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that seems to swell and swell irrepressibly within her, and would
pour itself out in words to him, but that his tone, his manner,
his look keep it back absolutely, as a firm hand holds down the
rising cork upon the exuberant wine. And now, at this sentence
of his, her words fail her. They are strangers practically, that
is conventionally - quite strangers, she remembers confusedly - but
for this secret bond of passion, knit up between them, which both
can feel but both ignore.

The natural male in him, and the natural female in her, are
already, as it were, familiar, but the fashionable man and girl are
strangers still.

Then, now, how is she to say what she wishes to him? How can she
talk with this mere acquaintance upon this subject? The very word
"children" seems to scorch her lips. At the same time, familiarity
with him seems natural and unnatural; terrible, and yet simple.

Then, too, what are his views?

Will her next words shock him inexpressibly?

In her passionate, excitable brain, inflamed with love for the man,
the idea of maternity can merely present itself like an unwelcome,
grey-clad Quaker at a banquet.

She hesitates, choosing her words. She knows so little of the man
in front of her. His clothes, she sees, are of the newest cut, but
his notions may not be.

At last her soft, weak, timid voice breaks the pause.

"Do you think it necessary to have very large families?"

"No, I don't," he answers instantly with the energy and alacrity of
one who is glad to express his opinion. "No, I don't, not at all."

The girl's suspended breath is drawn again. Unlike himself in his
queries she presses her point home.

"Don't you think those marriages are the happiest where there are
no children?"

"Yes," he says decidedly, getting up and thrusting his hands into
his coat pockets. "Yes, I do - much the happiest."

There is silence. It is too dark for either to see the other's
expression. He stands irresolutely for a minute or two, and then
says with a disagreeable laugh:

"I should hate my own children! Fancy coming home and finding a lot
of children crying and screaming in the place."

To this the girl says nothing, and Stephen, after a minute's
reflection, softens his words.

"Besides, your wife's love, when she has children, is all given to
them."

"Yes," murmurs her well-bred voice. "Oh, yes, one is happier
without them."

Neither speak. They are agreed so far; there is a deep relief and
pleasure in the breast of each.

"Well," he says at last, rousing himself, "I must go. I shall be
late for dinner."

The girl leans down and stirs the fire into a leaping, yellow
blaze. It fills the room with light, and reveals them fully now to
each other.

She makes no effort to detain him, and they look at each other,
about to part.

The self-control of each is marvellous, and admirable for its mere
thoroughness and completeness.

He has large eyes, and they stare down at her haggardly, as he
stands facing her in the light. The hungry, hopeless look in those
eyes and the drawn lines in his face go to the girl's heart, and to
herself it seems literally melting into one warm flood of sympathy.

Ill! he looks ill and wretched, and she longs with a longing that
presses upon her, till it is like a physical agony, to give some
way to her feelings.

"Dearest, my dearest!" she is thinking, "if I might only tell
you - even a little - "

And Stephen stares at the soft face and warm lips, half-paralyzed
with desire to bend down and kiss them. How would a kiss be? how
would they - And so there is a momentary, barely perceptible pause,
filled with a painful intensity of feeling, to which neither gives
way one hair's breadth. Then he gives a curt laugh.

"We have discussed rather a difficult problem and not settled it,"
he says in a conventional tone.

"It seems to me quite simple," murmurs the girl, with a throat so
dry that the words are hardly audible.

He hears, but makes no reply beyond another slight laugh, as he
holds out his hand. The girl puts hers into it. There is a moderate
pressure only on either side, and then he goes out and shuts the
door, leaving the girl standing motionless - all the warm springs
in her heart frozen by his last cynical laugh.

Brookes finds his way down the stairs, through the unlighted hall,
and lets himself out in the chill October air.

He goes down the street feeling a confused sense of having
inflicted pain and left distress behind him, but his own sensation
of irritation, his own vexation and angry resentment against his
lot in life, all but obliterate it.

For some seconds he walks on with all his thoughts merged together
in a mere desperate and painful confusion. "Only a hundred a year!"
is his plainest, most bitter reflection. "Five-and-twenty, and only
earning a hundred a year!"

Brookes is not of a calm temperament. His nervous system is tensely
strung, and generally, owing to various incidental matters,
slightly out of tune, or at anyrate, feels so.

His circulation is rapid, every pulse beats strongly, and the blood
flows hotly in his veins.

His mental nature is of much the same order - passionate, excitable,
and impatient; but there is such a heavy curb-rein of control
perpetually upon it, that its three leading qualities jar inwardly
upon himself more than they show to outsiders.

Even now the confused, excited disorder in his brain is soon
regulated and calmed by his will, and as he walks on he lapses into
trying to recollect whether he has said all he meant to.

He concludes that he has, and a certain satisfaction comes over
him.

"Well, I have told her my views now," he reflects. "She sees what I
think, and what my principles are. She won't wonder that I say
nothing. I shall try for another post and a rise of salary, and
then - "

Stephen's character was a fine one in its way. The capacity for
self-command and self-denial was tremendous, his sense of honour
keen, his adherence to that which he conceived the right
inflexible, his will immutable; but of the subtler sweetness of
the human heart he had none.

Of sympathy, the divine [Greek: sym, pathos], _the suffering with_,
he had not the vaguest conception: of its faint and poor
reflections, pity and mercy, he had but a dim idea.

He stuck as well as he could to what he thought was the right
path, and as to the feelings of others, he could not be blamed for
not considering them, for he had never practically realized that
they had any.

In the present circumstances he had a few, fine, adamantine rules
for conduct, which he was going to steadfastly apply, and he
thought no more of the girl's feelings under them than one thinks
of the inanimate parcel one is cording with what one knows is good,
stout string.

In his eyes it was distinctly dishonourable for a man to engage a
girl to himself without a reasonably near prospect of marriage.

It was also decidedly ungentlemanly to propose to a girl if she had
money and you had none. Moreover, it was extremely selfish to
remove a girl from a comfortable position to a poorer one, though
she might positively swear she preferred it; and lastly, it was
unwise for various reasons, to be too amiable to the girl, or to
give any but the dimmest clue to your own feelings.

There was no telling - your feelings might change even - when you
have to wait so long - and then it was much better, _for the girl_,
that she should not be tied to you.

To visit the girl frequently, to hang about her to the amusement of
onlookers, to keep alive her passion by look and hint and innuendo,
to excite her by advances when he was in the humour, and studiously
repulse her when she made any, to act almost as if he were her
_fiancé_, and curtly resent it if she ever assumed he was more than
an ordinary friend - this line of action he saw no fault in. The
above were his views, and they were excellent, and if the girl
didn't understand them she might do the other thing.

Some weeks passed, and the man and the girl saw each other
constantly - three or four times in the week, perhaps more; and the
inward irritation grew intense, while their outward relations
remained unchanged.

There was a certain brutality that crept into the man's tones
occasionally when he addressed her, a certain savage irritability
in manner, that told the girl's keen intelligence something; some
involuntary sighs of hers as she sat near him, and an increasing
look of exhaustion on her face, that told him something. But that
was all.

There were no tender passages between them; none of the
conventional English flirting - matters were too serious, and the
nature of each too violent to permit of that. A little bitter,
more or less hostile, conversation passed between them on the
most trifling subjects in his long afternoon calls. A little
music would be attempted - that is, he would sing song after song,
while she accompanied him, but a song was rarely completed.
Generally, before or at the middle, he would seize the music in a
gust of irrepressible and barely-veiled irritability, and fling
it on the piano - yet they attempted the music with unwavering
persistence, and both rose to go to the instrument with mutual
alacrity.

There they were close to each other - so close that the warmth and
breath of their beings were interchanged. There in the pursuit of a
fallen sheet of music, his head bent down and touched hers. Once,
apparently to regain the leaf, his hand and arm leaned hard upon
her lap. One second, perhaps, no more; but the girl's whole
strained system seemed breaking up at the touch - her control
shattered, like machinery violently reversed.

The music leaf was replaced, but her hands had fallen nerveless
from the keys.

"It is hot. I can't go on playing. Put the window open, will you,
for me?"

Stephen walked to the window, raised it, and smiled into the dark.

That night it seemed to Stephen he could never force himself to
leave the girl. He prolonged the playing past all reasonable
limits, until May's sister laughingly reminded him that they were
only staying in seaside lodgings, and other occupants of the house
must be considered. Stephen reluctantly relinquished the friendly
piano, and then stood, with May's sweet figure beside him, and her
upraised face clear to the side vision of his eye, talking to her
sister.

At last, when every trifle is exhausted of which he can make
conversation, there comes a pause, a silence; he can think of
nothing more. He nerves himself, holds out his hand, and says,
"Good-night!"

May, influenced equally by the same indomitable aversion to be
separated from him, follows him outside the drawing-room, and
another pause is made on the stair. By this time a fresh stock of
chaff and light wit is ready in Stephen's brain, and he makes use
of anything and everything to procure him another moment at her
side; but of all the passion within him, of the ardent, impetuous
impulse towards her, nothing, not the faintest trace, shows.

A mere "Good-night!" ends their conversation at length, and the
girl did not re-enter the drawing-room, but passed straight up the
stairs to her own room.

"Does he care? Does he care or not?" she asked herself, walking
ceaselessly backwards and forwards. "If I only knew that he did!
This is killing me; and suppose, after all, he does not care!"

She almost reels in her walk, and then stretches her arms out on
her mantelpiece, and leans her head heavily upon them.

"So this is being in love!" she thinks, with a faint satirical
smile. "All this anxiety and pain and feeling of illness! Why, it
is as if poison had been poured through me."

Through the next day May lay pallid and silent on the couch,
without pretence of occupation, feeling too exhausted even to
respond to her sister's chaff and raillery.

It was only at dinner, when her brother-in-law informed his wife he
was sick of the place, and that nothing would induce him to stay
more than another week, that a stain of scarlet colour appeared in
May's cheeks and a terrified dilation in her eyes.

Her lids were lowered directly, and the blood receded again. She
made no remark, but at the close of dinner she excused herself, and
went upstairs alone.

Once in her room, she stripped off her dinner-dress and shoes, and
re-dressed in morning things. Her hands trembled so violently that
she could hardly fasten her bodice over the wildly-expanding bosom.

But her resolve was fixed. They were going in a week. To-morrow,
she knew, Stephen was leaving the place for a fortnight. She must
see him to-night.

When she is completely dressed, she pauses for a moment to choke
down the terrible physical excitement that seems to rob her of
breath and muscular power.

Then she passes downstairs quietly and goes out.

The night is still, cold, and dark.

May walks rapidly through the few streets that divide his house and
hers.

The few men she meets turn involuntarily to glance after the
splendid form that goes by them, and in her decisive walk, in the
eyes blind to them, they feel instinctively she is already owned,
mentally or actually, by some one other.

When she reaches Stephen's house, she learns he is in, and with a
great fear of him suddenly rushing over her, she sends word up to
him by the servant: Will he see her?

While she waits in the hall, her message is taken upstairs. May
leans against the wall, a terrible sick faintness, born of
excitement and hysteria, coming suddenly upon her.

There is a hall-chair, but her eyes are too darkened to see it; she
simply clings to the handle of the door, and lets her head sink
against the side of the passage.

Brookes is upstairs with his brother and two friends; they have
been playing cards, but a game is just over, and the men have got
up to stretch themselves.

Stephen himself is leaning back against the mantelpiece, as his
habit is, and yawning slightly. He has just been beaten, and he is
a man who can't play a losing game.

"No," his brother remarks. "I didn't know what the deuce 'Ladas'
meant till I looked it up; did you, Steve?"

"Oh, I should think every schoolboy would know that," is the curt
response, and at that moment the servant's knock comes at the door.

"Please, sir, there's a lady as wants to see you," the girl says
with a perceptible grin. "She said she wouldn't come up, and she's
waiting in the hall, sir."

There is a blank silence in the room. Brookes pales suddenly, and
his eyebrows, that habitually have a supercilious elevation, rise
still higher with annoyance.

He hesitates a single second, then, without a word in reply, he
crosses the room towards the door, and the servant retreats
hastily.

The men glance furtively at each other, but Stephen's devil of a
temper being well known, they forbear to laugh or even smile till
he is well out of the room. Brookes goes down the stairs with one
sentence only in his mind: Coming to my rooms, and making a fool
of me!

He is annoyed, intensely annoyed, and that is his sole feeling.

May is standing upright now in the centre of the hall under the
swinging lamp, and she watches him run lightly down the long flight
of stairs towards her with swimming eyes.

What is there in that figure of his that has so much influence on
her senses? More, perhaps, even than his face, do the lines of his
neck and shoulders and their carriage please her. All the pleasure
she can ever realise in life seems contained for her in that slim,
well-made frame, in its blue serge suit.

She makes one impetuous step forward, her whole form dominated,
impelled by the surge of ardent feelings within her, and holds out
one trembling, burning hand. Stephen, with a confused sense of its
being awfully bad form that she should be standing in his hall,
takes it in his right hand, feeling hastily for the lucifers with
his left.

"Er - come into the dining-room, won't you?" he says, with the
familiar, supercilious accent that with him is the expression of
suppressed annoyance and slight embarrassment.

He knows the rooms are unlet, and with gratitude for this
providential circumstance in his thoughts, and his heart beating
violently with sudden excitement now he is actually in her
presence, he turns the handle of the door and sets it wide open.

He strikes a match and holds it up, leaning back against the door,
for her to pass in before him.

As she does so, their two figures for one second almost touch each
other, and a sudden glow lights up in his veins. He feels it, and
it warns him instantly to summon his self-control. That before
everything.

The next moment he follows her into the room, lights the gas,
returns to the door, closes it, and then comes back towards the rug
where she is standing.

By this time his command is his own. His face is as calm as a mask.
His large eyes, somewhat bloodshot now from hours of smoking and a
sleepless night, rest upon her with cold enquiry.

She has seen them once, met them once, fixed, liquid, with
passionate longing upon hers; desperately she seeks in them now for
one gleam of the same light, but there is none. They and his face
are cloaked in a cold reserve. Sick, and with her heart beating to
suffocation, she says, as he waits for her to explain her presence:

"We are - going away."

Stephen's heart seems to contract at the words he had so often
dreaded to hear, heard at last.

His thoughts take a greyer hopelessness.

"Oh, really!" he says merely, the shock he feels only slightly
intensifying his habitual drawl. "Not immediately, I hope?"

Nothing to the nervous, excited, over-strained girl before him
could be more galling, more humiliating, more crushing than the
cold, conventional politeness of his tones and words.

This frightful fence of Society manner that he will put between
them - a slight, delicate defence, is as effectual as if he caused a
precipice by magic to yawn between them.

"No - not - not - quite immediately, but soon," she falters. "And it
seems as if I could not exist if - I - never see you."

There is a strained pause while they stand facing each other. He
is motionless; one hand rests in his pocket, the other hangs
nerveless at his side.

They look at each other. Each is thinking of the supreme
delight - even if momentary - the other's embrace could give if - but
the conditions in the respective minds are different - in his: "If I
thought it wise;" in hers: "If he only would."

"Well, we can write to each other," he says at last.

"Oh, but what are letters?" the girl says passionately; and then,
urged on hard by her love for him, her intuition of his love for
her, and her common-sense instinct not to throw away her life's
happiness for a misunderstanding or petty feeling of pride, she
adds: "You know - don't you? - that I care for you more than anything
else in the world."

Her tones are sharp with the intensity of feeling, and she
stretches both hands imploringly a little way towards him.

He sees them quiver and her face whiten, and the frightened appeal
increase in her pained eyes searching his face, and it is a
marvel - later, he marvels at it himself - how, with his own passion
keen and alive in him, he maintains his ground. But there is
something in the whole scene that jars upon him - something
theatrical that makes the thought flash upon him: Is it a got-up
thing?

This puts him on the defensive directly; besides, he resents her
coming to him in this way, and endeavouring to surprise from him
words he has already explained to her he is unwilling to say.

She is trying to rush him, he puts it to himself; and the thought
rouses all his own obstinacy and self-will.

When he chooses he will speak, and not before.

"It is very good of you to say so," he answers quietly, in a cold
formal tone, and the girl quivers as if he had struck her.

Now, in his lonely, sleepless nights, the misery on the white face
comes back and back to him in the darkness of his room, but then he
is blind to it.

In an annoyed mood to begin with, irritated beyond bearing by his
own helpless, ignominious position, as he fancies, he has no
perception left for his own danger of losing her.

And the man, who had lived till five-and-twenty, desiring real
love, and not knowing it, deliberately trampled upon it without
recognising what he did.

His words cut the girl terribly.

It seems impossible for the second that she can force herself to
speak again to him, but the terrible, irrepressible longing within
her nerves her for one more effort.

"Is that all you can tell me? Do you not care for me at all?"

He looks at her and hesitates. So modest, so appealing, so timid,
and yet so passionate! Surely this is genuine love for him. Why
thrust it back? But the thought recurs. No. She is rushing him; and
he declines to be rushed. Also a sort of half-embarrassment comes
over him, a nervous instinct to put off, ward off a scene in which
he will be called upon to demonstrate feelings he may not satisfy.

He laughs slightly, and says:

"Of course I do! I like you very much!"

The tones are slighting and contemptuous, enough so to convey
the polite warning: Don't go any further, and force me to be
positively rude to you.

Swayed by his strong physical passion, and blinded by the dogged
determination he has to remain master of it, he is absolutely
insensible of another's suffering.

Had the girl had greater experience with men, more hardihood and
less modesty; if she could have approached him, and taken his hands
and pressed them to her bosom; if she had had the courage to force
upon him the mysterious influence of physical contact, Stephen's
control would have melted in the kindled fire.

Words stir the brain, and through the brain, the senses; but with
some people it's a long way round.

Touch stirs the nerves, and its flame runs through the body like a
flying pain.

Stephen's physical nerves were far more sensitive than his brain,
and had the girl been a woman of the half-world, or even of the
world, she could have succeeded. But she was a girl; and her
modesty and innocence, the chastity of all her mental and physical
being, hung like dead weights upon her in the encounter.

His words, his tones, his glance simply paralyze her - not
figuratively, but positively. Her physical power to move towards
him, to make a further appeal to him, is gone. Speech is dried upon
her lips, wiped from them as a handkerchief passed over them might
take their moisture.

She looks at him, dumb, frenzied with the intense longing to throw
herself actually at his feet, but yet held back by some
irresistible power she cannot comprehend, any more than one can
comprehend the stifling, overpowering force in a nightmare.

It is the simple result of her life, her breeding, her virtue, her
character, her habits of control and reserve. She is the
fashionable, well-brought-up girl, with all her sensitive instincts
in revolt against forcing herself upon a man indifferent to her,
and full of an overwhelming instinctive timidity that her desire is
wild to break down and cannot.

She stares at him, lost in a sense of bitter pain. All her vigorous
life seems wrung with pain, and in that torture, in which every
nerve seems bruised and quivering, a faint smile twists at last the
pale, trembling lips. "You would have made a good vivisector!" she
says. Then, before he has time to answer, she turns the handle of
the door behind her, opens it and goes out.

A second after the street door closes, and Stephen stands on the
dining-room mat, looking down the empty hall. Thoroughly disturbed
and excited, with all his own passion surging heavily through his
blood, and her last sentence - that he does not understand any more
than he understands his own cruelty - ringing in his ears, he
hesitates a minute, and then re-enters the dining-room, shuts to
the door, and walks savagely up and down.

"Extraordinary girl!" he mutters. "What does she want? What can I
do? She knows I can say nothing at present, when I'm going into the
work-house myself! But what a splendid creature she is! Lots of
'go' in her. Well, I don't care. I'll have her one day; but there's
no use making a lot of talk about it now."

May walked away from his doorstep, no longer a sane human being,
responsible for its actions. The whole physical, nervous system,
weakened by months of self-control, and night following night of
sleeplessness, was hopelessly dislocated now.

The whole weight of her excited passion, flung back upon the
sensitive brain, turned it from its balance. It had been a
brilliant brain, and that very excitability that had lent its


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