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- Maurice Guest - 80/121 -
out both her hands. He stood holding them, unable to take his eyes from her face. At her movement to withdraw them, he stooped and kissed them.
"Not look glad? Then you shouldn't have come."
They left her luggage to be sent up later in the day, and set out on their walk. Going down the shadeless street, and through the town, she was silent. At first, as they went, Maurice pointed out things that he thought would interest her, and spoke as if he attached importance to them. While, in reality, nothing mattered, now that she was beside him. And gradually, he, too, lapsed into silence, walking by her side across the square, and through the narrow streets, with the solemnly festive feelings of a child on Sunday. They crossed the moat, passed through the gates and courtyard of the old castle, and began to ascend the steep path that was a short-cut to the woods. It was exposed to the full glare of the sun, and, on reaching the sheltering trees, Louise gave a sigh of relief, and stood still to take off her hat.
"It's so hot. And I like best to be bareheaded."
"Yes, and now I can see you better. Is it really you, at last? I still can't believe it.--That you should have come to me!"
"Yes, I'm real," she smiled, and thrust the pins through the crown of the hat. "But very tired, Maurice. It was so hot, and the train was so slow."
"Tired?--of course, you must be. Come, there's a seat just round this corner. You shall rest there."
They sat, and he laid his arm along the back of the bench. With his left hand he turned her face towards him. "I must see you. I expect every minute to wake and find it's not true."
"And yet you haven't even told me you're glad to see me."
"Glad? No. Glad is only a word."
She leaned lightly against the protective pressure of his arm. On one of her hands lying in her lap, a large spot of sunlight settled. He stooped and put his lips to it. She touched his head.
"Were the days long without me?"
"Why didn't you come sooner?"
Not that he cared, or even cared to know, now that she was there. But he wanted to hear her speak, to remember that he could now have her voice in his ears, whenever he chose. But Louise was not disposed to talk; the few words she said, fell unwillingly from her lips. The stillness of the forest laid its spell upon them: each faint rustling among the leaves was audible; not a living thing stirred except themselves. The tall firs and beeches stretched infinitely upwards, and the patches of light that lay here and there on the moss, made the cool darkness seem darker.
When they walked on again, Maurice put his arm through hers, and, in. this intimacy of touch, was conscious of every step she took. It made him happy to suit his pace to hers, to draw her aside from a spreading root or loose stone, and to feel her respond to his pressure. She walked for the most part languidly, looking to the ground. But at a thickly wooded turn of the path, where it was very dark, where the sunlight seemed far away, and the pine-scent was more pungent than elsewhere, she stopped, to drink in the spicy air with open lips and nostrils.
"It's like wine. Maurice, I'm glad we came here--that you found this place. Think of it, we might still be sitting indoors, with the blinds drawn, knowing that the pavements were baking in the sun. While here! . . . Oh, I shall be happy here!"
She was roused for a moment to a rapturous content with her surroundings. She looked childishly happy and very young. Maurice pressed her arm, without speaking: he was so foolishly happy that her praise of the place affected him like praise of himself. Again, he had a chastened feeling of exhilaration: as though an acme of satisfaction had been reached, beyond which it was impossible to go.
On catching sight of the rambling wooden building, in the midst of the clearing that had been made among the encroaching trees, Louise gave another cry of pleasure, and before entering the house, went to the edge of the terrace, and looked down on the plains. But upstairs, in her room on the first storey, he made her rest in an arm-chair by the window. He himself prepared the tea, proud to perform the first of the trivial services which, from now on, were to be his. There was nothing he would not do for her, and, as a beginning, he persuaded her to lie down on the sofa and try to sleep.
Once outside again, he did not know how to kill time; and the remainder of the afternoon seemed interminable. He endeavoured to read, but could not take in the meaning of two consecutive sentences. He was afraid to go far away, in case she should wake and miss him. So he loitered about in the vicinity of the house, and returned every few minutes, to see if her blind were not drawn up. Finally, he sat down at one of the tables on the terrace, where he had her window in sight. Towards six o'clock, his patience was exhausted; going upstairs, he listened outside the door of her room. Not a sound. With infinite precaution, he turned the handle, and looked in.
She was lying just as he had left her, fast asleep. Her head was a little on one side; her left hand was under her cheek, her right lay palm upwards on the rug that covered her. Maurice sat down in the arm-chair.
At first, he looked furtively, afraid of disturbing her; then more openly, in the hope that she would waken. Sitting thus, and thinking over the miracle that had happened to him, he now sought to find something in her face for him alone, which had previously not been there. But his thoughts wandered as he gazed. How he loved it!--this face of hers. He was invariably worked on afresh by the blackness of the lustreless hair; by the pale, imperious mouth; by the dead white pallor of the skin, which shaded to a dusky cream in the curves of neck and throat, and in the lines beneath the eyes was of a bluish brown. Now the lashes lay in these encircling rings. Without doubt, it was the eyes that supplied life to the face: only when they were open, and the lips parted over the strong teeth, was it possible to realise how intense a vitality was latent in her. But his love would wipe out the last trace of this wan tiredness. He would be infinitely careful of her: he would shield her from the impulsiveness of her own nature; she should never have cause to regret what she had done. And the affection that bound them would day by day grow stronger. All his work, all his thoughts, should belong to her alone; she would be his beloved wife; and through him she would learn what love really was.
He rose and stood over her, longing to share his feelings with her. But she remained sunk in her placid sleep, and as he stood, he became conscious of a different sensation. He had never seen her face--except convulsed by weeping--when it was not under full control. Was it because he had stared so long at it, or was it really changed in sleep? There was something about it, at this moment, which he could not explain: it almost looked less fine. The mouth was not so proudly reticent as he had believed it to be; there was even a want of restraint about it; and the chin had fallen. He did not care to see it like this: it made him uneasy. He stooped and touched her hand. She started up, and could not remember where she was. She put both hands to her forehead. "Maurice!--what is it? Have I been asleep long?"
He held his watch before her eyes. With a cry she sprang to her feet. Then she sent him downstairs.
They were the only guests. They had supper alone in a longish room, at a little table spread with a coloured cloth. The window was open behind them, and the branches of the trees outside hung into the room. In honour of the occasion, Maurice ordered wine, and they remained sitting, after they had finished supper, listening to the rustling and swishing of the trees. The only drawback to the young man's happiness was the pertinacious curiosity of the girl who waited on them. She lingered after she had served them, and stared so hard that Maurice turned at length and asked her what the matter was.
The girl coloured to the roots of her hair.
"Ach, Fraulein is so pretty," she answered naivly, in her broad Saxon dialect.
Both laughed, and Louise asked her name, and if she always lived there. Thus encouraged, Amalie, a buxom, thickset person, with a number of flaxen plaits, came forward and began to talk. Her eyes were fixed on Louise, and she only occasionally glanced from her to the young man.
"It's nice to have a sweetheart," she said suddenly.
Louise laughed again and coloured. "Haven't you got one, Amalie?"
Amalie shook her head, and launched out into a tale of faithlessness and desertion. "Yes, if I were as pretty as you, Fraulein, it would be a different thing," she ended, with a hearty sigh.
Maurice clattered up from the table. "All right, Amalie, that'll do."
They went out of doors, and strolled about in the twilight. He had intended to show her some of the pretty nooks in the neighbourhood of the house. But she was not as affable with him as she had been with Amalie; she walked at his side with an air of preoccupied indifference.
When they sat down on a seat, on the side of the hill, the moon had risen. It was almost at the full, and a few gently sailing scraps of cloud, which crossed it, made it seem to be coming towards them. The plains beneath were veiled in haze; detached sounds mounted from them: the prolonged barking of a dog, the drone of an approaching train. Round about them, the air was heavy with the scent of the sun-warmed pines. Maurice had taken her hand and sat holding it: it was the one thing that existed for him. All else was vague and unreal: only their two hearts beat in all the universe. But there was no interchange between them of binding words or endearments, such as pass between most lovers.
How long they sat, neither could have told. But suddenly, far below, a human voice was raised in a long cry, which echoed against the side of the hill. Louise shivered: and he had a moment of apprehension.
"You're cold. We have sat too long. Let us go."
They rose, and walked slowly back to the house.
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