“Oh yes—I see my mistake by this time,” he said easily. All passion was cooled in him now. “I’m sorry. There was no intention of insulting you in my mind.” He moved to the door. “I—I thought you understood it.”
Sally dropped into a chair, her face still covered; shame—the deepest sense of it—beating through all her pulses.
“Well—I must only hope you’ll excuse my—my ignorance of women, though I must admit you’re a bit different to the rest. Well—I suppose I’d better say good night, then.”
She heard him take the step forward. She could see in her mind the hand held out, but she did not look up. He turned again to the door. She heard it open. She heard it close. She heard his footsteps slowly descending the stairs. And still she sat there with her face close-buried in her hands.
You are never to know how deep the iron has entered your soul until Fate begins to draw it out.
When Traill had left her, Sally’s mind had been numbed with misery. The despair of such loneliness as hers is often a narcotic, that drugs all power of thought. In the beating of her pulses, when she had first heard Devenish’s footsteps mounting the stairs, she was forced to the realization that hope was not yet dead in the heart of her. That undoubtedly was why, despite all Janet’s efforts, she had refused to leave her rooms. The hope that Traill would one day return, that one evening she would hear his steps on the stairs, his knock on the door, had needed only such a coincidence as the unexpected visit of Devenish to stir it into vivid animation. Just so had the Rev. Samuel Bishop hoped, in the fulfilment of his duties as chaplain, that one day the rectorship of Cailsham would return to his possession; just so had he been imbued with faith, the same as hers, when he had shuddered at his narrow avoidance of sacrilege in the vestry of the little church at Steynton. To him, at that moment, it would have been as impossible to pour back the consecrated into the unconsecrated wine, as it had been for Sally to lose assurance that Traill would one day return to her.
But now it was different. The iron, in the sure grasp of the fingers of Fate, was being torn out of her. She could feel it wrenching its way from the very depths. Traill would never come back. It was not so much because she had heard he was in love, that she realized it; that—even then—her faith, in its ashes, repudiated. But when Devenish had said—alluding to the faintest chance of his return—“I shouldn’t be here, I assure you, if there were,” she had been made conscious of Traill’s tacit permission—unspoken no doubt—to Devenish which had prompted his visit to her rooms.
But last and most poignant of all in the bitterness of this lesson that she had learnt, was her understanding of the place she held in the eyes of such men as Devenish. With those who knew of her life, no friendship was possible. One relationship, one only could exist—a relationship, at the thought of which her whole nature shuddered in violent disgust.