He suddenly recollected Nona’s letter. He took it from his pocket and opened it; and the second event was discharged upon him.
She wrote from their town house:
“Marko, take me away—Nona.”
His emotions leapt to her with most terrible violence. He felt his heart leap against his breast as though, engine of his tumult, it would burst its bonds and to her. He struck his hand upon the desk. He said aloud, “Yes! Yes!” He remembered his words, “If ever you feel you can’t bear it, tell me.—Tell me.”
He began to write plans to her. He would come to London to-morrow.... She should come to the station if she could; if not, he would be at the Great Western Hotel. She would telephone to him there and they could arrange to meet and discuss what they should do.... He would like to go away with her directly they met, but there were certain things to see to. He wrote, “But I can only take you—”
His pen stopped. Familiar words! He repeated them to himself, and their conclusion and their circumstance appeared and stood, as with a sword, across the passage of his thoughts. “But I can only lead you downwards. I cannot lead you upwards ...”
As with a sword—
He sat back in his chair and gazed upon this armed intruder to give it battle.
The morning passed and the afternoon while still he sat, no more moving than to sink lower in his seat as the battle joined and as he most dreadfully suffered in its most dreadful onsets. Towards five o’clock he put out his hand without moving his position and drew towards him the letter he had begun. The action was as that of one utterly undone. He very slowly tore it across, and then across again, and so into tiniest fragments till his fingers could no more fasten upon them. He dropped his arm away and opened his hand, and the white pieces fluttered in a little cloud to the floor.
Presently he drew himself up to the table and began to write, writing very slowly because his hand trembled so. In half an hour he blotted the few lines on the last sheet:
“...So, simply what I want to do is to let our step—if we take it—be mine, not yours. We shall forget absolutely that you ever wrote. It’s as though it had never been written. On Tuesday I will write and ask you, ‘Shall I come up to you?’ So if you say ‘Yes’ the action will have been entirely mine. It will start from there. This hasn’t happened. And during these days in between, just think like anything over what I’ve said. Honour can’t have any degree, Nona, any more than truth can have any degree: whatever else the world can quibble to bits it can’t partition those: truth is just truth and honour is just honour. And a marriage vow is a pledge of honour like any other pledge of honour, and if one breaks it one breaks one’s honour, never mind what the excuse is. There’s no conceivable way of arguing out of that. That’s what I shall ask you to do on Tuesday and I’m just warning you so you shall have time to think beforehand.”