‘Six months!’ he gasped.
‘Well, surely you don’t want to outrage everybody,’ she said, pouting.
At first he was outraged himself. What! She who had been ready to flutter the world with a fantastic dance was now measuring her footsteps. But on reflection he saw that Mrs. Glamorys was right once more. Since Providence had been good enough to rescue them, why should they fly in its face? A little patience, and a blameless happiness lay before them. Let him not blind himself to the immense relief he really felt at being spared social obloquy. After all, a poet could be unconventional in his work—he had no need of the practical outlet demanded for the less gifted.
They scarcely met at all during the next six months—it had, naturally, in this grateful reaction against their recklessness, become a sacred period, even more charged with tremulous emotion than the engagement periods of those who have not so nearly scorched themselves. Even in her presence he found a certain pleasure in combining distant adoration with the confident expectation of proximity, and thus she was restored to the sanctity which she had risked by her former easiness. And so all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
When the six months had gone by, he came to claim her hand. She was quite astonished. ‘You promised to marry me at the end of six months,’ he reminded her.
‘Surely it isn’t six months already,’ she said.
He referred her to the calendar, recalled the date of her husband’s death.
‘You are strangely literal for a poet,’ she said. ’Of course I said six months, but six months doesn’t mean twenty-six weeks by the clock. All I meant was that a decent period must intervene. But even to myself it seems only yesterday that poor Harold was walking beside me in the Kurhaus Park.’ She burst into tears, and in the face of them he could not pursue the argument.
Gradually, after several interviews and letters, it was agreed that they should wait another six months.
‘She is right,’ he reflected again. ’We have waited so long, we may as well wait a little longer and leave malice no handle.’
The second six months seemed to him much longer than the first. The charm of respectful adoration had lost its novelty, and once again his breast was racked by fitful fevers which could scarcely calm themselves even by conversion into sonnets. The one point of repose was that shining fixed star of marriage. Still smarting under Winifred’s reproach of his unpoetic literality, he did not intend to force her to marry him exactly at the end of the twelve-month. But he was determined that she should have no later than this exact date for at least ‘naming the day’. Not the most punctilious stickler for convention, he felt, could deny that Mrs. Grundy’s claim had been paid to the last minute.