Meanwhile, by H. G. Wells

§ 23

In the evening when his account of Sempack at home was well on its way to his wife, Philip sat down and reflected upon what he had written to her. He tried to recall the exact wording of certain passages. He had written with a certain excitement and hurry. How would it affect her? He imagined her receiving it and reading it.

He pictured her as he had sometimes seen her reading books, very intent, turning the pages slowly, judging, pausing to think with a peculiar characteristic stillness. Her eyes would be hidden; you would just see the lashes on her cheek. So he remembered her reading in their garden. How clear and lucid was her mind, like a pool of crystalline water. He thought about the life he had led with her so far and the life they were going to lead together. He thought of the way in which all his interests and purposes had been turned about through her unpremeditated reaction upon his mind. He thought of the way in which fragility and courage interwove to make her at the same time delicate and powerful. So that for all that she was to him the frailest, most fastidious and inaggressive of women, she was plainly and surely his salvation. A wave of gratitude swept over his mind, gratitude for certain exquisite traits, for the marvellous softness of her hair, for her smile, for her fine hands and her characteristic movements, for moments of tenderness, for moments when he had seen her happy unawares and had rejoiced that she existed.

And as he thought of the steady, grave determination with which she must have set about this Vinciguerra business, of the touch of invincible humour that he knew must have mitigated her fear and steadied her mind, it was borne in upon him that never in their life, never for one moment, had he shown her the value he set upon her and given his love full expression. This letter he had so recently sent her was, he discovered abruptly, a shocking letter, altogether the wrong sort of letter to send at this time, full of his soul and his needs and his own egotistical purposes and taking no heed of how things might present themselves to her.

Was this the time to talk of leaving Casa Terragena and fighting all the powers of confusion in the world? Was this the time to foreshadow a harder life in England? To wave flags of revolution in her sick-room and blow bugle calls in her ear? She would be ailing, she would be a little faint and fearful, and she would be needing all her strength to face this initial tearing crisis of motherhood that was now so close upon her. And nothing from him but this clamour for support! She helped him; yes; and he took it as a matter of course. Now for the first time he perceived how little he had ever troubled to help her. That letter had gone, gone beyond recall, a day’s start it would have and no telegram could correct a matter of tone and attitude, but he could at least send another after it to mitigate its hard preoccupation with the future, its hard disregard of any possible softening and fear in her. A love letter, it would have to be, a rich and tender love letter. Not mere “rubbidge” and caressing fun, but a frank and heartening confession of the divinity — for it was divinity — he found in her. Why do we lovers never tell these things? The real things? He began to search his mind for words and phrases to express his gathering emotion, but these words and phrases were difficult to find.

He sat down at his table and even as he pulled the writing paper towards him a telegram came, a telegram from Mrs. McManus.

A telegram so urgent it was, that he never wrote that letter. His intentions remained phantoms but half embodied in words which still flitted in his mind during most of his headlong journey to Italy. Latterly he had been finding far less difficulty in writing than at first; the necessity to affect whimsicality and defend his poor phrasing with funny sketches had disappeared, but now that it came to conveying the subtle and fluctuating motives of his heart, simply and sincerely, no words, no phrases contented him. Shadow and reflection and atmosphere, impossible to convey. Phrases that seemed at the first glance to say exactly what he needed became portentous, excessive, unreal, directly they were definitely written down. For this business, “rubbidge,” the little language, peeping intimations and snatches of doggerel, seemed better adapted than the most earnestly chosen sentences. And still insufficient. He was pervaded by the idea that all his difference of spirit from the common Rylands strain was a gift from her. “Wife of my heart and Mother of my Soul,” flitting into his thoughts like an inspiration, passed muster, and sat down and in two minutes had become preposterous. “You are my Salvation” became a monstrous egotism, when one thought of it as written on paper. But indeed she was his salvation, she was the light of his life, for him she was not only the dearest but the best of all things. Was he never to tell her these intense and primary facts?

“My life hangs on yours. My soul dies with yours. . . . We Rylands are things of metal and drive, unless a soul is given us. . . . With you I can be a living man. . . . It’s Undine but the other way about. . . . ”

It was profoundly true but it would read like rant.

“The world is a thing of cold fat, opaque and stupid, without your touch. You make it like a hand held up to a bright light; one sees it then as nerve and blood and life. . . . ”

Would he never be able to tell her of such things as this? Never say more than “Cinna-kins” and “pet wife” to this firm and delicate spirit that could lead his by the hand? No better than dumb beasts we are, all of us who love, using just “dear” or “darling” as a dog must yap to express ten thousand different things! “The fireflies must be back at Terragena?” he wrote in this imagined letter, with an impotent poetic desire to liken her quick vivid thoughts, her swift deliberations, to those flashes in the darkness, in their brightness and their constant surprise. . . .

He was still thinking of that unwritten letter as he came through the little sitting-room at Casa Terragena to where she lay white and still, and looking now smaller than she had ever looked before. The weary little body curled up in that big bed reminded him grotesquely of a toy dog. A thing for infinite tenderness; “Wife, dear wife and Mother of my Soul!” Why had he never told her that?

“I was just going to write to her,” he whispered to Mrs. McManus. “I was just going to write to her. A real letter. I was sitting down to write. That last one — wasn’t much good. And then your message came.”

That last one was there on the toilet table. He saw it as he came in to her. That stupid heavy letter!

He threw himself down on his knees by the bed and very gently put his arm over that fragile body. “My darling!” he whispered. She had not seemed to know that he had come, but now very lazily one eye opened, searched its field of vision and regarded him with an inexpressive stare.

“Cinna dear! speak to me.”

“Dju finka vim?” she murmured, dropping the aspirate from sheer inability to carry it. The eye closed again. Still so heavy with anæsthetics.

“That’s all right,” said Mrs. McManus with an experienced hand on the young master’s shoulder. “Now let her have her sleep out and then ye can call her darling to your heart’s content. Aren’t you in the least bit curious to see what sort of first-born son she’s given you? A fine fine boy it is and sparring at the world already with his little fists. There! D’you hear him?”

“And she is out of the least bit of danger?” he insisted, regardless of the Rylands’ future.

“Just healthy fatigue. . . . After all, it’s a thing a woman is made for.”

The End

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