“May I come in, Victor?” she asked.
Still he did not move. “Why?” he asked uncompromisingly.
“Because I have things to tell you. Don’t be afraid. I am not going to make a scene——”
He drew aside, and she went in and closed the door. Papillon sprang at her with delight, and she laughed sadly.
“He is glad to see me,” she said; “aren’t you, Yellow Dog?”
Joyselle shrugged his shoulders and sitting down on the sofa lit a cigarette. “Well?” he asked after a pause.
Brigit sat down by him and took off her gloves.
“Victor—why have things—been as they have been of late?”
“You know why.”
“Because the father in you is stronger than the lover?”
“I have never been your lover,” he retorted harshly, hurling the words at her as if they had been an accusation.
She winced. “I am speaking English. Well—was it your loyalty to Theo that—that changed you?”
“I have been loyal, have I not? Juste ciel!” Rising, he walked about the great room, his hands clasped behind him. “My conduct was magnificent, was it not? Don’t quibble with words, Brigit. In plain language, I was a scoundrel, a beast, and now I am trying to behave—not like a gentleman, but like a decent man. And why you won’t let me, I don’t know.”
He was suffering, she saw with a sigh of relief.
“Then you still love me?” she asked coolly.
“Yes. Does a man change in a week? You are a child. Now tell me what you have come for—if you have any object other than your usual one of seeing how much I can endure, and then—go. I am strong, and you cannot make me change my mind, and I—I despise you for trying to make of me—the—thing I was at one time. But I am not made of stone, and you hurt me—almost too much.”
His voice was very even and low-pitched, but she shrank back in her corner and hastened to answer.
“You wrong me. I have not come to tempt you. I have come—to tell you that nothing in the world nor out of it can induce me to marry Theo.”
“You will not——”
“No, I will not marry him.”
Papillon, who had unearthed a long-cherished bone in a dark corner under a Dutch cabinet, dragged his treasure across the floor and laid it at his master’s feet with a pleased growl.
“You will not marry Theo?”
She had risen, and the two faced each other defiantly, while the little dog between them wagged his tail with joy.
“Why?” asked Joyselle sharply.
“Because—I cannot. I have dawdled and dallied, and refused to face things long enough. Now I see that the worst crime I could commit against him would be to marry him. I love you. Whether you love me or not, I love you, and I always shall. And I ask you as a great favour to tell Theo for me that I cannot marry him.”
“But what are you going to do?”