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- Maurice Guest - 99/121 -
which he had never before considered consciously, now recurred to him as damning evidence. With his arm still across his eyes, he lay and let it work in him; let doubts and frightful uncertainties grow up in his brain; suffered the most horrible suffering of all--doubt of the one beloved. He seemed to be looking at things from a new point, seeing them in different proportions--all his own poor hopes and beliefs as well and, while the spasm of distrust lasted, he felt inclined to doubt whether she had ever really cared for him. He even questioned his own feeling for her, seeking to discover whether it, too, had not been based on a mere sensual fancy. He saw them satisfying an instinct, without reason and without nobility. And, by this light, he read a reason for the past months, which made him groan aloud.
He rose and paced the room. If what he was thinking of her were true, then it would be better for both their sakes if he never saw her again. But, even while he said this, he knew that he would have to see her, and without loss of time. What he needed was to stand face to face with her, to look into her eyes, which, whatever they might do, had never learned to hide the truth, and there gain the certainty that his imaginings were monstrous--the phantoms of a melancholy October twilight.
It was nearly nine o'clock, but there was no light in her room. He pictured her lying in the dark, and was filled with remorse. But he said her name in vain; the room was empty. Lighting the lamp, he saw that the bedclothes had been thrown back over the foot-end of the unmade bed, as though she had only just left it. The landlady said that she had gone out, two hours previously, without leaving any message. All he could do was to sit down and wait; and in the long half-hour that now went by, the black thoughts that had driven him there were forgotten. His only wish was to have her safe beside him again.
Towards ten o'clock he heard approaching sounds. A moment later Louise came in. She blinked at the light, and began to unfasten her veil before she was over the threshold.
He gave a sigh of relief. "At last! Thank goodness! Where have you been?"
"Did you think I was lost? Have you been here long?"
"For hours. Where else should I be? But you--where have you been?"
Standing before the table, she fumbled with the veil, which she had pulled into a knot. He did not offer to help her; he stood looking at her, and both voice and look were a little stern.
"Why did you go out?"
She did not look at him. "Oh, just for a breath of air. I felt I . . . I HAD to do something."
From the moment of her entrance, even before she had spoken, Maurice was aware of that peculiar aloofness in her, which invariably made itself felt when she was engrossed by something in which he had no part.
"That's hardly a reason," he said nervously.
With the veil stretched between her two hands, she turned her head. "Do you want another? Well, after you left me to-day, I lay and thought and thought . . . till I felt I should go mad, if I lay there any longer."
"Yes, but all of a sudden, like this! After being in bed for three days . . . to go out and . . ."
"But I have not been ill!"
"Go out and wander about the streets, at night."
"I didn't mean to be so late," she said, and folded the veil with an exaggerated care. "But I was hindered; I had a little adventure."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing much. A man followed me--and I couldn't get rid of him."
"Go on, please!" He was astonished at the severity of his own voice.
"Oh, don't be so serious, Maurice!" She had folded the veil to a neat square, stuck three hatpins in it, and thrown it with her hat and jacket on the sofa. "No one has tried to murder me," she said, and raised both her hands to her hair. "I was standing before Haase's window--the big jeweller's in the PETERSTRASSE, you know. I've always loved jewellers' windows--especially at night, when they're lighted up. As a child, I thought heaven must be like the glitter of diamonds on blue velvet--the Jasper Sea, you know, and the pearly floor."
"Never mind that now!"
"Well, I was standing there, looking in, longer perhaps than I knew. I felt that some one was beside me, but I didn't see who it was, till I heard a man's voice say: 'SCHONE SACHEN, FRAULEIN, WAS?' Of course, I took no notice; but I didn't run away, as if I were afraid of him. I went on looking into the window, till he said: 'DARF ICH IHNEN ETWASS KAUFEN?'and more nonsense of the same kind. Then I thought it was time to go. He followed me down the PETERSTRASSE, and when I came to the ROSSPLATZ, he was still behind me. So I determined to lead him a dance. I've been walking about, with him at my heels, for over an hour. In a quiet street where there was no one in sight, he spoke to me again, and refused to go away until I told him where I lived. I pretended to agree, and, on the condition that he didn't follow me any further, I gave him a number in the QUERSTRASSE; and in case he broke his. word, I came home that way. I hope he'll spend a pleasant evening looking for me."
She laughed--her fitful, somewhat unreal laugh, which was always displeasing to him. To-night, taken in conjunction with her story, and her unconcerned way of telling it, it jarred on him as never before.
"Let me catch him here, and I'll make it impossible for him to insult a woman again!" he cried. "For it is an insult though you don't see it in that light. You laugh as you tell it, as if something amusing had happened to you. You are so strange sometimes.--Tell me, dearest, WHY did you go out? When I asked you, you wouldn't come."
"No. Then I wasn't in the mood." Her smile faded.
"No. But after dark--and quite alone--then the mood takes you."
"But I've done it hundreds of times before. I can take care of myself."
"You are never to do it again--do you hear?--Why didn't you give the fellow in charge?" he asked a moment later, in a burst of distrust.
Again Louise laughed. "Oh, a German policeman would find that rather funny than otherwise. It's the rule, you know, not the exception. And the same thing has happened to me before. So often that it's literally not worth mentioning. I shouldn't have spoken of it to-night if you hadn't been so persistent. Besides," she added as an afterthought--and, in the face of his grave displeasure, she found herself wilfully exaggerating the levity of her tone--"besides, this wasn't the kind of man one gives in charge. Not the usual commercial-traveller type. A Graf, or Baron, at least."
He was as nettled as she had intended him to be. "You talk just as if you had had experience in the class of man.--Do you really think it makes things any better? To my mind, it's a great deal worse.--But the thing is--you don't know how . . . You're not to go out alone again at night. I forbid it. This is the first time for weeks; and see what happens! And it's notyou may well say it has happened to you before. I don't know what it is, but--The very cab-drivers look at you as they've no business to--as they don't look at other women!"
"Well, can I help that?--how men look at me?" she asked indignantly. "Do you wish to say it's my fault? That I do anything to make them?"
"No. Though it might be better if you did," he answered gloomily. "The unpleasant thing is, though you do nothing . . . that it's there all the same . . . something . . . I don't know what."
"No, I don't think you do, and neither do I. But I do know that you are being very rude to me." As he made no reply, she went on: "You will, however, at least give me credit for knowing how to keep men at a distance, though I can't hinder them from looking at me.--And, for your own comfort, remember in future that I'm not an inexperienced child. There's nothing I don't know."
"You needn't throw that up at me."
"--I at YOU?" she laughed hotly. "That's surely reversing the order of things, isn't it? It ought to be the other way about."
"Unfortunately it isn't." The look he gave her was made up of mingled anger and entreaty; but as she took no notice of it, he turned away, and going to the window, leaned his forehead against the glass. What affected him so disagreeably was not the incident of the man following her, but her light way of regarding it. And as the knowledge of this came home to him, he was impelled to go on speaking. "It's a trifle to make a fuss about, I know," he said. "And I shouldn't give it a second thought, if I could ONLY feel, Louise, that you looked at it as I do . . . and felt about it as I do. You seem so indifferent to what it really means--it's almost as if you enjoyed it. Other women are different. They resent such a thing instinctively. While you don't even take offence. And men feel that in you, somehow. That's what makes them look at you and follow you about. That's what attracts them and always has done--far too easily."
"You among the rest!"
"For God's sake, hold your tongue! You don't know what you're saying."
"Oh, I know well enough." She put her hair back from her forehead, and passed her handkerchief over her lips. "Instead of lecturing me in this way, you might be grateful, I think, that I didn't accept the man's offer and go somewhere to supper with him. It's dull enough here. You don't make things very gay for me. To-day, altogether, you are treating me as if I were a criminal."
He did not answer; the words "You among the rest!" went on sounding in his ears. Yes, there was truth in them, a horrible truth. Who was he to sit in judgment?--either on her, or on those others who yielded to the attraction that went out from her. Had not he himself been in love with her before he even knew her name. Had he then accused her?--laid the blame at her door?
She caught a moth that was fluttering round the lamp, and carried it to the window. When, a moment later, he turned and gave her another unhappy look, she felt a kind of pity for him, forced as he was, by his nature, to work himself into unhappiness over such a trivial matter.
"Don't let us say unkind things to each other," she said slowly. "I'm sorry. If I had known it would worry you so much, I shouldn't have said a word about it. That would have been easy."
He felt her touch on his arm. As it grew warm and close, he, too, was
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