AT the moment when I showed myself in the doorway, Rachel rose from the piano.
I closed the door behind me. We confronted each other in silence, with the full length of the room between us. The movement she had made in rising appeared to be the one exertion of which she was capable. All use of every other faculty, bodily or mental, seemed to be merged in the mere act of looking at me.
A fear crossed my mind that I had shown myself too suddenly. I advanced a few steps towards her. I said gently, `Rachel!'
The sound of my voice brought the life back to her limbs, and the colour to her face. She advanced, on her side, still without speaking. Slowly, as if acting under some influence independent of her own will, she came nearer and nearer to me; the warm dusky colour flushing her cheeks, the light of reviving intelligence brightening every instant in her eyes. I forgot the object that had brought me into her presence; I forgot the vile suspicion that rested on my good name; I forgot every consideration, past, present, and future, which I was bound to remember. I saw nothing but the woman I loved coming nearer and nearer to me. She trembled; she stood irresolute. I could resist it no longer--I caught her in my arms, and covered her face with kisses.
There was a moment when I thought the kisses were returned; a moment when it seemed as if she, too, might have forgotten. Almost before the idea could shape itself in my mind, her first voluntary action made me feel that she remembered. With a cry which was like a cry of horror--with a strength which I doubt if I could have resisted if I had tried--she thrust me back from her. I saw merciless anger in her eyes; I saw merciless contempt on her lips. She looked me over, from head to foot, as she might have looked at a stranger who had insulted her.
`You coward!' she said. `You mean, miserable, heartless coward!'
Those were her first words! The most unendurable reproach that a woman can address to a man, was the reproach that she picked out to address to Me.
`I remember the time, Rachel,' I said, `when you could have told me that I had offended you, in a worthier way than that. I beg your pardon.'
Something of the bitterness that I felt may have communicated itself to my voice. At the first words of my reply, her eyes, which had been turned away the moment before, looked back at me unwillingly. She answered in a low tone, with a sullen submission of manner which was quite new in my experience of her.
`Perhaps there is some excuse for me,' she said. `After what you have done, is it a manly action, on your part, to find your way to me as you have found it to-day? It seems a cowardly experiment, to try an experiment on my weakness for you. It seems a cowardly surprise, to surprise me into letting you kiss me. But that is only a woman's view. I ought to have known it couldn't be your view. I should have done better if I had controlled myself and said nothing.'
The apology was more unendurable than the insult. The most degraded man living would have felt humiliated by it.
`If my honour was not in your hands,' I said, `I would leave you this instant, and never see you again. You have spoken of what I have done. What have I done?'
`What have you done! You ask that question of me?'
`I ask it.'
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