He tried to laugh that guilty feeling out of existence. But he couldn’t. He knew too well whence it sprang. He knew whom he was stealing that hour from. It wasn’t the world in general he intrenched himself against. It was his wife. The real purpose of that sixty minutes was to enable him to stop thinking and feeling about her.
It was not that she had faded for him—become less the poignant, vivid, irresistible thing he had first fallen in love with. Rather the contrary. The simple rapture of desire that had characterized the period of their engagement and the first months of their marriage, had lost something—not so much, either—of its tension. But it had broadened—deepened into something more compelling, more pervasive—more, in his present mood, formidable.
She hadn’t seemed quite well, lately, nor altogether happy, and he had not been able to find out why. He had attributed it at first to the shock occasioned by her mother’s illness and her departure with Portia to California, but this explanation seemed not to cover the ground. Why couldn’t she have talked freely with him about that? Inquiries about her health, attempts—clumsily executed, no doubt—to treat her with special tenderness and guard her against overexertion, only irritated her, drove her to the very edge of her self-control—or over it. She was all right, she always said. He couldn’t force confidences from her of course. But her pale face and eyes wide with a trouble in them he could not fathom stirred something deeper in him than the former glow and glory had ever reached.
And there was a new thing that gripped him in a positively terrifying way—a realization of his importance to her. The after-effect of her invasion of his office the night of the Randolphs’ dinner and of his learning of the tremulous interest with which she had afterward followed the case he was then working on, had been very different from his first irritation and his first amusement.
He had discovered, too, one day—a fortnight or so ago, in the course of a rummage after some article he had mislaid, a heap of law-books that weren’t his. He had guessed the explanation of them, but had said nothing to Rose about it—had found it curiously impossible to say anything. If only she had taken up something of her own! It seemed as essentially a law of her being to attempt to absorb herself in him, as it was a law of his to resist that absorption of himself in her.
But resistance was difficult. The tendency was, after his perfectly solid, recognizable duties had been given their places in the cubic content of his day, that Rose should fill up the rest. It was as if you had a bucket half full of irregularly shaped stones and filled it up with water. And yet there was a man in him who was neither the hard-working, successful advocate, nor Rose’s husband—a man whose existence Rose didn’t seem to suspect. (Was there then in her no woman that corresponded to him?) That man had to fight now for a chance to breathe.