Presently his eyes ceased to wander. He sat perfectly still. The conviction had seized him that he could not possibly do without her; and as he looked slowly about him a great terror seemed to be taking possession of him. He imagined that she was really gone—that in some way or another he had really lost her, and that everything in the room was standing just as she had left it, and as it would stand unmoved, undusted for ever.
“I have deserved it,” he muttered; and a cold perspiration came out upon his forehead. “Have I treated her in such a way that I have any right to expect her to care for me? Is it not just my own folly that is to blame? She was right—more than right. I have behaved shamefully to her, suspiciously, and tyrannically—invariably, unceasingly; and now I may sit here long enough and repent it, to no purpose. She would not be what she is if she tamely submitted to such treatment.”
He dwelt upon this last thought until the scales seemed to drop from his eyes, and, acknowledging the truth at last, he broke out with bitter scorn against himself—
“The fact is, in my cursed pride I have never been able to bear the thought that she might have been better off—that I was not good enough for her, not fit for her; that is what has been at the bottom of it all: and as I would not acknowledge that, I have insisted always to myself that I could not trust her.
“Do I really believe this?” he asked himself then slowly, and fell into thought again, his face growing darker and darker every minute.
“What a good-natured booby, fool, idiot, I am!” he cried, with a scornful laugh. “No, it is she who has been false and untruthful, she who must acknowledge it, she who is bound to give me, once for all, full explanation. Yes, it is she who must bend, and then she may have some claim to hear from me what I too may have to reproach myself for in my acts or bearing towards her. That is how it is, and that is how it shall be!”
A hard, inexorable look overspread his face as he said this; but for a moment he appeared almost moved again—
“I shall speak kindly to her—be so gentle—forget everything.
“But bend she shall,” he added; and that decision was evidently final.
That evening was passed by Elizabeth in a terrible struggle with herself. When Gjert had brought her clothes she had turned very pale, and had felt as if she had undertaken what she would not have strength to carry through. And now that the decisive moment had nearly come, this feeling increased almost to despair.
They had all gone to bed in the house. It was so quiet about her; and a feeling came over her such as she had experienced that time on the Apollo, as she sat and waited whilst they approached the sandbanks. Early next morning the crisis would inevitably come; and it was a question now of losing more than the brig—of losing all they jointly possessed on earth! She saw a long, dreary life-strand stretching away beyond.