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CHAPTER XVIII 


When Gertrude found herself beside Trefusis in the Pullman, she wondered how she came to be travelling with him against her resolution, if not against her will. In the presence of two women scrutinizing her as if they suspected her of being there with no good purpose, a male passenger admiring her a little further off, her maid reading Trefusis's newspapers just out of earshot, an uninterested country gentleman looking glumly out of window, a city man preoccupied with the "Economist," and a polite lady who refrained from staring but not from observing, she felt that she must not make a scene; yet she knew he had not come there to hold an ordinary conversation. Her doubt did not last long. He began promptly, and went to the point at once.

"What do you think of this engagement of mine?"

This was more than she could bear calmly. "What is it to me?" she said indignantly. "I have nothing to do with it."

"Nothing! You are a cold friend to me then. I thought you one of the surest I possessed."

She moved as if about to look at him, but checked herself, closed her lips, and fixed her eyes on the vacant seat before her. The reproach he deserved was beyond her power of expression.

"I cling to that conviction still, in spite of Miss Lindsay's indifference to my affairs. But I confess I hardly know how to bring you into sympathy with me in this matter. In the first place, you have never been married, I have. In the next, you are much younger than I, in more respects than that of years. Very likely half your ideas on the subject are derived from fictions in which happy results are tacked on to conditions very ill-calculated to produce them--which in real life hardly ever do produce them. If our friendship were a chapter in a novel, what would be the upshot of it? Why, I should marry you, or you break your heart at my treachery."

Gertrude moved her eyes as if she had some intention of taking to flight.

"But our relations being those of real life--far sweeter, after all--I never dreamed of marrying you, having gained and enjoyed your friendship without that eye to business which our nineteenth century keeps open even whilst it sleeps. You, being equally disinterested in your regard for me, do not think of breaking your heart, but you are, I suppose, a little hurt at my apparently meditating and resolving on such a serious step as marriage with Agatha without confiding my intention to you. And you punish me by telling me that you have nothing to do with it-- that it is nothing to you. But I never meditated the step, and so had nothing to conceal from you. It was conceived and executed in less than a minute. Although my first marriage was a silly love match and a failure, I have always admitted to myself that I should marry again. A bachelor is a man who shirks responsibilities and duties; I seek them, and consider it my duty, with my monstrous superfluity of means, not to let the individualists outbreed me. Still, I was in no hurry, having other things to occupy me, and being fond of my bachelor freedom, and doubtful sometimes whether I had any right to bring more idlers into the world for the workers to feed. Then came the usual difficulty about the lady. I did not want a helpmeet; I can help myself. Nor did I expect to be loved devotedly, for the race has not yet evolved a man lovable on thorough acquaintance; even my self-love is neither thorough nor constant. I wanted a genial partner for domestic business, and Agatha struck me quite suddenly as being the nearest approach to what I desired that I was likely to find in the marriage market, where it is extremely hard to suit oneself, and where the likeliest bargains are apt to be snapped up by others if one hesitates too long in the hope of finding something better. I admire Agatha's courage and capability, and believe I shall be able to make her like me, and that the attachment so begun may turn into as close a union as is either healthy or necessary between two separate individuals. I may mistake her character, for I do not know her as I know you, and have scarcely enough faith in her as yet to tell her such things as I have told you. Still, there is a consoling dash of romance in the transaction. Agatha has charm. Do you not think so?"

Gertrude's emotion was gone. She replied with cool scorn, "Very romantic indeed. She is very fortunate."

Trefusis half laughed, half sighed with relief to find her so self-possessed. "It sounds like--and indeed is--the selfish calculation of a disilluded widower. You would not value such an offer, or envy the recipient of it?"

"No," said Gertrude with quiet contempt.

"Yet there is some calculation behind every such offer. We marry to satisfy our needs, and the more reasonable our needs are, the more likely are we to get them satisfied. I see you are disgusted with me; I feared as much. You are the sort of woman to admit no excuse for my marriage except love--pure emotional love, blindfolding reason."

"I really do not concern myself--"

"Do not say so, Gertrude. I watch every step you take with anxiety; and I do not believe you are indifferent to the worthiness of my conduct. Believe me, love is an overrated passion; it would be irremediably discredited but that young people, and the romancers who live upon their follies, have a perpetual interest in rehabilitating it. No relation involving divided duties and continual intercourse between two people can subsist permanently on love alone. Yet love is not to be despised when it comes from a fine nature. There is a man who loves you exactly as you think I ought to love Agatha--and as I don't love her."

Gertrude's emotion stirred again, and her color rose. "You have no right to say these things now," she said.

"Why may I not plead the cause of another? I speak of Erskine." Her color vanished, and he continued, "I want you to marry him. When you are married you will understand me better, and our friendship, shaken just now, will be deepened; for I dare assure you, now that you can no longer misunderstand me, that no living woman is dearer to me than you. So much for the inevitable selfish reason. Erskine is a poor man, and in his comfortable poverty--save the mark--lies your salvation from the baseness of marrying for wealth and position; a baseness of which women of your class stand in constant peril. They court it; you must shun it. The man is honorable and loves you; he is young, healthy, and suitable. What more do you think the world has to offer you?"

"Much more, I hope. Very much more."

"I fear that the names I give things are not romantic enough. He is a poet. Perhaps he would be a hero if it were possible for a man to be a hero in this nineteenth century, which will be infamous in history as a time when the greatest advances in the power of man over nature only served to sharpen his greed and make famine its avowed minister. Erskine is at least neither a gambler nor a slave-driver at first hand; if he lives upon plundered labor he can no more help himself than I. Do not say that you hope for much more; but tell me, if you can, what more you have any chance of getting? Mind, I do not ask what more you desire; we all desire unutterable things. I ask you what more you can obtain!"

"I have not found Mr. Erskine such a wonderful person as you seem to think him."

"He is only a man. Do you know anybody more wonderful?"

"Besides, my family might not approve."

"They most certainly will not. If you wish to please them, you must sell yourself to some rich vampire of the factories or great landlord. If you give yourself away to a poor poet who loves you, their disgust will be unbounded. If a woman wishes to honor her father and mother to their own satisfaction nowadays she must dishonor herself."

"I do not understand why you should be so anxious for me to marry someone else?"

"Someone else?" said Trefusis, puzzled.

"I do not mean someone else," said Gertrude hastily, reddening. "Why should I marry at all?"

"Why do any of us marry? Why do I marry? It is a function craving fulfilment. If you do not marry betimes from choice, you will be driven to do so later on by the importunity of your suitors and of your family, and by weariness of the suspense that precedes a definite settlement of oneself. Marry generously. Do not throw yourself away or sell yourself; give yourself away. Erskine has as much at stake as you; and yet he offers himself fearlessly."

Gertrude raised her head proudly.

"It is true," continued Trefusis, observing the gesture with some anger, " that he thinks more highly of you than you deserve; but you, on the other hand, think too lowly of him. When you marry him you must save him from a cruel disenchantment by raising yourself to the level he fancies you have attained. This will cost you an effort, and the effort will do you good, whether it fail or succeed. As for him, he will find his just level in your estimation if your thoughts reach high enough to comprehend him at that level."

Gertrude moved impatiently.

"What!" he said quickly. "Are my long-winded sacrifices to the god of reason distasteful? I believe I am involuntarily making them so because I am jealous of the fellow after all. Nevertheless I am serious; I want you to get married; though I shall always have a secret grudge against the man who marries you. Agatha will suspect me of treason if you don't. Erskine will be a disappointed man if you don't. You will be moody, wretched, and--and unmarried if you don't."

Gertrude's cheeks flushed at the word jealous, and again at his mention of Agatha. "And if I do," she said bitterly, "what then?"

"If you do, Agatha's mind will be at ease, Erskine will be happy, and you! You will have sacrificed yourself, and will have the happiness which follows that when it is worthily done."

"It is you who have sacrificed me," she said, casting away her reticence, and looking at him for the first time during the conversation.

"I know it," he said, leaning towards her and half whispering the words. "Is not renunciation the beginning and the end of wisdom? I have sacrificed you rather than profane our friendship by asking you to share my whole life with me. You are unfit for that, and I have committed myself to another union, and am begging you to follow my example, lest we should tempt one another to a step which would soon prove to you how truly I tell you that you are unfit. I have never allowed you to roam through all the chambers of my consciousness, but I keep a sanctuary there for you alone, and will keep it inviolate for you always. Not even Agatha shall have the key, she must be content with the other rooms--the drawing-room, the working-room, the dining-room, and so forth. They would not suit you; you would not like the furniture or the guests; after a time you would not like the master. Will you be content with the sanctuary?" Gertrude bit her lip; tears came into her eyes. She looked imploringly at him. Had they been alone, she would have thrown herself into his arms and entreated him to disregard everything except their strong cleaving to one another.

"And will you keep a corner of your heart for me?"

She slowly gave him a painful look of acquiescence. "Will you be brave, and sacrifice yourself to the poor man who loves you? He will save you from useless solitude, or from a worldly marriage--I cannot bear to think of either as your fate."

"I do not care for Mr. Erskine," she said, hardly able to control her voice; "but I will marry him if you wish it."

"I do wish it earnestly, Gertrude."

"Then, you have my promise," she said, again with some bitterness.

"But you will not forget me? Erskine will have all but that--a tender recollection--nothing."

"Can I do more than I have just promised?"

"Perhaps so; but I am too selfish to be able to conceive anything more generous. Our renunciation will bind us to one another as our union could never have done."

They exchanged a long look. Then he took out his watch, and began to speak of the length of their journey, now nearly at an end. When they arrived in London the first person they recognized on the platform was Mr. Jansenius.

"Ah! you got my telegram, I see," said Trefusis. "Many thanks for coming. Wait for me whilst I put this lady into a cab."

When the cab was engaged, and Gertrude, with her maid, stowed within, he whispered to her hurriedly:

"In spite of all, I have a leaden pain here" (indicating his heart). "You have been brave, and I have been wise. Do not speak to me, but remember that we are friends always and deeply."

He touched her hand, and turned to the cabman, directing him whither to drive. Gertrude shrank back into a corner of the vehicle as it departed. Then Trefusis, expanding his chest like a man just released from some cramping drudgery, rejoined Mr. Jansenius.

"There goes a true woman," he said. "I have been persuading her to take the very best step open to her. I began by talking sense, like a man of honor, and kept at it for half an hour, but she would not listen to me. Then I talked romantic nonsense of the cheapest sort for five minutes, and she consented with tears in her eyes. Let us take this hansom. Hi! Belsize Avenue. Yes; you sometimes have to answer a woman according to her womanishness, just as you have to answer a fool according to his folly. Have you ever made up your mind, Jansenius, whether I am an unusually honest man, or one of the worst products of the social organization I spend all my energies in assailing--an infernal scoundrel, in short?"

"Now pray do not be absurd," said Mr. Jansenius. "I wonder at a man of your ability behaving and speaking as you sometimes do."

"I hope a little insincerity, when meant to act as chloroform--to save a woman from feeling a wound to her vanity--is excusable. By-the-bye, I must send a couple of telegrams from the first post-office we pass. Well, sir, I am going to marry Agatha, as I sent you word. There was only one other single man and one other virgin down at Brandon Beeches, and they are as good as engaged. And so--

"'Jack shall have Jill, Nought shall go ill, The man shall have his mare again; And all shall be well.'"

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