The Adventures of Miss Gregory/The Adventuress
THE tale comes best from Madame Olivant herself, as she told it, after luncheon, on the veranda of her villa at Antibes.
Her two guests followed her out to where the coffee and curaçao were set as counter-attractions to the sun-flushed sweep of hill and sea—thick-set gentlemen, beautifully attired, and only just redeemed from a florid quality by a certain remorselessness of eye and mouth. They had come over from Monte Carlo to visit Madame as old colleagues and friends, and she had acknowledged their claims upon her by making them welcome and feeding them sumptuously. They seated themselves at the little table on the veranda with the solemnity of men who take their appetites seriously.
Mr. James Smith turned his broad back on the harbour and the wine-dark sea beyond, and reached his hand—too thick a hand for the immaculate white cuff that bordered it—to the curaçao.
"Have some, Neuman?" he invited.
"Of course," replied Mr. Neuman, and sat back in his chair to look about him with undisguised approval of his surroundings.
"Well, Jane," he remarked, "you've got things just about right here, haven't you? That suprême de volaille—that was great!"
"An' that Berncastler," agreed Mr. Smith. "Women generally make a mess of the wine, but that was on the spot. Jane! Here's wishing you all there is!"
He drank the liqueur with a flourish, and Madame Olivant, leaning on the railing, acknowledged the toast with a slow smile. She was a slender, noticeable woman, whose whole personality was regulated to a serene composure; she moved and stood with a gentle and deliberate grace, and only the pale intensity of her face suggested that she was capable of passions and regrets. There was nothing in her of that grossness of fibre which made the two men formidable; as she looked down on them from her place by the railing, she seemed infinitely and delicately remote from their good-humoured animalism; but there was a companionship and understanding in her glance.
"Glad things were all right," she said, in her low, pleasant voice.
"Things were fine," said Mr. Smith heartily—"fine! You 've got style, Jane—that's what it is—the real born-in-the-purple style. It beats me, how you picked it up."
He groped laboriously in his breast pocket and brought forth his cigar-case.
"Gi' me one of those," demanded Mr. Neuman. "Yes; how did you pick it up, Jane? You 're the first I ever knew that could take a meal without giving herself away; they 're never sure about their forks."
Madame laughed. "I suppose I 've kept my eyes open," she said, "whenever there was anything to use a fork on. Sometimes there was n't anything, you know."
"Oh, then I starved and kept quiet about it," she answered.
"Starved, eh?" Mr. Neuman was cutting his cigar, and looked up shrewdly. "Done much of that, Jane?"
"I've had my share," answered Madame. "The last time was in Berlin, a year ago. I got to the point when I was going to have laudanum for supper, when—well, I was saved."
"Go ahead," said Mr. Neuman. "Tell us about it."
Madame shrugged her shoulders slightly, and looked away to the colour and brightness spread out below. Her elbow rested on the railing and her chin was propped in her hand; she frowned as if the matter of which she had spoken were yet sore in her mind. The two men smoked in placid contentment.
"Well," said Madame suddenly, "I 'll tell you, if you like."
"Good girl," said Mr. Neuman; and Mr. Smith opened eyes that had a tendency to close drowsily.
Madame surveyed the pair of them with a look in which a vague distrust was tempered by amusement. She drew a chair away from the table, and sat upon it where she could still lean her elbow on the railing. She waited while Mr. Smith fortified himself with yet another glass of curaçao.
"I was in Berlin by myself," she began slowly, "after going to Russia with the Conyers crowd—you heard about that. I suppose?"
Mr. Neuman nodded. "Lottery bonds, was n't it?"
"And cards,"·replied Madame; "the old game—you know how Conyers does it, with a big flat on the Quay, and dinners and all that! It paid, and we got away with the money before anyone began asking questions. Conyers and his wife went through to Paris, and the others made for Nice, and so on. I went to Berlin.
"You see," she continued, knitting her delicate brows in an effort to make her hearers understand, "you see, I wanted a rest. There are times when I'm hungry to be quiet and decent, like women who have homes and families behind them. That was why I put up at the Herrschaften Hotel. It's old and expensive and rather shabby inside; there's no elevator and no palms or gilding; but it's the place where the real people go. Old black-satin frumps, some of them, with mittens and jet dingle-dangles on them; one of them, who used to blow her nose as if she were playing, the trumpet, was a duchess. The head porter, with his spectacles and his white beard, had a different kind of bow for each of them, from a sort of nod for me to a regular obeisance for the old duchess. I was rather afraid of him at first; you can never be sure those hotel porters have n't seen you before.
"I had a dark, ugly room up three flights of stairs, with a couple of old maids on one side of me, and a stout, grey-haired, jolly kind of a lady on the other. It's about her that I'm going to tell you. I'd seen her two or three times about the place, when she passed me on the stairs or in the corridor, and I liked the look of her. She was as English as—as roast beef; handsome, and pink, and honest, and happy, with a general sort of look as if she did n't know what it felt like not to have her own way. She thought I was French; that was what I was letting the hotel people think.
"You know," explained Madame parenthetically, "I speak French all right."
Mr. Neuman, who was aware that she spoke also five other tongues with ease and accuracy, grinned assentingly.
"I know," he said. "Well?"
"I think she rather liked the look of me, too," continued Madame, smiling faintly. "She was n't a fool at all; she saw in a moment that I did n't belong to the general run of the Herrschaften visitors, and she was interested. She used to stare in her straightforward way whenever I appeared, as if she were taking notes. It made me nervous at first. The worst of our game is, one can't remember half the people one runs across; but they all remember you. They 're all in the day's work, so far as you are concerned; but you 're an event to them. But she did n't find me out—not then.
"I could see she had made up her mind to speak to me when she got a chance; it was my cue not to make it too easy for her. She managed it, one day, as I came out of my room about twelve o'clock and she was going to hers to make ready for lunch. She'd been out for a walk in the Tiergarten, and she was as pink and fresh and lively as if she'd been scrubbed.
"'A beautiful day,' she said in German, as she came up to me.
"I stopped, of course. I was nearly a head taller than she, and I just stood and half smiled down on her.
"'And you have been out in it already?' I said.
"'In the Tiergarten,' she said, and began to tell me how fine it was there, with the sun shining and the birds singing and the trees rustling, and all that. She was on her way back to England from the tropics, she said. 'And, though it's somehow different from English green, it's the next best thing. Do you know England?' she asked.
"'Oh, yes,' I told her. 'I have been many times in London.'
"'London's a country by itself,' she answered. 'Very wonderful—yes! But it is not London that I am beginning to be homesick for. Kent,' she said, 'where my home is, and the big beech trees and orchards and the little villages—that's what England means to me.'
"'It is a beautiful land,' I said, very politely. She was n't to know, of course, that I was English myself. I did n't intend her to know it. But, the way she spoke of it, I could see that Kent of hers in my mind's eye. I had an aunt once at Wrotham, and I remember her taking me out to pick blue-bells round by Trosley. But what's the use of telling you about that!
"I had my hand-bag in my hand, and she· noticed it.
"'However, I am detaining you,' she said. 'I hope we shall have an opportunity of talking again. You are staying here for some time?'
"'Probably,' I said.
"She fished out a card. 'If you would let this do for an introduction?' she suggested.
"I gave her mine, with the old Cannes address on it. Hers showed that her name was Gregory—Miss Gregory, of Addington Hall, Kent.
"'It's always so satisfactory when one manages to outflank the conventions, is n't it?' she said, laughing. 'So pleased to have met you. Good morning, Madame Olivant.'
"And off she went, swinging along the corridor toward her room as if she were marching to a band.
"I was going out on some business I had to do. You see, the money I brought from Russia was practically all in twenty-five-rouble notes, and changing them two or three at a time was getting to be a nuisance. Besides, it made me noticed in the hotel office when I went there to cash them into German money, and that didn't suit me. When people begin to wonder about you, you never know what they won't find out. So I'd packed the whole lot into my best handbag, and was taking them along to a place I had seen in the Friedrichstrasse—one of those shops, with windows protected by wire netting, where they show bowls full of louis and sovereigns and all different kinds of foreign paper money. You know! Conyers had one once, and got rid of a truck-load of false stuff during the old Paris Exhibition."
"Conyers is a great man," remarked Mr. Neuman. "Ever since he did that, I 've always changed my money at Cook's."
"There is n't any Cook's in Berlin," said Madame. "This place was all right. I did n't take a cab; who was to know what I had in my bag? There was an old grey man in the shop, shut up in a brass cage like a rich ape, and smoking the tail-end of a cigar. I had my story ready, in case I had to explain how I came to have all that money; but he didn't ask any questions. He wetted his fingers on a sponge, and counted my bundle of notes with no more interest than if they had been hand-bills. Money was what he dealt in, and he seemed tired of it. When he had counted them, he snapped an elastic band around them, and began figuring with a pen to work out the rate of exchange. It came to over forty thousand marks, rather more than two thousand pounds.
"He told me the figure, and I nodded, very grave and reserved. It was n't in my part to be too cute on the odd marks, and he was within a hundred of honesty, anyhow.
"He reached under his desk and brought up a couple of fat packets of German notes,—I wondered if he kept them down there in a bucket,—and counted off my money, and put one of his rubber bands round it, and shoved it under the railing to me. I took my time in counting it; I'm not really wasteful, and I did n't want to look as if I was. He folded his hands on his stomach and watched me stowing it away in my bag.
"'You will take a cab—not?' he said, as I was finishing. 'It is much money; a cab is safer.'
"'Yes,' I murmured, and went out.
"I meant to have a cab, of course; people notice you coming out of places like that. But, though the street was full of people and traffic, there was n't at that moment a single empty cab in sight. I stood on the edge of the pavement, looking up and down the street for one—oh! I was a fool. I was in the way of the people who were hurrying past, and a man cannoned into me and slowed down to apologise. Then another tried to edge past him, and in a moment the whole sidewalk was blocked. There were half a dozen people shoving to get by, and among them there was somebody—I did n't see him, but he was there—who saw his chance and took it at once. I'd hardly got it into my mind that I was running three risks a second, when a hand came from behind me and slid down my arm to my wrist! I could n't tear away—I was jammed in the crowd; and the hand took hold round my wrist, where the bones stick out, just here"—Madame showed her slender wrist with the lace about it—"and squeezed. You know how that hurts; it made my whole arm limp; and then the handle of the bag was slipped out of my fingers, and I got a shove in the back that pitched me forward against a fat man who was ploughing past.
"He swore, and then helped me to stand up straight again. But, when I managed to turn round, there was the street, there were all the people bustling along, but there was n't a sign of my forty thousand marks, and I had n't even seen the man who got it."
"Neat!" murmured Mr. Neuman critically. "Very neat job!"
Madame smiled again, as if she, too, admired the dexterity of the manner in which she had been robbed.
"I could n't get hold of my wits for a minute," she went on. "The fat man was bowing and grinning as if he were playing Romeo. I did n't catch what he was saying; I stood rubbing my wrist and staring like an idiot; then I walked on and left him. About a dozen yards farther on there was a big policeman with a sword, watching the traffic and stroking his whiskers as if he were pleased to see it moving. D'you know, it was the sight of him that made me feel really unhappy! There was n't another woman in the Herrschaften that could n't have gone up to him to complain she'd been robbed, and make him attend to it smart and lively. I was the only one that could n't; it would n't have been safe for me to get into touch with the police, after the Russian business. He could n't have done anything useful, of course; but don't you ever have the feeling that you 've got to keep on your feet because nobody 'll help you up if you go down? I had it then, when I was down. I could have howled!
"Still, there was thinking to be done, so I did n't howl. That money was all I'd got, unless there happened to be a few marks in a purse I'd left in my room. I had n't any jewellery; I got rid of all mine a year before, and Mrs. Conyers lent me what I wanted for the Petersburg job. There was a hotel bill of about four hundred marks to face, and my fare from Berlin to Paris or Cannes to find; and I'd need some food, too. It was a smash at last, and I was frightened. I had to brace myself hard to sail in at the hotel door slowly and go past the porter without looking at his face. Those fellows can tell whether you 've got money or not by the noise your heels make on the floor.
"That purse—I went straight to my room and locked the door and dug it out. I hardly dared open it for a moment; it felt so fat and rich, and yet I knew there was n't much in it. I turned it out on the bed and counted the cash. There was one twenty-mark gold piece, and seventeen marks in silver—thirty-seven marks altogether to get away from Berlin with and begin the world again. I tell you—it made me laugh! It was like one of those jokes Conyers is always playing on his crowd; it makes you laugh, but it hurts your feelings.
"Of course, the first thing I thought of was to wire to Conyers in Paris. I'd never asked him for anything before, and he might do the decent thing. I sent him the telegram in English, saying that I'd been robbed of every cent and begging him to help me out. While I was about it, I wired some of the others, too, though I hadn't much hope."
Madame stopped short and leaned forward to inspect the features of Mr. James Smith. They were composed in slumber.
"He was at Ostend then," she said slowly. "I knew where he was, and I wired him, too. He did n't answer."
"You did n't wire me," said Mr. Neuman. "I'd have answered."
"Perhaps," said Madame. "But I did n't know where you were, so I could n't try you. I sent the telegrams at lunch-time; I was n't lunching myself. And then I went for a walk about the streets, to see if I could make any plans. You see, I had n't any real hopes that the people I'd wired to would help me, though I did n't know it then. I had sixteen marks left; the messages had cost the rest; and I had an idea I might drop into something profitable if I kept my eyes open. So there I was, wandering round in my smart, pretty clothes, with a smile and a headache, spying for a chance to get to work in a big, ugly city where I didn't know a soul. And there was n't anything; there was n't a sign of hope for me.
"I kept walking till about five o'clock, and my feet got so tired that I was nearly wasting a couple of marks on a cab to get back to the hotel. I was afraid of the hotel by now; the bill lowed and the head porter and the rich old frumps were too much for me, and if I'd had anywhere else to go in all the world, I'd have sacrificed my luggage for the sake of never seeing the place again. It was it place for rich people, for people who have n't got to care about money, who could be robbed of a dozen handbags and yet pay their bills and take a first-class ticket home. But it was n't a place for me, with sixteen marks between me and the gutter.
"The porter had a telegram for me as I went in. It was the answer from Conyers. I took it across the hall to read, so that people should n't see my face. Oh, he's a brute! He wasted a dozen francs to have a sneer at me all the war from Paris to Berlin. 'Should n't ask money from a married man,' was what he had written—the cad! It made me so angry, for the moment, that I forgot to feel desperate. But none of the others answered at all.
"I was standing with the telegram in my hand at the end of the hall, under the big portrait of the Kaiser that hangs there, when my Englishwoman drifted up to me.
"'Ah,' she said easily, 'you look tired. Have you had tea yet?'
"'Not yet,' I said.
"'Then do have some with me,' she suggested. 'I'm all alone.'
"'So am I,' I said, glad to tell the truth for once in a way. And I was perishing for tea. A few minutes before I thought it was brandy I wanted; but I was wrong—it was tea. And at the Herrschaften you can get it in cups, English fashion. I followed her to the screened part of the hall where the little tables are, and I was never so glad to sit down in my life.
"There's one good thing about the Germans—they do give you credit for having an appetite; and there were plenty of things to eat as well as the tea. I never do eat any breakfast to speak of, and as for lunch—the man that got my money probably had a good one—I hope he had, anyway; but I'd had none. Lord, I was hungry! Yes, I know you 've got an idea that a woman with my figure lives on two éclairs and the smell of a bouquet every twenty-four hours; but it is n't so. If it had n't been for Miss Gregory sitting opposite me, talking in a large, leisured way all the time, and for the waiter skirmishing round, I'd have eaten every blessed thing in sight.
"'What lots of things" they give you,' she said, looking round on the plates and dishes. 'Do we want all these?'
"I don't,' I said, playing up to her, and she sent about three pounds of honest food away. I saw it go; I could n't help looking at it, and thinking I'd have to buy some dinner, after all, out of my sixteen marks. Still, I managed to get something to go on with, enough to make me feel better, though it did fill me with a yearning to get some proper food.
"Miss Gregory, I could see, was trying to make me talk, and everything she said ended up with a clever little question. I answered a few of them before I noticed it; for instance, she said she'd had a lot of trouble to learn German. Had n't I? Yes, I said. French, though, she found easy. I practically said I had, also; and then I saw how things were and was on my guard. But there was n't anything unpleasant in it. She was simply curious about a kind of woman she did n't understand. She sat behind the tea-table, bolt upright, with her handsome, strong, pink face staring at me in the straightest fashion, with her smooth grey hair brushed back from her forehead, and tried to put me through my paces. If it had n't been for the tea, which livened me up a little, she would have done it, too.
"And what d'you think she said to me, just before I got away from her? She leaned forward, with a sort of half-nervous laugh, and said: 'Would you think it too ridiculous if I asked you, on such short acquaintance, to give me a photograph? You know, as you sit there, you are one of the most finished things I ever saw. I should be so grateful.' I nearly burst out laughing. I almost think I blushed. I said I'd see if I had one, and left it at that.
"I got myself something to eat at a big café—something real and solid—and then I was so worn out I came back to the hotel and went straight to bed, in that big, ugly, expensive room with its stuffy old velvet curtains."
Madame moved on her chair and gazed absently at the unconscious form of Mr. Smith. Slumber failed to beautify the heavy directness of his features; it merely revealed the weakness at the root of the man.
"I'd hate anybody to see me sleeping like that," she said irrelevantly.
"He's not pretty," agreed Mr. Neuman. "Still—what happened next?"
Madame sighed thoughtfully and regathered her memories. She was a delicate and beautiful figure against her background of sunlight; even Mr. Neuman found something incongruous between the tale she told and the subtle charm of her presence.
"Oh, well," said Madame, resuming, "I got a night's rest, anyhow. The next thing was the chambermaid at the door with my breakfast on a tray—just my ordinary featherweight breakfast, and me with an appetite like a shark. And I did n't dare send her back for more; the thought of the money that I had left simply broke my nerve. But I remember, when I'd finished my roll, I ate the sugar out of the basin as well.
"The memory of the day before was as bad as a pain in my head, and I tried not to think about it. I had an idea I'd get out and hustle round and find something or other somehow; but I was n't feeling brave. I'd only fourteen marks left now—my supper had cost me two; and I had to hurry, and I still had hopes of some of the people I'd telegraphed to. Of course, we 're a bad lot, all of us, and we ought to be blotted out; but I did n't believe we were so bad that we could n't do the decent thing among ourselves. I ought to have known better; I do now.
"Well, I dressed and I went down. It was getting on for eleven o'clock as I went through the hall, and there were a good many people there, and the sun was shining in on them from the big windows. It made them look bright and rich—even, the doddering old Duchess, who had an ear-trumpet up and was being shouted to by my friend Miss Gregory. I felt weak in the knees at the sight of them loafing about there, so safe and comfortable and careless. Miss Gregory gave me a smile and a nod, and the porter gave me an envelope—my bill! I slit it open and looked at the total—four hundred and seventeen marks. On my word, I had to catch my breath and hold it for fear I should laugh out loud and get the whole business over there and then; it seemed the easiest way out of it. But, instead, I just handed it back to the porter.
"'Give it to me when I come in,' I said.
"'Gewiss!' he said; but I fancied he was staring at me through his spectacles. Miss Gregory was, all the time.
"Somehow, that emptied the spirit out of me. I went out slow and dignified, but with the feeling that I had no chance; I was handicapped in the very doorway by four hundred and seventeen marks. It was n't fair; it did n't leave me time. I went out toward the busier streets, but there was no hope left in me. There's only one way a woman can scoop in money at short notice in a place like Berlin, and—well, when it came to that, I bought laudanum.
"There's no need to tell you how I walked about, on Unter den Linden and the Friedrichstrasse and Mittelstrasse and Taubenstrasse and all the other strassen; that kind of thing would n't interest you. I never knew, till then, how little we 're good for—people like us. We need fools and blackguards before we can get to work; and cities like Berlin, where they work and do business and behave themselves, are no use to us. Everybody I saw was taking care of himself or of somebody else; there was n't a sign of an opening for me. I spent one of my marks for some coffee and food at midday, and another late in the afternoon; and it was n't till the lamps were alight, and the people in the streets had changed from young men charging along on business to couples strolling for pleasure, that I got a hint.
"I was in a quiet sort of street off the Friedrichstrasse, with orderly, decent-looking houses and shops along it, and a couple of young men stopped close to me and knocked at a door. It would n't have interested me if I had n't seen, as I went past, that the man who opened it for them was dressed like a waiter. I guessed in a moment what was inside. If it had been a club they would n't have had to knock. I walked on to the end of the street,—my feet were so sore that it was worth something to have a chance of resting them,—and then turned back and knocked on the same door. I had n't forgotten to notice the knock.
"The waiter opened at once—a big, rough-looking fellow he was, in spite of his black clothes and white shirt-front.
"'Well?' he said sharply, standing in the middle of the door.
"'Oh, get out of the way,' I said. 'I'm a stranger here and I don't know any passwords or anything; but I'm coming in.'
"'This is a private house,' he said.
"'I know,' I answered. 'I'm calling on the family. They would n't like a row on the doorstep, would they?'
"He gave me an ugly look. 'What name?' he asked.
"'I'm incognito,' I said. 'But if you shut me out, you 'll hear it all right. Now, out of the way.'
"I shoved in, and, as he shut the door behind me, I got a hat-pin out, in case of trouble. But all he did was to fetch an ugly, clever little man without a coat, who struck matches in the dark hall to look at me, and then let me go up the stairs to the back room where the game was.
"I'd hoped it would be one of the games we worked with Conyers; I'd have called that luck. But it was only roulette. There were about thirty men and three women there, not the kind I could speak to,—and a table with two croupiers and lots of lights. The men were nothing much—not swells, you know; most of them looked as if they worked for their living. But, as I stood watching the play, I saw one man across the table that I knew. He was looking over the shoulders of the people in front of him—a drooping, sidelong, thief's face, with a wide, restless mouth. It was Bat Samuels."
"Samuels," repeated Mr. Neuman. "But he's—he's not a gentleman'"
There was a touch of soft satire in Madame's eyes as she nodded her agreement. Mr. Neuman, to put it kindly, lived by his wits and by the absence of wits in others. But he was conceded by his peers to be a gentleman. Nobody called the absent Samuels that.
"He's a beast," said Madame; "he does n't even look like a human being. But—I'd seen nobody else at all that I knew, and I was glad to see even him. He was gambling in twenty-mark gold pieces, shoving them on the table one after the other as if he'd plenty, and winning now and again enough to make it worth his while. It was n't big play, you know; the place was n't run for that; but the sight of the money lying about and changing hands gave me some hope.
"The minimum you could put on was five marks, so that I had two chances before I could be cleared out, and two marks over. I played my first as soon as I could get near enough, and lost it right away. I waited a bit and then played the other—on red! A man in front of me went away, and I got next to the table and dropped my money down, coin by coin, on the cloth, and stood watching it. I was thoughtful, I suppose, and pretty tired; anyhow, I did n't notice the spinning or anything else till a rake came thrusting down and gathered in my stake. I'd lost that, too.
"I backed away and stood clear till I could speak to Samuels. He came round presently, walking in that shambling way he has.
"'Hullo, Jane,' he said, smiling so that his lips writhed back from his ugly teeth. 'What you doin' here?'
"'Looking for my bread and butter,' I told him. 'Lend me a hundred marks, Bat—I'm in a mess.'
"'Lend you!' he repeated, still grinning at me.
"'I 'll see you're paid,' I promised him. 'I never let anyone down yet, Bat, and it's life and death with me just now.'
"His eyes were running all over me.
"'A hundred marks is nothing,' he said then, 'if you like me as well as I like you.'
"I'd told him it was life and death, and he thought he saw his chance. For one moment I was in such a sick fury I could have murdered him; but that passed and left me just tired. If it was a choice between that and dying, I knew my own mind. I took a good look at him, though—his sorrowful, shifty, silly face, with the shine of sweat on it; and I just shook my head at him.
"'Bat,' I said, 'I would n't go to heaven with you—much less hell!'
"He looked at me as a dog looks when you thrash it for stealing—mean and humble and guilty; it's hardly worth while to be angry with creatures like that. But it was all up with me now—time to make an end of it before worse things happened.
"The rough waiter let me out, and as I passed through the door he said, 'Good-night.' It sounded queer at the time, but that was because I was too tired to think. It was a fine, cool evening, with plenty of stars overhead, and a clock showed me that it was only half-past ten. The plump couples were still strolling about and taking it easy; I did n't see another soul who looked as if he or she had my trouble. People made way for me to pass as I went along; and it struck me that they were mighty glad to let me go where I was going.
"I knew what I had to do. Toothache and sleeplessness was what I said I'd got, and at four dentists' and a chemist's it worked like a charm, and they sold me each a little blue bottle of laudanum without a suspicion. I'd have bought more and made it the surest kind of certainty, but I had n't a cent left. I put the bottles in my purse and walked back to the hotel.
"I was n't afraid of it any more; they would n't hurt me now. The porter saw me come in, and nipped forward with the bill. I smiled as if I'd forgotten it, and took it from him. The big place with its shaded lights and high church windows looked very solemn and noble; but what I had in my purse was a lot more solemn. I saw myself in a mirror as I went toward the stairs, and I knew I was making a good finish—just a quiet, serious shape of a woman walking alone from the lights and the company, not sad nor worried nor fussy, but simply going!
"The corridor was empty, but there was a light under Miss Gregory's door; I'd half a mind to knock and say good night to her, but I thought she'd wonder. So I just nodded to her closed door and went into my own room. I did n't mean to lose any time. But d'you know what annoyed me then? It was just the feeling that I'd got to be hungry to the end—that, after all my worrying and walking about, I'd made nothing but an appetite. I'd have liked a sandwich before I finished, and I could n't have it. I felt that I was being ill used; it ought to have been enough to hunt me down and kill me, without starving me as well.
"I took off my things and got into a kimono to be restful. I'd no letters to write or burn; I don't carry that kind of luggage, and the people that might be hurt by my dying had already been hurt enough by my living. So I just let it be. I put out my little laudanum bottles on the dressing-table, as if I were spreading a meal, and got myself a glass from the wash-hand stand, and sat down to—to do it. And then, when I was within thirty seconds of it, there came a knock on the door.
"'Madame Olivant!' called somebody outside, and the door—I'd forgotten to lock it—was shoved open and Miss Gregory put her head round the corner of it.
"I sat, staring like a fool, with the glass in one hand and a bottle in the other, and her sharp, steady grey eyes stared back at me. We were like that for a full half minute.
"'Ah!' she said then, and came in. 'How lucky that you 're—er—not asleep. I wonder if you keep such a thing as laudanum about you—for a toothache?'
"'Laudanum!' I repeated. 'Did you say laudanum?' And I began to laugh.
"'Oh, yes, I 've got laudanum,' I said. 'But I 've got a toothache myself, I'm afraid.'
"She was in a dressing-gown too, and wonderful she looked—something between a monk and Santa Claus. Her lips were tight and severe, and she kept looking at me in her steady way.
"'You 're taking too much,' she said; and then, as if she were tired of keeping up the pretence: 'Put that glass down, you fool!'
"She snapped out the words sharp and strong, and startled me—my nerves were pretty poor, I suppose—so that I jumped and nearly dropped it. Before I saw what she was up to, she came striding across and took it out of my hand.
"'Now you 're all right,' she said, smelling the dark stuff in the glass and nodding over it to me. 'Just in time, was n't I?'
"'Give it back to me,' I said. 'Give it back and get out of this. I must have it. You don't understand.'
"I was crazy at the thought that she'd throw it away and leave me helpless, to be handed over to the police for swindling the hotel and shown up before everybody. And she'd go on with her life, calm and proud that she'd saved me—saved me! I got up from my chair.
"'Sit down,' she said, and she pushed me back with one hand. 'Keep quiet! No, I won't give it back; we can do better than that.'
"I tried to grab it from her—I was desperate. But at the first movement of my hand she turned the glass upside down and spilled all the stuff on the carpet. I gave a sort of cry when I saw that.
"'Listen to me,' she began.
"But I could n't. All I could say was, 'Lost! Lost!' like the heroine in a play. I tell you, I was pretty far gone, what with hunger and weariness and misery. When once I'd started saying 'Lost!' like that, I could n't stop for a bit. I was getting on toward hysterics.
"Miss Gregory watched me under her eyebrows for some minutes.
"'I know what's the matter with you!' she said suddenly. 'Yesterday—when we had tea together—I wondered; but now I know. You 're starving!'
"I could n't shape any sort of answer.
"'I could have some sandwiches sent up to my room,' she said. 'Will you eat them if I do? But you must, anyhow. Come with me!'
"I was n't in a condition to fight any more. She took me to her room and sat me in a chair, and then put her thumb on the bell-push, and kept it there till a maid came at the run. Miss Gregory gave her order round the edge of the door, so that the girl should n't see me, and she made it clear she did n't intend to be kept waiting. Sandwiches it was, and a pint of champagne. Lord, how I'd wanted that dainty, clean food! She walked up and down, while I ate it and got hold of myself.
"'Well,' she said, when I'd finished, 'd'you feel better now?'
"She asked the question in English, looking at me straight
"'Yes,' I answered.
"'That's all right, then,' she said. 'And so you are English! I thought so from the first moment I saw you. If you'd been just what you pretended to be, Madame Olivant, I should n't have tried to know you. You did it very well, you know, except for one thing—you had such a strong natural turn for respectability. And now, what is the trouble?'
"I gave it to her short. 'Yesterday I was robbed in the street of forty thousand marks,' I said. 'To-day I got a hotel bill for over four hundred. I spent my last farthing on that laudanum you took away from me. And I can't go on.'
"She nodded. 'No friends?' she asked.
"'No,' I answered; 'no friends!'
"She took another turn up and down the room, with her chin on her breast and her hands joined behind her,—she looked like a solemn old man,—and at last stopped,—in front of me.
"'You don't really know much about life, I think,' she said. 'You 're not a judge of people. You see too much of one kind, I suppose. Now, I—I'm a traveller, and I see all sorts. I knew what you were before I spoke to you, Madame Olivant. I saw you were not French, to begin with. At tea yesterday I saw you were hungry. And in the hall this morning I saw you were desperate. You did n't know you showed all that, did you? But I saw; and when I noticed you this evening on the Friedrichstrasse going into a chemist's shop, I came straight back here to wait for you. You have n't deceived me much, have you?'
"She shook her head over me, in a kind of reproving way.
"'But anyone can deceive you,' she went on. 'I liked the look of you; I gave you my card and I asked you for your photograph. And yet, you were going to take poison alone in your room, without a word to me in here!'
"I had to say something. 'What good would that have done?' I said.
"'Good!' she cried. 'Why, you said—it's only a question of money, is n't it?' She stared at me fiercely, and then came a bit nearer.
"'My child,' she said,—that's what she called me,—'my child, I 've helped a good many people in my time, in many ways. But you went to your room to die without even hoping I would help you, and—it hurts me!'
"She was frowning heavily, and her big, pink, handsome face was set as hard as iron. But what she said was true; it was hurting her. I sat in my chair, crying.
"'I have n't told you how I got that forty thousand marks,' I began; but she shut me up.
"'Why should you?' she said. 'You did n't even tell me you were starving. Well, since it's only money, how much shall I lend you?'
"And she went across to her dressing-bag and pulled out a big pocket-book."
Madame stopped suddenly, and leaned as if to look over the railing at something in the garden below her, with her hand screening her face.
"She forked out, did she?" inquired Mr. Neuman. "A decent old sort—what? Did you ever pay her back, Jane?"
Madame nodded, without looking round. "Oh, yes," she said; "I sent the money out of what I made in Paris. Conyers had a game there, and I went against him for once in a way. It worked, and I telegraphed the money to Miss Gregory and then came on here."
"I expect," said Mr. Neuman thoughtfully, "the old girl was surprised when she got it."
Madame turned to him with a shadow on her face, and looked at him seriously.
"Yes," she said slowly. "She counted that money as lost; she'd surely be surprised to have it paid back. And that's what hurts me still."
Mr. Neuman reflected calmly, tilting his chair backward.
"Well, it was a nasty experience, Jane," he concluded. "But you 're all right here, aren't you? Everything of the best—and that suprême de volaille—that was great!"