My sister's conviction that I would be reconciled after hearing his version of the story had thus proved untrue; the reverse was the case. The manner in which he spoke in extenuation of his guilt had only increased my disrespect for him. The mere fact that he had tried to explain away the whole incident as a mere flirtation caused feelings of the deepest resentment in my heart, and when he began to say unkind things about the doctor in order to disabuse himself, I considered him more unworthy than ever. When in the end he went so far as to assert that I had deceived him, that if I loved him I would gladly overlook so trivial a matter, his utterances had reached their climax, he was then adding insult to injury. Was it then my fault that he was not as good as he made himself out to be? My resentment now grew into anger.
Nevertheless, strong as was my feeling against him, there was still hope, for his final piteous appeal had not failed to leave its impression. A woman may be cruel in a moment when anger controls her, but she cannot resist the pleading of love, that melts her heart when nothing else will. This is the essential difference between woman and man, it is here that the Creator has marked her as being distinctly different from his stronger creature. His distressed mien, his passionate exhortations, these had spoken to me of a deep love, and the thought of that went to my heart; I felt the pang of his disappointment as keenly as he felt it himself. Now that he was gone I reflected on the whole painful scene with the deepest emotion; I began to doubt my own self. The very words that had before excited my anger began now to move me to pity. Was it then true after all? Had I deceived him? Had I made him think I loved him when in reality I did not? Had I taken his future into my hands, meting out to him either happiness or misery as it pleased me best?
I now became overpowered by remorse, I felt the deepest pity for him. My mind became filed with gloom and I sat speechless, motionless, brooding over the things I had heard or said. My sister came and looked at me with anxious gaze, she wanted to question me. Just then the servant announced the doctor's arrival. This diverted me. I felt myself becoming calm, and when he entered the room I felt happy.
After the usual greeting he apologised for not having been able to come earlier, and then inquired after the state of my health. My sister explained to him that I had slept well during the night, and that she considered me much better. She did not think I needed any more medicine.
The sun was penetrating through the western window, and shone upon the sofa on which I sat. He closed the window, sat down on a chair beside me and felt my pulse. Then addressing my sister, he said,
"She is not quite well yet, her pulse is still weak. Do not stop the tonic."
I did not like the tonic, it tasted bitter, and I did not waste a minute in expressing myself on the subject. I declared pettishly the tonic must be stopped, it did not suit my palate.
My brother-in-law, who had just entered the room, heard my declaration.
"Up in arms again?" he laughed. "With whom are you quarrelling now, with the doctor or with the medicine?" I became embarrassed, but was still fretful.
"If you will only taste this mixture once, you will under stand my feeling," I retorted.
"If that will remove your petulance, I will gladly empty the whole phial," he replied, still laughing. "I say, doctor," he continued, "will any one still question the intellectual inferiority of woman in the face of proofs like this?"
"We do not understand you," said my sister. "Please explain yourself."
"Women will play the coquette with fate itself when they have no one else to play with. They seem to think they can melt its iron, inflexible force with mere appealing glances from pretty eyes while men will boldly undertake to fight fate."
"But if fate is so inflexible how can you reckon them wise who undertake to fight it?"
"Well said. I quite agree with you," exclaimed the doctor.
"So you are taking their side. Well, I can't stay here any longer. I must go downstairs, I have a client waiting for me. See you as you go." And my brother-in-law departed.
The doctor turned to me with the consoling offer to give me a more palatable tonic if the present one was too bitter.
It was the expression of true sympathy, it touched my heart, and I know I expressed my feeling in my eyes as I looked at him.
What a little thing a kind word is, and yet the miracles that it can work. If men would realise what a heaven they might create for themselves by regarding the little things that women cherish let them learn to heed her wishes in all small matters! A woman can forgive almost anything for a word of sympathy, but withhold that, and there is no telling what he may prepare for himself, from coldness to estrangement, and finally a life of misery; this is the result, the daily result, of lives in which woman's nature is not understood.
In a corner of the room was a table with writing material. The doctor wrote out a new prescription there, and handed it to my sister, remarking as he did so, "I suppose there is no further necessity for my coming?"
"She seems to be quite well," my sister replied; "if she has no relapse I think she will be able to get on by herself now."
I did not like my sister's reply. She might, it seemed to me, as a matter of courtesy, have asked him to call occasionally. I felt annoyed with her, but tried not to let her notice it. The doctor started to leave the room, but before doing so, brought a small table on which stood a flower vase containing a bouquet of sweet-scented flowers and placed it near the couch on which I rested.
"The fragrance of flowers is good for the nervous system," he said, and bidding me good-bye, left the room.
How strange it was these flowers brought back the memory of my childhood, and once more I saw that school-room and its sunny hours which cast ever anew a halo over the memory of early days. I remembered how fond Chotu had been of the flowers I had brought him, how carefully he had arranged them in a broken drinking glass, and placed them on a table near his seat; how I used to bend over from my seat to inhale their fragrance and in my childish way exclaim, "How very sweet these flowers are. How is it that the flowers at home are not half so sweet?"
How Chotu used to smile at me then and look so proud and happy. To-day it seemed as if it were Chotu who placed these flowers beside me. I forgot myself in the thought of the past, and was about to ask the question. "Are you Chotu?" but the illusion vanished as quickly as it came, and ere I could speak he had crossed the room. A new realisation took hold of me. Was I going to love this man? I compared the weird fascination that Mr. Roy's song had had upon me with the feeling that now entered my heart, but I dared not yield. How could I be so capricious, so base indeed, as to forsake the man whom only a few days ago I had loved? Could I forget him who had vowed to me fidelity unto death for one whom I had never seen before, one who had come into my life only yesterday? Was it then true after all that I had never loved him, that I was deceiving him? If I had truly cared for him this incident in his life would have filled me with sorrow, with wounded pride, perhaps, but certainly never with anger, much less with the thought of forsaking him.
Yes, I had been wrong. I now thought I saw the truth clearly. I saw my fault, and my heart was filled with penitence. If I had been annoyed a while ago because my sister did not invite the doctor to come to the house again, I now was pleased because she had not done so. The man who had told me he loved me was to be my husband, and none other. I had wronged him greatly, but I would not deceive him. I would explain to him all that was in my heart, and if he wanted to marry me still I would be his. There would of course be no question on that point. He loved me with unswerving devotion; he had himself said so. However unworthy I might be, he was too great, too noble to change; he would, indeed, save me from the great error I had been about to commit.
Therefore, when my sister enquired about the conversation we had had together, I replied that I was firm in my determination to marry him.
"I have understood," I continued, "that he has done no wrong in not marrying her."
"Do you also understand how deeply he loves you?"
"Yes, I understand it all now."
"Then you will have no further objections?"
My sister was greatly pleased with my reply and consoled herself with the thought that he would be back again in a week.