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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 10
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    CONFESSIONS

    'Tell me, Frank, did you ever love any one before me?'

    'How badly trimmed the lamp is to-night!' said he. It was so bad that he went off instantly into the dining-room to get another. It was some time before he returned.

    She waited inexorably until he had settled down again.

    'Did you, Frank?' she asked.

    'Did I what?'

    'Ever love any one else?'

    'My dear Maude, what IS the use of asking questions like that?'

    'You said that there were no secrets between us.'

    'No, but there are some things better left alone.'

    'That is what I should call a secret.'

    'Of course, if you make a point of it--'

    'I do.'

    'Well, then, I am ready to answer anything that you ask. But you must not blame me if you do not like my answers.'

    'Who was she, Frank?'

    'Which?'

    'O Frank, more than one!'

    'I told you that you would not like it.'

    'Oh, I wish I had not asked you!'

    'Then do let us drop it.'

    'No, I can't drop it now, Frank. You have gone too far. You must tell me everything.'

    'Everything?'

    'Yes, everything, Frank.'

    'I am not sure that I can.'

    'Is it so dreadful as that?'

    'No, there is another reason.'

    'Do tell me, Frank.'

    'There is a good deal of it. You know how a modern poet excused himself to his wife for all his pre-matrimonial experiences. He said that he was looking for her.'

    'Well, I do like that!' she cried indignantly.

    'I was looking for you.'

    'You seem to have looked a good deal.'

    'But I found you at last.'

    'I had rather you had found me at first, Frank.' He said something about supper, but she was not to be turned.

    'How many did you really love?' she asked. 'Please don't joke about it, Frank. I really want to know.'

    'If I choose to tell you a lie--'

    'But you won't!'

    'No, I won't. I could never feel the same again.'

    'Well, then, how many did you love?'

    'Don't exaggerate what I say, Maude, or take it to heart. You see it depends upon what you mean by love. There are all sorts and degrees of love, some just the whim of a moment, and others the passion of a lifetime; some are founded on mere physical passion, and some on intellectual sympathy, and some on spiritual affinity.'

    'Which do you love me with?'

    'All three.'

    'Sure?'

    'Perfectly sure.'

    She came over and the cross-examination was interrupted. But in a few minutes she had settled down to it again.

    'Well, now--the first?' said she.

    'Oh, I can't, Maude--don't.'

    'Come, sir--her name?'

    'No, no, Maude, that is going a little too far. Even to you, I should never mention another woman's name.'

    'Who was she, then?'

    'Please don't let us go into details. It is perfectly HORRIBLE. Let me tell things in my own way.'

    She made a little grimace.

    'You are wriggling, sir. But I won't be hard upon you. Tell it your own way.'

    'Well, in a word, Maude, I was always in love with some one.'

    Her face clouded over.

    'Your love must be very cheap,' said she.

    'It's almost a necessity of existence for a healthy young man who has imagination and a warm heart. It was all--or nearly all--quite superficial.'

    'I should think all your love was superficial, if it can come so easily.'

    'Don't be cross, Maude. I had never seen you at the time. I owed no duty to you.'

    'You owed a duty to your own self-respect.'

    'There, I knew we should have trouble over it. What do you want to ask such questions for? I dare say I am a fool to be so frank.'

    She sat for a little with her face quite cold and set. In his inmost heart Frank was glad that she should be jealous, and he watched her out of the corner of his eye.

    'Well!' said she at last.

    'Must I go on?'

    'Yes, I may as well hear it.'

    'You'll only be cross.'

    'We've gone too far to stop. And I'm not cross, Frank. Only pained a little. But I do appreciate your frankness. I had no idea you were such a--such a Mormon.' She began to laugh.

    'I used to take an interest in every woman.'

    '"Take an interest" is good.'

    'That was how it began. And then if circumstances were favourable the interest deepened, until at last, naturally--well, you can understand.'

    'How many did you take an interest in?'

    'Well, in pretty nearly all of them.'

    'And how many deepened?'

    'Oh, I don't know.'

    'Twenty?'

    'Well--rather more than that, I think.'

    'Thirty?'

    'Quite thirty.'

    'Forty?'

    'Not more than forty, I think.'

    Maude sat aghast at the depths of his depravity.

    'Let me see: you are twenty-seven now, so you have loved four women a year since you were seventeen.'

    'If you reckon it that way,' said Frank, 'I am afraid that it must have been more than forty.'

    'It's dreadful,' said Maude, and began to cry.

    Frank knelt down in front of her and kissed her hands. She had sweet little plump hands, very soft and velvety.

    'You make me feel such a brute,' said he. 'Anyhow, I love you now with all my heart and mind and soul.'

    'Forty-firstly and lastly,' she sobbed, half laughing and half crying. Then she pulled his hair to reassure him.

    'I can't be angry with you,' said she. 'Besides, it would be ungenerous to be angry when you tell me things of your own free will. You are not forced to tell me. It is very honourable of you. But I do wish you had taken an interest in me first.'

    'Well, it was not so fated. I suppose there are some men who are quite good when they are bachelors. But I don't believe they are the best men. They are either archangels upon earth--young Gladstones and Newmans--or else they are cold, calculating, timid, un-virile creatures, who will never do any good. The first class must be splendid. I never met one except in memoirs. The others I don't want to meet.'

    Women are not interested in generalities.

    'Were they nicer than me?' she asked.

    'Who?'

    'Those forty women.'

    'No, dear, of course not. Why are you laughing?'

    'Well, it came into my head how funny it would be, if the forty were all gathered into one room, and you were turned loose in the middle of them.'

    'Funny!' Frank ejaculated. Women have such extraordinary ideas of humour. Maude laughed until she was quite tired.

    'It doesn't strike you as comic?' she cried at last.

    'No, it doesn't,' he answered coldly.

    'Of course it wouldn't,' said she, and went off into another ripple of pretty contralto laughter. There is a soft, deep, rich laugh, which some women have, that is the sweetest sound in Nature.

    'When you have quite finished,' said he huffily. Her jealousy was much more complimentary than her ridicule.

    'All right now. Don't be cross. If I didn't laugh I should cry. I'm so sorry if I have annoyed you.' He had gone back to his chair, so she paid him a flying visit. 'Satisfied?'

    'Not quite.'

    'Now?'

    'All right. I forgive you.'

    'That's funny too. Fancy YOU forgiving ME after all these confessions. But you never loved one of them all as you love me.'

    'Never.'

    'Swear it.'

    'I do swear it.'

    'Morally, and what do you call it, and the other?'

    'Not one of them.'

    'And never will again?'

    'Never.'

    'Good boy for ever and ever?'

    'For ever and ever.'

    'And the forty were horrid?'

    'No, hang it, Maude, I can't say that.'

    She pouted and hung her head.

    'You do like them better, then?'

    'How absurd you are, Maude! If I had liked one better, I should have married her.'

    'Well, yes, I suppose you would. You must have taken a deeper interest in me than in the others, since you married me. I hadn't thought of that.'

    'Silly old girl! Of course I liked you best. Let us drop the thing, and never talk about it any more.'

    'Have you their photographs?'

    'No.'

    'None of them?'

    'No.'

    'What did you do with them?'

    'I never had most of them.'

    'And the others?'

    'I destroyed some when I married.'

    'That was nice of you. Aren't you sorry?'

    'No, I thought it was only right.'

    'Were you fondest of dark women or fair?'

    'Oh, I don't know. _I_ was never pernickety in MY tastes. You know those lines I read you from Henley: "Handsome, ugly--all are women." That's a bachelor's sentiment.'

    'But do you mean to say, sir--now, you are speaking on your honour, that out of all these forty, there was not one who was prettier than I am?'

    'Do let us talk of something else.'

    'And not one as clever?'

    'How absurd you are to-night, Maude!'

    'Come, answer me.'

    'I've answered you already.'

    'I did not hear you.'

    'Oh yes, you did. I said that I had married you, and that shows that I liked you best. I don't compare you quality for quality against every one in the world. That would be absurd. What I say is that your combination of qualities is the one which is most dear to me.'

    'Oh, I see,' said Maude dubiously. 'How nice and frank you are!'

    'Now I've hurt you!'

    'Oh no, not in the least. I like you to be frank. I should hate to think that there was anything you did not dare to tell me.'

    'And you, Maude--would you be equally frank with me?'

    'Yes, dear, I will. I feel that I owe it to you after your confidence in me. I have had my little experiences too.'

    'You!'

    'Perhaps you would rather that I said nothing about them. What good can there be in raking up these old stories?'

    'No, I had rather you told me.'

    'You won't be hurt?'

    'No, no--certainly not.'

    'You may take it from me, Frank, that if any married woman ever tells her husband that until she saw him she never felt any emotion at the sight of another man, it is simple nonsense. There may be women of that sort about, but I never met them. I don't think I should like them, for they must be dry, cold, unsympathetic, unemotional, unwomanly creatures.'

    'Maude, you have loved some one else!'

    'I won't deny that I have been interested deeply interested in several men.'

    'Several!'

    'It was before I had met you, dear. I owed you no duty.'

    'You have loved several men.'

    'The feeling was for the most part quite superficial. There are many different sorts and degrees of love.'

    'Good God, Maude! How many men inspired this feeling in you?'

    'The truth is, Frank, that a healthy young woman who has imagination and a warm heart is attracted by every young man. I know that you wish me to be frank and to return your confidence. But there is a certain kind of young man with whom I always felt my interest deepen.'

    'Oh, you did discriminate?'

    'Now you are getting bitter. I will say no more.'

    'You have said too much. You must go on now.'

    'Well, I was only going to say that dark men always had a peculiar fascination for me. I don't know what it is, but the feeling is quite overpowering.'

    'Is that why you married a man with flaxen hair?'

    'Well, I couldn't expect to find every quality in my husband, could I? It would not be reasonable. I assure you, dear, that taking your tout ensemble, I like you far the best of all. You may not be the handsomest, and you may not be the cleverest--one cannot expect one's absolute ideal,--but I love you far, far the best of any. I do hope I haven't hurt you by anything I have said.'

    'I am sorry I am not your ideal, Maude. It would be absurd to suppose myself anybody's ideal, but I hoped always that the eyes of love transfigured an object and made it seem all right. My hair is past praying for, but if you can point out anything that I can mend-- '

    'No, no, I want you just as you are. If I hadn't liked you best, I shouldn't have married you, Frank, should I?'

    'But those other experiences?'

    'Oh, we had better drop them. What good can it possibly do to discuss my old experiences? It will only annoy you.'

    'Not at all. I honour you for your frankness in speaking out, although I acknowledge that it is a little unexpected. Go on.'

    'I forget where I was.'

    'You had just remarked that before your marriage you had love-affairs with a number of men.'

    'How horrid it sounds, doesn't it?'

    'Well, it did strike me in that way.'

    'But that's because you exaggerate what I said. I said that I had been attracted by several men.'

    'And that dark men thrilled you.'

    'Exactly.'

    'I had hoped that I was the first.'

    'It was not fated to be so. I could easily tell you a lie, Frank, and say that you were, but I should never forgive myself if I were to do such a thing. You see I left school at seventeen, and I was twenty-three when I became engaged to you. There are six years. Imagine all the dances, picnics, parties, visitings of six years. I could not help meeting young men continually. A good many were interested in me, and I--'

    'You were interested in them.'

    'It was natural, Frank.'

    'Oh yes, perfectly natural. And then I understand that the interest deepened.'

    'Sometimes. When you met a young man who was interested several times running, at a dance, then in the street, then in the garden, then a walk home at night--of course your interest began to deepen.'

    'Yes.'

    'And then--'

    'Well, what was the next stage?'

    'Sure you're not angry?'

    'No, no, not at all. Why don't you keep the key in the spirit- stand?'

    'It might tempt Jemima. Shall I get it?'

    'No, no, go on! The next stage was?'

    'Well, when you have been deeply interested some time, then you begin to have experiences.'

    'Ah!'

    'Don't shout, Frank.'

    'Did I shout? Never mind. Go on! You had experiences.'

    'Why go into details?'

    'You must go on. You have said too much to stop. I insist upon hearing the experiences.'

    'Not if you ask for them in that way, Frank.' Maude had a fine dignity of her own when she liked.

    'Well, I don't insist. I beg you to have confidence in me, and tell me some of your experiences.'

    She leaned back in her armchair with her eyes half closed, and a quiet retrospective smile upon her face.

    'Well, if you would really like to hear, Frank, as a proof of my confidence and trust, I will tell you. You will remember that I had not seen you at the time.'

    'I will make every excuse.'

    'I will tell you a single experience. It was my first of the sort, and stands out very clearly in my memory. It all came through my being left alone with a gentleman who was visiting my mother.'

    'Yes!'

    'Well, we were alone in the room, you understand.'

    'Yes, yes, go on!'

    'And he paid me many little compliments: kept saying how pretty I was, and that he had never seen a sweeter girl, and so on. You know what gentlemen would say?'

    'And you?'

    'Oh, I hardly answered him, but of course I was young and inexperienced, and I could not help being flattered and pleased at his words. I may have shown him what I felt, for he suddenly--'

    'Kissed you!'

    'Exactly. He kissed me. Don't walk up and down the room, dear. It fidgets me.'

    'All right. Go on. Don't stop. After this outrage what happened next?'

    'You really want to know?'

    'I must know. What did you do?'

    'I am so sorry that I ever began, for I can see that it is exciting you. Light your pipe, dear, and let us talk of something else. It will only make you cross if I tell you the truth.'

    'I won't be cross. Go on. What did you do?'

    'Well, Frank, since you insist--I kissed him back.'

    'You--you kissed him back!'

    'You'll have Jemima up if you go on like that.'

    'You kissed him back!'

    'Yes, dear; it may be wrong, but I did.'

    'Good God! why did you do that?'

    'Well, I liked him.'

    'A dark man?'

    'Yes, he was dark.'

    'O Maude! Maude! Well, don't stop. What then?'

    'Then he kissed me several times.'

    'Of course he would, if you kissed him. What else could you expect? And then?'

    'O Frank, I can't.'

    'Go on. I am ready for anything!'

    'Well, do sit down, and don't run about the room. I am only agitating you.'

    'There, I am sitting. You can see that I am not agitated. For Heaven's sake, go on!'

    'He asked me if I would sit upon his knee.'

    'Yek!'

    Maude began to laugh.

    'Why, Frank, you are croaking like a frog.'

    'I am glad you think it a laughing matter. Go on! Go on! You yielded to his very moderate and natural request. You sat upon his knee.'

    'Well, Frank, I did.'

    'Good heavens!'

    'Don't be so excitable, dear. It was long before I ever saw you.'

    'You mean to sit there and tell me in cold blood that you sat upon this ruffian's knee!'

    'What else could I do?'

    'What could you do? You could have screamed, you could have rung the bell, you could have struck him--you could have risen in the dignity of your insulted womanhood and walked out of the room.'

    'It was not so easy for me to walk out of the room.'

    'He held you?'

    'Yes, he held me.'

    'Oh, if I had been there!'

    'And there was another reason.'

    'What was that?'

    'Well, I wasn't very good at walking at that time. You see, I was only three years old.'

    Frank sat for a few minutes absorbing it.

    'You little wretch!' he said at last.

    'Oh you dear old goose! I feel so much better.'

    'You horror!'

    'I had to get level with you over my forty predecessors. You old Bluebeard! But I did harrow you a little--didn't I?'

    'Harrow me! I'm raw all over. It's a nightmare. O Maude, how could you have the heart?'

    'Oh, it was lovely--beautiful!'

    'It was dreadful.'

    'And how jealous you were! Oh, I AM so glad!'

    'I don't think,' said Frank, as he put his arms round her, 'that I ever quite realised before--'

    And just then Jemima came in with the tray.
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