He emerged on the livid brilliance and streaming movement of the public street. He became acutely aware of his disfigured face, and felt his swelling bruises with a limp, investigatory hand. He went up to the swiftest platform, and seated himself on a Labour Company bench.
He lapsed into a pensive torpor. The immediate dangers and stresses of his position he saw with a sort of static clearness. What would they do to-morrow? He could not tell. What would Elizabeth think of his brutalisation? He could not tell. He was exhausted. He was aroused presently by a hand upon his arm.
He looked up, and saw the swart man seated beside him. He started. Surely he was safe from violence in the public way!
The swart man’s face retained no traces of his share in the fight; his expression was free from hostility—seemed almost deferential. “‘Scuse me,” he said, with a total absence of truculence. Denton realised that no assault was intended. He stared, awaiting the next development.
It was evident the next sentence was premeditated. “Whad—I—was—going—to say—was this,” said the swart man, and sought through a silence for further words.
“Whad—I—was—going—to say—was this,” he repeated.
Finally he abandoned that gambit. “You’re aw right,” he cried, laying a grimy hand on Denton’s grimy sleeve. “You’re aw right. You’re a ge’man. Sorry—very sorry. Wanted to tell you that.”
Denton realised that there must exist motives beyond a mere impulse to abominable proceedings in the man. He meditated, and swallowed an unworthy pride.
“I did not mean to be offensive to you,” he said, “in refusing that bit of bread.”
“Meant it friendly,” said the swart man, recalling the scene; “but—in front of that blarsted Whitey and his snigger—Well—I ‘ad to scrap.”
“Yes,” said Denton with sudden fervour: “I was a fool.”
“Ah!” said the swart man, with great satisfaction. “That’s aw right. Shake!”
And Denton shook.
The moving platform was rushing by the establishment of a face moulder, and its lower front was a huge display of mirror, designed to stimulate the thirst for more symmetrical features. Denton caught the reflection of himself and his new friend, enormously twisted and broadened. His own face was puffed, one-sided, and blood-stained; a grin of idiotic and insincere amiability distorted its latitude. A wisp of hair occluded one eye. The trick of the mirror presented the swart man as a gross expansion of lip and nostril. They were linked by shaking hands. Then abruptly this vision passed—to return to memory in the anæmic meditations of a waking dawn.
As he shook, the swart man made some muddled remark, to the effect that he had always known he could get on with