“I wish I had him here now!” she cried. “He deserted me—broke a hundred promises. I have not seen him for a week.”
“You are suffering heavily for the past.”
“For the past!” the woman echoed dully. “Victor,” she said with a sudden change of voice, “you loved me once—”
“Yes, once. But you crushed that love—killed it forever. No stage sentiment, please. Understand that, plainly.”
The brief hope died out of the woman’s eyes, and was replaced by a gleam of hatred. She looked at the man furiously.
“There is no need to fly into a passion,” said Nevill. “We can at least be friends. I cherish no ill-feeling—I pity you sincerely. And yet you are still beautiful enough to turn some men’s heads. How are you off for money?”
The woman opened a purse and dashed a handful of silver to the floor.
“That is my all!” she cried, hoarsely.
“Then you must find a way out of your difficulties. I am going to have a serious talk with you.”
Nevill drew a chair up to the couch, and his first words roused the woman’s interest. He spoke for ten minutes or more, now in whispers, now with a rising inflection; now persuasively, now with well-feigned indignation and scorn. The effect which his argument had on his companion was shown by the swift changes that passed over her face; she interrupted him frequently, asking questions and making comments. At the end the woman rustled her silken skirts disdainfully, and rose to her feet.
“Why do you suggest this, Victor?” she demanded. “Where do you come in?”
Nevill seemed slightly disconcerted.
“I am foolish enough to feel an interest in a person I once cared for,” he replied. “I want to save you from ruin that is inevitable if you continue in your present course.”
“It is kind of you, Victor Nevill,” the woman answered sneeringly. “He has a personal motive,” she thought. “What can it be?”
“The thing is so simple, so natural,” said Nevill, “that I wonder you hesitate. Of course you will fall in with it.”
“Suppose I refuse?”
“I can’t credit you with such madness.”
“But what if—” She leaned toward him and whispered a short sentence in his ear. His face turned the color of ashes, and he clutched her wrist so tightly that she winced with pain.
“It is a lie!” he cried, brutally. “By heavens, if I believed—”
The woman laughed—a laugh that was not pleasant to hear.
“Fool! do you think I would tell you if it was true?” she said. “I was only jesting.”
“It is not a subject to jest about,” Nevill answered stiffly. “I came here to do you a good turn, and—”
“You had better have kept away. You are a fiend—you are a Satan himself! Why do you tempt me? Do you think that I have no conscience, no shame left? I am bad enough, Victor Nevill, but by the memory of the past—of what I threw away—I can’t stoop so low as to—”