“Well, upon my honour, I forget at this moment if I gave it by mistake or because of your face. No, hang me!” he went on, while she flushed, not angrily, but as though the words hurt her, “it must have been by mistake. I couldn’t have forgot so much better a reason.”
To this she answered nothing, but put forward her hand as if to push the coin nearer.
“Certainly not,” said he, still with eyes on her face. “I wish you to take it. By the way, I heard the landlady’s voice just now, letting loose upon somebody. Was it on you?”
“And you are going home to-night, you say. Has she turned you out?”
“Yes.” The girl’s hand moved as if gathering the plaid closer over her bosom. Her voice held no resentment. Her eyes were fixed upon the coin, which, however, she made no further motion to touch; and this downward glance showed at its best the lovely droop of her long eyelashes.
The Collector continued to take stock of her, and with a growing wonder.
The lower half of the face’s oval was perhaps Unduly gaunt and a trifle overweighted by the broad brow. The whole body stood a thought too high for its breadth, with a hint of coltishness in the thin arms and thick elbow-joints. So judged the Collector, as he would have appraised a slave or any young female animal; while as a connoisseur he knew that these were faults pointing towards ultimate perfection, and at this stage even necessary to it.
For assurance he asked her, “How old are you?”
“That’s as I guessed,” said he, and added to himself, “My God, this is going to be one of the loveliest things in creation!” Still, as she bent her eyes to the coin on the table, he ran his appraising glance over her neck and shoulders, judging—so far as the ugly shawl permitted—the head’s poise, the set of the coral ear, the delicate wave of hair on the neck’s nape.
“Why is she turning you out?”
“A window curtain took fire. She said it was my fault.”
“But it was not your fault at all!” cried Dicky. “Papa, the curtain took fire in my room, and she beat it out. The whole house might have been burnt down but for her. She beat it out, and made nothing of it, though it hurt her horribly. Look at her hands, papa!”
“Hold out your hands,” his father commanded.
She stretched them out. The ointment, as she turned them palms upward, shone under the candle rays.
“Turn them the other way,” he commanded, after a long look at them. The words might mean that the sight afflicted him, but his tone scarcely suggested this. She turned her hands, and he scrutinised the backs of them very deliberately. “It’s a shame,” said he at length.
“Of course it’s a shame!” the boy agreed hotly. “Papa, won’t you ring for the landlady and tell her so, and then she won’t be sent away.”