“I think you would be—perhaps sorry—perhaps hurt—if I did.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t—and I’d sooner know.”
He looked at her fixedly as the pendulum of decision swung in his mind. To tell her would be to crush it, kill it utterly, the blow of the sword of Damocles falling at last—falling inevitably. He knew how she would take it; just as she had taken his advances to her on the ’bus that night. Did he think that of her? Was that all the depth of their acquaintance! Oh, she loathed him! Therefore, why let it end that way? Why not with this little mystery in her mind, which would not prevent their sometimes meeting again, even if she never came to his rooms?
He stood up from the table, crossed the room to where her hat was lying and picked it up.
“It’s nearly eleven,” he said quietly. “You’d better think of getting home.”
She took the hat from him, then the pins. He watched her silently as she secured it to her head, not even appealing to him if it were straight. Slowly she drew on her gloves, shivering as her fingers fitted into the cold skin.
“I’m ready,” she said, when all these things were done.
Traill went the round of the candles, blowing them out one by one, until the scent of the smoking wick was pungent in the air. Before the last, he stopped.
“You get to the door,” he said.
Instead of obeying him, Sally walked firmly across to his side.
“We’re not to meet again?” she asked.
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you will never bring me up to your rooms here again? As far as that goes, it finishes here?” She did not even stop to wonder at herself. The fears of losing him were spurs in her side.
“Then if you have any respect for me, you’ll tell me why?”
“It’s because I have respect for you, I suppose, that I don’t tell you.”
She stepped back from him. “Is it anything about me?” she asked, “or—or about yourself that you cannot tell me?” Then it was that she feared he had discovered her love for him and loathed her for the disclosing of her secret.
In this persistent determination of Sally’s, Janet would scarcely have recognized her. But she was driven, the hounds of despair were at her heels. In such a moment as this, any woman drops the cloak and stands out, limbs free, to win her own.
“Is it about yourself?” she repeated.
Another suspicion now that he was married—engaged—bound in some way from which there was no escape—was throbbing, like the flickering shadow that a candle casts, in a deeply-hidden corner of her mind. She dared not let it advance, dared not let it become a palpable fear, yet there it was. And all this time, Traill was looking at her with steady eyes, behind which the pendulum was once more set a-swinging.
Should he tell her, should he not? Should he rip out the knife that would cut this knot which circumstances seemed to be tying?