Friday, 2 June 2017

A Wicked Woman by Jack London 4

"Because you don't love him," Bashford resumed with confidence, "is no reason that you should be unhappy just because he has proposed to you." She sobbed again, and from the midst of her sobs she cried--
"That's the trouble. I wish I did love him. Oh, I wish I were dead!"
"Now, my dear child, you are worrying yourself over trifles." His other hand crossed over after its mate and rested on hers. "Women do it every day. Because you have changed your mind or did not know your mind, because you have--to use an unnecessarily harsh word--jilted a man--"
"Jilted!" She had raised her head and was looking at him with tear-dimmed eyes. "Oh, Ned, if that were all!"
"All?" he asked in a hollow voice, while his hands slowly retreated from hers. He was about to speak further, then remained silent.
"But I don't want to marry him," Loretta broke forth protestingly.
"Then I shouldn't," he counselled.
"But I ought to marry him."
"OUGHT to marry him?"
She nodded.
"That is a strong word."
"I know it is," she acquiesced, while she strove to control her trembling lips. Then she spoke more calmly. "I am a wicked woman, a terribly wicked woman. No one knows how wicked I am--except Billy."
There was a pause. Ned Bashford's face was grave, and he looked queerly at Loretta.
"He--Billy knows?" he asked finally.
A reluctant nod and flaming cheeks was the reply.
He debated with himself for a while, seeming, like a diver, to be preparing himself for the plunge.
"Tell me about it." He spoke very firmly. "You must tell me all of it."
"And will you--ever--forgive me?" she asked in a faint, small voice.
He hesitated, drew a long breath, and made the plunge.
"Yes," he said desperately. "I'll forgive you. Go ahead."
"There was no one to tell me," she began. "We were with each other so much. I did not know anything of the world--then."
She paused to meditate. Bashford was biting his lip impatiently.
"If I had only known--"
She paused again.
"Yes, go on," he urged.
"We were together almost every evening."
"Billy?" he demanded, with a savageness that startled her.

"Yes, of course, Billy. We were with each other so much . . . If I had only known . . . There was no one to tell me . . . I was so young--"
Her lips parted as though to speak further, and she regarded him anxiously. "The scoundrel!"
With the explosion Ned Bashford was on his feet, no longer a tired Greek, but a violently angry young man.
"Billy is not a scoundrel; he is a good man," Loretta defended, with a firmness that surprised Bashford.
"I suppose you'll be telling me next that it was all your fault," he said sarcastically.
She nodded.
"What?" he shouted.
"It was all my fault," she said steadily. "I should never have let him. I was to blame."

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