Christian pushed her plate away. Greta, flushing, said abruptly: “Doctor Edmund is not a decided character, I think. This afternoon he said: ‘Shall I have some beer-yes, I shall—no, I shall not’; then he ordered the beer, so, when it came, he gave it to the soldiers.”
Mrs. Decie turned her enigmatic smile from one girl to the other.
When dinner was over they went into her room. Greta stole at once to the piano, where her long hair fell almost to the keys; silently she sat there fingering the notes, smiling to herself, and looking at her aunt, who was reading Pater’s essays. Christian too had taken up a book, but soon put it down—of several pages she had not understood a word. She went into the garden and wandered about the lawn, clasping her hands behind her head. The air was heavy; very distant thunder trembled among the mountains, flashes of summer lightning played over the trees; and two great moths were hovering about a rosebush. Christian watched their soft uncertain rushes. Going to the little summer-house she flung herself down on a seat, and pressed her hands to her heart.
There was a strange and sudden aching there. Was he going from her? If so, what would be left? How little and how narrow seemed the outlook of her life—with the world waiting for her, the world of beauty, effort, self-sacrifice, fidelity! It was as though a flash of that summer lightning had fled by, singeing her, taking from her all powers of flight, burning off her wings, as off one of those pale hovering moths. Tears started up, and trickled down her face. ‘Blind!’ she thought; ’how could I have been so blind?’
Some one came down the path.
“Who’s there?” she cried.
Harz stood in the doorway.
“Why did you come out?” he said. “Ah! why did you come out?” He caught her hand; Christian tried to draw it from him, and to turn her eyes away, but she could not. He flung himself down on his knees, and cried: “I love you!”
In a rapture of soft terror Christian bent her forehead down to his hand.
“What are you doing?” she heard him say. “Is it possible that you love me?” and she felt his kisses on her hair.
“My sweet! it will be so hard for you; you are so little, so little, and so weak.” Clasping his hand closer to her face, she murmured: “I don’t care.”
There was a long, soft silence, that seemed to last for ever. Suddenly she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him.
“Whatever comes!” she whispered, and gathering her dress, escaped from him into the darkness.
Christian woke next morning with a smile. In her attitudes, her voice, her eyes, there was a happy and sweet seriousness, as if she were hugging some holy thought. After breakfast she took a book and sat in the open window, whence she could see the poplar-trees guarding the entrance. There was a breeze; the roses close by kept nodding to her; the cathedral bells were in full chime; bees hummed above the lavender; and in the sky soft clouds were floating like huge, white birds.