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TRUTH. (1848-1849.)



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 she was 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 nameI 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 longerI 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 horrorwith a strength which I doubt
if I could have resisted if I had triedshe
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

"Perhaps there is some excuse for me," she
said. "After what you have done, it seems a
mean 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."

"I have kept your infamy a secret," she
answered. "And I have suffered the
consequences of concealing it. Have I no claim to
be spared the insult of your asking me what
you have done? Is all sense of gratitude
dead in you? You were once a gentleman.
You were once dear to my mother, and dearer
still to me—— "

Her voice failed her. She dropped into a
chair, and turned her back on me, and covered
her face with her hands.