Friday, 2 June 2017

A Wicked Woman by Jack London 3

A  wicked woman

"I'll find out to-night," Mrs. Hemingway said to her husband. But Ned caught Loretta in the afternoon in the big living-room. She tried to turn away. He caught her hands, and she faced him with wet lashes and trembling lips. He looked at her, silently and kindly. The lashes grew wetter. "There, there, don't cry, little one," he said soothingly. He put his arm protectingly around her shoulder. And to his shoulder, like a tired child, she turned her face. He thrilled in ways unusual for a Greek who has recovered from the long sickness.
"Oh, Ned," she sobbed on his shoulder, "if you only knew how wicked I am!" He smiled indulgently, and breathed in a great breath freighted with the fragrance of her hair. He thought of his world-experience of women, and drew another long breath. There seemed to emanate from her the perfect sweetness of a child--"the aura of a white soul," was the way he phrased it to himself. Then he noticed that her sobs were increasing.
"What's the matter, little one?" he asked pettingly and almost paternally. "Has Jack been bullying you? Or has your dearly beloved sister failed to write?"
She did not answer, and he felt that he really must kiss her hair, that he could not be responsible if the situation continued much longer.
"Tell me," he said gently, "and we'll see what I can do."
"I can't. You will despise me.--Oh, Ned, I am so ashamed!"
He laughed incredulously, and lightly touched her hair with his lips--so lightly that she did not know.
"Dear little one, let us forget all about it, whatever it is. I want to tell you how I love--"
She uttered a sharp cry that was all delight, and then moaned--
"Too late!"
"Too late?" he echoed in surprise.
"Oh, why did I? Why did I?" she was moaning.
He was aware of a swift chill at his heart.
"What?" he asked.
"Oh, I . . . he . . . Billy.

"I am such a wicked woman, Ned. I know you will never speak to me again."
"This--er--this Billy," he began haltingly. "He is your brother?"
"No . . . he . . . I didn't know. I was so young. I could not help it. Oh, I shall go mad! I shall go mad!"
It was then that Loretta felt his shoulder and the encircling arm become limp. He drew away from her gently, and gently he deposited her in a big chair, where she buried her face and sobbed afresh. He twisted his moustache fiercely, then drew up another chair and sat down. "I--I do not understand," he said. "I am so unhappy," she wailed. "Why unhappy?"

"Because . . . he . . . he wants me to marry him." His face cleared on the instant, and he placed a hand soothingly on hers. "That should not make any girl unhappy," he remarked sagely. "Because you don't love him is no reason--of course, you don't love him?" Loretta shook her head and shoulders in a vigorous negative. "What?" Bashford wanted to make sure. "No," she asserted explosively. "I don't love Billy! I don't want to love Billy!"

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