“I want this way to thank all the friends who have been so very kind to me. We have had good times together. I miss you very much. I am going to find new friends now, but one day, I think, I dance for you again. I love you all. I kiss my hands to you. Au revoir, Gyp.”
It was her vanity, that insatiable desire to figure impudently and triumphantly in the public eye. He brought the paper to her. But at the moment she was busy tapping feebly on the wall. She winked at him.
“Sh! I tell ’im I go to-day. I make an appointment—next week—ze Carlton Grill—seven o’clock—’e ’ave to wait a long time, ze poor young man. There, it is finished.”
He showed her the picture without comment. He had to hold it for her—hold it very close—for she had exhausted herself with that last gesture of bravado. And then, as she smiled, a protest born of gathering distress and doubt burst from him.
“Why do you allow—this—hideous, impossible pretence?”
He could feel the old woman turn towards him like a wild beast preparing to spring. But she herself lay still, with closed eyes. He had to bend down to catch the remote suffering whisper.
“C’est vrai. We ’ave—such good times. And they come ’ere—all those kind people—who ’ave laughed so much—and bring flowers—and pretend it is not true. And they won’t believe—and when they see it they won’t believe—they won’t dare——” She tried to speak more clearly, clinging to his hand for the first time, whilst a sweat of agony broke out upon her face and made ghastly channels through its paint and powder. “Vous voyez—for them—I am—ze good times. They come to me—for good times. When they are too sad—when things too ’ard for them and they cannot believe any more—that ze good times come again—they think of me. ’Voyons, la Gyp, she ’ave a good time always—she dance at ‘er own funeral!’ But if they see me ’ere—like this—they go away—and think in their ’earts: ’Grand Dieu, c’est comme ca avec nous tous—avec nous tous,’ and they not laugh with me—any more.”
Her hand let go its hold—suddenly.
They sent for him that night. Haemorrhage had set in. There was a light burning by her bedside, for she had complained of the darkness. She wore a lace cap trimmed with blue ribbons, but she had not had strength to paint her lips and cheeks again, and the old woman’s efforts had ended pitifully. She had grown very small in the last few hours, and with her thin, daubed face and blood-stained lips, she looked like a sorrowful travesty of the little circus clown who had ridden the fat pony and shouted “Oh la—la!” and blown kisses to the people.
She smiled vaguely in Stonehouse’s direction, but she was only half conscious. Her hand strayed over the gorgeous quilt, stroking it with a kind of simple pleasure.
(She was like that, too, he thought—a dash of gay, unashamed colour in the sad scheme of things.)