My darling was right. For a long hour after leaving Blackwater I continued to stand on the captain’s bridge, looking back at the lighted windows of the house above Port Raa, and asking myself the question which for sixteen months thereafter was to haunt me day and night—Why had I left her behind me?
In spite of all her importunities, all her sweet unselfish thought of my own aims and interests, all her confidence in herself, all her brave determination to share responsibility for whatever the future might have in store for us—Why had I left her behind me?
The woman God gave me was mine—why had I left her in the house of a man who, notwithstanding his infidelities and brutalities, had a right in the eyes of the law, the church, and the world to call her his wife and to treat her accordingly?
Let me make no pretence of a penitence I did not feel. Never for one moment did I reproach myself for what had happened. Never for the shadow of a moment did I reproach her. She had given herself to me of her queenly right and sovereign grace as every good woman in the world must give herself to the man she loves if their union is to be pure and true.
But why did I not see then, as I see now, that it is the law of Nature—the cruel and at the same time the glorious law of Nature—that the woman shall bear the burden, the woman shall pay the price?
It is over now, and though many a time since my sweet girl has said out of her stainless heart that everything has worked out for the best, and suffering is God’s salt for keeping our souls alive, when I think of what she went through for me, while I was out of all reach and sight, I know I shall never forgive myself for leaving her behind—never, never never.
[END OF MARTIN CONRAD’S MEMORANDUM]
As this will be the last time I shall have to speak of my husband’s guests, I wish to repeat that I am trying to describe them without malice exactly as they were—selfish, cruel, ill-mannered, and insincere.
The dinner-bell rang while I was dressing, and on going downstairs a few minutes afterwards I found that there had been no attempt to wait for me.
Already the whole party were assembled at the table, my husband being at the foot of it, and Alma (incredible as it may seem) in the place of the hostess at the head.
This in my altered mood, was more than I could bear, so, while the company made some attempt to welcome me with rather crude salutations, and old Mrs. Lier cried, “Come along here, my pore dear, and tell me how you’ve gotten on while we’ve been away” (indicating an empty seat by her side), I walked boldly up to Alma, put my hand on the back of her chair and said, “If you please.”
Alma looked surprised. But after a moment she carried off the difficult situation by taking the seat which had been reserved for me beside her mother, by congratulating me on my improved appearance and herself on relief from the necessity of filling my place and discharging my responsible duties.