The door porter entered in the venerable presence of the summoned Parker, much agitated.
Sabre began, “If you can’t see what I said about the Disestablishment Bill—”
“I did not see; I do not see; I cannot see and I shall not see. I—”
Sabre moved towards his door. “Well, I’d better be attending to my work. If anything I’ve said annoyed you, it certainly was not intended to.”
And there followed him into his room, “Pumice stone! Pumice stone! Pumice stone! Go to the chemist’s and get some pumice stone.... Very well then, sir, don’t stand there staring at me, sir!”
Like living in two empty houses: empty this end; empty that end. More frequently, for these estrangements, appealed to him the places of his refuge: the room of his mind, that private chamber wherein, retired, he assembled the parts of his puzzles; that familiar garment in which, invested, he sat among the fraternity of his thoughts; the evenings with Young Perch and old Mrs. Perch; the evenings with Mr. Fargus.
Most strongly of all called another refuge; and this, because it called so strongly, he kept locked. Nona.
They met no more frequently than, prior to her two years’ absence, they had been wont to meet in the ordinary course of neighbourly life; and their lives, by their situations, were much detached. Northrepps was only visited, never resided at for many months together.
His resolution was not to force encounters. Once, very shortly after that day of her disclosure, he had said to her, “Look here, we’re not going to have any arranged meetings, Nona. I’m not strong enough—not strong enough to resist. I couldn’t bear it.”
She answered, “You’re too strong, Marko. You’re too strong to do what you think you ought not to do; it isn’t not being strong enough.”
He told her she was very wrong. “That’s giving me strength of character. I haven’t any strength of character at all. That’s been my failing all my life. I tell you what I’ve got instead. I’ve got the most frightfully, the most infernally vivid sense of what’s right in my own personal conduct. Lots of people haven’t. I envy them. They can do what they like. But I know what I ought to do. I know it so absolutely that there’s no excuse for me when I don’t do it, certainly no credit if I do. I go in with my eyes open or I stay out merely because my eyes are open. There’s nothing in that. If it’s anything it’s contemptible.”