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- Maurice Guest - 96/121 -
hands, all the infinitesimal differences there had been between them, from the beginning, the fine points in which he had failed--things of which he had no knowledge--all these were raked up and cast at him till, numb with pain, he lost even the wish to comfort her. Sitting down at the table, he laid his head on his folded arms.
At his feet were the fragments of the little clock, which, in her anger at his desertion of her, she had trodden to pieces.
Their first business the next morning was to buy another clock. By daylight, Louise was full of remorse at what she had done, and in passing the writing-table, averted her eyes. They went out early to a shop in the GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE; and Maurice stood by and watched her make her choice.
She loved to buy, and entered into the purchase with leisurely enjoyment. The shopman and his assistant spared themselves no trouble in fetching and setting out their wares. Louise handled each clock as it was put before her, discussed the merits of different styles, and a faint colour mounted to her cheeks over the difficulty of deciding between two which she liked equally well. She had pushed up her veil; it swathed her forehead like an Eastern woman's. Her eagerness, which was expressed in a slight unsteadiness of nostril and lip, would have had something childish in it, had it not been for her eyes. They remained heavy and unsmiling; and the disquieting half-rings below them were more bluely brown than ever. Leaning sideways. against the counter, Maurice looked away from them to her hands; her fingers were entirely without ornament, and he would have liked to load them with rings. As it was, he could not even pay for the clock she chose; it cost more than he had to spend in a month.
In the street again, she said she was hungry, and, glad to be able to add his mite to her pleasure, he took her by the arm and steered her to the CAFE FRANCAIS, where they had coffee and ices. The church-steeples were booming eleven when they emerged; it did not seem worth while going home and settling down to work. Instead, they went to the ROSENTAL.
It was a brilliant autumn day, rich in light and shade, and there was only a breath abroad of the racy freshness that meant subsequent decay. The leaves were turning red and orange, but had not begun to fall; the sky was deeply blue; outlines were sharp and precise. They were both in a mood this morning to be susceptible to their surroundings; they were even eager to be affected by them, and made happy. The disagreements of the two preceding nights were like bad dreams, which they were anxious to forget, or at least to avoid thinking of. Her painful, unreasonable treatment of him, the evening before, had not been touched on between them; after his incoherent attempts to justify himself, after his bitter self-reproaches, when she lay sobbing in his arms, they had both, with one accord, been silent. Neither of them felt any desire for open-hearted explanations; they were careful not to stir up the depths anew. Louise was very quiet; had it not been for her eyes, he might have believed her happy. But here, just as an hour before in the watchmaker's shop, they brooded, unable to forget. And yet there was a pliancy about her this morning, a readiness to meet his wishes, which, as he walked at her side, made him almost content. The old, foolish dreams awoke in him again, and vistas opened, of a gentle comradeship, which might still come true, when the strenuous side of her love for him had worn itself out. If only an hour like the present could have lasted indefinitely!
It was a happy morning. They ended it with an improvised lunch at the KAISERPARK; and it remained imprinted on their minds as an unexpected patch of colour, in an unending row of grey days, given up to duty.
The next one, and the next again, Louise continued in the same yielding mood, which was wholly different from the emotional expansiveness of the past weeks. Maurice took a glad advantage of her willingness to please him, and they had several pleasant walks together: to Napoleon's battlefields; along the GRUNE GASSE and the POETENWEG to Schiller's house at Gohlis; and into the heart of the ROSENTAL--DAS WILDE ROSENTAL--where it was very solitary, and where the great trees seemed to stagger under their load of stained leaves.
A burst of almost July radiance occurred at this time; and one day, Louise expressed a wish to go to the country, in order that, by once more being together for a whole day on end, they might relive in fancy the happy weeks they had spent on the Rochlitzer Berg. It was never her way to urge over-much, which made it hard to refuse her; so it was arranged that they should set off betimes the following Saturday.
Maurice had his reward in the cry of pleasure she gave when he wakened her to tell her that it was a fine day.
"Get up, dear! It's less than an hour till the train goes."
For the first time for weeks, Louise was her impetuous self again. She threw things topsy-turvy in the room. It was he who drew her attention to an unfastened hook, and an unbound ribbon. She only pressed forward.
"Make haste!--oh, make haste! We shall be late."
An overpowering smell of newly-baked rolls issued from the bakers' shops, and the errand-boys were starting out with their baskets. Women and house-porters were coming out to wash pavements and entrances: the collective life of the town was waking up to another uneventful day; but they two were hastening off to long hours of sunlight and fresh air, unhampered by the passing of time, or by fallacious ideas of duty; were setting out for a new bit of world, to strange meals taken in strange places, reached by white roads, or sequestered wood-paths. In the train, they were crushed between the baskets of the marketwomen, who were journeying from one village to another. These sat with their wizened hands clasped on their high stomachs, or on the handles of their baskets, and stared, like stupid, placid animals, at the strange young foreign couple before them. Partly for the frolic of astonishing them, and also because he was happy at seeing Louise so happy, Maurice kissed her hand; but it was she who astonished them most. When she gave a cry, or used her hands with a sudden, vivid effect, or flashed her white teeth in a smile, every head in the carriage was turned towards her; and when, in addition, she was overtaken by a fit of loquacity, she was well-nigh devoured by eyes.
They did not travel as far as they had intended. From the carriage window, she saw a wayside place that took her fancy.
"Here, Maurice; let us get out here."
Having breakfasted, and left their bags at an inn, they strayed at random along an inviting road lined with apple-trees. When Louise grew tired, they rested in the arbour of a primitive GASTHAUS, and ate their midday meal. Afterwards, in a wood, he spread a rug for her, and she lay in a nest of sun-spots. Only their own voices broke the silence. Then she fell asleep, and, until she opened her eyes again, and called to him in surprise, no sound was to be heard but the sudden, crisp rustling of some bird or insect. When evening fell, they returned to their lodging, ate their supper in the smoky public room--for, outside, mists had risen--and then before them stretched, undisturbed, the long evening and the longer night, to be spent in a strange room, of which they had hitherto not suspected the existence, but which, from now on, would be indissolubly bound up with their other memories.
The first day passed in such a manner was as flawless as any they had known in the height of summer--with all the added attractions of closer intimacy. In its course, the shadows lifted from her eyes; and Maurice ceased to remember that he had made a mess of his affairs. But the very next one failed--as far as Louise was concerned--to reach the same level: it was like a flower ever so slightly overblown. The lyric charms that had so pleased her--the dewy freshness of the morning, the solitude, the unbroken sunshine--were frail things, and, snatched with too eager a hand, crumbled beneath the touch. They were not made to stand the wear and tear of repetition. It was also impossible, she found, to live through again days such as they had spent at Rochlitz; time past was past irrevocably, with all that belonged to it. And it was further, a mistake to believe that a more intimate acquaintance meant a keener pleasure; it was just the stimulus of strangeness, the piquancy of feeling one's way, that had made up half the fascination of the summer.
With sure instinct, Louise recognised this, even while she exclaimed with delight. And her heart sank: not until this moment had she known how high her hopes had been, how firmly she had pinned her faith upon the revival of passion which these days were to bring to pass. The knowledge that this had been a delusion, was hard to bear. In thought, she was merciless to herself, when, on waking, the second morning, she looked with unexpectant eyes over the day that lay before her. Could nothing satisfy her, she asked herself? Could she not be content for twenty-four hours on end? Was it eternally her lot to come to the end of things, before they had properly begun? It seemed, always, as if she alone must be pressing forward, without rest. Here, on the second of these days of love and sunshine, she saw, with absolute clearness, that neither this nor any other day had anything extraordinary to give her; and sitting silent at dinner, under an arbour of highly-coloured creeper, she was overcome by such a laming discouragement, that she laid her knife and fork down, and could eat no more.
Maurice, watching her across the table, believed that she was over-tired, and filled up her glass with wine.
But she did not yield without a struggle. And it was not merely rebellion against the defects of her own nature, which prompted her. The prospect of the coming months filled her with dismay. When this last brief spell of pleasure was over, there was nothing left, to which she could look forward. The approaching winter stretched before her like a starless night; she was afraid to let her mind dwell on it. What was she to do?--what was to become of her, when the short dark days came down again, and shut her in? The thought of it almost drove her mad. Desperate with fear, she shut her eyes and went blindly forward, determined to extract every particle of pleasure, or, at least, of oblivion, that the present offered.
Under these circumstances, the poor human element in their relations became once again, and more than ever before, the pivot on which their lives turned. Louise aimed deliberately at bringing this about. Further, she did what she had never yet done: she brought to bear on their intercourse all her own hardwon knowledge, and all her arts. She drew from her store of experience those trifling, yet weighty details, which, once she has learned them, a woman never forgets. And, in addition to this, she took advantage of the circumstances in which they found themselves, utilising to the full the stimulus of strange times and places: she fired the excitement that lurked in surreptitious embrace and surrender, under all the dangers of a possible surprise. She was perverse and capricious; she would turn away from him till she reduced him to despair; then to yield suddenly, with a completeness that threatened to undo them both. Her devices were never-ending. Not that they were necessary: for he was helpless in her hands when she assumed the mastery. But she could not afford to omit one of the means to her end, for she had herself to lash as well as him. And so, once more, as at the very beginning, hand grew to be a weight in hand, something alive, electric; and any chance contact might rouse a blast in them. She neither asked nor Showed mercy. Drop by drop,
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