At last she turned round and faced him. “I don’t want any of those damned red carpets and things,” she said,—“if you’ll let me come and live with you—look after you.”
She crossed the room and laid her hands heavily on his shoulders; bent towards him to kiss his lips.
“We should be sick to death of each other in a week,” he said, meeting her eyes.
“No, we shouldn’t.”
He gazed steadily at her for a moment. “What makes you think I want any one to live here with me?” he asked curiously.
“I don’t know—you do. I saw it the first second I entered the room. I felt it the first moment you asked me to come up here. You know you do yourself. You’re sick of this—aren’t you?”
“You’re right there.”
She nodded her head sententiously—proud of her perceptive ability. She wanted to go on saying other things that were just as true, showing how well she understood him; but she could think of nothing. Then she made the fatal mistake. She threw a guess at a hazard.
“And you thought when you saw me that I was just the girl you wanted. I saw that in your face when you turned round.”
He smiled. “You’ve lost the scent,” he said, drawing away from her hands. “Lost it utterly. And why do you want to come and live here? You’re not fond of me. You don’t care a rap for me. Are you hard up?”
Pride—self-respect—they are lost qualities in a lost woman. You must not even look for them. For the moment, she was silent, saying nothing; but there was no moaning of wounded vanity in the heart of her. Two questions were weighing out the issue. If she said she were hard-up, then all opportunity of gaining the chance would be lost. He would give her money—tell her to go. That would be all. If she refused to admit it, the opportunity—slight as it had become—would still be there. Which to do—which course to take? For a perceptible passing of time she rocked—a weary pendulum of doubt—between the two. Then she gave it.
“I’m dead broke,” she said thickly.
She saw the last hope vanish with that—looked after it with a curl of bravado on her lip. Lifting her eyes to his, she knew it was gone. There, in the place of it, was the calculation of what he could spare—what he should give.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
The question was ludicrous to her. She wanted all she could get. Now that she had thrown away her chances of the future, her whole mind concentrated with uncontrolled desire upon the present.
“What’s the good of asking me that?” she exclaimed bitterly. “I’ll take what I can get. Reminds me of a girl—a friend of mine. She’s an illegitimate child. Her father’s pretty well off. She was down to the bottom of the bag the other day, so she went to her father and asked him for some money. ‘My dear child,’ he said—’I can’t spare you a cent—I’ve just spent seven hundred and fifty pounds on a motor car—is a sovereign any good to you?’”