“A coquette, I? And with whom?”
“With that,” said the Irishman, indicating the ape-like and powerful bust.
She tried to laugh.
“The Nabob? What folly!”
“Don’t tell an untruth about it now. Do you think I am blind, that I do not notice all your little manoeuvres? You remain alone with him for very long at a time. Just now, I was there. I saw you.” He dropped his voice as though breath had failed him. “What do you want, strange and cruel child? I have seen you repulse the most handsome, the most noble, the greatest. That little de Gery devours you with his eyes; you take no notice. The Duc de Mora himself has not been able to reach your heart. And it is that man there who is ugly, vulgar, who had no thought of you, whose head is full of quite other matters than love. You saw how he went off just now. What can you mean? What do you expect from him?”
“I want—I want him to marry me. There!”
Coldly, in a softened tone, as though this avowal had brought her nearer the level of the man whom she so much despised, she explained her motives. The life which she led was pushing her into a situation from which there was no way out. She had luxurious and expensive tastes, habits of disorder which nothing could conquer and which would bring her inevitably to poverty, both her and that good Crenmitz, who was allowing herself to be ruined without saying a word. In three years, four years at the outside, all would be over with them. And then the wretched expedients, the debts, the tatters and old shoes of poor artists’ households. Or, indeed, the lover, the man who keeps a mistress—that is to say, slavery and infamy.
“Come, come,” said Jenkins. “And what of me, am I not here?”
“Anything rather than you,” she exclaimed, stiffening. “No, what I require, what I want, is a husband who will protect me from others and from myself, who will save me from many terrible things of which I am afraid in my moments of ennui, from the gulfs in which I feel that I may perish, some one who will love me while I am at work and relieve my poor old wearied fairy of her sentry duty. This man here suits my purpose, and I thought of him from the first time I met him. He is ugly, but he has a kind manner; then, too, he is ridiculously rich, and wealth, upon that scale, must be amusing. Oh, I know well enough. No doubt there is in his life some blemish that has brought him luck. All that money cannot be made honestly. But come, truly now, Jenkins, with your hand on that heart you so often invoke, do you think me a wife who should be very attractive to an honest man? See: among all these young men who ask permission as a favour to be allowed to come here, which one has dreamed of offering me marriage? Never a single one. De Gery no more than the rest. I am attractive, but I make men afraid. It is intelligible enough. What can one imagine of a girl brought up as I have been, without a mother, among my father’s models and mistresses? What mistresses, mon Dieu! And Jenkins for sole guardian. Oh, when I think, when I think!”