“Is that true?” asked Elfrida directly.
“Yes, it is true. For the moment I wanted more than anything else in the world to break with you. I took the surest means.”
The other girl regarded Janet steadfastly. “But if it is only a question of the degree of your sincerity,” she persisted, “I cannot see that the situation alters much.”
“I was not altogether responsible, believe me, Elfrida. I don’t remember now what I said, but—but I am afraid it must have taken all its color from my feeling.”
“Of course.” Elfrida hesitated, and her tone showed her touched. “I can understand that what I told you about —about Mr. Cardiff must have been a shock. For the moment I became an animal, and turned upon you—upon you who had been to me the very soul of kindness. I have hated myself for it—you may be sure of that.”
Janet Cardiff had a moment’s inward struggle, and yielded. She would let Elfrida believe it had been that. After all it was partly true, and her lips refused absolutely to say the rest.
“Yes, it must have hurt you—more, perhaps, than I can guess.” Elfrida’s eyes grew wet and her voice shook. “But I can’t understand your retaliating that way, if you didn’t believe what you said. And if you believed it, what more is there to say?”
Janet felt herself possessed by an intense sensation of playing for stakes, unusual, exciting, and of some personal importance. She did not pause to regard her attitude from any other point of view; she succumbed at once, not without enjoyment, to the necessity for diplomacy. Under its rush of suggestions her conscience was only vaguely restive. To-morrow it would assert itself; unconsciously she put off paying attention to it until then. Elfrida must come back to her. For the moment the need was to choose her plea.
“It seems to me,” she said slowly, “that there is something between us which is indestructible, Frida. We didn’t make it, and we can’t unmake it. For my part, I think it is worth our preserving, but I don’t believe we could lose it if we tried. You may put me away from you for any reason that seems good to you, as far as you like, but so long as we both live there will be that something, recognized or unrecognized. All we can do arbitrarily is to make it a joy or a pain of it. Haven’t you felt that?”
The other girl looked at her uncertainly. “I have felt it sometimes,” she said, “but now it seems to me that I can never be sure that there is not some qualification in it—some hidden flaw.”
“Don’t you think it’s worth making the best of? Can’t we make up our minds to have a little charity for the flaws?”
Elfrida shook her head. “I don’t think I’m capable of a friendship that demands charity,” she said.
“And yet, whether we close each other’s lips or not, we will always have things to say, the one to the other, in this world. Is it to be dumbness between us?”