First part of a four-part short story, entitled only “Episodes” written by Sibyl (Croly) (Hanchett) (Schneller), probably during her late teens or early twenties. Unpublished.
They were on a bridge in the starlight, she sitting on the railing, and he standing by it, looking up into her face. His face was in the shadow.
Their talk had drifted sentimentally to the subject of a girl’s loving a man who did not reciprocate her affection. He spoke with some warmth. “She ought to cut him dead. Then, if he had tried to make her love him he would be sorry for all his life. And he would respect her beyond all other women.”
“But,” objected the girl, “suppose he never encouraged her to care for him. Suppose he had only been civil and kind to her and she had been fool enough to —–,” a characteristic pause.
“Well, it would teach him not to be too kind to everyone.”
“Then you think a man should always be on his guard about being friendly toward a girl for fear she might fall in love with him.”
“This one thing is true,” he assured her, “No man makes a girl love him like that without doing it deliberately. He tries to make her care for him.”
“Oh,” said the girl, and pondered on certain things suddenly illuminated by this revelation of masulinity, — for she was very young. There was a long silence, and he watched the changing expressions on her face, till a flash of triumph showed that her train of thought had reached a terminus.
“Well?” he queried.
She laughed. “I could refute that statement.”
“Do it,” he challenged.
“I dont’ want to. It won’t sound well,” she objected.
“Do it,” he commanded.
“Well,” she began, “suppose he had talked to her just as you have done to me. Suppose they had been just such friends as we have been, no more, no less. Would he be able to blame if she liked him?”
He was silent or several minutes. She could not see his face, but she took pity on him. “You needn’t answer that. I just wanted to drive you into a corner. You must either sacrifice yourself to your convictions or your convictions to your self-respect.”
He gave no sign of hearing her. He gazed upstream and breathed hard. She began to be a little frightened, — for she was still very young.
“Come,” she said, and there was a queer little catch in her voice which with ready presence of mind she turned into a laugh, “I didn’t mean to shut you up forever. You may talk — even if you haven’t anything to say.”
He seized her hand in both of his. “There is only one honest way to answer that question,” he said, as if he had not heard her last speech, “It is that I have tried to make you care for me.”
“I would rather believe your theory disproven,” she said gently. “It isn’t necessary for you to sacrifice yourself to support it.”
He watched her face laughing softly in the starlight. When he spoke his voice sounded restrained.
“My experience has taught me that it is seldom best to say what one thinks.”
“You have clearly learned the lesson.” Was there irony in her voice? —
“Don’t you think I ought to learn the lessons?” he asked and much underlay the question.
“Yes.” she answered, — for she was older now.
Then he helped her down and they walked slowly and silently home.