Her voice broke in a fierce sharp little laugh over the word, but she got it back in control again.
“I was going to have a baby to feed out of my own body, to keep alive with my own care. There was going to be responsibility and hard work, things that demanded courage and endurance and sacrifice. I could earn your friendship with that, I said. That was the real obsession, Roddy, and it never really died until to-night. Because of course I have kept on hoping, even after I might have seen how it was. But the babies’ lives aren’t to be jeopardized to gratify my whims. Well, I suppose I can’t complain. It’s over, that’s the main thing.
“And now, here I am perfectly normal and well again—as good as ever. I’ve kept my looks—oh, my hair and my complexion and my figure. I could wear pretty clothes again and start going out to things now that the season’s begun, just as I did a year ago. People would admire me, and you’d be pleased, and you’d love me as much as ever, and it would all be like the paradise it was last year, except for one thing. The one thing is that if I do that, I’ll know this time what I really am. Your mistress, Roddy; your legal, perfectly respectable mistress,—and a little more despicable rather than less, I think, because of the adjectives.”
“I’ve let that word go by once,” he said quietly, but with a dangerous light of anger in his eyes. “I won’t again. It’s perfectly outrageous and inexcusable that you should talk like that, and I’ll ask you never to do it again.”
“I won’t,” she flashed back at him, “if you’ll explain why I’m not exactly what I say.” And after ten seconds of silence, she went on.
“Why, Roddy, I’ve heard you describe me a hundred times. Not the you that’s my lover. The other you; talking all over the universe to Barry Lake. You’ve described the woman who’s never been trained nor taught nor disciplined; who’s been brought up soft, with the bloom on, for the purpose of making her marriageable; who’s never found her job in marriage, who doesn’t cook, nor sew, nor spin, nor even take care of her own children; the woman who uses her sex charm to save her from having to do hard ugly things, and keep her in luxury. Do you remember what you’ve called her, Roddy? Do you remember the word you’ve used? I’ve used a gentler word than that.
“Oh, you didn’t know, you poor blind boy, that I was the woman you were talking about. You never saw it at all. But I am. I was brought up like that.—Oh, not on purpose. Dear old mother! She wasn’t trying to make me into a prostitute any more then you are trying to make me into your mistress. You both love me, that’s all. It’s just an instinct not to let anything hurt me, nor frighten me, nor tire me, nor teach me what work is. She thought she was educating me to be a lawyer so that when the time came, I could be one of the leaders of the woman movement just as she’d been. And all the while, without knowing it, she was educating me to be the sort of person you’d fall in love with—something precious and expensive—something to be taken care of.