HOW HE LIED TO HER HUSBAND
It is eight o’clock in the evening. The curtains are drawn and the lamps lighted in the drawing room of Her flat in Cromwell Road. Her lover, a beautiful youth of eighteen, in evening dress and cape, with a bunch of flowers and an opera hat in his hands, comes in alone. The door is near the corner; and as he appears in the doorway, he has the fireplace on the nearest wall to his right, and the grand piano along the opposite wall to his left. Near the fireplace a small ornamental table has on it a hand mirror, a fan, a pair of long white gloves, and a little white woollen cloud to wrap a woman’s head in. On the other side of the room, near the piano, is a broad, square, softly up-holstered stool. The room is furnished in the most approved South Kensington fashion: that is, it is as like a show room as possible, and is intended to demonstrate the racial position and spending powers of its owners, and not in the least to make them comfortable.
He is, be it repeated, a very beautiful youth, moving as in a dream, walking as on air. He puts his flowers down carefully on the table beside the fan; takes off his cape, and, as there is no room on the table for it, takes it to the piano; puts his hat on the cape; crosses to the hearth; looks at his watch; puts it up again; notices the things on the table; lights up as if he saw heaven opening before him; goes to the table and takes the cloud in both hands, nestling his nose into its softness and kissing it; kisses the gloves one after another; kisses the fan: gasps a long shuddering sigh of ecstasy; sits down on the stool and presses his hands to his eyes to shut out reality and dream a little; takes his hands down and shakes his head with a little smile of rebuke for his folly; catches sight of a speck of dust on his shoes and hastily and carefully brushes it off with his handkerchief; rises and takes the hand mirror from the table to make sure of his tie with the gravest anxiety; and is looking at his watch again when She comes in, much flustered. As she is dressed for the theatre; has spoilt, petted ways; and wears many diamonds, she has an air of being a young and beautiful woman; but as a matter of hard fact, she is, dress and pretensions apart, a very ordinary South Kensington female of about 37, hopelessly inferior in physical and spiritual distinction to the beautiful youth, who hastily puts down the mirror as she enters.
HE [kissing her hand] At last!
SHE. Henry: something dreadful has happened.
HE. What’s the matter?
SHE. I have lost your poems.
HE. They were unworthy of you. I will write you some more.
SHE. No, thank you. Never any more poems for me. Oh, how could I have been so mad! so rash! so imprudent!
HE. Thank Heaven for your madness, your rashness, your imprudence!
SHE [impatiently] Oh, be sensible, Henry. Can’t you see what a terrible thing this is for me? Suppose anybody finds these poems! what will they think?
HE. They will think that a man once loved a woman more devotedly than ever man loved woman before. But they will not know what man it was.
SHE. What good is that to me if everybody will know what woman it was?
HE. But how will they know?
SHE. How will they know! Why, my name is all over them: my silly, unhappy name. Oh, if I had only been christened Mary Jane, or Gladys Muriel, or Beatrice, or Francesca, or Guinevere, or something quite common! But Aurora! Aurora! I’m the only Aurora in London; and everybody knows it. I believe I’m the only Aurora in the world. And it’s so horribly easy to rhyme to it! Oh, Henry, why didn’t you try to restrain your feelings a little in common consideration for me? Why didn’t you write with some little reserve?
HE. Write poems to you with reserve! You ask me that!
SHE [with perfunctory tenderness] Yes, dear, of course it was very nice of you; and I know it was my own fault as much as yours. I ought to have noticed that your verses ought never to have been addressed to a married woman.
HE. Ah, how I wish they had been addressed to an unmarried woman! how I wish they had!
SHE. Indeed you have no right to wish anything of the sort. They are quite unfit for anybody but a married woman. That’s just the difficulty. What will my sisters-in-law think of them?
HE [painfully jarred] Have you got sisters-in-law?
SHE. Yes, of course I have. Do you suppose I am an angel?
HE [biting his lips] I do. Heaven help me, I do—or I did—or [he almost chokes a sob].
SHE [softening and putting her hand caressingly on his shoulder] Listen to me, dear. It’s very nice of you to live with me in a dream, and to love me, and so on; but I can’t help my husband having disagreeable relatives, can I?
HE [brightening up] Ah, of course they are your husband’s relatives: I forgot that. Forgive me, Aurora. [He takes her hand from his shoulder and kisses it. She sits down on the stool. He remains near the table, with his back to it, smiling fatuously down at her].
SHE. The fact is, Teddy’s got nothing but relatives. He has eight sisters and six half-sisters, and ever so many brothers—but I don’t mind his brothers. Now if you only knew the least little thing about the world, Henry, you’d know that in a large family, though the sisters quarrel with one another like mad all the time, yet let one of the brothers marry, and they all turn on their unfortunate sister-in-law and devote the rest of their lives with perfect unanimity to persuading him that his wife is unworthy of him. They can do it to her very face without her knowing it, because there are always a lot of stupid low family jokes that nobody understands but themselves. Half the time you can’t tell what they’re talking about: it just drives you wild. There ought to be a law against a man’s sister ever entering his house after he’s married. I’m as certain as that I’m sitting here that Georgina stole those poems out of my workbox.
HE. She will not understand them, I think.
SHE. Oh, won’t she! She’ll understand them only too well. She’ll understand more harm than ever was in them: nasty vulgar-minded cat!
HE [going to her] Oh don’t, don’t think of people in that way. Don’t think of her at all. [He takes her hand and sits down on the carpet at her feet]. Aurora: do you remember the evening when I sat here at your feet and read you those poems for the first time?
SHE. I shouldn’t have let you: I see that now. When I think of Georgina sitting there at Teddy’s feet and reading them to him for the first time, I feel I shall just go distracted.
HE. Yes, you are right. It will be a profanation.
SHE. Oh, I don’t care about the profanation; but what will Teddy think? what will he do? [Suddenly throwing his head away from her knee]. You don’t seem to think a bit about Teddy. [She jumps up, more and more agitated].
HE [supine on the floor; for she has thrown him off his balance] To me Teddy is nothing, and Georgina less than nothing.
SHE. You’ll soon find out how much less than nothing she is. If you think a woman can’t do any harm because she’s only a scandalmongering dowdy ragbag, you’re greatly mistaken. [She flounces about the room. He gets up slowly and dusts his hands. Suddenly she runs to him and throws herself into his arms]. Henry: help me. Find a way out of this for me; and I’ll bless you as long as you live. Oh, how wretched I am! [She sobs on his breast].
HE. And oh! how happy I am!
SHE [whisking herself abruptly away] Don’t be selfish.
HE [humbly] Yes: I deserve that. I think if I were going to the stake with you, I should still be so happy with you that I could hardly feel your danger more than my own.
SHE [relenting and patting his hand fondly] Oh, you are a dear darling boy, Henry; but [throwing his hand away fretfully] you’re no use. I want somebody to tell me what to do.
HE [with quiet conviction] Your heart will tell you at the right time. I have thought deeply over this; and I know what we two must do, sooner or later.
SHE. No, Henry. I will do nothing improper, nothing dishonorable. [She sits down plump on the stool and looks inflexible].
HE. If you did, you would no longer be Aurora. Our course is perfectly simple, perfectly straightforward, perfectly stainless and true. We love one another. I am not ashamed of that: I am ready to go out and proclaim it to all London as simply as I will declare it to your husband when you see—as you soon will see—that this is the only way honorable enough for your feet to tread. Let us go out together to our own house, this evening, without concealment and without shame. Remember! we owe something to your husband. We are his guests here: he is an honorable man: he has been kind to us: he has perhaps loved you as well as his prosaic nature and his sordid commercial environment permitted. We owe it to him in all honor not to let him learn the truth from the lips of a scandalmonger. Let us go to him now quietly, hand in hand; bid him farewell; and walk out of the house without concealment and subterfuge, freely and honestly, in full honor and self-respect.
SHE [staring at him] And where shall we go to?
HE. We shall not depart by a hair’s breadth from the ordinary natural current of our lives. We were going to the theatre when the loss of the poems compelled us to take action at once. We shall go to the theatre still; but we shall leave your diamonds here; for we cannot afford diamonds, and do not need them.
SHE [fretfully] I have told you already that I hate diamonds; only Teddy insists on hanging me all over with them. You need not preach simplicity to me.
HE. I never thought of doing so, dearest: I know that these trivialities are nothing to you. What was I saying—oh yes. Instead of coming back here from the theatre, you will come with me to my home—now and henceforth our home—and in due course of time, when you are divorced, we shall go through whatever idle legal ceremony you may desire. I attach no importance to the law: my love was not created in me by the law, nor can it be bound or loosed by it. That is simple enough, and sweet enough, is it not? [He takes the flower from the table]. Here are flowers for you: I have the tickets: we will ask your husband to lend us the carriage to show that there is no malice, no grudge, between us. Come!
SHE [spiritlessly, taking the flowers without looking at them, and temporizing] Teddy isn’t in yet.
HE. Well, let us take that calmly. Let us go to the theatre as if nothing had happened, and tell him when we come back. Now or three hours hence: to-day or to-morrow: what does it matter, provided all is done in honor, without shame or fear?
SHE. What did you get tickets for? Lohengrin?
HE. I tried; but Lohengrin was sold out for to-night. [He takes out two Court Theatre tickets].
SHE. Then what did you get?
HE. Can you ask me? What is there besides Lohengrin that we two could endure, except Candida?
SHE [springing up] Candida! No, I won’t go to it again, Henry [tossing the flower on the piano]. It is that play that has done all the mischief. I’m very sorry I ever saw it: it ought to be stopped.
HE [amazed] Aurora!
SHE. Yes: I mean it.
HE. That divinest love poem! the poem that gave us courage to speak to one another! that revealed to us what we really felt for one another! That—
SHE. Just so. It put a lot of stuff into my head that I should never have dreamt of for myself. I imagined myself just like Candida.
HE [catching her hands and looking earnestly at her] You were right. You are like Candida.
SHE [snatching her hands away] Oh, stuff! And I thought you were just like Eugene. [Looking critically at him] Now that I come to look at you, you are rather like him, too. [She throws herself discontentedly into the nearest seat, which happens to be the bench at the piano. He goes to her].
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Categories: English Literature