“Oh—don’t!” she moaned. But he took no notice. The impetus he had gained, carried him on. She could not stop him now.
“They were not much, certainly,” he went on; “not much compared with what I wanted in return. What I wanted in return, was what no gentleman has the right to expect from any woman who is straight unless she willingly offers it—and you had called me a gentleman. Do you remember that? I don’t suppose you really knew when you said it, how much you were saving yourself from me. I wouldn’t suggest that credit were due to me for a moment—it isn’t. It was just the same as telling a man to do a brave act, when only the doing of it could save his life. I did it because I had to. To be a gentleman is often one chance in a lifetime, and the man who doesn’t take it is not fit for hanging. Birth has nothing to do with it. You offered me my chance—I took it—that’s all. But now you want to deprive me of my one consolation. You want to refuse that bangle. I refuse to take it back.”
Sally turned and faced him. Her lips were set—her eyes had strange lights in them. She looked—as she felt—upon the scaffold of indecision, with the noose of fate about her neck.
“Oh, it is so hard! Why is it so hard?” she whispered.
“Why is what so hard?”
He laughed ironically. Either he would not see, or he could not see. Men may not be so dense as they appear. Sometimes it is a subconscious cunning that aids them in forcing half the initiative into the hands of the woman.
“Surely, it can’t be so difficult a job to just snap the catch of that bracelet on your wrist, and forget all about whether I ought to have given it you or not.”
“Oh, I don’t mean that,” she exclaimed, “you must know I don’t mean that.”
“Then what?” His whole manner changed. Now she had told him definitely. Now he knew without a shadow of doubt. She cared. It was even swaying in her mind whether she could bear to lose him, notwithstanding all he had said. It did not seem to him that he had worked her up to it. In that moment, he exonerated himself of all blame. He had danced gentleman to the clapping of her hands and the stamping of her foot; and if it came to this, that she cared for him more than convention, more than any principle, then it was not in his nature to force a part upon himself and play it, night after night, to an empty gallery. His hands caught her shoulders, the fingers gripping with passion to her flesh. “Then what?” he repeated. “Do you mean you care for me? Do you mean that it’s so hard to go—hard to say good-bye because of that? Is that what you mean?”
She could not answer yet. Even then the rope was not drawn and she could still faintly feel the scaffold boards beneath her feet.