“I’m like a leaf in the wind, I put out my hand to one thing, and it’s seized and twisted and flung aside. I want you—I want you; if I could see you I think I should know what to do—”
The rain drove with increasing fury. The night was very black. Nicholas Treffry slept heavily. By the side of his bed the night-lamp cast on to the opposite wall a bright disc festooned by the hanging shadow of the ceiling. Christian was leaning over him. For the moment he filled all her heart, lying there, so helpless. Fearful of waking him she slipped into the sitting-room. Outside the window stood a man with his face pressed to the pane. Her heart thumped; she went up and unlatched the window. It was Harz, with the rain dripping off him. He let fall his hat and cape.
“You!” she said, touching his sleeve. “You! You!”
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.