“Maude,” I said, “I have not come to plead, to appeal to your pity as against your judgment and reason. I can say this much, that if I do not love you, as the word is generally understood, I have a new respect for you, and a new affection, and I think that these will grow. I have no doubt that there are some fortunate people who achieve the kind of mutual love for which it is human to yearn, whose passion is naturally transmuted into a feeling that may be even finer, but I am inclined to think, even in such a case, that some effort and unselfishness are necessary. At any rate, that has been denied to us, and we can never know it from our own experience. We can only hope that there is such a thing,—yes, and believe in it and work for it.”
“Work for it, Hugh?” she repeated.
“For others—for our children. I have been thinking about the children a great deal in the last few months especially about Matthew.”
“You always loved him best,” she said.
“Yes,” I admitted. “I don’t know why it should be so. And in spite of it, I have neglected him, neglected them, failed to appreciate them all. I did not deserve them. I have reproached myself, I have suffered for it, not as much as I deserved. I came to realize that the children were a bond between us, that their existence meant something greater than either of us. But at the same time I recognized that I had lost my right over them, that it was you who had proved yourself worthy.... It was through the children that I came to think differently, to feel differently toward you. I have come to you to ask your forgiveness.”
“Oh, Hugh!” she cried.
“Wait,” I said.... “I have come to you, through them. I want to say again that I should not be here if I had obtained my desires. Yet there is more to it than that. I think I have reached a stage where I am able to say that I am glad I didn’t obtain them. I see now that this coming to you was something I have wanted to do all along, but it was the cowardly thing to do, after I had failed, for it was not as though I had conquered the desires, the desires conquered me. At any rate, I couldn’t come to you to encumber you, to be a drag upon you. I felt that I must have something to offer you. I’ve got a plan, Maude, for my life, for our lives. I don’t know whether I can make a success of it, and you are entitled to decline to take the risk. I don’t fool myself that it will be all plain sailing, that there won’t be difficulties and discouragements. But I’ll promise to try.”
“What is it?” she asked, in a low voice. “I—I think I know.”
“Perhaps you have guessed it. I am willing to try to devote what is left of my life to you and to them. And I need your help. I acknowledge it. Let us try to make more possible for them the life we have missed.”
“The life we have missed!” she said.