Keith Harford and Ione were left alone, and after the first plunge both took the matter rather calmly. Without thinking much of their surroundings, they walked contentedly together down the wide and busy street, the passers-by seeming somehow no more than idle phantom-shapes about them. Instead of the gloomy trivialities of Buckingham Palace Road they beheld the mural front of the Eiger, with the toothed Wetterhorn and the rosy Jungfrau setting their snowy horns over the sullen cowled Monk.
"Hansom, sir!" called a crawler from the pavement edge.
"Thank you, I have engaged my guides!" replied Keith. Ione laughed a little helplessly, as one might in church.
"How strange!" she said. "I too was thinking about the main street of Grindelwald at that very moment. Why, how pale you are, Mr. Harford!"
"I was about to say the same of you. Miss March! I fear we have both lost our mountain tan!"
They were silent for about a hundred yards, threading their way past a spate of passers-by, till to avoid them they turned almost mechanically into a quieter side street.
"I think that I had better tell you," said Ione at last, controlling her voice, "that I have left my father, and am making my own living — not very successfully as yet, it is true. I am 'out of employment ' at present. Isn't that the English phrase?"
There was pain as well as mirth in the little laugh which accompanied her words.
"I too am as poor as any one needs to be," said Keith Harford, looking down thoughtfully. "I fear I am a careless, improvident fellow at best. When I have money I spend it, or give it away — at any rate it takes to itself wings and does just as the Scriptures say. And then sometimes I can't make any more all in a minute. People print what I write readily enough, but somehow they don't always remember to pay me for it as quickly!"
"Do you ever ask them to pay?" queried practical Ione, swiftly.
"Ask them? No, of course not! How could I ask them?"
There was a look of wonder on Keith's dark and thoughtful face, worn keen and thin during months of disappointment and loneliness.
"People never ask you for money, I suppose?" mused Ione, darting a swift sharp glance at him under her eyelashes.
"Oh, they do, they do," he admitted mournfully; "and sometimes it is very painful when I have got none to give them. But these are mostly trades-people and not - "
"Not university men!" There was the least grain of hard irony in Ione's tone. "What a silly child!" she was saying to herself. "How the man does need to be looked after!"
And her brow grew more and more thoughtful as they walked on.
"But you — did I understand you to say that you needed work. Miss March?"
Keith Harford had not yet taken in the situation.
"Why, yes; that is just what I did say. I've been in two places, one after the other, and I didn't suit one, and the other didn't suit me. So I am thinking of trying the stage. It is, I know, the last refuge of the incompetent — or the last but one, the parapet of Westminster Bridge being the ultimate, I believe."
Happily Keith had heard her first words only.
"The stage," he said; "that is strange. I have just been appointed Lecturer on Shakespeare and the Classic Drama to an International College of Dramatic Art. The salary indeed is a mere pittance, but it may lead somewhere — and besides, beggars cannot be choosers."
A wonderful sense of coincidence came over Ione. This, if not precisely providential, was surely something very like it.
"Let me come with you," she said simply; "that is just the very place I am seeking for."
An eager answering light shone on the face of her companion. He seemed about to say something, then he checked himself and was silent for a moment.
"Better wait," he said, "till I see what the place is like. Could I not call upon you to-morrow, and talk it over?"
But Ione had been accustomed all her life to "rush" things, as she herself would have said.
"Oh no," she pleaded, " do let me come along with you now!"
He would have called a hansom, but Ione with a new pity and comradeship in her heart to see him so pale and discouraged, said, "Unless you are pressed for time, Mr. Harford, why don't we both walk? It will do us good."
Then, as they threaded their way citywards, Keith Harford told how he and Marcus Hardy had parted at the end of the month in Switzerland — Hardy to go to Paris with the Judds, Keith Harford to return to London alone.
"And you," queried Ione, "why did not you also accompany the Judds?"
"Oh, I — well, I had only ten pounds left after paying my guides for the season and - "
"Did your friend know that?" asked Ione with sudden sharpness.
"Hardy? Oh no, certainly not! He knows nothing of my affairs. He has had plenty of money all his life, and so, very naturally, he thinks nothing about it."
Ione was silent a long time. She was walking unevenly, superstitiously avoiding the cracks in the flagstones in a way she had when thinking deeply.
"And yet you have told me?" she said softly.
"That is different," her companion interposed eagerly. "By necessity or choice you are as poor as I. Besides, though I have not known you long, I thought from the very first time I saw you that I should like to call you my friend. May I?"
They were at a street-crossing. Ione was about to trip across in her quick impulsive way, but a huge over-loaded omnibus came thundering down upon them like a toppling car of Juggernaut. Perhaps by instinct, perhaps a little by intention, Keith laid his hand with a light restraint over Ione's gloved fingers as they bent themselves round the top of her umbrella. Ione did not resent the action. Keith and she seemed somehow comrades in one regiment, derelict fragments of the same forlorn hope, both poor and both castaway in the mighty whirl of this London. Presently the crossing cleared and they were at the other side. Ere she knew it, Ione found herself detaching her hand from Keith's arm, which she had involuntarily clutched as a second earthquake on four wheels charged down upon them. These are simple things, in themselves insignificant, yet significant of approaching danger, like the tunnels driven by water rats through the sea dykes of Holland.
"The International College of Dramatic Art ought to be somewhere about here," Keith said, as they turned out of the eternal eddy of Trafalgar Square and the double flood tide of the Strand, into one of the quiet streets which make a left-handed bend north-westwards in the direction of Leicester Square.
Ione was distinctly disappointed with Kersymere Street, in which the college was situated. No magnificent frontage greeted the eye — only the usual submerged tenth of unkempt and grimy domiciles, the same frowsy and greasy shop fronts, the same flourishing public-houses as elsewhere in the district. There must, she thought, surely be some mistake.
They stood before Number 120. It proved to be entered by a lowish and inconceivably dirty doorway, which had had recently painted over it the legend "International College of Dramatic Art" in black capitals which permitted of no further argument.
"It does not look particularly promising," said Keith, "but then these places often do not make a show, and after all the instruction is the thing."
"Certainly," chimed in the hopeful Ione; "and if the principal has had the sense to engage you as a lecturer on Shakespeare, he will doubtless have equally good people to give instruction on other subjects."
"Let's see — I ought to have a prospectus about me somewhere," said Keith, and forthwith pulled a magnificent document out of his breast-pocket. It was printed on vellum-like paper, which of itself suggested respectability and a diploma with seals at the end of the curriculum.
Ione's hand trembled as she unfolded the prospectus. Rosy visions filled her mind. A gateway into a new fairyland seemed to swing suddenly open before her. She thought of the applause of the hotel audiences which had endured seeing her act Rosalind and Lady Macbeth on alternate nights for a whole week in the dead of winter. She had been conscious that some slight training was all she needed, and now it seemed that good fortune and Keith Harford had led her straight to the right place. The staid "long primer" and the abundant "Old English" of the advertisement seemed to dance before her eyes. Crowded and enthusiastic playhouses appeared to rise at her in the very dots of the i's, and every capital T was a signpost pointing the way to fame and fortune with both arms.
When the turmoil in her heart stilled itself a little and Ione could calmly grasp the meaning of what was before her, she began to read the composition aloud. The two stood together in the grimy doorway of the College like a couple of children. Keith was looking over Ione's shoulder as she read, in a comradeship which knew no future and no past, but which somehow seemed to be right, and the only possible relationship between them.
At last, through the discomposing clouds of agitation and excitement, the following facts disentangled themselves from the shaking paper, upon the edge of which Keith had considerately put his hand that he might steady it sufficiently for Ione to read.
It appeared that, for the sum of £30 in sterling unclipped coin, one could obtain a session's instruction from the greatest artists in the metropolitan dramatic profession. For three months Ione could enjoy the advantages of a regularly equipped theatre. There was also a hall for instruction in dancing of the most severely classical sort, skirt-dancing being an extra and serpentine gyration a speciality to be contracted for privately. Elocution, voice production, singing, Shakespeare and the classical drama were all represented in this most comprehensive curriculum. Ione felt it made her an actress only to read the prospectus over.
Her finger ran along the line where Keith's name ought to have stood. It terminated with that of a distinguished literary critic, the infallibility of whose judgment upon all subjects had never been warped by writing anything original upon even one.
"And you are Mr. Wobbleigh Cavendish's successor?" she said, looking with reverence at her companion. Keith bowed a little ironical bow of acknowledgement, looking down at her meantime over her shoulder.
"I have that privilege," he said; "but I am sorry for the great man if I also succeed to his honorarium."
"Oh, I should love to come to your class," Ione went on plaintively; "but I suppose it will be a long time before I am so far advanced as to be permitted."
"Well," said Keith as wistfully, "I don't know. If you will notice, Shakespeare and the Classic Drama are bracketed with the art of Fence as a supernumerary subject at the end. That is perhaps why the pay is only a pound a week."
"A pound a week," cried Ione; "surely you are to get more than that — why, the fees are thirty pounds for a course of three months. Surely they must pay their professors more than a pound a week."
"There are the buildings to keep up and the acting director to provide for, I suppose," said Keith. "I've not seen him yet, but he writes a very good letter. I have one in my pocket, and it is quite poetical. Let us go up. After you have seen the inside of the College, you can decide whether you care to join."
Presently they entered an outer office, which they found in the sole occupation of a grimy and wizened boy. This prematurely aged youth was relaxing himself by vaulting over two chairs placed back to back, propelling himself by means of a large and very ancient floor-brush. He took the two cards with fingers which instantly hall-marked the paste-boards on either side. Then, after he had glanced at these rather doubtfully, he grinned compassionately and forthwith vanished into an inner room.
Keith and Ione looked about them. Certainly the reception-room of the College did not, any more than its exterior, live up to the magnificent prospectus. The floor-brush had not been used for its legitimate purpose during at least a generation. The walls, however, were covered with photographs of professional ladies in all manner of impossible poses and irrelevant costumes. One or two flaring bills of local theatres had been tacked up here and there as a suitable mural adornment.
"Severely classical!" said Keith Harford, looking about him with a smile.
"Shockingly dirty!" snorted Ione, with a disgusted feminine dilation of the nostrils. "If I stay here a single day, I’ll snatch that broom from the boy, and get some tea-leaves to sprinkle over all this!"
"The director will see you," said the grimy boy at this moment, appearing again at the inner door, and looking round for the broom in order to resume his interrupted studies. He watched the door close upon them, and then added in a meditative undertone, "O Lor', cabbage for two!"
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First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.