It would reveal to her how low he thought her capable of falling.
I suppose we should all like to think that it would have been thus with Grizel, but our wishes are of small account. It was not many minutes since she left Tommy, to be his no more, his knife still in her heart; but she had not reached the end of the wood when all in front of her seemed a world of goblins, and a future without him not to be faced. He might beat her or scorn her, but not for an hour could she exist without him. She wrung her arms in woe; the horror of what she was doing tore her in pieces; but not all this prevented her turning back. It could not even make her go slowly. She did not walk back; she stole back in little runs. She knew it was her destruction, but her arms were outstretched to the spot where she had left him.
He was no longer there, and he saw her between the firs before she could see him. As he realized what her coming back meant, his frame shook with pity for her. All the dignity had gone from her. She looked as shamed as a dog stealing back after it had been whipped. She knew she was shamed. He saw she knew it: the despairing rocking of her arms proved it; yet she was coming back to him in little runs.
Pity, chivalry, oh, surely love itself, lifted him to his feet, and all else passed out of him save an imperious desire to save her as much humiliation as he could--to give her back a few of those garments of pride and self-respect that had fallen from her. At least she should not think that she had to come all the way to him. With a stifled sob, he rose and ran up the path towards her.
"Grizel! it is you! My beloved! how could you leave me! Oh, Grizel, my love, how could you misunderstand me so!"
She gave a glad cry. She sought feebly to hold him at arm's length, to look at him watchfully, to read him as in the old days; but the old days were gone. He strained her to him. Oh, surely it was love at last! He thanked God that he loved at last.
HOW TOMMY SAVED THE FLAG
He loved at last, but had no time to exult just now, for he could not rejoice with Tommy while his dear one drooped in shame. Ah, so well he understood that she believed she had done the unpardonable thing in woman, and that while she thought so she must remain a broken column. It was a great task he saw before him--nothing less than to make her think that what she had done was not shameful, but exquisite; that she had not tarnished the flag of love, but glorified it. Artfulness, you will see, was needed; but, remember, he was now using all his arts in behalf of the woman he loved.
"You were so long in coming back to me, Grizel. The agony of it!" "Did it seem long?" She spoke in a trembling voice, hiding her face in him. She listened like one anxious to seize his answer as it left his heart.
"So long," he answered, "that it seemed to me we must be old when we met again. I saw a future without you stretching before me to the grave, and I turned and ran from it."
"That is how I felt," she whispered.
"You!" Tommy cried, in excellent amazement.
"What else could have made me come?"
"I thought it was pity that had brought you--pity for me, Grizel. I thought you had perhaps come back to be angry with me--"
"How could I be!" she cried.
"How could you help it, rather?" said he. "I was cruel, Grizel; I spoke like a fool as well as like a dastard. But it was only anxiety for Elspeth that made me do it. Dear one, be angry with me as often as you choose, and whether I deserve it or not; but don't go away from me; never send me from you again. Anything but that."
It was how she had felt again, and her hold on him tightened with sudden joy. So well he knew what that grip meant! He did not tell her that he had not loved her fully until now. He would have liked to tell her how true love had been born in him as he saw her stealing back to him, but it was surely best for her not to know that any transformation had been needed. "I don't say that I love you more now than ever before," he said carefully, "but one thing I do know: that I never admired you quite so much."
She looked up in surprise.