The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

The Woman Who Sat Still
(From Colour)
When he went, when he had to go, he took with him the memory of her that had become
crystallised, set for him in his own frequent words to her, standing at her side, looking
down at her with his keen, restless eyes--such words as: "It puzzles me how on earth you
manage to sit so still...."
Then, enlarging: "It is wonderful to me how you can keep so happy doing nothing--make
of enforced idleness a positive pleasure! I suppose it is a gift, and I haven't got it--not a
bit. It doesn't matter how tired I am, I have to keep going--people call it industry, but its
real name is nervous energy, run riot. I can't even take a holiday peacefully. I must be
actively playing if I cannot work. I'm just the direct descendant of the girl in the red
shoes--they were red, weren't they?--who had to dance on and on until she dropped. I
shall go on and on until I drop, and then I shall attempt a few more useless yards on all
"Come now," in answer to the way she shook her head at him, smiled at him from her
sofa, "you know very well how I envy you your gift, your power of sitting still--happily
still--your power of contemplation...."
And one day, more intimately still, with a sigh and a look (Oh, a look she understood!),
"To me you are the most restful person in the world...."
* * * * *
Why he went, except that he had to go; why he stayed away so long, so very long, are not
really relevant to this story; the facts, stripped of conjecture, were simply these: she was
married, and he was not, and there came the time, as it always comes in such
relationships as theirs, when he had to choose between staying without honour and going
quickly. He went. But even the bare facts concerning his protracted absence are less
easily stated because his absence dragged on long after the period when he might, with
impeccable honour, have returned.
The likeliest solution was that setting her aside when he had to, served so to cut in two
his life, so wrenched at his heartstrings, so burnt and bruised his spirit, that when, in his
active fashion he had lived some of the hurt down, he could not bring himself easily to
reopen the old subject--fresh wounds for him might still lurk in it--how could he tell?
Although it had been at the call, the insistence of honour, still hadn't he left her--deserted
her? Does any woman, even his own appointed woman, forgive a man who goes
speechless away? Useless, useless speculation! For some reason, some man's reason,
when another's death made her a free woman, yet he lingered and did not come.