“Please don’t be silly, Jack!” she broke in. “I’m quite as strong as the average woman and, I hope, as capable. I’m grown up, you silly man! I’m old—older than you are in some ways, even though you have been in the world ten years longer. Can’t you see I want to stretch my wings?”
“Want to leave me?” he said, and put his arms suddenly about her. She nestled to him on the instant, lifting her face to kiss him.
“No, darling, no! Never in life! But—you must see—you must see”—her eyes filled with tears unexpectedly, and she laid her head upon his shoulder to hide them—“that I can’t—live on you—for ever. It isn’t fair—to you—or to Adela—or to—to—anyone else who might turn up.”
“Ah!” he said. “Or to you either. We’ve no right to make a slave of you. I know that. Perhaps Adela hasn’t altogether realized it.”
“I’ve nothing—whatever—against Adela,” Dot told him, rather shakily. “She has never been—other than kind. No, it is what I feel myself. I am not necessary to you or to Adela, and—in a way—I’m glad of it. I like to know you two are happy. I’m not a bit jealous, Jack, not a bit. It’s just as it should be. But you’ll have to let me go, dear. It’s time I went. It’s right that I should go. You mustn’t try to hold me back.”
But Jack’s arms had tightened about her. “I hate the thought of it,” he said. “Give it up! Give it up, old girl—for my sake!”
She shook her head silently in his embrace.
He went on with less assurance. “If you wanted to get married it would be a different thing. I would never stand in the way of your marrying a decent man. If you must go, why don’t you do that?”
She laughed rather tremulously. “You think every good woman ought to marry, don’t you, Jack?”
“When there’s a good man waiting for her, why not?” said Jack.
She lifted her head and looked at him. “I’m not going to marry Fletcher Hill, Jack,” she said, with firmness.
Jack made a slight movement of impatience. “I never could see your objection to the man,” he said.
She laughed again, drawing herself back from him. “But, Jack darling, a woman doesn’t marry a man just because he’s not objectionable, does she? I always said I wouldn’t marry him, didn’t I?”
“You might do a lot worse,” said Jack.
“Of course I might—heaps worse. But that isn’t the point. I think he’s quite a good sort—in his own sardonic way. And he is a great friend of yours, too, isn’t he? That fact would count vastly in his favour if I thought of marrying at all. But, you see—I don’t.”
“I call that uncommon hard on Fletcher,” observed Jack.
She opened her blue eyes very wide. “My dear man, why?”
“After waiting for you all this time,” he explained, suffering his arms to fall away from her.
She still gazed at him in astonishment. “Jack! But I never asked him to wait!”