Bicket stumbled, half-blind, along the Strand. Naturally good-tempered, such a nerve-storm made him feel ill, and bruised in the brain. Sunlight and motion slowly restored some power of thought. He had got the truth. But was it the whole and nothing but the truth? Could she have made all that money without —? If he could believe that, then, perhaps — out of this country where people could see her naked for a shilling — he might forget. But — all that money! And even if all earned ‘honourable,’ as Mr. Mont had put it, in how many days, exposed to the eyes of how many men? He groaned aloud in the street. The thought of going home to her — of a scene, of what he might learn if there WERE a scene, was just about unbearable. And yet — must do it, he supposed. He could have borne it better under St. Paul’s, standing in the gutter, offering his balloons. A man of leisure for the first time in his life, a blooming ‘alderman’ with nothing to do but step in and take a ticket to the ruddy butterflies! And he owed that leisure to what a man with nothing to take his thoughts off simply could not bear! He would rather have snaffled the money out of a shop till. Better that on his soul, than the jab of this dark fiendish sexual jealousy. ‘Be a man!’ Easy said! ‘Pull yourself together! She did it for you!’ He would a hundred times rather she had not. Blackfriars Bridge! A dive, and an end in the mud down there? But you had to rise three times; they would fish you out alive, and run you in for it — and nothing gained — not even the pleasure of thinking that Vic would see what she had done, when she came to identify the body. Dead was dead, anyway, and he would never know what she felt post-mortem! He trudged across the bridge, keeping his eyes before him. Little Ditch Street — how he used to scuttle down it, back to her, when she had pneumonia! Would he never feel like that again? He strode past the window, and went in.
Victorine was still bending over the brown tin trunk. She straightened herself, and on her face came a cold, tired look.
“Well,” she said, “I see you know.”
Bicket had but two steps to take in that small room. He took them, and put his hands on her shoulders. His face was close, his eyes, so large and strained, searched hers.
“I know you’ve myde a show of yerself for all London to see; what I want to know is — the rest!”
Victorine stared back at him.
“The rest!” she said — it was not a question, just a repetition, in a voice that seemed to mean nothing.
“Ah!” said Bicket hoarsely; “The rest — Well?”
“If you think there’s a ‘rest,’ that’s enough.”
Bicket jerked his hands away.
“Aoh! for the land’s sake, daon’t be mysterious. I’m ‘alf orf me nut!”
“I see that,” said Victorine; “and I see this: You aren’t what I thought you. D’you think I liked doing it?” She raised her dress and took out the notes. “There you are! You can go to Australia without me.”
Bicket cried hoarsely: “And leave you to the blasted pynters?”
“And leave me to meself. Take them!”
But Bicket recoiled against the door, staring at the notes with horror. “Not me!”
“Well, I can’t keep ’em. I earned them to get you out of this.”
There was a long silence, while the notes lay between them on the table, still crisp if a little greasy — the long-desired, the dreamed-of means of release, of happiness together in the sunshine. There they lay; neither would take them! What then?
“Vic,” said Bicket at last, in a hoarse whisper, “swear you never let ’em touch you!”
“Yes, I can swear that.”
And she could smile, too, saying it — that smile of hers! How believe her — living all these months, keeping it from him, telling him a lie about it in the end! He sank into a chair by the table and laid his head on his arms.
Victorine turned and began pulling an old cord round the trunk. He raised his head at the tiny sound. Then she really meant to go away! He saw his life devastated, empty as a cocoanut on Hampstead Heath; and all defence ran melted out of his cockney spirit. Tears rolled from his eyes.
“When you were ill,” he said, “I stole for you. I got the sack for it.”
She spun round. “Tony — you never told me! What did you steal?”
“Books. All your extra feedin’ was books.”
For a long minute she stood looking at him, then stretched out her hands without a word. Bicket seized them.
“I don’t care about anything,” he gasped, “so ‘elp me, so long as you’re fond of me, Vic!”
“And I don’t neither. Oh! let’s get out of this, Tony! this awful little room, this awful country. Let’s get out of it all!”
“Yes,” said Bicket; and put her hands to his eyes.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54