Barry came down for week-ends. He and Gerda had declared their affections towards one another even at the Looe infirmary, where Gerda had been conveyed from the scene of accident. It had been no moment then for anything more definite than statements of reciprocal emotion, which are always cheering in sickness. But when Gerda was better, well enough, in fact, to lie in the Windover conservatory, Barry came down from town and said, “When shall we get married?”
Then Gerda, who had had as yet no time or mind-energy to reflect on the probable, or rather certain, width of the gulf between the sociological theories of herself and Barry, opened her blue eyes wide and said “Married?”
“Well, isn’t that the idea? You can’t jilt me now, you know; matters have gone too far.”
“But, Barry, I thought you knew. I don’t hold with marriage.”
Barry threw back his head and laughed, because she looked so innocent and so serious and young as she lay there among the pears and bandages.
“All right, darling. You’ve not needed to hold with it up till now. But now you’d better catch on to it as quickly as you can, and hold it tight, because it’s what’s going to happen.”
Gerda moved her bandaged head in denial.
“Oh, no, Barry. I can’t.... I thought you knew. Haven’t we ever talked about marriage before?”
“Oh, probably. Yes, I think I’ve heard you and Kay both on the subject. You don’t hold with legal ties in what should be purely a matter of emotional impulse, I know. But crowds of people talk like that and then get married. I’ve no doubt Kay will too, when his time comes.”
“Kay won’t. He thinks marriage quite wrong. And so do I.”
Barry, who had stopped laughing, settled himself to talk it out.
“Why wrong, Gerda? Superfluous, if you like; irrelevant, if you like; but why wrong?”
“Because it’s a fetter on what shouldn’t be fettered. Love might stop. Then it would be ugly.”
“Oh very. One has to take that risk, like other risks. And love is really more likely to stop, as I see it, if there’s no contract in the eyes of the world, if the two people know each can walk away from the other, and is expected to, directly they quarrel or feel a little bored. The contract, the legalisation—absurd and irrelevant as all legal things are to anything that matters—the contract, because we’re such tradition-bound creatures, does give a sort of illusion of inevitability, which is settling, so that it doesn’t occur to the people to fly apart at the first strain. They go through with it instead, and in nine cases out of ten come out on the other side. In the tenth case they just have either to make the best of it or to make a break.... Of course people always can throw up the sponge, even married people, if things are insupportable. The door isn’t locked. But there’s no point, I think, in having it swinging wide open.”