He waited to open till he heard her footstep just outside. She came in without a word, not even looking at him. And he, too, said not a word till he had closed the door, and made sure of her. Then they turned to each other. Her breast was heaving a little, under her thin frock, but she was calmer than he, with that wonderful composure of pretty women in all the passages of love, as who should say: This is my native air!
They stood and looked at each other, as if they could never have enough, till he said at last:
“I thought I should die before this moment came. There isn’t a minute that I don’t long for you so terribly that I can hardly live.”
“And do you think that I don’t long for you?”
“Then come to me!”
She looked at him mournfully and shook her head.
Well, he had known that she would not. He had not earned her. What right had he to ask her to fly against the world, to brave everything, to have such faith in him—as yet? He had no heart to press his words, beginning then to understand the paralyzing truth that there was no longer any resolving this or that; with love like his he had ceased to be a separate being with a separate will. He was entwined with her, could act only if her will and his were one. He would never be able to say to her: ‘You must!’ He loved her too much. And she knew it. So there was nothing for it but to forget the ache, and make the hour happy. But how about that other truth— that in love there is no pause, no resting? . . . With any watering, however scant, the flower will grow till its time comes to be plucked. . . . This oasis in the desert—these few minutes with her alone, were swept through and through with a feverish wind. To be closer! How not try to be that? How not long for her lips when he had but her hand to kiss? And how not be poisoned with the thought that in a few minutes she would leave him and go back to the presence of that other, who, even though she loathed him, could see and touch her when he would? She was leaning back in the very chair where in fancy he had seen her, and he only dared sit at her feet and look up. And this, which a week ago would have been rapture, was now almost torture, so far did it fall short of his longing. It was torture, too, to keep his voice in tune with the sober sweetness of her voice. And bitterly he thought: How can she sit there, and not want me, as I want her? Then at a touch of her fingers on his hair, he lost control, and kissed her lips. Her surrender lasted only for a second.
“No, no—you must not!”
That mournful surprise sobered him at once.
He got up, stood away from her, begged to be forgiven.
And, when she was gone, he sat in the chair where she had sat. That clasp of her, the kiss he had begged her to forget—to forget!—nothing could take that from him. He had done wrong; had startled her, had fallen short of chivalry! And yet—a smile of utter happiness would cling about his lips. His fastidiousness, his imagination almost made him think that this was all he wanted. If he could close his eyes, now, and pass out, before he lost that moment of half-fulfilment!