“I suppose not,” said Kirk, miserably.
“I won’t believe,” she went on, “that you could have taken me for the kind of woman who—”
“No, no!” he cried, in an anguish of self-reproach. “I was a fool—”
“No,” she said, “I don’t—I couldn’t bear to think that. Perhaps I was partly to blame—but I didn’t think—I ought to have known that no man can really be trusted. But I thought our friendship was so beautiful, and now you’ve spoiled it.”
“Don’t say that!” exclaimed Kirk. “Say you’ll forgive me some time.”
But instead of answering him directly she proceeded in the same strain, probing his wounded self-respect to the quick, making his offence seem blacker every moment.
Although he assured her over and over that he had simply followed the irresponsible, unaccountable impulse of a moment—that he had regarded her only as the best of friends, and respected her more than he could say, she showed him no mercy. The melancholy, regretful tone she adopted was ten times worse than anger, and by the time they reached the inn where they had dined he was sunk in the depths of self-abasement.
If he had been less preoccupied with his own remorse he might have reflected that Edith’s attitude, especially as she did not expressly withhold the prospect of ultimate pardon, established a closer bond between them than ever before. But there was no room in his mind for such a thought.
In reply to his knock an old woman came to the door and sleepily admitted them. Edith stood for a moment on the threshold, then, seeing that he made no motion to accompany her, she said good-night, and, quietly entering, closed the door behind her.
Kirk experienced a sudden desire to escape. To remain where he was simply prolonged his humiliation. Instinctively he felt that, if he could only get away where he could view the matter in an every-day light, it would cease to trouble him. But evidently he could not desert Edith. He sat down upon the doorstep and gave himself up to bitter thoughts.
She was such a wonderful woman, he told himself; she had been such a true friend to him that he had been worse than criminal to lose her respect. And Cortlandt had been so decent to him! It was significant that this gave him the most discomfort of all. He had betrayed a man’s friendship, and the thought was unbearable. No punishment could be too severe for that!
He was still sitting there cramped and stiff when the first faint flush of dawn stole over the hill-crest behind him. Then he rose to wander toward the water-front. As the harbor assumed definite form, he beheld a launch stealing in toward the village, and ten minutes later greeted Stephen Cortlandt as that gentleman stepped out of the tender.
“Where’s Edith?” eagerly demanded her husband.
“She’s asleep. I found a place for her—”
“Not at the sanitarium?”