The New Machiavelli

Page 95 of 114

“So glad you are back, dear,” she said. “Oh! so very glad you are back.”

I returned her kiss with a queer feeling at my heart, too undifferentiated to be even a definite sense of guilt or meanness. I think it was chiefly amazement—at the universe—at myself.

“I never knew what it was to be away from you,” she said.

I perceived suddenly that she had resolved to end our estrangement. She put herself so that my arm came caressingly about her.

“These are jolly furs,” I said.

“I got them for you.”

The parlourmaid appeared below dealing with the maid and the luggage cab.

“Tell me all about America,” said Margaret. “I feel as though you'd been away six year's.”

We went arm in arm into our little sitting-room, and I took off the fur's for her and sat down upon the chintz-covered sofa by the fire. She had ordered tea, and came and sat by me. I don't know what I had expected, but of all things I had certainly not expected this sudden abolition of our distances.

“I want to know all about America,” she repeated, with her eyes scrutinising me. “Why did you come back?”

I repeated the substance of my letters rather lamely, and she sat listening.

“But why did you turn back—without going to Denver?”

“I wanted to come back. I was restless.”

“Restlessness,” she said, and thought. “You were restless in Venice. You said it was restlessness took you to America.”

Again she studied me. She turned a little awkwardly to her tea things, and poured needless water from the silver kettle into the teapot. Then she sat still for some moments looking at the equipage with expressionless eyes. I saw her hand upon the edge of the table tremble slightly. I watched her closely. A vague uneasiness possessed me. What might she not know or guess?

She spoke at last with an effort. “I wish you were in Parliament again,” she said. “Life doesn't give you events enough.”

“If I was in Parliament again, I should be on the Conservative side.”

“I know,” she said, and was still more thoughtful.

“Lately,” she began, and paused. “Lately I've been reading—you.”

I didn't help her out with what she had to say. I waited.

“I didn't understand what you were after. I had misjudged. I didn't know. I think perhaps I was rather stupid.” Her eyes were suddenly shining with tears. “You didn't give me much chance to understand.”

She turned upon me suddenly with a voice full of tears.

“Husband,” she said abruptly, holding her two hands out to me, “I want to begin over again!”

I took her hands, perplexed beyond measure. “My dear!” I said.

“I want to begin over again.”

I bowed my head to hide my face, and found her hand in mine and kissed it.

“Ah!” she said, and slowly withdrew her hand. She leant forward with her arm on the sofa-back, and looked very intently into my face. I felt the most damnable scoundrel in the world as I returned her gaze. The thought of Isabel's darkly shining eyes seemed like a physical presence between us....

“Tell me,” I said presently, to break the intolerable tension, “tell me plainly what you mean by this.”

I sat a little away from her, and then took my teacup in hand, with an odd effect of defending myself. “Have you been reading that old book of mine?” I asked.

“That and the paper. I took a complete set from the beginning down to Durham with me. I have read it over, thought it over. I didn't understand—what you were teaching.”

There was a little pause.

“It all seems so plain to me now,” she said, “and so true.”

I was profoundly disconcerted. I put down my teacup, stood up in the middle of the hearthrug, and began talking. “I'm tremendously glad, Margaret, that you've come to see I'm not altogether perverse,” I began. I launched out into a rather trite and windy exposition of my views, and she sat close to me on the sofa, looking up into my face, hanging on my words, a deliberate and invincible convert.

“Yes,” she said, “yes.”...

I had never doubted my new conceptions before; now I doubted them profoundly. But I went on talking. It's the grim irony in the lives of all politicians, writers, public teachers, that once the audience is at their feet, a new loyalty has gripped them. It isn't their business to admit doubt and imperfections. They have to go on talking. And I was now so accustomed to Isabel's vivid interruptions, qualifications, restatements, and confirmations....

Margaret and I dined together at home. She made me open out my political projects to her. “I have been foolish,” she said. “I want to help.”

And by some excuse I have forgotten she made me come to her room. I think it was some book I had to take her, some American book I had brought back with me, and mentioned in our talk. I walked in with it, and put it down on the table and turned to go.

“Husband!” she cried, and held out her slender arms to me. I was compelled to go to her and kiss her, and she twined them softly about my neck and drew me to her and kissed me. I disentangled them very gently, and took each wrist and kissed it, and the backs of her hands.

“Good-night,” I said. There came a little pause. “Good-night, Margaret,” I repeated, and walked very deliberately and with a kind of sham preoccupation to the door.

I did not look at her, but I could feel her standing, watching me. If I had looked up, she would, I knew, have held out her arms to me....

At the very outset that secret, which was to touch no one but Isabel and myself, had reached out to stab another human being.


The whole world had changed for Isabel and me; and we tried to pretend that nothing had changed except a small matter between us. We believed quite honestly at that time that it was possible to keep this thing that had happened from any reaction at all, save perhaps through some magically enhanced vigour in our work, upon the world about us! Seen in retrospect, one can realise the absurdity of this belief; within a week I realised it; but that does not alter the fact that we did believe as much, and that people who are deeply in love and unable to marry will continue to believe so to the very end of time. They will continue to believe out of existence every consideration that separates them until they have come together. Then they will count the cost, as we two had to do.

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