Willems turned a little from her and spoke lower.
“Look at that,” he said, with an almost imperceptible movement of his head towards the woman to whom he was presenting his shoulder. “Look at that! Don’t believe her! What has she been saying to you? What? I have been asleep. Had to sleep at last. I’ve been waiting for you three days and nights. I had to sleep some time. Hadn’t I? I told her to remain awake and watch for you, and call me at once. She did watch. You can’t believe her. You can’t believe any woman. Who can tell what’s inside their heads? No one. You can know nothing. The only thing you can know is that it isn’t anything like what comes through their lips. They live by the side of you. They seem to hate you, or they seem to love you; they caress or torment you; they throw you over or stick to you closer than your skin for some inscrutable and awful reason of their own — which you can never know! Look at her — and look at me. At me! — her infernal work. What has she been saying?”
His voice had sunk to a whisper. Lingard listened with great attention, holding his chin in his hand, which grasped a great handful of his white beard. His elbow was in the palm of his other hand, and his eyes were still fixed on the ground. He murmured, without looking up —
“She begged me for your life — if you want to know — as if the thing were worth giving or taking!”
“And for three days she begged me to take yours,” said Willems quickly. “For three days she wouldn’t give me any peace. She was never still. She planned ambushes. She has been looking for places all over here where I could hide and drop you with a safe shot as you walked up. It’s true. I give you my word.”
“Your word,” muttered Lingard, contemptuously.
Willems took no notice.
“Ah! She is a ferocious creature,” he went on. “You don’t know . . . I wanted to pass the time — to do something — to have something to think about — to forget my troubles till you came back. And . . . look at her . . . she took me as if I did not belong to myself. She did. I did not know there was something in me she could get hold of. She, a savage. I, a civilized European, and clever! She that knew no more than a wild animal! Well, she found out something in me. She found it out, and I was lost. I knew it. She tormented me. I was ready to do anything. I resisted — but I was ready. I knew that too. That frightened me more than anything; more than my own sufferings; and that was frightful enough, I assure you.”
Lingard listened, fascinated and amazed like a child listening to a fairy tale, and, when Willems stopped for breath, he shuffled his feet a little.
“What does he say?” cried out Aissa, suddenly.
The two men looked at her quickly, and then looked at one another.
Willems began again, speaking hurriedly —
“I tried to do something. Take her away from those people. I went to Almayer; the biggest blind fool that you ever . . . Then Abdulla came — and she went away. She took away with her something of me which I had to get back. I had to do it. As far as you are concerned, the change here had to happen sooner or later; you couldn’t be master here for ever. It isn’t what I have done that torments me. It is the why. It’s the madness that drove me to it. It’s that thing that came over me. That may come again, some day.”
“It will do no harm to anybody then, I promise you,” said Lingard, significantly.
Willems looked at him for a second with a blank stare, then went on —
“I fought against her. She goaded me to violence and to murder. Nobody knows why. She pushed me to it persistently, desperately, all the time. Fortunately Abdulla had sense. I don’t know what I wouldn’t have done. She held me then. Held me like a nightmare that is terrible and sweet. By and by it was another life. I woke up. I found myself beside an animal as full of harm as a wild cat. You don’t know through what I have passed. Her father tried to kill me — and she very nearly killed him. I believe she would have stuck at nothing. I don’t know which was more terrible! She would have stuck at nothing to defend her own. And when I think that it was me — me — Willems . . . I hate her. To-morrow she may want my life. How can I know what’s in her? She may want to kill me next!”
He paused in great trepidation, then added in a scared tone —
“I don’t want to die here.”
“Don’t you?” said Lingard, thoughtfully.
Willems turned towards Aissa and pointed at her with a bony forefinger.
“Look at her! Always there. Always near. Always watching, watching . . . for something. Look at her eyes. Ain’t they big? Don’t they stare? You wouldn’t think she can shut them like human beings do. I don’t believe she ever does. I go to sleep, if I can, under their stare, and when I wake up I see them fixed on me and moving no more than the eyes of a corpse. While I am still they are still. By God — she can’t move them till I stir, and then they follow me like a pair of jailers. They watch me; when I stop they seem to wait patient and glistening till I am off my guard — for to do something. To do something horrible. Look at them! You can see nothing in them. They are big, menacing — and empty. The eyes of a savage; of a damned mongrel, half-Arab, half-Malay. They hurt me! I am white! I swear to you I can’t stand this! Take me away. I am white! All white!”
He shouted towards the sombre heaven, proclaiming desperately under the frown of thickening clouds the fact of his pure and superior descent. He shouted, his head thrown up, his arms swinging about wildly; lean, ragged, disfigured; a tall madman making a great disturbance about something invisible; a being absurd, repulsive, pathetic, and droll. Lingard, who was looking down as if absorbed in deep thought, gave him a quick glance from under his eyebrows: Aissa stood with clasped hands. At the other end of the courtyard the old woman, like a vague and decrepit apparition, rose noiselessly to look, then sank down again with a stealthy movement and crouched low over the small glow of the fire. Willems’ voice filled the enclosure, rising louder with every word, and then, suddenly, at its very loudest, stopped short — like water stops running from an over-turned vessel. As soon as it had ceased the thunder seemed to take up the burden in a low growl coming from the inland hills. The noise approached in confused mutterings which kept on increasing, swelling into a roar that came nearer, rushed down the river, passed close in a tearing crash — and instantly sounded faint, dying away in monotonous and dull repetitions amongst the endless sinuosities of the lower reaches. Over the great forests, over all the innumerable people of unstirring trees — over all that living people immense, motionless, and mute — the silence, that had rushed in on the track of the passing tumult, remained suspended as deep and complete as if it had never been disturbed from the beginning of remote ages. Then, through it, after a time, came to Lingard’s ears the voice of the running river: a voice low, discreet, and sad, like the persistent and gentle voices that speak of the past in the silence of dreams.
He felt a great emptiness in his heart. It seemed to him that there was within his breast a great space without any light, where his thoughts wandered forlornly, unable to escape, unable to rest, unable to die, to vanish — and to relieve him from the fearful oppression of their existence. Speech, action, anger, forgiveness, all appeared to him alike useless and vain, appeared to him unsatisfactory, not worth the effort of hand or brain that was needed to give them effect. He could not see why he should not remain standing there, without ever doing anything, to the end of time. He felt something, something like a heavy chain, that held him there. This wouldn’t do. He backed away a little from Willems and Aissa, leaving them close together, then stopped and looked at both. The man and the woman appeared to him much further than they really were. He had made only about three steps backward, but he believed for a moment that another step would take him out of earshot for ever. They appeared to him slightly under life size, and with a great cleanness of outlines, like figures carved with great precision of detail and highly finished by a skilful hand. He pulled himself together. The strong consciousness of his own personality came back to him. He had a notion of surveying them from a great and inaccessible height.
He said slowly: “You have been possessed of a devil.”
“Yes,” answered Willems gloomily, and looking at Aissa. “Isn’t it pretty?”
“I’ve heard this kind of talk before,” said Lingard, in a scornful tone; then paused, and went on steadily after a while: “I regret nothing. I picked you up by the waterside, like a starving cat — by God. I regret nothing; nothing that I have done. Abdulla — twenty others — no doubt Hudig himself, were after me. That’s business — for them. But that you should . . . Money belongs to him who picks it up and is strong enough to keep it — but this thing was different. It was part of my life. . . . I am an old fool.”
He was. The breath of his words, of the very words he spoke, fanned the spark of divine folly in his breast, the spark that made him — the hard-headed, heavy-handed adventurer — stand out from the crowd, from the sordid, from the joyous, unscrupulous, and noisy crowd of men that were so much like himself.
Willems said hurriedly: “It wasn’t me. The evil was not in me, Captain Lingard.”
“And where else confound you! Where else?” interrupted Lingard, raising his voice. “Did you ever see me cheat and lie and steal? Tell me that. Did you? Hey? I wonder where in perdition you came from when I found you under my feet. . . . No matter. You will do no more harm.”
Willems moved nearer, gazing upon him anxiously. Lingard went on with distinct deliberation —
“What did you expect when you asked me to see you? What? You know me. I am Lingard. You lived with me. You’ve heard men speak. You knew what you had done. Well! What did you expect?”
“How can I know?” groaned Willems, wringing his hands; “I was alone in that infernal savage crowd. I was delivered into their hands. After the thing was done, I felt so lost and weak that I would have called the devil himself to my aid if it had been any good — if he hadn’t put in all his work already. In the whole world there was only one man that had ever cared for me. Only one white man. You! Hate is better than being alone! Death is better! I expected . . . anything. Something to expect. Something to take me out of this. Out of her sight!”
He laughed. His laugh seemed to be torn out from him against his will, seemed to be brought violently on the surface from under his bitterness, his self-contempt, from under his despairing wonder at his own nature.
“When I think that when I first knew her it seemed to me that my whole life wouldn’t be enough to . . . And now when I look at her! She did it all. I must have been mad. I was mad. Every time I look at her I remember my madness. It frightens me. . . . And when I think that of all my life, of all my past, of all my future, of my intelligence, of my work, there is nothing left but she, the cause of my ruin, and you whom I have mortally offended. . .”
He hid his face for a moment in his hands, and when he took them away he had lost the appearance of comparative calm and gave way to a wild distress.
“Captain Lingard . . . anything . . . a deserted island . . . anywhere . . . I promise . . . ”
“Shut up!” shouted Lingard, roughly.
He became dumb, suddenly, completely.
The wan light of the clouded morning retired slowly from the courtyard, from the clearings, from the river, as if it had gone unwillingly to hide in the enigmatical solitudes of the gloomy and silent forests. The clouds over their heads thickened into a low vault of uniform blackness. The air was still and inexpressibly oppressive. Lingard unbuttoned his jacket, flung it wide open and, inclining his body sideways a little, wiped his forehead with his hand, which he jerked sharply afterwards. Then he looked at Willems and said —
“No promise of yours is any good to me. I am going to take your conduct into my own hands. Pay attention to what I am going to say. You are my prisoner.”
Willems’ head moved imperceptibly; then he became rigid and still. He seemed not to breathe.
“You shall stay here,” continued Lingard, with sombre deliberation. “You are not fit to go amongst people. Who could suspect, who could guess, who could imagine what’s in you? I couldn’t! You are my mistake. I shall hide you here. If I let you out you would go amongst unsuspecting men, and lie, and steal, and cheat for a little money or for some woman. I don’t care about shooting you. It would be the safest way though. But I won’t. Do not expect me to forgive you. To forgive one must have been angry and become contemptuous, and there is nothing in me now — no anger, no contempt, no disappointment. To me you are not Willems, the man I befriended and helped through thick and thin, and thought much of . . . You are not a human being that may be destroyed or forgiven. You are a bitter thought, a something without a body and that must be hidden . . . You are my shame.”
He ceased and looked slowly round. How dark it was! It seemed to him that the light was dying prematurely out of the world and that the air was already dead.
“Of course,” he went on, “I shall see to it that you don’t starve.”
“You don’t mean to say that I must live here, Captain Lingard?” said Willems, in a kind of mechanical voice without any inflections.
“Did you ever hear me say something I did not mean?” asked Lingard. “You said you didn’t want to die here — well, you must live . . . Unless you change your mind,” he added, as if in involuntary afterthought.
He looked at Willems narrowly, then shook his head.
“You are alone,” he went on. “Nothing can help you. Nobody will. You are neither white nor brown. You have no colour as you have no heart. Your accomplices have abandoned you to me because I am still somebody to be reckoned with. You are alone but for that woman there. You say you did this for her. Well, you have her.”
Willems mumbled something, and then suddenly caught his hair with both his hands and remained standing so. Aissa, who had been looking at him, turned to Lingard.
“What did you say, Rajah Laut?” she cried.
There was a slight stir amongst the filmy threads of her disordered hair, the bushes by the river sides trembled, the big tree nodded precipitately over them with an abrupt rustle, as if waking with a start from a troubled sleep — and the breath of hot breeze passed, light, rapid, and scorching, under the clouds that whirled round, unbroken but undulating, like a restless phantom of a sombre sea.
Lingard looked at her pityingly before he said —
“I have told him that he must live here all his life . . . and with you.”
The sun seemed to have gone out at last like a flickering light away up beyond the clouds, and in the stifling gloom of the courtyard the three figures stood colourless and shadowy, as if surrounded by a black and superheated mist. Aissa looked at Willems, who remained still, as though he had been changed into stone in the very act of tearing his hair. Then she turned her head towards Lingard and shouted —
“You lie! You lie! . . . White man. Like you all do. You . . . whom Abdulla made small. You lie!”
Her words rang out shrill and venomous with her secret scorn, with her overpowering desire to wound regardless of consequences; in her woman’s reckless desire to cause suffering at any cost, to cause it by the sound of her own voice — by her own voice, that would carry the poison of her thought into the hated heart.
Willems let his hands fall, and began to mumble again. Lingard turned his ear towards him instinctively, caught something that sounded like “Very well”— then some more mumbling — then a sigh.
“As far as the rest of the world is concerned,” said Lingard, after waiting for awhile in an attentive attitude, “your life is finished. Nobody will be able to throw any of your villainies in my teeth; nobody will be able to point at you and say, ‘Here goes a scoundrel of Lingard’s up-bringing.’ You are buried here.”
“And you think that I will stay . . . that I will submit?” exclaimed Willems, as if he had suddenly recovered the power of speech.
“You needn’t stay here — on this spot,” said Lingard, drily. “There are the forests — and here is the river. You may swim. Fifteen miles up, or forty down. At one end you will meet Almayer, at the other the sea. Take your choice.”
He burst into a short, joyless laugh, then added with severe gravity —
“There is also another way.”
“If you want to drive my soul into damnation by trying to drive me to suicide you will not succeed,” said Willems in wild excitement. “I will live. I shall repent. I may escape. . . . Take that woman away — she is sin.”
A hooked dart of fire tore in two the darkness of the distant horizon and lit up the gloom of the earth with a dazzling and ghastly flame. Then the thunder was heard far away, like an incredibly enormous voice muttering menaces.
Lingard said —
“I don’t care what happens, but I may tell you that without that woman your life is not worth much — not twopence. There is a fellow here who . . . and Abdulla himself wouldn’t stand on any ceremony. Think of that! And then she won’t go.”
He began, even while he spoke, to walk slowly down towards the little gate. He didn’t look, but he felt as sure that Willems was following him as if he had been leading him by a string. Directly he had passed through the wicket-gate into the big courtyard he heard a voice, behind his back, saying —
“I think she was right. I ought to have shot you. I couldn’t have been worse off.”
“Time yet,” answered Lingard, without stopping or looking back. “But, you see, you can’t. There is not even that in you.”
“Don’t provoke me, Captain Lingard,” cried Willems.
Lingard turned round sharply. Willems and Aissa stopped. Another forked flash of lightning split up the clouds overhead, and threw upon their faces a sudden burst of light — a blaze violent, sinister and fleeting; and in the same instant they were deafened by a near, single crash of thunder, which was followed by a rushing noise, like a frightened sigh of the startled earth.
“Provoke you!” said the old adventurer, as soon as he could make himself heard. “Provoke you! Hey! What’s there in you to provoke? What do I care?”
“It is easy to speak like that when you know that in the whole world — in the whole world — I have no friend,” said Willems.
“Whose fault?” said Lingard, sharply.
Their voices, after the deep and tremendous noise, sounded to them very unsatisfactory — thin and frail, like the voices of pigmies — and they became suddenly silent, as if on that account. From up the courtyard Lingard’s boatmen came down and passed them, keeping step in a single file, their paddles on shoulder, and holding their heads straight with their eyes fixed on the river. Ali, who was walking last, stopped before Lingard, very stiff and upright. He said —
“That one-eyed Babalatchi is gone, with all his women. He took everything. All the pots and boxes. Big. Heavy. Three boxes.”
He grinned as if the thing had been amusing, then added with an appearance of anxious concern, “Rain coming.”
“We return,” said Lingard. “Make ready.”
“Aye, aye, sir!” ejaculated Ali with precision, and moved on. He had been quartermaster with Lingard before making up his mind to stay in Sambir as Almayer’s head man. He strutted towards the landing-place thinking proudly that he was not like those other ignorant boatmen, and knew how to answer properly the very greatest of white captains.
“You have misunderstood me from the first, Captain Lingard,” said Willems.
“Have I? It’s all right, as long as there is no mistake about my meaning,” answered Lingard, strolling slowly to the landing-place. Willems followed him, and Aissa followed Willems.
Two hands were extended to help Lingard in embarking. He stepped cautiously and heavily into the long and narrow canoe, and sat in the canvas folding-chair that had been placed in the middle. He leaned back and turned his head to the two figures that stood on the bank a little above him. Aissa’s eyes were fastened on his face in a visible impatience to see him gone. Willems’ look went straight above the canoe, straight at the forest on the other side of the river.
“All right, Ali,” said Lingard, in a low voice.
A slight stir animated the faces, and a faint murmur ran along the line of paddlers. The foremost man pushed with the point of his paddle, canted the fore end out of the dead water into the current; and the canoe fell rapidly off before the rush of brown water, the stern rubbing gently against the low bank.
“We shall meet again, Captain Lingard!” cried Willems, in an unsteady voice.
“Never!” said Lingard, turning half round in his chair to look at Willems. His fierce red eyes glittered remorselessly over the high back of his seat.
“Must cross the river. Water less quick over there,” said Ali.
He pushed in his turn now with all his strength, throwing his body recklessly right out over the stern. Then he recovered himself just in time into the squatting attitude of a monkey perched on a high shelf, and shouted: “Dayong!”
The paddles struck the water together. The canoe darted forward and went on steadily crossing the river with a sideways motion made up of its own speed and the downward drift of the current.
Lingard watched the shore astern. The woman shook her hand at him, and then squatted at the feet of the man who stood motionless. After a while she got up and stood beside him, reaching up to his head — and Lingard saw then that she had wetted some part of her covering and was trying to wash the dried blood off the man’s immovable face, which did not seem to know anything about it. Lingard turned away and threw himself back in his chair, stretching his legs out with a sigh of fatigue. His head fell forward; and under his red face the white beard lay fan-like on his breast, the ends of fine long hairs all astir in the faint draught made by the rapid motion of the craft that carried him away from his prisoner — from the only thing in his life he wished to hide.
In its course across the river the canoe came into the line of Willems’ sight and his eyes caught the image, followed it eagerly as it glided, small but distinct, on the dark background of the forest. He could see plainly the figure of the man sitting in the middle. All his life he had felt that man behind his back, a reassuring presence ready with help, with commendation, with advice; friendly in reproof, enthusiastic in approbation; a man inspiring confidence by his strength, by his fearlessness, by the very weakness of his simple heart. And now that man was going away. He must call him back.
He shouted, and his words, which he wanted to throw across the river, seemed to fall helplessly at his feet. Aissa put her hand on his arm in a restraining attempt, but he shook it off. He wanted to call back his very life that was going away from him. He shouted again — and this time he did not even hear himself. No use. He would never return. And he stood in sullen silence looking at the white figure over there, lying back in the chair in the middle of the boat; a figure that struck him suddenly as very terrible, heartless and astonishing, with its unnatural appearance of running over the water in an attitude of languid repose.
For a time nothing on earth stirred, seemingly, but the canoe, which glided up-stream with a motion so even and smooth that it did not convey any sense of movement. Overhead, the massed clouds appeared solid and steady as if held there in a powerful grip, but on their uneven surface there was a continuous and trembling glimmer, a faint reflection of the distant lightning from the thunderstorm that had broken already on the coast and was working its way up the river with low and angry growls. Willems looked on, as motionless as everything round him and above him. Only his eyes seemed to live, as they followed the canoe on its course that carried it away from him, steadily, unhesitatingly, finally, as if it were going, not up the great river into the momentous excitement of Sambir, but straight into the past, into the past crowded yet empty, like an old cemetery full of neglected graves, where lie dead hopes that never return.
From time to time he felt on his face the passing, warm touch of an immense breath coming from beyond the forest, like the short panting of an oppressed world. Then the heavy air round him was pierced by a sharp gust of wind, bringing with it the fresh, damp feel of the falling rain; and all the innumerable tree-tops of the forests swayed to the left and sprang back again in a tumultuous balancing of nodding branches and shuddering leaves. A light frown ran over the river, the clouds stirred slowly, changing their aspect but not their place, as if they had turned ponderously over; and when the sudden movement had died out in a quickened tremor of the slenderest twigs, there was a short period of formidable immobility above and below, during which the voice of the thunder was heard, speaking in a sustained, emphatic and vibrating roll, with violent louder bursts of crashing sound, like a wrathful and threatening discourse of an angry god. For a moment it died out, and then another gust of wind passed, driving before it a white mist which filled the space with a cloud of waterdust that hid suddenly from Willems the canoe, the forests, the river itself; that woke him up from his numbness in a forlorn shiver, that made him look round despairingly to see nothing but the whirling drift of rain spray before the freshening breeze, while through it the heavy big drops fell about him with sonorous and rapid beats upon the dry earth. He made a few hurried steps up the courtyard and was arrested by an immense sheet of water that fell all at once on him, fell sudden and overwhelming from the clouds, cutting his respiration, streaming over his head, clinging to him, running down his body, off his arms, off his legs. He stood gasping while the water beat him in a vertical downpour, drove on him slanting in squalls, and he felt the drops striking him from above, from everywhere; drops thick, pressed and dashing at him as if flung from all sides by a mob of infuriated hands. From under his feet a great vapour of broken water floated up, he felt the ground become soft — melt under him — and saw the water spring out from the dry earth to meet the water that fell from the sombre heaven. An insane dread took possession of him, the dread of all that water around him, of the water that ran down the courtyard towards him, of the water that pressed him on every side, of the slanting water that drove across his face in wavering sheets which gleamed pale red with the flicker of lightning streaming through them, as if fire and water were falling together, monstrously mixed, upon the stunned earth.
He wanted to run away, but when he moved it was to slide about painfully and slowly upon that earth which had become mud so suddenly under his feet. He fought his way up the courtyard like a man pushing through a crowd, his head down, one shoulder forward, stopping often, and sometimes carried back a pace or two in the rush of water which his heart was not stout enough to face. Aissa followed him step by step, stopping when he stopped, recoiling with him, moving forward with him in his toilsome way up the slippery declivity of the courtyard, of that courtyard, from which everything seemed to have been swept away by the first rush of the mighty downpour. They could see nothing. The tree, the bushes, the house, and the fences — all had disappeared in the thickness of the falling rain. Their hair stuck, streaming, to their heads; their clothing clung to them, beaten close to their bodies; water ran off them, off their heads over their shoulders. They moved, patient, upright, slow and dark, in the gleam clear or fiery of the falling drops, under the roll of unceasing thunder, like two wandering ghosts of the drowned that, condemned to haunt the water for ever, had come up from the river to look at the world under a deluge.
On the left the tree seemed to step out to meet them, appearing vaguely, high, motionless and patient; with a rustling plaint of its innumerable leaves through which every drop of water tore its separate way with cruel haste. And then, to the right, the house surged up in the mist, very black, and clamorous with the quick patter of rain on its high-pitched roof above the steady splash of the water running off the eaves. Down the plankway leading to the door flowed a thin and pellucid stream, and when Willems began his ascent it broke over his foot as if he were going up a steep ravine in the bed of a rapid and shallow torrent. Behind his heels two streaming smudges of mud stained for an instant the purity of the rushing water, and then he splashed his way up with a spurt and stood on the bamboo platform before the open door under the shelter of the overhanging eaves — under shelter at last!
A low moan ending in a broken and plaintive mutter arrested Willems on the threshold. He peered round in the half-light under the roof and saw the old woman crouching close to the wall in a shapeless heap, and while he looked he felt a touch of two arms on his shoulders. Aissa! He had forgotten her. He turned, and she clasped him round the neck instantly, pressing close to him as if afraid of violence or escape. He stiffened himself in repulsion, in horror, in the mysterious revolt of his heart; while she clung to him — clung to him as if he were a refuge from misery, from storm, from weariness, from fear, from despair; and it was on the part of that being an embrace terrible, enraged and mournful, in which all her strength went out to make him captive, to hold him for ever.
He said nothing. He looked into her eyes while he struggled with her fingers about the nape of his neck, and suddenly he tore her hands apart, holding her arms up in a strong grip of her wrists, and bending his swollen face close over hers, he said —
“It is all your doing. You . . . ”
She did not understand him — not a word. He spoke in the language of his people — of his people that know no mercy and no shame. And he was angry. Alas! he was always angry now, and always speaking words that she could not understand. She stood in silence, looking at him through her patient eyes, while he shook her arms a little and then flung them down.
“Don’t follow me!” he shouted. “I want to be alone — I mean to be left alone!”
He went in, leaving the door open.
She did not move. What need to understand the words when they are spoken in such a voice? In that voice which did not seem to be his voice — his voice when he spoke by the brook, when he was never angry and always smiling! Her eyes were fixed upon the dark doorway, but her hands strayed mechanically upwards; she took up all her hair, and, inclining her head slightly over her shoulder, wrung out the long black tresses, twisting them persistently, while she stood, sad and absorbed, like one listening to an inward voice — the voice of bitter, of unavailing regret. The thunder had ceased, the wind had died out, and the rain fell perpendicular and steady through a great pale clearness — the light of remote sun coming victorious from amongst the dissolving blackness of the clouds. She stood near the doorway. He was there — alone in the gloom of the dwelling. He was there. He spoke not. What was in his mind now? What fear? What desire? Not the desire of her as in the days when he used to smile . . . How could she know? . . .
A sigh coming from the bottom of her heart, flew out into the world through her parted lips. A sigh faint, profound, and broken; a sigh full of pain and fear, like the sigh of those who are about to face the unknown: to face it in loneliness, in doubt, and without hope. She let go her hair, that fell scattered over her shoulders like a funeral veil, and she sank down suddenly by the door. Her hands clasped her ankles; she rested her head on her drawn-up knees, and remained still, very still, under the streaming mourning of her hair. She was thinking of him; of the days by the brook; she was thinking of all that had been their love — and she sat in the abandoned posture of those who sit weeping by the dead, of those who watch and mourn over a corpse.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06