Long habit of personal chastity made Charles Verity turn, with a greater stabbing and rending of repulsion, from the thought of marriage for Damaris. She asserted she had no wish to marry, that she—bless her sweet simplicity!—would rather not. But this bare broaching of the subject threw him into so strange a tumult that, only too evidently, he was no competent observer, he laboured under too violent a prejudice. He had no right to demand from others the abstinence he chose himself to practise. Carteret, in desiring her, was within his rights. Damaris within hers, were she moved by his suit. Marriage is natural, wholesome, the God-ordained law and sanction of human increase since man first drew breath here upon earth. To condemn obedience to that law, by placing any parental embargo upon Damaris’ marriage, would be both a defiance of nature and act of grossest selfishness.
He sat down on the window-seat again; and forced himself to put his arm around that fair maiden body, destined to be the prize, one day, of some man’s love; the prey—for he disdained to mince matters, turning the knife in the wound rather—the prey of some man’s lust. He schooled himself, while Damaris’ heart beat a little tempestuously under his hand, to invite a conclusion which through every nerve and fibre he loathed.
“My dear,” he said, “I spoke unadvisedly with my lips just now, letting crude male jealousy get the mastery of reason and common sense. Put my words out of your mind. They were unjustifiable, spoken in foolish heat. If you are in love with anyone”—
Damaris nestled against him.
“Only with you, dearest, I think,” she said.
Charles Verity hesitated, unable to speak through the exquisite blow she delivered and his swift thankfulness.
“Let us put the question differently then—translating it into the language of ordinary social convention. Tell me, has anyone proposed to you?”
Damaris, still nestling, shook her head.
“No—no one. And I hope now, no one will. I escaped that, partly thanks to my own denseness.—It is not an easy thing, Commissioner Sahib, to explain or talk about. But I have come rather close to it lately, and”—with a hint of vehemence—“I don’t like it. There is something in it which pulls at me but not at the best part of me. So that I am divided against myself. Though it does pull, I still want to push it all away with both hands. I don’t understand myself and I don’t understand it, I would rather be without it—forget it—if you think I am free to do so, if you are satisfied that I haven’t intentionally hurt anyone or contracted a—a kind of debt of honour?”
“I am altogether satisfied,” he said. “Until the strange and ancient malady attacks you in a very much more virulent form, you are free to cast Henrietta Frayling’s insinuations to the winds, to ignore them and their existence.”