Here a look of terror came into her eyes; these looked helplessly about the room, as if nothing could save her from the torment that pursued her.
“He is ill; very ill. His doctor told me. How long do you think he will live?”
“Pritchett?” asked Devitt.
“Yes, when he came down to Swanage. What he told me only makes it worse.”
“Makes what worse?” asked Devitt, who was eager to end this painful scene.
“My punishment. He thinks me good—everything I ought to be. I love him! I love him! I love him! He’s all goodness and love. He believes in me as he believes in God. I love him! How long do you think he’ll live? I love him! I love him! I love him!”
Mavis spoke truly. She loved her husband, although with a different love from that which she had known for Perigal. She had adored the father of her child with her soul and with her body, but in her affection for her husband there was no trace of physical passion, of which she had no small share. This new-born love was, in truth, an immense maternal devotion which seemed to satisfy an insistent longing of her being.
Upon the day of their wedding, Mavis was already wondering if she were beginning to love Harold; but for all this uncertainty, she believed that if the marriage were to be a physical as well as a civil union, she would have confessed before the ceremony took place her previous intimacy with Perigal. After the marriage, the holy fervour with which Harold had regarded Mavis bewildered her. The more his nature was revealed to her, the better she was enabled to realise the cold-blooded brutality with which the supreme Power (Mavis’s thoughts did not run so easily in the direction of a Heavenly Father as was once their wont) had permanently mutilated Harold’s life, which had been of the rarest promise. Still ignorant of her real sentiments for her husband, she had persuaded him, for no apparent reason, to delay acquainting his family with the news of their marriage. Truth soon illumined Mavis’s mind. Directly she realised how devotedly she loved her husband (the maternal aspect of her love did not occur to her), her punishment for her previous duplicity began. She was constantly overwhelmed with bitter reproaches because of her having set out to marry her husband from motives of revenge against his family.
Mavis’s confession to the Devitts temporarily eased her mind, but, as her husband’s solicitude for her happiness redoubled, her torments recommenced with all their old-time persistency. Harold’s declining health gave her innumerable anguished hours; she realised that, so long as he lived, she would suffer for the deception she had practised. She believed that, if she survived him, her remaining days would be filled with grief.
Whichever way she looked, trouble confronted her with hard, unbending features.