“You know,” said Ann Veronica. “I just came to you and put myself in your hands.”
“That’s why, in a way, I’m prudish. I’ve—dreads. I don’t want to tear at you with hot, rough hands.”
“As you will, dear lover. But for me it doesn’t matter. Nothing is wrong that you do. Nothing. I am quite clear about this. I know exactly what I am doing. I give myself to you.”
“God send you may never repent it!” cried Capes.
She put her hand in his to be squeezed.
“You see,” he said, “it is doubtful if we can ever marry. Very doubtful. I have been thinking—I will go to my wife again. I will do my utmost. But for a long time, anyhow, we lovers have to be as if we were no more than friends.”
He paused. She answered slowly. “That is as you will,” she said.
“Why should it matter?” he said.
And then, as she answered nothing, “Seeing that we are lovers.”
It was rather less than a week after that walk that Capes came and sat down beside Ann Veronica for their customary talk in the lunch hour. He took a handful of almonds and raisins that she held out to him—for both these young people had given up the practice of going out for luncheon—and kept her hand for a moment to kiss her finger-tips. He did not speak for a moment.
“Well?” she said.
“I say!” he said, without any movement. “Let’s go.”
“Go!” She did not understand him at first, and then her heart began to beat very rapidly.
“Stop this—this humbugging,” he explained. “It’s like the Picture and the Bust. I can’t stand it. Let’s go. Go off and live together—until we can marry. Dare you?”
“Do you mean now?”
“At the end of the session. It’s the only clean way for us. Are you prepared to do it?”
Her hands clenched. “Yes,” she said, very faintly. And then: “Of course! Always. It is what I have wanted, what I have meant all along.”
She stared before her, trying to keep back a rush of tears.
Capes kept obstinately stiff, and spoke between his teeth.
“There’s endless reasons, no doubt, why we shouldn’t,” he said. “Endless. It’s wrong in the eyes of most people. For many of them it will smirch us forever.... You do understand?”
“Who cares for most people?” she said, not looking at him.
“I do. It means social isolation—struggle.”
“If you dare—I dare,” said Ann Veronica. “I was never so clear in all my life as I have been in this business.” She lifted steadfast eyes to him. “Dare!” she said. The tears were welling over now, but her voice was steady. “You’re not a man for me—not one of a sex, I mean. You’re just a particular being with nothing else in the world to class with you. You are just necessary to life for me. I’ve never met any one like you. To have you is all important. Nothing else weighs against it. Morals only begin when that is settled. I sha’n’t care a rap if we can never marry. I’m not a bit afraid of anything—scandal, difficulty, struggle.... I rather want them. I do want them.”