“I write for money.”
“And there—I would say of another—you subject yourself to the risk of mental degradation. Who knows?—moral! Trafficking the brains for money must bring them to the level of the purchasers in time. I confiscate your pen, Laetitia.”
“It will be to confiscate your own gift, Sir Willoughby.”
“Then that proves—will you tell me the date?”
“You sent me a gold pen-holder on my sixteenth birthday.”
“It proves my utter thoughtlessness then, and later. And later!”
He rested an elbow on his knee, and covered his eyes, murmuring in that profound hollow which is haunted by the voice of a contrite past: “And later!”
The deed could be done. He had come to the conclusion that it could be done, though the effort to harmonize the figure sitting near him, with the artistic figure of his purest pigments, had cost him labour and a blinking of the eyelids. That also could be done. Her pleasant tone, sensible talk, and the light favouring her complexion, helped him in his effort. She was a sober cup; sober and wholesome. Deliriousness is for adolescence. The men who seek intoxicating cups are men who invite their fates.
Curiously, yet as positively as things can be affirmed, the husband of this woman would be able to boast of her virtues and treasures abroad, as he could not—impossible to say why not—boast of a beautiful wife or a blue-stocking wife. One of her merits as a wife would be this extraordinary neutral merit of a character that demanded colour from the marital hand, and would take it.
Laetitia had not to learn that he had much to distress him. Her wonder at his exposure of his grief counteracted a fluttering of vague alarm. She was nervous; she sat in expectation of some burst of regrets or of passion.
“I may hope that you have pardoned Crossjay?” she said.
“My friend,” said he, uncovering his face, “I am governed by principles. Convince me of an error, I shall not obstinately pursue a premeditated course. But you know me. Men who have not principles to rule their conduct are—well, they are unworthy of a half hour of companionship with you. I will speak to you to-night. I have letters to dispatch. To-night: at twelve: in the room where we spoke last. Or await me in the drawing-room. I have to attend to my guests till late.”
He bowed; he was in a hurry to go.
The deed could be done. It must be done; it was his destiny.
IN THE HEART OF THE EGOIST