“But it is the only answer, as you pointed out. You then would be free.”
He did not know why he was indulging in this repartee. Perhaps because the situation was so novel, so untenable. But a strange, new force was working in him that day, imparting a peculiar twist to his humor. He was hating himself. He was hopeless, cynical, bitter.
If he could have laid hands upon that eminent lawyer, Mr. Snark, he would have wrung his accomplished neck to the best of his ability. He, Snark, must have known about this prenatal engagement. And his bitterness, his hopelessness, were all the more real, for already he knew that he cared, and cared a great deal, for this curious girl with the steady gray eyes and wealth of indefinite hair; cared more than he would confess even to himself. It seemed as if he always had cared; as if he had always been looking into the depths of those great gray eyes. They were part of a dream, the focusing-point of the misty past—forever out of focus.
The girl had been considering his answer, and now she spoke.
“Of course,” she said gravely, “you are not sincere when you say your primal reason for leaving would be in order to set me free. Of course you are not sincere.”
“Is insincerity necessarily added to my numerous physical infirmities?” he bantered.
“Not necessarily. But there is always the love to make a virtue of necessity—especially when there’s some one waiting on necessity.”
“But did I say that would be my primal reason for leaving—setting you free? I thought I merely stated it as one of the following blessings attendant on virtue.”
“Equivocation means that you were not sincere. Why don’t you go, then?”
“Eh?” Garrison looked up sharply at the tone of her voice.
“Why don’t you go? Hurry up! Reward the clinging girl and set me free.”
“Is there such a hurry? Won’t you let me ferret out a pair of pajamas, to say nothing of good-bys?”
“How silly you are!” she said coldly, rising. “The question, then, rests entirely with you. Whenever you make up your mind to go—”
“Couldn’t we let it hang fire indefinitely? Perhaps you could learn to love me. Then there would be no need to go.” Garrison smiled deliberately up into her eyes, the devil working in him.
Miss Desha returned his look steadily. “And the other girl—the clinging one?” she asked calmly.
“Oh, she could wait. If we didn’t hit it off, I could fall back on her. I would hate to be an old bachelor.”
“No; I don’t think it would be quite a success,” said the girl critically. “You see, I think you are the most detestable person I ever met. I really pity the other girl. It’s better to be an old bachelor than to be a young—cad.”
Garrison rose slowly.
“You’re Billy Garrison.”