He was sodden with wet, his face drawn and tired; a dark growth of beard covered his cheeks and chin.
“Where is your uncle?” he said; “I want to see him.”
She put her hand up to his lips, but he caught it and covered it with kisses.
“He’s asleep—ill—speak gently!”
“I came to him first,” he muttered.
Christian lit the lamp; and he looked at her hungrily without a word.
“It’s not possible to go on like this; I came to tell your uncle so. He is a man. As for the other, I want to have nothing to do with him! I came back on foot across the mountains. It’s not possible to go on like this, Christian.”
She handed him her letter. He held it to the light, clearing his brow of raindrops. When he had read to the last word he gave it her back, and whispered: “Come!”
Her lips moved, but she did not speak.
“While this goes on I can’t work; I can do nothing. I can’t—I won’t bargain with my work; if it’s to be that, we had better end it. What are we waiting for? Sooner or later we must come to this. I’m sorry that he’s ill, God knows! But that changes nothing. To wait is tying me hand and foot—it’s making me afraid! Fear kills! It will kill you! It kills work, and I must work, I can’t waste time—I won’t! I will sooner give you up.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “I love you! I want you! Look in my eyes and see if you dare hold back!”
Christian stood with the grip of his strong hands on her shoulders, without a movement or sign. Her face was very white. And suddenly he began to kiss that pale, still face, to kiss its eyes and lips, to kiss it from its chin up to its hair; and it stayed pale, as a white flower, beneath those kisses—as a white flower, whose stalk the fingers bend back a little.
There was a sound of knocking on the wall; Mr. Treffry called feebly. Christian broke away from Harz.
“To-morrow!” he whispered, and picking up his hat and cloak, went out again into the rain.
It was not till morning that Christian fell into a troubled sleep. She dreamed that a voice was calling her, and she was filled with a helpless, dumb dream terror.
When she woke the light was streaming in; it was Sunday, and the cathedral bells were chiming. Her first thought was of Harz. One step, one moment of courage! Why had she not told her uncle? If he had only asked! But why—why should she tell him? When it was over and she was gone, he would see that all was for the best.
Her eyes fell on Greta’s empty bed. She sprang up, and bending over, kissed the pillow. ’She will mind at first; but she’s so young! Nobody will really miss me, except Uncle Nic!’ She stood along while in the window without moving. When she was dressed she called out to her maid:
“Bring me some milk, Barbi; I’m going to church.”