“After next month, I shall have two hundred pounds a year. We could be very comfortable on that—couldn’t we?”
“Do you think so?” she asked.
“Well, I’ll bet you a shilling there are a good many men in London—married—who are comfortable enough on less. Besides, next year it’ll be two hundred and twenty.”
“And you want me to marry you?”
“Yes. I’m offering you a comfortable home of your own. No more pigging it like this in lodgings. You’ll have your own house to look after—your own drawing-room. I don’t want to boast about it, but don’t you think it’s a good thing for you?” He felt himself it was a big thing he was offering—and so it was—the biggest he had. “What I mean to say,” he continued, “I’m a gentleman, you’re earning your own living. I’m going to make you your own mistress—”
“But I don’t love you,” she said quietly, overlooking with generosity his insinuations about the position she held.
He gazed at her in amazement. “Why not?” he asked.
“Why not? Oh, why should you ask me a hard question like that?”
“’Cause I want to know. What’s the matter with me? I bet you—”
“Oh, don’t!” she begged, “I don’t love you; that’s all. I can’t say any more.”
“Then why did you come out with me this evening?”
“I don’t know. Of course, I ought not to—I suppose I ought not to.”
“But you haven’t said you won’t marry me.”
“No. But haven’t I said enough?”
“You’d marry me, knowing that I didn’t love you?”
She turned her eyes to his. The pathos of that touched her. His senses swam when she looked at him.
“Yes,” he said thickly. “You might not love me now—you would.”
There, he spoilt it all again. She was so certain of its impossibility; he was so confident of his success. With the sentiment of his humility, the unselfishness of his devotion, he might have won her even then. The pity in a woman is often minister to her heart. But pity left her when he made so sure.
“Oh, it’s no good talking like this,” she said gently; “I know I shouldn’t.”
He leant nearer to her, peering into her face. “Well, will you think about it—will you think it over?” He felt certain that when she thought of that home of her own, she would be bound to relent—any woman would. “Let me know some other time.”
“If you like. I don’t know why you should be so good to me.”
Passionately he seized her arm with his hand. “Because I love you—don’t you see?”
“Yes; I see. I shouldn’t think there’s much to love in me though.”
“Wouldn’t you? My God—I do! Will you give me a kiss?”
One would think he might have known that that was the last thing he should have asked for. One would think he might have realized that passion was the last thing he should have shown her at such a moment as that. But he fancied that any woman might want to be kissed under the circumstances. He had a vague idea that his passion might awaken emotion in her; that with the touch of his lips, she might drop her arms about his neck and swoon into submission. He did not know the fiddle string upon which he was playing; he did not know the fine edge upon which all her thoughts were balancing.