‘Intend? Isn’t it for you to decide?’
There was a coldness in the words of both, partly the result of the great shock they had undergone, in part due to their impatience with each other.
’Darling—do what I proposed at first. Stay for a few days, until I am settled at Bordeaux.’
‘Stay with my—my husband?’
She used the word purposely, significantly, to see how it would affect him. The bitterness of her growing disillusion allowed her to think and speak as if no ardent feeling were concerned.
’For both our sakes, dearest, dearest love! A few days longer, until I have written to you, and told you exactly what to do. The journey won’t be very difficult for you; and think how much better, dear Monica, if we can escape discovery, and live for each other without any shame or fear to disturb us. You will be my own dear true wife. I will love and guard you as long as I live.’
He embraced her with placid tenderness, laying his cheek against hers, kissing her hands.
‘We must see each other again,’ he continued. ’Come on Sunday, will you? And in the meantime find out some place where I could address letters to you. You can always find a stationer’s shop where they will receive letters. Be guided by me, dear little girl. Only a week or two—to save the happiness of our whole lives.’
Monica listened, but with half-attention, her look fixed on the floor. Encouraged by her silence, the lover went on in a strain of heightening enthusiasm, depicting the raptures of their retirement from the world in some suburb of Bordeaux. How this retreat was to escape the notice of his business companions, through whom the scandal might get wind, he did not suggest. The truth was, Bevis found himself in an extremely awkward position, with issues he had not contemplated, and all he cared for was to avert the immediate peril of public discovery. The easy-going, kindly fellow had never considered all the responsibility involved in making mild love— timorously selfish from the first—to a married woman who took his advances with desperate seriousness. He had not in him the stuff of vigorous rascality, still less the only other quality which can support a man in such a situation as this—heroism of moral revolt. So he cut a very poor figure, and was dolefully aware of it. He talked, talked; trying to disguise his feebleness in tinsel phrases; and Monica still kept her eyes cast down.
When another half-hour had passed, she sighed deeply and rose from her seat. She would write to him, she said, and let him know where a reply would reach her. No, she must not come here again; all he had to tell her would be communicated by letter. The subdued tone, the simple sadness of her words, distressed Bevis, and yet he secretly congratulated himself. He had done nothing for which this woman could justly reproach him; marvellous—so he considered—had been his self-restraint; absolutely, he had behaved ’like a gentleman.’ To be sure, he was miserably in love, and, if circumstances by any means allowed of it, would send for Monica to join him in France. Should the thing prove impossible, he had nothing whatever on his conscience.