 by Sara Jeannette Duncan

Chapter 7

There was a scraping and a stumbling sound in the second floor front bedroom of Mrs. Jordan's lodgings in a by-way of Fleet Street, at two o'clock in the morning. It came up to Elfrida mixed with the rattle of a departing cab over the paving-stones below, outside where the fog was lifting and showing one street-lamp to another. Elfrida in her attic had been sitting above the fog all night; her single candle had not been obscured by it. The cab had been paid and the andirons were being disturbed by Mr. Golightly Ticke, returned from the Criterion Restaurant, where he had been supping with the leading lady of the Sparkle Company, at the leading, lady's expense. She could afford it better than he could, she told him, and that was extremely true, for Mr. Ticke had his capacities for light comedy still largely to prove, while Mademoiselle Phyllis Fane had almost disestablished herself upon the stage, so long and so prosperously had she pirouetted there. Mr. Golightly Ticke's case excited a degree of the large compassion which Mademoiselle Phyllis had for incipient genius of the interesting sex, and which served her instead of virtue of the more ordinary sort. He had a doable claim upon it, because, in addition to being tall and fair and misunderstood by most people, with a thin nose that went beautifully with a medieval costume, he was such a gentleman. Phyllis loosened her purse-strings instinctively, with genuine gratification, whenever this young man approached. She believed in him; he had ideas, she said, and she gave him more; in the end he would be sure to "catch on." Through the invariable period of obscurity which comes before the appearance of any star, she was in the habit of stating that he would have no truer friend than Filly Fane. She "spoke to" the manager, she pointed out Mr. Ticke's little parts to the more intimate of her friends of the press. She sent him delicate little presents of expensive cigars, scents, and soaps; she told him often that he would infallibly "get there." The fact of his having paid his own cab-fare from the Criterion on this particular morning gave him, as he found his way upstairs, almost an injured feeling of independence.

As the sounds defined themselves move distinctly, troublous and uncertain, Elfrida laid down her pen and listened.

"What an absurd boy it is!" she said. "He's trying to go to bed in the fireplace."

As a matter of fact, Mr. Ticke's stage of intoxication was not nearly so advanced as that; but Elfrida's mood was borrowed from her article, and she felt the necessity of putting it graphically. Besides, a picturesque form of stating his condition was almost due to Mr. Ticke. Mr. Ticke lived the unfettered life; he was of the elect; Elfrida reflected, as Mr. Ticke went impulsively to bed, how easy it was to discover the elect. A glance would do it, a word, the turning of an eyelid; she knew it of Golightly Ticke days before he came up in an old velvet coat, and without a shirt collar, to borrow a sheet of note paper and an envelope from her. On that occasion Mr. Ticke had half apologized for his appearance, saying, "I'm afraid I'm rather a Bohemian," in his sympathetic voice. To which Elfrida had responded, hanging him the note paper, "Afraid!" and the understanding was established at once. Elfrida did not consider Mr. Ticke's other qualifications or disqualifications; that would have been a bourgeois thing to do. He was a belle dame, that was sufficient. He might find life difficult, it was natural and probable. She, Elfrida Bell, found it difficult. He had not succeeded yet; neither had she; therefore they had a comradeship—they and a few others—of revolt against the dull conventional British public that barred the way to success. Yesterday she had met him at the street-door, and he had stopped to remark that along the Embankment nature was making a bad copy of one of Vereschagin's pictures. When people could say things like that, nothing else mattered much. It is impossible to tell whether Miss Bell would have found room in this philosophy for the godmotherly benevolence of Mademoiselle Fane, if she had known of it, or not.

It was a long, low-roofed room in which Elfrida Bell meditated, biting the end of her pen, upon the difference it made when a fellow-being was not a Philistine; and it was not in the least like any other apartment Mrs. Jordan had to let. It was the atelier of the Rue Porte Royale transported. Elfrida had brought all her possessions with her, and took a nameless comfort in arranging them as she liked them best. "Try to feel at home," she said whimsically to her Indian zither as she hung it up. "We shall miss Paris, you and I, but one day we shall go back together." A Japanese screen wandered across the room and made a bedroom of the end. Elfrida had to buy that, and spent a day in finding a cheap one which did not offend her. The floor was bare except for a little Afghan prayer-carpet, Mrs. Jordan having removed, in suspicions astonishment, an almost new tapestry of as nice a pattern as she ever set eyes on, at her lodger's request. A samovar stood on a little square table in the corner, and beside it a tin box of biscuits. The dormer-windows were hung with Eastern stuffs, a Roman lamp stood on the mantel, a Koran-holder held Omar Khayyam second-hand, and Meredith's last novel, and "Anna Karenina," and "Salammbo," and two or three recent numbers of the Figaro. Here and there on the wall a Salon photograph was fastened. A study of a girl's head that Nadie had given her was stuck with a Spanish dagger over the fireplace. A sketch of Vambety's and one of Kendal's, sacredly framed, hung where she could always see them. There was a vague suggestion of roses about the room, and a mingled fragrance of joss-sticks and cigarettes. The candle shone principally upon a little bronze Buddha, who sat lotus-shrined on the writing-table among Elfrida's papers, with an ineffable, inscrutable smile. On the top shelf of a closet in the wall a small pile of canvases gathered dust, face downward. Not a brush-mark of her own was visible. She told herself that she had done with that.

The girl sat with her long cloak about her and a blanket over her knees. Her fingers were almost nerveless with cold; as she laid down her manuscript she tried to wring warmth into them. Her face was white, her eyes were intensely wide open and wide awake; they had black dashes underneath, an emphasis they did not need. She lay back in her chair and gave the manuscript a little push toward Buddha smiling in the middle of the table. "Well?" she said, regarding him with defiant inquiry, cleverly mocked.

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