12. Chapter XII.
He looked down into the fire. "Sincerely, then--what
should you gain that would compensate for the possibility--
the certainty--of a lot of beastly talk?"
"But my freedom--is that nothing?"
It flashed across him at that instant that the charge
in the letter was true, and that she hoped to marry the
partner of her guilt. How was he to tell her that, if she
really cherished such a plan, the laws of the State were
inexorably opposed to it? The mere suspicion that the
thought was in her mind made him feel harshly and
impatiently toward her. "But aren't you as free as air
as it is?" he returned. "Who can touch you? Mr.
Letterblair tells me the financial question has been
"Oh, yes," she said indifferently.
"Well, then: is it worth while to risk what may be
infinitely disagreeable and painful? Think of the
newspapers--their vileness! It's all stupid and narrow and
unjust--but one can't make over society."
"No," she acquiesced; and her tone was so faint and
desolate that he felt a sudden remorse for his own hard
"The individual, in such cases, is nearly always
sacrificed to what is supposed to be the collective interest:
people cling to any convention that keeps the family
together--protects the children, if there are any," he
rambled on, pouring out all the stock phrases that rose
to his lips in his intense desire to cover over the ugly
reality which her silence seemed to have laid bare.
Since she would not or could not say the one word that
would have cleared the air, his wish was not to let her
feel that he was trying to probe into her secret. Better
keep on the surface, in the prudent old New York way,
than risk uncovering a wound he could not heal.
"It's my business, you know," he went on, "to help
you to see these things as the people who are fondest of
you see them. The Mingotts, the Wellands, the van der
Luydens, all your friends and relations: if I didn't show
you honestly how they judge such questions, it wouldn't
be fair of me, would it?" He spoke insistently, almost
pleading with her in his eagerness to cover up that