“Yes, Morri, but Henry is not—like that. How must I satisfy him?”
Moravia lay back in her chair and discoursed meditatively.
“It is only the very noblest natures in men that women can be perfectly frank with, and as good and kind and tender as they feel they would like to be. Lord Fordyce is one of these. You could load him with devotion and love, and he would never take advantage of you; but just to satisfy him, Sabine, you need only be you, I expect!” and she looked fondly at her friend. “Though, darling, I tell you, if you were too nice to him, even he might turn upon you some day, probably. No woman can afford to be really devoted to a man; they can’t help being mean, and immediately thinking the poor thing is of less consequence to please than some capricious cat they cannot obtain!”
Sabine nodded, and Moravia went on: “But you need not fear! Henry will adore you always—because you really don’t care!” and she sighed a little bitterly at the contrariness of things.
“It is good not to care, then?”
“Yes, I think so; for happiness in a home, the woman ought always to love a little the less.”
“Well, we shall be very happy, then,” and Sabine echoed Moravia’s sigh, but much more bitterly.
“You will be good to him, dearest?” Moravia asked rather anxiously. “He is the grandest character I have ever met in my life.”
“Yes, I will be good to him.”
“Just think!” Moravia, who had domestic instincts, now went on, in spite of the personal anguish she was feeling about her own love for Henry. “You may have the happiness soon of being the mother of a lovely little son like Girolamo!” and she gave a great sigh as she looked into the fire.
Sabine stiffened all over, and an expression of horrified repugnance and dismay grew in her face, and she drew her breath in with a little gasp. She had not faced this thought before, and she could not bear it now, and got up quickly, saying she must go off and dress or she would be late for dinner.
Moravia looked after her, full of wonder and foreboding for Henry. What happiness could he expect if the woman he adored felt like that!
Christmas Eve was particularly frosty and bright. The sun poured through Sabine’s windows high up when she woke, but her heart was heavy as lead. She had not had a single word alone with Henry the night before, and knew the dreaded tete-a-tete must come. She did not set herself to tell him who her husband was on this particular morning—about that she must be guided by events—but she could not make barriers between them, and must allow him to come to her sitting-room. He did, about half-past ten o’clock, his face full of radiance and love. She had always steadfastly refused to take any presents from him, but he had had the most beautiful flowers sent from Paris for her, and they had just arrived. She was taking them out of their box herself. This made a pretext for her to express delighted thanks, and for a little she played her part so well that all Henry’s doubts were set at rest, and he told himself that he had been imaginative and foolish to think that anything was changed in her.