But as he held up his hand and swore that the identity of the corpse was such and such, he remembered how graceful she had been at sixteen, how affectionate, how ready to forgive. He remembered with a certain admiration that during the heyday of her earning powers she had always trusted to his generosity, and had never tried to hold any of her earnings back. Prison and drink had destroyed all that was honest in her, all that was womanly. So a drop of acid will eat out the heart of the freshest and loveliest rose. She became a very evil thing—full of evil knowledge. There was even a certain danger in her—not much—nothing definite—but enough. She was better dead.
He turned and swung out of the morgue into the sunlight. And he wondered whatever had become of the child that she had borne him.
It would have been easier for Wilmot Allen if he could have come into Barbara’s life for the first time. She was too used to him to appreciate such of his qualities as were fine and noble at their true value. And contrarily it was the same familiarity which limned his faults so clearly and perhaps exaggerated them. She often thought that if she could see him for the first time she would fall head over ears in love with him, and be married to him out of hand. Was it not better therefore, since the man’s character had its disillusionments, that their life-long friendship precluded the idea of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure? “It’s almost,” she said to herself, “as if I had married him long ago and found out that I had made a mistake.”
But she hated to hurt him in any way. And it caused her a genuine sorrow sometimes to say no to him. He had proposed to her many times a year for many, many years, and always with a passion and sincerity that made it appear as if he was proposing for the first time in his life. Twice, the strength and devotion of his physical presence had seemed to remove every doubt of him from her mind, and she had said that she would marry him, and had been ecstatically happy while he kissed her and held her in his arms. And each time better knowledge of herself, a sleepless night, and the unsparing light of morning had filled her with shame and remorse, and made it quite clear that she had made one more mistake, and must tell him so, and eat humble pie. And exact a promise that he would never make love to her again. But she could never get him to promise that. And she could never keep him from kissing things that belonged to her when she was looking, and when she wasn’t. And if, as he sometimes threatened in moments of disappointed and injured feelings, he had gone far away, so that he could never cross her path again, she would have missed him so much that it would almost have killed her. And so it is with all human beings—they care little enough about their dearest possessions until the fire by night consumes them, or the thief walks off with them. Then the silver and the jewels, and this thing and that, assume a sort of humanity—and are as if they had been dear friends and unutterably necessary companions in joy and sorrow.