Perhaps had the phrase been different, Hal might have yielded. So narrow a margin of chance divides the paths of honor and dishonor, to mortals groping dimly through the human maze. But the words were an echo to wake memory. Rugged, harsh, and fine the face of McGuire Ellis rose before Hal. He heard the rough voice, with its undertone of affection beneath the jocularity of the rather feeble pun, and it called him back like a trumpet summons to the loyalty which he had promised to the men of the “Clarion.” He slipped the half-torn paper into his pocket.
“I can’t do it, Esme.”
“No.” Finality was in the monosyllable.
She looked into his leveled and quiet eyes, and knew that she had lost. And the demon of perversity, raging, stung her to its purposes.
“After this, you tell me that you can’t, you won’t?”
“Dearest! You’re not going to let it make a difference in our love for each other.”
“Our love! You go far, and fast.”
“Do I go too far, since you have let me kiss you?”
“I didn’t,” she cried.
“Then you meant nothing by it?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “You are trying to take advantage of a position which you forced,” she said coldly.
“Let me understand this clearly.” He had turned white. “You let me make love to you, in order to entrap me and save your friend. Is that it?”
No reply came from her other than what he could read in compressed lips and smouldering eyes.
“So that is the kind of woman you are.” There were both wonder and distress in his voice. “That is the kind of woman for whose promise to be my wife I would have given the heart out of my body.”
At this the tumult and catastrophe of her emotion fused into a white hot, illogical anger against this man who was suffering, and by his suffering made her suffer.
“Your wife? Yours?” She smiled hatefully. “The wife of the son of a quack? You do yourself too much honor, Hal Surtaine.”
“I fear that I did you too much honor,” he replied quietly.
Suffocation pressed upon her throat as she saw him go to the door. For a moment the wild desire to hold him, to justify herself, to explain, even to ask forgiveness, seized her. Bitterly she fought it down, and so stood, with wide eyes and smiling lips. At the door he turned to look, with a glance less of appeal than of incredulity that she, so lovely, so alluring, so desirable beyond all the world, a creature of springtime and promise embowered amidst the springtime and promise of the apple-bloom, could be such as her speech and action proclaimed her.
Hal carried from her house, like a barbed arrow, the memory of that still and desperate smile.