The Odd Women, by George Gissing

Chapter 22

Honour in Difficulties

At Mrs. Cosgrove’s, this Sunday afternoon, Monica had eyes and thoughts for one person only. Her coming at all was practically an appointment to meet Bevis, whom she had seen twice since her visit to the flat. A day or two after that occasion, she received a call from the Bevis girls, who told her of their brother’s approaching departure for Bordeaux, and thereupon she invited the trio to dine with her. A fortnight subsequently to the dinner she had a chance encounter with Bevis in Oxford Street; constraint of business did not allow him to walk beside her for more than a minute or two, but they spoke of Mrs. Cosgrove’s on the following Sunday, and there, accordingly, found each other.

Tremor of self-consciousness kept Monica in dread of being watched and suspected. Few people were present today, and after exchanging formal words with Bevis, she moved away to talk with the hostess. Not till half an hour had passed did she venture to obey the glances which her all but avowed lover cast towards her in conversation. He was so much at ease, so like what she had always known him, that Monica asked herself whether she had not mistaken the meaning of his homage. One moment she hoped it might be so; the next, she longed for some sign of passionate devotion, and thought with anguish of the day, now so near, when he would be gone for ever. This, she ardently believed, was the man who should have been her husband. Him she could love with heart and soul, could make his will her absolute law, could live on his smiles, could devote herself to his interests. The independence she had been struggling to assert ever since her marriage meant only freedom to love. If she had understood herself as she now did, her life would never have been thus cast into bondage.

‘The girls,’ Bevis was saying, ‘leave on Thursday. The rest of the week I shall be alone. On Monday the furniture will be stowed away at the Pantechnicon, and on Tuesday — off I go.’

A casual listener could have supposed that the prospect pleased him. Monica, with a fixed smile, looked at the other groups conversing in the room; no one was paying any attention to her. In the same moment she heard a murmur from her companion’s lips; he was speaking still, but in a voice only just audible.

‘Come on Friday afternoon about four o’clock.’

Her heart began to throb painfully, and she knew that a treacherous colour had risen to her checks.

‘Do come — once more — for the last time. It shall be just as before — just as before. An hour’s talk, and we will say good-bye to each other.’

She was powerless to breathe a word. Bevis, noticing that Mrs. Cosgrove had thrown a look in their direction, suddenly laughed as if at some jest between them, and resumed his lively strain of talk. Monica also laughed. An interval of make-believe, and again the soft murmur fell upon her ear.

‘I shall expect you. I know you won’t refuse me this one last kindness. Some day,’ his voice was all but extinguished, ‘some day — who knows?’

Dreadful hope struck through her. A stranger’s eyes turned their way, and again she laughed.

‘On Friday, at four. I shall expect you.’

She rose, looked for an instant about the room, then offered him her hand, uttering some commonplace word of leave-taking. Their eyes did not meet. She went up to Mrs. Cosgrove, and as soon as possible left the house.

Widdowson met her as she crossed the threshold of home. His face told her that something extraordinary had happened, and she trembled before him.

‘Back already?’ he exclaimed, with a grim smile. ‘Be quick, and take your things off, and come to the library.’

If he had discovered anything (the lie, for instance, that she told him a month ago, or that more recent falsehood when she pretended, without serious reason, to have been at Miss Barfoot’s lecture), he would not look and speak thus. Hurrying, panting, she made a change of dress, and obeyed his summons.

‘Miss Nunn has been here,’ were his first words.

She turned pale as death. Of course he observed it; she was now preparing for anything.

‘She wanted to see you because she is going away on Monday. What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing. You spoke so strangely —’

‘Did I? And you look very strangely. I don’t understand you. Miss Nunn says that everybody has noticed how ill you seem. It’s time we did something. To-morrow morning we are going down into Somerset, to Clevedon, to find a house.’

‘I thought you had given up that idea.’

‘Whether I had or not doesn’t matter.’

In the determination to appear, and be, energetic, he spoke with a rough obstinacy, a doggedness that now and then became violence. ‘I am decided on it now. There’s a train to Bristol at ten-twenty. You will pack just a few things; we shan’t be away for more than a day or two.’

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — By Friday they might be back. Till now, in an anguish of uncertainty, Monica had made up her mind. She would keep the appointment on Friday, come of it what might. If she could not be back in time, she would write a letter.

‘Why are you talking in this tone?’ she said coldly.

‘What tone? I am telling you what I have decided to do, that’s all. I shall easily find a house down there, no doubt. Knowing the place, you will be able to suggest the likely localities.’

She sat down, for strength was failing her.

‘It’s quite true,’ Widdowson went on, staring at her with inflamed eyes. ‘You are beginning to look like a ghost. Oh, we’ll have an end of this!’ He cackled in angry laughter. ‘Not a day’s unnecessary delay! Write to both your sisters this evening and tell them. I wish them both to come and live with us.’

‘Very well.’

‘Now, won’t you be glad? Won’t it be better in every way?’

He came so near that she felt his feverish breath.

‘I told you before,’ she answered, ‘to do just as you liked.’

‘And you won’t talk about being kept a prisoner?’

Monica laughed.

‘Oh no, I won’t say anything at all.’

She scarcely knew what words fell from her lips. Let him propose, let him do what he liked; to her it was indifferent. She saw something before her — something she durst not, even an hour ago, have steadily contemplated; it drew her with the force of fate.

‘You know we couldn’t go on living like this — don’t you, Monica?’

‘No, we couldn’t.’

‘You see!’ He almost shouted in triumph, misled by the smile on her face. ‘All that was needed was resolution on my part. I have been absurdly weak, and weakness in the husband means unhappiness in the wife. From today you look to me for guidance. I am no tyrant, but I shall rule you for your own good.’

Still she smiled.

‘So there’s an end of our misery — isn’t it, darling? What misery! Good God, how I have suffered! Haven’t you known it?’

‘I have known it too well.’

‘And now you will make up to me for it, Monica?’

Again prompted by the irresistible force, she answered mechanically  —

‘I will do the best for both.’

He threw himself on the ground beside her and clasped her in his arms.

‘No, that is my own dear wife once more! Your face has altogether changed. See how right it is that a husband should take the law into his own hands! Our second year of marriage shall be very different from the first. And yet we were happy, weren’t we, my beautiful? It’s only this cursed London that has come between us. At Clevedon we shall begin our life over again — like we did at Guernsey. All our trouble, I am convinced, has come of your ill-health. This air has never suited you; you have felt miserable, and couldn’t be at peace in your home. Poor little girl! My poor darling!’

Through the evening he was in a state of transport, due partly to the belief that Monica really welcomed his decision, partly to the sense of having behaved at length like a resolute man. His eyes were severely bloodshot, and before bedtime headache racked him intolerably.

Everything was carried out as he had planned it. They journeyed down into Somerset, put up at a Clevedon hotel, and began house-hunting. On Wednesday the suitable abode was discovered — a house of modest pretensions, but roomy and well situated. It could be made ready for occupation in a fortnight. Bent on continuing his exhibition of vigorous promptitude, Widdowson signed a lease that same evening.

‘To-morrow we will go straight home and make our preparations for removal. When all is ready, you shall come down here and live at the hotel until the house is furnished. Go to your sister Virginia and simply bid her do as you wish. Imitate me!’ He laughed fatuously. ‘Don’t listen to any objection. When you have once got her away she will thank you.’

By Thursday afternoon they were back at Herne Hill. Widdowson still kept up the show of extravagant spirits, but he was worn out. He spoke so hoarsely that one would have thought he had contracted a severe sore throat; it resulted merely from nervous strain. After a pretence of dinner, he seated himself as if to read; glancing at him a few minutes later, Monica found that he was fast asleep.

She could not bear to gaze at him, yet her eyes turned thither again and again. His face was repulsive to her; the deep furrows, the red eyelids, the mottled skin moved her to loathing. And yet she pitied him. His frantic exultation was the cruelest irony. What would he do? What would become of him? She turned away, and presently left the room, for the sound of his uneasy breathing made her suffer too much.

When he woke up, he came in search of her, and laughed over his involuntary nap.

‘Well, now, you will go and see your sister tomorrow morning.’

‘In the afternoon, I think.’

‘Why? Don’t let us have any procrastination. The morning, the morning!’

‘Please do let me have my way in such a trifle as that,’ Monica exclaimed nervously. ‘I have all sorts of things to see to here before I can go out.’

He caressed her.

‘You shan’t say that I am unreasonable. In the afternoon, then. And don’t listen to any objections.’

‘No, no.’


It was Friday. All the morning Widdowson had business with house agents and furniture removers, for he would not let a day go by without some practical step towards release from the life he detested. Monica seemed to be equally active in her own department; she was turning out drawers and wardrobes, and making selection of things — on some principle understood by herself. A flush remained upon her cheeks, in marked contrast to the pallor which for a long time had given her an appearance of wasting away. That and her singularly bright eyes endowed her with beauty suggestive of what she might have gained in happy marriage.

They had luncheon at one o’clock, and at a quarter to two Monica started by train for Clapham Junction. It was her purpose to have a short conversation with Virginia, who knew of the trip to Clevedon, and to speak as though she were quite reconciled to the thought of removal; after that, she would pursue her journey so as to reach Bayswater by four o’clock. But Virginia was not at home. Mrs. Conisbee said she had gone out at eleven in the morning, and with the intention of returning by teatime. After a brief hesitation Monica requested the landlady to deliver a message.

‘Please ask her not to come to Herne Hill until she hears from me, as I am not likely to be at home for a day or two.’

This left more time at her disposal than she knew how to employ. She returned to the railway station, and travelled on to Victoria; there, in the corner of a waiting-room, she sat, feverishly impatient, until her watch told her that she might take the next train westward.

A possible danger was before her — though perhaps she need not trouble herself with the thought of such dangers. What if Mr. Barfoot happened to encounter her as she ascended the stairs? But most likely he had no idea that her female friends, who dwelt on the floor above him, were gone away. Did it matter what he might think? In a day or two  —

She came to the street, approached the block of flats, involuntarily casting anxious glances about her. And when she was within twenty yards of the door, it opened, and forth came Barfoot. Her first sensation was unreasoning terror; her next, thankfulness that she had not been a few minutes sooner, when the very meeting she had feared, within the building itself, would have come to pass. He walked this way; he saw her; and the pleasantest smile of recognition lit up his face.

‘Mrs. Widdowson! Not a minute ago you were in my thoughts. I wished I could see you.’

‘I am going — to make a call in this neighbourhood —’

She could not command herself. The shock had left her trembling, and the necessity of feigning calmness was a new trial of her nerves. Barfoot, she felt certain, was reading her face like a printed page; he saw guilt there; his quickly-averted eyes, his peculiar smile, seemed to express the facile tolerance of a man of the world.

‘Allow me to accompany you to the end of the street.’

His words buzzed in her ears. She walked on without conscious effort, like an automaton obedient to a touch.

‘You know that Miss Nunn has gone down into Cumberland?’ Barfoot was saying, his look bent upon her.

‘Yes. I know.’

She tried to glance at him with a smile.

‘To-morrow,’ he pursued, ‘I am going there myself.’

‘To Cumberland?’

‘I shall see her, I hope. Perhaps she will only be angry with me.’

‘Perhaps. But perhaps not.’

Her confusion would not be overcome. She felt a burning in her ears, on her neck. It was an agony of shame. The words she spoke sounded imbecile mutterings, which must confirm Barfoot in his worst opinion of her.

‘If it is all in vain,’ he continued, ‘then I shall say good-bye, and there’s an end.’

‘I hope not — I should think —’

Useless. She set her lips and became mute. If only he would leave her! And almost immediately he did so, with a few words of kind tone. She felt the pressure of his hand, and saw him walk rapidly away; doubtless he knew this was what she desired.

Until he had passed out of sight, Monica kept the same direction. Then she turned round and hurried back, fearful lest the detention might make her late, and Bevis might lose hope of her coming. There could be no one in the building now whom she need fear to meet. She opened the big entrance door and went up.

Bevis must have been waiting for the sound of her light footstep; his door flew open before she could knock. Without speaking, a silent laugh of joy upon his lips, he drew back to make room for her entrance, and then pressed both her hands.

In the sitting-room were beginnings of disorder. Pictures had been taken down from the walls and light ornaments removed.

‘I shan’t sleep here after to-night,’ Bevis began, his agitation scarcely less obvious than Monica’s. ‘To-morrow I shall be packing what is to go with me. How I hate it all!’

Monica dropped into a chair near the door.

‘Oh, not there!’ he exclaimed. ‘Here, where you sat before. We are going to have tea together again.’

His utterances were forced, and the laugh that came between them betrayed the quivering of his nerves.

‘Tell me what you have been doing. I have thought of you day and night.’

He brought a chair close to her, and when he had seated himself he took one of her hands. Monica, scarcely repressing a sob, the result of reaction from her fears and miseries, drew the hand away. But again he took it.

‘There’s the glove on it,’ he said in a shaking voice. ‘What harm in my holding your glove? Don’t think of it, and talk to me. I love music, but no music is like your voice.’

‘You go on Monday?’

It was her lips spoke the sentence, not she.

‘No, on Tuesday — I think.’

‘My — Mr. Widdowson is going to take me away from London.’

‘Away?’

She told him the circumstances. Bevis kept his eyes upon her face, with a look of rapt adoration which turned at length to pain and woeful perplexity.

‘You have been married a year,’ he murmured. ‘Oh, if I had met you before that! What a cruel fate that we should know each other only when there was no hope!’

The man revealed himself in this dolorous sentimentality. His wonted blitheness and facetiousness, his healthy features, his supple, well-built frame, suggested that when love awoke within him he would express it with virile force. But he trembled and blushed like a young girl, and his accents fell at last into a melodious whining.

He raised the gloved fingers to his lips. Monica bent her face away, deadly pale, with closed eyes.

‘Are we to part today, and never again see each other?’ he went on. ‘Say that you love me! Only say that you love me!’

‘You despise me for coming to you like this.’

‘Despise you?’

In a sudden rapture he folded his arms about her.

‘Say that you love me!’

He kissed away the last syllable of her whispered reply.

‘Monica! — what is there before us? How can I leave you?’

Yielding herself for the moment in a faintness that threatened to subdue her, she was yet able, when his caresses grew wild with passion, to put back his arms and move suddenly away. He sprang up, and they stood speechless. Again he drew near.

‘Take me away with you!’ Monica then cried, clasping her hands together. ‘I can’t live with him. Let me go with you to France.’

Bevis’s blue eyes widened with consternation.

‘Dare you — dare you do that?’ he stammered.

‘Dare I? What courage is needed? How dare I remain with a man I hate?’

‘You must leave him. Of course you must leave him.’

‘Oh, before another day has passed!’ sobbed Monica. ‘It is wrong even to go back today. I love you, and in that there is nothing to be ashamed of; but what bitter shame to be living with him, practising hypocrisy. He makes me hate myself as much as I hate him.’

‘Has he behaved brutally to you, dearest?’

‘I have nothing to accuse him of, except that he persuaded me to marry him — made me think that I could love him when I didn’t know what love meant. And now he wishes to get me away from all the people I know because he is jealous of every one. And how can I blame him? Hasn’t he cause for jealousy? I am deceiving him — I have deceived him for a long time, pretending to be a faithful wife when I have often wished that he might die and release me. It is I who am to blame. I ought to have left him. Every woman who thinks of her husband as I do ought to go away from him. It is base and wicked to stay there — pretending — deceiving —’

Bevis came towards her and took her in his arms.

‘You love me?’ she panted under his hot kisses. ‘You will take me away with you?’

‘Yes, you shall come. We mustn’t travel together, but you shall come — when I am settled there —’

‘Why can’t I go with you?’

‘My own darling, think what it would mean if our secret were discovered —’

‘Discovered? But how can we think of that? How can I go back there, with your kisses on my lips? Oh, I must live somewhere in secret until you go, and then — I have put aside the few things that I want to take. I could never have continued to live with him even if you hadn’t said you love me. I was obliged to pretend that I agreed to everything, but I will beg and starve rather than bear that misery any longer. Don’t you love me enough to face whatever may happen?’

‘I love you with all my soul, Monica! Sit down again, dearest; let us talk about it, and see what we can do.’

He half led, half carried, her to a couch, and there, holding her embraced, gave way to such amorous frenzy that again Monica broke from him.

‘If you love me,’ she said in tones of bitter distress, ‘you will respect me as much as before I came to you. Help me — I am suffering so dreadfully. Say at once that I shall go away with you, even if we travel as strangers. If you are afraid of it becoming known I will do everything to prevent it. I will go back and live there until Tuesday, and come away only at the last hour, so that no one will ever suspect where — I don’t care how humbly I live when we are abroad. I can have lodgings somewhere in the same town, or near, and you will come —’

His hair disordered, his eyes wild, quivering throughout with excitement, he stood as if pondering possibilities.

‘Shall I be a burden to you?’ she asked in a faint voice. ‘Is the expense more than you —’

‘No, no, no! How can you think of such a thing? But it would be so much better if you could wait here until I— Oh, what a wretched thing to have to seem so cowardly to you! But the difficulties are so great, darling. I shall be a perfect stranger in Bordeaux. I don’t even speak the language at all well. When I reach there I shall be met at the station by one of our people, and — just think, how could we manage? You know, if it were discovered that I had run away with you, it would damage my position terribly. I can’t say what might happen. My darling, we shall have to be very careful. In a few weeks it might all be managed very easily. I would write to you to some address, and as soon as ever I had made arrangements —’

Monica broke down. The unmanliness of his tone was so dreadful a disillusion. She had expected something so entirely different — swift, virile passion, eagerness even to anticipate her desire of flight, a strength, a courage to which she could abandon herself, body and soul. She broke down utterly, and wept with her hands upon her face.

Bevis, in sympathetic distraction, threw himself on his knees before, clutching at her waist.

‘Don’t, don’t!’ he wailed. ‘I can’t bear that! I will do as you wish, Monica. Tell me some place where I can write to you. Don’t cry, darling — don’t —’

She went to the couch again, and rested her face against the back, sobbing. For a time they exchanged mere incoherences. Then passion seized upon both, and they clung together, mute, motionless.

‘To-morrow I shall leave him,’ whispered Monica, when at length their eyes met. ‘He will be away in the morning, and I can take what I need. Tell me where I shall go to, dear — to wait until you are ready. No one will ever suspect that we have gone together. He knows I am miserable with him; he will believe that I have found some way of supporting myself in London. Where shall I live till Tuesday?’

Bevis scarcely listened to her words. The temptation of the natural man, basely selfish, was strengthening its hold upon him.

‘Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ he replied to her, with thick, agitated utterance.

‘Why should you ask that? How can you doubt it?’

‘If you really love me ——’

His face and tones frightened her.

‘Don’t make me doubt your love! If I have not perfect trust in you what will become of me?’

Yet once more she drew resolutely away from him. He pursued, and held her arms with violence.

‘Oh, I am mistaken in you!’ Monica cried in fear and bitterness. ‘You don’t know what love means, as I feel it. You won’t speak, you won’t think, of our future life together —’

‘I have promised —’

‘Leave loose of me! It’s because I have come here. You think me a worthless woman, without sense of honour, with no self-respect —’

He protested vehemently. The anguished look in her eyes had its effect upon his senses; by degrees it subjugated him, and made him ashamed of his ignoble impulse.

‘Shall I find a lodging for you till Tuesday?’ he asked, after moving away arid returning.

‘Will you?’

‘You are sure you can leave home tomorrow — without being suspected?’

‘Yes, I am sure I can. He is going to the City in the morning. Appoint some place where I can meet you. I will come in a cab, and then you can take me on to the —’

‘But you are forgetting the risks. If you take a cab from Herne Hill, with your luggage, he will be able to find out the driver afterwards, and learn where you went.’

‘Then I will drive only as far as the station, and come to Victoria, and you shall meet me there.’

The necessity of these paltry arrangements filled her soul with shame. On the details of her escape she had hardly reflected. All such considerations were, she deemed, naturally the care of her lover, who would act with promptitude, and so as to spare her a moment’s perplexity. She had imagined everything in readiness within a few hours; on her no responsibility save that of breaking the hated bond. Inevitably she turned to the wretched thought that Bevis regarded her as a burden. Yes, he had already his mother and his sisters to support; she ought to have remembered that.

‘What time would it be?’ he was asking.

Unable to reply, she pursued her reflections. She had money, but how to obtain possession of it? Afterwards, when her flight was accomplished, secrecy, it appeared, would be no less needful than now. That necessity had never occurred to her; declaration of the love that had freed her seemed inevitable — nay, desirable. Her self-respect demanded it; only thus could she justify herself before his sisters and other people who knew her. They, perhaps, would not see it in the light of justification, but that mattered little; her own conscience would approve what she had done. But to steal away, and live henceforth in hiding, like a woman dishonoured even in her own eyes — from that she shrank with repugnance. Rather than that, would it not be preferable to break with her husband, and openly live apart from him, alone?

‘Be honest with me,’ she suddenly exclaimed. ‘Had you rather I didn’t come?’

‘No, no! I can’t live without you —’

‘But, if that is true, why haven’t you the courage to let every one know it? In your heart you must think that we are acting wrongly.’

‘I don’t! I believe, as you do, that love is the only true marriage. Very well!’ He made a desperate gesture. ‘Let us defy all consequences. For your sake —’

His exaggerated vehemence could not deceive Monica.

‘What is it,’ she asked, ‘that you most fear?’

He began to babble protestations, but she would not listen to them.

‘Tell me — I have every right to ask — what you most fear?’

‘I fear nothing if you are with me. Let my relatives say and think what they like. I have made great sacrifices for them; to give up you would be too much.’

Yet his distress was evident. It strained the corners of his mouth, wrinkled his forehead.

‘The disgrace would be more than you could bear. You would never see your mother and your sisters again.’

‘If they are so prejudiced, so unreasonable, I can’t help it. They must —’

He was interrupted by a loud rat-tat at the outer door. Blanched herself, Monica saw that her lover’s face turned to ghastly pallor.

‘Who can that be?’ he whispered hoarsely. ‘I expect no one.’

‘Need you answer?’

‘Can it be-? Have you been followed? Does any one suspect —?’

They stared at each other, still half-paralysed, and stood waiting thus until the knock was repeated impatiently.

‘I daren’t open,’ Bevis whispered, coming close to her, as if on the impulse of seeking protection — for to offer it was assuredly not in his mind. ‘It might be-’

‘No! That’s impossible.’

‘I daren’t go to the door. The risk is too frightful. He will go away, whoever it is, if no one answers.’

Both were shaking in the second stage of terror. Bevis put his arm about Monica, and felt her heart give great throbs against his own. Their passion for the moment was effectually quenched.

‘Listen! That’s the clink of the letter-box. A card or something has been put in. Then it’s all right. I’ll wait a moment.’

He stepped to the door of the room, opened it without sound, and at once heard footsteps descending the stairs. In the look which he cast back at her, a grin rather than a smile, Monica saw something that gave her a pang of shame on his behalf. On going to the letter-box he found a card, with a few words scribbled upon it.

‘Only one of our partners!’ he exclaimed gleefully. ‘Wants to see me to-night. Of course he took it for granted I was out.’

Monica was looking at her watch. Past five o’clock.

‘I think I must go,’ she said timidly.

‘But what are our arrangements? Do you still intend —’

‘Intend? Isn’t it for you to decide?’

There was a coldness in the words of both, partly the result of the great shock they had undergone, in part due to their impatience with each other.

‘Darling — do what I proposed at first. Stay for a few days, until I am settled at Bordeaux.’

‘Stay with my — my husband?’

She used the word purposely, significantly, to see how it would affect him. The bitterness of her growing disillusion allowed her to think and speak as if no ardent feeling were concerned.

‘For both our sakes, dearest, dearest love! A few days longer, until I have written to you, and told you exactly what to do. The journey won’t be very difficult for you; and think how much better, dear Monica, if we can escape discovery, and live for each other without any shame or fear to disturb us. You will be my own dear true wife. I will love and guard you as long as I live.’

He embraced her with placid tenderness, laying his cheek against hers, kissing her hands.

‘We must see each other again,’ he continued. ‘Come on Sunday, will you? And in the meantime find out some place where I could address letters to you. You can always find a stationer’s shop where they will receive letters. Be guided by me, dear little girl. Only a week or two — to save the happiness of our whole lives.’

Monica listened, but with half-attention, her look fixed on the floor. Encouraged by her silence, the lover went on in a strain of heightening enthusiasm, depicting the raptures of their retirement from the world in some suburb of Bordeaux. How this retreat was to escape the notice of his business companions, through whom the scandal might get wind, he did not suggest. The truth was, Bevis found himself in an extremely awkward position, with issues he had not contemplated, and all he cared for was to avert the immediate peril of public discovery. The easy-going, kindly fellow had never considered all the responsibility involved in making mild love — timorously selfish from the first — to a married woman who took his advances with desperate seriousness. He had not in him the stuff of vigorous rascality, still less the only other quality which can support a man in such a situation as this — heroism of moral revolt. So he cut a very poor figure, and was dolefully aware of it. He talked, talked; trying to disguise his feebleness in tinsel phrases; and Monica still kept her eyes cast down.

When another half-hour had passed, she sighed deeply and rose from her seat. She would write to him, she said, and let him know where a reply would reach her. No, she must not come here again; all he had to tell her would be communicated by letter. The subdued tone, the simple sadness of her words, distressed Bevis, and yet he secretly congratulated himself. He had done nothing for which this woman could justly reproach him; marvellous — so he considered — had been his self-restraint; absolutely, he had behaved ‘like a gentleman.’ To be sure, he was miserably in love, and, if circumstances by any means allowed of it, would send for Monica to join him in France. Should the thing prove impossible, he had nothing whatever on his conscience.

He held out his arms to her. Monica shook her head and looked away.

‘Say once more that you love me, darling,’ he pleaded. ‘I shall not rest for an hour until I am able to write and say, “Come to me.”’

She permitted him to hold her once more in his soft embrace.

‘Kiss me, Monica!’

She put her lips to his cheek, and withdrew them, still shunning his look.

‘Oh, not that kind of kiss. Like you kissed me before.’

‘I can’t,’ she replied, with choking voice, the tears again starting forth.

‘But what have I done that you should love me less, dearest?’

He kissed the falling drops, murmuring assurances, encouragements.

‘You shan’t leave me until I have heard you say that your love is unchanged. Whisper it to me, sweetest!’

‘When we meet again — not now.’

‘You frighten me. Monica, we are not saying good-bye for ever?’

‘If you send for me I will come.’

‘You promise faithfully? You will come?’

‘If you send for me I will come.’

That was her last word. He opened the door for her, and listened as she departed.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 22:20