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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green


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No heartfelt understanding was possible between these two men.

Crossing the hall, Orlando knocked at the door of Doris' little sitting-room.

No answer, yet she was there. He knew it in every throbbing fibre of his body. She was there and quite aware of his presence; of this he felt sure; yet she did not bid him enter. Should he knock again? Never! but he would not quit the threshold, not if she kept him waiting there for hours. Perhaps she realised this. Perhaps she had meant to open the door to him from the very first, who can tell? What avails is that she did ultimately open it, and he, meeting her soft eye, wished from his very heart that his impulse had led him another way, even if that way had been to the edge of the precipice - and over.

For the face he looked upon was serene, and there was no serenity in him; rather a confusion of unloosed passions fearful of barrier and yearning tumultuously for freedom. But, whatever his revolt, the secret revolt which makes no show in look or movement, he kept his ground and forced a smile of greeting. If her face was quiet, it was also lovely; - too lovely, he felt, for a man to leave it, whatever might come of his lingering.

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Nothing in all his life had ever affected him like it. For him there was no other woman in the past, the present or the future, and, realising this - taking in to the full what her affection and her trust might be to him in those fearsome days to come, he so dreaded a rebuff - he, who had been the courted of women and the admired of men ever since he could remember, - that he failed to respond to her welcome and the simple congratulations she felt forced to repeat. He could neither speak the commonplace, nor listen to it. This was his crucial hour. He must find support here, or yield hopelessly to the maelstrom in whose whirl he was caught.

She saw his excitement and faltered back a step - a move which she regretted the next minute, for he took advantage of it to enter and close behind him the door which she would never have shut of her own accord. Then he spoke, abruptly, passionately, but in those golden tones which no emotion could render other than alluring:

"I am an unhappy man, Miss Scott. I see that my presence here is not welcome, yet am sure that it would be so if it were not for a prejudice which your generous nature should be the first to cast aside, in face of the outspoken confidence of my brother: Oswald. Doris, little Doris, I love you. I have loved you from the moment of our first meeting. Not to many men is it given to find his heart so late, and when he does, it is for his whole life; no second passion can follow it. I know that I am premature in saying this; that you are not prepared to hear such words from me and that it might be wiser for me to withhold them, but I must leave Derby soon, and I cannot go until I know whether there is the least hope that you will yet lend a light to my career or whether that career must burn itself to ashes at your feet. Oswald - nay, hear me out - Oswald lives in his memories; but I must have an active hope - a tangible expectation - if I am to be the man I was meant to be. Will you, then, coldly dismiss me, or will you let my whole future life prove to you the innocence of my past? I will not hasten anything; all I ask is some indulgence. Time will do the rest."

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