He was dumb. The suddenness of the attack completely routed him—its suddenness; but more than its suddenness was a leaping question in his own mind. When she said, “You are in love with her?” an appalled “Am I?” was on his lips. Instantly he knew, what he had not known, at any rate articulately, that he was in love with Edith. His thoughts broke in galloping confusion; his hand, holding the hot bowl of his pipe, trembled. He tried to speak, stammered, said, with a sort of gasp, “Don’t—don’t say a thing like that!” Then he got his breath, and ended, with a composure that kept his words slow and his voice cold, “It is terrible to say a thing like that to me.”
She flung out her hands. “What more can I do for you than I have done? Oh, Maurice—Maurice, no woman could love you more than I do?... Could they?”
“I am grateful; I—” He tried to speak gently, but his voice had begun to shake with angry terror; it was abominable, this thing she had said! (But ... it was true.) “No; no woman could have done more for me than you have, Eleanor; I am grateful.”
“Grateful? Yes. You give me gratitude.” Maurice was speechless. “I thought, perhaps, you loved me,” she said. A minute later he heard her going upstairs to her own room.
He stood staring after her, open-mouthed. Then he said, under his breath, “Good God!” After a while he went over to the fireplace, and, standing with one hand on the mantelpiece, he kicked the charred logs on the hearth together. “This room is cold. I must build the fire up.... Yes, it’s true.... The wood is too green to burn. I’ll order from another man next time.... I suppose I’ve been in love with her for a good while. I wonder if it began that night Jacky was sick ... and she kissed me? No; it must have been before that.” He stooped and mended the fire, piling the logs together with slow exactness: “What life might have been!” He took up the bellows and urged a little flame to rise and flicker and lap the wood, then burst to crackling blaze. After a while he said, “Poor Nelly!” But he had himself in hand by that time, and, though this terrifying knowledge was surging in him, he knew that his voice would not betray him. He went upstairs to comfort her with kindly assurances that she was wrong. ("More lies,” he thought, wearily.)
But apparently she didn’t need comforting! She was smoothing her hair before the glass, and seemed perfectly calm. He had expected tears, and violent reproaches, which he was prepared to meet with either good-natured ridicule or quiet falsehood, as the occasion might demand. But nothing was demanded. She continued to brush her hair; so he found it quite easy to come up behind her and lay a hand on her shoulder, and say, “Nelly, dear, that wasn’t a nice thing to say!”
She did not meet his eyes in the mirror; she only said (she was trembling), “I suppose it wasn’t.”
Maurice was puzzled, but he said, casually, that he was sorry to have to rush off that night. “I’ve got to take the Limited for St. Louis. Mr. Weston wants some papers put through. I hate to leave you.”