'Thank you,' said Wimsey. 'I may be everything you say - patronising, interfering, conceited, intolerable and all the rest of it. But do give me credit for a little intelligence. Do you think I don't know all that? Do you think it's pleasant for any man who feels about a woman as I do about you, to have to fight his way along under this detestable burden of gratitude? Damn it, do you think I don't know perfectly well that I'd have a better chance if I was deaf, blind, maimed, starving, drunken or dissolute, so that you could have the fun of being magnanimous? Why do you suppose I treat my own sincerest feelings like something out of a comic opera, if it isn't to save myself the bitter humiliation of seeing you try not to be utterly nauseated by them? Can't you understand that this damned dirty trick of fate has robbed me of the common man's right to be serious about his own passions? Is that a position for any man to be proud of?'
'Don't talk like that.'
'I wouldn't, if you didn't force me. And you might have the justice to remember that you can hurt me a damned sight more than I can possibly hurt you.'
'I know I'm being horribly ungrateful -'
All endurance has its limits, and Wimsey had reached his.
'Grateful! Good God! Am I never to get away from the bleat of that filthy adjective? I don't want gratitude. I don't want kindness. I don't want sentimentality. I don't even want love - I could make you give me that - of a sort. I want common honesty.'
'Do you? But that's what I've always wanted - I don't think it's to be got.'
'Listen, Harriet. I do understand. I know you don't want either to give or to take. You've tried being the giver, and you've found that the giver is always fooled. And you won't be the taker, because that's very difficult, and because you know that the taker always ends by hating the giver. You don't want ever again to have to depend for happiness on another person.'
'That's true. That's the truest thing you've ever said.'
'All right. I can respect that. Only you've got to play the game. Don't force an emotional situation and then blame me for it.'
'But I don't want any situation. I want to be left in peace.'
'Oh! but you are not a peaceful person. You'll always make trouble. Why not fight it out on equal terms and enjoy it? Like Alan Breck, I'm a bonny fighter.'
'And you think you're sure to win.'
'Not with my hands tied.'
'Oh! - well, all right. But it all sounds so dreary and exhausting,' said Harriet, and burst idiotically into tears.
'Good Heavens!' said Wimsey, aghast. 'Harriet! darling! angel! beast! vixen! don't say that.' He flung himself on his knees in a frenzy of remorse and agitation. 'Call me anything you like, but not dreary! Not one of those things you find in clubs! Have this one, darling, it's much larger and quite clean. Say you didn't mean it! Great Scott! Have I been boring you interminably for eighteen months on end? A thing any right-minded woman would shudder at. I know you once said that if anybody ever married me it would be for the sake of hearing me piffle on, but I expect that kind of thing palls after a bit. I'm babbling - I know I'm babbling. What on earth am I to do about it?'
'Ass! Oh, it's not fair. You always make me laugh. I can't fight - I'm so tired. You don't seem to know what being tired is. Stop. Let go. I won't be bullied. Thank God! there's the telephone.'
'Damn the telephone!'
'It's probably something very important.'
She got up and went to the instrument, leaving Wimsey on his knees, looking, and feeling, sufficiently absurd.