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Chapter VIII 


THE TWELVE GOLDEN-HAIRED BAR-MAIDS.

Now it was not without some boyish nervousness that I followed my newly made friend, for I confess that I have ever been a poor hand at talking to bar-maids. It is, I am convinced, an art apart, an art like any other,--needing first the natural gift, then the long patient training, and finally the courageous practice. Alas for me, I possessed neither gift, training, nor courage. Courage I lacked most of all. It was in vain that I said to myself that it was like swimming,--all that was needed was "confidence." That was the very thing I couldn't muster. No doubt I am handicapped by a certain respectful homage which I always feel involuntarily to any one in the shape of woman, for anything savouring of respect is the last thing to win the bar-maid heart divine. The man to win her is he who calls loudly for his drink, without a "Please" or a "Thank you," throws his hat at the back of his head, gulps down half his glass, and, while drawing breath for the other half, takes a hard, indifferent look at her, and in an off-hand voice throws her some fatuous, mirthless jest.

Now, I've never been able to do this in the convincing grand manner of the British male; and whatever I have said, the effect has been the same. I've talked about theatres and music-halls, of events of the day, I've even--Heaven help me--talked of racing and football, but I might as well have talked of Herbert Spencer. I suppose I didn't talk about them in the right way. I'm sure it must be my fault somewhere, for certainly they seem easy enough to please, poor things! However, my failure remains, and sometimes even I find it extremely hard to attract their attention in the ordinary way of business. I don't mind my neighbour being preferred before me, but I do object to his being served before me!

So, I say, I couldn't but tremble at the vision of those golden-haired goddesses, standing with immobile faces by their awful altars. Indeed, had I realised how superbly impressive they were going to be, I think I must have declined the adventure altogether,--for, robed in lustrous ivory-white linen were those figures of undress marble, the wealth of their glorious bodies pressing out into bosoms magnificent as magnolias (nobler lines and curves Greece herself has never known), towering in throats of fluted alabaster, and flowering in coiffures of imperial gold.

Nor was their temple less magnificent. To make it fair, Ruskin had relit the seven lamps of architecture, and written the seven labours of Hercules; for these windows through a whole youth Burne Jones had worshipped painted glass at Oxford, and to breathe romance into these frescos had Rossetti been born, and Dante born again. Men had gone to prison and to death that this temple of Whiskey-and-Soda might be fair.

Strange, in truth, are the ministrations to which Beauty is called. Out of the high heaven is she summoned, from mystic communion with her own perfection, from majestic labours in the Sistine Chapel of the Stars,--yea, she must put aside her gold-leaf and purples and leave unfinished the very panels of the throne of God,--that Circe shall have her palace, and her worshippers their gilded sty.

As there were at least a score of "worshippers" round each Circe, my nervousness became unimportant, and therefore passed. Thus, as my companion and I sat at one of the little tables, from which we might gaze upon the sea without and Aphrodite within, my eyes were able to fly like bees from one fair face to another. Finally, they settled upon a Circe less besieged of the hoarse and grunting mob. She was conspicuously less in height, her hair was rather bright red than golden, and her face had more meanings than the faces of her fellows.

"Why," in a flash it came to me, "it's Rosalind!" and clean forgetting to be shy, or polite to my companion, I hastened across to her, to be greeted instantly in a manner so exclusively intimate that the little crowd about her presently spread itself among the other crowds, and we were left to talk alone.

"Well," I said, "you're a nice girl! Whatever are you doing here?"

"Yes, I'm afraid you'll have but a strange opinion of me," she said; "but I love all experience,--it's such fun,--and when I heard that there was a sudden vacancy for a golden-haired beauty in this place, I couldn't resist applying, and to my surprise they took me--and here I am! Of course I shall only stay till Orlando appears--which," she added mournfully--"he hasn't done yet."

Her hours were long and late, but she had two half-days free in the week, and for these of course I engaged myself.

Meanwhile I spent as much time as I decently could at her side; but it was impossible to monopolise her, and the rest of my time there was no difficulty in filling up, you may be sure, in so gay a place.

Two or three nights after this, a little before dinner-time, while I was standing talking to her, she suddenly went very white, and in a fluttering voice gasped, "Look yonder!" I looked. A rather slight dark- haired young man was entering the bar, with a very stylish pretty woman at his side. As they sat down and claimed the waiter, some distance away, Rosalind whispered, "That's my husband!"

"Oh!" I said; "but that's no reason for your fainting. Pull yourself together. Take a drop of brandy." But woman will never take the most obvious restorative, and Rosalind presently recovered without the brandy. She looked covertly at her husband, with tragic eyes.

"He's much younger than I imagined him," I said,--reserving for myself the satisfaction which this discovery had for me.

"Oh, yes, he's really quite a boy," said Rosalind; adding under her breath, "Dear fellow! how I love him!"

"And hate him too!" she superadded, as she observed his evident satisfaction with his present lot. Indeed the experiment appeared to be working most successfully with him; nor, looking at his companion, could I wonder. She was a sprightly young woman, very smart and merry and decorously voluptuous, and of that fascinating prettiness that wins the hearts of boys and storms the footlights. One of her characteristics soothed the heart of Rosalind. She had splendid red hair, almost as good as her own.

"He's been faithful to my hair, at all events," she said, trying to be nonchalant.

"And the eyes are not unlike," I added, meaning well.

"I'm sorry you think so," said Rosalind, evidently piqued.

"Well, never mind," I tried to make peace, "she hasn't your hands,"--I knew that women cared more about their hands than their faces.

"How do you know?" she retorted; "you cannot see through her gloves."

"Would any gloves disguise your hands?" I persisted. "They would shine through the mittens of an Esquimau."

"Well, enough of that! See--I know it's wickedly mean of me--but couldn't you manage to sit somewhere near them and hear what they are saying? Of course you needn't tell me anything it would be mean to hear, but only what--"

"You would like to know."

But this little plot died at its birth, for that very minute the threatened couple arose, and went out arm in arm, apparently as absurdly happy as two young people can be.

As they passed out, one of Rosalind's fellow bar-maids turned to her and said,--

"You know who that was?"

"Who?" said Rosalind, startled.

"That pretty woman who went out with that young Johnny just now?"

"No; who is she?"

"Why, that's"--and readers with heart- disease had better brace themselves up for a great shock--"that's SYLVIA JOY, the famous dancer!"

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