“Am I to believe this? From your manner I am to take it as true. O you cannot be out of your mind! You ought to be! Yet you are not... My wife, my Tess—nothing in you warrants such a supposition as that?”
“I am not out of my mind,” she said.
“And yet—” He looked vacantly at her, to resume with dazed senses: “Why didn’t you tell me before? Ah, yes, you would have told me, in a way—but I hindered you, I remember!”
These and other of his words were nothing but the perfunctory babble of the surface while the depths remained paralyzed. He turned away, and bent over a chair. Tess followed him to the middle of the room, where he was, and stood there staring at him with eyes that did not weep. Presently she slid down upon her knees beside his foot, and from this position she crouched in a heap.
“In the name of our love, forgive me!” she whispered with a dry mouth. “I have forgiven you for the same!”
And, as he did not answer, she said again—
“Forgive me as you are forgiven! I forgive YOU, Angel.”
“You—yes, you do.”
“But you do not forgive me?”
“O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another. My God—how can forgiveness meet such a grotesque—prestidigitation as that!”
He paused, contemplating this definition; then suddenly broke into horrible laughter—as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell.
“Don’t—don’t! It kills me quite, that!” she shrieked. “O have mercy upon me—have mercy!”
He did not answer; and, sickly white, she jumped up.
“Angel, Angel! what do you mean by that laugh?” she cried out. “Do you know what this is to me?”
He shook his head.
“I have been hoping, longing, praying, to make you happy! I have thought what joy it will be to do it, what an unworthy wife I shall be if I do not! That’s what I have felt, Angel!”
“I know that.”
“I thought, Angel, that you loved me—me, my very self! If it is I you do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? It frightens me! Having begun to love you, I love you for ever—in all changes, in all disgraces, because you are yourself. I ask no more. Then how can you, O my own husband, stop loving me?”
“I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.”
“Another woman in your shape.”
She perceived in his words the realization of her own apprehensive foreboding in former times. He looked upon her as a species of imposter; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one. Terror was upon her white face as she saw it; her cheek was flaccid, and her mouth had almost the aspect of a round little hole. The horrible sense of his view of her so deadened her that she staggered, and he stepped forward, thinking she was going to fall.