Mr. Paramor bit his finger.
“Don’t confuse yourself by dragging in Christianity. Christianity has nothing to do with law.”
“You talked of principles,” said Gregory—“ecclesiastical”
“Yes, yes; I meant principles imported from the old ecclesiastical conception of marriage, which held man and wife to be undivorceable. That conception has been abandoned by the law, but the principles still haunt——”
“I don’t understand.”
Mr. Paramor said slowly:
“I don’t know that anyone does. It’s our usual muddle. But I know this, Vigil—in such a case as your ward’s we must tread very carefully. We must ‘save face,’ as the Chinese say. We must pretend we don’t want to bring this divorce, but that we have been so injured that we are obliged to come forward. If Bellew says nothing, the Judge will have to take what’s put before him. But there’s always the Queen’s Proctor. I don’t know if you know anything about him?”
“No,” said Gregory, “I don’t.”
“Well, if he can find out anything against our getting this divorce, he will. It is not my habit to go into Court with a case in which anybody can find out anything.”
“Do you mean to say”
“I mean to say that she must not ask for a divorce merely because she is miserable, or placed in a position that no woman should be placed in, but only if she has been offended in certain technical ways; and if—by condonation, for instance—she has given the Court technical reason for refusing her a divorce, that divorce will be refused her. To get a divorce, Vigil, you must be as hard as nails and as wary as a cat. Now do you understand?”
Gregory did not answer.
Mr. Paramor looked searchingly and rather pityingly in his face.
“It won’t do to go for it at present,” he said. “Are you still set on this divorce? I told you in my letter that I am not sure you are right.”
“How can you ask me, Paramor? After that man’s conduct last night, I am more than ever set on it.”
“Then,” said Mr. Paramor, “we must keep a sharp eye on Bellew, and hope for the best.”
Gregory held out his hand.
“You spoke of morality,” he said. “I can’t tell you how inexpressibly mean the whole thing seems to me. Goodnight.”
And, turning rather quickly, he went out.
His mind was confused and his heart torn. He thought of Helen Bellew as of the woman dearest to him in the coils of a great slimy serpent, and the knowledge that each man and woman unhappily married was, whether by his own, his partner’s, or by no fault at all, in the same embrace, afforded him no comfort whatsoever. It was long before he left the windy streets to go to his home.
There comes now and then to the surface of our modern civilisation one of those great and good men who, unconscious, like all great and good men, of the goodness and greatness of their work, leave behind a lasting memorial of themselves before they go bankrupt.