He shook his head. “If I touch you I shall not go. Oh, Katrine, Katrine, Katrine! Do you know what I am doing? I am going when I could stay, stay, or take you with me! Will you remember it in the years to come, when you are older and will understand what it means? Will you, oh, for God’s sake, Katrine, remember that there was still some little good in me, that although I did not do the best I could have done for you, at least I kept myself from doing the worst?”
A scarlet flush suffused her face at his words.
“Ah, don’t!” she cried, putting out her hand, as though to ward off a blow. “Don’t! Don’t say it! Don’t even think it! Believe me, it could never have been like that! I should have died first!”
TO TRY TO UNDERSTAND
She turned and left him, walking quietly along the narrow path through the harrowed field under the silent pines. The feeling of death was upon her. She wanted to cover her eyes, to blot out the sun, to run to some friendly darkness to make her moan. She knew he was watching her, however, and carried her head well up. She hoped that he could not see that her hands were clinched. As she went on, her cheeks scarlet, her carriage splendidly undejected, the wish came to her that she could sing. It would prove to him that she had the will not to let this thing crush her, not to be as other women might have been. But her sincere soul put the thought aside because of its untruth. She had given him a great honesty always, she would give it to him until the end. He knew she suffered, but she desired him to know as well that she was brave, that her spirit was unconquered, that she would do something rather than weakly suffer in ineffectual rebellion.
On the crest of the hill she turned to look at him. He was standing with his eyes fastened on her, the strained whiteness of his face marked out against the black of his horse’s mane.
Across the distance she had covered their eyes met. The slim little figure in the black frock outlined against the blue of the sky, the wind blowing the pines over her head, her dusky hair holding the sun, her skirts, pushed backward by the wind, revealing her childish body full of exquisite vitality. The tears stood big in her eyes, but hers was a soldier’s courage, the courage to face defeat, a thing goodly to see in man or woman. Hastily she untied the scarlet kerchief she wore around her throat and waved it to him, high, at arm’s-length, like a flag of victory.
“Ah, don’t worry! It’s all right!” she called. “Don’t think about me! Good-bye!”
At the back of the lodge, down by the brook, there was a place shut in by bushes and roofed over by boughs, where she had often before hidden her grief. Reaching this leafy room, she threw herself on the pine-needles, moving her head from side to side as if in physical pain. There was shame mixed with the grief. Remembered endearments came back to her; his head had lain on her bosom one night when she had tried to ease his pain by her small, cool hands. The place burned over her heart, and she pressed her hand to her side as though to stanch a wound.