Kennicott rose quickly, sat on the couch, took both her hands. “Suppose he fails—as he will! Suppose he goes back to tailoring, and you’re his wife. Is that going to be this artistic life you’ve been thinking about? He’s in some bum shack, pressing pants all day, or stooped over sewing, and having to be polite to any grouch that blows in and jams a dirty stinking old suit in his face and says, ’Here you, fix this, and be blame quick about it.’ He won’t even have enough savvy to get him a big shop. He’ll pike along doing his own work—unless you, his wife, go help him, go help him in the shop, and stand over a table all day, pushing a big heavy iron. Your complexion will look fine after about fifteen years of baking that way, won’t it! And you’ll be humped over like an old hag. And probably you’ll live in one room back of the shop. And then at night—oh, you’ll have your artist—sure! He’ll come in stinking of gasoline, and cranky from hard work, and hinting around that if it hadn’t been for you, he’d of gone East and been a great artist. Sure! And you’ll be entertaining his relatives——Talk about Uncle Whit! You’ll be having some old Axel Axelberg coming in with manure on his boots and sitting down to supper in his socks and yelling at you, ’Hurry up now, you vimmin make me sick!’ Yes, and you’ll have a squalling brat every year, tugging at you while you press clothes, and you won’t love ’em like you do Hugh up-stairs, all downy and asleep——”
“Please! Not any more!”
Her face was on his knee.
He bent to kiss her neck. “I don’t want to be unfair. I guess love is a great thing, all right. But think it would stand much of that kind of stuff? Oh, honey, am I so bad? Can’t you like me at all? I’ve—I’ve been so fond of you!”
She snatched up his hand, she kissed it. Presently she sobbed, “I won’t ever see him again. I can’t, now. The hot living-room behind the tailor shop——I don’t love him enough for that. And you are——Even if I were sure of him, sure he was the real thing, I don’t think I could actually leave you. This marriage, it weaves people together. It’s not easy to break, even when it ought to be broken.”
“And do you want to break it?”
He lifted her, carried her up-stairs, laid her on her bed, turned to the door.
“Come kiss me,” she whimpered.
He kissed her lightly and slipped away. For an hour she heard him moving about his room, lighting a cigar, drumming with his knuckles on a chair. She felt that he was a bulwark between her and the darkness that grew thicker as the delayed storm came down in sleet.
He was cheery and more casual than ever at breakfast. All day she tried to devise a way of giving Erik up. Telephone? The village central would unquestionably “listen in.” A letter? It might be found. Go to see him? Impossible. That evening Kennicott gave her, without comment, an envelope. The letter was signed “E. V.”