"I mean your character," he said determinedly. "I have always known how strong and noble it was, but I never quite thought you could do anything so beautiful as this."
"Beautiful!" She could only echo the word.
"Many women, even of the best," he told her, "would have resorted to little feminine ways of humbling such a blunderer as I have been: they would have spurned him for weeks; made him come to them on his knees; perhaps have thought that his brutality of a moment outweighed all his love. When I saw you coming to meet me half-way--oh, Grizel, tell me that you were doing that?"
"Yes, yes, yes!" she answered eagerly, so that she might not detain him a moment.
"When I saw you I realized that you were willing to forgive me; that you were coming to say so; that no thought of lowering me first was in your mind; that yours was a love above the littleness of ordinary people: and the adorableness of it filled me with a glorious joy; I saw in that moment what woman in her highest development is capable of, and that the noblest is the most womanly."
She said "Womanly?" with a little cry. It had always been such a sweet word to her, and she thought it could never be hers again!
"It is by watching you," he replied, "that I know the meaning of the word. I thought I knew long ago, but every day you give it a nobler meaning."
If she could have believed it! For a second or two she tried to believe it, and then she shook her head.
"How dear of you to think that of me!" she answered. She looked up at him with exquisite approval in her eyes. She had always felt that men should have high ideas about women.
"But it was not to save you pain that I came back," she said bravely. There was something pathetic in the way the truth had always to come out of her. "I did not think you wanted me to come back. I never expected you to be looking for me, and when I saw you doing it, my heart nearly stopped for gladness. I thought you were wearied of me, and would be annoyed when you saw me coming back. I said to myself, 'If I go back I shall be a disgrace to womanhood,' But I came; and now do you know what my heart is saying, and always will be saying? It is that pride and honour and self-respect are gone. And the terrible thing is that I don't seem to care; I, who used to value them so much, am willing to let them go if you don't send me away from you. Oh, if you can't love me any longer, let me still love you! That is what I came back to say."
"Grizel, Grizel!" he cried. It was she who was wielding the knife now.
"But it is true," she said.
"We could so easily pretend that it isn't." That was not what he said, though it was at his heart. He sat down, saying:
"This is a terrible blow, but better you should tell it to me than leave me to find it out." He was determined to save the flag for Grizel, though he had to try all the Tommy ways, one by one.
"Have I hurt you?" she asked anxiously. She could not bear to hurt him for a moment. "What did I say?"
"It amounts to this," he replied huskily: "you love me, but you wish you did not; that is what it means."
He expected her to be appalled by this; but she stood still, thinking it over. There was something pitiful in a Grizel grown undecided.
"Do I wish I did not?" she said helplessly. "I don't know. Perhaps that is what I do wish. Ah, but what are wishes! I know now that they don't matter at all."
"Yes, they matter," he assured her, in the voice of one looking upon death. "If you no longer want to love me, you will cease to do it soon enough." His manner changed to bitterness. "So don't be cast down, Grizel, for the day of your deliverance is at hand."
But again she disappointed him, and as the flag must be saved at whatever cost, he said.
"It has come already. I see you no longer love me as you did." Her arms rose in anguish; but he went on ruthlessly: "You will never persuade me that you do; I shall never believe it again."
I suppose it was a pitiable thing about Grizel--it was something he had discovered weeks ago and marvelled over--that nothing distressed her so much as the implication that she could love him less.