“‘Mother, I – I want to marry.’
‘I, too, have thought of that,’ she said.
‘You don’t consider that I am debarred from marriage?’
‘Oh no, no!’ Katherine cried, with a little sob in her voice. He looked at her steadily, with those profoundly desolate eyes.
‘It would not be wrong? It would not be otherwise than honourable?’ he asked.
If doubts arose within Katherine of the answer to that question, she crushed them down passionately. ‘No, my dearest, no,’ she declared. ‘It could not be wrong – it could not, could not be so – if she loved you, and you loved whomsoever you married.’
‘But I’m not in love – at least not in love with any person who can become my wife. Yet that does not seem to me to matter very much. I should be faithful, no fear, to anyone who was good enough to marry me. Enough of love would come, if only out of gratitude, towards the woman who would accept me as – as I am – and forgive that – that which cannot be helped.’
Again trembling shook Katherine. So terribly much seemed to her at stake just then! Silently she implored wisdom and clear-seeing might be accorded her. She leaned a little forward, and taking his left hand held it closely in both hers.
‘Dearest, that is not all. Tell me all,’ she said, ‘or I cannot quite follow your thought.’
Richard flung his body sideways across the bed, and kissed her hands as they held his. The hot colour rushed over his face and neck, up to the roots of his close-cropped, curly hair. He spoke, lying thus upon his chest, his face half buried in the sheet.
‘I want to marry because—because I want a child—I want a son,’ he said. [...] ‘My fate is fixed, you know. There’s no earthly use in wriggling. I am condemned to live a cow’s life and die a cow’s death. The pride of life may call, but I can’t answer. The great prizes are not for me. I’m too heavily handicapped. I was looking at that young fellow, Decies, to-night and considering his chances as against my own—— Oh! I know there’s wealth in plenty. The pasture’s green enough to make many a man covet it, and the stall’s well bedded-down. I don't complain. Only mother, you know—I know. Where’s the use of denying that which we neither of us ever really forget?—And then sometimes my blood takes fire. It did to-night. And the splendour of living being denied me, I—I—am tempted to say a Black Mass. One must take it out somehow. And I know I could go to the devil as few men have ever gone, magnificently, detestably, with subtleties and refinements of iniquity. [...] There should be a picturesqueness in my descent to hell which would go far to place my name at the head of the list of those sinners who have achieved immortality——‘
‘Richard! Richard!’ Lady Calmady cried, ‘do you want to break my heart quite?’
‘No,’ he answered, simply. ‘I’d infinitely rather not break your heart. I have no ambition to see my name in that devil's list except as an uncommonly ironical sort of second best. But then we must make some change, some radical change. At times, lately, I’ve felt as if I was a caged wild beast—blinded, its claws cut, the bars of its cage soldered and riveted, no hope of escape, and yet the vigour, the immense longing for freedom and activity, there all the while. [...] You see these few weeks in London—I’ve enjoyed them—but still they’ve made me understand, more than ever, all I’ve missed. Life calls, mother, do you see? And though the beast is blind, and his claws are cut, and his cage bolted, yet, when life calls, he must answer—must—or run mad—or die—do you see?’
‘And you shall answer, my beloved. Never fear, you will answer,’ Katherine replied proudly.
Richard’s hand closed hard upon hers.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘You were made to be a mother of heroes, not of a useless log like me.—And that’s just why I want to be good. And to be good I want a wife, that I may have that boy. I could keep straight for him, mother, though I’m afraid I can't keep straight for myself, and simply because it's right, much longer. I want him to have just all that I am denied. I want him to restore the balance, both for you and for me. I may have something of a career myself, perhaps, in politics or something. It’s possible, but that will come later, if it comes at all. And then it would be for his sake. What I want first is the boy, to give me an object and keep up my pluck, and keep me steady. I, giving him life, shall find my life in him, be paid for my wretched circumscribed existence by his goodly and complete one. He may be clever or not—I’d rather, of course, he was not quite a dunce—but I really don't very much mind, so long as he isn't an outrageous fool, if he’s only an entirely sound and healthy human animal.’
Richard stretched himself upon the bed, straightened the sheet across his chest, and clasped his hands under his head again. The desolation had gone out of his eyes. He seemed to look afar into the future, and therein see manly satisfaction and content. His voice was vibrant, rising to a kind of chant.
‘He shall run, and he shall swim, he shall fence, and he shall row,’ he said. ‘He shall learn all gallant sports, as becomes an English gentleman. And he shall ride,—not as I ride, God forbid! like a monkey strapped on a dog at a fair, but as a centaur, as a young demigod. We will set him, stark naked, on a bare-backed horse, and see that he’s clean-limbed, perfect, without spot or blemish, from head to heel.’”