“I think,” said Stonehouse smiling, “that there are others in your profession less fortunate, Mademoiselle.”
As, for instance, that woman in the hospital—Frances Wilmot’s protegee. Queer how the memory of that ruined, frightened face peering over the bed-clothes and begging for life should come back to him after eight years. And yet the connexion was obvious enough. He looked at Mademoiselle Labelle with a new interest. It was impossible that she should have read his thoughts, but he knew by the little twist of her red mouth that she had understood his insult. She seemed to ponder over it dispassionately.
“That’s true—c’est bien vrai, ca. I ’ave been lucky. I shall always be lucky. Everybody knows that. They say: ’Our Gyp, she will ’ave a good time at ‘er funeral.’ No, no. Monsieur Rufus, I will not drink. If I drink I might dance—’ere on this table—and ze company is so ver’ respectable. Listen.” She laid her hand on Stonehouse’s arm as unconsciously as though he had been an old friend. “Listen. They play ze ‘Gyp Gal-lop.’ That is because I am ’ere. Ze conductor, ’e know me—he like ’is leetle joke. C’est drole—every time I ’ear it played I want to get up and dance and dance——” She hummed under her breath, beating time with her cigarette.
“I’m Gyp Labelle;
If you dance with me. . . .”
Obviously she knew that the severely elegant men and women on either hand watched her with a covert, chilly hostility. But there was something oddly simple in her acceptance of their attitude. Therein, no doubt, lay some of her power. She was herself. She didn’t care. She was too strong. She had ruined people like that—people every whit as hostile, and self-assured, and respectable—and had gone free without a scratch. She could afford to laugh at them, to ignore them, as it pleased her.
(And what would Frances Wilmot with her wrong-headed toleration, have urged in extenuation? A hard life, perhaps? Stonehouse smiled ironically at himself. The old quarrel was like an ineradicable drop of poison in the blood.)
She smoked incessantly. She ate very little. And as time went on she seemed to draw away from the two men into a kind of secret ecstasy of enjoyment like some fierce animal scenting freedom. The sentences she dropped were shallow, impatient, even stupid. And yet there was Rufus Cosgrave with his hungry eyes fixed on her, trapped by the nameless force that lay behind her triviality, her daring commonness.
She rose to go at last.
“And you take him with you, Monsieur le docteur. If ’e sit many more nights in ze front row ’e find out, too, I can’t dance, and then I break my ’eart. Besides, I ‘ave my reputation to think of in this ver’ propaire England, hein?”
“I’m coming with you,” Cosgrave said quietly.
She shrugged her shoulder.