"Well--good-morning, thanks so much. Hope I haven't been a bother."
She heard him walk down the passage and then pause--lighting a cigarette. Yes--a faint scent of delicious cigarette smoke penetrated her room. She sniffed at it, smiling again. Well, that had been a fascinating interlude! He looked so amazingly happy: his heavy clothes and big buttoned gloves; his beautifully brushed hair...and that smile..."Jolly" was the word--just a well-fed boy with the world for his playground. People like that did one good--one felt "made over" at the sight of them. SANE they were--so sane and solid. You could depend on them never having one mad impulse from the day they were born until the day they died. And Life was in league with them--jumped them on her knee--quite rightly, too. At that moment she noticed Casimir's letter, crumpled up on the floor--the smile faded. Staring at the letter she began braiding her hair--a dull feeling of rage crept through her--she seemed to be braiding it into her brain, and binding it, tightly, above her head...Of course that had been the mistake all along. What had? Oh, Casimir's frightful seriousness. If she had been happy when they first met she never would have looked at him--but they had been like two patients in the same hospital ward--each finding comfort in the sickness of the other--sweet foundation for a love episode! Misfortune had knocked their heads together: they had looked at each other, stunned with the conflict and sympathised..."I wish I could step outside the whole affair and just judge it--then I'd find a way out. I certainly was in love with Casimir...Oh, be sincere for once." She flopped down on the bed and hid her face in the pillow. "I was not in love. I wanted somebody to look after me--and keep me until my work began to sell--and he kept bothers with other men away. And what would have happened if he hadn't come along? I would have spent my wretched little pittance, and then--Yes, that was what decided me, thinking about that 'then.' He was the only solution. And I believed in him then. I thought his work had only to be recognised once, and he'd roll in wealth. I thought perhaps we might be poor for a month-- but he said, if only he could have me, the stimulus...Funny, if it wasn't so damned tragic! Exactly the contrary has happened--he hasn't had a thing published for months--neither have I--but then I didn't expect to. Yes, the truth is, I'm hard and bitter, and I have neither faith nor love for unsuccessful men. I always end by despising them as I despise Casimir. I suppose it's the savage pride of the female who likes to think the man to whom she has given herself must be a very great chief indeed. But to stew in this disgusting house while Casimir scours the land in the hope of finding one editorial open door--it's humiliating. It's changed my whole nature. I wasn't born for poverty--I only flower among really jolly people, and people who never are worried."
The figure of the strange man rose before her--would not be dismissed. "That was the man for me, after all is said and done--a man without a care --who'd give me everything I want and with whom I'd always feel that sense of life and of being in touch with the world. I never wanted to fight--it was thrust on me. Really, there's a fount of happiness in me, that is drying up, little by little, in this hateful existence. I'll be dead if this goes on--and"--she stirred in the bed and flung out her arms--"I want passion, and love, and adventure--I yearn for them. Why should I stay here and rot?--I am rotting!" she cried, comforting herself with the sound of her breaking voice. "But if I tell Casimir all this when he comes this afternoon, and he says, 'Go'--as he certainly will--that's another thing I loathe about him--he's under my thumb--what should I do then--where should I go to?" There was nowhere. "I don't want to work--or carve out my own path. I want ease and any amount of nursing in the lap of luxury. There is only one thing I'm fitted for, and that is to be a great courtesan." But she did not know how to go about it. She was frightened to go into the streets--she heard of such awful things happening to those women--men with diseases--or men who didn't pay--besides, the idea of a strange man every night--no, that was out of the question. "If I'd the clothes I would go to a really good hotel and find some wealthy man...like the strange man this morning. He would be ideal. Oh, if I only had his address--I am sure I would fascinate him. I'd keep him laughing all day--I'd make him give me unlimited money..." At the thought she grew warm and soft. She began to dream of a wonderful house, and of presses full of clothes and of perfumes. She saw herself stepping into carriages--looking at the strange man with a mysterious, voluptuous glance--she practised the glance, lying on the bed-- and never another worry, just drugged with happiness. That was the life for her. Well, the thing to do was to let Casimir go on his wild-goose chase that evening, and while he was away--What! Also--please to remember --there was the rent to be paid before twelve next morning, and she hadn't the money for a square meal. At the thought of food she felt a sharp twinge in her stomach, a sensation as though there were a hand in her stomach, squeezing it dry. She was terribly hungry--all Casimir's fault-- and that man had lived on the fat of the land ever since he was born. He looked as though he could order a magnificent dinner. Oh, why hadn't she played her cards better?--he'd been sent by Providence--and she'd snubbed him. "If I had that time over again, I'd be safe by now." And instead of the ordinary man who had spoken with her at the door her mind created a brilliant, laughing image, who would treat her like a queen..."There's only one thing I could not stand--that he should be coarse or vulgar. Well, he wasn't--he was obviously a man of the world, and the way he apologised...I have enough faith in my own power and beauty to know I could make a man treat me just as I wanted to be treated."...It floated into her dreams-- that sweet scent of cigarette smoke. And then she remembered that she had heard nobody go down the stone stairs. Was it possible that the strange man was still there?...The thought was too absurd--Life didn't play tricks like that--and yet--she was quite conscious of his nearness. Very quietly she got up, unhooked from the back of the door a long white gown, buttoned it on--smiling slyly. She did not know what was going to happen. She only thought: "Oh, what fun!" and that they were playing a delicious game--this strange man and she. Very gently she turned the door-handle, screwing up her face and biting her lip as the lock snapped back. Of course, there he was--leaning against the banister rail. He wheeled round as she slipped into the passage.
"Da," she muttered, folding her gown tightly around her, "I must go downstairs and fetch some wood. Brr! the cold!"
"There isn't any wood," volunteered the strange man. She gave a little cry of astonishment, and then tossed her head.
"You again," she said scornfully, conscious the while of his merry eye, and the fresh, strong smell of his healthy body.
"The landlady shouted out there was no wood left. I just saw her go out to buy some."
"Story--story!" she longed to cry. He came quite close to her, stood over her and whispered: