“You needn’t hurry to go,” she said finely; “I shan’t make a fool of myself—the way you think. I shan’t be a drag on you—I promise you that. And if you’re going to-morrow, wouldn’t you stop just a little while and talk?”
At any other moment the simplicity of that would have touched him; but the affection that Devenish had seen to be tiring had been snapped—a thread in a flame—when he had found her watching his actions, dogging his footsteps. His liberty—that which a man of his type most prizes when he finds it being encroached upon—had been threatened. There was no forgiveness in the heart of him for that. In the sudden freedom of his affections—just as Mrs. Durlacher had so deftly anticipated—he had let them drift—a moth to the nearest candle, a floating seed to the nearest shore—and Coralie Standish-Roe had claimed them.
“Can anything be gained by talking?” he asked, quietly.
“Yes—perhaps it’s the last time.”
“But nothing can be gained by it. You’ll only make yourself more miserable. What is the good of that?”
“Do you think I could be more miserable?” she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
This scarcely, without seeking defence for Traill, is the most difficult part for a man to play well. He had never offered, in the first beginning of their acquaintance, to deceive her. He was not a man who had respect for marriage, he had said quite honestly. He had told her to go—have no truck with him; and if she had gone, if she had not taken upon herself to return his present, he would have seen no more of her. She had known of his love of liberty, and she herself had threatened it; yet now, seemingly, he was playing a mean part, deserting her, casting her off, when she loved him with every breath her trembling lips drew through her body. It is hard to play such a part well. Even the least sensitive of men, conscious of their own cruelty, will seek to end it as quickly as may be. Wherefore, how could he be expected to see the good gained by staying and talking? What good, in God’s name, did talking do? With the agony prolonged, the strain drawn out, how were they—either of them—to benefit? Here, indeed, is a judgment of the head. But it was with her heart alone that Sally craved for its continuance. It was the last she was to see of him; the last time that he would be in her bedroom where all the passionate associations of her life would always lie buried. Can it be wondered that she would willingly have dragged the misery of it through all that night, if only to keep him for the moments as they passed, by her side?