And the thought was exultant. Even thus late, then, the satisfaction of vanity had been granted her—nay, not of vanity alone.
He must be sincere. What motive could he possibly have for playing a part? Might it not be true that he was a changed man in certain respects, and that a genuine emotion at length had control of him? If so, she had only to wait for his next speech with her in private; she could not misjudge a lover’s pleading.
The interest would only be that of comedy. She did not love Everard Barfoot, and saw no likelihood of ever doing so; on the whole, a subject for thankfulness. Nor could he seriously anticipate an assent to his proposal for a free union; in declaring that legal marriage was out of the question for him, he had removed his love-making to the region of mere ideal sentiment. But, if he loved her, these theories would sooner or later be swept aside; he would plead with her to become his legal wife.
To that point she desired to bring him. Offer what he might, she would not accept it; but the secret chagrin that was upon her would be removed. Love would no longer be the privilege of other women. To reject a lover in so many respects desirable, whom so many women might envy her, would fortify her self-esteem, and enable her to go forward in the chosen path with firmer tread.
It was one o’clock; the fire had died out and she began to shiver with cold. But a trembling of joy at the same time went through her limbs; again she had the sense of exultation, of triumph. She would not dismiss him peremptorily. He should prove the quality of his love, if love it were. Coming so late, the experience must yield her all it had to yield of delight and contentment.
THE JOYS OF HOME
Monica and her husband, on leaving the house in Queen’s Road, walked slowly in the eastward direction. Though night had fallen, the air was not unpleasant; they had no object before them, and for five minutes they occupied themselves with their thoughts. Then Widdowson stopped.
‘Shall we go home again?’ he asked, just glancing at Monica, then letting his eyes stray vaguely in the gloom.
’I should like to see Milly, but I’m afraid I can hardly take you there to call with me.’
’It’s a very poor little sitting-room, you know, and she might have some friend. Isn’t there anywhere you could go, and meet me afterwards?’
Frowning, Widdowson looked at his watch.
‘Nearly six o’clock. There isn’t much time.’
’Edmund, suppose you go home, and let me come back by myself? You wouldn’t mind, for once? I should like so much to have a talk with Milly. If I got back about nine or half-past, I could have a little supper, and that’s all I should want.’
He answered abruptly,—
‘Oh, but I can’t have you going about alone at night.’