The Modern Girl’s View of Marriage: Hammersmith (four)
Hogben tried singing counterpoint to the melody…got absorbed in the challenge, started over, switched to “Nearer My God to Thee”. He fell silent, the hymn reminding him to plan. They always began a show that way, a prayer and a song. Brought the audience together, gave them a common purpose, one that with luck would hold. Was there any reason the Professor couldn’t, then, this one time…be there in spirit?
“As my late partner…always liked to say.” Hogben spoke aloud, acted the little catch, the timbre of his voice made fond and regretful. His shoes scudded over greening weedy stuff and moss. He noted tiny flowers, a mound of them in a sunny patch warmed also by the bridge’s abutment. Too puny to make a nosegay of. But it was a thought. If he wasn’t wrong about Mrs. Bard, he’d get more mileage from a bunch of chickweed, than Shaw from running her errands.
Hogben started. A head, disheveled hair, a mud-smeared chin and nose, emerged from the cover of the bridge, near where Hogben had proposed to sit and think. The rest began to come out, and what showed earliest was clad in an undershirt.
“Sir, I…may I ask you, will you…go.” The young man gestured. He rose, clear of the arch, and stood, clutching the band of his trousers. “And, for a minute, wait on the road? Please.”
“Mr. Hogben!” The voice was Minnie Leybourne’s. “Is that you? Don’t go!”
He’d been prepared to high-tail it. Hogben had to debate with himself a moment, whether in such circumstances a lady’s preference must be obeyed—and the chance to decide got away from him. Minnie came out from under the bridge, fixing on her hat. Her skirts bore the sort of debris that might gather there, if lying on a patch of ground (cloth or occupant, Hogben was not judging); her state of dress otherwise was more presentable than her comrade’s.
“Nico!” Minnie was a lyric soprano. Nico vibrated like a wine glass, as (what Hogben supposed must be) his inamorata sang out his name. He had fastened his braces on, and was donning his jacket.
“Mr. Hogben, I want to introduce you to Nicholas Raymond.”
“Mr. Raymond.” Hogben offered his hand.
“Yes,” Nico said. “How do you do?”
“I didn’t know if Nico would ever figure it out, where this place is. I mean…but I sent him a telegram. Right off, when we first got here. You remember Mr. Mack was taking them down. You know, the trains that come up this way only stop down along the river, down where they got the factory.”