The Shadow of the East (Chapter 7, page 2 of 26)


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Chapter 7

The strain was becoming unendurable.

In the eyes of the world an ideal couple, in reality--she wondered if in the whole universe there were two more lonely souls than they. She knew now that the task she had set herself that stormy December night was beyond her power, that it had been the unattainable dream of an immature love-sick girl. She had fought to retain her high ideals, to believe that love--as great, as unselfish as hers--must beget love, but she had come to realise the utter futility of her dream and to wonder at the childish ignorance that had inspired it. The sustaining hope that she might indeed be a comfort to his loneliness had died hard, but surely. For he gave her no opportunity. Despite unfailing kindness and overwhelming generosity he maintained always a baffling reserve she found impossible to penetrate. Of his inner self she knew no more than she had ever done, she could get no nearer to him. But in all matters that dealt with their common life he was scrupulously frank and out-spoken; he had insisted on her acquiring a knowledge of his interests and a working idea of his affairs, from which she had shrunk sensitively, but he had persisted, arguing that in the event of his death--Peters not being immortal--it was necessary that she should be able to administer possessions that would be hers--and the thought of those possessions crushed her. It was only after a long struggle, in distress that horrified him, that she persuaded him to forego the big settlement he proposed making.

If she had not loved him his liberality would have hurt her less, but because of her love his money was a scourge. She hated the wealth to which she felt she had no right, to herself she seemed an impostor, a cheat. She felt degraded. She would rather he had bought her, as women have from time immemorial been bought, that she might have paid the price, as they pay, and so retained the self-respect that now seemed for ever lost. It would have been a means of re-establishing herself in her own eyes, of easing the burden of his bounty that grew daily heavier and from which she could never escape. It was evident in all about her; in the greater state and ceremony observed at the Towers since their marriage, which, while it pleased the household, who rejoiced in the restoration of the old régime, oppressed her unspeakably; in the charities she dispensed--his charities that brought her no sense of sacrifice, no joy of self-denial; in the social duties that poured in upon her.

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