She laughed strangely.
“Oh—an uplifter, settlement work, charity work—”
He was stupefied.
“Myra, can’t you see—”
“Yes, I see,” she said, raising her voice a little; “you’re going to live in the slums and you want me to release you. I do. Anything else?”
She was making something sordid of his beautiful dream, and she was startlingly direct. He was cut to the heart.
“You’re making it impossible,” he began.
She laughed a little, stroking down her muff.
“So you’re going to live among the poor ... and you didn’t dare come and tell me....”
“I had no right to involve you until I was sure....”
“And now you’re sure....”
“No,” he cried.
She raised her voice a little again:
“And I wrote asking if I couldn’t help you. Women are fools....”
He sat searching about for something to say. His heart was like cold lead in his breast; his head ached. He felt her side of the case very vividly, and how could she ever understand?
Then, as she sat there her head seemed to explode, and she spoke hurriedly, incoherently:
“It’s time to get to school. I want to go alone. Good-by.”
She rose and went off rapidly.
“Myra!” he cried, leaping up, but she only accelerated her pace....
Instead of going to school she went straight home, flung herself full-length on the bed, buried her face in the pillow, and shook for a long time with terrible tearless sobs. Her life was ruined within her.
Joe went home in a distraught condition. He was angry, amazed, and passion-shaken. He had had a look into that strange mixture which is woman—and he was repelled, and yet attracted as he had never been before. He felt that all was over between them, that somehow she had convicted him of being brutal, selfish, and unmanly, and in the light of her condemnation he saw in his delay to meet her only cowardice and harsh indifference. And yet all along he had acted on the conclusion that he had no right to ask a woman to go into the danger of his work with him.
Pacing up and down his narrow room, he began lashing himself again, excusing, forgiving Myra everything. He had never really understood her nature; he should have gone to her in the beginning and trusted to her love and her insight; he should have let her share the aftermath of the fire; that fierce experience would have taught her that he was forever mortgaged to a life of noble reparation, and even the terror of it all would have been better than shutting her out, to brood morbidly alone.
Yet, what could he do? He must be strong, be wise, keep his head. He had pledged himself, sworn himself into the service of the working class movement. There was no escape. He tried to bury himself in his books, regain for a moment his splendid dream of the future state, feel again those strange throes of world-building, of social service.