At intervals Ann Veronica demanded to go, declaring her undying resolve to repay him at any cost, and made short movements doorward.
But at last this ordeal was over, and Ramage opened the door. She emerged with a white face and wide-open eyes upon a little, red-lit landing. She went past three keenly observant and ostentatiously preoccupied waiters down the thick-carpeted staircase and out of the Hotel Rococo, that remarkable laboratory of relationships, past a tall porter in blue and crimson, into a cool, clear night.
When Ann Veronica reached her little bed-sitting-room again, every nerve in her body was quivering with shame and self-disgust.
She threw hat and coat on the bed and sat down before the fire.
“And now,” she said, splintering the surviving piece of coal into indignant flame-spurting fragments with one dexterous blow, “what am I to do?
“I’m in a hole!—mess is a better word, expresses it better. I’m in a mess—a nasty mess! a filthy mess! Oh, no end of a mess!
“Do you hear, Ann Veronica?—you’re in a nasty, filthy, unforgivable mess!
“Haven’t I just made a silly mess of things?
“Forty pounds! I haven’t got twenty!”
She got up, stamped with her foot, and then, suddenly remembering the lodger below, sat down and wrenched off her boots.
“This is what comes of being a young woman up to date. By Jove! I’m beginning to have my doubts about freedom!
“You silly young woman, Ann Veronica! You silly young woman! The smeariness of the thing!
“The smeariness of this sort of thing!... Mauled about!”
She fell to rubbing her insulted lips savagely with the back of her hand. “Ugh!” she said.
“The young women of Jane Austen’s time didn’t get into this sort of scrape! At least—one thinks so.... I wonder if some of them did—and it didn’t get reported. Aunt Jane had her quiet moments. Most of them didn’t, anyhow. They were properly brought up, and sat still and straight, and took the luck fate brought them as gentlewomen should. And they had an idea of what men were like behind all their nicety. They knew they were all Bogey in disguise. I didn’t! I didn’t! After all—”
For a time her mind ran on daintiness and its defensive restraints as though it was the one desirable thing. That world of fine printed cambrics and escorted maidens, of delicate secondary meanings and refined allusiveness, presented itself to her imagination with the brightness of a lost paradise, as indeed for many women it is a lost paradise.
“I wonder if there is anything wrong with my manners,” she said. “I wonder if I’ve been properly brought up. If I had been quite quiet and white and dignified, wouldn’t it have been different? Would he have dared?...”
For some creditable moments in her life Ann Veronica was utterly disgusted with herself; she was wrung with a passionate and belated desire to move gently, to speak softly and ambiguously—to be, in effect, prim.