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"I went to him first. I didn't think I'd any right to come to you--after I'd served you like I did."
"Oh, never mind how you served me. What's Mercier been doing?"
"He's got married."
"Just like him. I thought he was going to marry _you_?"
"He wouldn't wait for me. He couldn't. He thought you were never going to get your divorce. He _had_ to settle down so as to get on in his business. He wanted a Frenchwoman who could help him, and he daren't so much as look at me--after, for fear she'd divorce him."
"I told you he was a swine."
"He wasn't. It wasn't _his_ fault. He'd have married me two years ago if you could have divorced me then."
Her mouth was loose to the pa.s.sage of her sigh, as if for a moment she felt a sensuous pleasure in her own self-pity. She did not see how his mouth tightened to the torture as she turned the screw.
She went on. "Lenny was all right. He was good to me as long as I was with him. _He_ wouldn't have turned me into the street to starve."
"Who _has_ turned you into the street?" He could not disguise his exasperation.
Then he remembered. "Oh--your father."
"I don't mean Father. I mean the other one."
"There _was_ another one? And you expect me to take you back?"
"I'm only _asking_ you," she said. "Don't be so hard on me. I _had_ to have some one when Lenny left me. He's been the only one since Lenny.
And he was all right until he tired of me."
"Who's the brute you're talking about?"
"He's a gentleman. That's all I can tell you."
"Sounds pretty high cla.s.s. And where does this gentleman hang out?"
"I oughtn't to tell you. He's a painter, and he's awfully well known.
Well--it's somewhere in the West End, and we had a flat in Bloomsbury."
She answered his wonder. "I met him in Paris. He took me away from there, and I've been with him all the time. There wasn't anybody else. I swear there wasn't--I swear."
"Oh, you needn't."
He got up and walked away.
"Ranny--don't go for the cab until I've told you everything."
"I'm _not_ going. What more have you got to say?"
"Don't look at me like that, as if you could murder me. You wouldn't if you knew how he's served me. He beat me, Ranny. He beat me with his hands and with his stick."
She rolled up the sleeves of her thin blouse.
"Look here--and here. That's what he was always doing to me. And I've got worse--bigger ones--on me breast and on me body."
"Good G.o.d--" The words came from him under his breath, and not even his instinct knew what he would say next.
He said--or rather some unknown power took hold of him and said it--"Why didn't you come to me before?"
"He never turned me out until last night."
Her pause gave him time to measure the significance of what she said.
"He didn't really tire of me till I got ill. I had pneumonia last spring. I nearly died of it, and I've not been right since. That's how I got me cough. He couldn't stand it."
"I ought to have gone when he told me to. But I didn't. I was awfully gone on him.
"And--last night--we were to have gone to the theater together; but he'd been drinkin' and I said I wouldn't go with him. Then he swore at me and struck me, and said I might go by myself. And I went. And when I came home he shut the door on me and turned me into the street with nothing but the clothes on me back and what I had in me purse. And he said if I came back he'd do for me."
She got it out, the abominable history, in a succession of jerks, in a voice dulled to utter apathy.
And an intolerable pity held him silent before this beaten thing, although with every word she dragged him nearer to the ultimate, foreseen disaster.
She went on.
"I was scared to walk about the streets all night in these things. I always was more afraid of that than anything. Though _he_ never would believe me when I said so. You don't know the names he called me. So I took a taxi and I went to the first hotel I could think of--the Thackeray. But I hadn't enough money with me, and they wouldn't take me in. Then I went and sat in the waiting-room at Euston Station till they closed. Then I sat outside on the platform and pretended to be waitin'
for a train. _He_ wouldn't believe me if I told him I'd spent the night in that station. But I did. And I got me death of cold. And in the morning me cough started, and they wouldn't take me in any of the shops because of it.
"I tried all morning. Starker's first. Then in the afternoon I went to Father, and he wouldn't have me. He won't believe I haven't been bad, because of me things and me cough. I suppose he thinks I've got consumption or something. He saw me coming in at the gate and he turned me out straight. I didn't even get to the door."
"He did--reelly, Ranny, he did. He said he'd washed his hands of me and I could go back to you. He said--No, I can't tell you what he said."
There was no need to tell. He knew.
She looked at him now, straight, for the first time.
"Ranny--he knows. He knows what we did."
"Did you tell him?"
"Not me! He'd guessed it. He'd guessed it all the time. Trust _him_. And he taxed me with it. And I lied. I wasn't goin' to have him thinkin'
_that_ of you."