“Oh, I know that, Mr. Gregory,” said Clementina, generously.
“Then you didn’t doubt me, in spite of all?”
“I thought you would know what to do. No, I didn’t doubt you, exactly.”
“I didn’t deserve your trust!” he cried. “How came that man to mention me?” he demanded, abruptly, after a moment’s silence.
“Mr. Belsky? It was the first night I saw him, and we were talking about Americans, and he began to tell me about an American friend of his, who was very conscientious. I thought it must be you the fust moment,” said Clementina, smiling with an impersonal pleasure in the fact.
“From the conscientiousness?” he asked, in bitter self-irony.
“Why, yes,” she returned, simply. “That was what made me think of you. And the last time when he began to talk about you, I couldn’t stop him, although I knew he had no right to.”
“He had no right. But I gave him the power to do it! He meant no harm, but I enabled him to do all the harm.”
“Oh, if he’s only alive, now, there is no harm!”
He looked into her eyes with a misgiving from which he burst impetuously. “Then you do care for me still, after all that I have done to make you detest me?” He started toward her, but she shrank back.
“I didn’t mean that,” she hesitated.
“You know that I love you,—that I have always loved you?”
“Yes,” she assented. “But you might be sorry again that you had said it.” It sounded like coquetry, but he knew it was not coquetry.
“Never! I’ve wished to say it again, ever since that night at Middlemount; I have always felt bound by what I said then, though I took back my words for your sake. But the promise was always there, and my life was in it. You believe that?”
“Why, I always believed what you said, Mr. Gregory.”
Clementina paused, with her head seriously on one side. “I should want to think about it before I said anything.”
“You are right,” he submitted, dropping his outstretched arms to his side. “I have been thinking only of myself, as usual.”
“No,” she protested, compassionately. “But doesn’t it seem as if we ought to be su’a, this time? I did ca’e for you then, but I was very young, and I don’t know yet—I thought I had always felt just; as you did, but now—Don’t you think we had both betta wait a little while till we ah’ moa suttain?”
They stood looking at each other, and he said, with a kind of passionate self-denial, “Yes, think it over for me, too. I will come back, if you will let me.”
“Oh, thank you!” she cried after him, gratefully, as if his forbearance were the greatest favor.
When he was gone she tried to release herself from the kind of abeyance in which she seemed to have gone back and been as subject to him as in the first days when he had awed her and charmed her with his superiority at Middlemount, and he again older and freer as she had grown since.