He was dressed in a gray tourist suit. Never before had I seen him in any but the formal attire of London. I thought he looked singularly graceful and distinguished, even romantic, in that loose, soft clothing. But no matter what he wore, Frank satisfied the eye. We were both extremely nervous and excited and timid, fearing speech.
‘Carlotta,’ he said at last—I had perceived that he was struggling to a resolution—’this is the best thing that could have happened. Whatever we do, everybody will believe that we are running off together.’
‘I think they have been believing that ever since we left London,’ I said; and I told him about Miss Kate’s treatment of me at lunch. ’But how can that affect us?’ I demanded.
’Mary will believe it—does believe, I’m sure. Long before this, people will have enlightened her. And now the Vicarys have seen us, it’s all over. Our hand is forced, isn’t it?’
‘Frank,’ I said, ‘didn’t you think my letter was right?’
‘I obeyed it,’ he replied heavily. ’I haven’t even written to you. I meant to when I got to Mentone.’
‘But didn’t you think I was right?’
‘I don’t know. Yes—I suppose it was.’ His lower lip fell. ’Of course I don’t want you to do anything that you—’
‘Dinner, please,’ said my negro, putting his head between us.
We both informed the man that we should not dine, and I asked him to tell Yvonne not to wait for me.
‘There’s your maid, too,’ said Frank. ’How are we going to get out of it? The thing’s settled for us.’
‘My dear, dear boy!’ I exclaimed. ’Are we to outrage our consciences simply because people think we have outraged them?’
‘It isn’t my conscience—it’s yours,’ he said.
I drew down my veil; I could scarcely keep dry eyes.
‘Why are you so hard, Carlotta?’ he cried. ’I can’t understand you. I never could. But you’ll kill me—that’s what you’ll do.’
Impulsively I leaned forward; and he seized my hand. Our antagonism melted in tears. Oh the cruel joy of that moment! Who will dare to say that the spirit cannot burn with pleasure while drowning in grief? Or that tragedy may not be the highest bliss? That instant of renunciation was our true marriage. I realize it now—a union that nothing can soil nor impair.
‘I love you; you are fast and fast in my heart,’ I murmured. ’But you must go back to Mary. There is nothing else.’
And I withdrew my hand.
He shook his head.
‘You’ve no right, my dearest, to tell me to go back to Mary. I cannot.’
‘Forgive me,’ I said. ‘I have only the right to ask you to leave me.’
‘Then there is no hope?’
His lips trembled. Ah! those lips!
I made a sign that there was no hope. And we sat in silence, overcome.
A servant came to arrange the compartment for sleeping, and we were obliged to assume nonchalance and go into the corridor. All the windows of the corridor were covered with frost traceries. The train with its enclosed heat and its gleaming lamps was plunging through an ice-gripped night. I thought of the engine-driver, perched on his shaking, snorting, monstrous machine, facing the weather, with our lives and our loves in his hand.