“Can there be anything you ought not to tell me?” he insisted tenderly.
“Perhaps, on the other hand, I ought,” she said reflectively. “It may help you to a proper definition of my character, and then—you may think less of me. Yes, I think I ought.”
“Darling, for Heaven’s sake don’t talk nonsense!”
“I had a letter—this letter—a little while ago, from Elfrida Bell.” She held it out to him. “Read it.”
Kendal hesitated and scanned her face. She was smiling now; she had the look of half-amused dismay that might greet an ineffectual blow. He took the letter.
“If it is from Miss Bell,” he said at a suggestion from his conscience, “I fancy, for some reason, it is not pleasant.”
“No,” she replied, “it is not pleasant.”
He unfolded the letter, recognizing the characteristic broad margins and the repressed rounded perpendicular hand with its supreme effort after significance, and his thought reflected a tinge of his old amused curiosity. It was only a reflection, and yet it distinctly embodied the idea that he might be on the brink of a further discovery. He glanced at Janet again: her hands were clasped in her lap, and she was looking straight before her with smilingly grave lips and lowered lids, which nevertheless gave him a glimpse of retrospection. He felt the beginnings of indignation, yet he looked back at the letter acquisitively; its interest was intrinsic.
“I feel that I can no longer hold myself in honor,” he read, “if I refrain further from defining the personal situation between us as it appears to me. That I have let nearly three weeks go by without doing it you may put down to my weakness and selfishness, to your own charm, to what you will; but I shall be glad if you will not withhold the blame that is due me in the matter, for I have wronged you, as well as myself, in keeping silence.
“Look, it is all here in a nutshell. Nothing is changed. I have tried to believe otherwise, but the truth is stronger than my will. My opinion of you is a naked, uncompromising fact I cannot drape it or adorn it, or even throw around it a mist of charity. It is unalterably there, and in any future intercourse with you, such intercourse as we have had in the past, I should only dash myself forever against it. I do not clearly see upon what level you accepted me in the beginning, but I am absolutely firm in my belief that it was not such as I would have tolerated if I had known. To-day at all events I am confronted with the proof that I have not had your confidence—that you have not thought it worth while to be single-minded in your relation to me. From a personal point of view there is more that I might say, but perhaps that is damning enough, and I have no desire to be abusive. It is on my conscience to add, moreover, that I find you a sophist, and your sophistry a little vulgar. I find you compromising with your ambitions, which in themselves are not above reproach from any point of view. I find you adulterating what ought to be the pure stream of ideality with muddy considerations of what the people are pleased to call the moralities, and with the feebler contamination of the conventionalities—”