“You do not understand,” I said. “I fear nothing for Jerry. He is strong enough to stand alone. I hope you know just how strong he is, that’s all.”
She was a little puzzled—and interested.
“I hope I do; but I wish you would explain.”
I turned toward her quickly.
“I mean this. You and he are very different. He cares for you, of course. It was to be expected, because you’re everything that he is not. Whatever you are, Jerry will be serious. And you can’t bind the characters of two strong people together without mutilating one or the other, or perhaps both. Jerry will believe everything you tell him and continue to believe it unless you deceive him. He’s ingenuous, but I hope you won’t underestimate him.”
She fingered the leaves of a rose, but her eyes under their lids were looking elsewhere.
“How should I deceive him, Mr. Canby?” she asked, her voice still unchanging.
“Perhaps I put it too baldly. But I’m not in the habit; of mincing words. Jerry is no plaything. I’ll give you an instance of how much in earnest he is.” And then briefly, but with some sense of the color of the thing, I gave her a description of Jerry’s bout with Sagorski. She listened without looking at me, while her slender fingers caressed the rose leaf, but beneath their lids I saw; her eyes flashing. When I had finished I turned to her with a smile.
“That’s the kind of man that Jerry is—harmless, docile and most agreeable, but let him be aroused—”
I paused, letting the paralipsis finish my suggestion.
She was silent a moment, finally turning to me with a laugh that rang a little discordantly against the softness of her speech.
“Jerry wouldn’t beat me, would he, Mr. Canby?”
“I’m sure I haven’t the least means of knowing,” I replied.
“You are merely warning me, I see. Thanks. But I’m afraid you give me credit for greater hardihood than I possess. On the whole I think I’m flattered.”
She snipped a bud and put it to her lips as though to conceal a smile, and then passed me slowly.
“Come, Mr. Canby,” she said. “I think it’s time we joined the others.”
It was. The night was cool, but I was perspiring profusely.
INTRODUCING JIM ROBINSON
Of course, I had made an enemy of the girl and to no purpose. I had felt her physical attraction, and I knew that only by putting myself beyond its pale could I be true to my own convictions as to her venality. She was the kind of woman to whom any man, even such a one as I, is fish for her net. A girl may whet her appetite by coquetry and deprave it by flirtation, setting at last such a value upon her skill at seduction that she counts that day lost in which some male creature is not brought into subjection to her wiles. As I thought over the conversation later in the privacy of my bedroom I began to realize that instead of good I had only done harm. For a warning, such a futile one as I had given would only inflame a girl like Marcia, and the suggestion of danger was just the fillip her jaded tastes required.