Friday, 2 June 2017

A Wicked Woman by Jack London 5

Bashford ceased from his pacing up and down, and when he spoke, his voice was resigned. "All right," he said. "I don't blame you in the least, Loretta. And you have been very honest. But Billy is right, and you are wrong. You must get married."
"To Billy?" she asked, in a dim, far-away voice.
"Yes, to Billy. I'll see to it. Where does he live? I'll make him."
"But I don't want to marry Billy!" she cried out in alarm. "Oh, Ned, you won't do that?"
"I shall," he answered sternly. "You must. And Billy must. Do you understand?"
Loretta buried her face in the cushioned chair back, and broke into a passionate storm of sobs.
All that Bashford could make out at first, as he listened, was: "But I don't want to leave Daisy! I don't want to leave Daisy!"
He paced grimly back and forth, then stopped curiously to listen.
"How was I to know?--Boo--hoo," Loretta was crying. "He didn't tell me. Nobody else ever kissed me. I never dreamed a kiss could be so terrible . . . until, boo-hoo . . . until he wrote to me. I only got the letter this morning."
His face brightened. It seemed as though light was dawning on him.
"Is that what you're crying about?" "N--no."
His heart sank.
"Then what are you crying about?" he asked in a hopeless voice.
"Because you said I had to marry Billy. And I don't want to marry Billy. I don't want to leave Daisy. I don't know what I want. I wish I were dead." He nerved himself for another effort.
"Now look here, Loretta, be sensible. What is this about kisses. You haven't told me everything?"
"I--I don't want to tell you everything."
She looked at him beseechingly in the silence that fell.
"Must I?" she quavered finally.
"You must," he said imperatively. "You must tell me everything."
"Well, then . . . must I?"
"You must."
"He . . . I . . . we . . ." she began flounderingly. Then blurted out, "I let him, and he kissed me." "Go on," Bashford commanded desperately.
"That's all," she answered.
"All?" There was a vast incredulity in his voice.
"All?" In her voice was an interrogation no less vast.
"I mean--er--nothing worse?" He was overwhelmingly aware of his own awkwardness.
"Worse?" She was frankly puzzled. "As though there could be! Billy said- -"
"When did he say it?" Bashford demanded abruptly.
"In his letter I got this morning. Billy said that my . . . our . . . our kisses were terrible if we didn't get married."
Bashford's head was swimming.
"What else did Billy say?" he asked.
"He said that when a woman allowed a man to kiss her, she always married him--that it was terrible if she didn't. It was the custom, he said; and I say it is a bad, wicked custom, and I don't like it. I know I'm terrible," she added defiantly, "but I can't help it."

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