I perceived that she wanted to kiss me; but I avoided the caress. How I hated kissing women!
‘No more need be said,’ she almost whispered, as I put my hand on the knob of the front-door. I had escorted her myself to the hall.
’Only remember your great mission, the influence you wield, and the fair fame of our calling.’
My impulse was to shriek. But I merely smiled as decently as I could; and I opened the door.
And there, on the landing, just emerging from the lift, was Ispenlove, haggard, pale, his necktie astray. He and Mrs. Sardis exchanged a brief stare; she gave me a look of profound pain and passed in dignified silence down the stairs; Ispenlove came into the flat.
‘Nothing will convince her now that I am not a liar,’ I reflected.
It was my last thought as I sank, exquisitely drowning, in the sea of sensations caused by Ispenlove’s presence.
Without a word, we passed together into the drawing-room, and I closed the door. Ispenlove stood leaning against the piano, as though intensely fatigued; he crushed his gibus with an almost savage movement, and then bent his large, lustrous black eyes absently on the flat top of it. His thin face was whiter even than usual, and his black hair, beard, and moustache all dishevelled; the collar of his overcoat was twisted, and his dinner-jacket rose an inch above it at the back of the neck.
I wanted to greet him, but I could not trust my lips. And I saw that he, too, was trying in vain to speak.
At length I said, with that banality which too often surprises us in supreme moments:
‘What is it? Do you know that your tie is under your ear?’
And as I uttered these words, my voice, breaking of itself and in defiance of me, descended into a tone which sounded harsh and inimical.
‘Ah!’ he murmured, lifting his eyes to mine, ’if you turn against me to-night, I shall—’
‘Turn against you!’ I cried, shocked. ’Let me help you with your overcoat!’
And I went near him, meaning to take his overcoat.
‘It’s finished between Mary and me,’ he said, holding me with his gaze. ‘It’s finished. I’ve no one but you now; and I’ve come—I’ve come—’
He stopped. We read one another’s eyes at arm’s length, and all the sorrow and pity and love that were in each of us rose to our eyes and shone there. I shivered with pleasure when I saw his arms move, and then he clutched and dragged me to him, and I hid my glowing face on his shoulder, in the dear folds of his overcoat, and I felt his lips on my neck. And then, since neither of us was a coward, we lifted our heads, and our mouths met honestly and fairly, and, so united, we shut our eyes for an eternal moment, and the world was not.
Such was the avowal.