Lillie, who never told even a conventional falsehood, who watched over her children like an old-fashioned mother, careful of what they read and what plays they saw, how could she have carried on, unknown to you and to them, an intrigue with another man? Impossible, impossible, dear Professor! I do not say that your ears played you false as to the words she spoke, but you must have put a wrong interpretation upon them.
Not once, but thousands of times, Lillie has spoken to me about you. She loved and honoured you. You were her ideal as man, husband, and father. She was proud of you. Having no personal vanity or ambition, like so many good women, her pride and hopes were all centred in you.
She used literally to become eloquent on the subject of your operations; and I need hardly remind you how carefully she followed your work. She studied Latin in order to understand your scientific books, while, in spite of her natural repulsion from the sight of such things, she attended your anatomy classes and demonstrations.
When Lillie said, “I love Schlegel, and have loved him for years,” her words did not mean “And all that time my love for you was extinct.”
No, Lillie cared for Schlegel and for you too. The whole question is so simple, and at the same time so complicated.
Probably you are saying to yourself: “A woman must love one man or the other.” With some show of reason, you will argue: “In leaving my house, at any rate, she proved at the moment that Schlegel alone claimed her affection.”
Nevertheless I maintain that you are wrong.
Lillie showed every sign of a sane, well-balanced nature. Well, her famous equability and calm deceived us all. Behind this serene exterior was concealed the most feminine of all feminine qualities—a fanciful, visionary imagination.
Do you or I know anything about her first girlish dreams? Have you—in spite of your happy life together—ever really understood her innermost soul? Forgive my doubts, but I do not think you have. When a man possesses a woman as completely as you possessed Lillie, he thinks himself quite safe. You never knew a moment’s doubt, or supposed it possible that, having you, she could wish for anything else. You believed that you fulfilled all her requirements.
How do you know that for years past Lillie has not felt some longings and deficiencies in her inner life of which she was barely conscious, or which she did not understand?
You are not only a clever and capable man; you are kind, and an entertaining companion; in short, you have many good qualities which Lillie exalted to the skies. But your nature is not very poetical. You are, in fact, rather prosaic, and only believe what you see. Your judgments and views are not hasty, but just and decisive.
Now contrast all this with Lillie’s immense indulgence. Whence did she derive this if not from a sympathetic understanding of things which we do not possess? You remember how we used to laugh when she defended some criminal who was quite beyond defence and apology! Something intense and far-seeking came into her expression on those occasions, and her heart prompted some line of argument which reason could not support.