Read CHAPTER I of The Romantic, free online book, by May Sinclair, on ReadCentral.com.

They turned again at the end of the platform.

The tail of her long, averted stare was conscious of him, of his big, tweed-suited body and its behaviour, squaring and swelling and tightening in its dignity, of its heavy swing to her shoulder as they turned.

She could stave off the worst by not looking at him, by looking at other things, impersonal, innocent things; the bright, yellow, sharp gabled station; the black girders of the bridge; the white signal post beside it holding out a stiff, black-banded arm; the two rails curving there, with the flat white glitter and sweep of scythes; pointed blades coming together, buried in the bend of the cutting.

Small three-cornered fields, clean edged like the pieces of a puzzle, red brown and pure bright green, dovetailed under the high black bar of the bridge.  She supposed you could paint that.

Turn.

Clear stillness after the rain.  She caught herself smiling at the noise her boots made clanking on the tiles with the harsh, joyous candour that he hated.  He walked noiselessly, with a jerk of bluff knickerbockered hips, raising himself on his toes like a cat.

She could see him moving about in her room, like that, in the half darkness, feeling for his things, with shamed, helpless gestures.  She could see him tiptoeing down her staircase, furtive, afraid.  Always afraid they would be found out.

That would have ruined him.

Oh well ­why should he have ruined himself for her?  Why?  But she had wanted, wanted to ruin herself for him, to stand, superb and reckless, facing the world with him.  If that could have been the way of it.

Turn.

That road over the hill ­under the yellow painted canopy sticking out from the goods station ­it would be the Cirencester road, the Fosse Way.  She would tramp along it when he was gone.

Turn.

He must have seen her looking at the clock.  Three minutes more.

Suddenly, round the bend, under the bridge, the train.

He was carrying it off fairly well, with his tight red face and his stare over her head when she looked at him, his straight smile when she said “Good-bye and Good-luck!”

And her silly hand clutching the window ledge.  She let go, quick, afraid he would turn sentimental at the end.  But no; he was settling down heavily in his corner, blinking and puffing over his cigar.

That was her knapsack lying on the seat there.  She picked it up and slung it over her shoulder.

Cirencester?  Or back to Stow-on-the-Wold?  If only he hadn’t come there last night.  If only he had let her alone.

She meditated.  She would have to wire to Gwinnie Denning to meet her at Cirencester.  She wondered whether Gwinnie’s mother’s lumbago would last over the week-end.  It was Friday.  Perhaps Gwinnie had started.  Perhaps there would be a wire from her at the hotel.

Going on to Cirencester when you wanted to be in Stow-on-the-Wold, what was it but a cowardly retreat?  Driven out of Stow-on-the-Wold by Gibson?  Not she!

Dusk at ten o’clock in the morning under the trees on the mile-long hill.  You climbed up and up a steep green tunnel.  The sun would be blazing at its mouth on the top.  Nothing would matter.  Certainly not this affair with Gibson Herbert.  She could see clearly her immense, unique passion thus diminished.  Surprising what a lot of it you could forget.  Clean forget.  She supposed you forgot because you couldn’t bear to remember.

But there were days that stood out; hours; little minutes that thrilled you even now and stung.

This time, two years ago, that hot August.  The day in the office when everything went wrong all at once and the clicking of her typewriter maddened him and he sent her out of his room.

The day when he kept her over-time.  The others had gone and they were there by themselves, the big man in his big room and she in her den, the door open between.  Suddenly she saw him standing in the doorway, looking at her.  She knew then.  She could feel the blood rushing in her brain; the stabbing click of the typewriter set up little whirling currents that swamped her thoughts.

Her wet fingers kept slipping from the keys.  He came and took her in his arms.  She lay back in his arms, crying.  Crying because she was happy, because she knew.

She remembered now what he had said then.  “You must have known.  You must have thought of me.  You must have wanted me to take you in my arms.”  And her answer.  “No.  I didn’t.  I didn’t think of it.”

And his smile.  His unbelieving smile.  He thought she was lying.  He always thought people were lying.  Women.  He thought women always lied about what they wanted.

The first time.  In her Bloomsbury room, one evening, and the compact they made then, sitting on the edge of the sofa, like children, holding each other’s hands and swearing never to go back on it, never to go back on themselves or on each other.  If it ever had to end, a clean cut.  No going back on that either.

The first night, in the big, gloomy bedroom of the hotel in Glasgow.  The thick, grey daylight oozing in at the window out of the black street; and Gibson lying on his back, beside her, sleeping, the sheet dragged sideways across his great chest.  His innocent eyelids.

And the morning after; the happiness.  All day the queer, exalted feeling that she was herself, Charlotte Redhead, at last, undeceived and undeceiving.

The day his wife came into the office.  Her unhappy eyes and small, sharp-pointed face, shrinking into her furs.  Her name was Effie.

He had told her in the beginning that he had left off caring for his wife.  They couldn’t hurt her; she didn’t care enough.  She never had cared.  There was another fellow.  Effie would be all right.

Yet, after she had seen Effie it had never been the same thing.  She couldn’t remember, quite, how it had been.

She could remember the ecstasy, how it would come swinging through you, making you blind and deaf to impersonal, innocent things while it lasted.  Even then there was always something beyond it, something you looked for and missed, something you thought would come that never came.  There was something he did.  She couldn’t remember.  That would be one of the things you wanted to forget.  She saw his thick fingers at dessert, peeling the peaches.

Perhaps his way of calling her “Poor Sharlie?” Things he let out ­“I never thought I could have loved a girl with bobbed hair.  A white and black girl.”  There must have been other girls then.  A regular procession.  Before he married Effie.

She could see them.  Pink and gold girls, fluffy and fat; girls with red hair; brown haired girls with wide slippery mouths.  Then Effie.  Then herself, with her thick bobbed mane and white face.  And the beautiful mouth he praised so.

Was it the disgust of knowing that you were only one of a procession?  Or was it that Effie’s sad, sharp face slipped between?

And the end of it.  The break-down, when Effie was ill.

His hysterical cries.  “My wife, Sharlie, my wife.  We oughtn’t to have done it....

“...  I can’t forgive myself, Sharlie.  I’ve been a brute, a beast, a stupid animal....

“...  When I think of what we’ve done to her ­the little innocent thing ­the awful unhappiness ­I could kill myself.”

“Do you mean she knows?”

“She thinks.  That’s bad enough.  If she knew, it would kill her.”

“You said she wouldn’t care.  You said there was another man.”

“There wasn’t.”

“You lied, then?”

“Of course I lied.  You wouldn’t have come to me if I hadn’t.”

“You told me you didn’t care for her.”

He had met that with his “Well ­what did you want?”

She went over and over it, turning it round and round to see if there was any sort of light it would look a bit better in.  She had been going to give him up so beautifully.  The end of it was to have been wonderful, quiet, like a heavenly death, so that you would get a thrill out of that beauty when you remembered.  All the beauty of it from the beginning, taken up and held together, safe at the end.  You wouldn’t remember anything else.  And he had killed it, with his conscience, suddenly sick, whining, slobbering, vomiting remorse ­Turning on her.

“I can’t think what you wanted with me.  Why couldn’t you have let me alone!”

Her own voice, steady and hard.  “If you feel dirty, go and wash yourself outside.  Don’t try and rub it off on me.  I want to keep clean.”

“Isn’t it a bit too late?”

“Not if you clear out at once.  This minute.”  He called her “a cruel little devil.”

She could forgive him for that.  She could forgive him ending it in any beastly way he liked, provided he did end it.  But not last night.  To come crawling back, three months after, wanting to begin again.  Thinking it was possible.

There had been nothing worse than that.  Except that one dreadful minute last year when he had wanted to raise her salary ­afterwards ­and she had said “What for?” And their faces had turned from each other, flaming with the fire of her refusal.

What had he really thought of her?  Did he think she wanted to get anything out of their passion?  What could you want to get out of it, or give, but joy?  Pure joy.  Beauty.

At the bend of the road the trees parted.  A slender blue channel of sky flowed overhead between the green tops.

If not joy, then truth; reality.  The clear reality of yourself, Charlotte Redhead.  Of Gibson Herbert.  Even now it would be all right so long as you knew what it was and didn’t lie about it.

That evening in the office when he came to her ­she could remember the feeling that shot up suddenly and ran over her and shook her brain, making her want him to take her in his arms.  It was that.  It had never been anything but that.  She had wanted him to take her, and he knew it.  Only, if he hadn’t come to her and looked at her she wouldn’t have thought of it; she would have gone on working for him without thinking.  That was what he didn’t know, what he wouldn’t have believed if you had told him.

She had come to the top of the hill.  At the crossroads she saw the grey front of her inn, the bow window jutting, small black shining panes picked out with the clean white paint of the frame-work.

Upstairs their breakfast table stood in the window bow as they had left it.  Bread he had broken on the greasy plate.  His cup with the coffee he couldn’t drink.  Pathetic, if you hadn’t remembered.

“You might as well.  If it isn’t you, it’ll be another woman, Sharlie.  If it isn’t me, it’ll be another man.”

That was what he had thought her.

It didn’t matter.