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The Romantic by May Sinclair

Part 4 out of 4

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"That's all right as long as you don't lie about him to yourself."

"I've lied about him to other people. Never to myself. I was in love with
him, if that's what you mean. But he finished that. What's finished is
finished. I haven't a scrap of feeling for him left."

"Are you quite sure?"

"Quite. I'm not even sorry he's dead."

"You've forgiven him?"

"I'm not always sure about that. But I'm trying to forget him."

McClane looked away.

"Do you ever dream about him, Charlotte?"

"Never. Not now. I used to. I dreamed about him once three nights

He looked at her sharply. "Could you tell me what you dreamed?"

She told him her three dreams.

"You don't suppose they meant anything?" she said.

"I do. They meant that part of you was kicking. It knew all the time what
he was like and was trying to warn you."

"To keep me off him?"

"To keep you off him."

"I see.... The middle one was funny. It _happened_. The day we were in
Bruges. But I can't make out the first one with that awful woman in it."

"You may have been dreaming something out of his past. Something he

"Well anyhow I don't understand the last one."

"_I_ do."

"But I dreamed he wanted me. Frightfully. And he didn't."

"He did. He wanted you--'frightfully'--all the time. He went to pieces if
you weren't there. Don't you know why he took you out with him
everywhere? Because if he hadn't he couldn't have driven half a mile out
of Ghent."

"That's one of the things I'm trying to forget."

"It's one of the things you should try to remember."

He grasped her arm.

"And, Charlotte, look here. I want you to forgive him. For your
own sake."

She stiffened under his touch, his look, his voice of firm, intimate
authority. His insincerity repelled her.

"Why should you? You don't care about him. You don't care about me. If I
was blown to bits to-morrow you wouldn't care."

He laughed his mirthless, assenting laugh.

"You don't care about people at all. You only care about their diseases
and their minds and things."

"I think I care a little about the wounded."

"You don't really. Not about _them_. You care about getting in more of
them and quicker than any other field ambulance on the front. I can't
think why you're bothering about me now."

"That's why. If I'm to get in more wounded I can't have anybody in my
corps who isn't fit."

"_I'm_ fit. What's the matter with me?"

"Not much. Your body's all right. And your mind _was_ all right till
Conway upset it. Now it's unbalanced."


"Just the least little bit. There's a fight going on in it between your
feeling for Conway and your knowledge of him."

"I've told you I haven't any feeling."

"Your memory of your feeling then. Same thing. You know he was cruel and
a liar and a coward. And you loved him. With you those two states are
incompatible. They struggle. And that's bad for you. If it goes on you'll
break down. If it stops you'll be all right.... The way to stop it is to
know the _truth_ about Conway. The truth won't clash with your feeling."

"Don't I know it?"

"Not all. Not the part that matters most. You know he was all wrong
morally. You don't know _why_.... Conway was an out and out degenerate.
He couldn't help _that_. He suffered from some physical disability. It
went through everything. It made him so that he couldn't live a man's
life. He was afraid to enter a profession. He was afraid of women."

"He wasn't afraid of me. Not in the beginning."

"Because he felt your strength. You're very strong, Charlotte. You gave
him your strength. And he could _feel_ passion, mind you, though he
couldn't act it.... I suppose he could feel courage, too, only somehow he
couldn't make it work. Have you got it clear?"

She nodded. So clear that it seemed to her he was talking about a thing
she had known once and had forgotten. All the time she had known John's
secret. She knew what would come next: McClane's voice saying, "Well
then, think--think," and his excited gestures, bobbing forward suddenly
from the hips. He went on.

"The balance had to be righted somehow. His whole life must have been a
struggle to right it. Unconscious, of course. Instinctive. His platonics
were just a glorifying of his disability. All that romancing was a
gorgeous transformation of his funk.... So that his very lying was a sort
of truth. I mean it was part of the whole desperate effort after
completion. He jumped at everything that helped him to get compensation,
to get power. He jumped at your feeling for him because it gave him
power. He jumped at the war because the thrill he got out of it gave him
the sense of power. He sucked manhood out of you. He sucked it out of
everything--out of blood and wounds.... He'd have been faithful to you
forever, Charlotte, if you hadn't found him out. _That_ upset all his
delicate adjustments. The war upset him. I think the sight of blood and
wounds whipped up the naked savage in him."

"But--no. He was afraid of that."

"He was afraid of himself. Of what was in him. That fear of his was his
protection, like his fear of women. The war broke it down. Then he was
cruel to you."

"Yes. He was cruel." Her voice sounded flat and hard, without feeling.
She had no feeling; she had exhausted all the emotions of her suffering.
And her knowledge of his cruelty was absolute. To McClane's assertion of
the fact she had no response beyond that toneless acquiescence.

"Taking you into that shed--"

He had roused her.

"How on earth did you know that? I've never told a single soul."

"It was known in the hospital. One of the carpenters saw the whole thing.
He told one of our orderlies who told my chauffeur Gurney who told me."

"It doesn't matter what he did to _me_. I can't get over his not caring
for the wounded."

"He was jealous of them, because you cared for them."

"Oh no. He'd left off caring for me by then."

"_Had_ he?" He gave a little soft, wise laugh. "What makes you think so?"

"That. His cruelty."

"Love can be very cruel."

"Not as cruel as that," she said.

"Yes. As cruel as that.... Remember, it was at the bottom of the whole
business. Of his dreams. In a sense, the real John Conway was the man
who dreamed."

"If you're right he was the man who was cruel, too. And it's his
cruelty I hate."

"Don't hate it. Don't hate it. I want you to understand his cruelty. It
wasn't just savagery. It was something subtler. A supreme effort to get
power. Remember, he couldn't help it. He _had_ to right himself.
Supposing his funk extinguished something in him that could only be
revived through cruelty? You'll say he could help betraying you--"

"To you, too?"

"To me, too. When you lost faith in him you cut off his main source of
power. You had to be discredited so that it shouldn't count. You mustn't
imagine that he did anything on purpose. He was driven. It sounds
horrible, but I want you to see it was just his way of saving his soul,
the only way open to him. You mustn't think of it as a bad way. Or a good
way. It wasn't even _his_ way. It was the way of something bigger than he
was, bigger than anything he could ever be. Bigger than badness or

"Did 'it' do cowardly things to 'save' itself?"

"No. If Conway could have played the man 'it' would have been satisfied.
It was always urging him." ... "Try," he said, and she knew that now at
any rate he was sincere; he really wanted to help her; he was giving her
his best. His voice was very quiet now, his excited gestures had ceased.
"Try and think of it as something more real, more important and necessary
than he was; or you and I. Something that is always struggling to be, to
go on being. Something that degeneracy is always trying to keep
under.... Power. A power in retreat, fighting to get back its lost

Then what she had loved was not John Conway. What she had hated was not
he. He was this Something, tremendous and necessary, that escaped your
judgment. You couldn't hurt it with your loving or hating or your ceasing
to love and hate. Something that tortured you and betrayed you because
that was the only way it knew to save itself.

Something that couldn't save itself altogether--that clung to you and
called to you to save it.

But that _was_ what she had loved. Nothing could touch it.

For a moment while McClane was talking she saw, in the flash he gave
her, that it was real. And when the flash went it slipped back into
her darkness.

But on the deck in front of her she could see John walking up and down.
She could see the wide road of gold and purple that stretched from the
boat's stern to the sun. John's head was thrown back; he looked at her
with his shining, adventurous eyes. He was happy and excited, going out
to the war.

And she saw them again: the batteries, the cars and the wagons. Dust like
blown smoke, and passing in it the long lines of beaten men, reeling
slowly to the footway, passing slowly, endlessly, regiment by regiment,
in retreat.


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