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A Hazard of New Fortunes — Complete by Howells

If I do this thing Fulkerson again


"Be

serious, Basil. I'm in earnest."

"Serious? If I were any more serious I should shed tears. Come, my dear, I know what you mean, and if I had my heart set on this thing--Fulkerson always calls it 'this thing' I would cheerfully accept any sacrifice you could make to it. But I'd rather not offer you up on a shrine I don't feel any particular faith in. I'm very comfortable where I am; that is, I know just where the pinch comes, and if it comes harder, why, I've got used to bearing that kind of pinch. I'm too old to change pinches."

"Now, that does decide me."

"It decides me, too."

"I will take all the responsibility, Basil," she pleaded.

"Oh yes; but you'll hand it back to me as soon as you've carried your point with it. There's nothing mean about you, Isabel, where responsibility is concerned. No; if I do this thing--Fulkerson again? I can't get away from 'this thing'; it's ominous--I must do it because I want to do it, and not because you wish that you wanted me to do it. I understand your position, Isabel, and that you're really acting from a generous impulse, but there's nothing so precarious at our time of life as a generous impulse. When we were younger we could stand it; we could give way to it and take the consequences. But now we can't bear it. We must act from cold reason even in the ardor of self-sacrifice."

style="text-align: justify;">"Oh, as if you did that!" his wife retorted.

"Is that any cause why you shouldn't?" She could not say that it was, and he went on triumphantly:

"No, I won't take you away from the only safe place on the planet and plunge you into the most perilous, and then have you say in your revulsion of feeling that you were all against it from the first, and you gave way because you saw I had my heart set on it." He supposed he was treating the matter humorously, but in this sort of banter between husband and wife there is always much more than the joking. March had seen some pretty feminine inconsistencies and trepidations which once charmed him in his wife hardening into traits of middle-age which were very like those of less interesting older women. The sight moved him with a kind of pathos, but he felt the result hindering and vexatious.

She now retorted that if he did not choose to take her at her word be need not, but that whatever he did she should have nothing to reproach herself with; and, at least, he could not say that she had trapped him into anything.

"What do you mean by trapping?" he demanded.

"I don't know what you call it," she answered; "but when you get me to commit myself to a thing by leaving out the most essential point, I call it trapping."

"I wonder you stop at trapping, if you think I got you to favor Fulkerson's scheme and then sprung New York on you. I don't suppose you do, though. But I guess we won't talk about it any more."

He went out for a long walk, and she went to her room. They lunched silently together in the presence of their children, who knew that they had been quarrelling, but were easily indifferent to the fact, as children get to be in such cases; nature defends their youth, and the unhappiness which they behold does not infect them. In the evening, after the boy and girl had gone to bed, the father and mother resumed their talk. He would have liked to take it up at the point from which it wandered into hostilities, for he felt it lamentable that a matter which so seriously concerned them should be confused in the fumes of senseless anger; and he was willing to make a tacit acknowledgment of his own error by recurring to the question, but she would not be content with this, and he had to concede explicitly to her weakness that she really meant it when she had asked him to accept Fulkerson's offer. He said he knew that; and he began soberly to talk over their prospects in the event of their going to New York.


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