I put down the last fascicle of all, and met his friendly eyes. It was hard to dislike him.
I felt a subtle embarra.s.sment in putting the question that perplexed me. And yet it seemed so material to me I had to put it. "And did you--?" I asked. "Were you--lovers?"
His eyebrows rose. "Of course."
"But your wife--?"
It was manifest he did not understand me.
I hesitated still more. I was perplexed by a conviction of baseness.
"But--" I began. "You remained lovers?"
"Yes." I had grave doubts if I understood him. Or he me.
I made a still more courageous attempt. "And had Nettie no other lovers?"
"A beautiful woman like that! I know not how many loved beauty in her, nor what she found in others. But we four from that time were very close, you understand, we were friends, helpers, personal lovers in a world of lovers."
"There was Verrall."
Then suddenly it came to me that the thoughts that stirred in my mind were sinister and base, that the queer suspicions, the coa.r.s.eness and coa.r.s.e jealousies of my old world were over and done for these more finely living souls. "You made," I said, trying to be liberal minded, "a home together."
"A home!" He looked at me, and, I know not why, I glanced down at my feet. What a clumsy, ill-made thing a boot is, and how hard and colorless seemed my clothing! How harshly I stood out amidst these fine, perfected things. I had a moment of rebellious detestation.
I wanted to get out of all this. After all, it wasn't my style. I wanted intensely to say something that would bring him down a peg, make sure, as it were, of my suspicions by launching an offensive accusation. I looked up and he was standing.
"I forgot," he said. "You are pretending the old world is still going on. A home!"
He put out his hand, and quite noiselessly the great window widened down to us, and the splendid nearer prospect of that dreamland city was before me. There for one clear moment I saw it; its galleries and open s.p.a.ces, its trees of golden fruit and crystal waters, its music and rejoicing, love and beauty without ceasing flowing through its varied and intricate streets. And the nearer people I saw now directly and plainly, and no longer in the distorted mirror that hung overhead. They really did not justify my suspicions, and yet--! They were such people as one sees on earth--save that they were changed. How can I express that change? As a woman is changed in the eyes of her lover, as a woman is changed by the love of a lover. They were exalted. . . .
I stood up beside him and looked out. I was a little flushed, my ears a little reddened, by the inconvenience of my curiosities, and by my uneasy sense of profound moral differences. He was taller than I. . . .
"This is our home," he said smiling, and with thoughtful eyes on me.
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