Melisande, patting down a pile of chiffon, seemed to be amused at such a notion. “Mademoiselle has her own art. Do I mix myself in that?” she cried, waving one hand towards the great malachite casket.
Zuleika looked at the casket, and then very gratefully at the maid. Her art—how had she forgotten that? Here was solace, purpose. She would work as she had never worked yet. She KNEW that she had it in her to do better than she had ever done. She confessed to herself that she had too often been slack in the matter of practice and rehearsal, trusting her personal magnetism to carry her through. Only last night she had badly fumbled, more than once. Her bravura business with the Demon Egg-Cup had been simply vile. The audience hadn’t noticed it, perhaps, but she had. Now she would perfect herself. Barely a fortnight now before her engagement at the Folies Bergeres! What if—no, she must not think of that! But the thought insisted. What if she essayed for Paris that which again and again she had meant to graft on to her repertory—the Provoking Thimble?
She flushed at the possibility. What if her whole present repertory were but a passing phase in her art—a mere beginning—an earlier manner? She remembered how marvellously last night she had manipulated the ear-rings and the studs. Then lo! the light died out of her eyes, and her face grew rigid. That memory had brought other memories in its wake.
For her, when she fled the Broad, Noaks’ window had blotted out all else. Now she saw again that higher window, saw that girl flaunting her ear-rings, gibing down at her. “He put them in with his own hands!”—the words rang again in her ears, making her cheeks tingle. Oh, he had thought it a very clever thing to do, no doubt—a splendid little revenge, something after his own heart! “And he kissed me in the open street”—excellent, excellent! She ground her teeth. And these doings must have been fresh in his mind when she overtook him and walked with him to the house-boat! Infamous! And she had then been wearing his studs! She drew his attention to them when—
Her jewel-box stood open, to receive the jewels she wore to-night. She went very calmly to it. There, in a corner of the topmost tray, rested the two great white pearls—the pearls which, in one way and another, had meant so much to her.
“When we go to Paris, would you like to make a little present to your fiance?”
“Je voudrais bien, mademoiselle.”
“Then you shall give him these,” said Zuleika, holding out the two studs.