“You have taught me that there is no one like you in the world,” said Bressant. His voice sounded strangely to her, coming across such an abyss of shame, remorse, and dismay. Did he know the bitter satire his words conveyed? Sophie’s face was hidden in her hands. She dared not think what might come next.
“Is it nothing to you to know that you are more to me than any thing else?” demanded he, and his tone was becoming husky and unsteady. The passion that had been smouldering within him so long, unsuspected in its intensity even by himself, was now beginning to be-stir itself, and shoot forth jets of flame. “Why have you let yourself be with me—why have you made yourself necessary to me—if I was nothing to you?”
Sophie, in the extreme depths of her degradation and abasement, became all at once quiet and composed. She lifted her face, pale, and smitten with suffering, from her hands, and, folding them in her lap, looked at Bressant calmly, because she understood herself at last, and felt that the time for hiding her head in shame had gone by.
“You have not been nothing to me,” said she, “though I didn’t know it before, or, rather, I would not. I had an idea that I was leading you up to higher things, as an angel might, and all the time I was making use of God’s truth and recommendation, as it were, to gratify and shield my own selfishness and—” here her voice sank, and her lips quivered, and grew dry, but she waited, and struggled, and finally went on—“and immodesty. I don’t know why I should tell you this—except that I’ve told you every thing else, and this may save you from some of the wrong the rest has done you. But the most of it must remain irreparable.” A long sigh quivered up from Sophie’s heart, and quivered down again, like a pebble sinking through the water. Such a sigh, in a woman, is the sign of what can scarcely come twice in a lifetime.
“I don’t understand any thing about that; I don’t want to!” exclaimed Bressant, with an impetuous gesture. “What you’ve done seems to have been better than what you meant to do, at any rate. You’ve made yourself every thing to me. Say that I am as much to you, and what more do we need? Say it! say it!” and, in the vehemence of his appeal, the sick man half raised himself from his bed.
“I cannot! I cannot!” said Sophie, in a low, penetrating voice of suffering. “If you were the lowest of all men, I could not. I came to you in the guise of an angel, and what I have done, what woman is there that would not blush at it? It may not be too late to save you—”
“Stop!” cried Bressant, with an accent of hoarse, masculine command, such as she could not gainsay. “It is too late!—I will not be saved! Look in my eyes, Sophie Valeyon, and tell me the name of what you see there!”