“I couldn’t help it. It was an impulse. I had to.”
“But it changes things. I thought you understood.”
“I had to,” she repeated. “I was sick of the make-believe. I don’t care! I’m glad I did. I’m glad I did.”
“Look here!” said Capes, “what on earth do you want? What do you think we can do? Don’t you know what men are, and what life is?—to come to me and talk to me like this!”
“I know—something, anyhow. But I don’t care; I haven’t a spark of shame. I don’t see any good in life if it hasn’t got you in it. I wanted you to know. And now you know. And the fences are down for good. You can’t look me in the eyes and say you don’t care for me.”
“I’ve told you,” he said.
“Very well,” said Ann Veronica, with an air of concluding the discussion.
They walked side by side for a time.
“In that laboratory one gets to disregard these passions,” began Capes. “Men are curious animals, with a trick of falling in love readily with girls about your age. One has to train one’s self not to. I’ve accustomed myself to think of you—as if you were like every other girl who works at the schools—as something quite outside these possibilities. If only out of loyalty to co-education one has to do that. Apart from everything else, this meeting of ours is a breach of a good rule.”
“Rules are for every day,” said Ann Veronica. “This is not every day. This is something above all rules.”
“Not for you?”
“No. No; I’m going to stick to the rules.... It’s odd, but nothing but cliche seems to meet this case. You’ve placed me in a very exceptional position, Miss Stanley.” The note of his own voice exasperated him. “Oh, damn!” he said.
She made no answer, and for a time he debated some problems with himself.
“No!” he said aloud at last.
“The plain common-sense of the case,” he said, “is that we can’t possibly be lovers in the ordinary sense. That, I think, is manifest. You know, I’ve done no work at all this afternoon. I’ve been smoking cigarettes in the preparation-room and thinking this out. We can’t be lovers in the ordinary sense, but we can be great and intimate friends.”
“We are,” said Ann Veronica.
“You’ve interested me enormously....”
He paused with a sense of ineptitude. “I want to be your friend,” he said. “I said that at the Zoo, and I mean it. Let us be friends—as near and close as friends can be.”
Ann Veronica gave him a pallid profile.
“What is the good of pretending?” she said.
“We don’t pretend.”
“We do. Love is one thing and friendship quite another. Because I’m younger than you.... I’ve got imagination.... I know what I am talking about. Mr. Capes, do you think... do you think I don’t know the meaning of love?”