Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

X.

From one of the high, wooden benches, at the back of the amphitheatre in the ALBERTHALLE, where he had lain at full length, listening to the performance of a Berlin pianist, Krafft rose, full to the brim of impressions, and eager to state them.

“That man,” he began, as he left the hall between Maurice and Avery Hill, “is a successful teacher. And therewith his fate as an artist is sealed. No teacher can get on to the higher rungs of the ladder, and no inspired musician be a satisfactory teacher. If the artist is obliged to share his art, his pupils, should they be intelligent, may pick up something of his skill, learn the trick of certain things; but the moment he begins to set up dogmas, it is the end of him. — As if it were possible for one person to prescribe to another, of a totally different temperament, how he ought to feel in certain passages, or be affected by certain harmonies! If I, for example, choose to play the later Beethoven sonatas as I would the Brahms Concerto in B flat, with a thoroughly modern irony, what is it that hinders me from doing it, and from satisfying myself, and kindred souls, who are honest enough to admit their feelings? Tradition, nothing in the world but tradition; tradition in the shape of the teacher steps in and says anathema: to this we are not accustomed, ERGO, it cannot be good. — And it is just the same with those composers who are also pedagogues. They know, none better, that there are no hard and fast rules in their art; that it is only convention, or the morbid car of some medieval monk, which has banished, say, consecutive fifths from what is called g pure writing ‘; that further, you need only to have the regulation number of years behind you, to fling squeamishness to the winds. In other words, you learn rules to unlearn them with infinite pains. But the pupil, in his innocence, demands a rigid basis to go on — it is a human weakness, this, the craving for rules — and his teachers pamper him. Instead of saying: develop your own ear, rely on yourself, only what you teach yourself is worth knowing — instead of this, they build up walls and barriers to hedge him in, behind which, for their benefit, he must go through the antics of a performing dog. But nemesis overtakes them; they fall a victim to their own wiles, just as the liar finally believes his own lies. Ultimately they find their chief delight in the adroitness with which they themselves overcome imaginary obstacles.”

His companions were silent. Avery Hill had a nine hours’ working-day behind her, and was tired; besides, she made a point of never replying to Krafft’s tirades. Once only, of late, had she said to him in Maurice’s presence: “You would reason the skin off one’s bones, Heinz. You are the most self-conscious person alive.” Krafft had been much annoyed at this remark, and had asked her to call him a Jew and be done with it; but afterwards, he admitted to Maurice that she was right.

“And it’s only the naive natures that count.”

Maurice had found his way back to Krafft; for, in the days of uncertainty that followed the posting of his letter, he needed human companionship. Until the question whether Louise would return or not was decided, he could settle to nothing; and Krafft’s ramblings took him out of himself. Since the ball, his other friends had given him the cold shoulder; hence it did not matter whether or no they approved of his renewed intimacy with Krafft — he said “they,” but it was Madeleine who was present to his mind. And Krafft was an easy person to take up with again; he never bore a grudge, and met Maurice readily, half-way.

It had not taken the latter long to shape his actions or what he believed to be the best. But his thoughts were beyond control. He was as helpless against sudden spells of depression as against dreams of an iridescent brightness. He could no more avoid dwelling on the future than reliving the Past. If Louise did not return, these memories were all that were left him. If she did, what form were their relations to each other going to assume? — and this was the question that cost him most anxious thought.

A thing that affected him oddly, at this time, was his growing inability to call up her face. It was incredible. This face, which he had supposed he knew so well that he could have drawn it blindfold, had taken to eluding him; and the more impatient he became, the poorer was his success. The disquieting thing, however, was, that though he could not materialise her face, what invariably rose before his eyes was her long, bare arm, as it had lain on the black stuff of her dress. At first, it only came when he was battling to secure the face; then it took to appearing at unexpected moments; and eventually, it became a kind of nightmare, which haunted him. He would start up from dreaming of it, his hair moist with perspiration, for, strangely enough, he was always on the point of doing it harm: either his teeth were meeting in it, or he had drawn the blade of a knife down the middle of the blue-veined whiteness, and the blood spurted out along the line, which reddened instantly in the wake of the knife.

April had come, bringing April weather; it was fitfully sunny, and a mild and generous dampness spurred on growth: shrubs and bushes were so thickly sprinkled with small buds that, at a distance, it seemed as though a transparent green veil had been flung over them. In the Gewandhaus, according to custom, the Ninth Symphony had brought the concert season to a close; once more, the chorus had struggled victoriously with the ODE TO JOY. And early one morning, Maurice held a note in his hand, in which Louise announced that she had “come home,” the night before.

She had been away for almost two months, and, to a certain extent, he had grown inured to her absence. At the sight of her handwriting, he had the sensation of being violently roused from sleep. Now he shrank from the moment when he should see her again; for it seemed that not only the present, but all his future depended on it.

Late in the evening, he returned from the visit, puzzled and depressed.

Seven had boomed from church-clocks far and near, before he reached the BRUDERSTRASSE, but, nevertheless, he had been kept waiting in the passage for a quarter of an hour: and he was in such an apprehensive frame of mind that he took the delay as a bad omen.

When he crossed the threshold, Louise came towards him with one of those swift movements which meant that she was in good spirits, and confident of herself. She held out her hands, and smiled at him with all her dark, mobile face, saying words that were as impulsive as her gesture. Maurice was always vaguely chilled by her outbursts of light-heartedness: they seemed to him strained and unreal, so accustomed had he grown to the darker, less adaptable side of her nature.

“You have come back?” he said, with her hand in his.

“Yes, I’m here — for the present, at least.”

The last words caught in his ear, and buzzed there, making his foreboding a certainty. On the spot, his courage failed him; and though Louise continued to ring all the changes her voice was capable of, he did not recover his spirits. It was not merely the sense of strangeness, which inevitably attacked him after he had not seen her for some time; on this occasion, it was more. Partly, it might be due to the fact that she was dressed in a different way; her hair was done high on her head, and she wore a light grey dress of modish cut and design. Her face, too, had grown fuller; the hollows in her cheeks had vanished; and her skin had that peculiar clear pallor that was characteristic of it in health.

He was stupidly silent; he could not join in her careless vivacity. Besides, throughout the visit, nothing was said that it was worth his coming to hear.

But when she wished him good-bye, she said, with a strange smile: “Altogether, I am very grateful to you, Maurice, for having made me go away.”

He himself no longer felt any satisfaction at what he had done. As soon as he left her, he tried to comprehend what had happened: the change in her was too marked for him to be able to console himself that he had imagined it. Not only had she seemingly recovered, as if by magic, from the lassitude of the winter — he could even have forgiven her the alteration in her style of dress, although this, too, helped to alienate her from him. But what he ended by recognising, with a jealous throb, was that she had mentally recovered as well; she was once more the self-contained girl he had first known, with a gift for keeping an outsider beyond the circle of her thoughts and feelings. An outsider! The weeks of intimate companionship were forgotten, seemed never to have been. She had no further need of him, that was the clue to the mystery, and the end of the matter.

And so it continued, the next day, and the next again; Louise deliberately avoided touching on anything that lay below the surface. She vouchsafed no explanation of the words that had disquieted him, nor was the letter Maurice had written her once mentioned between them.

But, though she seemed resolved not to confide in him, she could not dispense with the small, practical services, he was able to render her. They were even more necessary to her than before; for, if one thing was clear, it was that she no longer intended to cloister herself up inside her four walls: the day after her return, she had been out till late in the afternoon, and had come home with her hands full of parcels. She took it now as a matter of course that Maurice should accompany her; and did not, or would not, notice his abstraction.

After the lapse of a very short time, however, the young man began to feel that there was something feverish in the continual high level of her mood. She broke down, once or twice, in trying to sustain it, and was more of her eloquently silent self again: one evening, he came upon her, in the dusk, when she was sitting with her chin on her hand, looking out before her with the old questioning gaze.

Occasionally he thought that she was waiting for something: in the middle of a sentence, she would break off, and grow absent-minded; and more than once, the unexpected advent of the postman threw her into a state of excitement, which she could not conceal. She was waiting for a letter. But Maurice was proud, and asked no questions; he took pains to use the cool, friendly tone, she herself adopted.

Not a week had dragged out, however, since her return, before he was suffering in a new way, in the oldest, cruellest way of all.

The PENSION at which she had stayed in Dresden, had been frequented by leisured foreigners: over twenty people, of various nationalities, had sat down daily at the dinner-table. Among so large a number, it would have been easy for Louise to hold herself aloof. But, as far as Maurice could gather, she had felt no inclination to do this. From the first, she seemed to have been the nucleus of an admiring circle, chief among the members of which was a family of Americans — a brother and two sisters, rich Southerners, possessed of a vague leaning towards art and music. The names of these people recurred persistently in her talk; and, as the days went by, Maurice found himself listening for one name in particular, with an irritation he could not master. Raymond van Houst — a ridiculous name! — fit only for a backstairs romance. But as often as she spoke of Dresden, it was on her lips. Whether in the Galleries, or at the Opera, on driving excursions, or on foot, this man had been at her side; and soon the mere mention of him was enough to set Maurice’s teeth on edge.

One afternoon, he found her standing before an extravagant mass of flowers, which were heaped up on the table; there were white and purple violets, a great bunch of lilies of the valley, and roses of different colours. They had been sent to her from Dresden, she said; but, beyond this, she offered no explanation. All the vases in the room were collected before her; but she had not begun to fill them: she stood with her hands in the flowers, tumbling them about, enjoying the contact of their moist freshness.

To Maurice’s remark that she seemed to take a pleasure in destroying them, she returned a casual: “What does it matter?” and taking up as many violets as she could hold, looked defiantly at him over their purple leaves. Through all she said and did ran a strong undercurrent of excitement.

But before Maurice left, her manner changed. She came over to him, and said, without looking up: “Maurice I want to tell you something.”

“Yes; what is it?” He spoke with the involuntary coolness this mood of hers called out in him; and she was quick to feel it. She returned to the table.

“You ask so prosaically: you are altogether prosaic to-day. And it is not a thing I can tell you off-hand. You would need to sit down again. It’s a long story; and you were going; and it’s late. We will leave it till to-morrow: that will be time enough. And if it is fine, we can go out somewhere, and I’ll tell you as we go.”

It was a brilliant May afternoon: great white clouds were piled one on the top of another, like bales of wool; and their fantastic bulging roundnesses made the intervening patches of blue seem doubly distant. The wind was hardly more than a breath, which curled the tips of thin branches, and fluttered the loose ends of veils and laces. In the ROSENTAL, where the meadow-slopes were emerald-green, and each branch bore its complement of delicately curled leaves, the paths were so crowded that there could be no question of a connected conversation. But again, Louise was not in a hurry to begin.

She continued meditative, even when they had reached the KAISERPARK, and were sitting with their cups before them, in the long, wooden, shed-like building, open at one side. She had taken off her hat — a somewhat showy white hat, trimmed with large white feathers — and laid it on the table; one dark wing of hair fell lower than the other, and shaded her forehead.

Maurice, who was on tenterhooks, subdued his impatience as long as he could. Finally, he emptied his cup at a draught, and pushed it away.

“You wanted to speak to me, you said.”— His manner was curt, from sheer nervousness.

His voice startled her. “Yes, I have something to tell you,” she said, with a hesitation he did not know in her. “But I must go back a little. — If you remember, Maurice, you wrote to me while I was away, didn’t you?” she said, and looked not at him, but at her hands clasped before her. “You gave me a number of excellent reasons why it would be better for me not to come back here. I didn’t answer your letter at the time because . . . What should you say, Maurice, if I told you now, that I intended to take your advice?”

“You are going away?” The words jerked out gratingly, of themselves.

“Perhaps. — That is what I want to speak to you about. I have a chance of doing so.”

“Chance? How chance?” he asked sharply.

“That’s what I am going to tell you, if you will give me time.”

Drawing a letter from her pocket, she smoothed the creases out of the envelope, and handed it to him.

While he read it, she looked away, looked over the enclosure. Some people were crossing it, and she followed them with her eyes, though she had often seen their counterparts before. A man in a heavy ulster — notwithstanding the mildness of the day — stalked on ahead, unconcerned about the fate of his family, which dragged, a woman and two children, in the rear: like savages, thought Louise, where the male goes first, to scent danger. But the crackling of paper recalled her attention; Maurice was folding the sheet, and replacing it in the envelope, with a ludicrous precision. His face had taken on a pinched expression, and he handed the letter back to her without a word.

She looked at him, expecting him to say something; but he was obdurate. “This was what I was waiting all these days to tell you,” she said.

“You knew it was coming then?” He scarcely recognised his own voice; he spoke as he supposed a judge might speak to a proven criminal.

Louise shrugged her shoulders. “No. Yes. — That is, as far as it’s possible to know such a thing.”

Through the crude glass window, the sun cast a medley of lines and lights on her hands, and on the checkered table-cloth. There were two rough benches, and a square table; the coffeecups stood on a metal tray; the lid of the pot was odd, did not match the set: all these inanimate things, which, a moment ago, Maurice had seen without seeing them, now stood out before his eyes, as if each of them had acquired an independent life, and no longer fitted into its background.

“Let us go home,” he said, and rose.

“Go home? But we have only just come!” cried Louise, with what seemed to him pretended surprise. “Why do you want to go home? It is so quiet here: I can talk to you. For I need your advice, Maurice. You must help me once again.”

“I help you? — in this? No, thank you. All I can do, it seems, is to wish you joy.” He remained standing, with his hand on the back of the bench.

But at the cold amazement of her eyes, he took his seat again. “It is a matter for yourself — only you can decide. It’s none of my business.” He moved the empty cups about on the cloth.

“But why are you angry?”

“Haven’t I good reason to be? To see you — you! — accepting an impertinence of this kind so quietly. For it IS an impertinence, Louise, that a man you hardly know should write to you in this cocksure way and ask you to marry him. Impertinent and absurd!”

“You have a way of finding most things I want to do absurd,” she answered. “In this case, though, you’re. mistaken. The tone of the letter is all it should be. And, besides, I know Mr. Van Houst very well.”

Maurice looked at her with a sardonic smile.

“Seven weeks is a long time,” she added.

“Seven weeks! — and for a lifetime!”

“Oh, one can get to know a man inside out, in seven weeks,” she said, with wilful flippancy. “Especially if, from the first, he shows so plainly . . . Maurice, don’t be angry. You have always been kind to me; you’re not going to fail me now that I really need help? I have no one else, as you very well know.” She smiled at him, and held out her hand. He could not refuse to take it; but he let it drop again immediately.

“Let me tell you all about it, and how it happened, and then you will understand,” Louise went on, in a persuasive voice — he had once believed that the sound of this voice would reconcile him to any fate. “You think the time was short, but we were together every day, and sometimes all day long. I knew from the first that he cared for me; he made no secret of it. If anything, it is a proof of tactfulness on his part that he should have written rather than have spoken to me himself. I like him for doing it, for giving me time. And then, listen, Maurice, what I should gain by marrying him. He is rich, really rich, and good-looking — in an American way — and thirtytwo years old. His sisters would welcome me — one of them told me as much, and told me, too, that her brother had never cared for anyone before. He would make an ideal husband,” she added with a sudden recklessness, at the sight of Maurice’s unmoved face. “Americanly chivalrous to the fingertips, and with just enough of the primitive animal in him to ward off monotony.”

Maurice raised his hand, as if in self-defence. “So you, too, then, like any other woman, would marry just for the sake of marrying?” he asked, with bitter disbelief.

“Yes. — And just especially and particularly I.”

“For Heaven’s sake, let us get out of here!”

Without listening to her protest, he went to find the waiter. Louise followed him out of the enclosure, carrying hat and gloves in her hand.

They struck into narrow by-paths going back, to avoid the people. But it was impossible to escape all, and those they met, eyed them with curiosity. The clear English voices rang out unconcerned; the pale girl with the Italian eyes was visibly striving to appease her companion, who marched ahead, angry and impassive.

For a few hundred yards neither of them spoke. Then Louise began anew.

“And that is not all. You judge harshly and unfairly because you don’t know the facts. I am almost quite alone in the world. I have no relatives that I care for, except one brother. I lived with him, on his station in Queensland, until I came here. But now he’s married, and there would be no room for me in the house — figuratively speaking. If I go back now, I must share his home with his wife, whom I knew and disliked. While here is some one who is fond of me, and is rich, and who offers me not only a home of my own, but, what is far more to me, an entirely new life in a new world.”

“Excellent reasons! But in reckoning them up, you have forgotten what seems to me the most important one of all; whether or no you care for him, for this . . . “this in his trouble, he could not find a suitable epithet.

But Louise refused to be touched. “I like him,” she answered, and looked across the slope of meadow they were passing. “I liked him, yes, as any woman would like a man who treated her as he did me. He was very good tome. And not in the least repugnant. — But care?” she interrupted herself. “If by care, you mean . . . Then no, a hundred thousand times, no! I shall never care for anyone in that way again, and you know it. I had enough of that to last me all my life.”

“Very well, then, and I say, if you married a man you care for as little as that, I should never believe in a woman again. — Not, of course, that it matters to you what I believe in and what I don’t? But to hear you — you, Louise! — counting up the profits to be gained from it, like . . . like — oh, I don’t know what! I couldn’t have believed it of you.”

“You are a very uncomfortable person, Maurice.”

“I mean to be. And more than uncomfortable. Listen to me! You talk of it lightly and coolly; but if you married this man, without caring for him more than you say you do, just for the sake of a home, or his money, or his good manners, or the primitive animal, or whatever it is that attracts you in him:”— he grew bitter again in spite of himself —“if you did this, you would be stifling all that is good and generous in your nature. For you may say what you like; the man is little more than a stranger to you. What can you know of his real character? And what can he know of you?”

“He knows as much of me as I ever intend him to know.”

“Indeed! Then you wouldn’t tell him, for instance, that only a few months ago, you were eating your heart out for some one else?”

Louise winced as though the words had struck her in the face. Before she answered, she stood still, in the middle of the path, and pinned on, with deliberate movements, the big white hat, beneath the drooping brim and nodding feathers of which, her eyes were as black as coals.

“No, I should not,” she said. “Why should I? Do you think it would make him care more for me to know that I had nearly died of love for another man?”

“Certainly not. And it might also make him less ready to marry you.”

“That’s exactly what I think.”

One was as bitter as the other; but Maurice was the more violent of the two.

“And so you would begin the new life you talk of, with lies and deceit? — A most excellent beginning!”

“If you like to call it that. I only know, that no one with any sense thinks of dragging up certain things when once they are dead and buried. Or are you, perhaps, simple enough to believe any man living would get over what I have to tell him, and care for me afterwards in the same way?”

He turned, with tell-tale words on his tongue. But the expression of her face intimidated him. He had only to look at her to know that, if he spoke of himself at this moment, she would laugh him to scorn.

But the beloved face acted on him in its own way; his sense of injury weakened. “Louise,” he said in an altered tone; “whatever you say to the contrary, in a matter like this, I can’t advise you. For I don’t understand — and never should. — But of one thing I’m as sure as I am that the sun will rise to-morrow, and that is, that you won’t do it. Do you honestly think you could go on living, day after day, with a man you don’t sincerely care for? — of whom the most you can say is that he’s not repugnant to you? You little know what it would mean! — And you may reason as you will; I answer for you; and I say no, and again no. It isn’t in you to do it. You are not mean and petty enough. You can’t hide your feelings, try as you will. — No, you couldn’t deceive some one, by pretending to care for him, for months on end. You would be miserably unhappy; and then — then I know what would happen. You would be candid — candid about everything — when it was too late.”

There was no mistaking the sincerity of his words. But Louise was boundlessly irritated, and made no further effort to check her resentment.

“You have an utterly false and ridiculous idea of me, and of everything belonging to me.”

“I haven’t spent all this time with you for nothing. I know you better than you know yourself. I believe in you, Louise. And I know I am right. And some day you’ll know it, too.”

These words only incensed her the more.

“What you know — or think you know — is nothing to me. If you had listened to me patiently, as I asked you to, instead of losing your temper, and taking what I said as a personal affront, then, yes, then I should have told you something else besides. How, when I came back, a fortnight ago, I was quite resolved to marry this man, if he asked me marry him and cut myself off for ever from my old life and its hateful memories. — And why not? I’m still young. I still have a right to pleasure — and change — and excitement. — And in all these days, I didn’t once hesitate — not till the letter came yesterday — and then not till night. It wasn’t like me; for when once I have made up my mind, I never go back. So I determined to ask you — ask you to help me to decide. For you had always been kind to me. — But this is what I get for doing it.” Her anger flared up anew. “You have treated me abominably, to-day, Maurice; and I shan’t forget it. All your ridiculous notions about right and wrong don’t matter a straw. What does matter is, that when I ask for help, you should behave as if — as if I were going to commit a crime. Your opinion is nothing to me. If I decide to marry the man, I shall do it, no matter what you say.”

“I’m sure you will.”

“And if I don’t, let me tell you this: it won’t be because of anything you’ve said to-day. Not from any high-flown notions of honesty, or generosity, as you would like to make yourself believe; but merely because I haven’t the energy in me. I couldn’t keep it up. I want to be quiet, to have an easy life. The fact that some one else had to suffer, too, wouldn’t matter to me, in the least. It’s myself I think of, first and foremost, and as long as I live it will always be myself.”

Her voice belied her words; he expected each moment that she would burst out crying. However, she continued to walk on, with her head erect; and she did not take back one of the unkind things she had said.

They parted without being reconciled. Maurice stood and watched her mount the staircase, in the vain hope that she would turn, before reaching the top.

He did not see how the fine May afternoon declined, and passed into evening; how the high stacks of cloud were broken up at sunset, and shredded into small flakes and strips of cloud, which, saturated with gold, vanished in their turn: how the shadows in the corners turned from blue to black; nor did he note the mists that rose like steam from the ground, intensifying the acrid smell of garlic, with which the woods abounded. Screened by the thicket, he sat on his accustomed scat, and gave himself up to being miserable.

For some time he was conscious only of how deeply he had been wounded — just as one suffers from the bruise after the blow. At the moment, he had been stunned into a kind of quiescence; now his nerves throbbed and tingled. But, little by little, a vivid recollection of what had actually occurred returned to sting him: and certain details stood out fixed and unforgettable. Yet, in reliving the hours just past, he felt no regret at the fact that they had quarrelled. What first smote him was an unspeakable amazement at Louise. The knowledge that, for weeks on end, she had been contemplating marriage, was beyond his belief. Hardly recovered from the throes of a suffering believed incurable, and while he was still going about her with gloved hands, as it were, she was ready to throw herself into the arms of the first likely man she met. He could not help himself: in this connection, every little trait in her that was uncongenial to him, started up with appalling distinctness. Hitherto, he had put it down to his own sensitiveness; he was over-nice. But for the most part, he had forgiven her on account of all she had come through; for he believed that this grief had swept destructively through her nature, leaving a jagged wound, which only time could heal. Now, as if to prove to him what a fool he was, she showed him that he had been mistaken in this also; she could recover her equilibrium, while he still hedged her round with solicitude — recover herself, and transfer her affection to another person. Good God! Was it so easy, a matter of so little moment, to grow fond of one who was almost a stranger to her? — for, in spite of what she said to the contrary, he was persuaded that she had a stronger feeling for this man than she had been willing to admit: this riper man, with his experienced way of treating women. Was, then, his own idea of her wholly false? Was there, after all, something in her nature that he could not, would not, understand? He denied it fiercely, almost before he had formulated the question: no matter what her actions were, or what words she said, deep down in her was an intense will for good, a spring of noble impulse. It was only that she had never had a proper chance. But he denied it to a vision of her face: the haunting eyes which, at first sight, had destroyed his peace of mind; the dead black hair against the ivory-coloured skin. It was in these things that the truth lay, not in the blind promptings of her inclination.

For the first time, the idea of marriage took definite shape in his mind. For all he knew, it might have been lying dormant there, all along; but he would doubtless have remained unconscious of it, for weeks to come, had it not been for the events of the afternoon. Now, however, Louise had made it plain that his feelings for her were of an exaggerated delicacy; plain that she herself had no such scruples. He need hesitate no longer. But marry! . . . marriage! . . . he marry Louise! — at the thought of it, he laughed. That he, Maurice Guest, should, for an instant, put himself on a par with her American suitor! The latter, rich, leisured, able to satisfy her caprices, surround her with luxury: himself, younger than she by several years, without prospects, with nothing to offer her but a limitless devotion. He tried to imagine himself saying: “Louise, will you marry me?” and the words stuck in his throat; for he saw the amused astonishment of her eyes. And not merely at the presumption he would be guilty of; what was as clear to him as day was that she did not really care for him; not as he cared for her; not with the faintest hint of a warmer feeling. If he had never grasped this before, he did so now, to the full. Sitting there, he affirmed to himself that she did not even like him. She was grateful to him, of course, for his help and friendship; but that was all. Beyond this, he would not have been surprised to learn from her own lips that she actually disliked him: for there was something irreconcilable about their two natures. And never, for a moment, had she considered him in the light of an eligible lover — oh, how that stung! Here was she, with an attraction for him which nothing could weaken; and in him was not the smallest lineament, of body or of mind, to wake a response in her. He was powerless to increase her happiness by a hair’s breadth. Her nerves would never answer to the inflection of his voice, or the touch of his hand. How could such things be? What anomaly was here?

To-day, her face rose before him unsought — the sweet, dark face with the expression of slight melancholy that it wore in repose, as he loved it best. It was with him when, stiff and tired, he emerged from his seclusion, and walked home through the trails of mist that hung, breast-high, on the meadow-land. It was with him under the street-lamps, and, to its accompanying presence, the strong conviction grew in him that evasion on his part was no longer possible. Sooner or later, come what might, the words he had faltered over, even to himself, would have to be spoken.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33