Du Roy watched her with interest, asking himself what grief, what pain, what despair could have crushed her heart.
She was worn out by poverty, it was plain.
She had, perhaps, too, a husband who was beating her to death, or a dying child.
He murmured mentally: "Poor creatures. How some of them do suffer."
Anger rose up in him against pitiless Nature.
Then he reflected that these poor wretches believed, at any rate, that they were taken into consideration up above, and that they were duly entered in the registers of heaven with a debtor and creditor balance.
And Du Roy, whom the silence of the church inclined to sweeping reflections, judging creation at a bound, muttered contemptuously:
"What bosh all that sort of thing is!"
The rustle of a dress made him start.
It was she.
He rose, and advanced quickly.
She did not hold out her hand, but murmured in a low voice: "I have only a few moments.
I must get back home.
Kneel down near me, so that we may not be noticed."
And she advanced up the aisle, seeking a safe and suitable spot, like a woman well acquainted with the place.
Her face was hidden by a thick veil, and she walked with careful footsteps that could scarcely be heard.
When she reached the choir she turned, and muttered, in that mysterious tone of voice we always assume in church: "The side aisles will be better. We are too much in view here."
She bowed low to the high altar, turned to the right, and returned a little way towards the entrance; then, making up her mind, she took a chair and knelt down.
George took possession of the next one to her, and as soon as they were in an attitude of prayer, began:
"Thanks; oh, thanks; I adore you!
I should like to be always telling you so, to tell you how I began to love you, how I was captivated the first time I saw you.
Will you allow me some day to open my heart to tell you all this?"
She listened to him in an attitude of deep meditation, as if she heard nothing.
She replied between her fingers: "I am mad to allow you to speak to me like this, mad to have come here, mad to do what I am doing, mad to let you believe that--that--this adventure can have any issue.
Forget all this; you must, and never speak to me again of it."
He strove to find an answer, decisive and passionate words, but not being able to join action to words, was partially paralyzed.
He replied: "I expect nothing, I hope for nothing. I love you.
Whatever you may do, I will repeat it to you so often, with such power and ardor, that you will end by understanding it.
I want to make my love penetrate you, to pour it into your soul, word by word, hour by hour, day by day, so that at length it impregnates you like a liquid, falling drop by drop; softens you, mollifies you, and obliges you later on to reply to me:
'I love you, too.'"
He felt her shoulder trembling against him and her bosom throbbing, and she stammered, abruptly:
"I love you, too!"
He started as though he had received a blow, and sighed: "Good God."
She replied, in panting tones: "Ought I to have told you that?
I feel I am guilty and contemptible. I, who have two daughters, but I cannot help it, I cannot help it. I could not have believed, I should never have thought--but it is stronger than I.
Listen, listen: I have never loved anyone but you; I swear it. And I have loved you for a year past in secret, in my secret heart.
Oh! I have suffered and struggled till I can do so no more. I love you."
She was weeping, with her hands crossed in front of her face, and her whole frame was quivering, shaken by the violence of her emotion.
George murmured: "Give me your hand, that I may touch it, that I may press it."
She slowly withdrew her hand from her face.
He saw her cheek quite wet and a tear ready to fall on her lashes.
He had taken her hand and was pressing it, saying:
"Oh, how I should like to drink your tears!"
She said, in a low and broken voice, which resembled a moan: "Do not take advantage of me; I am lost."
He felt an impulse to smile.
How could he take advantage of her in that place?
He placed the hand he held upon his heart, saying:
"Do you feel it beat?"