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With her knees drawn up, Lena rested her elbows on them and held her head in both her hands.
"Are you tired of sitting here?" Heyst asked.
An almost imperceptible negative movement of the head was all the answer she made.
"Why are you looking so serious?" he pursued, and immediately thought that habitual seriousness, in the long run, was much more bearable than constant gaiety. "However, this expression suits you exceedingly," he added, not diplomatically, but because, by the tendency of his taste, it was a true statement. "And as long as I can be certain that it is not boredom which gives you this severe air, I am willing to sit here and look at you till you are ready to go."
And this was true. He was still under the fresh sortilege of their common life, the surprise of novelty, the flattered vanity of his possession of this woman; for a man must feel that, unless he had ceased to be masculine. Her eyes moved in his direction, rested on him, then returned to their stare into the deeper gloom at the foot of the straight tree-trunks, whose spreading crowns were slowly withdrawing their shade. The warm air stirred slightly about her motionless head. She would not look at him, from some obscure fear of betraying herself. She felt in her innermost depths an irresistible desire to give herself up to him more completely, by some act of absolute sacrifice. This was something of which he did not seem to have an idea. He was a strange being without needs. She felt his eyes fixed upon her; and as he kept silent, she said uneasily—for she didn't know what his silences might mean:
"And so you lived with that friend—that good man?"
"Excellent fellow," Heyst responded, with a readiness that she did not expect. "But it was a weakness on my part. I really didn't want to, only he wouldn't let me off, and I couldn't explain. He was the sort of man to whom you can't explain anything. He was extremely sensitive, and it would have been a tigerish thing to do to mangle his deb'cate feelings by the sort of plain speaking that would have been necessary. His mind was like a white-walled, pure chamber, furnished with, say, six straw-bottomed chairs, and he was always placing and displacing them in various combinations. But they were always the same chairs. He was extremely easy to live with; but then he got hold of this coal idea—or, rather, the idea got hold of him. It entered into that scantily furnished chamber of which I have just spoken, and sat on all the chairs. There was no dislodging it, you know! It was going to make his fortune, my fortune, everybody's fortune. In past years, in moments of doubt that will come to a man determined to remain free from absurdities of existence, I often asked myself, with a momentary dread, in what way would life try to get hold of me? And this was the way! He got it into his head that he could do nothing without me. And was I now, he asked me, to spurn and ruin him? Well, one morning—I wonder if he had gone down on his knees to pray that night!—one morning I gave in."
Heyst tugged violently at a tuft of dried grass, and cast it away from him with a nervous gesture.
"I gave in," he repeated.
Looking towards him with a movement of her eyes only, the girl noticed the strong feeling on his face with that intense interest which his person awakened in her mind and in her heart. But it soon passed away, leaving only a moody expression.
"It's difficult to resist where nothing matters," he ob
served. "And perhaps there is a grain of freakishness in my nature. It amused me to go about uttering silly, commonplace phrases. I was never so well thought of in the islands till I began to jabber commercial gibberish like the veriest idiot. Upon my word, I believe that I was actually respected for a time. I was as grave as an owl over it; I had to be loyal to the man. I have been from first to last, completely, utterly loyal to the best of my ability. I thought he understood something about coal. And if I had been aware that he knew nothing of it, as in fact he didn't, well—I don't know what I could have done to stop him. In one way or another I should have had to be loyal. Truth, work, ambition, love itself, may be only counters in the lamentable or despicable game of life, but when one takes a hand one must play the game. No, the shade of Morrison needn't haunt me. What's the matter? I say, Lena, why are you staring like that? Do you feel ill?"
Heyst made as if to get on his feet. The girl extended her arm to arrest him, and he remained staring in a sitting posture, propped on one arm, observing her indefinable expression of anxiety, as if she were unable to draw breath.
"What has come to you?" he insisted, feeling strangely unwilling to move, to touch her.
"Nothing." She swallowed painfully. "Of course it can't be. What name did you say? I didn't hear it properly."
"Name?" repeated Heyst dazedly. "I only mentioned Morrison. It's the name of that man of whom I've been speaking. What of it?"
"And you mean to say that he was your friend?"
"You have heard enough to judge for yourself. You know as much of our connection as I know myself. The people in this part of the world went by appearances, and called us friends, as far as I can remember. Appearances—what more, what better can you ask for? In fact you can't have better. You can't have anything else."
"You are trying to confuse me with your talk," she cried. "You can't make fun of this."
"Can't? Well, no, I can't. It's a pity. Perhaps it would have been the best way," said Heyst, in a tone which for him could be called gloomy. "Unless one could forget the silly business altogether." His faint playfulness of manner and speech returned, like a habit one has schooled oneself into, even before his forehead had cleared completely. "But why are you looking so hard at me? Oh, I don't object, and I shall try not to flinch. Your eyes—"
He was looking straight into them, and as a matter of fact had forgotten all about the late Morrison at that moment.
"No," he exclaimed suddenly. "What an impenetrable girl you are, Lena, with those grey eyes of yours! Windows of the soul, as some poet has said. The fellow must have been a glazier by vocation. Well, nature has provided excellently for the shyness of your soul."
When he ceased speaking, the girl came to herself with a catch of her breath. He heard her voice, the varied charm of which he thought he knew so well, saying with an unfamiliar intonation:
"And that partner of yours is dead?"
"Morrison? Oh, yes, as I've told you, he—"
"You never told me."
"Didn't I? I thought I did; or, rather, I thought you must know. It seems impossible that anybody with whom I speak should not know that Morrison is dead."
She lowered her eyelids, and Heyst was startled by something like an expression of horror on her face.
"Morrison!" she whispered in an appalled tone. "Morrison!" Her head drooped. Unable to see her features, Heyst could tell from her voice that for some reason or other she was profoundly moved by the syllables of that unromantic name. A thought flashed through his head—could she have known Morrison? But the mere difference of their origins made it wildly improbable.
"This is very extraordinary!" he said. "Have you ever heard the name before?"
Her head moved quickly several times in tiny affirmative nods, as if she could not trust herself to speak, or even to look at him. She was biting her lower Up.
"Did you ever know anybody of that name?" he asked.
The girl answered by a negative sign: and then at last she spoke, jerkily, as if forcing herself against some doubt ar fear. She had heard of that very man, she told Heyst. "Impossible!" he said positively. "You are mistaken. You couldn't have heard of him. It's—"
He stopped short, with the thought that to talk like this was perfectly useless; that one doesn't argue against thin air.
"But I did hear of him; only I didn't know then, I couldn't guess, that it was your partner they were talking about."
"Talking about my partner?" repeated Heyst slowly. "No." Her mind seemed almost as bewildered, as full of incredulity, as his. "No. They were talking of you, really; only I didn't know it."
"Who were they?" Heyst raised his voice. "Who was talking of me? Talking where?"
With the first question he had lifted himself from his reclining position; at the last he was on his knees before her, their heads on a level.
"Why, in that town, in that hotel. Where else could it have been?" she said.
The idea of being talked about was always novel to Heyst's simplified conception of himself. For a moment he was as much surprised as if he had believed himself to be a mere gliding shadow among men. Besides, he had in him a half-unconscious notion that he was above the level of island gossip.
"But you said first that it was of Morrison they talked," he remarked to the girl, sinking on his heels, and no longer much interested. "Strange that you should have the opportunity to hear any talk at all! I was rather under the impression that you never saw anybody belonging to the town except from the platform."
"You forget that I was not living with the other girls," she said. "After meals they used to go back to the Pavilion, but I had to stay in the hotel and do my sewing, or what not, in the room where they talked."
"I didn't think of that. By the by, you never told me who they were."
"Why, that horrible red-faced beast," she said, with all