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- The Odd Women - 40/90 -

the evening she had dwelt on this thought; it grew more and more astonishing. Was he worse than she had imagined? Under cover of independent thought, of serious moral theories, did he conceal mere profligacy and heartlessness? It was an extraordinary thing to have to ask such questions in relation to herself. It made her feel as if she had to learn herself anew, to form a fresh conception of her personality. She the object of a man's passion!

And the thought was exultant. Even thus late, then, the satisfaction of vanity had been granted her--nay, not of vanity alone.

He must be sincere. What motive could he possibly have for playing a part? Might it not be true that he was a changed man in certain respects, and that a genuine emotion at length had control of him? If so, she had only to wait for his next speech with her in private; she could not misjudge a lover's pleading.

The interest would only be that of comedy. She did not love Everard Barfoot, and saw no likelihood of ever doing so; on the whole, a subject for thankfulness. Nor could he seriously anticipate an assent to his proposal for a free union; in declaring that legal marriage was out of the question for him, he had removed his love-making to the region of mere ideal sentiment. But, if he loved her, these theories would sooner or later be swept aside; he would plead with her to become his legal wife.

To that point she desired to bring him. Offer what he might, she would not accept it; but the secret chagrin that was upon her would be removed. Love would no longer be the privilege of other women. To reject a lover in so many respects desirable, whom so many women might envy her, would fortify her self-esteem, and enable her to go forward in the chosen path with firmer tread.

It was one o'clock; the fire had died out and she began to shiver with cold. But a trembling of joy at the same time went through her limbs; again she had the sense of exultation, of triumph. She would not dismiss him peremptorily. He should prove the quality of his love, if love it were. Coming so late, the experience must yield her all it had to yield of delight and contentment.



Monica and her husband, on leaving the house in Queen's Road, walked slowly in the eastward direction. Though night had fallen, the air was not unpleasant; they had no object before them, and for five minutes they occupied themselves with their thoughts. Then Widdowson stopped.

'Shall we go home again?' he asked, just glancing at Monica, then letting his eyes stray vaguely in the gloom.

'I should like to see Milly, but I'm afraid I can hardly take you there to call with me.'

'Why not?'

'It's a very poor little sitting-room, you know, and she might have some friend. Isn't there anywhere you could go, and meet me afterwards?'

Frowning, Widdowson looked at his watch.

'Nearly six o'clock. There isn't much time.'

'Edmund, suppose you go home, and let me come back by myself? You wouldn't mind, for once? I should like so much to have a talk with Milly. If I got back about nine or half-past, I could have a little supper, and that's all I should want.'

He answered abruptly,--

'Oh, but I can't have you going about alone at night.'

'Why not?' answered Monica, with a just perceptible note of irritation. 'Are you afraid I shall be robbed or murdered?'

'Nonsense. But you mustn't be alone.'

'Didn't I always use to be alone?'

He made an angry gesture.

'I have begged you not to speak of that. Why do you say what you know is disagreeable to me? You used to do all sorts of things that you never ought to have been obliged to do, and it's very painful to remember it.'

Monica, seeing that people were approaching, walked on, and neither spoke until they had nearly reached the end of the road.

'I think we had better go home,' Widdowson at length remarked.

'If you wish it; but I really don't see why I shouldn't call on Milly, now that we are here.'

'Why didn't you speak of it before we left home? You ought to be more methodical, Monica. Each morning I always plan how my day is to be spent, and it would be much better if you would do the same. Then you wouldn't be so restless and uncertain.'

'If I go to Rutland Street,' said Monica, without heeding this admonition, 'couldn't you leave me there for an hour?'

'What in the world am I to do?'

'I should have thought you might walk about. It's a pity you don't know more people, Edmund. It would make things so much pleasanter for you.'

In the end he consented to see her safely as far as Rutland Street, occupy himself for an hour, and come back for her. They went by cab, which was dismissed in Hampstead Road. Widdowson did not turn away until he had ocular proof of his wife's admittance to the house where Miss Vesper lived, and even then he walked no farther than the neighbouring streets, returning about every ten minutes to watch the house from a short distance, as though he feared Monica might have some project of escape. His look was very bilious; trudging mechanically hither and thither where fewest people were to be met, he kept his eyes on the ground, and clumped to a dismal rhythm with the end of his walking-stick. In the three or four months since his marriage, he seemed to have grown older; he no longer held himself so upright.

At the very moment agreed upon he was waiting close by the house. Five minutes passed; twice he had looked at his watch, and he grew excessively impatient, stamping as if it were necessary to keep himself warm. Another five minutes, and he uttered a nervous ejaculation. He had all but made up his mind to go and knock at the door when Monica came forth.

'You haven't been waiting here long, I hope?' she said cheerfully.

'Ten minutes. But it doesn't matter.'

'I'm very sorry. We were talking on--'

'Yes, but one must always be punctual. I wish I could impress that upon you. Life without punctuality is quite impossible.'

'I'm very sorry, Edmund. I will be more careful. Please don't lecture me, dear. How shall we go home?'

'We had better take a cab to Victoria. No knowing how long we may have to wait for a train when we get there.'

'Now don't be so grumpy. Where have you been all the time?'

'Oh, walking about. What else was I to do?'

On the drive they held no conversation. At Victoria they were delayed about half an hour before a train started for Herne Hill; Monica sat in a waiting-room, and her husband trudged about the platform, still clumping rhythmically with his stick.

Their Sunday custom was to dine at one o'clock, and at six to have tea. Widdowson hated the slightest interference with domestic routine, and he had reluctantly indulged Monica's desire to go to Chelsea this afternoon. Hunger was now added to his causes of discontent.

'Let us have something to eat at once,' he said on entering the house. 'This disorder really won't do: we must manage better somehow.'

Without replying, Monica rang the dining-room bell, and gave orders.

Little change had been made in the interior of the house since its master's marriage. The dressing-room adjoining the principal bed-chamber was adapted to Monica's use, and a few ornaments were added to the drawing-room. Unlike his deceased brother, Widdowson had the elements of artistic taste; in furnishing his abode he took counsel with approved decorators, and at moderate cost had made himself a home which presented no original features, but gave no offence to a cultivated eye. The first sight of the rooms pleased Monica greatly. She declared that all was perfect, nothing need be altered. In those days, if she had bidden him spend a hundred pounds on reconstruction, the lover would have obeyed, delighted to hear her express a wish.

Though competence had come to him only after a lifetime of narrow means, Widdowson felt no temptation to parsimony. Secure in his all-sufficing income, he grudged no expenditure that could bring himself or his wife satisfaction. On the wedding-tour in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset--it lasted about seven weeks--Monica learnt, among other things less agreeable, that her husband was generous with money.

He was anxious she should dress well, though only, as Monica soon discovered, for his own gratification. Soon after they had settled down at home she equipped herself for the cold season, and Widdowson cared little about the price so long as the effect of her new

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