Emily read the letter over three times. Then she sat for a very long time at her window, looking blindly out on the blanched, dim world lying under the terrible mockery of a sky full of stars. The wind around the eaves was full of ghostly voices. Bits here and there in Ilse's letter turned and twisted and vanished in her consciousness like little venomous snakes, each with a mortal sting.
"Your singleness of purpose"—"you never cared for anyone"—"of course you must be my bridesmaid"—"I'm really very fond of Teddy"—"my hesitation."
Could any girl really "hesitate" over accepting Teddy Kent? Emily heard a little note of bitter laughter. Was it something in herself that laughed—or that vanishing spectre of Teddy that had haunted her all day—or an old smothered persistent hope that laughed before it died at last?
And at that very moment probably Ilse and Teddy were together.
"If I had gone—that night—last summer—when he called—would it have made any difference?" was the question that asked itself over and over again maddeningly.
"I wish I could hate Ilse. It would make it easier," she thought drearily. "If she loved Teddy I think I could hate her. Somehow, it isn't so dreadful when she doesn't. It ought to be more dreadful. It's very strange that I can bear the thought of his loving her when I couldn't bear the thought of her loving him."
A great weariness suddenly possessed her. For the first time in her life death seemed a friend. It was very late when she finally went to bed. Towards morning she slept a little. But wakened stupidly at dawn. What was it she had heard?
She got up and dressed—as she must get up and dress every morning to come for endless years.
"Well," she said aloud to Emily-in-the-glass. "I've spilled my cup of life's wine on the ground—somehow. And she will give me no more. So I must go thirsty. Would—would it have been different if I had gone to him that night he called. If I only knew!" She thought she could see Dean's ironical, compassionate eyes.
Suddenly she laughed.
"In plain English—as Ilse would say—what a devilish mess I've made of things!"