“Ah no! But now—”
She would not let him speak.
“Do you think that if I loved you, as I have loved you—as I did once—I should be so ready to give you up? Do you know me so little? Do you think that I have no pride?” asked Matilde Macomer, holding him at arm’s length from her with her strong hands and throwing back her head, while the lids half veiled her eyes, and her face grew paler still.
The words that were so strange, spoken by such a woman, fell from her lips with force and earnest conviction, whether she truly believed that they had meaning for her, or not. Then her voice changed and softened again.
“But your friend—yes, always, as you must be mine—that and nothing more. We have said good bye to all the rest—now go, for I would rather be alone for a little while. Go, Bosio—please go!”
“As you will,” he answered.
Then he kissed her hand and looked into her face for a moment, as though expecting that she should speak again. But she only shook her head, and her hand gave his no pressure. He kissed it again. There were tears in his eyes when he left the room.
Love is not the privilege of the virtuous, nor the exclusive right of the weak man and woman. The earth brings forth the good thing and the bad thing with equal strength to grow great and multiply side by side, and it is not the privilege of the good thing to live forever because it is good, nor is it the condemnation of the bad to die before its time, perishing in its own evil.
A moment after Bosio had left the room, Matilde rose to her feet, very pale and unsteady, and locked the door. Then, as though she were groping her way in darkness, she got back to the sofa, and falling upon it, buried her face in the cushions, and bit them, lest she should cry out. She felt that it would have been easier, after all, to have killed Veronica Serra, than it had been to part with the one thing she had loved in her life.
She had not loved him better than herself, perhaps, since it was to save herself that she had driven him away. But it had not been to save herself from so small and insignificant a thing as death, though she was vital and loved life for its own sake. She had not realized, either, until it had been almost done, how necessary it was. Yesterday she had been more cynical. Her own wickedness was teaching her the necessity of some good, and she saw now clearly that Bosio was one degree less base than herself. She believed that he would now be willing to marry Veronica, but she understood that until now he would not have done it—unless she had freed him from the galling remnant of his own conscience, and had formally given him his liberty. To give him that, in order that he might save her, she had torn out her heart by the roots.