“I prove to you what I meant. Here! I had no time! Why, Elisabeth, I was hurrying—I was mad!—I had a right to offer you these things. I have still the right to ask you why you did not take them? Will you not take them now?”
She put my hand away from her gently. “Keep them,” she said, “for the owner of that other wedding gift—the one which I received.”
Now I broke out. “Good God! How can I be held to blame for the act of a drunken friend? You know Jack Dandridge as well as I do myself. I cautioned him—I was not responsible for his condition.”
“It was not that decided me.”
“You could not believe it was I who sent you that accursed shoe which belonged to another woman.”
“He said it came from you. Where did you get it, then?”
Now, as readily may be seen, I was obliged again to hesitate. There were good reasons to keep my lips sealed. I flushed. The red of confusion which came to my cheek was matched by that of indignation in her own. I could not tell her, and she could not understand, that my work for Mr. Calhoun with that other woman was work for America, and so as sacred and as secret as my own love for her. Innocent, I still seemed guilty.
“So, then, you do not say? I do not ask you.”
“I do not deny it.”
“You do not care to tell me where you got it.”
“No,” said I; “I will not tell you where I got it.”
“Because that would involve another woman.”
“Involve another woman? Do you think, then, that on this one day of her life, a girl likes to think of her—her lover—as involved with any other woman? Ah, you made me begin to think. I could not help the chill that came on my heart. Marry you?—I could not! I never could, now.”
“Yet you had decided—you had told me—it was agreed—”
“I had decided on facts as I thought they were. Other facts came before you arrived. Sir, you do me a very great compliment.”
“But you loved me once,” I said banally.
“I do not consider it fair to mention that now.”
“I never loved that other woman. I had never seen her more than once. You do not know her.”
“Ah, is that it? Perhaps I could tell you something of one Helena von Ritz. Is it not so?”
“Yes, that was the property of Helena von Ritz,” I told her, looking her fairly in the eye.
“Kind of you, indeed, to involve me, as you say, with a lady of her precedents!”
Now her color was up full, and her words came crisply. Had I had adequate knowledge of women, I could have urged her on then, and brought on a full-fledged quarrel. Strategically, that must have been a far happier condition than mere indifference on her part. But I did not know; and my accursed love of fairness blinded me.
“I hardly think any one is quite just to that lady,” said I slowly.