“It is a shameful thing that it should happen to any woman. And the horror of it is that almost every hostess in town lets girls of your age run the risk. Darling, don’t you know that the only chance a woman has with the world is in her self-control? When that goes, her chances go, every one of them! Dear—we have latent in us much the same vices that men have. We have within us the same possibilities of temptations, the same capacity for excesses, the same capabilities for resistance. Because you are a girl, you are not immune from unworthy desires.”
“I know it. The—the dreadful thing about it is that I do desire such things. Perhaps I had better not even nibble sugar scented with cologne——”
“Do you do that?” faltered Kathleen.
“I did not know there was any danger in it,” sobbed the girl. “You have scared me terribly, Kathleen.”
“Is that true about the cologne?”
“You don’t do it now, do you?”
“You don’t do it every day, do you?”
“Yes, several times.”
“How long”—Kathleen’s lips almost refused to move—“how long have you done this?”
“For a long time. I’ve been ashamed of it. It’s—it’s the alcohol in it that I like, isn’t it? I never thought of it in that way till now.”
Kathleen, on her knees by the bedside, was crying silently. The girl slipped from her arms, turned partly over, and lying on her back, stared upward through the darkness.
So this was the secret reason that, unsuspected, had long been stirring her to instinctive uneasiness, which had made her half ashamed, half impatient with this silly habit which already inconvenienced her. Yet even now she could not feel any real alarm; she could not understand that the fangs of a habit can poison when plucked out. Of course there was now only one thing to do—keep aloof from everything. That would be easy. The tingling warmth of the perfume was certainly agreeable, but she must not risk even such a silly indulgence as that. Really, it was a very simple matter. She sat up, supporting her weight on one arm.
“Kathleen, darling,” she whispered, bending forward and drawing the elder woman up onto the bed, “you mustn’t be frightened about me. I’ve learned some things I didn’t know. Do you think Duane—” In the darkness the blood scorched her face, the humiliation almost crushed her. But she went on: “Do you think Duane suspects that—that——”
“I don’t think Duane suspects anything,” said Kathleen, striving to steady her voice. “You came in here as soon as you felt—ill; didn’t you?”
She could say no more. How she came to be on her bed in her own room she could not remember. It seemed to her as though she had fallen asleep on the lounge. Somehow, after Duane had gone, she must have waked and gone to her own room. But she could not recollect doing it.