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- Madame de Treymes - 2/13 -
"Give it up! I would go tomorrow! But it could never, now, be for more than a visit. I must live in France on account of my boy."
Durham's heart gave a quick beat. At last the talk had neared the point toward which his whole mind was straining, and he began to feel a personal application in her words. But that made him all the more cautious about choosing his own.
"It is an agreement--about the boy?" he ventured.
"I gave my word. They knew that was enough," she said proudly; adding, as if to put him in full possession of her reasons: "It would have been much more difficult for me to obtain complete control of my son if it had not been understood that I was to live in France."
"That seems fair," Durham assented after a moment's reflection: it was his instinct, even in the heat of personal endeavour, to pause a moment on the question of "fairness." The personal claim reasserted itself as he added tentatively: "But when he _is_ brought up--when he's grown up: then you would feel freer?"
She received this with a start, as a possibility too remote to have entered into her view of the future. "He is only eight years old!" she objected.
"Ah, of course it would be a long way off?"
"A long way off, thank heaven! French mothers part late with their sons, and in that one respect I mean to be a French mother."
"Of course--naturally--since he has only you," Durham again assented.
He was eager to show how fully he took her point of view, if only to dispose her to the reciprocal fairness of taking his when the time came to present it. And he began to think that the time had now come; that their walk would not have thus resolved itself, without excuse or pretext, into a tranquil session beneath the trees, for any purpose less important than that of giving him his opportunity.
He took it, characteristically, without seeking a transition. "When I spoke to you, the other day, about myself--about what I felt for you--I said nothing of the future, because, for the moment, my mind refused to travel beyond its immediate hope of happiness. But I felt, of course, even then, that the hope involved various difficulties--that we can't, as we might once have done, come together without any thought but for ourselves; and whatever your answer is to be, I want to tell you now that I am ready to accept my share of the difficulties." He paused, and then added explicitly: "If there's the least chance of your listening to me, I'm willing to live over here as long as you can keep your boy with you."
Whatever Madame de Malrive's answer was to be, there could be no doubt as to her readiness to listen. She received Durham's words without sign of resistance, and took time to ponder them gently before she answered in a voice touched by emotion: "You are very generous--very unselfish; but when you fix a limit--no matter how remote--to my remaining here, I see how wrong it is to let myself consider for a moment such possibilities as we have been talking of."
"Wrong? Why should it be wrong?"
"Because I shall want to keep my boy always! Not, of course, in the sense of living with him, or even forming an important part of his life; I am not deluded enough to think that possible. But I do believe it possible never to pass wholly out of his life; and while there is a hope of that, how can I leave him?" She paused, and turned on him a new face, a face in which the past of which he was still so ignorant showed itself like a shadow suddenly darkening a clear pane. "How can I make you understand?" she went on urgently. "It is not only because of my love for him--not only, I mean, because of my own happiness in being with him; that I can't, in imagination, surrender even the remotest hour of his future; it is because, the moment he passes out of my influence, he passes under that other--the influence I have been fighting against every hour since he was born!--I don't mean, you know," she added, as Durham, with bent head, continued to offer the silent fixity of his attention, "I don't mean the special personal influence--except inasmuch as it represents something wider, more general, something that encloses and circulates through the whole world in which he belongs. That is what I meant when I said you could never understand! There is nothing in your experience--in any American experience--to correspond with that far-reaching family organization, which is itself a part of the larger system, and which encloses a young man of my son's position in a network of accepted prejudices and opinions. Everything is prepared in advance--his political and religious convictions, his judgments of people, his sense of honour, his ideas of women, his whole view of life. He is taught to see vileness and corruption in every one not of his own way of thinking, and in every idea that does not directly serve the religious and political purposes of his class. The truth isn't a fixed thing: it's not used to test actions by, it's tested by them, and made to fit in with them. And this forming of the mind begins with the child's first consciousness; it's in his nursery stories, his baby prayers, his very games with his playmates! Already he is only half mine, because the Church has the other half, and will be reaching out for my share as soon as his education begins. But that other half is still mine, and I mean to make it the strongest and most living half of the two, so that, when the inevitable conflict begins, the energy and the truth and the endurance shall be on my side and not on theirs!"
She paused, flushing with the repressed fervour of her utterance, though her voice had not been raised beyond its usual discreet modulations; and Durham felt himself tingling with the transmitted force of her resolve. Whatever shock her words brought to his personal hope, he was grateful to her for speaking them so clearly, for having so sure a grasp of her purpose.
Her decision strengthened his own, and after a pause of deliberation he said quietly: "There might be a good deal to urge on the other side--the ineffectualness of your sacrifice, the probability that when your son marries he will inevitably be absorbed back into the life of his class and his people; but I can't look at it in that way, because if I were in your place I believe I should feel just as you do about it. As long as there was a fighting chance I should want to keep hold of my half, no matter how much the struggle cost me. And one reason why I understand your feeling about your boy is that I have the same feeling about _you:_ as long as there's a fighting chance of keeping my half of you--the half he is willing to spare me--I don't see how I can ever give it up." He waited again, and then brought out firmly: "If you'll marry me, I'll agree to live out here as long as you want, and we'll be two instead of one to keep hold of your half of him."
He raised his eyes as he ended, and saw that hers met them through a quick clouding of tears.
"Ah, I am glad to have had this said to me! But I could never accept such an offer."
He caught instantly at the distinction. "That doesn't mean that you could never accept _me?_"
"Under such conditions--"
"But if I am satisfied with the conditions? Don't think I am speaking rashly, under the influence of the moment. I have expected something of this sort, and I have thought out my side of the case. As far as material circumstances go, I have worked long enough and successfully enough to take my ease and take it where I choose. I mention that because the life I offer you is offered to your boy as well." He let this sink into her mind before summing up gravely: "The offer I make is made deliberately, and at least I have a right to a direct answer."
She was silent again, and then lifted a cleared gaze to his. "My direct answer then is: if I were still Fanny Frisbee I would marry you."
He bent toward her persuasively. "But you will be--when the divorce is pronounced."
"Ah, the divorce--" She flushed deeply, with an instinctive shrinking back of her whole person which made him straighten himself in his chair.
"Do you so dislike the idea?"
"The idea of divorce? No--not in my case. I should like anything that would do away with the past--obliterate it all--make everything new in my life!"
"Then what--?" he began again, waiting with the patience of a wooer on the uneasy circling of her tormented mind.
"Oh, don't ask me; I don't know; I am frightened."
Durham gave a deep sigh of discouragement. "I thought your coming here with me today--and above all your going with me just now to see my mother--was a sign that you were _not_ frightened!"
"Well, I was not when I was with your mother. She made everything seem easy and natural. She took me back into that clear American air where there are no obscurities, no mysteries--"
"What obscurities, what mysteries, are you afraid of?"
She looked about her with a faint shiver. "I am afraid of everything!" she said.
"That's because you are alone; because you've no one to turn to. I'll clear the air for you fast enough if you'll let me."
He looked forth defiantly, as if flinging his challenge at the great city which had come to typify the powers contending with him for her possession.
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