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The Man and the Moment

C HRISTMAS Eve was particularly frosty and bright. The sun poured through Sabine's
windows high up when she woke, but her heart was heavy as lead. She had not had a
single word alone with Henry the night before, and knew the dreaded tête-à-tête must
come. She did not set herself to tell him who her husband was on this particular
morning—about that she must be guided by events—but she could not make barriers
between them, and must allow him to come to her sitting-room. He did, about half-past
ten o'clock, his face full of radiance and love. She had always steadfastly refused to take
any presents from him, but he had had the most beautiful flowers sent from Paris for her,
and they had just arrived. She was taking them out of their box herself. This made a
pretext for her to express delighted thanks, and for a little she played her part so well that
all Henry's doubts were set at rest, and he told himself that he had been imaginative and
foolish to think that anything was changed in her.
He helped her to put all the lovely blooms into vases, so happy to think they should give
her pleasure. And all the while he talked to her lovingly and soothingly, until Sabine
could have screamed aloud, so full of remorse and constraint she felt. If he would only be
disagreeable or unkind!
At last, among the giant violets, they came upon one bunch of white ones. These she took
and separated, and, making them into two, she stuck one into her belt and gave Henry the
other to put into his coat.
"Won't you fasten them in for me, dearest?" he said, his whole countenance full of
passionate love.
She came nearer, and with hasty fingers put the flowers into his buttonhole.
The temptation was too great for Henry. He put his arm round her and drew her to his
side, while he bent and kissed her sweet red mouth.
She did not resist him or start away, but she grew white as death, and he was conscious
that, as he clasped her close, a repressed shudder ran through her whole frame.
With a little cry of anguish he put her from him, and searched with miserable eyes for
some message in her face. But her lids were lowered and her lips were quivering with
some pain.
"My darling, what is it? Sabine, you shrank from me! What does it mean?"