He’d have said, if he’d set about formulating an explanation, that he bought the house as a result of eliminating the alternatives to buying it. Florence meant to sell it to somebody, and if he didn’t buy it, he’d have to move out. Rather disingenuously, he represented to himself that his dislike of moving out sprang from the trouble that would be involved in finding some other place to live in, furnishing it, reorganizing his establishment. Really, he hadn’t time for that. Frederica would have done it for him in a minute, but he ignored that possibility.
Down underneath these shallow practical considerations, lay the fact that such a reorganization would have been a tacit acknowledgment of defeat; not only an acknowledgment to the world, which he’d have liked to pretend didn’t matter much, but an acknowledgment of defeat to himself. What he had been trying to do ever since his return from that maddening talk with Rose in Dubuque, had been just to sit tight; to go on living a day at a time; to take the future in as small doses as he could manage.
Had he been the sort of person who finds comfort in mottoes, he’d have laid in a stock, such as, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”; “Holdfast is the only dog”; “Don’t cross your bridges until you come to them.” As the period between the night of his discovery of Rose on the Globe stage and the day of his return from Dubuque receded, and as the fierceness of the pain of it died away again (because such pains do die away. They can’t keep screwed up into an ecstasy of torment forever) the part he’d played in the events of it, seemed to him less and less worthy of the sort of man he’d always considered himself to be; a self-controlled, self-disciplined adult. He’d acted for a while there, with the savage egotism of a distracted boy; thrown his dignity to the winds; made a holy show of himself. Well, that period was over at all events. Whatever the future might confront him with, he could promise himself, he thought, to keep his head.
But for a while, he didn’t want to be confronted with anything, let alone to start anything; not until he could get his breath; not until he had time to think everything out; discover, if possible, where the whole miserable trouble had begun. He’d go back to the beginning, sometime, and try to work it all out. It went, probably, a long way back of the night when that hasty speech of his about not jeopardizing the children’s lives to gratify his wife’s whims had set the match to her resolution to leave him and the babies and live a life for herself.
But, though he told himself every day that he must begin ordering his old memories, analyzing them, in search of the clue, he didn’t begin the process. Spiritually, he just held himself rigidly still. He might have compared himself to a man standing off a pack of wolves, knowing that his slightest move would precipitate a rush upon him. Or, perhaps more nearly, to a man just recovering consciousness after an accident, afraid to stir lest the smallest movement might reveal more serious injuries than he suspected.