Instead of The Thorn
by Georgette Heyer
Some unknown impulse made her say quickly,"Stephen - I shan't change! It's - it's not fair to you - this arrangement. Let - let me go now - altogether!"
"I can't. You wouldn't be able to understand if I explained. Just believe that I can't."
She was holding fast to her courage. Again she managed to speak frankly. "I - don't want to - lead you on - under false pretences! I've - I've done enough of that! You'll - hope - all the time - and it'll be no good!"
"I'm willing to risk that. I'm going into this with my eyes open. Only, Elizabeth, I want you to think it over all the time, sanely. Don't let - other people - influence you. If you're happy without me - I'll - I'll set you free. But if you're not, if you're lonely, or miserable, then send for me. Promise me that!"
She had tried to make him see how she felt; she had tried to be honest. She could do no more.
"Yes, Stephen. I - I promise."
His hand tightened on hers. "You see,'Lisbeth, we - we can't end like this. I - that's not possible. But this is the only way I can see - to give our happiness a chance. And we must do that, Elizabeth. We must. I can't believe that this is the end of our lives together. I know it isn't. It's - an interlude. We'll look back on it someday, and smile, and wonder what was the matter with us. I suppose most married people go through a period of - dissension, only with us it's more acute, more dangerous. So whatever we do, Elizabeth, don't let us plunge in the dark. You don't know your own mind yet. A year from now it'll be different. You'll know - at least, I think so - one way or another."
She looked curiously up at him. "You're willing to wait - all that time?"
"Yes, if we eventually - come together again. It won't take us as long as that. I - I hope that it won't. I don't know - I may be talking nonsense, but I feel we've got - just a chance."
"You - you may change," she reminded him nervously. "You may find that - that you don't love me - after all."
He smiled, but crookedly.
"No, I shan't do that. I do love you. That can't change."
"I'm - I'm not a companion to you. A thousand things that I do - or don't do - irritate you."
"But I still love you. It makes all the difference, 'Lisbeth. If you really love, those little irritations don't matter - except momentarily. You get above them. They do matter to you - because - you don't - love me. And because I know that you don't - love anyone else - I feel there's hope. There's no other man. You just haven't learnt to love. That's all."
"I don't think - I shall ever learn," she said wistfully. "I - I wasn't meant to be married."
"You were, 'Lisbeth.Only you haven't grown up yet. I'm begining to see that. A year will make a difference in you. And 'Lisbeth, promise me this - If ever you need me, or want my help, you won't let pride stand in the way? Send for me. I shan't come if you don't, you see."
"It's not too much to ask, 'Lisbeth," he said, rather sadly.
"No, oh no! I - I will promise. Th -thank you. I - suppose I've treated you - very badly. I'm sorry. It - it hasn't been all my fault, Stephen."
"I know that. A lot of it's been my fault, and a lot - your upbringing. You haven't had a fair start. Well, you shall have it now, 'Lisbeth. By yourself. And - I think - we'd better discuss things from the business point of view now." He paused, fighting the longing to take her in his arms. "Do you propose to stay here? Or do you take a little flat somewhere?"
"I think - I shall stay here. I - I don't think I can afford a flat."
"You can afford what you like, 'Lisbeth. Do you imagine I am going to let you provide for yourself? An allowance will be paid into whatever bank you wish."
"Oh, please no! I - I couldn't, don't you see - I couldn't!"
"You must," he said. "You're still my wife!"
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