He saw none of the anomaly of his position. Miriam was his old friend, lover, and she belonged to Bestwood and home and his youth. Clara was a newer friend, and she belonged to Nottingham, to life, to the world. It seemed to him quite plain.
Mrs. Dawes and he had many periods of coolness, when they saw little of each other; but they always came together again.
“Were you horrid with Baxter Dawes?” he asked her. It was a thing that seemed to trouble him.
“In what way?”
“Oh, I don’t know. But weren’t you horrid with him? Didn’t you do something that knocked him to pieces?”
“Making him feel as if he were nothing—I know,” Paul declared.
“You are so clever, my friend,” she said coolly.
The conversation broke off there. But it made her cool with him for some time.
She very rarely saw Miriam now. The friendship between the two women was not broken off, but considerably weakened.
“Will you come in to the concert on Sunday afternoon?” Clara asked him just after Christmas.
“I promised to go up to Willey Farm,” he replied.
“Oh, very well.”
“You don’t mind, do you?” he asked.
“Why should I?” she answered.
Which almost annoyed him.
“You know,” he said, “Miriam and I have been a lot to each other ever since I was sixteen—that’s seven years now.”
“It’s a long time,” Clara replied.
“Yes; but somehow she—it doesn’t go right—”
“How?” asked Clara.
“She seems to draw me and draw me, and she wouldn’t leave a single hair of me free to fall out and blow away—she’d keep it.”
“But you like to be kept.”
“No,” he said, “I don’t. I wish it could be normal, give and take—like me and you. I want a woman to keep me, but not in her pocket.”
“But if you love her, it couldn’t be normal, like me and you.”
“Yes; I should love her better then. She sort of wants me so much that I can’t give myself.”
“Wants you how?”
“Wants the soul out of my body. I can’t help shrinking back from her.”
“And yet you love her!”
“No, I don’t love her. I never even kiss her.”
“Why not?” Clara asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I suppose you’re afraid,” she said.
“I’m not. Something in me shrinks from her like hell—she’s so good, when I’m not good.”
“How do you know what she is?”
“I do! I know she wants a sort of soul union.”
“But how do you know what she wants?”
“I’ve been with her for seven years.”
“And you haven’t found out the very first thing about her.”
“That she doesn’t want any of your soul communion. That’s your own imagination. She wants you.”
He pondered over this. Perhaps he was wrong.