“The, young woman he is to marry! Oh my dear and reverend friend! Avec ces gens la! I have had a most amusing afternoon,” she went on quickly. “I have taken off my hat, now let me remove your halo.” She was safe with her conceit; Arnold would always smile at any imputation of saintship. He held himself a person of broad indulgences, and would point openly to his consumption of tea-cakes. But this afternoon a miasma hung over him. Hilda saw it, and bent herself, with her graphic recital, to dispel it, perceived it thicken and settle down upon him, and went bravely on to the end. Mr. Macandrew and Mr. Molyneux Sinclair lived and spoke before him. It was comedy enough, in essence, to spread over a matinee.
“And that is the sort of thing you store up and value,” he said, when she had finished. “These persons will add to your knowledge of life?”
“Extremely,” she replied to all of it.
“I suppose they will in their measure. But personally I could wish you had not gone. Your work has no right to make such demands.”
“Be reasonable,” she said, flushing. “Don’t talk as if personal dignity were within the reach of everybody. It’s the most expensive of privileges. And nothing to be so very proud of— generally the product of somebody else’s humiliations, handed down. But the humiliations must have been successful, handed down in cash. My father drove a cab and died in debt. His name was Cassidy. I shall be dignified some day—some day! But you see I must make it possible myself, since nobody has done it for me.”
“Well, then, I’ll alter my complaint. Why should you play with your sincerity?”
“I didn’t play with it,” she flashed; “I abandoned it. I am an actress.”
They often permitted themselves such candours; to all appearance their discussion had its usual equable quality, and I am certain that Arnold was not even aware of the tension upon his nerves. He fidgeted with the tassel of his ceinture, and she watched his moving fingers. Presently she spoke quietly, in a different key.
“I sometimes think,” she said, “of a child I knew, in the other years. She had the simplest nature, the finest instincts. Her impulses, within her small limits, were noble—she was the keenest, loyalest little person; her admirations rather made a fool of her. When I look at the woman she is now I think the uses of life are hard, my friend—they are hard.”
He missed the personal note; he took what she said on its merits as an illustration.
“And yet,” he replied, “they can be turned to admirable purpose.”
“I wonder!” Hilda exclaimed brightly. She had turned down the leaf of that mood. “But we are not cheerful—let us be cheerful. For my part I am rejoicing as I have not rejoiced since the first of December. Look at this!”
She opened a small black leather bag, and poured money out of it, in notes and currency, into her lap.