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SECOND FLOOR ROMANCE.

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SECOND FLOOR ROMANCE. He was the second floor lodger. She was his landlady's niece. For eighteen months she had called him at eight o'clock precisely, and laid his simple meals twice a day. During that period he had merely regarded her as an essential particle of the lodging- house. Perhaps he was dull of observation. Stephen Lamb was 49, short, and spare of figure, sallow of skin, and existed behind tinted spectacles. His valuation of himself was small, rendering him nervous and retiring in manner, and wholly unattractive. "He must be a good little man," once re- marked the landlady. "Corner home regular, drinks water, and pays me every Monday morning on the stroke of the clock, and "And lives like a mole," concluded her niece, contemptuously. Stephen's attention was first attracted by a rent in her gown. He became interested in the frayed snag, which gaped for two whole days. "Why don't you mend it ï" he asked on the third morning. "That's my business." The retort was sharp. He blushed behind his newspaper, reproved for his first remark. The next day he saw that it was mended in a zig-zag of white cotton. He reflected tha.t common-sense would have darned dark stuff with olack thread, and regarded the in- dividual laying his supper as a curiosity. "Well?" she interrogated, placing a. fork geometrically straight on the table-cloth. "I was wondering, he said, confused, "why-w hy" "Why I mended it with white cotton ? Because I couldn't find black." Then lie ventured to study the speaker's face, and noted that her eyes were blue, dark blue, and that her mouth curved prettily. Her attire was careless, even to untidiness, at which he winced. Her clothes did not seem to belong to her; she only wore them, and through them her figure W revealed the slenderness of an over-grown child. He watched her hands moving like quicksilver over the table, and listened to the aggressive creaking of her shabbily-shod feet. With half-closed eyes, lie tried to imagine her decked in cuffs and collar and a few more hairpins. "The mole is beginning to see," she thought, as she whisked about the room consciously. "I suppose she would be called a 'Uorothy-dni-ggte-tail!' he admitted to him- self with reluctance. "But how pretty she is -how pretty He blinked through his spectacles until lie had idealised the whole of her common-place little body into an ethereal vision. The exaggeration was due to having existed meta- phorically blind for so long. He lived the life of a carefully-regulated clock, clerking in a mercantile office upon JE120 a year. Steady, but lacking ambition, his "rises"' were slow and infinitesimal. One day he took cold in a November fog, and his landlady, without remunerative con- sideration, made him poultices and applied them. He was not so patient nor so grateful as might have been expected. "I intend to get up," lie announced from a raw chest after a week in becl. The good woman expostulated, but he had his way. Although simple in mind, he pos- sessed a mulish tendency. "Il was ghastly upstairs, •Jenny," he con- fided to the niece. "I seem to have been there seven months instead of as many days. She sympathised without her natural abruptness of speeoh, and he shifted in his chair to look at her. "Jenny," he said solemnly, "if I were to die I should like you to have ail my books on the shelf there. You've dusted them for So long. While upstairs I was thinking "Nonsense," she interpolated. "You have the blues, I guess." Although her tone was tart, the former gentleness he had noticed in her bearing remained. She stirred the fire and laughed. It was such a cheery laugh that he caught it from her, and responded huskily, "Don't go, Jenny, you do me good 1" She hummed a little tune while lighting tne gas and drawing the blind, and was care- ful to walk on her toes. "I like to hear your shoes creaking," he said; "that was one of the things I missed upstairs." She lingered a, little while, and finally went away in a. hurry. "I wonder if she is too old to hang iip her stocking on/Christmaa Eve?" lie solilo- quized. "Should like to put in some bon- bons and some hairpins and some ribbon and lace—things like other girls wear. Per- haps she would call that "rubbish,' though. I wish He went on wishing a great many things, among them that he were clever instead of good. I'rom.earliest- recollections he had been called "a good boy," in the nursery, and at the school, and in the office where he clerked. But just now he was in the mood to be contrary. He wanted to say a, great deal to Jenny, and didn't know how to say it. Subsequently, when she opened the door a couple of inches to inquire if he wanted any- thing el,se that night, he started giriltily and said: "Xo, thank you," instead of detaining her. When the door had closed he remained staring at the panels. The regular tick-tick of the little clerk's life became uneven. He continued to drink water, but sometimes arrived at his office five minutes late. And once he forgot the Monday morning payment to his landlady. She let the day go by without comment, but when Tuesday evening waned, and there was no sign from him, she told her niece to throw out a reminder, which Jenny did reluctantly. "I've never done such a thing before," he exclaimed, two red spots adorning his cheek- bones. "The fact is, I-I didn't go to church on Sunday, and the omission must have made me miscalculate the days." The fact was true, but as an excuse for his forgetfulness he privately scorned it. He brooded. "Perhaps I'm going to be ill. I don't feel myseit exactly. My own machinery seems to have stopped, and something else to be pro- I pelling me along. I don't know where—and I don't care Then he trembled at the recklessness of his new attitude, and endeavoured to collect his former self. For ten days he went about with inward sentinel over his thoughts and actons a.t the end of them lie had lost his appetite and wore the expression of a hunted criminal. "You're overworking," Jenny remarked, meeting him on the stairs one morning. The sallowness of his face had deepened, and his shoulders were more contracted. He shrank away from her solicitude, magnifying it to himself when alone. At odd moments ne stealthily studied his countenance in the mantelpiece mirror, observing critically that his^ features were sharpening. "I suggest a man in love!" be muttered, his mouth twitching in comical dismay. "And I am 49—and look it!" By and bye his distress gave way to a thrill at once pleasurable and lugubrious in its conscious hopelessness. But lie hugged the spasm to his breast, feeding it with i: asive hopes, until it had fastened on the very pivot of his lonely existence. He 00- came buoyant in gpirits and youthful in manner. The beggars in the streets received his charity in pennies ad lib., their outward wretchedness reproaching his inward joy. His newly born happiness was self-created. He cherished it continually, guarding it with jealous care, fearing an outside world might crush it. Partlv for this reason he hesitated to speak to Jenny; he preferred living in the ideality of his love to risking certain pos- sibilities. It was with a painful effort that lie fixed the date of his proposal; and he looked forward to the day as a man antici- pates his execution, with a feverish hope of a timely reprieve. What if she shattered his dreams with a laugh of derision? The doubt came to him suddenly in the office, and he made his first blot in the ledger. He had decided to "put his fate to the test" on Easter Monday, being a special day y r, and one likely to colour the occasion with brightness. There was a week to the good in which he could live in the heaven of his imagination. He grudged the nights which were passed in sleep, and woke to count with regard another day nearer to the end of his suspense. Finally his natural sense of terror overpowered his yearning. He juggled with his reason in persuading himself that any day would be as good as the one determined. "I'm going to spend my Easter holidays away—with some relations," he told Jenny, awkwardly jerking out the lie. "I'm going to have some—some jolly times." "I hope you will, she said with sincerity. "Holidays in a lodging-house must be awful. I was sorry for you at Christmas." "Were you, Jenny ?'' He laid a detaining hand on her shoulder as she moved to the door. If he had not previously tortured himself enough he might have risked every hope at that moment and spoken. He said something incoherently re- lative to "a jolly bank holiday" for herself, and mildly cursed his stupidity when the opportunity had slipped from him. It was on the day Stephen ran away to spend hig vacation, in another second floor sitting-room in the next street, that Jenny became engaged to the drawing-room lodger. When, at four o'clock on the bank holiday, Stephen Lamb let himself into his old apart- ments with the latch-key and crept up to his parlour with the stealth of a burglar, he found his own society in unfamiliar surround- ings too depressing. "I'll do it to-night," he muttered, crouch- ing in the armchair. "The first time I see her I'll say—F)i say"- He mumbled and shivered, and started violently at every sound about the house. until the door opened suddenly, and he shrank into the utmost limits of the chair. It was Jenny carrying a bedroom caudle. She went straight to the mirror and surveyed herself with steady interest. He saw that she wore a new gown, and that her hair was all pinned up. There was a festive importance about the lace frills at her throat and wrists, which made her unfamiliar to his eye. "I hardly knew you, Jenny," he said in a whisper. "I came back half an hour ago," he explained, as she confronted him with a gasp of surprise. "I don't like—my rela- tions." "You must be cold," she commented. "I'll put a match to the fire-it is laid." He sat there shivering while the faggots crackled. "A new rig, Jenny, eh?" j-es, I thought I had trailed about in my aunt's skirts and old bodice long enough, so I gently hinted at being fitted up like other girls." "You look better than other girls, Jenny. You"- but there he stopped. The muffin bell in the street gave him an inspiration. "I could just eat a muffin," he said, betray- ing some excitement. "Get enough for us both, Jenny, and well toast them up here." The coals had flamed and burned red when she returned with the muffins and the tea- tray. As she knelt on the hearthrug with the toasting fork, she was sensible to his scrutinv. "Do you think that two people could live on £ 120 a year, and not be uncomfortable?" lie asked, without a prelude. "If the woman had any 'grit' in her—yes," I she answered promptly. "I am sure that she has r' "Then I shouldn't lose any time," she advised. "You live such a drearv, vegetable kind of life." "Dreary, vegetable kind of life he echoed. Her advice had opened the way for him. Why couldn't he plunge into it? Why couldn't he do the thing like other fellows? His heart was thumping under his waistcoat with love's eloquence, but his tongue was heavy, and he hadn't the courage to touch her. As she turned the muffin over, lie de- cided that "when the other .side was done," he would say something, however wild and stupid; that the finish of that muffin should see her resting in his arms, and the joy of his life begun. He compared the long, lonelv emptiness of the past with the warm promise of the future, and laughed aloud, exultantly. Trepidation had given way to confidence. It was all so near, almost within his hands In a few more seconds he would be breath- ing a prayer of thankfulness. In a few more seconds-- "You must wish me a double' happiness this Easter," she was saying in a soft, shy voice. "I am going to be married at Whit- suntide." She held the toasting-fork listlessly, and the half-dons muffin slipped unheeded among the ashes. Mechanically he picked it up while the low voice murmured on about "Somebody's" virtues and goodness, and the little house that "Somebody" had fixed upon and, finally, the nobility and devotion of that wonderful "Somebody." Stephen listened, and the half-expectant smile on his lips straightened into two sharp lines. He laughed a little imitation laugh in response to her full one, as she unconsciously burst his pretty air-bubble. For an instant lie was tempted to make an outcry of the pain that had fastened on his heart. In the next- "This muffin is spoilt," he said, slowly blowing at the smudgy ash marks. "Let's try another, Jenny."—"Black and White."

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