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  ― 94 ―

An Egotist.

HIS first impression on reading the letter was one of unreality. It had been lying opposite his seat at table, and, with a premonitory chill, he had torn open the envelope and tilted back his chair to read. As in a dream he went over it again, but a third reading accentuated the phrases and brought acutely to his mind all that the loss of her meant. He looked up to find the others engrossed with their meal, and wondered angrily that there should be such indifference to his pain. Then, catching glances in his direction, he crammed the letter in a pocket and made a pretence at eating, lest anyone should guess at his discomfiture.

Dinner over, he hastened to his room and read her letter again and again, noting, through a maze of wonderment, here a trick of words, there the lapse into an accustomed endearment. Sitting idly on the bed, he absorbed slowly the multiplicity of her conflicting reasons, as also her confident assumption of his agreement in them; then wondered vaguely if he were hurt—if this dull numbness meant bitter anguish, or merely emotional disappointment.

She was returning his letters and ring. He affected a contemptuous laugh—tribute to an imaginary audience. His ring! To be treasured as the tombstone of his love? This, obtruding on his reflections as rather neat, he made a note of to use in his reply.

He was taking it very well, he thought. Decidedly, there were few men who, loving her as he did—had done—would have accepted the dismissal so philosophically. And, after all, there were compensations. Freedom offered a wider scope for enjoyment than a life of domesticity. Some theatre-tickets and a tailor's bill stuck in his mirror suggested the fact that he had never denied himself a pleasure. He met this with the reflection that future indulgences would be without conscience-qualms. He was tired, too, of writing—of the weekly repetition of verbal caresses. She had complained of the coldness of his letters. But it was impossible to be always at fever-heat. There had been, too, demands on his time and purse, which he had found it difficult to explain or even specify


  ― 95 ―
Women never understood these things. She wrote of the delay, the frequent postponements, and the long years of weary waiting. Well, riches were not to be won in a day, and he was no selfish egotist to ask a woman to share poverty merely because she loved him. That her younger sister and two girl friends had married in the interval had no bearing on their case. It was so like a woman's logic to quote these facts as it were in reproach to him. She had known at the time of their engagement what his prospects were. He had been perfectly honest in defining his position. And if she had not been prepared to wait, why had she——? The longer he considered, the clearer it became that she had treated him very badly. Still, she was a woman. He would be generous with her.

The question of his reply came to him. This needed consideration, for it was imperative that she should recognise her position—and her loss. It would be futile to pretend he had never loved her, just as it would be absurd to refute her arguments. Women, he reflected, never reasoned.

Remembering she had always dreaded his sarcasm, he decided that an admixture of bitterness and cynicism would prove effective. The desire to look well, to present the best possible appearance, was fast possessing him.

He was soon absorbed in the composition of his reply, almost to the exclusion of his earlier feelings. After many alterations, he completed a fair copy, and read it over with satisfaction. A particular phrase fitted in so well with his admiration of himself as to raise him almost to exultation.

“Now, I call that good,” he said, surveying himself in his mirror as though for confirmative applause. “Damned good!” A momentary regret that he would not be present to witness its effect on her somewhat chilled his enthusiasm. Pride in his handiwork increased till a craving for sympathetic appreciation dominated all his previous emotions.

“I wonder if old Strong is in,” he said, handling his letter with an almost caressing care. “I'll go and read this to him. He'll enjoy it.”

E. & O. E.

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