“Quite a dozen,” Janet smiled. “Is that to be the limit of your heartless proceedings?”
“I don’t know how soon one would grow tired of it. Maybe in three or four years. But for now—it is very amusing.”
“Playing with fire?”
“Bah!” Elfrida returned, going back to
her other mood.
“I’m not inflammable. But-to that extent, if you like,
I value what you and the poets are pleased to call love.
It’s part of the game; one might as well play it all.
It’s splendid to win—anything. It’s a kind of success.”
“Oh, I know,” she went on after an instant. “I have done it before—I shall do it again, often! It is worth doing—to sit within three feet of a human being who would give all he possesses just to touch your hand—and to tacitly dare him to do it.”
“Shan’t stop, my dear. Not only to be able to check any such demonstration yourself, with a movement, a glance, a turn of your head, but without even a sign, to make your would-be adorer check it himself! And to feel as still and calm and superior to it all! Is that nothing to you?”
“It’s less than nothing. It’s hideous!”
“I consider it a compensation vested in the few for the wrongs of the many,” Elfrida replied gaily. “And I mean to store up all the compensation in my proper person that I can.”
“I believe you have had more than your share already,” Janet cried.
“Oh no! a little, only a little. Hardly anything here—people fall in love in England in such a mathematical way. But there is a callow artist on the Age, and Golightly Ticke has become quite mad lately, and Solomon —I mean Mr. Rattray—will propose next week—he thinks I won’t dare to refuse the sub-editor. How I shall laugh at him! Afterward, if he gives me any trouble, I shall threaten to write up the interview for the Pictorial News. On the whole though, I dare say I’d better not suggest such a thing; he would want it for the Age. He is equal to any personal sacrifice for the Age.”
“Is, that all?” asked Janet, turning away her head.
“You are thinking of John Kendal! Ah, there it becomes exciting. From what you see, Janetta mia, what should you think? Myself, I don’t quite know. Don’t you find him rather—a good deal—interested?”
Janet had an impulse of thankfulness for the growing darkness. “I—I see him so seldom!” she said. Oh, it was the last time, the very last time that she would ever let Elfrida talk like this.
“Well, I think so,” Elfrida went on coolly. “He fancies he finds me curious, original, a type—just now. I dare say he thinks he takes an anthropological pleasure in my society! But in the beginning it is all the same thing, my dear, and in the end it will be all the same thing. This delicious Loti,” and she picked up “Aziade”—“what an anthropologist he is—with a feminine bias!”