"It will be the test of Gemmell," he said, "how he bears this. No man, I am very sure, was ever told that his dream could not come true more kindly and tenderly than you told it to him." He was in the middle of the next sentence (a fine one) before her distress stopped him.
"Tommy," she cried, "you don't understand. That is not what I told him at all!"
It was one of the few occasions on which the expression on the face of T. Sandys perceptibly changed.
"What did you tell him?" he asked, almost sharply.
"I accepted him," she said guiltily, backing away from this alarming face.
"If you only knew how manly and gentle and humble he was," she cried quickly, as if something dire might happen if Tommy were not assured of this at once.
"You--said you would marry him, Elspeth?"
"And leave me?"
"Oh, oh!" She flung her arms around his neck.
"Yes, but that is what you are prepared to do!" said he, and he held her away from him and stared at her, as if he had never seen Elspeth before. "Were you not afraid?" he exclaimed, in amazement.
"I am not the least bit afraid," she answered. "Oh Tommy, if you knew how manly----" And then she remembered that she had said that already.
"You did not even say that you would--consult me?"
"Why didn't you, Elspeth?"
"I--I forgot!" she moaned. "Tommy, you are angry!" She hugged him, and he let her do it, but all the time he was looking over her head fixedly, with his mouth open.
"And I was always so sure of you!" were the words that came to him at last, with a hard little laugh at the end of them.
"Can you think it makes me love you less," she sobbed, "because I love him, too? Oh, Tommy, I thought you would be so glad!"
He kissed her; he put his hand fondly upon her head.
"I am glad," he said, with emotion. "When that which you want has come to you, Elspeth, how can I but be glad? But it takes me aback, and if for a moment I felt forlorn, if, when I should have been rejoicing only in your happiness, the selfish thought passed through my mind, 'What is to become of me?' I hope--I hope--" Then he sat down and buried his face in the table.
And he might have been telling her about Grizel! Has the shock stunned you, Tommy? Elspeth thinks it has been a shock of pain. May we lift your head to show her your joyous face?
"I am so proud," she was saying, "that at last, after you have done so much for me, I can do a little thing for you. For it is something to free you, Tommy. You have always pretended, for my sake, that we could not do without each other, but we both knew all the time that it was only I who was unable to do without you. You can't deny it."
He might deny it, but it was true. Ah, Tommy, you bore with her with infinite patience, but did it never strike you that she kept you to the earth? If Elspeth could be happy without you! You were sure she could not, but if she could!--had that thought never made you flap your wings?
"I often had a pain at my heart," she told him, "which I kept from you. It was a feeling that your solicitude for me, perhaps, prevented your caring for any other woman. It seemed terrible and unnatural that I should be a bar to that. I felt that I was starving you, and not you only, but an unknown woman as well."
"So long as I had you, Elspeth," he said reproachfully, "was not that enough?"
"It seemed to be enough," she answered gravely, "but even while I comforted myself with that, I knew that it should not be enough, and still I feared that if it was, the blame was mine. Now I am no longer in the way, and I hope, so ardently, that you will fall in love, like other people. If you never do, I shall always have the fear that I am the cause, that you lost the capacity in the days when I let you devote yourself too much to me."
Oh, blind Elspeth! Now is the time to tell her, Tommy, and fill her cup of happiness to the brim.
But it is she who is speaking still, almost gaily now, yet with a full heart. "What a time you have had with me, Tommy! I told David all about it, and what he has to look forward to, but he says he is not afraid.