And in a shamed voice she forced herself to recite her list of sins; repeating them as she had confessed them to Kathleen. She told him everything; her silly and common imprudence with Dysart, which, she believed, had bordered the danger mark; her ignoble descent to what she had always held aloof from, meaning demoralisation in regard to betting and gambling and foolish language; and last, but most shameful, her secret and perilous temporising with a habit which already was making self-denial very difficult for her. She did not spare herself; she told him everything, searching the secret recesses of her heart for some small sin in hiding, some fault, perhaps, overlooked or forgotten. All that she held unworthy in her she told this man; and the man, being an average man, listened, head bowed over her fragrant hair, adoring her, wretched in heart and soul with the heavy knowledge of all he dare not tell or forget or cleanse from him, kneeling repentant, in the sanctuary of her love and confidence.
She told him everything—sins of omission, childish depravities, made real only by the decalogue. Of indolence, selfishness, unkindness, she accused herself; strove to count the times when she had yielded to temptation.
He was reading the first human heart he had ever known—a heart still strangely untainted, amid a society where innocence was the exception, doubtful wisdom the rule, and where curiosity was seldom left very long in doubt.
His hands fell over hers as her voice ceased, but he did not speak.
She waited a little while, then, with a slight nestling movement, turned and hid her face on his knees.
“With God’s help,” she whispered, “I will subdue what threatens me. But I am afraid of it! Oh, Duane, I am afraid.”
He managed to steady his voice.
“What is it, darling, that seems to tempt you,” he asked; “is it the taste—the effect?”
“The—effect. If I could only forget it—but I can’t help thinking about it—I suppose just because it’s forbidden—For days, sometimes, there is not the slightest desire; then something stirs it up in me, begins to annoy me; or the desire comes sometimes when I am excited or very happy, or very miserable. There seems to be some degraded instinct in me that seeks for it whenever my emotions are aroused.... I must be honest with you; I—I feel that way now—because, I suppose, I am a little excited.”
He raised her and took her in his arms.
“But you won’t, will you? Simply tell me that you won’t.”
She looked at him, appalled by her own hesitation. Was it possible, after the words she had just uttered, the exaltation of confession still thrilling her, that she could hesitate? Was it morbid over-conscientiousness in the horror of a broken promise to him that struck her silent?
“Say it, Geraldine.”
“Oh, Duane! I’ve said it so often to Kathleen and myself! Let me promise myself again—and keep my word. Let me try that way, dear, before I—I promise you?”