Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
37. CHAPTER XXXVII (continued)
The words of endearment, withheld so severely in his
waking hours, were inexpressibly sweet to her forlorn
and hungry heart. If it had been to save her weary
life she would not, by moving or struggling, have put
an end to the position she found herself in. Thus she
lay in absolute stillness, scarcely venturing to
breathe, and, wondering what he was going to do with
her, suffered herself to be borne out upon the landing.
"My wife--dead, dead!" he said.
He paused in his labours for a moment to lean with her
against the banister. Was he going to throw her down?
Self-solicitude was near extinction in her, and in the
knowledge that he had planned to depart on the morrow,
possibly for always, she lay in his arms in this
precarious position with a sense rather of luxury than
of terror. If they could only fall together, and both
be dashed to pieces, how fit, how desirable.
However, he did not let her fall, but took advantage of
the support of the handrail to imprint a kiss upon her
lips--lips in the daytime scorned. Then he clasped
her with a renewed firmness of hold, and descended the
staircase. The creak of the loose stair did not awaken
him, and they reached the ground-floor safely. Freeing
one of his hands from his grasp of her for a moment, he
slid back the door-bar and passed out, slightly
striking his stockinged toe against the edge of the
door. But this he seemed not to mind, and, having room
for extension in the open air, he lifted her against
his shoulder, so that he could carry her with ease, the
absence of clothes taking much from his burden. Thus
he bore her off the premises in the direction of the
river a few yards distant.
His ultimate intention, if he had any, she had not yet
divined; and she found herself conjecturing on the
matter as a third person might have done. So easefully
had she delivered her whole being up to him that it
pleased her to think he was regarding her as his
absolute possession, to dispose of as he should choose.
It was consoling, under the hovering terror of
tomorrow's separation, to feel that he really
recognized her now as his wife Tess, and did not cast
her off, even if in that recognition he went so far as
to arrogate to himself the right of harming her.