Queed sat alone in the candle-lit dining-room, thinking things out. A brilliant idea came to him. He would telephone to West, explain the situation to him, and ask him to set it right immediately. West, of course, would do so. At the worst, he had only temporized with the issue—perhaps had lost sight of it altogether—and he would be shocked to learn of the consequences of his procrastination. He himself could postpone his call on Miss Weyland till to-morrow, leaving West to go to-night. Of course, however, nothing his former chief could do now would change the fact that Miss Weyland herself had doubted him.
Undoubtedly, the interview would be a painful one for West. How serious an offense the girl considered the editorial had been plain in his own brief conversation with her. And West would have to acknowledge, further, that he had kept quiet about it for a week. Miss Weyland would forgive West, of course, but he could never be the same to her again. He would always have that spot. Queed himself felt that way about it. He had admired West more than any man he ever knew, more even than Colonel Cowles, but now he could never think very much of him again. He was quite sure that Miss Weyland was like that, too. Thus the matter began to grow very serious. For old Surface, who was always right about people, had said that West was the man that Miss Weyland meant to marry.
Very gradually, for the young man was still a slow analyst where people were concerned, an irresistible conclusion was forced upon him.
Miss Weyland would rather think that he had written the editorial than to know that West had written it.
The thought, when he finally reached it, leapt up at him, but he pushed it away. However, it returned. It became like one of those swinging logs which hunters hang in trees to catch bears: the harder he pushed it away, the harder it swung back at him.
He fully understood the persistence of this idea. It was the heart and soul of the whole question. He himself was simply Miss Weyland’s friend, the least among many. If belief in his dishonesty had brought her pain—and he had her word for that—it was a hurt that would quickly pass. False friends are soon forgotten. But to West belonged the shining pedestal in the innermost temple of her heart. It would go hard with the little lady to find at the last moment this stain upon her lover’s honor.
He had only to sit still and say nothing to make her happy. That was plain. So the whole issue was shifted. It was not, as it had first seemed, merely a matter between West and himself. The real issue was between Miss Weyland and himself—between her happiness and his ... no, not his happiness—his self-respect, his sense of justice, his honor, his chaste passion for Truth, his ... yes, his happiness.
Did he think most of Miss Weyland or of himself? That was what it all came down to. Here was the new demand that his acknowledgment of a personal life was making upon him, the supreme demand, it seemed, that any man’s personal life could ever make upon him. For if, on the day when Nicolovius had suddenly revealed himself as Surface, he had been asked to give himself bodily, he was now asked to give himself spiritually—to give all that made him the man he was.