She made no movement.
Outside the lane was filled with street noises, the cries of children, the voices of men who went by talking, the rumble of a waggon coming with the crack of whips and jingle of bells from the river. The wheels came up and went past into silence again before either spoke or moved.
Then Ralph lifted his hands a little and let them drop, as he stared at her face. From her eyes looked out her will, tense as steel; and his own shook to meet it.
“Well?” she said at last; and her voice was perfectly steady.
“Beatrice,” cried Ralph; and the agony of it tore his heart.
She dropped her hand to her side and still looked at him without flinching.
“Beatrice,” cried Ralph once more.
“Then you have no more to say—after last night?”
A torrent of thoughts broke loose in his brain, and he tried to snatch one as they fled past—to say one word. His excuses went by him like phantoms; they bewildered and dazed him. Why, there were a thousand things to say, and each was convincing if he could but say it. The cloud passed and there were her eyes watching him still.
“Then that is all?” she said.
Again the cloud fell on him; little scenes piteously clear rose before him, of the road by Rusper convent, Layton’s leering face, a stripped altar; and for each there was a tale if he could but tell it. And still the bright eyes never flinched.
It seemed to him as if she was watching him curiously; her lips were parted, and her head was a little on one side; her face interested and impersonal.
“Why, Beatrice—” he cried again.
Then her love shook her like a storm; he had never dreamed she could look like that; her mouth shook; he could see her white teeth clenched; and a shiver went over her. He took one step forward, but stopped again, for the black eyes shone through the passion that swayed her, as keen and remorseless as ever.
He dropped on to his knees at the table and buried his face in his hands. He knew nothing now but that he had lost her.
That was her voice speaking now, as steady as her eyes; but he did not hear a word she said. Words were nothing; they were not so much as those cries from the street, that shrill boy’s voice over the way; not so much as the sighing crackle from the hearth where he had caused a fire to be lighted lest she should feel cold.
She was still speaking, but her voice had moved; she was no longer by the fire. He could feel the warmth of the fire now on his hands. But he dared not move nor look up; there was but one thing left for him—that he had lost her!
That was her hand on the latch; a breath of cold air stirred his hair; and still she was speaking. He understood a little more now; she knew it all—his doings—what he had said last night—and there was not one word to say in answer. Her short lashing sentences fell on his defenceless soul, but all sense was dead, and he watched with a dazed impersonalness how each stroke went home, and yet he felt no pain or shame.