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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    THE OVERTURE CONTINUED--IN A MINOR KEY

    Woking, June 7th.

    My Own Dearest Maude,--How I wish you were here, for I have been down, down, down, in the deepest state of despondency all day. I have longed to hear the sound of your voice, or to feel the touch of your hand! How can I be despondent, when in three weeks I shall be the husband of the dearest girl in England? That is what I ask myself, and then the answer comes that it is just exactly on that account that my wretched conscience is gnawing at me. I feel that I have not used you well; I owe you reparation, and I don't know what to do.

    In your last dear letter you talk about being frivolous. YOU have never been frivolous. But I have been frivolous--for ever since I have learned to love you, I have been so wrapped up in my love, with my happiness gilding everything about me, that I have never really faced the prosaic facts of life or discussed with you what our marriage will really necessitate. And now, at this eleventh hour, I realise that I have led you on in ignorance to an act which will perhaps take a great deal of the sunshine out of your life. What have I to offer you in exchange for the sacrifice which you will make for me? Myself, my love, and all that I have--but how little it all amounts to! You are a girl in a thousand, in ten thousand--bright, beautiful, sweet, the dearest lady in all the land. And I an average man--or perhaps hardly that--with little to boast of in the past, and vague ambitions for the future. It is a poor bargain for you, a most miserable bargain. You have still time. Count the cost, and if it be too great, then draw back even now without fear of one word or inmost thought of reproach from me. Your whole life is at stake. How can I hold you to a decision which was taken before you realised what it meant? Now I shall place the facts before you, and then, come what may, my conscience will be at rest, and I shall be sure that you are acting with your eyes open.

    You have to compare your life as it is, and as it will be. Your father is rich, or at least comfortably off, and you have been accustomed all your life to have whatever you desired. From what I know of your mother's kindness, I should imagine that no wish of yours has ever remained ungratified. You have lived well, dressed well, a sweet home, a lovely garden, your collie, your canary, your maid. Above all, you have never had anxiety, never had to worry about the morrow. I can see all your past life so well. In the mornings, your music, your singing, your gardening, your reading. In the afternoons, your social duties, the visit and the visitor. In the evening, tennis, a walk, music again, your father's return from the City, the happy family-circle, with occasionally the dinner, the dance, and the theatre. And so smoothly on, month after month, and year after year, your own sweet, kindly, joyous nature, and your bright face, making every one round you happy, and so reacting upon your own happiness. Why should you bother about money? That was your father's business. Why should you trouble about housekeeping? That was your mother's duty. You lived like the birds and the flowers, and had no need to take heed for the future. Everything which life could offer was yours.

    And now you must turn to what is in store for you, if you are still content to face the future with me. Position I have none to offer. What is the exact position of the wife of the assistant-accountant of the Co-operative Insurance Office? It is indefinable. What are my prospects? I may become head-accountant. If Dinton died--and I hope he won't, for he is an excellent fellow--I should probably get his berth. Beyond that I have no career. I have some aspirations after literature--a few critical articles in the monthlies--but I don't suppose they will ever lead to anything of consequence.

    And my income, 400 pounds a year with a commission on business I introduce. But that amounts to hardly anything. You have 50 pounds. Our total, then, is certainly under 500 pounds. Have you considered what it will mean to leave that charming house at St. Albans--the breakfast-room, the billiard-room, the lawn--and to live in the little 50 pounds a year house at Woking, with its two sitting-rooms and pokey garden? Have I a right to ask you to do such a thing? And then the housekeeping, the planning, the arranging, the curtailing, the keeping up appearances upon a limited income. I have made myself miserable, because I feel that you are marrying me without a suspicion of the long weary uphill struggle which lies before you. O Maude, my darling Maude, I feel that you sacrifice too much for me! If I were a man I should say to you, 'Forget me--forget it all! Let our relations be a closed chapter in your life. You can do better. I and my cares come like a great cloud-bank to keep the sunshine from your young life. You who are so tender and dainty! How can I bear to see you exposed to the drudgery and sordid everlasting cares of such a household! I think of your graces, your pretty little ways, the elegancies of your life, and how charmingly you carry them off. You are born and bred for just such an atmosphere as the one which you breathe. And I take advantage of my good-fortune in winning your love to drag you down, to take the beauty and charm from your life, to fill it with small and vulgar cares, never-ending and soul- killing. Selfish beast that I am, why should I allow you to come down into the stress and worry of life, when I found you so high above it? And what can I offer you in exchange?' These are the thoughts which come back and back all day, and leave me in the blackest fit of despondency. I confessed to you that I had dark humours, but never one so hopeless as this. I do not wish my worst enemy to be as unhappy as I have been to-day.

    Write to me, my own darling Maude, and tell me all you think, your very inmost soul, in this matter. Am I right? Have I asked too much of you? Does the change frighten you? You will have this in the morning, and I should have my answer by the evening post. I shall meet the postman. How hard I shall try not to snatch the letter from him, or to give myself away. Wilson has been in worrying me with foolish talk, while my thoughts were all of our affairs. He worked me up into a perfectly homicidal frame of mind, but I hope that I kept on smiling and was not discourteous to him. I wonder which is right, to be polite but hypocritical, or to be inhospitable but honest.

    Good-bye, my own dearest sweetheart--all the dearer when I feel that I may lose you.--Ever your devoted

    FRANK.

    St. Albans, June 8th.

    Frank, tell me for Heaven's sake what your letter means! You use words of love, and yet you talk of parting. You speak as if our love were a thing which we might change or suppress. O Frank, you cannot take my love away from me. You don't know what you are to me, my heart, my life, my all. I would give my life for you willingly, gladly--every beat of my heart is for you. You don't know what you have become to me. My every thought is yours, and has been ever since that night at the Arlingtons'. My love is so deep and strong, it rules my whole life, my every action from morning to night. It is the very breath and heart of my life--unchangeable. I could not alter my love any more than I could stop my heart from beating. How could you, could you suggest such a thing! I know that you really love me just as much as I love you, or I should not open my heart like this. I should be too proud to give myself away. But I feel that pride is out of place when any mistake or misunderstanding may mean lifelong misery to both of us. I would only say good-bye if I thought your love had changed or grown less. But I know that it has not. O my darling, if you only knew what terrible agony the very thought of parting is, you would never have let such an idea even for an instant, on any pretext, enter your mind. The very possibility is too awful to think of. When I read your letter just now up in my room, I nearly fainted. I can't write. O Frank, don't take my love away from me. I can't bear it. Oh no, it is my everything. If I could only see you now, I know that you would kiss these heart- burning tears away. I feel so lonely and tired. I cannot follow all your letter. I only know that you talked of parting, and that I am weary and miserable.

    MAUDE.

    (COPY OF TELEGRAM) From Frank Crosse, to Miss Maude Selby, The Laurels, St. Albans Coming up eight-fifteen, arrive midnight.

    June 10th.

    How good of you, dear old boy, to come racing across two counties at a minute's notice, simply in order to console me and clear away my misunderstandings. Of course it was most ridiculous of me to take your letter so much to heart, but when I read any suggestion about our parting, it upset me so dreadfully, that I was really incapable of reasoning about anything else. Just that one word PART seemed to be written in letters of fire right across the page, to the exclusion of everything else. So then I wrote an absurd letter to my boy, and the dear came scampering right across the South of England, and arrived at midnight in the most demoralised state. It was just sweet of you to come, dear, and I shall never forget it.

    I am so sorry that I have been so foolish, but you must confess, sir, that you have been just a little bit foolish also. The idea of supposing that when I love a man my love can be affected by the size of his house or the amount of his income. It makes me smile to think of it. Do you suppose a woman's happiness is affected by whether she has a breakfast-room, or a billiard-board, or a collie dog, or any of the other luxuries which you enumerated? But these things are all the merest trimmings of life. They are not the essentials. YOU and your love are the essentials. Some one who will love me with all his heart. Some one whom I can love with all my heart. Oh the difference it makes in life! How it changes everything! It glorifies and beautifies everything. I always felt that I was capable of a great love--and now I have it.

    Fancy your imagining that you had come into my life in order to darken it. Why, you ARE my life. If you went out of it, what would be left? You talk about my happiness before I met you--but oh, how empty it all was! I read, and played, and sang as you say, but what a void there was! I did it to please mother, but there really seemed no very clear reason why I should continue to do it. Then you came, and everything was changed. I read because you are fond of reading and because I wanted to talk about books with you. I played because you are fond of music. I sang in the hope that it might please you. Whatever I did, you were always in my mind. I tried and tried to become a better and nobler woman, because I wanted to be worthy of the love you bore me. I have changed, and developed, and improved more in the last three months than in all my life before. And then you come and tell me that you have darkened my life. You know better now. My life has become full and rich, for Love fills my life. It is the keynote of my nature, the foundation, the motive power. It inspires me to make the most of any gift or talent that I have. How could I tell you all this if I did not know that your own feeling was as deep. I could not have given the one, great, and only love of my life in exchange for a half-hearted affection from you. But you will never again make the mistake of supposing that any material consideration can affect our love.

    And now we won't be serious any longer. Dear mother was very much astounded by your tumultuous midnight arrival, and equally precipitate departure next morning. Dear old boy, it was so nice of you! But you won't ever have horrid black humours and think miserable things any more, will you? But if you must have dark days, now is your time, for I can't possibly permit any after the 30th.-- Ever your own

    MAUDE.

    Woking, June 11th.

    My Own Dearest Girlie,--How perfectly sweet you are! I read and re- read your letter, and I understand more and more how infinitely your nature is above mine. And your conception of love--how lofty and unselfish it is! How could I lower it by thinking that any worldly thing could be weighed for an instant against it! And yet it was just my jealous love for you, and my keenness that you should never be the worse through me, which led me to write in that way, so I will not blame myself too much. I am really glad that the cloud came, for the sunshine is so much brighter afterwards. And I seem to know you so much better, and to see so much more deeply into your nature. I knew that my own passion for you was the very essence of my soul--oh, how hard it is to put the extreme of emotion into the terms of human speech!--but I did not dare to hope that your feelings were as deep. I hardly ventured to tell even you how I really felt. Somehow, in these days of lawn-tennis and afternoon tea, a strong strong passion, such a passion as one reads of in books and poems, seems out of place. I thought that it would surprise, even frighten you, perhaps, if I were to tell you all that I felt. And now you have written me two letters, which contain all that I should have said if I had spoken from my heart. It is all my own inmost thought, and there is not a feeling that I do not share. O Maude, I may write lightly and speak lightly, perhaps, sometimes, but there never was a woman, never, never in all the story of the world, who was loved more passionately than you are loved by me. Come what may, while the world lasts and the breath of life is between my lips, you are the one woman to me. If we are together, I care nothing for what the future may bring. If we are not together, all the world cannot fill the void.

    You say that I have given an impulse to your life: that you read more, study more, take a keener interest in everything. You could not possibly have said a thing which could have given me more pleasure than that. It is splendid! It justifies me in aspiring to you. It satisfies my conscience over everything which I have done. It must be right if that is the effect. I have felt so happy and light-hearted ever since you said it. It is rather absurd to think that _I_ should improve you, but if you in your sweet frankness say that it is so, why, I can only marvel and rejoice.

    But you must not study and work too hard. You say that you do it to please me, but that would not please me. I'll tell you an anecdote as a dreadful example. I had a friend who was a great lover of Eastern literature, Sanskrit, and so on. He loved a lady. The lady to please him worked hard at these subjects also. In a month she had shattered her nervous system, and will perhaps never be the same again. It was impossible. She was not meant for it, and yet she made herself a martyr over it. I don't mean by this parable that it will be a strain upon your intellect to keep up with mine. But I do mean that a woman's mind is DIFFERENT from a man's. A dainty rapier is a finer thing than a hatchet, but it is not adapted for cutting down trees all the same.

    Rupton Hale, the architect, one of the few friends I have down here, has some most deplorable views about women. I played a round of the Byfleet Golf Links with him upon Wednesday afternoon, and we discussed the question of women's intellects. He would have it that they have never a light of their own, but are always the reflectors of some other light which you cannot see. He would allow that they were extraordinarily quick in assimilating another person's views, but that was all. I quoted some very shrewd remarks which a lady had made to me at dinner. 'Those are the traces of the last man,' said he. According to his preposterous theory, you could in conversation with a woman reconstruct the last man who had made an impression to her. 'She will reflect you upon the next person she talks to,' said he. It was ungallant, but it was ingenious.

    Dearest sweetheart, before I stop, let me tell you that if I have brought any happiness into your life, you have brought far, far more into mine. My soul seemed to come into full being upon the day when I loved you. It was so small, and cramped, and selfish, before--and life was so hard, and stupid, and purposeless. To live, to sleep, to eat, for some years, and then to die--it was so trivial and so material. But now the narrow walls seem in an instant to have fallen, and a boundless horizon stretches around me. And everything appears beautiful. London Bridge, King William Street, Abchurch Lane, the narrow stair, the office with the almanacs and the shining desks, it has all become glorified, tinged with a golden haze. I am stronger: I step out briskly and breathe more deeply. And I am a better man too. God knows there was room for it. But I do try to make an ideal, and to live up to it. I feel such a fraud when I think of being put upon a pedestal by you, when some little hole where I am out of sight is my true place. I am like the man in Browning who mourned over the spots upon his 'speckled hide,' but rejoiced in the swansdown of his lady. And so, my own dear sweet little swansdown lady, good-night to you, with my heart's love now and for ever from your true lover,

    FRANK.

    Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! oh, how I am longing for Saturday, when I shall see you again! We will go on Sunday and hear the banns together.
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