In his most emotional dreams of women, he had never conceived himself in the drab light of the married man. Possibly because he had never moved amongst that class of women with whom intimacy is obtained only through the sanction of a binding sacrament. His contempt of the society to which his birth gave him right of entrance, had always kept him apart from them. But he scarcely saw the matter in that breadth of light. Intimacy with the women he had known had always been possible—possible in its various degrees, some more difficult to arrive at than others, but always possible. And, until that moment, when Sally had told him that she knew he was a gentleman, he had placed her no differently to the rest. Cheap, sordid seduction, there had been none of that in his mind; but he had tacitly admitted within himself that if their acquaintance were to drift—she willing, he content—into that condition of intimacy, then what harm would be done? She was a little type-writer; he, a man, amongst other men. A thousand women pass through the fire that way and come out little the worse.
So had he assessed her, until that moment when she had unthinkingly, unhesitatingly accepted his invitation to come and see him in his rooms. He had thought it innocence, he had imagined it a purity of mind that, in a city such as this, was almost unthinkable. It was his better nature then that had prompted the warning, the opening of a kitten’s eyes before it is to be drowned.
Then the last position of all, the position that made the whole thing impossible. She was not innocent! She was not ignorant of the world! She did know the pitfalls in life—knew the luring dangers that lie concealed in the hedges of every woman’s highway! No, it was not that. She knew everything—but she knew him to be a gentleman.
There is no more disarming passe in the everlasting duel between a man and a woman than this appeal—whether it be made intentionally or not—the appeal to his honour as a gentleman. Up flies the glittering rapier from his hand, he is weaponless—and at her mercy. For every man, even more especially when he is not one, would be thought a gentleman.
Traill, disarmed, defenceless, weighing every possibility, every intention, was still faced with the unequal balance, her gentle faith in the best of him dragging down the scale. By the time they had reached the stairway to his rooms, he had forged his mind to its decision. This once he would let her come to his rooms—this once, but never again. He knew his instincts and refused to trust them. If she thought him a gentleman, she should find him one. That was owed to her. We give the world its own valuation of us. This is humanity. It is therefore wisest to think well of a man. Those who think badly will find themselves surrounded by the impersonation of their own minds. It is wisest to think well, for even thinking has its unconscious effects. But say evil of a man, tell him to his face, without thought of punishment, merely in candid criticism that you find him ill and, besides giving him a bad name, you will make a dog of him.