“Well—we’d better hurry,” Robert said.
“Thanks. I said I’d show you the way. I’m not coming in. Don’t you believe it. I’ve had enough. All I ask is—get him out and keep him out.”
“You’re through with him?”
Her habitual good-natured gaiety was gone. She looked disrupted and savagely afraid, like an animal that has escaped capture by a frantic effort. And yet it was difficult to imagine Rufus Cosgrave capturing or frightening anyone.
“You bet I’m through with him. You tell him so—tell him I don’t want to see him again—I won’t be bothered——” She broke off, and added, with a kind of rough relenting: “Put it any blessed way you like—say what’s true—we’ve had our good times together—and it seems they’re over—we’ve no use for one another.”
“You mean—now he’s failed.”
“What do you mean—’now he’s failed’? What’s his rotten old exam got to do with me? I don’t even know what it’s about.”
“You took the good time whilst you could get it, and now when you can’t hope for anything more——”
She stopped short, and they faced each other with an antagonism that neither gave nor asked for quarter. They had always been enemies, and now that the gloves were off they were almost glad.
“So that’s my line. Cradle-snatching. Vamping the helpless infant!” She burst into a fit of angry, ugly laughter. “A good time! Running round with a poor kid with ten shillings a week pocket-money—eating in beastly cheap restaurants—riding on the tops of ’buses when some girls I know are feeding at the Ritz and rolling round in limousines. That’s what I get for being soft. And now because I won’t shoot myself, or go off to nowhere steerage, I’m a bad, abandoned woman. What d’you take me for?”
“What you are,” he said.
She went dead white under her streaky paint.
“You—you’ve got no right to say that. You’re a devil—a stuck-up devil—I hate you—I’d have always hated you if I’d bothered to mind. I—I gave him a good time. That’s the truth. He was down and out when I met him, and I set him on his feet. I didn’t mind what I missed—or the other girls guying me—I made him laugh and believe he had as good a chance in the world as anyone else. I put a bit of fun into him. I liked the kid. I—I like him now. If he wanted a good time to-morrow I’d run round with him again. But I’m no movie heroine—I’m not out for poison and funerals and slow music. Life’s too damn serious for my sort to make a wail and a moan about it.”
He stood close to her. He almost menaced her. He did in fact look dangerous enough with his white, set face and unflinching eyes in which stood two points of metallic light. If he had seen himself then he might have cowered away as from a ghost.
“I don’t care a rap about you. I do care about my friend. You’ve got to stand by Cosgrave till he’s over the worst.”