“Well, then,” he said at last, “I will confess, the real reason why I am come is, that I have made a vow to kiss your shoe this evening.”
“It is long since you thought of such a thing as that,” said Charlotte.
“So much the worse,” he answered; “and so much the better.”
She had thrown herself back in an armchair, to prevent him from seeing the slightness of her dress. He flung himself down before her, and she could not prevent him from giving her shoe a kiss. And when the shoe came off in his hand, he caught her foot and pressed it tenderly against his breast.
Charlotte was one of those women who, being of naturally calm temperaments, continue in marriage, without any purpose or any effort, the air and character of lovers. She was never expressive toward her husband; generally, indeed, she rather shrank from any warm demonstration on his part. It was not that she was cold, or at all hard and repulsive, but she remained always like a loving bride, who draws back with a kind of shyness even from what is permitted. And so Edward found her this evening, in a double sense. How sorely did she not long that her husband would go; the figure of his friend seemed to hover in the air and reproach her. But what should have had the effect of driving Edward away only attracted him the more. There were visible traces of emotion about her. She had been crying; and tears, which with weak persons detract from their graces, add immeasurably to the attractiveness of those whom we know commonly as strong and self-possessed.
Edward was so agreeable, so gentle, so pressing; he begged to be allowed to stay with her. He did not demand it, but half in fun, half in earnest, he tried to persuade her; he never thought of his rights. At last, as if in mischief, he blew out the candle.
In the dim lamplight, the inward affection, the imagination, maintained their rights over the real; it was Ottilie that was resting in Edward’s arms; and the Captain, now faintly, now clearly, hovered before Charlotte’s soul. And so, strangely intermingled, the absent and the present flowed in a sweet enchantment one into the other.
And yet the present would not let itself be robbed of its own unlovely right. They spent a part of the night talking and laughing at all sorts of things, the more freely as the heart had no part in it. But when Edward awoke in the morning, on his wife’s breast, the day seemed to stare in with a sad, awful look, and the sun to be shining in upon a crime. He stole lightly from her side; and she found herself, with strange enough feelings, when she awoke, alone.