She had come back then of her own accord, to the cage she had pined to be free of—and taking in all the tremendous significance of this, he longed to cry: “Take your hated body, that I love, out of my house! Take away that pitiful white face, so cruel and soft—before I crush it. Get out of my sight; never let me see you again!”
And, at those unspoken words, he seemed to see her rise and move away, like a woman in a terrible dream, from which she was fighting to awake—rise and go out into the dark and cold, without a thought of him, without so much as the knowledge of his presence.
Then he cried, contradicting what he had not yet spoken, “No; stay there!” And turning away from her, he sat down in his accustomed chair on the other side of the hearth.
They sat in silence.
And Soames thought: ’Why is all this?
Why should I suffer so? What have
I done? It is not my fault!’
Again he looked at her, huddled like a bird that is shot and dying, whose poor breast you see panting as the air is taken from it, whose poor eyes look at you who have shot it, with a slow, soft, unseeing look, taking farewell of all that is good—of the sun, and the air, and its mate.
So they sat, by the firelight, in the silence, one on each side of the hearth.
And the fume of the burning cedar logs, that he loved so well, seemed to grip Soames by the throat till he could bear it no longer. And going out into the hall he flung the door wide, to gulp down the cold air that came in; then without hat or overcoat went out into the Square.
Along the garden rails a half-starved cat came rubbing her way towards him, and Soames thought: ‘Suffering! when will it cease, my suffering?’
At a front door across the way was a man of his acquaintance named Rutter, scraping his boots, with an air of ‘I am master here.’ And Soames walked on.
From far in the clear air the bells of the church where he and Irene had been married were pealing in ‘practice’ for the advent of Christ, the chimes ringing out above the sound of traffic. He felt a craving for strong drink, to lull him to indifference, or rouse him to fury. If only he could burst out of himself, out of this web that for the first time in his life he felt around him. If only he could surrender to the thought: ‘Divorce her—turn her out! She has forgotten you. Forget her!’
If only he could surrender to the thought: ’Let her go—she has suffered enough!’
If only he could surrender to the desire: ’Make a slave of her—she is in your power!’
If only even he could surrender to the sudden vision: ’What does it all matter?’ Forget himself for a minute, forget that it mattered what he did, forget that whatever he did he must sacrifice something.
If only he could act on an impulse!
He could forget nothing; surrender to no thought, vision, or desire; it was all too serious; too close around him, an unbreakable cage.