But towards the end of the week, my husband’s lawyer arrived in London, and after that the conversations became more pacific.
One morning, as I sat writing a letter in the adjoining room, I heard laughter, the popping of corks, the jingling of glasses, and the drinking of healths, and I judged that the, difficult and disagreeable business had been concluded.
At the close of the interview I heard the door opened and my husband going into the outer corridor to see his visitors to the lift, and then something prompted me—God alone knows what—to step into the room they had just vacated.
It was thick with tobacco smoke. An empty bottle of champagne (with three empty wine glasses) was on the table, and on a desk by the window were various papers, including a sheet of foolscap which bore a seal and several signatures, and a thick packet of old letters bound together with a piece of purple ribbon.
Hardly had I had time to recognise these documents when my husband returned to the room, and by the dark expression of his face I saw instantly that he thought I had looked at them.
“No matter!” he said, without any preamble. “I might as well tell you at once and have done with it.”
He told me. The letters were his. They had been written to a woman whom he had promised to marry, and he had had to buy them back from her. Although for three years he had spent a fortune on the creature she had shown him no mercy. Through her solicitor, who was a scoundrel, she had threatened him, saying in plain words that if he married anybody else she would take proceedings against him immediately. That was why, in spite of the storm, we had to come up to London on the day after our wedding.
“Now you know,” said my husband. “Look here” (holding out the sheet of foolscap), “five thousand pounds—that’s the price I’ve had to pay for marrying.”
I can give no idea of the proud imperiousness and the impression of injury with which my husband told his brutal story. But neither can I convey a sense of the crushing shame with which I listened to it. There was not a hint of any consciousness on his part of my side of the case. Not a suggestion of the clear fact that the woman he had promised to marry had been paid off by money which had come through me. Not a thought of the humiliation he had imposed upon his wife in dragging her up to London at the demand of his cast-off mistress.
When my husband had finished speaking I could not utter a word. I was afraid that my voice would betray the anger that was boiling in me. But I was also degraded to the very dust in my own eyes, and to prevent an outburst of hysterical tears I ran back to my room and hid my face in my pillow.
What was the good of trying to make myself in love with a man who was separated from me by a moral chasm that could never be passed? What was the good? What was the good?