“Is that true?” he says, in a harsh, rough whisper; “are you sure that you are not deceiving yourself? are you sure that under all your rude words you are not nearer loving me than you think?—that it is not that —with that barrier between us—you cannot reconcile it to your conscience—”
“Quite, quite sure!” interrupt I, with passionate emphasis, looking back unflinchingly into the angry depths of his eyes, “it has nothing to say to conscience! it has nothing to say to the wrongness of it” (crimsoning as I speak). “If it were quite right—if it were my duty— it were the only way to save myself from hanging” (reaching after an ever higher and higher climax), “I never, NEVER could say that I was fond of you! I do not see what there is to be fond of in you! before God, I do not!”
“There!” he says, hoarsely stretching out his hand, as if to ward off a blow, “that will do!—stop!—you will never outdo that!”
A moment’s pause.
Down in the loneliness of this dell, the twilight is creeping quickly on: when once it begins it tarries not. Out in the open country I dare say that it is still broad daylight; but here, the hues of the moss carpet are growing duller, and the brook is darkening. In a sudden panic, I hastily catch up my hat, which has fallen to the ground, and without a word or look of farewell, begin to run fast along the homeward path. Before I have gone ten yards he has overtaken me. His face is distorted by passion out of all its beauty.
“Nancy,” he says, in a voice rendered almost unrecognizable by extreme agitation, walking quickly alongside of me, “we are not going to part like this!”
“Do not call me Nancy!” cry I, indignantly; “it makes me sick!”
“What does it matter what I call you?” he cries, impatiently; “of what consequence is such a trifle? I will call you by what name you please, but for this once you must listen to me. I know, as well as you do, that it is my last chance!”
“That it is!” put in I, viciously.
The path is beginning to rise. After mounting the slope, we shall soon be out of the wood, and in the peopled open again.
“How can I help it, if I have gone mad?” he cries violently, evidently driven to desperation by the shortness of the time before him.
“Mad!” echo I, scornfully, “not a bit of it! you are as sane as I am!”
All this time we are posting along in mad haste. Thank God! the high-road is in sight, the cheerful, populous, light high-road. The trees grow thinner, and the path broadens. Even from here, we can plainly see the carts and carters. He stops, and making me stop, too, snatches both my hands.
“Nancy!” he says, harshly, stooping over me, while his eyes flame with a haggard light. “Yes, I will call you so this once—to me now you are Nancy! I will not call you by his name! Is it possible? You may say that it is my egotism; but, at a moment like this, what is the use of shamming—of polite pretense? Never, never before in all my life have I given love without receiving it, and I cannot believe”—(with an accent of passionate entreaty)—“that I do now! Feeling for you as I do, do you feel absolutely nothing for me?”