He had risen; I leaned back in a large cushioned chair; we looked at each other in silence—a silence that throbbed with the heavy pulse of an unutterable and complex emotion—pleasure, pain, apprehension, even terror. What had I done? Why had I, with a word—nay, without a word, with merely a gesture and a glance—thrown my whole life into the crucible of passion? Why did I exult in the tremendous and impetuous act, like a martyr, and also like a girl? Was I playing with my existence as an infant plays with a precious bibelot that a careless touch may shatter? Why was I so fiercely, madly, drunkenly happy when I gazed into those eyes?
‘I suppose I must go,’ he said disconsolately.
I nodded, and the next instant the clock struck.
‘Yes,’ he urged himself, ‘I must go.’
He bent down, put his hands on the arms of the chair, and kissed me violently, twice. The fire that consumes the world ran scorchingly through me. Every muscle was suddenly strained into tension, and then fell slack. My face flushed; I let my head slip sideways, so that my left cheek was against the back of the chair. Through my drooping eyelashes I could see the snake-like glitter of his eyes as he stood over me. I shuddered and sighed. I was like someone fighting in vain against the sweet seduction of an overwhelming and fatal drug. I wanted to entreat him to go away, to rid me of the exquisite and sinister enchantment. But I could not speak. I shut my eyes. This was love.
The next moment I heard the soft sound of his feet on the carpet. I opened my eyes. He had stepped back. When our glances met he averted his face, and went briskly for his overcoat, which lay on the floor by the piano. I rose freed, re-established in my self-control. I arranged his collar, straightened his necktie with a few touches, picked up his hat, pushed back the crown, which flew up with a noise like a small explosion, and gave it into his hands.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ’To-morrow morning, eh? I shall get to know everything necessary before I come. And then we will fix things up.’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘I can let myself out,’ he said.
I made a vague gesture, intended to signify that I could not think of permitting him to let himself out. We left the drawing-room, and passed, with precautions of silence, to the front-door, which I gently opened.
‘Good-night, then,’ he whispered formally, almost coldly.
I nodded. We neither of us even smiled.
We were grave, stern, and stiff in our immense self-consciousness.
‘Too late for the lift,’ I murmured out there with him in the vast, glittering silence of the many-angled staircase, which disappeared above us and below us into the mysterious unseen.
He nodded as I had nodded, and began to descend the broad, carpeted steps, firmly, carefully, and neither quick nor slow. I leaned over the baluster. When the turns of the staircase brought him opposite and below me, he stopped and raised his hat, and we exchanged a smile. Then he resolutely dropped his eyes and resumed the descent. From time to time I had glimpses of parts of his figure as he passed story after story. Then I heard his tread on the tessellated pavement of the main hall, the distant clatter of double doors, and a shrill cab-whistle.