Then the strange smile went away from his face.
“I am tiring you, Gerty,” said he.
“Well, you are very much excited, Keith,” said she; “and you won’t listen to what I have to say. I think your coming to London was a mistake. You are giving both of us a great deal of pain; and, as far as I can see, to no purpose. We could much better have arrived at a proper notion of each other’s feelings by writing; and the matter is so serious as to require consideration. If it is the business of a heroine to plunge two people into lifelong misery, without thinking twice about it, then I am not a heroine. Her ‘coats o’ green satin!’—I should like to know what was the end of that story. Now really, dear Keith, you must bear with me if I say that I have a little more prudence than you, and I must put a check on your headstrong wishes. Now I know there is no use in our continuing this conversation: you are too anxious and eager to mind anything I say. I will write to you.”
“Gerty,” said he, slowly, “I know you are not a selfish or cruel woman; and I do not think you would willingly pain any one. But if you came to me and said, ’Answer my question, for it is a question of life or death to me,’ I should not answer that I would write a letter to you.”
“You may call me selfish, if you like,” said she, with some show of temper, “but I tell you once for all that I cannot bear the fatigue of interviews such as this, and I think it was very inconsiderate of you to force it on me. And as for answering a question, the position we are in is not to be explained with a ‘Yes’ or a ’No’—it is mere romance and folly to speak of people running away and getting married; for I suppose that is what you mean. I will write to you if you like, and give you every explanation in my power. But I don’t think we shall arrive at any better understanding by your accusing me of selfishness or cruelty.”
“And if it comes to that,” she continued, with a flush of angry daring in her face, “perhaps I could bring a similar charge against you, with some better show of reason.”
“That I was ever selfish or cruel as regards you!” said he, with a vague wonder, as if he had not heard aright.
“Shall I tell you, then,” said she, “as you seem bent on recriminations? Perhaps you thought I did not understand?—that I was too frightened to understand? Oh, I knew very well!”
“I don’t know what you mean!” said he, in absolute bewilderment.
“What!—not the night we were caught in the storm in crossing to Iona?—and when I clung to your arm, you shook me off, so that you should be free to strike for yourself if we were thrown into the water? Oh, I don’t blame you! It was only natural. But I think you should be cautious in accusing others of selfishness.”
For a moment he stood looking at her, with something like fear in his eyes—fear and horror, and a doubt as to whether this thing was possible; and then came the hopeless cry of a breaking heart,—