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Vain Fortune by George Moore

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At that moment Julia got up from her knees. She had brushed away her tears.
Her face was shaken with grief.

'My heart is breaking,' she said. 'This is too cruel--too cruel! And on my
wedding night.'

Their eyes met; and, divining each other's thought, each felt ashamed, and
Julia said--

'Oh, what am I saying? This dreadful selfishness, from which we cannot
escape, that is with us even in such a moment as this! That poor child gone
to her death, and yet amid it all we must think of ourselves.'

'My dear Julia, we cannot escape from our human nature; but, for all that,
our grief is sincere. We can do nothing. Do not grieve like that.'

'And why not? She was my best friend. How have I repaid her? Alas! as woman
always repays woman for kindness done. The old story. I cannot forgive
myself. No, no! do not kiss me! I cannot bear it. Leave me. I can see
nothing but Emily's reproachful face.' She covered her face in her hands
and sobbed again.

The same scenes repeated themselves over and over again. The same fits of
passionate grief; the same moment of calm, when words impregnated with self
dropped from their lips. The same nervous sense that something of the dead
girl stood between them. And still they sat by the fire, weary with sorrow,
recrimination, long regret, and pain. They could grieve no more; and before
dawn sleep pressed upon their eyelids, and at the end of a long silence he
dozed--a pale, transparent sleep, through which the realities of life
appeared almost as plainly as before. Suddenly he awoke, and he shivered in
the chill room. The fire was sinking; dawn divided the window-curtains. He
looked at his wife. She seemed to him very beautiful as she slept, her face
turned a little on one side, and again he asked himself if he loved her.
Then, going to the window, he drew the curtains softly, so as not to awaken
her; and as he stood watching a thin discoloured day breaking over the
roofs, it again seemed to him that Emily's suicide was the better part.
'Those who do not perform their task in life are never happy.' The words
drilled themselves into his brain with relentless insistency. He felt a
terrible emptiness within him which he could not fill. He looked at his
wife and quailed a little at the thought that had suddenly come upon him.
She was something like himself--that was why he had married her. We are
attracted by what is like ourselves. Emily's passion might have stirred
him. Now he would have to settle down to live with Julia, and their similar
natures would grow more and more like one another. Then, turning on his
thoughts, he dismissed them. They were the morbid feverish fancies of an
exceptional, of a terrible night. He opened the window quietly so as not to
awaken his wife. And in the melancholy greyness of the dawn he looked down
into the street and wondered what the end would be.

He did not think that he would live long. Disappointed men--those who have
failed in their ambition--do not live to make old bones. There were men
like him in every profession--the arts are crowded with them. He had met
barristers and soldiers and clergy-men, just like himself. One hears of
their deaths--failure of the heart's action, paralysis of the brain, a
hundred other medical causes--but the real cause is, lack of appreciation.

He would hang on for another few years, no doubt; during that time he must
try to make his wife happy. His duty was now to be a good husband, at all
events, there was that.

His wife lay asleep in the arm-chair, and fearing she might catch cold, he
came into the room closing the window very gently behind him.


Printed by T. and A. Constable, printers to Her Majesty at the Edinburgh
University Press.

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