The New Machiavelli

Page 83 of 114

“After all,” I remarked, “most of this has been implicit in my writings.”

She made no sign of admission.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“Keep my seat for a time and make the reasons of my breach clear. Then either I must resign or—probably this new Budget will lead to a General Election. It's evidently meant to strain the Lords and provoke a quarrel.”

“You might, I think, have stayed to fight for the Budget.”

“I'm not,” I said, “so keen against the Lords.”

On that we halted.

“But what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I shall make my quarrel over some points in the Budget. I can't quite tell you yet where my chance will come. Then I shall either resign my seat—or if things drift to dissolution I shall stand again.”

“It's political suicide.”

“Not altogether.”

“I can't imagine you out of Parliament again. It's just like—like undoing all we have done. What will you do?”

“Write. Make a new, more definite place for myself. You know, of course, there's already a sort of group about Crupp and Gane.”

Margaret seemed lost for a time in painful thought.

“For me,” she said at last, “our political work has been a religion—it has been more than a religion.”

I heard in silence. I had no form of protest available against the implications of that.

“And then I find you turning against all we aimed to do—talking of going over, almost lightly—to those others.”...

She was white-lipped as she spoke. In the most curious way she had captured the moral values of the situation. I found myself protesting ineffectually against her fixed conviction. “It's because I think my duty lies in this change that I make it,” I said.

“I don't see how you can say that,” she replied quietly.

There was another pause between us.

“Oh!” she said and clenched her hand upon the table. “That it should have come to this!”

She was extraordinarily dignified and extraordinarily absurd. She was hurt and thwarted beyond measure. She had no place in her ideas, I thought, for me. I could see how it appeared to her, but I could not make her see anything of the intricate process that had brought me to this divergence. The opposition of our intellectual temperaments was like a gag in my mouth. What was there for me to say? A flash of intuition told me that behind her white dignity was a passionate disappointment, a shattering of dreams that needed before everything else the relief of weeping.

“I've told you,” I said awkwardly, “as soon as I could.”

There was another long silence. “So that is how we stand,” I said with an air of having things defined. I walked slowly to the door.

She had risen and stood now staring in front of her.

“Good-night,” I said, making no movement towards our habitual kiss.

“Good-night,” she answered in a tragic note....

I closed the door softly. I remained for a moment or so on the big landing, hesitating between my bedroom and my study. As I did so I heard the soft rustle of her movement and the click of the key in her bedroom door. Then everything was still....

She hid her tears from me. Something gripped my heart at the thought.

“Damnation!” I said wincing. “Why the devil can't people at least THINK in the same manner?”


And that insufficient colloquy was the beginning of a prolonged estrangement between us. It was characteristic of our relations that we never reopened the discussion. The thing had been in the air for some time; we had recognised it now; the widening breach between us was confessed. My own feelings were curiously divided. It is remarkable that my very real affection for Margaret only became evident to me with this quarrel. The changes of the heart are very subtle changes. I am quite unaware how or when my early romantic love for her purity and beauty and high-principled devotion evaporated from my life; but I do know that quite early in my parliamentary days there had come a vague, unconfessed resentment at the tie that seemed to hold me in servitude to her standards of private living and public act. I felt I was caught, and none the less so because it had been my own act to rivet on my shackles. So long as I still held myself bound to her that resentment grew. Now, since I had broken my bonds and taken my line it withered again, and I could think of Margaret with a returning kindliness.

But I still felt embarrassment with her. I felt myself dependent upon her for house room and food and social support, as it were under false pretences. I would have liked to have separated our financial affairs altogether. But I knew that to raise the issue would have seemed a last brutal indelicacy. So I tried almost furtively to keep my personal expenditure within the scope of the private income I made by writing, and we went out together in her motor brougham, dined and made appearances, met politely at breakfast—parted at night with a kiss upon her cheek. The locking of her door upon me, which at that time I quite understood, which I understand now, became for a time in my mind, through some obscure process of the soul, an offence. I never crossed the landing to her room again.

In all this matter, and, indeed, in all my relations with Margaret, I perceive now I behaved badly and foolishly. My manifest blunder is that I, who was several years older than she, much subtler and in many ways wiser, never in any measure sought to guide and control her. After our marriage I treated her always as an equal, and let her go her way; held her responsible for all the weak and ineffective and unfortunate things she said and did to me. She wasn't clever enough to justify that. It wasn't fair to expect her to sympathise, anticipate, and understand. I ought to have taken care of her, roped her to me when it came to crossing the difficult places. If I had loved her more, and wiselier and more tenderly, if there had not been the consciousness of my financial dependence on her always stiffening my pride, I think she would have moved with me from the outset, and left the Liberals with me. But she did not get any inkling of the ends I sought in my change of sides. It must have seemed to her inexplicable perversity. She had, I knew—for surely I knew it then—an immense capacity for loyalty and devotion. There she was with these treasures untouched, neglected and perplexed. A woman who loves wants to give. It is the duty and business of the man she has married for love to help her to help and give. But I was stupid. My eyes had never been opened. I was stiff with her and difficult to her, because even on my wedding morning there had been, deep down in my soul, voiceless though present, something weakly protesting, a faint perception of wrong-doing, the infinitesimally small, slow-multiplying germs of shame.

Free Learning Resources