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The Letter And The Lie
by [?]


As he hurried from his brougham through the sombre hall to his study, leaving his secretary far in the rear, he had already composed the first sentence of his address to the United Chambers of Commerce of the Five Towns; his mind was full of it; he sat down at once to his vast desk, impatient to begin dictating. Then it was that he perceived the letter, lodged prominently against the gold and onyx inkstand given to him on his marriage by the Prince and Princess of Wales. The envelope was imperfectly fastened, or not fastened at all, and the flap came apart as he fingered it nervously.

“Dear Cloud,–This is to say good-bye, finally–“

He stopped. Fear took him at the heart, as though he had been suddenly told by a physician that he must submit to an operation endangering his life. And he skipped feverishly over the four pages to the signature, “Yours sincerely, Gertrude.”

The secretary entered.

“I must write one or two private letters first,” he said to the secretary. “Leave me. I’ll ring.”

“Yes, sir. Shall I take your overcoat?”

“No, no.”

A discreet closing of the door.

“–finally. I can’t stand it any longer. Cloud, I’m gone to Italy. I shall use the villa at Florence, and trust you to leave me alone. You must tell our friends. You can start with the Bargraves to-night. I’m sure they’ll agree with me it’s for the best–“

It seemed to him that this letter was very like the sort of letter that gets read in the Divorce Court and printed in the papers afterwards; and he felt sick.

“–for the best. Everybody will know in a day or two, and then in another day or two the affair will be forgotten. It’s difficult to write naturally under the circumstances, so all I’ll say is that we aren’t suited to each other, Cloud. Ten years of marriage has amply proved that, though I knew it six–seven–years ago. You haven’t guessed that you’ve been killing me all these years; but it is so–“

Killing her! He flushed with anger, with indignation, with innocence, with guilt–with Heaven knew what!

“–it is so. You’ve been living your life. But what about me? In five more years I shall be old, and I haven’t begun to live. I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t stand this awful Five Towns district–“

Had he not urged her many a time to run up to South Audley Street for a change, and leave him to continue his work? Nobody wanted her to be always in Staffordshire!

“–and I can’t stand you. That’s the brutal truth. You’ve got on my nerves, my poor boy, with your hurry, and your philanthropy, and your commerce, and your seriousness. My poor nerves! And you’ve been too busy to notice it. You fancied I should be content if you made love to me absent-mindedly, en passant, between a political dinner and a bishop’s breakfast.”

He flinched. She had stung him.

“I sting you–“

No! And he straightened himself, biting his lips!

“–I sting you! I’m rude! I’m inexcusable! People don’t say these things, not even hysterical wives to impeccable husbands, eh? I admit it. But I was bound to tell you. You’re a serious person, Cloud, and I’m not. Still, we were both born as we are, and I’ve just as much right to be unserious as you have to be serious. That’s what you’ve never realized. You aren’t better than me; you’re only different from me. It is unfortunate that there are some aspects of the truth that you are incapable of grasping. However, after this morning’s scene–“

Scene? What scene? He remembered no scene, except that he had asked her not to interrupt him while he was reading his letters, had asked her quite politely, and she had left the breakfast-table. He thought she had left because she had finished. He hadn’t a notion–what nonsense!