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29. Chapter XXIX
I kept silence for a little while, thinking of what Stroeve had told me. I could not stomach his weakness, and he saw my disapproval. "You know as well as I do how Strickland lived," he said tremulously. "I couldn't let her live in those circumstances -- I simply couldn't."
"That's your business," I answered.
"What would you have done?" he asked.
"She went with her eyes open. If she had to put up with certain inconveniences it was her own lookout."
"Yes; but, you see, you don't love her."
"Do you love her still?"
"Oh, more than ever. Strickland isn't the man to make a woman happy. It can't last. I want her to know that I shall never fail her."
"Does that mean that you're prepared to take her back?"
"I shouldn't hesitate. Why, she'll want me more than ever then. When she's alone and humiliated and broken it would be dreadful if she had nowhere to go."
He seemed to bear no resentment. I suppose it was commonplace in me that I felt slightly outraged at his lack of spirit. Perhaps he guessed what was in my mind, for he said:
"I couldn't expect her to love me as I loved her. I'm a buffoon. I'm not the sort of man that women love. I've always known that. I can't blame her if she's fallen in love with Strickland."
"You certainly have less vanity than any man I've ever known," I said.
"I love her so much better than myself. It seems to me that when vanity comes into love it can only be because really you love yourself best. After all, it constantly happens that a man when he's married falls in love with somebody else; when he gets over it he returns to his wife, and she takes him back, and everyone thinks it very natural. Why should it be different with women?"
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