She looked at him, and a dreamlike state began to come over her. She simply couldn’t believe in the state of mind of those sick-room days; she could never really, she thought, have been less passionately admiring than she was at that minute, yet the half-recollection confused her and kept her silent.
“Perhaps it’s vanity on my part,” he said, “but contempt like yours is something I could never forgive.”
“You would forgive me anything if you loved me.” Her tone was noble and sincere.
“You mean you don’t?”
“Adelaide, there are times when a person chooses between loving and being loved.”
The sentence made her feel sick with fear, but she asked:
“Tell me just what you mean.”
“Perhaps I could keep on loving you if I shut my eyes to the kind of person you are; but if I did that, I could not hold you an instant.”
She stared at him as fascinated as a bird by a snake. This, it seemed to her, was the truth, the final summing up of their relation. She had lost him, and yet she was eternally his.
As she looked at him she became aware that he was growing slowly pale. He was standing, and he put his hand out to the mantelpiece to steady himself. She thought he was going to faint.
“Vincent,” she said, “let me help you to the sofa.”
She wanted now to see him falter, to feel his hand on her shoulder, anything for a closer touch with him. For half a minute, perhaps, they remained motionless, and then the color began to come back into his face.
He smiled bitterly.
“They tell me you are such a good sick nurse, Mrs. Farron,” he said, “so considerate to the weak. But I don’t need your help, thank you.”
She covered her face with her hands. He seemed to her stronger and more cruel than anything she had imagined. In a minute he left her alone.
Farron cared, perhaps, no more for appearances than Adelaide did, but his habitual manner was much better adapted to concealment. In him the fluctuations between the deepest depression and the highest elation were accompanied by such slight variations of look and tone that they escaped almost every one but Adelaide herself. He came down to dinner that evening, and while Adelaide sat in silence, with her elbows on the table and her long fingers clasping and unclasping themselves in a sort of rhythmic desperation, conversation went on pleasantly enough between Mathilde and Vincent. This was facilitated by the fact that Mathilde had now transferred to Vincent the flattering affection which she used to give to her grandfather. She agreed with, wondered at, and drank in every word.
Naturally, Mathilde attributed her mother’s distress to the crisis in her own love-affairs. She had had no word with her as to Wayne’s new position, and it came to her in a flash that it would be daring, but wise, to take the matter up in the presence of her stepfather. So, as soon as they were in the drawing-room, and Farron had opened the evening paper, and his wife, with a wild decision, had opened a book, Mathilde ruthlessly interrupted them both, recalling them from what appeared to be the depths of absorptions in their respective pages by saying: