Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

XIII.

“Now you will not leave me, Maurice?”

“Never . . . while I live.”

“And you . . .”

“No. Don’t ask me yet. I can’t tell you.”

“Maurice!”

“Forgive me! Not yet. That after all you should care a little! After all . . . that you should care so much!”

“And it is for ever?”

“For ever and ever . . . what do you take me for? But not here! Let us go away — to some new place. We will make it our very own.”

Their words came in haste, yet haltingly; were all but inaudible whispers; went flying back and forwards, like brief cries for aid, implying a peculiar sense of aloofness, of being cut adrift and thrown on each other’s mercy.

Louise raised her head.

“Yes, we will go away. But now, Maurice — at once!”

“Yes. To-night . . . to-morrow . . . when you like.”

The next morning, he set out to find a place. Three weeks of the term had still to run, and he was to have played in an ABENDUNTERHALTUNG, before the vacation. But, compared with the emotional upheaval he had undergone, this long-anticipated event was of small consequence. To Schwarz, he alleged a succession of nervous headaches, which interfered with his work. His looks lent colour to the statement; and though, as a rule, highly irritated by opposition to his plans, Schwarz only grumbled in moderation. He would have let no one else off so easily, and, at another time, the knowledge of this would have rankled in Maurice, as affording a fresh proof of the master’s indifference towards him. As it was, he was thankful for the freedom it secured him.

On the strength of a chance remark of Madeleine’s, which he had remembered, he found what he looked for, without difficulty. It could not have been better: a rambling inn, with restaurant, set in a clearing on the top of a wooded hill, with an open view over the undulating plains.

That night, he wrote to Louise from the Rochlitzer Berg, painting the nest he had found for them in glowing colours, and begging her to come without delay. But the whole of the next day passed without a word from her, and the next again, and not till the morning of the third, did he receive a note, announcing her arrival for shortly after midday. He took it with him to the woods, and lay at full length on the moss.

Although he had been alone now for more than forty-eight hours — a July quiet reigned over the place — he had not managed to think connectedly. He was still dazed, disbelieving of what had happened. Again and again he told himself that his dreams and hopes — which he had always pushed forward into a vague and far-off future — had actually come to pass. She was his, all his; she had given herself ungrudgingly: as soon as he could make it possible, she would be his wife. But, in the meantime, this was all he knew: his nearer vision was obstructed by the stupefying thought of the weeks to come. She was to be there, beside him, day after day, in a golden paradise of love. He could only think of it with moist eyes; and he swore to himself that he would repay her by being more infinitely careful of her than ever man before of the woman he loved. But though he repeated this to himself, and believed it, his feelings had unwittingly changed their pole. On his knees before her, he had vowed that her happiness was the end of all his pleading; now it was frankly happiness he sought, the happiness of them both, but, first and foremost, happiness. And it could hardly have been otherwise: the one unpremeditated mingling of their lives had killed thought; he could only feel now, and, throughout these days, he was conscious of each movement he made, as of a song sung aloud. He wandered up and down the wooded paths, blind to everything but the image of her face, which was always with him, and oftenest as it had bent over him that last evening, with the strange new fire in its eyes. Closing his own, he felt again her arms on his shoulders, her lips meeting his, and, at such moments, it could happen that he threw his arms round a tree, in an ungovernable rush of longing. Beyond the moment when he should clasp her to him again, he could not see: the future was as indistinct as were the Saxon plains, in the haze of morning or evening.

He set out to meet her far too early in the day, and when he had covered the couple of miles that lay between the inn on the hill and the railway-station at the foot, he was obliged to loiter about the sleepy little town for over an hour. But gradually the time ticked away; the hands of his watch pointed to a quarter to two, and presently he found himself on the shadeless, sandy station which lay at the end of a long, sandy street, edged with two rows of young and shadeless trees; found himself looking along the line of rail that was to bring her to him. Would the signal never go up? He began to feel, in spite of the strong July sunlight, that there was something illusive about the whole thing. Or perhaps it was just this harsh, crude light, without relieving shadows, which made his surroundings seem unreal to him. However it was, the nearer the moment came when he would see her again, the more improbable it seemed that the train, which was even now overdue, should actually be carrying her towards him — her to him! He would yet waken, with a shock. But then, coming round a corner in the distance, at the side of a hill, he saw the train. At first it appeared to remain stationary, then it increased in size, approached, made a slight curve, and was a snaky line; it vanished, and reappeared, leaving first a white trail of cloud, then thick rounded puffs of cloud, until it was actually there, a great black object, with a creak and a rattle.

He had planted himself at the extreme end of the platform, and the carriages went past him. He hastened, almost running, along the train. At the opposite end, a door was opened, the porter took out some bags, and Louise stepped down, and turned to look for him. He was the only person on the station, besides the two officials, and in passing she had caught a glimpse of his face. If he looks like that, every one will know, she thought to herself, and her first words, as he came breathlessly up, were: “Maurice, you mustn’t look so glad!”

He had never really seen her till now, when, in a white dress, with eyes and lips alight, she stood alone with him on the wayside platform. To curb his first, impetuous gesture, Louise had stretched out both her hands. He stood holding them, unable to take his eyes from her face. At her movement to withdraw them, he stooped and kissed them.

“Not look glad? Then you shouldn’t have come.”

They left her luggage to be sent up later in the day, and set out on their walk. Going down the shadeless street, and through the town, she was silent. At first, as they went, Maurice pointed out things that he thought would interest her, and spoke as if he attached importance to them. While, in reality, nothing mattered, now that she was beside him. And gradually, he, too, lapsed into silence, walking by her side across the square, and through the narrow streets, with the solemnly festive feelings of a child on Sunday. They crossed the moat, passed through the gates and courtyard of the old castle, and began to ascend the steep path that was a short-cut to the woods. It was exposed to the full glare of the sun, and, on reaching the sheltering trees, Louise gave a sigh of relief, and stood still to take off her hat.

“It’s so hot. And I like best to be bareheaded.”

“Yes, and now I can see you better. Is it really you, at last? I still can’t believe it. — That you should have come to me!”

“Yes, I’m real,” she smiled, and thrust the pins through the crown of the hat. “But very tired, Maurice. It was so hot, and the train was so slow.”

“Tired? — of course, you must be. Come, there’s a seat just round this corner. You shall rest there.”

They sat, and he laid his arm along the back of the bench. With his left hand he turned her face towards him. “I must see you. I expect every minute to wake and find it’s not true.”

“And yet you haven’t even told me you’re glad to see me.”

“Glad? No. Glad is only a word.”

She leaned lightly against the protective pressure of his arm. On one of her hands lying in her lap, a large spot of sunlight settled. He stooped and put his lips to it. She touched his head.

“Were the days long without me?”

“Why didn’t you come sooner?”

Not that he cared, or even cared to know, now that she was there. But he wanted to hear her speak, to remember that he could now have her voice in his ears, whenever he chose. But Louise was not disposed to talk; the few words she said, fell unwillingly from her lips. The stillness of the forest laid its spell upon them: each faint rustling among the leaves was audible; not a living thing stirred except themselves. The tall firs and beeches stretched infinitely upwards, and the patches of light that lay here and there on the moss, made the cool darkness seem darker.

When they walked on again, Maurice put his arm through hers, and, in. this intimacy of touch, was conscious of every step she took. It made him happy to suit his pace to hers, to draw her aside from a spreading root or loose stone, and to feel her respond to his pressure. She walked for the most part languidly, looking to the ground. But at a thickly wooded turn of the path, where it was very dark, where the sunlight seemed far away, and the pine-scent was more pungent than elsewhere, she stopped, to drink in the spicy air with open lips and nostrils.

“It’s like wine. Maurice, I’m glad we came here — that you found this place. Think of it, we might still be sitting indoors, with the blinds drawn, knowing that the pavements were baking in the sun. While here! . . . Oh, I shall be happy here!”

She was roused for a moment to a rapturous content with her surroundings. She looked childishly happy and very young. Maurice pressed her arm, without speaking: he was so foolishly happy that her praise of the place affected him like praise of himself. Again, he had a chastened feeling of exhilaration: as though an acme of satisfaction had been reached, beyond which it was impossible to go.

On catching sight of the rambling wooden building, in the midst of the clearing that had been made among the encroaching trees, Louise gave another cry of pleasure, and before entering the house, went to the edge of the terrace, and looked down on the plains. But upstairs, in her room on the first storey, he made her rest in an arm-chair by the window. He himself prepared the tea, proud to perform the first of the trivial services which, from now on, were to be his. There was nothing he would not do for her, and, as a beginning, he persuaded her to lie down on the sofa and try to sleep.

Once outside again, he did not know how to kill time; and the remainder of the afternoon seemed interminable. He endeavoured to read, but could not take in the meaning of two consecutive sentences. He was afraid to go far away, in case she should wake and miss him. So he loitered about in the vicinity of the house, and returned every few minutes, to see if her blind were not drawn up. Finally, he sat down at one of the tables on the terrace, where he had her window in sight. Towards six o’clock, his patience was exhausted; going upstairs, he listened outside the door of her room. Not a sound. With infinite precaution, he turned the handle, and looked in.

She was lying just as he had left her, fast asleep. Her head was a little on one side; her left hand was under her cheek, her right lay palm upwards on the rug that covered her. Maurice sat down in the arm-chair.

At first, he looked furtively, afraid of disturbing her; then more openly, in the hope that she would waken. Sitting thus, and thinking over the miracle that had happened to him, he now sought to find something in her face for him alone, which had previously not been there. But his thoughts wandered as he gazed. How he loved it! — this face of hers. He was invariably worked on afresh by the blackness of the lustreless hair; by the pale, imperious mouth; by the dead white pallor of the skin, which shaded to a dusky cream in the curves of neck and throat, and in the lines beneath the eyes was of a bluish brown. Now the lashes lay in these encircling rings. Without doubt, it was the eyes that supplied life to the face: only when they were open, and the lips parted over the strong teeth, was it possible to realise how intense a vitality was latent in her. But his love would wipe out the last trace of this wan tiredness. He would be infinitely careful of her: he would shield her from the impulsiveness of her own nature; she should never have cause to regret what she had done. And the affection that bound them would day by day grow stronger. All his work, all his thoughts, should belong to her alone; she would be his beloved wife; and through him she would learn what love really was.

He rose and stood over her, longing to share his feelings with her. But she remained sunk in her placid sleep, and as he stood, he became conscious of a different sensation. He had never seen her face — except convulsed by weeping — when it was not under full control. Was it because he had stared so long at it, or was it really changed in sleep? There was something about it, at this moment, which he could not explain: it almost looked less fine. The mouth was not so proudly reticent as he had believed it to be; there was even a want of restraint about it; and the chin had fallen. He did not care to see it like this: it made him uneasy. He stooped and touched her hand. She started up, and could not remember where she was. She put both hands to her forehead. “Maurice! — what is it? Have I been asleep long?”

He held his watch before her eyes. With a cry she sprang to her feet. Then she sent him downstairs.

They were the only guests. They had supper alone in a longish room, at a little table spread with a coloured cloth. The window was open behind them, and the branches of the trees outside hung into the room. In honour of the occasion, Maurice ordered wine, and they remained sitting, after they had finished supper, listening to the rustling and swishing of the trees. The only drawback to the young man’s happiness was the pertinacious curiosity of the girl who waited on them. She lingered after she had served them, and stared so hard that Maurice turned at length and asked her what the matter was.

The girl coloured to the roots of her hair.

“Ach, Fraulein is so pretty,” she answered naivly, in her broad Saxon dialect.

Both laughed, and Louise asked her name, and if she always lived there. Thus encouraged, Amalie, a buxom, thickset person, with a number of flaxen plaits, came forward and began to talk. Her eyes were fixed on Louise, and she only occasionally glanced from her to the young man.

“It’s nice to have a sweetheart,” she said suddenly.

Louise laughed again and coloured. “Haven’t you got one, Amalie?”

Amalie shook her head, and launched out into a tale of faithlessness and desertion. “Yes, if I were as pretty as you, Fraulein, it would be a different thing,” she ended, with a hearty sigh.

Maurice clattered up from the table. “All right, Amalie, that’ll do.”

They went out of doors, and strolled about in the twilight. He had intended to show her some of the pretty nooks in the neighbourhood of the house. But she was not as affable with him as she had been with Amalie; she walked at his side with an air of preoccupied indifference.

When they sat down on a seat, on the side of the hill, the moon had risen. It was almost at the full, and a few gently sailing scraps of cloud, which crossed it, made it seem to be coming towards them. The plains beneath were veiled in haze; detached sounds mounted from them: the prolonged barking of a dog, the drone of an approaching train. Round about them, the air was heavy with the scent of the sun-warmed pines. Maurice had taken her hand and sat holding it: it was the one thing that existed for him. All else was vague and unreal: only their two hearts beat in all the universe. But there was no interchange between them of binding words or endearments, such as pass between most lovers.

How long they sat, neither could have told. But suddenly, far below, a human voice was raised in a long cry, which echoed against the side of the hill. Louise shivered: and he had a moment of apprehension.

“You’re cold. We have sat too long. Let us go.”

They rose, and walked slowly back to the house.

Although the doors were still open, the building was in darkness, and they had to grope their way up the stairs. Outside her room, he paused to light the candle that was standing on the table, but Louise opened the door and went in. As she did so, she gave a cry. The blind had not been lowered, and a patch of greenish-white moonlight lay on the floor before the window, throwing the rest of the room into massy shadow. She went forward and stood in it.

“Don’t make a light,” she said to him over her shoulder.

Maurice put down the matches, with which he had been fumbling, went quickly in after her, and shut the door.

Before anyone else was astir, he had flung out into the freshness of the morning. It was cool in the shade of the woods; grass and moss were a little moist with dew. He did not linger under the trees; he needed movement; and striding along the driving-road, which ran down the hill where the incline was easiest, he went out on the plains, among the little villages that dotted the level land like huge clumps of mushrooms. He carried his cap in his hand, and let the early sun play on his head.

When he returned, it was nine o’clock, and he was ravenously hungry. Amalie carried the coffee and the crisp brown rolls to one of the small tables on the terrace, and herself stood, after she had served him, and looked over the edge of the hill. When he had finished eating, he opened a volume of DICHTUNG UND WAHRHEIT, which he carried in his pocket, and began to read. But after a few lines, his thoughts wandered; the book had a chilling effect on him in his present mood; the writing seemed stiff and strained — the work of a very old man.

At first, that morning, he had not ventured to review even in thought the past hours. Now, however, that he was again within a stone’s throw of Louise, memories crowded upon him; he gazed, with a passion of gratefulness, at her window. One detail stood out more vividly than all the rest. It was that of waking suddenly at dawn, from a dreamless sleep, and of finding on his pillow, a thick tress of black ruffled hair. For a moment, he had hardly been able to believe his eyes; and even yet, the mere remembrance of this dusky hair on the pillow’s whiteness, seemed to bring what had happened home to him, as nothing else could have done.

She had slept on, undisturbed, and she was still asleep, to judge from the lowered blind. But though hours seemed to pass while he sat there, he was not dissatisfied; it was enough to know how near she was to him.

When she came, she was upon him before he was aware of it. At the light step behind, he sprang from his seat.

“At last!”

“Are you tired of waiting for me?”

She was in the same white dress, and a soft-brimmed hat fell over her forehead. He did not answer her words; for Amalie followed on her heels with fresh coffee, and made a great business of re-setting the table.

“WUNSCHE GUTEN APPETIT!”

The girl retired to a distance, but still lingered, keeping them in sight. Maurice leaned across the table. “Tell me how you are. Have you forgotten me?” He tried to take her hand.

“Take care, Maurice. We can be seen here.”

“How that girl stares! Why doesn’t she go away?”

“She is envying me my sweetheart again . . . who won’t let me eat my breakfast.”

“I’ve been alone for hours, Louise. Tell me what I want to know.”

“Yes — afterwards. The coffee is getting cold.”

He sat back and watched her movements, with fanatic eyes. She was not confused by the insistence of his gaze; but she did not return it. She was paler than usual; and the lines beneath her eyes were blacker. Maurice believed that he could detect a new note in her voice this morning; and he tried to make her speak, in order that he might hear it; but she was as chary of her words as of her looks. Attracted by the two strangers, a little child of the landlord’s came running up to stare shyly. She spread a piece of bread with honey, and gave it to the child. He was absurdly jealous, and she knew it.

For the rest of the morning, she would have been content to bask in the sun, but when she saw how impatient he was, she gave way, and they went out of the sight of other people, into the friendly, screening woods.

“I thought you would never come.”

“Why didn’t you wake me? Oh, gently, Maurice! You forget that I’ve just done my hair.”

“To-day I shall forget everything. Let me look at you again . . . right into your eyes.”

“To-day you believe I’m real, don’t you? Are you satisfied?”

“And you, Louise, you? — Say you’re happy, too!”

They came upon the FRIEDRICH AUGUST TURM, a stone tower, standing on the highest point of the hill, beside a large quarry; and, too idly happy to refuse, climbed the stone steps, led by a persuasive old pensioner, who, on the platform at the top, adjusted the telescope, and pointed out the distant landmarks, with something of an owner’s pride. On this morning, Maurice would not have been greatly surprised to hear that the streaky headline of the Dover coast was visible: he had eyes for her alone, as, with assumed interest, she followed the old man’s hand, learned where Leipzig lay, and how, on a clear day, its many spires could be distinguished.

“Over there, Maurice . . . a little more to the right. How far away we seem!”

Leaning against the parapet, he continued to look at her. The few ordinary words meant in reality something quite different. It was as if she had said to him: “Yes, yes, be at rest — I am still yours;” and he told himself, with a feverish pleasure, that, from now on, everything she said in the presence of others would be a cloak for what she really meant to say. He had been right, there was a new tone in her voice this morning, an imperceptible vibration, a sensuous undertone, which seemed to have been left over from those moments when it had quivered like a roughly touched string beneath a bow. Going down the steps behind her, he heard her dress swish from step to step, and saw the fine grace of her strong, supple body. At a bend in the stair, he held her back and kissed her neck, just where the hair stopped growing. On the ground-floor, she paused to pick out a trifle from a table set with mementoes. The old man praised his wares with zeal, taking up this and that in his old, reddened hands, on which the skin was drawn and glazed, like a coating of gelatine. Louise chose a carved wooden pen; a tiny round of glass was set in the handle, through which might be seen a view of the tower, with an encircling motto.

After this, he had her to himself, for the rest of the day. They sat on a seat that was screened by trees, and thickly grown about. His arm lay along the back of the bench, and every now and then his hand sought and pressed the warm, soft round of her shoulder. In this attitude, he poured out his heart to her. Hitherto, the very essence of his love had been taciturn endurance; now, he felt how infinitely much he had to say to her: all that he had undergone since knowing her first, all the hopes and feelings that had so long been pent up in him, struggled to escape. Now, there was no hindrance to his telling her everything; it was not only permissible, but right that he should: henceforth there must be no strangeness between them, no knowledge, pleasant or unpleasant, that she did not share. And he went back, and dwelt on details and events long past, which, unknown to himself, his memory had stored up; but it was chiefly the restless misery of the past half year that was his theme — he took the same pleasure in reciting it, now that it was over, as the convalescent in relating his sufferings. Besides that, it was easier, there being nothing to conceal; whereas, in referring to an earlier time, a certain name had to be shirked and gone round about, like a plague-spot. His impassioned words knew no halt; he was amazed at his own eloquence. And the burden of months fell away from him as he talked.

The receptiveness of her silence spurred him on. She sat motionless, with loosely clasped hands; and spots of light settled on her bare head, and on the white stuff of her dress. Occasionally, at something he said, a smile would raise the corners of her mouth; sometimes, but less often, she turned her head with incredulous eyes. But, though she was emotionally so irresponsive, Maurice had the feeling that she was content, even happy, to sit inactive at his side, and listen to his story.

Each of these first wonderful days was of the same pattern. They themselves lost count of time, so like was one day to another; and yet each that passed was a little eternity in itself. The weather was superb, and to them, in their egotism, it came to seem in the order of things that they should rise in the morning to cloudless skies and golden sunshine; that the cool green seclusion of the woods should be theirs, where they were more securely shut off from the world than inside the house. Louise lay on the moss, with her arms under her head, or sat with her back against a tree-trunk. Maurice was always in front of her, so that he could see her face as he talked — this face of which he could never see enough.

He was happy, in a dazed way; he could not appraise the extent of his happiness all at once. Its chief outward sign was the nervous flood of talk that poured from his lips — as though they had been sealed and stopped for years. But Louise urged him on; what he had first felt dimly, he soon knew for certain: that she was never tired of learning how much he loved her, how he had hoped, and ventured, and despaired, and how he had been prepared to lose her, up to the very last day. She also made him describe to her more than once how he had first seen her: his indelible impression of her as she played; her appearance at his side in the concert-hall; how he had followed her out and looked for her, and had vainly tried to learn who she was.

“I stood quite close to you, you say, Maurice? Perhaps I even looked at you. How strange things are!”

Still, the interest she displayed was of a wholly passive kind; she took no part herself in this building up of the past. She left it to him, just as she left all that called for firmness or decision, in this new phase of her life. The chief step taken, it seemed as if no further initiative were left in her; she let herself be loved, waited for everything to come from him, was without will or wish. He had to ask no self-assertion of her now, no impulsive resolutions. Over all she did, lay a subtle languor; and her abandon was absolute — he heard it in the very way she said his name.

In the first riotous joy of possession, Maurice had been conscious of the change in her as of something inexpressibly sweet and tender, implying a boundless faith in him. But, before long, it made him uneasy. He had imagined several things as likely to happen; had imagined her the cooler and wiser of the two, checking him and chiding him for his over-devotion; had imagined even moments of self-reproach, on her part, when she came to think over what she had done. What he had not imagined was the wordless, unthinking fashion in which she gave herself into his hands. The very expression of her face altered in these days: the somewhat defiant, bitter lines he had so loved in it, and behind which she had screened herself, were smoothed out; the lips seemed to meet differently, were sweeter, even tremulous; the eyes were more veiled, far less sure of themselves. He did not admit to himself how difficult she made things for him. Strengthened, from the first, by his good resolutions, he was determined not to let himself be carried off his feet. But it would have been easier for him to stand firm, had she met him in almost any other way than this — even with a frank return of feeling, for then they might have spoken openly, and have helped each other. As it was, he had no thoughts but of her; his watchful tenderness knew no bounds; but the whole responsibility was his. It was he who had to maintain the happy mean in their relations; he to draw the line beyond which it was better for all their after-lives that they should not go. He affirmed to himself more than once that he loved her the more for her complete subjection: it was in keeping with her openhanded nature which could do nothing by halves. Yet, as time passed, he began to suffer under it, to feel her absence of will as a disquieting factor — to find anything to which he could compare it, he had to hark back to the state she had been in when he first offered her aid and comfort. That was the lassitude of grief, this of . . . he could not find a word. But it began to tell on him, and more than once made him a little sharp with her; for, at moments, he would be seized by an overpowering temptation to shake her out of her lassitude, to rouse her as he very well knew she could be roused. And then, strange desires awoke in him; he did not himself know of what he was capable.

One afternoon, they were in the woods as usual. It was very sultry; not a leaf stirred. Louise lay with her elbow on the moss-grown roots of a tree; her eyes were heavy. Maurice, before her, smoked a cigarette, and watched for the least recognition of his presence, thinking, meanwhile, that she looked better already for these days spent out-of-doors — the tiny lines round her eyes were fast disappearing. By degrees, however, he grew restless under her protracted silence; there was something ominous about it. He threw his cigarette away, and, taking her hand, began to pull apart the long fingers with the small, pink nails, or to gather them together, and let them drop, one by one, like warm, but lifeless things.

“What ARE you thinking of?” he asked at last, and shut her hand firmly within his.

She started. “I? . . . thinking? I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“But you were. I saw it in your face. Your thoughts were miles away.”

“I don’t know, Maurice. I couldn’t tell you now.” And a moment later, she added: “You think one must always be thinking, when one is silent.”

“Yes, I’m jealous of your thoughts. You tell me nothing of them. But now you have come back to me, and it’s all right.”

He drew her nearer to him by the hand he held, and, putting his arm under her neck, bent her head back on the moss. Her stretched throat was marked by two encircling lines; he traced them with his finger. She lay and smiled at him. But her eyes remained shaded: they were meditative, and seemed to be considering him, a little deliberately.

“Tell me, Louise,” he said suddenly; “why do you look at me like that? It’s not the first time — I’ve seen it before. And then, I can’t help thinking there’s some mistake — that after all you don’t really care for me. It is so — so critical.”

“You are curious to-day, Maurice.”

“Yes. There’s so much I want to know, and you tell me nothing. It is I who talk and talk — till you must be tired of hearing me.”

“No, I like to listen best. And I have nothing to say.”

“Nothing? Really nothing?”

“Only that I’m glad to be here — that I am happy.”

He kissed her on the throat, the eyes and the lips; kissed her, until, under his touch, that vague, elusive influence began to emanate from her, which, he was aware, might some day overpower him, and drag him down. They were quite alone, shut in by high trees; no one would find them, or disturb them. And it was just this mysterious power in her that his nerves had dreamed of waking: yet now, some inexplicable instinct made him hesitate, and forbear. He drew his arm from under her head, and rose to his feet, where he stood looking down at her. She lay just as he had left her, and he felt unaccountably impatient.

“There it is again!” he cried. “You are looking at me just as you did before.”

Louise passed her hand over her eyes, and sat up. “Why, Maurice, what do you mean? It was nothing — only something I was trying to understand.”

But what it was that she did not understand, he could not get her to tell him.

A fortnight passed. One morning, when a soft south breeze was in motion, Maurice reminded her with an air of playful severity, that, so far, they had not learned to know even their nearer surroundings; while of all the romantic explorings in the pretty Muldental, which he had had in view for them, not one had been undertaken. Louise was not fond of walking in the country; she tired easily, and was always content to bask in the sun and be still. But she did not attempt to oppose his wish; she put on her hat, and was ready to start.

His love of movement reasserted itself. They went down the driving-road, and out upon the long, ribbon-like roads that zigzagged the plains, connecting the dotted villages. These roads were edged with fruit-trees — apple and cherry. The apples were still hard, green, polished balls, but the berries were at their prime. And everywhere men were aloft on ladders, gathering the fruit for market. For the sum of ten pfennigs, Maurice could get his hat filled, and, by the roadside, they would sit down to make a second breakfast off black, luscious cherries, which stained the lips a bluish purple. When it grew too hot for the open roads, they descended the steep, wooded back of the bill, to the romantic little town of Wechselburg at its base. Here, a massive bridge of reddish-yellow stone spanned the winding, slate-grey Mulde; a sombre, many-windowed castle of the same stone as the bridge looked out over a wall of magnificent chestnuts.

On returning from these, and various other excursions, they were pleasantly tired and hungry. After supper, they sat upstairs by the window in her room, Louise in the big chair, Maurice at her feet, and there watched the darkness come down, over the tops of the trees.

Somewhat later in the month, the fancy took her to go to a place called Amerika. Maurice consulted the landlord about the distance. Their original plan of taking the train a part of the way was, however, abandoned when the morning came; for it was an uncommonly lovely day, and a fresh breeze was blowing. So, having scrambled down to Wechselburg again, they struck out on the flat, and began their walk. The whole day lay before them; they were bound to no fixed hours; and, throughout the morning, they made frequent halts, to gather the wild raspberries that grew by the roadside. Having passed under a great railway viaduct, which dominated the landscape, they stopped at a village inn, to rest and drink coffee. About two o’clock, they came to Rochsburg, and finally arrived, towards the middle of the afternoon, at the picturesque restaurant that bore the name, of Amerika. Here they dined. Afterwards, they returned to Rochsburg, but much less buoyantly — for Louise was growing footsore — paid a bridge-toll, were shown through the castle, and, at sunset, found themselves on the little railway-station, waiting for an overdue train. The restaurant in which they sat, was a kind of shed, roofed by a covering of Virginia creeper; the station stood on an eminence; the plains stretched before them, as far as they could see; the evening sky was an unbroken sheet of red and gold.

The half-hour’s journey over — it was made in a narrow wooden compartment, crowded with peasants returning from a market — they left the train, and began to climb the hill. But, by now, Louise was at the end of her strength, and Maurice began to fear that he would never get her home; she could with difficulty drag one foot after the other, and had to rest every few minutes, so that it was nearly ten o’clock before they entered the house. In her room, he knelt before her and took off her boots; Amalie carried her supper up on a tray. She hardly touched it: her eyes were closing with fatigue, and she was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.

Next day she did not waken till nearly noon, and she remained in bed till after dinner. For the rest of the day, she sat in the armchair. Maurice wished to read to her, but she preferred quiet — did not even want to be talked to. The weather was on her nerves, she said — for it had grown very sultry, and the sky was overcast. The landlord prophesied a thunderstorm. In the evening, however, as it was still dry, and he had been in the house all day, Maurice went out for a solitary walk.

He swung down the road at a pace he could only make when he was alone. It had looked threatening when he left the house, but, as he went, the clouds piled themselves up with inconceivable rapidity, and before he was three miles out on the plain, the storm broke, with a sudden fury from which there was no escape. He took to his heels, and ran to the next village, some quarter of a mile in front of him. There, in the smoky room of a tiny inn, together with a handful of country-people, he was held a prisoner for over two hours; the rain pelted, and the thunder cracked immediately overhead. When, drenched to the skin, he reached the top of the hill again, it was going on for midnight. He had been absent for close on four hours.

The candle in her room was guttering in its socket. By its failing light, he saw that she was lying across the bed, still dressed. Over her bent Amalie.

He had visions of sudden illness, and brushed the girl aside.

“What is it? What’s the matter?”

At his voice, Louise lifted a wild face, stared at him as though she did not recognise him, then rose with a cry, and flung herself upon him.

“Take care! I’m wet through.”

For all answer, she burst out crying, and trembled from head to foot.

“What is it, darling? Were you afraid?”

But she only clung to him and trembled.

Amalie was weeping with equal vehemence; he ordered her out of the room. Notwithstanding his dripping clothes, he was forced to support Louise. In vain he implored her to speak; it was long before she was in a state to reply to his questionings. Outside the storm still raged; it was a wild night.

“What was it? Were you afraid? Did you think I was lost?”

“I don’t know — Oh, Maurice! You will never leave me, will you?”

She wounded her lips against his shoulder.

“Leave you! What has put such foolish thoughts into your head?”

“I don’t know. — But on a night like this, I feel that anything might happen.”

“And did it really matter so much whether I came back or not?”

He felt her arms tighten round him.

“Did you care as much as that? — Louise!”

“I said: my God! — what if he should never come back! And then, then . . .”

“Then ——?”

“And then the noise of the storm . . . and I was so alone . . . and all the long, long hours . . . and at every sound I said, there he is . . . and it never was you . . . till I knew you were lying somewhere . . . dead . . . under a tree.”

“You poor little soul!” he began impulsively, then stopped, for he felt the sudden thrill that ran through her.

“Say that again, Maurice! — say it again!”

“You poor, little fancy-ridden soul!”

“Oh, if you knew how good it sounds! — if I could make you understand! You’re the only person who has ever said a thing like that to me — the only one who has ever been in the least sorry for me. Promise me now — promise again — that you will never leave me. — For you are all I have.”

“Promise? — again? When you are more to me than my own life?”

“And you will never get tired of me? — never?”

“My own dear wife!”

She strained him to her with a strength for which he would not have given her credit. He tried to see her face.

“Do you know what that means?”

“Yes, I know. It means, if you leave me now, I shall die.”

By the next morning, all traces of the storm had vanished; the sun shone; the slanting roads were hard and dry again. Other storms followed — for it was an exceptionally hot summer — and many an evening the two were prisoners in her room, listening to the angry roar of the trees, which lashed each other with a sound like that of the open sea.

Every Sunday in August, too, brought a motley crowd of guests to the inn, and then the whole terrace was set out with little tables. Two waiters came to assist Amalie; a band played in an arbour; carts and wagonettes were hitched to the front of the house; and the noise and merry-making lasted till late in the night. Together they leaned from the window of Louise’s room, to watch the people; they hardly ventured out of doors, for it was unpleasant to see their favourite nooks invaded by strangers. Except on Sundays, however, their seclusion remained undisturbed; half a dozen visitors were staying in the other wing of the building, and of these they sometimes caught a glimpse at meals; but that was all: the solitude they desired was still theirs.

And so the happy days slid past; August was well advanced, by this time, and the tropical heat was at its height. In the beginning, it had been Maurice who regretted the rapid flight of the days: now it was Louise. Occasionally, a certain shadow settled on her face, and, at such moments, he well knew what she was thinking of: for, once, out of the very fulness of his content, he had said to her with a lazy sigh: “To-day is the first of August,” and then, for the first time, he had seen this look of intense regret cross her face. She had entreated him not to say any more; and, after that, the speed with which the month decreased, was not mentioned between them.

But his carelessly dropped words had sown their seed. A couple of weeks later, the remembrance of the work he had still to do for Schwarz, before the beginning of the new term, broke over him like a douche of cold water. It was a resplendent morning; he had been leaning out of the window, idly tapping his fingers on the sill. Suddenly they seemed to him to have grown stiff, to have lost their agility; and by the thoughts that now came, he was so disquieted that he shut himself up in his own room.

At his first words to her, Louise, who was still in bed, turned pale. “Yes, yes, be quiet! — I know,” she said, and buried her face in the down pillow.

In this position she remained for some seconds; Maurice stood staring out of the window. Then, without raising her face, she held out her hand to him.

He took it; but he did not do what she expected he would: sit down on the side of the bed, and put his arm round her. He stood holding it, absent-mindedly. She stole a glance at him, and turned still paler. Then, with a jerk, she released her hand, sat up in bed, and pushed her hair from her face.

“Maurice! . . . then if it has to be . . . then to-day . . . please, please, to-day! Don’t ask me to stay here, and think, and remember, that it’s all over — that this is the end — that we shall never, never be here in this little room again! Oh, I couldn’t bear it! —! can’t bear it, Maurice! Let us go away — please, let us go!”

In vain he urged reason; there was no gainsaying her: she brushed aside, without listening to it, his objection that their rooms in Leipzig would not be ready for them. Throwing back the bedclothes, she got up at once and dressed herself, with cold fingers, then flung herself upon the packing, helped and hindered by Amalie, who wept beside her. The hour that followed was like a bad dream. Finally, however, the luggage was carried downstairs, the bill paid, and the circumstantial good-byes were said: they set off, at full speed, down the woodpath to the station, to catch the midday train. Louise was white with exhaustion: her breath came sobbingly. In a firstclass carriage, he made her lie down on the seat. With her hand in his, he said what he could to comfort her; for her face was tragic.

“We will come again, darling. It is only AUF WIEDERSEHEN, remember!”

But she shook her head.

“We shall never be here again.”

Leipzig, at three o’clock on an August afternoon, lay baking in the sun. He put her in a covered droschke, himself carrying the bags, for he could not find a porter.

“At seven, then! Try to sleep. You are so pale.”

“Good-bye — good-bye!”

His hand rested on the door of the droschke. She laid hers on it, and clung to it as though she would never, let it go.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/richardson/henry_handel/r52mg/chapter27.html

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