THE FLOWER GIRL [far from reassured] Then what did you take down my words for? How do I know whether you took me down right? You just show me what you've wrote about me. [The note taker opens his book and holds it steadily under her nose, though the pressure of the mob trying to read it over his shoulders would upset a weaker man]. What's that? That ain't proper writing. I can't read that.
THE NOTE TAKER. I can. [Reads, reproducing her pronunciation exactly] "Cheer ap, Keptin; n' haw ya flahr orf a pore gel."
THE FLOWER GIRL [much distressed] It's because I called him Captain. I meant no harm. [To the gentleman] Oh, sir, don't let him lay a charge agen me for a word like that. You —
THE GENTLEMAN. Charge! I make no charge. [To the note taker] Really, sir, if you are a detective, you need not begin protecting me against molestation by young women until I ask you. Anybody could see that the girl meant no harm.
THE BYSTANDERS GENERALLY [demonstrating against police espionage] Course they could. What business is it of yours? You mind your own affairs. He wants promotion, he does. Taking down people's words! Girl never said a word to him. What harm if she did? Nice thing a girl can't shelter from the rain without being insulted, etc., etc., etc. [She is conducted by the more sympathetic demonstrators back to her plinth, where she resumes her seat and struggles with her emotion].
THE BYSTANDER. He ain't a tec. He's a blooming busybody: that's what he is. I tell you, look at his boots.
THE NOTE TAKER [turning on him genially] And how are all your people down at Selsey?
THE BYSTANDER [suspiciously] Who told you my people come from Selsey?
THE NOTE TAKER. Never you mind. They did. [To the girl] How do you come to be up so far east? You were born in Lisson Grove.
THE FLOWER GIRL [appalled] Oh, what harm is there in my leaving Lisson Grove? It wasn't fit for a pig to live in; and I had to pay four-and-six a week. [In tears] Oh, boo — hoo — oo —
THE NOTE TAKER. Live where you like; but stop that noise.
THE GENTLEMAN [to the girl] Come, come! he can't touch you: you have a right to live where you please.
A SARCASTIC BYSTANDER [thrusting himself between the note taker and the gentleman] Park Lane, for instance. I'd like to go into the Housing Question with you, I would.
THE FLOWER GIRL [subsiding into a brooding melancholy over her basket, and talking very low-spiritedly to herself] I'm a good girl, I am.
THE SARCASTIC BYSTANDER [not attending to her] Do you know where I come from?
THE NOTE TAKER [promptly] Hoxton.
Titterings. Popular interest in the note taker's performance increases.
THE SARCASTIC ONE [amazed] Well, who said I didn't? Bly me! You know everything, you do.
THE FLOWER GIRL [still nursing her sense of injury] Ain't no call to meddle with me, he ain't.
THE BYSTANDER [to her] Of course he ain't. Don't you stand it from him. [To the note taker] See here: what call have you to know about people what never offered to meddle with you? Where's your warrant?
SEVERAL BYSTANDERS [encouraged by this seeming point of law] Yes: where's your warrant?
THE FLOWER GIRL. Let him say what he likes. I don't want to have no truck with him.
THE BYSTANDER. You take us for dirt under your feet, don't you? Catch you taking liberties with a gentleman!
THE SARCASTIC BYSTANDER. Yes: tell HIM where he come from if you want to go fortune-telling.
THE NOTE TAKER. Cheltenham, Harrow, Cambridge, and India.
THE GENTLEMAN. Quite right. [Great laughter. Reaction in the note taker's favor. Exclamations of He knows all about it. Told him proper. Hear him tell the toff where he come from? etc.]. May I ask, sir, do you do this for your living at a music hall?
THE NOTE TAKER. I've thought of that. Perhaps I shall some day.
The rain has stopped; and the persons on the outside of the crowd begin to drop off.
THE FLOWER GIRL [resenting the reaction] He's no gentleman, he ain't, to interfere with a poor girl.
THE DAUGHTER [out of patience, pushing her way rudely to the front and displacing the gentleman, who politely retires to the other side of the pillar] What on earth is Freddy doing? I shall get pneumonia if I stay in this draught any longer.
THE NOTE TAKER [to himself, hastily making a note of her pronunciation of "monia"] Earlscourt.
THE DAUGHTER [violently] Will you please keep your impertinent remarks to yourself?
THE NOTE TAKER. Did I say that out loud? I didn't mean to. I beg your pardon. Your mother's Epsom, unmistakeably.
THE MOTHER [advancing between her daughter and the note taker] How very curious! I was brought up in Largelady Park, near Epsom.
THE NOTE TAKER [uproariously amused] Ha! ha! What a devil of a name! Excuse me. [To the daughter] You want a cab, do you?
THE DAUGHTER. Don't dare speak to me.
THE MOTHER. Oh, please, please Clara. [Her daughter repudiates her with an angry shrug and retires haughtily.] We should be so grateful to you, sir, if you found us a cab. [The note taker produces a whistle]. Oh, thank you. [She joins her daughter]. The note taker blows a piercing blast.
THE SARCASTIC BYSTANDER. There! I knowed he was a plain-clothes copper.
THE BYSTANDER. That ain't a police whistle: that's a sporting whistle.
THE FLOWER GIRL [still preoccupied with her wounded feelings] He's no right to take away my character. My character is the same to me as any lady's.
THE NOTE TAKER. I don't know whether you've noticed it; but the rain stopped about two minutes ago.
THE BYSTANDER. So it has. Why didn't you say so before? and us losing our time listening to your silliness. [He walks off towards the Strand].
THE SARCASTIC BYSTANDER. I can tell where you come from. You come from Anwell. Go back there.
THE NOTE TAKER [helpfully] Hanwell.
THE SARCASTIC BYSTANDER [affecting great distinction of speech] Thenk you, teacher. Haw haw! So long [he touches his hat with mock respect and strolls off].
THE FLOWER GIRL. Frightening people like that! How would he like it himself.
THE MOTHER. It's quite fine now, Clara. We can walk to a motor bus. Come. [She gathers her skirts above her ankles and hurries off towards the Strand].
THE DAUGHTER. But the cab — [her mother is out of hearing]. Oh, how tiresome! [She follows angrily].
All the rest have gone except the note taker, the gentleman, and the flower girl, who sits arranging her basket, and still pitying herself in murmurs.
THE FLOWER GIRL. Poor girl! Hard enough for her to live without being worrited and chivied.
THE GENTLEMAN [returning to his former place on the note taker's left] How do you do it, if I may ask?
THE NOTE TAKER. Simply phonetics. The science of speech. That's my profession; also my hobby. Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby! You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.
THE FLOWER GIRL. Ought to be ashamed of himself, unmanly coward!
THE GENTLEMAN. But is there a living in that?
THE NOTE TAKER. Oh yes. Quite a fat one. This is an age of upstarts. Men begin in Kentish Town with 80 pounds a year, and end in Park Lane with a hundred thousand. They want to drop Kentish Town; but they give themselves away every time they open their mouths. Now I can teach them —
THE FLOWER GIRL. Let him mind his own business and leave a poor girl —
THE NOTE TAKER [explosively] Woman: cease this detestable boohooing instantly; or else seek the shelter of some other place of worship.
THE FLOWER GIRL [with feeble defiance] I've a right to be here if I like, same as you.
THE NOTE TAKER. A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere — no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.
THE FLOWER GIRL [quite overwhelmed, and looking up at him in mingled wonder and deprecation without daring to raise her head] Ah — ah — ah — ow — ow — oo!
THE NOTE TAKER [whipping out his book] Heavens! what a sound! [He writes; then holds out the book and reads, reproducing her vowels exactly] Ah — ah — ah — ow — ow — ow — oo!
THE FLOWER GIRL [tickled by the performance, and laughing in spite of herself] Garn!