5 JULY 1924, Page 18



ANN LEE'S occupied a single frontage in one of the dimmer and more silent streets of south-west London. Grey-painted woodwork framed a window over which her legend was inscribed in far-apart black letters : " Ann Lee-Hats." In the window there were always just two hats : one on a stand, one lying on a cushion, and a black curtain with a violet border hung behind to make a background for the hats. In the two upper stories, perhaps, Ann Lee lived mysteriously; but this no known customer had ever enquired, and the black gauze curtains were impenetrable from without.

Mrs. Dick Logan and her friend, Miss Ames, approached the shop-front. Miss Ames had been here once before, two years ago ; the- hat still existed and was frequently admired by her friends. It was she who was bringing Mrs. Dick Logan ; they were young, women with faces of a similar pinkness ; they.used the same swear-words and knew the same men.. Mrs. Dick Logan had decided to give up Clarice ; her husband made such a ridiculous fuss about the bills, and considering all she had to put up with every quarter-day she thought she really might have something more to show for it in the way of hats. Miss Ames, who never dealt there, agreed that Clarice was expensive : now there was that shop she had been to once, Ann Lee's, not far from Sloane Street " Expensive ? " Mrs. Dick said, warily.

" Oh, well, not cheap. But most emphatically worth it. You know, I got that green there —" " 0-oh"! " cried Mrs. Dick Logan,' " that expressive green ! "

So they went to find Ann Lee.

It was an afternoon in January, and their first sensation was of pleasure as they pushed open the curtained door and felt the warm air of the shop vibrate against their faces. An electric fire was reflected-in-a crimson patch upon the lustrous pile of the black carpet. There were two chairs, two mirrors, a divan, and a curtain over an expectant archway. No hats were visible.

Nice interior ! ' whispered Mrs. Logan.

" Very much her," returned Miss Ames.- They-loosened their furs luxuriously, and each one glanced sidelong at herself in a mirror. They had a sense of having been sent round on approval, and this deepened in the breast of Mrs. Logan as their waiting in the empty shop was prolonged by minute after minute. Clarice came rushing at one rather : Mrs. Logan was predisposed to like Ann Lee for her discreet indifference to custom. Letty Ames had said that she was practically a lady ; a queer creature, Letty couldn't place her.

" I wonder if she realizes we're here," whispered Letty. " We might just cough—not an angry cough, quite natural. You'd better, Lulu, 'cause you've got one." Mrs. Logan really had a slight catarrh and the sound came out explosively. They heard a door softly open and shut, and the sound of feet descending two or three carpeted steps. There was another silence, then close behind the curtain came a long, soft, continuous rustling of tissue paper. One might almost have believed Ann Lee to be emerging from a bandbox. Then the curtain quivered and swung sideways, and someone regarded them a moment from the archway. " Good afternoon," she said, serenely, and " Good afternoon."

Her finger brushed a switch, and the shop became discreetly brilliant with long shafts of well-directed light. " I've come back again," Miss Ames brought out, a shade dramatically, and Ann Lee nodded.

" Yes, so I see. I'm glad, Miss Ames. I had expected you." She smiled, and Mrs. Dick Logan felt chilly with exclusion.

" And I've brought my friend, Mrs. Dick Logan." Ann Lee, with delicately arched-up eyebrows, turned to smile.

She was slight and very tall, and the complete sufficiency of her unnoticeable dress made Mrs. Dick Logan feel gaudy. Her hands were long and fine ; her face was a serene one, if a shade austere, and her hair was closely swathed about her head in bright, sleek bands. There was something of the priestess about her, and she suffered their intrusion with a ceremonial grace. She was so unlike Clarice and all those other women that Mrs. Logan hardly knew how to begin; and was gratified, though half-conscious of a solecism, when Miss Ames said : " My friend would like so much ,to see some hats. She's rather wanting two or three hats."

Ann Lee's eyes dwelt dispassionately, searchingly, on Mrs. Logan's face. She said with an assumption that barely deferred to her customer : " Something quiet ? "

Something quiet was the last thing Mrs. Logan wanted. She wanted something nice and bright to wear at Cannes, but she hardly liked to say so. She put forward, timidly : " Well, not too quiet—it's for the Riviera."

" Really ? " said Ann Lee, regretfully. " How de- lightful for you to be going out. I don't know whether I have—no, wait ; perhaps I have some little model."

" I rather thought a turban—gold, perhaps ? "

" Oh, a turban —? But surely you would be more likely to find what you want out there ? Surely

Cannes —"

This made Mrs. Logan feel peevish. Even if a person did look like a Madonna or something, it was their business to sell one a hat if they kept a shop for that purpose. She didn't care for shopping on the Riviera either, except with her Casino winnings ; the shops expected to be paid so 'soon and Dickie made an even worse fuss when he saw a bill in francs. She said querulously : " Yes, but haven't you got any goldish sort of turbany thing ? "

" I never have many hats," said Ann Lee. " I will show you anything I have."

Lulu breathed more deeply with relief at this concession, and Letty whispered, as Ann Lee vanished momentarily : " Oh, she's always like that ; like what I told you, queer. But the hats, my dear ! You wait ! "

When Ann Lee returned again carrying two hats, Mrs. Logan' admitted that there had indeed been some- thing to wait for. These were the sort of hats one dreamed about—no, even in a dream one had never directly beheld them, they glimmered rather on the margin of one's dreams. With trembling hands she reached out in Ann Lee's direction to receive them. Ann Lee smiled deprecatingly upon her and them, then went away to fetch some more.

Lulu Logan snatched off the hat she was wearing and let it slide from the seat of a chair and bowl away across the floor. Letty snatched off hers, too, out of sympathy, and each One occupying a mirror, they tried on every single hat Ann Lee brought them, passing each one reverently and regretfully across to one another as though they had been crowns. It was very solemn. Ann Lee stood against the curtain of the archway, looking at them gently and pitifully with her long pale eyes. Her hands hung down by her sides ; she was not the sort of person who needs to touch the back of a chair or play. with a necklace. If Mrs. Logan and her friend Miss Ames had had either eyes, minds or taste for the comparison, they might have said that she seemed to grow from the floor like a lily. Their faces flushed, soon they were flaming in the insidious warmth of the shop.

" Oh, damn my face ! " groaned Miss Ames into the mirror, pressing her hands to her cheeks, looking out at herself crimsonly from beneath the trembling shadow of an osprey.

How could Lulu ever have imagined herself in a gold turban ? In a gold turban, when there were hats like these ? But she had never known that there were hats like these : life was still to prove itself a thing of revelations, even for Mrs. Dick Logan. In a trembling voice she said that she would certainly have this one, and she thought she simply must have this, and " Give me back the blue one, darling ! " she called across to Letty.

Then a sword of cold air stabbed into the shop, and Lulu and •Letty jumped, exclaimed and shivered. The outer door was open and a man was standing on the threshold, blatant in the light against the foggy dusk behind him. Above the suave folds of his dazzling scarf his face was stung to scarlet by the cold ; he stood there timid and aggressive ; abject in his impulse to retreat, blustering in his -determination to resist it. The two ladies stood at gaze in the classic pose of indignation of discovered nymphs. Then they both turned to Ann Lee with a sense that something had been outraged. The man was not a husband, he belonged to neither of them.

The intruder also looked towards Ann Lee, he dodged his head upwards and sideways in an effort to direct his line of vision past them. He opened his mouth as though he were going to shout ; then they almost started at the small thin voice that crept from it to say : " Good evening."

Ann Lee was balancing a toque upon the tips of her fingers, an imponderable thing of citron feathers which even those light fingers hardly dared to touch. Not a feather quivered, and not a shadow darkened her oval face as she replied " Good evening," in a voice as equably unsmiling as her lips and eyes.

" I'm afraid I've come at a bad moment."

" Yes," she said, serenely, " I'm afraid you have. It's quite impossible for me to see you now. I believe that hat is you, Mrs. Logan. I'm sorry you don't care for black."

" Oh, I do like black," said Mrs. Logan unhappily, feasting upon her own reflection. " But I've got so many. Of course, they do set the face off, but I par- ticularly wanted something rather sunny-looking--now that little blue's perfect. How much did you . . . ? "

" Eight guineas," said Ann Lee, looking at her dreamily.

Mrs. Logan shivered and glanced vindictively towards the door. Ann Lee was bending to place the toque of citron feathers on the divan ; she said mildly over her shoulder, " We are .a little cold in here, if you don't mind."

" Sorry ! " the man said, looking wildly into the shop. Then he came right in with one enormous step and pulled the door shut behind him. " I'll wait then, if I may."

He looked too large, with his angular blue cloth overcoat double-buttoned across the chest, and as he stuffed his soft grey hat almost furtively under his arm they saw at once that there was something wrong about his hair. The shoes on his big feet were very bright. Fancy a man like that. . . . Lulu allowed a note of injury to creep into her voice as she said, " I beg your pardon," and reached past him to receive another hat from Letty. The shop was quite crowded, all of a sudden.. And really, walking in like that. . . . He didn't know what they mightn't have been trying on ; so few shops nowadays were hats exclusively. He didn't see either herself or Letty, and the way he was looking at Ann Lee was disgusting. A woman who asked eight guineas for a little simple hat like that blue one had got no right to expose her customers to this.

Letty, her hair all grotesquely ruffled up with trying on, stood with a hat in either hand, her mouth half open, looking at the man not quite intelligently. As a matter of fact, she was recognizing him; not as his particular self but as an Incident. He — It — crops up periodically in the path of any young woman who has had a bit of a career, but Ann Lee—really. Letty was vague in her ideas of Vestal Virgins, but dimly she connected them with Ann. Well, you never knew. . . . Meanwhile this was a hat-shop ; the least fitting place on earth for the recurrence of an Incident. Perhaps it was the very priestliness of Ann which made them feel that there was something here to desecrate.

Ann Lee, holding the blue hat up before the eyes of Lulu, was the only one who did not see and tremble as the square man crossed the shop towards the fire- place and sat down on the divan beside the feather toque. He was very large. He drew in his feet and wrapped the skirts of his overcoat as uncontaminatingly as possible about his knees. His gaze crept about the figure of Ann. " I'll wait, if you don't mind." be repeated. " I'm afraid it's no good," she said abstractedly, looking past him at the toque. "I'm busy at present, as you can see, and afterwards I've orders to attend to. I'm sorry. Hadn't you better — ? "

" It's four o'clock," he said.

" Four o'clock ! " shrieked Lulu. " Good God, I'm due at the Cottinghams ! "

" Oh, don't go !" wailed Letty.

Ann Lee, smiling impartially, said she did think it was a pity not to decide.

" Yes, but eight guineas. . . ."

" It's a lovely little hat," pleaded Letty, stroking the brim reverently.

" Yes, it's pretty," conceded Ann Lee, looking down at it with the faintest softening of the lips. They all drew together, bound by something tense ; the man before the fire was forgotten.

" Oh, I don't know," wailed the distracted Mrs. Logan. " I must have that little black one and I ought to get another dinner-hat--you know how one needs them out there ! " she demanded of Miss Ames, reproachfully. Then they both looked appealingly at Ann Lee. There was a silence.

" It is four o'clock," said the man in a bullying, nervous voice. They jumped. " You did say four - o'clock," he repeated.

Ann Lee quite frightened the two others ; she was so very gentle with him and so scornfully unemphatic. " I'm afraid you are making a mistake. On Thursdays I am always busy. Good evening, Mr. Richardson, don't let us waste any more of your time. Now, Mrs. Logan, shall we say the blue ? I feel that you would enjoy it, though I still think the black is a degree more you. But I daresay you would not care to take both."

" I'll wait," he said, in a queer voice. Unbuttoning his overcoat, he flung it open with a big, defiant gesture as he leaned towards the fire.

" Oh; the toque ! " they screamed ; and Ann Lee darted forward to retrieve the frail thing from beneath the iron folds. She carried it away again on the tips of her fingers, peering down into the ruffled feathers ; less now of the priestess than of the mother—Niobc, Rachel. She turned to the archway to say in a white voice to him, " Then will you kindly wait outside ? "

" It's cold," he pleaded, stretching out his hands to the fire.

" Then wouldn't it be better not to wait ? " Ann Lee softly suggested.

" I'll• wait to-day," he said, with bewildered but un- shaken resolution. " I'm not going away to-day."

While she was away behind the curtain the man turned from the fire to look round at the shop. He looked about him with a kind of cringing triumph, as one who has entered desecratingly into some Holiest of Holies, and is immediately to pay the penalty, might look about him under the very downsweep of the sacerdotal blade. He noted without comment or emotion the chairs, the ladies, Mrs. Logan's hat, and the mirrors opposite one another, which quadrupled the figure of each lady. One could only conclude that he considered Miss Ames and Mrs. Logan as part of the fittings of the shop, disposed appropriately, symbolic. He stared thoughtfully at Miss Ames, as though wondering why Ann Lee should have chosen to invest her shop with a customer of just that pattern.

" Perhaps it would be better for us to be going ? " said Miss Ames to her friend, the _words making an icy transition over the top of his head.

• Mrs. Logan stood turning the bliie hit round and round, looking down at it with tranced and avid eyes. " Eight- sixteen—twenty-four," she murmured. " I do think she might reduce that little toque. If she'd let me have the three for twenty-two guineas. . . ."

" Not she," said Letty, with conviction: The man suddenly conceded their humanity. " I - suppose these are what you'd call expensive hats ? " he said, looking up at Mrs. Logan. " Very," said she.

" 'Jetty, when is she coming bgek ? Does she always ays walk out of the shop like this ? I'd be off this minute, but I just can't leave this little blue one. Where'll we get a taxi ? "

"First. corner," said the man eagerly. " Round on your left."

" Oh, thanks," they said frigidly. He was encouraged by this to ask if they, too, didn't think it was very cold. " I'm sorry if I've inconvenienced you in any way by coming in, but I've an appointment fixed with Miss Lee for four o'clock, and you can imagine it was cold out there, waiting — " They heard the curtains move ; he turned and almost ate the archway with his awful eyes. " I've an appointment," he repeated with growing confidence. " But I don't mind waiting—I've done so much."

Miss Ames, fluffing her side hair out in front of the mirror, repeated " Really ? " bland as a fish.

" I'm quite within my rights here," said he, looking down now with approbation at his feet so deeply im- planted in the carpet, " because, you see, I've got an appointment."

" There was no appointment, Mr. Richardson," said Ann Lee regretfully, standing in the archway.

Mrs. Dick Logan, catching her breath, rose to her feet slowly and said that she would have all three hats, and would Ann Lee send them along at once, please. It was an immense moment, and Miss Ames, 'who knew Dickie, thought as she heard Mrs. Logan give her name and address in a clear, unfaltering voice that there was something splendid about Lulu. The way she went through it, quarter-day after quarter-day. . . . Ann Lee, writing languidly in an order book, bowed without com- ment to Mrs. Logan's decision. Letty Ames couldn't help feeling that if Ann Lee had really wished it, Lulu would have had another hat, and then another and another.

Mrs. Logan stooped to recover her own hat from the floor. Ann Lee, looking down solicitously, but making no movement to assist her, meditated aloud that she was glad Mrs. Logan was taking that little black. It was so much her, to have left it behind would have been p• pity, Ann Lee couldn't help thinking.

As they gathered their furs about them, drew on their gloves, snapped their bags shut, the two ladies glanced as though into an arena at the man sitting on the divan. And now ? They longed suddenly, ah, how they longed, to linger in that shop. - " Good afternoon," said Ann Lee. She said it with finality.

" Good afternoon," they said. Passing out into the street reluctantly they saw Ann Lee, after a last dim bow towards them, pass back again through the curtains of the archway. The man started to his feet, crossed the shop darkly, and went through after her, his back broad with resolution.

There were no taxis anywhere, and the two made their way in the direction of Sloane Street through the thicken- ing fog. Mrs. Dick Logan walked fast and talked faster, and Miss Ames knew that she was determined not to think Of Dickie.

When they came to the third corner they once more hesitated. Down as much of the two streets as was visible; small shop-Windows threw out squares of light on to the fog. Was there, behind all these windows, someone waiting, as indifferent as a magnet; for one to come in I) They may both have wondered. Then they heard steps approaching them, metallic on the pavement, in little uneven spurts of speed. They said nothing to each other, but held their breath, mute with a common expectancy.

A square man, sunk deep into an overcoat, scudded across their patch of visibility. By putting out a hand they could have touched him. He went by them blindly, his breath sobbed and panted. It was by his breath that they knew hoW terrible it had been, terrible. - Passing them quite blindly, he stabbed his way on into the fog.