It was, indeed, a preposterous thought to have at this date: no one knew that better than himself. And as long as he was with Louise, he kept it at bay; it was a fatuous thing even to allow himself to think, considering the past, and considering all he knew.
But next morning, as he sat with busy fingers, and a vacant mind, it returned. He thrust it angrily away, endeavouring to concentrate his attention on his music open before him. For a time, he believed he had succeeded. Then, the idea was unexpectedly present to him again, and this time more forcibly than before; it came like a sharp, swift stab of remembrance, and forced an exclamation over his lips. Discouraged, he let his hands drop from the keys of the piano; for now he knew that he would probably never be rid of it again. This was always the way with unpleasant thoughts and impressions: if they returned, after he had resolved to have done with them, they were henceforth part and parcel of himself, fixed ideas, against which his will was powerless.
In the hope of growing used to the haunting reflection, and to the unhappiness it implied, he thought it through to the end — this strange, unsought knowledge, which had lain unsuspected in him, and now became articulate. Once considered, however, it made many things clear. He could even account to himself now, for the blasphemous suggestions that had plagued him not twenty-four hours ago. If he had then not, all unconsciously, had the feeling that Louise had known too long and too well what love was, to be willing to live without it, such thoughts as those would never have risen in him.
In vain he asked himself, why he should only now understand these things. He could find no answer. Throughout the time he had known Louise, he had been better acquainted with her mode of life than anyone else: her past had lain open to him; she had concealed nothing, had been what she called “brutally frank” with him. And he had protested, and honestly believed, that what had preceded their intimacy did not matter to him. Who could foresee that, on a certain day, an idea of this kind would break out in him — like a canker? But this query took him a step further. Was it not deluding himself to say break out? Had not this shadow lurked in their love from the very beginning? Had it not formed an invisible barrier between them? It was possible no, it was true; though he only recognised its truth at the present time. It had existed from the first: something which each of them, in turn, had felt, and vaguely tried to express. It had little or nothing to do with the fact that they had defied convention. That, regrettable though it might be, was beside the mark. The confounding truth was, that, in an emotional crisis of an intensity of the one they had come through, it was imperative to be able to say: our love is unparalleled, unique; or, at least: I am the only possible one; I am yours, you are mine, only. That had not been the case. What he had been forced to tell himself was, that he was not the first. And now he knew that, for some time past, he had been aware that he would always occupy the second place; she was forced to compare him with another, to his disadvantage. And he knew more. For the first time, he allowed his thoughts to rove, unchecked, over her previous life, and he was no longer astonished at the imperfections of the present. To him, the gradual unfolding of their love had been a wonderful revelation; to her, a repetition, and a paler and fainter one, of a tale she already knew by heart. And the knowledge of this awakened a fresh distrust in him. If she had loved that first time, as she had asserted, as he had seen with his own eyes that she did, desperately, abandonedly, how had it been possible for her to change front so quickly, to turn to him and love anew? Was such a thing credible? Was a woman’s nature capable of it? And had it not been this constant fear, lest he should never be able to efface the image of his predecessor, which, yesterday, had boldly stalked out as a dread that what had drawn her to him, had not been love at all?
But this mood passed. He himself cared too well to doubt, for long, that in her own way she really loved him. What, however, he was obliged to admit was, that what she felt could in no way be counted the equal of his love for her: that had possessed a kind of primeval freshness, which no repetition, however passionately fond, could achieve. And yet, in his mind, there was still room for doubt — eager, willing doubt. It was due to his ignorance. He became aware of this, and, while brooding over these things, he was overmanned by the desire to learn, from her own lips, more about her past, to hear exactly what it had meant to her, in order that he might compare it with her present life, and with her feelings for him. Who could say if, by doing this, he might not drive away what was perhaps a phantom of his own uneasy brain?
He resolved to make the endeavour. But he was careful not to let her suspect his intention. First of all, he was full of compunction for his bad temper of the night before; he was also slightly ashamed of what he was going to do; and then, too, he knew that she would resent his prying. What he did must be done with tact. He had no wish to make her unhappy over it. And so, when he saw her again, he did his best to make her forget how disagreeable he had been.
But the desire to know remained, became a morbid curiosity. If this were satisfied, he believed it would make things easier for both of them. But he was infinitely cautious. Sometimes, without a word, he took her face between his hands and looked into her eyes, as if to read in them an answer to the questions he was afraid to put — looked right into the depth of her eyes, where the pupils swam in an oval of bluish white, overhung by lids which were finely creased in their folds, and netted with tiny veins. But he said not a word, and the eyes remained unfathomable, as they had always been.
Meanwhile, he did what he could to set his life on a solid basis again. But he was unable to arouse in himself a very vital interest in his work; some prompter-nerve in him seemed to have been injured. And often, he was overcome by the feeling that this perpetual preoccupation with music was only a trifling with existence, an excuse for not facing the facts of life. He would sometimes rather have been a labourer, worn out with physical toil. He was much alone, too; when he was not with Louise, he was given over to his own thoughts, and, day by day, fostered by the long, empty hours of practice, these moved more and more steadily in the one direction. The craving for a knowledge of the facts, for certainty in any form — this became a reason for, a plea in extenuation of, what he felt escaping him.
Louise did not help him; she assented to what he did without comment, half sorry for him in what seemed to her his wilful blindness, half disdainful. But she, too, made a discovery in these tame, flat days, and this was, that it was one thing to say to herself: it is over and done with, and another to make the assertion a fact. Energy for the effort was lacking in her; for the short, sharp stroke, which with her meant action, was invariably born of intense happiness or unhappiness. Now, as the days went by, she asked herself why she should do it. It was so much easier to let things slide, until something happened of itself, either to make the break, or to fill up the still greater emptiness in her life which a break would cause. And if he were content with what she could give him, well and good; she made no attempt to deceive him. And it seemed to her that he was content, though in a somewhat preoccupied way. But a little later, she acknowledged to herself that this was not the whole truth. There was habit to fight against — habit which could still give her hours of self-forgetfulness — and one could not forgo, all at once, and under no pressing necessity to do so, this means of escape from the cheerlessness of life.
But not for long did matters remain at this negative stage. Whereas, until now, the touch of her lips had been sufficient to chase away the shadows, the moment came, when, as he held her in his arms, Maurice was paralysed by the abrupt remembrance: she has known all this before. How was it then? To what degree is she mine, was she his? What fine, ultimate shade of feeling is she keeping back from me? — His ardour was damped; and as Louise also became aware of his sudden coolness, their hands sank apart, and had no strength to join anew.
Thus far, he had gone about his probings with skill, questioning her in a roundabout way, trying to learn by means of inference. But after this, he let himself go, and put a barefaced question. The subject once broached, there was no further need of concealment, and he flung tact and prudence to the winds. He could not forget — he was goaded on by — the look she had given him, as the ominous words crossed his lips: it made him conscious once more of the unapproachable nature of that first love of hers. He grew reckless; and while he had hitherto only sought to surprise her and entrap her, he now began to try to worm things out of her, all the time spying on her looks and words, ready to take advantage of the least slip on her part.
At first, before she understood what he was aiming at, Louise had been as frank as usual with him — that somewhat barbarous frankness, which took small note of the recipient’s feelings. But after he had put a direct question, and followed it up with others, of which she too clearly saw the drift, she drew back, as though she were afraid of him. It was not alone the error of taste he committed, in delving in matters which he had sworn should never concern him; it was his manner of doing it that was so distasteful to her — his hints and inuendoes. She grew very white and still, and looked at him with eyes in which a nascent dislike was visible.
He saw it; but it was now too late. Day by day, his preoccupation with the man who had preceded him increased. The thought that continued to harass him was: if she had never known the other, all would now be different. With jealousy, his state of mind had only as yet, in common, a devouring curiosity and a morbid imagination, which allowed him to picture the two of them in situations he would once have blushed to think of. For the one thing that now mattered to him, what he would have given his life to know, and would probably never know, was concerned with the ultimate ratification of love. What had she had for the other that she could not give him? — that she wilfully refrained from giving him? For that she did this, and always had refused him part of herself, was now as plain to him as if it had been branded on her flesh. And the knowledge undermined their lives. If she was gentle and kind, he read into her words pity that she could give him no more; if she were cold and evasive, she was remembering, comparing; if she returned his kisses with her former warmth — well, the thoughts which in this case seized him were the most murderous of all.
His mental activity ground him down. But it was not all unhappiness; the beloved eyes and hands, the wilful hair, and pale, sweet mouth, could still stir him; and there came hours of wishless well-being, when his tired brain found rest. As the days went by, however, these grew rarer; it also seemed to him that he paid dearly for them, by being afterwards more miserable, by suffering in a more active way.
At times, he knew, he was anything but a pleasant companion. But he was losing the mastery over himself, and often a trifle was sufficient to start him off afresh on the dreary theme. Once, in a fit of hopelessness, he made her what amounted to reproaches for her past.
“But you knew! — everythinging! — I told you all,” Louise expostulated, and there were tears in her eyes.
“I know you did. But Louise”— he hesitated, half contrite in advance, for what he was going to say —“it might have been better if you hadn’t told me — everything, I mean. Yes, I believe it’s better not to know.”
She did not reply, as she might have done, that she had forewarned him, afraid of this. She looked away, so that she should not be obliged to see him.
Another day, when they were walking in the ROSENTAL, she made him extremely unhappy by disagreeing with him.
“If one could just take a sponge and wipe the past out, like figures from a slate!” he said moodily.
But, jaded by his persistency, Louise would not admit it. “We should have nothing to remember.”
“That’s just it.”
“But it belongs to us!” She was roused to protest by the under-meaning in his words. “It’s as much a part of ourselves as our thoughts are — or our hands.”
“One is glad to forget. You would be, Louise? You wouldn’t care if your past were gone? Say you wouldn’t.”
But she only threw him a dark side-glance. As, however, he would not rest content, she flung out her hands with an impatient gesture. “How CAN you torment yourself so! If you insist on knowing, well, then, I wouldn’t part with an hour of what’s gone — not an hour! And you know it.”
She caught at a few vivid leaves that had remained hanging on a bare branch, and carried them with her.
He took one she held out to him, looked at it without seeing it, and threw it away. “Tell me, just this once, something about your life before I knew you. Were you very happy? — or were you unhappy? Do you know, I once heard you say you had never known a moment’s happiness? — yes, one summer night long ago, over in the NONNE. How I hoped then it was true! But I don’t know. You’ve never told me anything — of all there must be to tell.”
“What you may have chanced to hear, by eavesdropping, doesn’t concern me now,” Louise answered coldly. And then she shut her lips, and would say no more. She was wiser than she had been a week ago: she refused to hand her past over to him in order that he might smirch it with his thoughts.
But she could not understand him — understand the motives that made him want to unearth the past. If this were jealousy, it was a kind she did not know — a bloodless, bodiless kind, of which she had had no experience.
But it was not jealousy; it was only a craving for certainty in any guise, and the more surely Maurice felt that he would never gain it, the more tenaciously he strove. For certainty, that feeling of utter reliance in the loved one, which sets the heart at rest and leaves the mind free for the affairs of life, was what Louise had never given him; he had always been obliged to fall back on supposition with regard to her, equally at the height of their passion, and in that first and stretch of time, when it was forbidden him to touch her hand. The real truth, the last-reaching truth about her, it would not be his to know. Soul would never be absorbed in soul; not the most passionate embraces could bridge the gulf; to their last kiss, they would remain separate beings, lonely and alone.
As this went on, he came to hate the vapidities of the concerto in G major. Mentally to be stretched on a kind of rack, and, at the same time, to be forced to reiterate the empty rhetoric of this music! From this time forward, he could not hear the name of Mendelssohn without a shiver of repugnance. How he wished now, that he had been content with the bare sincerity of Beethoven, who at least said no note more than he had to say.
One day, towards the end of November, he was working with even greater distaste than usual. Finally, in exasperation, he flapped the music to, shut the piano, and went out. A stroll along the muddy little railed-in river brought him to the PLEISSENBURG, and from there he crossed the KONIGSPLATZ to the BRUDERSTRASSE. He had not come out with the intention of going to Louise, but, although it was barely four o’clock, the afternoon was drawing in; an interminable evening had to be got through. He had been walking at haphazard, and without relish; now his pace grew brisker. Having reached the house, he sprang nimbly up the. stairs, and was about to insert his key in the little door in the wall, when he was arrested by a muffled sound of voices. Louise was talking to some one, and, at the noise he made outside, she raised her voice — purposely, no doubt. He could not hear what was being said, but the second voice was a man’s. For a minute he stood, with his key suspended, straining his cars; then, afraid of being caught, he went downstairs again, where he hung about, between stair and street-door, in order that anyone who came down would be forced to pass him. At the end of five minutes, however, his patience was spent: he remembered, too, that the person might be as likely to go up as down. He mounted the stairs again, rang the bell, and had himself admitted by the landlady.
He thought she looked significantly at him as, with her usual pantomime of winks and signs, she whispered to him that a gentleman was with Fraulein — EIN SCHONER JUNGER MANN! Maurice pushed her aside, and opened the sitting-room door. Two heads turned at his entrance.
On the sofa, beside Louise, sat Herries, the ruddy little student of medicine with whom she had danced so often at the ball. He sat there, smiling and dapper, balancing his hard round hat on his knee, and holding gloves in his hand.
Louise looked the more untidy by contrast: as usual, her hair was half uncoiled. Maurice saw this in a flash, saw also the look of annoyance that crossed her face at his unceremonious entry. She raised astonished eyebrows. Then, however, she shook hands with him.
“I think you know Mr. Herries.”
Maurice bowed stiffly across the table; Herries replied in kind, without discommoding himself.
“How d’ye do? I believe we’ve met,” he said carelessly.
As Maurice made no rejoinder, but remained standing in an uncompromising attitude, Herries turned to Louise again, and went on with what he had been saying. He was talking of England.
“I went back to Oxford after that,” he continued. “I’ve diggings there, don’t you know? An old chum of mine’s a fellow of Magdalen. I was just in time for eights’ week. A magnificent walk-over for our fellows. Ever seen the race? No? Oh, I say, that’s too bad. You must come over for it, next year.”
“Mr. Herries only returned from England a few days ago,” explained Louise, and again raised warning brows. “Do sit down. There’s a chair.”
“Yes. I was over for the whole summer. Didn’t work here at all, in fact,” added Herries, once more letting his bright eyes snapshot the young man, who, on sitting down, laid his shabby felt hat in the middle of the table.
“But now you intend to stay, I think you said?” Louise threw in at random, after they had waited for Maurice to fill up the pause.
“Yes, for the winter semester, anyhow. And I’ve got to tumble to, with a vengeance. But I mean to have a good time all the same. Even though it’s only Leipzig, one can have a jolly enough time.”
Again there was silence. Louise flushed. “I suppose you’re hard at work already?”
“Yes. Got started yesterday. Frogs, don’t you know? — the effect of a rare poison on frogs.”
This trivial exchange of words stung Maurice. Herries’s manner seemed to him intolerably familiar, lacking in respect; and he kept telling himself, as he listened, that, having returned frorn England, the fellow’s first thought had been of her. He had not opened his lips since entering; he sat staring at them, forgetful of good manners; and, after a little, both began to feel ill at ease. Their eyes met for a moment in this sensation, and Herries cleared his throat.
“What did you do with yourself in summer?” he queried, and could not restrain a smile, at the fashion in which the other fellow was giving himself away. “You weren’t in England at all, I think you said? We hoped we might meet there, don’t you remember? Too bad that I had to go off without saying good-bye.”
“No, I changed my mind and stayed here. But I shouldn’t do it again. It was so hot.”
“Must have been simply beastly.”
Maurice jerked his arm; a vase which was standing at his elbow upset, and the water trickled to the floor. Neither offered to help him; he had to stoop and mop it up with his handkerchief.
For a few moments longer, the conversation was eked out. Then Herries rose. With her hand in his, he said earnestly: “Now you must be merciful and relent. I shan’t give up hope. Any time in the next fortnight is time enough, remember. ‘Pon my word, I’ve dreamt of those waltzes of ours ever since. And the floor at the PRUSSE is still better, don’t you know? You won’t have the heart not to come.”
From under her lids, Louise shot a rapid glance at Maurice. He, too, had risen; he was standing stiff, pale, and solemn, visibly waiting only till Herries had gone, to make himself disagreeable. She smiled.
“Don’t ask me to give an answer to-day. I’ll let you know — will that do? A fortnight is such a long time. And then you’ve forgotten the chief thing. I must see if I have anything to wear.”
“Oh, I say! . . . if that’s all! Don’t let that bother you. That black thing you had on last time was ripping — awfully jolly, don’t you know?”
Louise laughed. “Well, perhaps,” she said, as she opened the door.
“Good business!” responded Herries.
He nodded in Maurice’s direction, and they went out of the room together. Maurice heard their voices in laughing rejoinder, heard them take leave of each other at the halldoor. After that there was a pause. Louise lingered, before returning, to open a letter that was lying on the hall-table; she also spoke to Fraulein Grunhut. When she did come back, all trace of animation had gone from her face. She busied herself at once with the flowers he had disarranged, and this done, ordered her hair before the hanging glass. Maurice followed her movements with a sarcastic smile.
Suddenly she turned and confronted him.
“Maurice! . . . for Heaven’s sake, don’t glare at me like that! If you’ve anything to say, please say it, and be done with it.”
“You know well enough what I have to say.” His voice was husky.
“Indeed, I don’t.”
“Well you ought to.”
“Ought to? — No: there’s a limit to everything! Take your hat off that table! — What did you mean by bursting into the room when you heard some one was here? And, as if that weren’t enough — to let everybody see how much at home you are — your behaviour — your unbearable want of manners . . . ” She stopped, and pressed her handkerchief to her lips.
“I believed you didn’t care what people thought,” he threw in, morosely defiant.
“That’s a poor excuse for your rudeness.”
“Well, at least tell me what that fool wanted here.”
“Have you no ears? Couldn’t you hear that he has just come back from England, and is calling on his friends?”
“Do you expect me to believe that?”
“Oh, he has always been after you — since that night. It’s only because he wasn’t here long enough . . . and his manner shows what he thinks of you . . . and what he means.”
“What do YOU mean? Do you wish to say it’s my doing that he came here to-day? — Don’t you believe me?” she demanded, as he did not answer.
“And you in that half-dressed condition!”
“Could I dress before him? How abominable you are!”
He tried to explain. “Yes. Because . . . I hate the sight of the fellow. — You didn’t know he was coming, did you, or you wouldn’t have seen him.?”
“Know he was coming!” She wrenched her hands away. “Oh! . . .”
“Say you didn’t!”
“Maurice! — Be jealous, if you must! But surely, surely you don’t believe ——”
“Oh, don’t ask me what I believe. I only know I won’t have that man hanging about. It was by a mere chance to-day that I came round earlier; he might have been here for hours, without my suspecting it. Who knows if you would have told me either? — Would you have told me, Louise?”
“Oh, how can you be like this! What is the matter with you?”
He put his arms round her, with the old cry. “I can’t bear you even to look at another man. For he’s in love with you, and has been, ever since you made him crazy by dancing with him as you did.”
With his hands on her shoulders, he rested his face on her hair. “Promise me you won’t see him again.”
Wearily, Louise disengaged herself. “Oh there’s always something fresh to promise. I’m tired of it — of being hedged in, and watched, and never trusted.”
“Tired of me, you mean.”
She looked bitterly at him. “There you are again?”
“Just this once — to set my mind at rest. Just this once, Louise! — darling!”
But she was silent.
“Then you’ll let him come here again?”
“How do I know? — But if I promised what you ask, I should not be able to go with him to the HOTEL DE PRUSSE on the fifteenth.”
“You mean to go to that dance?”
“Why not? Would there be any harm in my going?”
“Maurice!” She mocked his tone, and laughed. “Oh, go at once,” she broke out the next moment, “and order Grunhut never to let another visitor inside the door. Make me promise never to cross the threshold alone — never to speak to another mortal but yourself! Cut off every pleasure and every chance of pleasure I have; and then you may be, but only may be, content.”
“You’re trying how far you can go with me.”
“Do you want me to tell you again that dancing is one of the things I love best? Not six months ago you knew and helped me to it yourself.”
“Yes, THEN,” he answered. “Then I could refuse you nothing.”
She laughed in an unfriendly way. He pressed her hand to his forehead. “You won’t be so cruel, I know.”
“You know more than I do.”
“Do you realise what it means if you go?” In fancy, he was present, and saw her passed from one pair of arms to another.
“I realise nothing — but that I am very unhappy.”
“Have I no influence over you any more — none at all?”
“Can’t you come, too, then? — if you are afraid to let me out of your sight?”
“I? To see you ——” He broke off with wrathful abruptness. “Thanks, I would rather be shot.” But at the mingled anger and blankness of her face, he coloured. “Louise, put an end to all this. Marry me — now, at once!”
“Marry you? I? No, thank you. We’re past that stage, I think. — Besides, are you so simple as to believe it would make any difference?”
“Oh, stop tormenting me. Come here!”— and he pulled her to him.
From this day forward, the direction of his thoughts was changed. The incident of Herries’s visit, her refusal to promise what he asked, and, above all, the matter of the coming ball, with regard to which he could not get certainty from her: these things seemed to open up nightmare depths, to which he could see no bottom. Compared with them, the vague fears which had hitherto troubled him were only shadows, and like shadows faded away. He no longer sought out superfine reasons for their lack of happiness. The past was dead and gone; he could not alter jot or tittle of what had happened; he could only make the best of it. And so he ceased to brood over it, and gave himself up to the present. The future was a black, unknown quantity, but the present was his own. And he would cling to it — for who knew what the future held in store for him? In these days, he began to suspect that it was not in the nature of things for her always to remain satisfied with him; and, ever more daring, the horrid question reared its head: who will come after me? Another blind attraction only needed to seize her, and what, then, would become of constancy and truth? If he had doubted her before, he was now suspicious from a different cause, and in quite a different way. The face of the trim little man who had sat beside her, and smiled at her, was persistently present to him. He did not question her further; but the poison worked the more surely in secret; he never for an instant forgot; and jealousy, now wide awake, had at last a definite object to lay hold of.
In his lucid moments, he knew that he was making her life a burden to her. What wonder if she did, ultimately, turn from him? But his evil moods were now beyond command. He began to suspect deceit in her actions as well as in what she said. The idea that this other, this smirking, wax-faced man, might somehow steal her from him, hung over him like a fog, obscuring his vision. It necessitated continued watchfulness on his part. And so he dogged her, mentally, and in fact until his own heart all but broke under the strain.
One afternoon they walked to Connewitz. It had rained heavily during the night, and the unpaved roads were inchdeep in mud. The sky was a level sheet of cloud, darker and more forbidding in the east.
Their direction was Maurice’s choice. Louise would have liked better to keep to the town: for, though the streets, too, were mud-bespattered, there would soon be lights, and the reflection of lights in damp pavements. She yielded, however, without even troubling to express her wish. But just because of the dirt and naked ugliness which met her, at every turn, she was voluble and excited; and an exaggerated hilarity seized her at trifles. Maurice, who had left the house in a more composed frame of mind than usual, gradually relapsed, at her want of restraint, into silence. He suffered under her looseness of tongue and laughter: her sallow, heavy-eyed face was ill-adapted to such moods; below her feverish animation there lurked, he was sure of it, a deadly melancholy. He had always been rendered uneasy by her spurts of gaiety. Now in addition, he asked himself: what has happened to make he. like this?
Feeling his hostility, Louise grew quieter, and soon she, too, was silent. Having gained his end, Maurice wished to atone for it, and slipping his arm through hers, he took her hand. For a few steps they walked on in this fashion. Then, he received one of those sudden impressions which flash on us from time to time, of having seen or done a certain thing before. For a moment, he could not verify it; then he knew. just in this way, arm in arm, hand in hand, had she come towards him with Schilsky, that very first day. It was no doubt a habit of hers. Like this, too, she would, in all probability, walk with the one who came after. And the picture of Herries, in the place he now occupied, was photographed on his brain.
He withdrew his arm, as if hers had burnt him: his mind was off again on its old round. But she, too, had to suffer for it. As he stood back to let her pass before him, on a dry strip of the path, his eye caught a yellow rose she was wearing at her belt. Till now he had seen it without seeing it.
“Why are you wearing that rose?”
Louise looked down from him to the flower and back again.” Why? — you know I like to wear flowers.”
“Where did you get it?”
She foresaw what he was driving at, and did not reply.
“You were wearing a rose like that the first time I saw you. Do you remember?”
“How should I remember? It’s so long ago.”
“Where had you got that one from, then?”
She repeated the same words. “How should I know now?”
“But I know. It was from him — he had given it to you.”
She raised her shoulders. “Perhaps.”
“Perhaps? No. For certain.”
“Well, and if so — was there anything strange in that?”
They walked a few paces without speaking. Then he asked: “Who has given you this one?”
“Maurice!” There was a note of warning in her voice. He heard it in vain. “Give it to me, Louise.”
“No — let it be. It will wither soon enough where it is.”
“Please give it to me,” he urged, rendered the more determined by her refusal.
“I wish to keep it.”
“And I mean to have it.”
To avoid the threatening scene, she took the rose from her belt and gave it to him. He fingered it indecisively for a moment, then threw it over the bridge they were crossing, into the river. It struggled, filled with muddy water, and floated away.
In the next breath, however, he asked himself ruefully what he had gained by his action. She had given him the rose, and he had destroyed it; but he would never know how she had come by it, and what it had been to her.
He was incensed with himself and with her for the whole length of the SCHLEUSSIGER WEG. Then the inevitable regret for his hastiness followed. He took her limply hanging hand and pressed it. But there was no responsive pressure on her part. Louise looked away from him, beyond the woods, as far as she could see, in the vain hope of there discovering some means of escape.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54