The Kiss -
Editor C. Arthur
The quiet of the deserted building incircled
the little, glowing room as the velvet incircles
the jewel in its case. Occasionally faint sounds
came from the distance—the movements of
cleaners at work, a raised voice, the slamming
of a door.
The man sat at his desk, as he had sat through
the busy day, but he had turned sideways in
his seat, the better to regard the other occupant
of the room.
She was not beautiful—had no need to be.
Her call to him had been the saner call of mind
to mind. That he desired, besides, the passing
benediction of her hands, the fragrance of her
corn-gold hair, the sight of her slenderness:
this she had guessed and gloried in. Till now,
he had touched her physical self neither in
word nor deed. To-night, she knew, the barriers
would be down; to-night they would kiss.
Her quiet eyes, held by his during the spell
that had bound them speechless, did not flinch
at the breaking of it.
"The Lord made the world and then He
made this rotten old office," the man said quietly.
"Into it He put you—and me. What, before
that day, has gone to the making and marring
of me, and the making and perfecting of you,
is not to the point. It is enough that we have
realised, heart, and soul, and body, that you
are mine and I am yours."
"Yes," she said.
He fell silent again, his eyes on her hungrily.
She felt them and longed for his touch. But
there came only his voice.
"I want you. The first moment I saw you
I wanted you. I thought then that, whatever
the cost, I would have you. That was in
the early days of our talks here—before you
made it so courageously clear to me that it
would never be possible for you to ignore my
marriage and come to me. That is still so,
She moved slightly, like a dreamer in pain,
as again she faced the creed she had hated
through many a sleepless night.
"It is so," she agreed. "And because it
is so, you are going away to-morrow."
They looked at each other across the foot
or two of intervening space. It was a look to
bridge death with. But even beneath their
suffering, her eyes voiced the tremulous waiting
of her lips.
At last he found words.
"You are the most wonderful woman in
the world—the pluckiest, the most completely
understanding; you have the widest charity.
I suppose I ought to thank you for it all;
I can't—that's not my way. I have always
demanded of you, demanded enormously, and
received my measure pressed down and running
over. Now I am going to ask this last thing
of you: will you, of your goodness, go away—upstairs,
anywhere—and come back in ten
minutes' time? By then I shall have cleared
She looked at him almost incredulously,
lips parted. Suddenly she seemed a child.
"You—I——" she stammered. Then
rising to her feet, with a superb simplicity:
"But, you must kiss me before you go. You
must! You—simply must."
For the space of a flaming moment it seemed
that in one stride he would have crossed to her
side, caught and held her.
"For God's sake——!" he muttered, in
almost ludicrous fear of himself. Then, with
a big effort, he regained his self-control.
"Listen," he said hoarsely. "I want to
kiss you so much that I daren't even get to my
feet. Do you understand what that means?
Think of it, just for a moment, and then realise
that I am not going to kiss you. And I have
kissed many women in my time, too, and shall
kiss more, no doubt."
"But it's not because of that——?"
"That I'm holding back? No. Neither is
it because I funk the torture of kissing you
once and letting you go. It's because I'm
"Listen. You have unfolded your beliefs
to me and, though I don't hold them—don't
attempt to live up to your lights—the realisation
of them has given me a reverence for you that
you don't dream of. I have put you in a shrine
and knelt to you; every time you have sat in
that chair and talked with me, I have worshipped
"It would not alter—all that," the girl said
faintly, "if you kissed me."
"I don't believe that; neither do you—no,
you don't! In your heart of hearts you admit
that a woman like you is not kissed for the first
and last time by a man like me. Suppose I
kissed you now? I should awaken something
in you as yet half asleep. You're young and
pulsing with life, and there are—thank Heaven!—few
layers of that damnable young-girl shyness
over you. The world would call you primitive,
"But I don't——"
"Oh, Lord, you must see it's all or nothing!
You surely understand that after I had left you
you would not go against your morality, perhaps,
but you would adjust it, in spite of yourself,
to meet your desires! I cannot—safely—kiss
"But you are going away for good!"
"For good! Child, do you think my going
will be your safeguard? If you wanted me
so much that you came to think it was right
and good to want me, wouldn't you find me,
send for me, call for me? And I should come.
God! I can see the look in your eyes now,
when the want had been satisfied, and you
could not drug your creed any more."
Her breath came in a long sigh. Then she
tried to speak; tried again.
"It is so, isn't it?" he asked.
She nodded. Speech was too difficult. With
the movement a strand of the corn-gold hair
came tumbling down the side of her face.
"Then, that being the case," said the man,
with infinite gentleness, his eyes on the little,
tumbling lock, "I shall not attempt so much
as to touch your hand before you leave the room."
At the door she turned.
"Tell me once again," she said. "You
want to kiss me?"
He gripped the arms of his chair; from where
she stood, she could see the veins standing out
on his hands.
"I want to kiss you," he said fiercely. "I
want to kiss you. If there were any way of
cutting off to-morrow—all the to-morrows—with
the danger they hold for us—I would kiss
you. I would kiss you, and kiss you, and kiss
Where her feet took her during the thousand,
thousand years that was his going she could
never afterwards say; but she found herself
at last at the top of the great building, at an
open window, leaning out, with the rain beating
into her eyes.
Far below her the lights wavered and later
she remembered that echoes of a far-off tumult
had reached her as she sat. But her ears held
only the memory of a man's footsteps—the
eager tread that had never lingered so much
as a second's space on its way to her; that
had often stumbled slightly on the threshold
of her presence; that she had heard and welcomed
in her dreams; that would not come
The raindrops lay like tears upon her face.
She brushed them aside, and, rising, put up
her hands to feel the wet lying heavy on her
hair. The coldness of her limbs surprised her
faintly. Downstairs she went again, the echoes
mocking every step.
She closed the door of the room behind her
and idly cleared a scrap of paper from a chair.
Mechanically her hands went to the litter on
his desk and she had straightened it all before
she realised that there was no longer any need.
To-morrow would bring a voice she did not know;
would usher a stranger into her room to take
her measure from behind a barrier of formality.
For the rest there would be work, and food,
These things would make life—life that had
She put on her hat and coat. The room
seemed smaller somehow and shabbier. The
shaded lights that had invited, now merely irritated;
the whimsical disorder of books and papers
spoke only of an uncompleted task. Gone
was the glamour and the promise and the good
comradeship. He had taken them all. She
faced to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
empty-handed—in her heart the memory of
words that had seared and healed in a breath,
and the dead dream of a kiss. Her throat
ached with the pain of it.
And then suddenly she heard him coming
She stiffened. For one instant, mind and
body, she was rigid with the sheer wonder of
it. Then, as the atmosphere of the room surged
back, tense with vitality, her mind leapt forward
in welcome. He was coming back, coming
back! The words hammered themselves out
to the rhythm of the eager tread that never
lingered so much as a second's space on its way
to her, that stumbled slightly on the threshold
of her presence.
By some queer, reflex twist of memory,
her hands brushed imaginary raindrops from
her face and strayed uncertainly to where the
wet had lain on her hair.
The door opened and closed behind him.
"I've come back. I've come back to kiss
Her outflung hand checked him in his stride
towards her. Words came stammering to her
"Why—but—this isn't—I don't understand!
All you said—it was true, surely?
It was cruel of you to make me know it was
true and then come back!"
"Let me kiss you—let me, let me!" He
was overwhelming her, ignoring her resistance.
"I must kiss you, I must kiss you." He said
it again and again.
"No, no, you shan't—you can't play with
me! You said you were afraid for me, and
you made me afraid, too—of my weakness—of
the danger—of my longing for you——"
"Let me kiss you! Yes, you shall let me;
you shall let me." His arms held her, his
face touched hers.
"Aren't you afraid any more? Has a miracle
happened—may we kiss in spite of to-morrow?"
Inch by inch she was relaxing. All thought
was slipping away into a great white light that
held no to-morrows, nor any fear of them, nor
of herself, nor of anything. The light crept
to her feet, rose to her heart, her head. Through
the radiance came his words.
"Yes, a miracle. Oh, my dear—my little
child! I've come back to kiss you, little child."
"Kiss me, then," she said against his lips.
Hazily she was aware that he had released
her; that she had raised her head; that against
the rough tweed of his shoulder there lay a
long, corn-gold hair.
She laughed shakily and her hand went up
to remove it; but he caught her fingers and
held them to his face. And with the movement
and his look there came over her in a wave the
shame of her surrender, a shame that was yet
a glory, a diadem of pride. She turned blindly
"Please," she heard herself saying, "let me
go now. I want to be alone. I want to—please
don't tell me to-night. To-morrow——"
She was at the door, groping for the handle.
Behind her she heard his voice; it was very
"I shall always kneel to you—in your shrine."
Then she was outside, and the chilly passages
were cooling her burning face. She had left
him in the room behind her; and she knew
he would wait there long enough to allow her
to leave the building. Almost immediately,
it seemed, she was downstairs in the hall, had
reached the entrance.
She confronted a group of white-faced, silent
"Why, is anything the matter? What has
The porter stood forward. He cleared his
throat twice, but for all that, his words were
"Yes, Miss Carryll. Good-night, miss. You'd
best be going on, miss, if you'll excuse——"
Behind O'Dell stood a policeman; behind
him again, a grave-eyed man stooped to an
unusual task. It arrested her attention like
the flash of red danger.
"Why is the door of your room being locked,
O'Dell?" She knew her curiosity was indecent,
but some powerful premonition was stirring
in her, and she could not pass on. "Has there
been an accident? Who is in there?"
Then, almost under her feet, she saw a dark
pool lying sluggishly against the tiles; nearer
the door another—on the pavement outside
another—and yet another. She gasped, drew
back, felt horribly sick; and, as she turned,
she caught O'Dell's muttered aside to the policeman.
"Young lady's 'is seccereterry—must be the
last that seen 'im alive. All told, 'tain't more'n
'arf-an-'our since 'e left. 'Good-night, O'Dell,'
sez 'e. 'Miss Carryll's still working—don't
lock 'er in,' sez 'e. Would 'ave 'is joke. Must
'ave gone round the corner an' slap inter the
car. Wish to God the amberlance——"
Her cry cut into his words as she flung herself
forward. Her fingers wrenched at the key
of the locked door and turned it, in spite of
the detaining hands that seemed light as leaves
upon her shoulder, and as easily shaken off.
Unhearing, unheeding, she forced her way into
the glare of electric light flooding the little room—beating
down on to the table and its sheeted
burden. Before she reached it, knowledge had
dropped upon her like a mantle.
Her face was grey as the one from which she
drew the merciful coverings, but her eyes went
fearlessly to that which she sought.
Against the rough tweed of the shoulder lay
a long, corn-gold hair.