One thing, however, was clear, that Stephen lost his peace of mind without even the poor satisfaction of being sure that the state of affairs was such as to make that necessary. Katie was a coquette, but he felt that coquetry was fascinating only when one were sure of the right side being turned toward himself, sure that it was another man’s heart, and not his own that was being played with. He had not come to confessing to himself that in any case it was ignoble. So he waited while the winter wore on, and March found him still betrothed to Katie and still at her feet though in a mood that threatened danger. For after asserting that she needed time to adapt herself to the altered condition of things, she had found a new objection. She did not want to marry and have her husband go off to the war before the honeymoon was over; she preferred to wait until he returned. “Do you really mean to marry me at all?” he asked. “Stephen!” she cried tearfully. “Do you realize what I have suffered!” The tears and the appeal conquered him, and for the moment he felt himself a brute.
But when cool judgment came back to him, Katie’s conduct looked always more and more unsatisfactory. She certainly was not thinking of his wishes now. He knew that no other human being could have kept him in this position, and while he chafed at it, he made every possible excuse for her, even to condoning a certain childishness which he told himself this proved. Since she was loyal, what mattered a little tantalizing of himself? Still Stephen wavered between his pride and his love. The first told him to end this child’s play, to marry Katie if she would have him, but tell her it was now or never. Love put off this evil day, and it may be that his love had a touch of pride in it also, that he did not fancy being superseded by Bulchester.