THE LURE OF THE SPIRIT--THE FLESH IN PURSUIT
When Carrie came Hurstwood had been waiting many minutes. His blood was warm; his nerves wrought up. He was anxious to see the woman who had stirred him so profoundly the night before.
"Here you are," he said, repressedly, feeling a spring in his limbs and an elation which was tragic in itself.
"Yes," said Carrie.
They walked on as if bound for some objective point, while Hurstwood drank in the radiance of her presence. The rustle of her pretty skirt was like music to him.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked, thinking of how well she did the night before.
He tightened his fingers as he saw the smile she gave him.
"It was wonderful."
Carrie laughed ecstatically.
"That was one of the best things I've seen in a long time," he added.
He was dwelling on her attractiveness as he had felt it the evening before, and mingling it with the feeling her presence inspired now.
Carrie was dwelling in the atmosphere which this man created for her. Already she was enlivened and suffused with a glow. She felt his drawing toward her in every sound of his voice.
"Those were such nice flowers you sent me," she said, after a moment or two. "They were beautiful."
"Glad you liked them," he answered, simply.
He was thinking all the time that the subject of his desire was being delayed. He was anxious to turn the talk to his own feelings. All was ripe for it. His Carrie was beside him. He wanted to plunge in and expostulate with her, and yet he found himself fishing for words and feeling for a way.
"You got home all right," he said, gloomily, of a sudden, his tune modifying itself to one of self-commiseration.
"Yes," said Carrie, easily.
He looked at her steadily for a moment, slowing his pace and fixing her with his eye.
She felt the flood of feeling.
"How about me?" he asked.
This confused Carrie considerably, for she realised the flood- gates were open. She didn't know exactly what to answer. "I don't know," she answered.
He took his lower lip between his teeth for a moment, and then let it go. He stopped by the walk side and kicked the grass with his toe. He searched her face with a tender, appealing glance.
"Won't you come away from him?" he asked, intensely.
"I don't know," returned Carrie, still illogically drifting and finding nothing at which to catch.
As a matter of fact, she was in a most hopeless quandary. Here was a man whom she thoroughly liked, who exercised an influence over her, sufficient almost to delude her into the belief that she was possessed of a lively passion for him. She was still the victim of his keen eyes, his suave manners, his fine clothes. She looked and saw before her a man who was most gracious and sympathetic, who leaned toward her with a feeling that was a delight to observe. She could not resist the glow of his temperament, the light of his eye. She could hardly keep from feeling what he felt.
And yet she was not without thoughts which were disturbing. What did he know? What had Drouet told him? Was she a wife in his eyes, or what? Would he marry her? Even while he talked, and she softened, and her eyes were lighted with a tender glow, she was asking herself if Drouet had told him they were not married. There was never anything at all convincing about what Drouet said.
And yet she was not grieved at Hurstwood's love. No strain of bitterness was in it for her, whatever he knew. He was evidently sincere. His passion was real and warm. There was power in what he said. What should she do? She went on thinking this, answering vaguely, languishing affectionately, and altogether drifting, until she was on a borderless sea of speculation.
"Why don't you come away?" he said, tenderly. "I will arrange for you whatever--"
"Oh, don't," said Carrie.
"Don't what?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
There was a look of confusion and pain in her face. She was wondering why that miserable thought must be brought in. She was struck as by a blade with the miserable provision which was outside the pale of marriage.
He himself realized that it was a wretched thing to have dragged in. He wanted to weigh the effects of it, and yet he could not see. He went beating on, flushed by her presence, clearly awakened, intensely enlisted in his plan.
"Won't you come?" he said, beginning over and with a more reverent feeling. "You know I can't do without you--you know it-- it can't go on this way--can it?"
"I know," said Carrie.
"I wouldn't ask if I--I wouldn't argue with you if I could help it. Look at me, Carrie. Put yourself in my place. You don't want to stay away from me, do you?"
She shook her head as if in deep thought. "Then why not settle the whole thing, once and for all?"
"I don't know," said Carrie.
"Don't know! Ah, Carrie, what makes you say that? Don't torment me. Be serious."
"I am," said Carrie, softly.
"You can't be, dearest, and say that. Not when you know how I love you. Look at last night."
His manner as he said this was the most quiet imaginable. His face and body retained utter composure. Only his eyes moved, and they flashed a subtle, dissolving fire. In them the whole intensity of the man's nature was distilling itself.
Carrie made no answer.
"How can you act this way, dearest?" he inquired, after a time. "You love me, don't you?"
He turned on her such a storm of feeling that she was overwhelmed. For the moment all doubts were cleared away.
"Yes," she answered, frankly and tenderly.
"Well, then you'll come, won't you--come to-night?"
Carrie shook her head in spite of her distress.
"I can't wait any longer," urged Hurstwood. "If that is too soon, come Saturday."
"When will we be married?" she asked, diffidently, forgetting in her difficult situation that she had hoped he took her to be Drouet's wife.
The manager started, hit as he was by a problem which was more difficult than hers. He gave no sign of the thoughts that flashed like messages to his mind.
"Any time you say," he said, with ease, refusing to discolour his present delight with this miserable problem.
"Saturday?" asked Carrie.
He nodded his head.
"Well, if you will marry me then," she said, "I'll go."
The manager looked at his lovely prize, so beautiful, so winsome, so difficult to be won, and made strange resolutions. His passion had gotten to that stage now where it was no longer coloured with reason. He did not trouble over little barriers of this sort in the face of so much loveliness. He would accept the situation with all its difficulties; he would not try to answer the objections which cold truth thrust upon him. He would promise anything, everything, and trust to fortune to disentangle him. He would make a try for Paradise, whatever might be the result. He would be happy, by the Lord, if it cost all honesty of statement, all abandonment of truth.
Carrie looked at him tenderly. She could have laid her head upon his shoulder, so delightful did it all seem. "Well," she said, "I'll try and get ready then."
Hurstwood looked into her pretty face, crossed with little shadows of wonder and misgiving, and thought he had never seen anything more lovely.
"I'll see you again to-morrow," he said, joyously, "and we'll talk over the plans."
He walked on with her, elated beyond words, so delightful had been the result. He impressed a long story of joy and affection upon her, though there was but here and there a word. After a half-hour he began to realise that the meeting must come to an end, so exacting is the world.
"To-morrow," he said at parting, a gayety of manner adding wonderfully to his brave demeanour.
"Yes," said Carrie, tripping elatedly away.
There had been so much enthusiasm engendered that she was believing herself deeply in love. She sighed as she thought of her handsome adorer. Yes, she would get ready by Saturday. She would go, and they would be happy.