It had been arranged that Emily should receive news from Wilfrid by the first post on Monday morning. Her father left home at half-past eight, and Emily, a little ashamed at so deceiving him, went into the town at the same time on pretence of a desire to share his walk. Taking leave of him as soon as the mill was in sight, she walked towards the post-office. At this early hour there was no one before the counter: she overcame her nervousness and asked for letters. That which she expected was given to her, and at the same time a telegram.
The sight of the telegram agitated her. Drawing aside, she opened it at once. Wilfrid had despatched it the previous night from London. 'I shall be in Dunfield at one o'clock to-morrow. Please leave a note for me at the post-office, appointing any place of meeting at any time you like. I shall find the place from your description.'
The letter, as she could perceive by feeling it, was long; there was no necessity to open it until she reached home. But the note she must write at once. In agitation which would scarcely allow her to reflect, she left the office and sought a small shop where she could procure note-paper. On her way she devised a plan for meeting. In the shop where she made her purchase, she was permitted also to write the note. Having stamped the envelope, she returned to the post-office, and, to make sure that no delay might disappoint Wilfrid, gave the letter into the hands of a clerk, who promised, with a smile, that it should at once be put into the right place. Emily found the smile hard to bear, but fortunately she was unknown.
Then she set forth homewards. Such news as this, that she would see and speak with Wilfrid in a few hours, set self-command at defiance. Between joy at the thought that even now he was nearing her, and fear of the events which might have led him to such a step, she was swayed in a tumult of emotion. She longed to open the letter, yet felt she could not do so in the public roads. She tried to think whether any ill chance could possibly interpose to prevent her being at the place of meeting; none was to be anticipated, unless, what was very unlikely, her mother should propose to join her afternoon walk. But what could his coming mean? She feared that she understood too well.
Often she had to check the over-haste of her pace, and the way seemed terribly long, but at length she was at home and close shut in her bedroom. The letter did not aid her to account for his coming; it had been written late on Friday night, but made absolutely no reference to what had passed between Wilfrid and his relations. It was a long and passionate poem of his love, concerned not with outward facts, but with states of feeling. Only at the end he had added a postscript, saying that he should write again on Monday.
It was difficult to live through the morning. She felt that she must be busy with her hands, and, her mother's objections notwithstanding, set herself resolutely to active housework. Her anxious feelings in this way toned themselves to mere cheerfulness. She listened with unfailing patience to the lengthily described details of domestic annoyances of which Mrs. Hood's conversation chiefly consisted, and did her best to infuse into her replies a tone of hopefulness, which might animate without betraying too much. The hours passed over, and at length it was time to set forth. Mrs. Hood showed no desire to leave home. Emily, though foreseeing that she might again be late for tea, did not venture to hint at such a possibility, but started as if for a short walk.
Not much more than a mile from Banbrigg, in a direction away alike from the Heath and from Dunfield, is the village of Pendal, where stand the remains of an ancient castle. Very slight indeed are these relics, one window and some shapeless masses of defaced masonry being alone exposed; but a hill close beside them is supposed to cover more of the fabric, though history tells not how or when the earth was so heaped up. The circle of the moat is still complete, and generally contains water. Pendal Castle Hill, as the locality is called, is approached by a rustic lane leading from the village; it is enclosed like an ordinary meadow, and shadowed here and there with trees. On Sundays and holidays it is a resort much favoured by Dunfieldians; at other times its solitude is but little interfered with. Knowing this, Emily had appointed the spot for the meeting. She had directed Wilfrid to take a train from Dunfield to Pendal, and had described the walk up to the castle hill.
He was not before her this time, and there were endless reasons for fear lest she should wait in vain. She remained standing on the inner side of the stile by which the field was entered, and kept her gaze on the point where the lane turned. A long quarter of an hour passed, then of a sudden the expected form appeared.
There had been no train to Pendal at the right time; he had taken a meal at Dunfield station, and then had found a cab to convey him to the village.
Wilfrid was very calm, only the gleam of his fine eyes showed his delight at holding her hands again. They walked to the side of the hill remote from the road. Wilfrid looked about him, and remarked that the place was interesting. He seemed in no hurry to speak of what had brought him here; they walked hand in hand, like children. 'Emily' -- and then his name in return, with interchange of looks; was it not enough for some minutes?
'There is a fallen trunk,' Wilfrid said, pointing to a remoter spot. 'Shall we sit there?'
'How well it has been managed,' he exclaimed when they had seated themselves. 'You remember the fairy tales in which the old woman bids some one go to a certain place and do such and such a thing and something is sure to happen? "And it befell just as the old woman had said."'
'And I am the old woman. They call her a witch in the stories.'
'A witch, yes; but so young and beautiful. What delight it was to find your letter, dearest! What careful directions! I laughed at your dreadful anxiety to make it quite, quite clear. Won't you take the glove off? How your hand trembles; no, I will unbutton it myself.'
He kissed the fingers lightly, and then held them pressed.
'But why have you come all this distance, Wilfrid?'
'Would it not be enough if I said I had come to see you? What distance would be too far for that?'
'But you were to have left England to-day?'
'So I was, but I shall not go -- till you go with me, Emily.'
She looked at him with anxious eyes.
'Well, I will tell you all there is to tell. In the first place, my father and my aunt think that the plan of your returning to teach the little girls is not a very good one.'
He spoke with perfect cheerfulness, but firmly, as was his wont. Emily's eyes fell.
'I have felt it myself,' she said.
'And so have I; so that we are happily all agreed. We talked it all over after you had gone on Friday, and since then I have taken time to make up my mind. I can see that you would he uncomfortable in the house under such conditions; at the same time it is certainly out of the question that you should go elsewhere; and so -- come to London and let us be married as soon as the arrangements can be made.'
'I don't quite understand, Wilfrid. Do you mean that your father approves this?'
'They all went off to-day. He knows, no doubt, what my intention is. In a matter like this I must judge for myself.'
She was silent, then asked with apprehension, 'Has it caused trouble?'
'Of the kind which passes as soon as it has been well talked about,' he answered with a smile; 'nothing more serious.'
She could not meet his look.
'And you wish not to return to Oxford?'
'I have done with that. I see now that to go back and play the schoolboy would have been impossible; all that is over and a new life beginning -- you will be in readiness to come up as soon as I scud for you?'
She looked in his face now with pleading.
'It is too hasty, Wilfrid. It was better, far better, that we should wait till next year. Can it be your father's wish that your marriage should take place in his absence? You know that I have no foolish desires; the more simply everything is done the better it will please me. But I would, I would have it done with your father's goodwill. I foresaw his objections only too well; they are natural, it could not be otherwise; but I hoped that time would help. Let us wait!'
She closed both hands on his, and gazed at him steadily.
'I think you must be guided by me, Emily,' he replied, with his calm self-assertiveness. 'There is no reason why we should wait. My father is a man who very sensibly accepts the accomplished fact. His own marriage, I may tell you, was an affair of decision in the face of superficial objections, and he will only think the better of me for following his example. You say, and I am sure, that you care nothing for the show of a wedding; if you did, I should not be here at this moment. It is only for that that we need postpone the marriage. I will take rooms till I can find a house and have it made ready for us.'
Emily kept silence. She had released his hand. There were signs on her face of severe inward conflict.
'Will you let me go and see your parents?' he asked. 'Shall our marriage take place here? To me it is the same; I would only be ruled by your choice. May I go home with you now?'
'I would say yes if I could make up my mind to a marriage at once,' she answered. 'Dear, let me persuade you.'
'The sound of your words persuades too strongly against their sense, Emily,' he said tenderly. 'I will not put off our marriage a day longer than forms make necessary.'
'Wilfrid, let me say what----'
'I have scraps of superstition in my nature,' he broke in with a half laugh. 'Fate does not often deal so kindly as in giving you to me; I dare not seem even to hesitate before the gift. It is a test of the worth that is in us. We meet by chance, and we recognise each other; here is the end for which we might have sought a lifetime; we are not worthy of it if we hold back from paltry considerations. I dare not leave you, Emily; everything points to one result -- the rejection of the scheme for your return, my father's free surrender of the decision to myself, the irresistible impulse which has brought me here to you. Did I tell you that I rose in the middle of the night and went to Charing Cross to telegraph? It would have done just as well the first thing in the morning, but I could not rest till the message was sent. I will have no appearances come between us; there shall be no pause till you bear my name and have entered my home; after that, let life do with us what it will.'
Emily drank in the vehement flow of words with delight and fear. It was this virile eagerness, this force of personality, which had before charmed her thought into passiveness, and made her senses its subject; but a stronger motive of resistance actuated her now. In her humility she could not deem the instant gain of herself to be an equivalent to him for what he would certainly, and what he might perchance, lose. She feared that he had disguised his father's real displeasure, and she could not reconcile herself to the abrupt overthrow of all the purposes Wilfrid had entertained before he knew her. She strove with all the energy of her own strong character to withstand him for his good.
'Wilfrid, let it at least be postponed till your father's return. If his mind is what you say, he will by then have fully accepted your views. I respect your father. I owe him consideration; he is prejudiced against me now, and I would gain his goodwill. Just because we are perfectly independent let us have regard for others; better, a thousand times better, that he should be reconciled to our marriage before it takes place than perforce afterwards. Is it for my constancy, or your own, that you fear?'
'I do not doubt your love, and my own is unalterable. I fear circumstances; but what has fear to do with it; I wish to make you my own; the empire of my passion is all-subduing. I will not wait! If you refuse me, I have been mistaken; you do not love me.'
'Those are only words,' she answered, a proud smile lighting the trouble of her countenance. 'You have said that you do not doubt my love, and in your heart you cannot. Answer me one question, Wilfrid: have you made little of your father's opposition, in order to spare me pain? Is it more serious than you are willing to tell me?'
The temptation was strong to reply with an affirmative. If she believed his father to be utterly irreconcilable, there could be no excuse for lingering; yet his nobler self prevailed, to her no word of falseness.
'I have told you the truth. His opposition is temporary. When you are my wife he will be to you as to any wife I could have chosen, I am convinced of it.'
'Then more than ever I entreat you to wait, only till his return to England. If you fail then, I will resist no longer. Show him this much respect, dearest; join him abroad now; let him see that you desire his kindness. Is he not disappointed that you mean to break off your career at Oxford? Why should you do that? You promised me -- did you not promise me, Wilfrid, that you would go on to the end?'
'I cannot! I have no longer the calmness, no longer the old ambitions, -- how trivial they were!'
'And yet there will come a day when you will regret that you left your course unfinished, just because you fell in love with a foolish girl.'
'Do not speak like that, Emily; I hate that way of regarding love! My passion for you is henceforth my life; if it is trifling, so is my whole being, my whole existence. There is no sacrifice possible for me that I should ever regret. Our love is what we choose to make it. Regard it as a foolish pastime, and we are no better than the vulgar crowd -- we know how they speak of it. What detestable thoughts your words brought to my mind! Have you not heard men and women, those who have outlived such glimpses of high things as nature ever sent them, making a jest of love in young lives, treating it, from the height of their wisdom forsooth, as a silly dream of boys and girls? If we ever live to speak or think like that, it will indeed be time to have done with the world. Even as I love you now, my heart's darling, I shall love you when years of intimacy are like some happy journey behind us, and on into the very portal of death. Regret! How paltry all will seem that was not of the essence of our love! And who knows how short our time may be? When the end comes, will it be easy to bear, the thought that we lost one day, one moment of union, out of respect for idle prejudices which vanish as soon as they find themselves ineffectual? Will not the longest life be all too short for us?'
'Forgive me the words, dear. Love is no less sacred to me.'
Her senses were playing the traitor; or -- which you will -- were seconding love's triumph.
'I shall come home with you now,' he said. 'You will let me?'
Why was he not content to win her promise? This proposal, by reminding her most strongly of the inevitable difficulties her marriage would entail, forced her again into resistance.
'Not now, Wilfrid. I have not said a word of this; I must prepare them for it.'
'You have not spoken of me?'
'I would not do so till I -- till everything was more certain.'
'Certain!' he cried impatiently. 'Why do you torture me so, Emily? What uncertainty is there? Everything is uncertain, if you like to make it so. Is there something in your mind that I do not understand?'
'You must remember, Wilfrid, that this is a strange, new thing in my life. It has come to me so suddenly, that even yet I cannot make it part of my familiar self. It has been impossible to speak of it to others.'
'Do you think I take it as a matter of course? Is your love less a magic gift to me? I wake in a terror lest I have only dreamed of it; but then the very truth comes back, and shall I make myself miserable with imagining uncertainties, when there need be none?'
Emily hesitated before speaking again.
'I have told you very little about my home,' she said. 'You know that we are very poor.'
She could not say it as simply as she wished; she was angry with herself to recognise how nearly her feeling was one of shame, what a long habit of reason it needed to expel the unintelligent prejudice which the world bestows at birth.
'I could almost say I am glad of it,' Wilfrid replied. 'We shall have it in our power, you and I, to help so much.'
'There are many reasons,' she continued, too much occupied with her thoughts to dwell on what he said, 'why I should have time to prepare my father and mother. You will let me write the things which it is not very easy to say.'
'Say what you will, and keep silence on what you will, Emily. I cannot give so much consequence to these external things. You and I are living souls, and as such we judge each other. Shall I fret about the circumstances in which chance has cased your life? As reasonable if I withdrew my love from you because one day the colour of your glove did not please me. Time you need. You shall have it; a week, ten days. Then I will come myself and fetch you, -- or you shall come to London alone, as you please.'
'Let it be till your father returns.'
'But he will be two months away.'
'You will join him in Switzerland. Your health requires it.'
'My health! Oh, how tired I am of that word! Spare it me, you at least, Emily. I am well in body and mind; your love would have raised me if I had lain at the point of death. I cannot leave England alone; I have made up my mind that you shall go with me. Have I then no power to persuade you? You will not indeed refuse?'
He looked at her almost in despair. He had not anticipated more than the natural hesitancy which he would at once overcome by force of passion. There was something terrible to him in the disclosure of a quiet force of will equal to his own. Frustration of desire joined with irritated instincts of ascendency to agitate him almost beyond endurance.
Emily gazed at him with pleading as passionate as his own need.
'Do you distrust me?' he asked suddenly, overcome with an intolerable suspicion. At the same moment he dropped her hand, and his gaze grew cold.
'Distrust you?' She could not think that she understood him.
'Do you fear to come to London with me?'
Her bosom heaved with passionate resentment of his thought.
'Is that how you understand my motives?' she asked, with tremulous, subdued earnestness, fixing upon him a gaze which he could not meet.
'Yes,' he answered, below his breath, 'in a moment when love of you has made me mad.'
He turned away, leaning with one hand upon the trunk. In the silence which followed he appeared to be examining the shapeless ruins, which, from this point of view, stood out boldly against the sky.
'When was this castle destroyed?' he asked presently, in a steady voice.
He received no answer, and turned his eyes to her again. Emily's face was strung into a hard intensity. He laid his hand once more upon hers, and spoke with self-control.
'You do not know the strength of a man's love. In that moment it touched the borders of hate. I know that your mind is incapable of such a suspicion; try to think what it meant to be possessed for an instant by such frenzy.'
'You felt able to hate me?' she said, with a shake in her voice which might have become either a laugh or a sob. 'Then there are things in love that I shall never know.'
'Because your soul is pure as that of the angels they dream of. I could not love yen so terribly if you were not that perfection of womanhood to which all being is drawn. Send me to do your bidding; I will have no will but yours.'
How the light of rapture flashed athwart her face! It was hard for her to find words that would not seem too positive, too insubmissive.
'Only till you have lived with your father in the thought of this thing,' she murmured, 'and until I have taught myself to bear my happiness. Are we not one already, dear? Why should you needlessly make your life poorer by the loss -- if only for a time -- of all the old kindnesses? I think, I know, that in a few days your mind will be the same as my own. Do you remember how long it is since we first spoke to each other?'
'Not so many days as make a week,' he answered, smiling.
'Is not that hard to believe? And hard to realise that the new world is still within the old?'
'Sweet, still eyes -- give to me seine of your wisdom! But you have a terrible way of teaching calmness.'
'You will go straight to the Continent, Wilfrid?'
'Only with one promise.'
'You will bow to my judgment when I return.'
'My fate shall be in your hands.'
They talked still, while the shadows of the ruins moved ever towards them. All the afternoon no footsteps had come near; it was the sight of two strangers which at length bade Emily think of the time. It was after six o'clock.
'Wilfrid, I must go. My absence will seem so strange what fables I shall have to invent on the way home. Do you know of any train that you can leave by?'
'No; it matters very little; I suppose there is a mail some time to-night? I will go back to Dunfield and take my chance.'
'How tired you will be! Two such journeys in one day.'
'And a draught of the water of life between them. But even now there is something more I ask for.'
'One touch of the lips that speak so nobly.'
It was only then that her eyes gleamed for a moment through moisture. But she strengthened herself to face the parting. in spite of a heaviness at the heart like that which she had felt on leaving The Firs. She meant at first to go no further than the stile into the lane, and there Wilfrid held out his hand. She used it to aid herself in stepping over.
'I must go as far as Pendal station,' she said. 'Then you can look at the time-table, and tell me what train you will take.'
They walked the length of the lane almost in silence, glancing at each other once or twice. At the village station, Wilfrid discovered that a good train left Dunfield shortly after nine o'clock. From Pendal to Dunfield there would be a train in a quarter of an hour.
They stood together under the station shed. No other passenger was waiting, and the official had not yet arrived to open the booking-office.
'When shall I hear from you?' Emily asked, putting off from instant to instant the good-bye, which grew ever harder to say.
'In less than a week. I shall leave London early tomorrow morning.'
'But it will give you no time for rest.'
'I am not able to rest. Go as often as you can to the castle, that I may think of you as sitting there.'
'I will go very often.'
She could not trust herself to utter more than a few words. As she spoke, the station-master appeared. They moved away to the head of the stairs by which Emily had to leave.
'I shall see your train to-night as it passes Pendal,' she said.
Then there was the clasp of hands, and -- good-bye. To Emily the way was dark before her as she hurried onward. . . .
Mrs. Hood had subsided into the calm of hitter resignation. Emily found her in the kitchen, engaged in polishing certain metal articles, an occupation to which she always had recourse when the legitimate work of the day was pretty well over. Years ago, Mrs. Hood had not lacked interest in certain kinds of reading, but the miseries of her life had killed all that; the need of mechanical exertion was constantly upon her; an automatic conscience refused to allow her repose. When she heard Emily entering by the front door, a sickly smile fixed itself upon her lips, and with this she silently greeted the girl.
'It is too bad of me, mother,' Emily said, trying to assume playfulness, which contrasted strangely with an almost haggard weariness on her face. 'You will give me up as hopeless; I will promise, like the children, that it shall never happen again.'
'It is your holiday, my dear,' was the reply, as Mrs. Hood went to stir the fire. 'You must amuse yourself in your own way.'
'Of course you have had tea. I really want nothing till supper-time.'
'It was not worth while to make tea for one,' said her mother, with a sigh.
'And you have had none? Then I will make it this minute. When will father be home?'
'It is quite uncertain. He gets more and more irregular.'
'Why should he be kept so beyond the proper time? It is really too bad.'
'My dear, your father is never satisfied with doing his own work; he's always taking somebody else's as well. Of course, they find that out, and they put upon him. I've talked and talked, but it's no use; I suppose it'll go on in the same way to the end.'
Half an hour later Mr. Hood reached home, as usual, worn out. The last half mile of the walk from Dunfield was always a struggle with exhaustion. He had to sit several minutes before he was able to go upstairs to refresh himself with cold water.
'I met Mrs. Cartwright,' he said, when an unexpected cup of tea from Emily's hands had put him into good spirits. 'Jessie got home on Saturday, and wants you to go and see her, Emily. I half promised you would call to-morrow morning.'
'Yes, I will,' said Emily.
'I don't think it's altogether right,' remarked Mrs. Hood, 'that Emily should have to work in her holidays; and I'm sure it's all no use; Jessie Cartwright will never do any good if she has lessons from now to Doomsday.'
'Well, it's very necessary she should,' replied Mr. Hood. 'How ever they live as they do passes my comprehension. There was Mrs. Cartwright taking home fruit and flowers which cost a pretty penny, I'll be bound. And her talk! I thought I should never get away. There's one thing, she never has any but good-natured gossip; I never leave her without feeling that she is one of the best-hearted women I know.'
'I can't say that her daughters take after her,' Mrs. Hood remarked, soothed, as always, by comment upon her acquaintances. 'Amy was here the other afternoon, and all the time she never ceased making fun of those poor Wilkinses; it really was all I could do to keep from telling her she ought to be ashamed of herself. Mary Wilkins, at all events, makes no pretences; she may be plain, but she's a good girl, and stays at home to do what's required of her. As for the Cartwright girls -- well, we shall see what'll happen some day. It can't go on, that's quite certain.'
'I don't think there's any real harm in them. They're thoughtless, but then they're very young. They oughtn't to have so much of their own way. What's your opinion of Jessie, Emily? Do you think she'll ever be fit to teach?'
'She might, if she could live apart from her mother and sisters for a time. I think she'll have to come here for her lessons; it's out of the question to do anything at that house.'
It was Mr. Hood's habit to spend his evenings in a little room at the top of the house, which he called his laboratory. It was furnished with a deal table, a couple of chairs, and some shelves. On the table was his apparatus for the study of electricity, mostly the product of his own ingenuity; also a number of retorts, crucibles, test-tubes, and the like, wherewith he experimented chemically. The shelves exhibited bottles and jars, and the dozen or so volumes which made his scientific library. These tastes he had kept up from boyhood; there was something pathetic in the persistency with which he clung to the pretence of serious study, though the physical fatigue which possessed him during his few hours of freedom would in any case have condemned him to mere trifling. Often he came upstairs, lit his lamp, and sat for a couple of hours doing nothing more than play with his instruments, much as a child might; at other times a sudden revival of zeal would declare itself, and he would read and experiment till late in the night, always in fear of the inevitable lecture on his reckless waste of lamp-oil. In the winter time the temperature of this garret was arctic, and fireplace there was none; still he could not intermit his custom of spending at least an hour in what he called scientific study, with the result that he went to bed numbed and shivering. It was but another illustration of possibilities rendered futile by circumstances. It was more than likely that the man might, with fair treatment, have really done something in one or other branch of physics. To Emily, who strove to interest herself in his subjects out of mere love and compassion, he appeared to have gained not a little knowledge of facts and theories. She liked to encourage herself in the faith that his attainments were solid as far as they went, and that they might have been the foundation of good independent work; it helped her to respect her father.
'Will you come up to-night, Emily?' he asked, with the diffidence which he always put into this request.
She assented with apparent cheerfulness, and they climbed the stairs together. The last portion of them was uncarpeted, and their footsteps sounded with hollow echoes under the roof. It was all but dark by this time; Mr. Hood found matches on the table and lit the lamp, which illuminated the bare whitewashed walls and sloping ceiling with a dreary dimness. There was no carpet on the floor, which creaked as they moved here and there. When her father was on the point of drawing down the blind, Emily interposed.
'Do you mind leaving it up, father?'
'Of course I will,' he assented with a smile. 'But why?'
'The last daylight in the sky is pleasant to look at.'
On the landing below stood an old eight-day clock. So much service had it seen that its voice was grown faint, and the strokes of each hour that it gave forth were wheezed with intervals of several seconds. It was now striking nine, and the succession of long-drawn ghostly notes seemed interminable.
The last daylight -- how often our lightest words are omens! -- faded out of the sky. Emily kept her eyes upon the windows none the less. She tried to understand what her father was saying sufficiently to put in a word now and then, but her sense of hearing was strained to its utmost for other sounds. There was no traffic in the road below, and the house itself was hushed; the ticking of the old clock, performed with such painful effort that it ever seemed on the point of failing, was the only sign of life outside the garret. At length Emily's ear caught a remote rushing sound; her father's low voice did not overcome it.
'These compounds of nitrogen and oxygen,' he was saying, 'are very interesting. Nitrous oxide, you know, is what they call Laughing Gas. You heat solid nitrate of ammonia, and that makes protoxide of nitrogen and water.'
The words conveyed no sense to her, though she heard them. The rushing sound had become a dull continuous thunder. Her eyes strained into the darkness. Of a sudden the horizon flamed. A train was passing a quarter of a mile away, and the furnace-door of the engine had just been opened to feed the fire, whose strength sped the carriages to far-off London. A streaming cloud of smoke reflected the glare; it was as though some flying dragon vomited crimson fumes. Involuntarily the girl half rose from her seat and pointed.
'What is it?' asked her father, looking round. 'Ah! pretty sight that fire on the smoke. Well, this protoxide of nitrogen, you see----'
Not the least of many mysteries in the natural history of the Cartwrights was, how they all managed to bestow themselves in the house which they occupied. To be sure, the family -- omitting Mr. Cartwright, seldom at home -- were all of one sex, which perhaps made the difficulty less insuperable; but the fact remained that Mrs. Cartwright and her five grown-up daughters, together with a maid-servant, lived, moved, and had their being in an abode consisting of six rooms, a cellar, and a lumber closet. A few years ago they had occupied a much more roomy dwelling on the edge of the aristocratic region of Dunfield; though not strictly in St. Luke's -- the Belgravia of the town -- they of course spoke of it as if it were. A crisis in the fortunes of the family had necessitated a reduction of their establishment; the district in which they now dwelt was humbler, but then it could always be described as 'near North Parade, you know'; North Parade being an equivalent of Mayfair. The uppermost windows commanded a view of the extensive cattle-market, of a long railway viaduct, and of hilly fields beyond.
The five Misses Cartwright did not greatly relish the change; they were disposed even to resist, to hold their ground on the verge of St. Luke's, to toll their father that he must do his duty and still maintain them in that station of life for which they were clearly designed by Providence. But Mr. Cartwright, after many cries of 'Wolf,' found himself veritably at close quarters with the animal, and female argument had to yield to the logic of fact. 'Be thankful,' exclaimed the hard-driven paterfamilias, when his long patience came to an end, 'that we haven't all to go to the Union. It 'll come to that yet, mark my word!' And, indeed, few people in Dunfield would have expressed surprise at the actual incidence of this calamity. Mr. Cartwright was ostensibly a commercial traveller, but obviously he must have joined with this main pursuit many odds and ends of money-making activity, seeing that the family kept out of debt, and still indulged themselves in extravagances which many substantial households would have declared themselves unable to afford. If the town were visited by an opera company, or by some dramatic star going the round of the provinces, the Cartwrights were sure to have prominent seats, and to exhibit themselves in becoming costume. If a bazaar were held, their ready-money was always forthcoming. At flower shows, galas, croquet parties, they challenged comparison with all who were not confessedly of the Dunfield élite. They regularly adorned their pew in the parish church, were liberal at offertories, exerted themselves, not without expense, in the Sunday school feast, and the like. How -- cried all Dunfield -- how in the name of wonder was it done?
We are not concerned to probe the mystery; suffice it that the situation be exhibited as it appeared to the eyes of the world. When the afore-mentioned crisis declared itself, though every one enjoyed the opportunity of exclaiming 'I told you so!' there were few who did not feel really sorry for the Cartwrights, so little of envy mingled with the incessant gossip of which the family were the subject. Mrs. Cartwright was held in more or less affection by every one who knew her. She was a woman of fifty, of substantial frame, florid, and somewhat masculine in manner; a thorough Yorkshire-woman, her tone and demeanour were marked by a frank good-nature which often exaggerated itself into bluffness, and was never consistent with the delicacy of refined taste, but which unmistakably evinced a sound and benevolent disposition. When her sharp temper was stirred -- and her daughters gave it abundant exercise -- she expressed herself in a racy and vigorous vernacular which there was no opposing; never coarse, never, in the large sense, unwomanly, she made her predominance felt with an emphasis which would fain have been rivalled by many of the mothers of Dunfield. Lavishly indulgent to her girls, she yet kept them thoroughly in hand, and won, if not their tenderness, at all events their affection and respect. The girls themselves were not outwardly charming; Jessie, the youngest but one, had perhaps a certain claim to prettiness, but, like all her sisters, she was of coarse type. Their education had been of the most haphazard kind; their breeding was not a little defective; but a certain tact, common to the family, enabled them to make the very most of themselves, so that they more than passed muster among the middle-class young ladies of the town. As long as they sojourned on the borders of St. Luke's, nothing was farther from the thoughts of any one of them than the idea that they might have to exert themselves to earn their own living; it was only of late that certain emphatic representations on the part of their father had led Mrs. Cartwright to consider which of the girls was good for anything. Amy, the eldest, had rather a weak constitution; it was plain that neither in body nor in mind could she be called upon to exert herself. Eleanor who came next, had musical faculties; after terrific family debates it was decided that she must give lessons on the piano, and a first pupil was speedily found. Barbara was good for nothing whatever, save to spend money on her personal adornment; considering that she was the plainest of the family -- her sisters having repeatedly decided the point -- her existence appeared on the whole singularly superfluous. Then came Jessie. Of Jessie her father had repeatedly said that she was the only girl of his who had brains; those brains, if existent, must now be turned to account. But Jessie had long since torn up her school-books into curl-papers, and, as learning accumulated outside her head, it vanished from the interior. When she declared that arithmetic was all but a mystery to her, and that she had forgotten what French she ever knew, there was an unprecedented outbreak of parental wrath: this was the result of all that had been spent on her education! She must get it back as best she could, for, as sure as fate, she should be packed off as a governess. Look at Emily Hood: why, that girl was keeping herself, and, most likely, paying her mother's butcher's bill into the bargain, and her advantages had been fewer than Jessie's. After storms beyond description, Jessie did what her mother called 'buckle to,' but progress was slight. 'You must get Emily Hood to help you when she comes home for her holidays,' was Mrs. Cartwright's hopeful suggestion one night that the girl had fairly broken down and given way to sobs and tears. Emily was written to, and promised aid. The remaining daughter, Geraldine, was held to be too young as yet for responsible undertakings; she was only seventeen, and, besides, there was something rather hopeful going on between her and young Baldwin, the solicitor, who had just begun practice in Dunfield. So that, on the whole, Geraldine's lot looked the most promising of all.
In previous years; the family had never failed to betake themselves for three weeks or so to Scarborough, or Whitby, or Bridlington; this year they had for the first time contented themselves with humbler recreation; Mrs. Cartwright and four of the girls managed a week at Ilkley, Jessie was fortunate enough to be invited to stay for a fortnight with friends at the seaside. She was the latest to return. Emily being now at home, there was no longer an excuse for postponing study; books were procured, and Jessie, by way of preparation, endeavoured to fathom the abysses of her ignorance.
We have heard Emily's opinion as to the possibility of studious application in the house of the Cartwrights. Her own visits thither were made as few as possible; she declared that she never came away without a headache. In spite of restricted space, the Cartwrights found it impossible to relinquish the habit of universal hospitality. As if discontented with the narrow proportions of her own family, Mrs. Cartwright was never thoroughly at ease unless she had three or four friends to occupy every available square foot of floor in her diminutive sitting-room, and to squeeze around the table when meals were served. In vain did acquaintances hold apart from a sense of consideration, or time their visits when eating and drinking could scarcely be in question; they were given plainly to understand that their delicacy was an offence, and that, if they stayed away, it would be put down to their pride. It was almost impossible to hit an hour for calling at which the family would be alone; generally, as soon as the front door opened, the ear of the visitor was assailed with laughter loud and long, with multitudinous vociferation, Mrs. Cartwright's rich voice high above all others. The room itself was a spectacle for men and gods. Not a member of the family had the most rudimentary instinct of order; no article, whether of ornament or use, had its recognised station. Needlework lay in heaps on table, chairs, and floor; you stretched out your legs too far, and came in contact with a casual flower-vase, put down to be out of the way; you desired to open the piano, and had first to remove a tray of wineglasses. To listen to the girls' conversation for five minutes was to understand their surroundings; they were hopelessly feather-brained, they chattered and gabbled with deafening persistency. If there was no good in their talk, there could scarcely be said to be any harm; they lived so completely on the surface of things that they impressed one as incapable even of a doubtful thought. One reason why Geraldine was the only one who had yet definitely attracted a male admirer might lie in the fact that there was no air of femininity about the girls, nothing whatever to touch the most susceptible imagination; a parcel of schoolboys would have been as provocative. And this notwithstanding that they talked incessantly of love-making, of flirtations, of the making and breaking of matches; it was the very freedom and shallowness of such gossip that made it wholly unexciting; their mother's presence put no check on the talk -- she, indeed, was very much like her daughters in choice of subject -- and the young men who frequented the house joined in discussion of sexual entanglements with a disengaged air which, if it impugned their delicacy, at all events seemed to testify to practical innocence.
Those young men! Dunfield was at that time not perhaps worse off in its supply of marriageable males than other small provincial towns, but, to judge from the extensive assortment which passed through the Cartwrights' house, the lot of Dunfield maidens might beheld pathetic. They were not especially ignorant or vulgar, these budding townsmen, simply imbecile. One could not accuse them of positive faults, for they had no positive qualities, unless it were here and there a leaning to physical fatuity. Their interests were concerned with the pettiest of local occurrences; their favouritisms and animosities were those of overgrown infants. They played practical jokes on each other in the open streets; they read the local newspapers to extract the feeblest of gossip; they had a game which they called polities, and which consisted in badging themselves with blue or yellow, according to the choice of their fathers before them; they affected now and then to. haunt bar-parlours and billiard-rooms, and made good resolutions when they had smoked or drunk more than their stomachs would support. If any Dunfield schoolboy exhibited faculties of a kind uncommon in the town, he was despatched to begin life on a more promising scene; those who remained, who became the new generation of business men, of town councillors, of independent electors, were such as could not by any possibility have made a living elsewhere. Those elders who knew Dunfield best could not point to a single youth of fair endowments who looked forward to remaining in his native place.
The tone of Dunfield society was not high.
No wonder that Emily Hood had her doubts as to the result of study taken up by one of the Cartwrights. Still, she held it a duty to give what help she could, knowing how necessary it was that Jessie should, if possible, qualify herself to earn a living. The first thing after breakfast on Tuesday morning she set forth to visit her friends. It was not quite ten o'clock when she reached the house, and she looked forward with some assurance of hope to finding the family alone. Jessie herself opened the door, and Emily; passing at once into the sitting-room, discovered that not only had a visitor arrived before her, but this the very person she would most have desired to avoid. Mr. Richard Dagworthy was seated in conversation with Mrs. Cartwright and her daughters or rather he had been conversing till Emily's arrival caused a momentary silence. He had called thus early, on his way to the mill, to inquire for Mr. Cartwright's present address having occasion to communicate with him on business matters.
The room was so small that Emily had a difficulty in reaching Mrs. Cartwright to shake hands with her, owing to Dagworthy's almost blocking the only available way round the table. He stood up and drew back, waiting his turn for greeting; when it came, he assumed the manner of an old friend. A chair was found for Emily, and conversation, or what passed for such, speedily regathered volume. The breakfast things were still on the table, and Miss Geraldine, who was always reluctant to rise of a, morning, was engaged upon her meal.
'You see what it's come to, Mr. Dagworthy,' exclaimed the mother of the family, with her usual lack of reticence. 'Jessie can't or won't learn by herself, so she has to bother Emily to come and teach her. It's too bad, I call it, just in her holiday time. She looks as if she wanted to run about and get colour in her cheeks, don't you think so?'
'Well, mother,' cried Jessie, 'you needn't speak as if Emily was a child in short clothes.'
The other girls laughed.
'I dare say Emily wishes she was,' pursued Mrs. Cartwright. 'When you're little ones, you're all for being grown up, and when you are grown up, then you see how much better off you were before, -- that is, if you've got common sense. I wish my girls had half as much all put together as Emily has.'
'I'm sure I don't wish I was a child,' remarked Geraldine, as she bit her bread-and-butter.
'Of course you don't, Geraldine,' replied Dagworthy, who was on terms of much familiarity with all the girls. 'If you were, your mother wouldn't let you come down late to breakfast, would she?'
'I never remember being in time for breakfast since I was born,' cried the girl.
'I dare say your memory doesn't go far enough back,' rejoined Dagworthy, with the smile of one who trifled from a position of superior age and experience.
Mrs. Cartwright laughed with a little embarrassment. Amy, the eldest girl, was quick with an inquiry whether Emily had been as yet to the Agricultural Show, the resort at present of all pleasure-seeking Dunfieldians. Emily replied that she had not, and to this subject the talk strayed. Mr. Dagworthy had dogs on exhibition at the show. Barbara wanted to know how much he would take for a certain animal which had captivated her; if she had some idea that this might lead to an offer of the dog as a present, she was doomed to disappointment, for Dagworthy named his price in the most matter-of-fact way. But nothing had excited so much interest in these young ladies as the prize pigs; they were in raptures at the incredible degree of fatness attained; they delighted to recall that some of the pigs were fattened to such a point that rollers had to be placed under their throats to keep their heads up and prevent them from being choked by the pressure of their own superabundant flesh. In all this conversation Dagworthy took his part, but not quite with the same freedom as before Emily's arrival. His eyes turned incessantly in her direction, and once or twice he only just saved himself from absent-mindedness when a remark was addressed to him. It was with obvious reluctance that he at length rose to leave.
'When are you all coming to see me?' he asked, as he stood smoothing his felt hat with the back of his hand. 'I suppose I shall have to give a croquet party, and have some of the young fellows, then you'll come fast enough. Old men like myself you care nothing about.'
'I should think not, indeed,' replied Barbara the plain. 'Why, your hair's going grey. If you didn't shave, you'd have had grey whiskers long ago.'
'When I invite the others,' he returned, laughing, 'you may consider yourself excepted.'
Amid delicate banter of this kind he took his departure. Of course he was instantly the subject of clamorous chatter.
'Will he really give a croquet party?' demanded one, eagerly.
'Not he!' was the reply from another. 'It would cost him too much in tea and cakes.'
'Nonsense!' put in Mrs. Cartwright. 'He doesn't care for society, that's what it is. I believe he's a good deal happier living there by himself than he was when his wife was alive.'
'That isn't very wonderful,' exclaimed Amy. 'A proud, stuck-up thing, she was! Served him right if she made him uncomfortable; he only married her because her people were grand.'
'I don't believe they ever go near him now,' said the mother.
'What did they quarrel about, mother?' asked Jessie. 'I believe he used his wife badly, that's the truth of it.'
'How do you know what the truth of it is?' returned her mother, contemptuously. 'I know very well he did nothing of the kind; whatever his faults are, he's not that sort of man.'
'Well, you must confess, mother, he's downright mean; and you've often enough said Mrs. Dagworthy spent more money than pleased him. I know very well I shouldn't like to be his wife.'
'You wait till he asks you, Jessie,' cried Barbara, with sisterly reproof.
'I don't suppose he's very likely to ask any of you,' said Mrs. Cartwright, with a laugh which was not very hearty. 'Now, Geraldine, when are you going to have done your breakfast? Here's ten o'clock, and you seem as if you'd never stop eating. I won't have this irregularity. Now tomorrow morning I'll have the table cleared at nine o'clock, and if you're not down you'll go without breakfast altogether, mind what I say.'
The threat was such an old one that Geraldine honoured it with not the least attention, but helped herself abundantly to marmalade, which she impasted solidly on buttered toast, and consumed with much relish.
'Now you've got Emily here,' pursued Mrs. Cartwright, turning her attack upon Jessie, 'what are you going to do with her? Are you going to have your lessons in this room?'
'I don't know. What do you say, Emily?'
Emily was clearly of Opinion that lessons under such conditions were likely to be of small profit.
'If it were not so far,' she said, 'I should propose that you came to me every other day; I should think that will be often enough.'
'Why, it's just as far for you to come here,' exclaimed Mrs. Cartwright. 'If you're good enough to teach her -- great, lazy thing that she is! -- the least she can do is to save you all the trouble she can.'
'I've got an idea,' observed Jessie. 'Why shouldn't we have lessons in the garden?'
'That's just as bad. Emily 'll have the same distance to walk. Don't hear of it, Emily; you make her come to Banbrigg!'
'I don't in the least mind the walk,' Emily said. 'Perhaps we might take it in turns, one lesson in the garden and the next at Banbrigg.'
After ten minutes' vociferous discussion, during which Emily held her peace, this plan was eventually agreed upon.
Jessie ran upstairs to prepare herself to go forth.
'Now don't you let her waste your time, Emily,' said Mrs. Cartwright, in the girl's absence. 'If you see she's doing no good, just give it up. I don't half like the thought of making you drudge in this way in your holidays. I'm sure it's very kind of you to have offered to do it, and it's certain she'll mind you more than she would any one else. She doesn't care a scrap for all I say to her, though she knows well enough it's as much as her father can do to keep things going at all. There never was such bad times in my recollection! How are things in London? Did you hear much complaint?'
Emily found it hard to resist a smile at the thought of Mr. Athel or any of those belonging to him indulging in complaints of this nature.
'And what sort of people are they you've got with this time?' the other went on to ask. 'Do they treat you well?'
'Very well indeed.'
It would have been difficult for a stranger, comparing Emily, her tone and bearing, with the members of the Cartwright family, to believe that she came of the same class and had lived through her girlhood under precisely similar conditions. So marked a difference could not but impress even the Cartwrights themselves; the girls did not behave with entire freedom in her presence, and influences to which they were anything but readily susceptible were apparent in the tone they adopted in addressing her. In spite of themselves, they bowed to a superiority but vaguely understood. Jessie, perhaps, exhibited less of this instinctive reverence than the others, although, in point of fact, her endowments were decidedly above those of her sisters; the reason being, no doubt, that acknowledged precedence in intellect had fostered in her the worst kind of self-confidence. The girl was intolerably conceited. Emily almost disliked her; she would have found it a more agreeable task to endeavour to teach any one of the more stupid sisters. It was in the certainty of a couple of hours' moral suffering that she left the house with Jessie.
The garden which was to be the scene of study was ten minutes' walk away from the house. To reach it, they had to pass along a road which traversed the cattle market, a vast area of pens, filled on one day in each week with multitudes of oxen, sheep, and swine. Beyond the market, and in the shadow of the railway viaduct previously referred to, lay three or four acres of ground divided up by hedges into small gardens, leased by people who had an ambition to grow their own potatoes and cabbages, but had no plot attached to their houses. Jessie opened a rough wooden door, made fast by a padlock, and, closing it again behind them, led the way along a narrow path between high hedges, a second wooden door was reached, which opened into the garden itself. This was laid out with an eye less to beauty than to usefulness. In the centre was a patch of grass, lying between two pear trees; the rest of the ground was planted with the various requisites of the kitchen, and in one corner was a well. In the tool house were kept several Windsor chairs; two of these were now brought forth and placed on the grass between the pear trees. But Jessie was not disposed to apply herself on the instant to the books which she had brought in a satchel; her first occupation was to hunt for the ripest gooseberries and currants, and to try her teeth in several pears which she knocked down with the handle of a rake. When at length she seated herself, her tongue began to have its way.
'How I do dislike that Mr. Dagworthy!' she said, with transparent affectation. 'I wonder what he came for this morning. He said he wanted father's address, but I know that was only an excuse. He hasn't been to see us for months. It was like his impudence to ever come at all, after the way he behaved when he married that stuck-up Miss Hanmer.'
'Will you tell me how many of these French exercises you have written?' Emily asked as soon as a pause gave her the opportunity.
'Oh, I don't know,' was the answer; 'about ten, I think. Do you know, I really believe he thinks himself good-looking? And he's as plain as he can be. Don't you think so, Emily?'
'I really have no opinion.'
'It was strange he should come this morning. It was only yesterday I met him over there by the mill,' -- Dagworthy's mill stood at one end of the cattle-market, -- 'and you can't think the impudent way he talked. And, oh, how did he know that you were going to give me lessons?'
'I can't say.'
'Well, he did know, somehow; I was astonished. Perhaps your father told him?'
'That is not very likely.'
'Well, he knew. I wonder who he'll marry next. You may depend upon it he did treat his wife badly; everybody said so. If he were to propose to me, I should answer like that woman did to Henry the Eighth, you know.' She tittered. 'I can't fancy marrying a man who's been married before, could you? I said that to Mrs. Tichborne one day, at Bridlington, and what do you think she answered? Oh, she said, they're the best husbands. Only a good-natured fool marries a second time.'
This was the kind of talk that Emily knew she would have to endure; it was unutterably repugnant to her. She had observed in successive holidays the growth of a spirit in Jessie Cartwright more distinctly offensive than anything which declared itself in her sisters' gabble, however irritating that might be. The girl's mind seemed to have been sullied by some contact, and previous indications disposed Emily to think that this Mrs. Tichborne was very probably a source of evil. She was the wife of an hotel-keeper, the more vulgar for certain affectations of refinement acquired during bar-maidenhood in London, and her intimacy with the Cartwrights was now of long standing. It was Jessie whom she specially affected; with her Jessie had just been spending a fortnight at the seaside. The evil caught from Mrs. Tichborne, or from some one of similar character, did not associate itself very naturally with the silly naïveté which marked the girl; she had the air of assuming the objectionable tone as a mark of cleverness. Emily could not trust herself to utter the kind of comment which would naturally have risen to her lips; it would be practically useless, and her relations to Jessie were not such as could engender affectionate zeal in a serious attempt to overcome evil influences. Emily was not of the women whose nature it is to pursue missionary enterprise; instead of calling forth her energies, a situation like the present threw her back upon herself; she sought a retreat from disgust in the sheltered purity of her own heart. Outwardly she became cold; her face expressed that severity which was one side of her character.
'Don't you think it would be better if we made a beginning this morning?' she said, as soon as another pause in the flow of chatter gave her opportunity.
'What a one you are for work!' Jessie protested. 'You seem to take to it naturally, and yet I'm sure it isn't a natural thing. Just think of having to muddle over French grammar at my age! And I know very well it 'll never come to anything. Can you imagine me teaching? I always hated school, and I hate the thought of being a governess. It's different with you; you're right down clever, and you make people take an interest in you. But just think of me! Why I should be thought no more of than a servant. I suppose I should have to make friends with the milkman and the butcher's boy; I don't see who else I should have to talk to. How's a girl to get married if she spends all her time in a nursery teaching children grammar? You don't seem to care whether you're ever married or not, but I do, and it's precious hard to have all my chances taken away.
This was Jessie's incessant preoccupation; she could not talk for five minutes without returning to it. Herein she only exaggerated her sisters' habits of mind. The girls had begun to talk of 'sweethearts' and husbands before they were well out of the nursery. In earlier years Emily had only laughed at what she called such foolishness; she could not laugh now. Such ways of thinking and speaking were a profanation of all she held holiest; words which she whispered in trembling to her heart were vulgarised and defiled by use upon these tinkling tongues; it was blasphemy against her religion.
Once more she endeavoured to fix the girl's thoughts on the work in hand, and by steady persistence conquered at length some semblance of attention. But an hour proved the utmost limit of Jessie's patience, then her tongue got its way again, and the inevitable subjects were resumed. She talked of the 'gentlemen' whose acquaintance, in a greater or less degree, she had made at the seaside; described their manoeuvres to obtain private interviews with her, repeated jokes of their invention, specified her favourites, all at headlong speed of disjointed narrative. Emily sat beneath the infliction, feeling that to go through this on alternate days for some weeks would be beyond her power. She would not rise and depart, for a gathering warmth within encouraged her to await a moment when speech would come to her aid. It did so at length; her thought found words almost involuntarily.
'Jessie, I'm afraid we shall not do much good if we always spend our mornings like this!'
'Oh, but I thought we'd done enough for to-day.'
'Perhaps so, but---- What I want to say is this. Will you, as a kindness to me, forget these subjects when we are together? I don't mind what else you talk about, but stories of this kind make me fidgety; I feel as if I should be obliged to get up and run away.'
'Do you really mean it? You don't like me to talk about gentlemen? What a queer girl you are, Emily! Why, you're not settling down to be an old maid at your age, are you?'
'We'll say so; perhaps that explains it.'
'Well, that's queer. I can't see, myself, what else there is to talk about. Grammar's all very well when we're children, but it seems to me that what a grown-up girl has to do is to look out for a husband. How you can be satisfied with books' -- the infinite contempt she put into the word! -- 'is more than I can make out.'
'But you will do what I ask, as a kindness? I am in earnest; I shall be afraid of seeing you if you can't help talking of such things.'
Jessie laughed extravagantly; such a state of mind was to her comical beyond expression.
'You are a queer one! Of course I'll do as you wish; you shan't hear me mention a single gentleman's name, and I'll tell all the others to be careful whenever you come.'
Emily averted her face; it was reddened with annoyance at the thought of being discussed in this way by all the Cartwright household.
'You can do that if you like,' she said coldly, 'though it's no part of my wish. I spoke of the hours when we are together for study.'
'Very well, I won't say anything,' replied the girl, who was good-natured enough beneath all her vulgarities. 'And now what shall we do till dinner-time?'
'I must make the best of my way home.'
'Oh, nonsense! Why, you're going to have dinner with us; of course that was understood.'
Not by Emily, however. It cost a good deal of firmness, for the Cartwrights one and all would lay hands on you rather than lose a guest; but Emily made good her escape. Once well on her way to Banbrigg, she took in great breaths of free air, as if after a close and unwholesome atmosphere. She cried mentally for an ounce of civet. There was upon her, too, that uneasy sense of shame which is apt to possess a reticent nature when it has been compelled, or tempted, to some unwonted freedom of speech. Would it not have been better, she asked herself, to merely avoid the talk she found so hateful by resolutely advancing other topics? Perhaps not; it was just possible that her words might bear some kind of fruit. But she wished heartily that this task of hopeless teaching had never been proposed to her; it would trouble her waking every other day, and disturb with a profitless annoyance the ideal serenity for which she was striving.
Yet it had one good result; her mother's follies and weaknesses were very easy to bear in comparison, and, when the midday meal was over, she enjoyed with more fulness the peace of her father's room upstairs, where she had arranged a table for her own work. Brilliant sunlight made the bare garret, with its outlook over the fields towards Pendal, a cheerful and homelike retreat. Here, whilst the clock below wheezed and panted after the relentless hours, Emily read hard at German, or, when her mind called for rest, sheltered herself beneath the wing of some poet, who voiced for her the mute hymns of her soul. But the most sacred hour was when her parents had gone to rest, and she sat in her bedroom, writing her secret thoughts for Wilfrid some day to read. She had resolved to keep for him a journal of her inner life from day to day. In this way she might hope to reveal herself more truthfully than spoken words would ever allow; she feared that never, not even in the confidence of their married life, would her tongue learn to overcome the fear of its own utterances. How little she had told him of herself, of her love! In Surrey she had been so timid; she had scarcely done more than allow him to guess her thoughts; and at their last meeting she had been compelled into opposition of his purpose, so that brief time had been left for free exchange of tenderness. But some day she would put this little book of manuscript into his hands, and the shadowy bars between him and her would vanish. She could only write in it late at night, when the still voice within spoke clearly amid the hush. The only sound from the outer world was that of a train now and then speeding by, and that carried her thoughts to Wilfrid, who had journeyed far from her into other countries. Emily loved silence, the nurse of the soul; the earliest and the latest hours were to her most dear. It had never been to her either an impulse or a joy to realise the existence of the mass of mankind; she had shrunk, after the first excitement, from the thronged streets of London, passing from them with delight to the quiet country. Others might find their strength in the sense of universal human fellowship; she would fain live apart, kindly disposed to all, but understanding well that her first duty was to tend the garden of her mind. That it was also her first joy was, by the principles of her religion, justification in pursuing it.
In a few days she obliged her mother to concede to her a share in the work of the house. She had nothing of the common feminine interest in such work for its own sake, but it was a pleasure to lessen her mother's toil. There was very little converse between them; for evidently they belonged to different worlds. When Mrs. Hood took her afternoon's repose, it was elsewhere than in the room where Emily sat, and Emily herself did not seek to alter this habit, knowing that she often, quite involuntarily, caused her mother irritation, and that to reduce their intercourse as far as could be without marked estrangement was the best way to make it endurable to both. But the evening hours she invariably devoted to her father; the shortness of the time that she was able to give him was a reason for losing no moment of this communion. She knew that the forecast of the evening's happiness sustained him through the long day, and even so slight a pleasure as that she bestowed in opening the door at his arrival, she would not willingly have suffered him to lose. It did not appear that Mrs. Hood reflected on this exclusive attachment in Emily; it certainly troubled her not at all. This order in the house was of long standing; it had grown to seem as natural as poverty and hopelessness. Emily and her father reasoned as little about their mutual affection; to both it was a priceless part of life, given to them by the same dark powers that destroy and deprive. It behoved them to enjoy it while permitted to do so.
Had she known the recent causes of trouble which weighed upon her parents, Emily would scarcely have been able to still keep her secret from them. The anxiety upon her father's face and her mother's ceaseless complaining were too familiar to suggest anything unusual. She had come home with the resolve to maintain silence, if only because her marriage seemed remote and contingent upon many circumstances; and other reasons had manifested themselves to her even before Wilfrid's visit. At any time she would find a difficulty in speaking upon such a subject with her mother; strange though it may sound, the intimacy. between them was not near enough to encourage such a disclosure, with all the explanations it would involve. Nor yet to her father would she willingly speak of what had happened, until it became necessary to do so. Emily's sense of the sanctity of relations such as those between Wilfrid and herself had, through so different a cause, very much the same effects as what we call false shame. The complex motives of virgin modesty had with her become a conscious sustaining power, a faith; of all beautiful things that the mind could conceive, this mystery was the loveliest, and the least capable of being revealed to others, however near, without desecration. Perhaps she had been aided in the nurturing of this ideal by her loneliness; no friend had ever tempted her to confidences; her gravest and purest thoughts had never been imparted to any. Thus she had escaped that blunting of fine perceptions which is the all but inevitable result of endeavouring to express them. Not to speak of mere vulgarity such as Jessie Cartwright exhibited, Emily's instinct shrank from things which usage has, for most people, made matters of course; the public ceremony of marriage, for instance, she deemed a barbarism. As a sacrament, the holiest of all, its celebration should, she felt, be in the strictest privacy; as for its aspect as a legal contract, let that concession to human misery be made with the smallest, not the greatest, violation of religious feeling. Thinking thus, it was natural that she should avail herself of every motive for delay. And in that very wretchedness of her home which her marriage would, she trusted, in a great measure alleviate, she found one of the strongest. The atmosphere of sordid suffering depressed her; it was only by an effort that she shook off the influences which assailed her sadder nature; at times her fears were wrought upon, and it almost exceeded her power to believe in the future Wilfrid had created for her. The change from the beautiful home in Surrey to the sad dreariness of Banbrigg had followed too suddenly upon the revelation of her blessedness. It indisposed her to make known what was so dreamlike. For the past became more dreadful viewed from the ground of hope. Emily came to contemplate it as some hideous beast, which, though she seemed to be escaping its reach, might even yet spring upon her. How had she borne that past so lightly? Her fear of all its misery was at moments excessive. Looking at her unhappy parents, she felt that their lot would crush her with pity did she not see the relief approaching. She saw it, yet too often trembled with the most baseless fears. She tried to assure herself that she had acted rightly in resisting Wilfrid's proposal of an immediate marriage, yet she often wished her conscience had not spoken against it. Wilfrid's own words, though merely prompted by his eagerness, ceaselessly came back to her -- that it is ill to refuse a kindness offered by fate, so seldom kind. The words were true enough, and their truth answered to that melancholy which, when her will was in abeyance, coloured her views of life.
But here at length was a letter from Wilfrid, a glad, encouraging letter. His father had concluded that he was staying behind in England to be married, and evidently would not have disturbed himself greatly even if such had been the case. All was going well. Nothing of the past should be sacrificed, and the future was their own.
It was an unusual thing for the middle of August to find Richard Dagworthy still in Dunfield. Through all the other months of the year he stuck closely to the mill, but the best three weeks of August were his holiday; as a rule, he went to Scotland, sometimes in company with a friend, more often alone. In the previous year he had taken a wider flight, and made his first visit to the Continent, but this was not likely to be repeated for some time. He always referred to it as more or less of a feat. The expense, to begin with, was greater than he could readily reconcile himself to, and the indulgence of his curiosity, not inactive, hardly compensated for his lack of ease amid the unfamiliar conditions of foreign travel. Richard represented an intermediate stage of development between the hard-headed operative who conquers wealth, and his descendant who shall know what use to make of it. Therein lay the significance of the man's life.
Its pathos, moreover. Looking at him casually from the outside, one found small suggestion of the pathetic in his hard face and brusque manners; nearer companionship revealed occasional glimpses of a mood out of harmony with the vulgar pursuits and solicitudes which for the most part seemed to absorb him. One caught a hint of loneliness in his existence; his reticences, often very marked in the flow of his unpolished talk, seemed to indicate some disappointment, and a dislike to dwell upon it. In point of fact, his life was rather lonely; his two sisters were married in other towns, and, since the death of his wife, he had held no communications with her relatives. The child was all he had of family, and, though his paternal affections were strong, he was not the man to content his hours of leisure with gambols in a nursery. His dogs were doubtless a great resource, and in a measure made up to him for the lack of domestic interests; yet there sometimes passed days during which he did not visit the kennels, always a sign to the servants to beware of his temper, which at such seasons was easily roused to fury. The reputation he had in Dunfield for brutality of behaviour dated from his prosecution for violent assault by a groom, whom, in one of his fits of rage, he had all but pounded to a jelly. The incident occurred early in his married life, and was, no doubt, the origin of the very prevalent belief that he had ruled his wife by similar methods. Dunfield society was a little shy of him for some time after, until, indeed, by becoming a widower, he presented himself once more in an interesting light. Though he possibly brought about his wife's death by ill-usage, that did not alter the fact that he had a carriage and pair to offer to the lady whom he might be disposed to make her successor.
His marriage had been of a kind that occasioned general surprise, and, in certain circles, indignation. There had come to live, in one of the smaller houses upon the Heath, a family consisting of a middle-aged lady and her two daughters; their name was Hanmer, and their previous home had been in Hebsworth, the large manufacturing town which is a sort of metropolis to Dunfield and other smaller centres round about. Mr. Hanmer was recently dead; he had been a banker, but suffered grave losses in a period of commercial depression, and left his family poorly off. Various reasons led to his widow's quitting Hebsworth; Dunfield inquirers naturally got hold of stories more or less to the disgrace of the deceased Mr. Hanmer. The elder of the two daughters Richard Dagworthy married, after an acquaintance of something less than six months. Dunfield threw up its hands in amazement: such a proceeding on young Dagworthy's part was not only shabby to the families which had upon him the claim of old-standing expectancy, but was in itself inexplicable. Miss Hanmer might be good-looking, but Richard (always called 'young' to distinguish him from his father) had surely outgrown such a very infantile reason of choice, when other attractions were, to the Dunfield mind, altogether wanting. The Hanmers were not only poor, but, more shameful still, positively 'stuck up' in their poverty. They came originally from the south of England, forsooth, and spoke in an affected way, pronouncing their vowels absurdly. Well, the consoling reflection was that his wife would soon make him see that she despised him, for if ever there was a thorough Yorkshireman, it was Richard.
Dunfield comments on Mrs. Dagworthy seemed to find some justification in the turn things took. Richard distinctly began to neglect those of his old friends who smacked most of the soil; if they visited his house, his wife received them with an affected graciousness which was so unmistakably 'stuck up' that they were in no hurry to come again, and her behaviour, when she returned visits, was felt to be so offensive that worthy ladies -- already prejudiced -- had a difficulty in refraining from a kind of frankness which would have brought about a crisis. The town was perpetually busy with gossip concerning the uncomfortableness of things in the house on the Heath. Old Mr. Dagworthy, it was declared, had roundly bidden his son seek a domicile elsewhere, since joint occupancy of the home had become impossible. Whether such a change was in reality contemplated could never be determined; the old man's death removed the occasion. Mrs. Dagworthy survived him little more than half a year. So there, said Dunfield, was a mistake well done with; and it was disposed to let bygones be bygones.
What was the truth of all this? That Dagworthy married hastily and found his wife uncongenial, and that Mrs. Dagworthy passed the last two years of her life in mourning over a fatal mistake, was all that could be affirmed as fact, and probably the two persons most nearly concerned would have found it difficult to throw more light upon the situation. Outwardly it was as commonplace a story as could be told; even the accession of interest which would have come of Dagworthy's cruelty was due to the imagination of Dunfield gossips. Richard was miserable enough in his home, and frequently bad-tempered, but his wife had nothing worse from him than an angry word now and then. After the first few months of their marriage, the two lived, as far as possible, separate lives; Mrs. Dagworthy spent the days with her mother and sister, Richard at the mill, and the evenings were got through with as little friction as might be between two people neither of whom could speak half a dozen words without irritating or disgusting the other. The interesting feature of the case was the unexpectedness of Dagworthy's choice. It evinced so much more originality than one looked for in such a man. It was, indeed, the outcome of ambitions which were not at all clear to their possessor. Miss Hanmer had impressed him as no other woman had done, simply because she had graces and accomplishments of a kind hitherto unknown to him; Richard felt that for the first time in his life he was in familiar intercourse with a 'lady.' Her refined modes of speech, her little personal delicacies, her unconscious revelation of knowledge which he deemed the result of deep study, even her pretty and harmless witticisms at the expense of Dunfield dignitaries, touched his slumbering imagination with singular force. Miss Hanmer, speedily observing her power, made the most of it; she was six-and-twenty, and poverty rendered her position desperate. Dagworthy at first amused her as a specimen of the wealthy boor, but the evident delight he found in her society constrained her to admit that the boor possessed the elements of good taste. The courtship was of rapid progress, the interests at stake being so simply defined on either side, and circumstances presenting no kind of obstacle. The lady accepted him without hesitation, and triumphed in her good fortune.
Dagworthy conceived that his end was gained; in reality it was the beginning of his disillusion. It speedily became clear to him that he did not really care for his wife, that he had been the victim of some self-deception, which was all the more exasperating because difficult to be explained. The danger of brutality on his part really lay in this first discovery of his mistake; the presence of his father in the house was a most fortunate circumstance; it necessitated self-control at a time when it was hardest to maintain. Later, he was too much altered from the elementary creature he had been to stand in danger of grossly ill-using his wife. His marriage developed the man surprisingly; it made him self-conscious in a degree he could not formerly have conceived. He had fully believed that this woman was in love with him, and the belief had flattered him inexpressibly; to become aware that she regarded him with disgust, only kept under by fear, was to receive light on many things besides the personal relations between himself and her. If he had not in reality regarded her at any time with strong feeling, what had made him so bent on gaining her for his wife? To puzzle this over -- the problem would not quit his mind -- was to become dimly aware of what he had hoped for and what he had missed. It was not her affection: he felt that the absence of this was not the worst thing he had to bear. Gradually he came to understand that he had been deceived by artificialities which mocked the image of something for which he really longed, and that something was refinement, within and without, a life directed by other motives and desires than those he had known, a spirit aiming at things he did not understand, yet which he would gladly have had explained to him. There followed resentment of the deceit that had been practised on him; the woman had been merely caught by his money, and it followed that she was contemptible. Instead of a higher, he had wedded a lower than himself; she did not care even to exercise the slight hypocrisy by which she might have kept his admiration; the cruelest feature of the wrong he had suffered was that, by the disclosure of her unworthiness, his wife was teaching him the real value of that which he had aimed at blindly and so deplorably failed to gain. Dagworthy had a period almost of despair; it was then that, in an access of fury, he committed the brutality which created so many myths about his domestic life. To be hauled into the police-court, and to be well aware what Dunfield was saying about him, was not exactly an agreeable experience, but it had, like his marriage, an educational value; he knew that the thrashing administered to the groom had been a vicarious one, and this actively awakened sense of a possible inner meaning of things was not without its influence upon him. It was remarked that he heard the imposition of his fine with a suppressed laugh. Dunfield, repeating the story with florid circumstance, of course viewed it as an illustration of his debauched state of mind; in reality the laugh came of a perception of the solemn absurdity of the proceedings, and Richard was by so much the nearer to understanding himself and the world.
His wife's death came as an unhoped-for relief; he felt like a man beginning the world anew. He had no leaning to melancholy, and a prolongation of his domestic troubles would not have made him less hearty in his outward bearing, but the progress of time had developed elements in his nature which were scarcely compatible with a continuance of the life he had been leading. He had begun to put to himself ominous questions; such, for instance, as -- What necessity was he under to maintain the appearance of a cheerful domesticity? If things got just a trifle more unbearable, why should he not make for himself somewhere else a new home? He was, it is true, startled at his own audacity, and only some strangely powerful concurrence of motives -- such as he was yet to know -- could in reality have made him reckless. For the other features of his character, those which tended to stability, were still strong enough to oppose passions which had not found the occasion for their full development. He was not exactly avaricious, but pursuit of money was in him an hereditary instinct. By mere force of habit he stuck zealously to his business, and, without thinking much about his wealth, disliked unusual expenditure. His wife had taunted him with meanness, with low money-grubbing; the effect had been to make him all the more tenacious of habits which might have given way before other kinds of reproof. So he had gone on living the ordinary life, to all appearances well contented, in reality troubled from time to time by a reawakening of those desires which he had understood only to have them frustrated. He groped in a dim way after things which, by chance perceived, seemed to have a certain bearing on his life. The discovery in himself of an interest in architecture was an instance; but for his visit to the Continent he might never have been led to think of the subject. Then there was his fondness for the moors and mountains, the lochs and islands, of the north. On the whole, he preferred to travel in Scotland by himself; the scenery appealed to a poetry that was in him, if only he could have brought it into consciousness. Already he had planned for the present August a tour among the Hebrides, and had made it out with his maps and guidebooks, not without careful consideration of expense. Why did he linger beyond the day on which he had decided to set forth?
For several days it had been noticed at the mill that he lacked something of his wonted attention in matters of business. Certainly his occupation about eleven o'clock one morning had little apparent bearing on the concerns of his office; he was standing at the window of his private room, which was on the first floor of the mill, with a large field-glass at his eyes. The glass was focussed upon the Cartwrights' garden, in which sat Jessie with Emily Hood. They were but a short distance away, and Dagworthy could observe them closely; he had done so, intermittently, for almost an hour, and this was the second morning that he had thus amused himself. Yet, to judge from his face, when he turned away, amusement was hardly his state of mind; his features had a hard-set earnestness, an expression almost savage. And then he walked about the little room, regarding objects absently.
Four days later he was again with his glass at the window; it wanted a few minutes of ten o'clock. Emily Hood had just reached the garden; he saw her enter and begin to pace about the walks, waiting for Jessie's arrival. Dagworthy of a sudden put the glass aside, took his hat, and hastened away from the mill. He walked along the edge of the cattle-market, till he came into the road by which Jessie must approach the garden; he saw her coming, and went on at a brisk pace towards her. The girl was not hurrying, though she would be late; these lessons were beginning to tax her rather too seriously; Emily was so exacting. Already she had made a change in the arrangements, whereby she saved herself the walk to Banbrigg; in the garden, too, it was much easier to find excuses for trifling away time than when she was face to face with Emily at a table. So she came along the road at a very moderate pace, and, on seeing who it was that neared her, put on her pleasantest smile, doubly glad of the meeting; it was always something to try her devices on Richard Dagworthy, and at present the chat would make a delay for which she could urge reasonable excuse.
'The very person I wanted to meet!' Dagworthy exclaimed. 'You've saved me a run all the way up to your house. What are you doing this way? Going to school?'
He pointed to the books she carried.
'Something like it,' replied Jessie, with a wry movement of her lips. 'Why did you want to meet me, though?'
'Because I want you to do something for me -- that is, if you will. But, really, where were you going? Perhaps you can't spare time?'
'I was going to the garden,' she said, pointing in that direction. 'I have lessons there with Emily Hood. Beastly shame that I should have to do lessons, isn't it? I feel too old for that; I've got other things to think about.'
She put her head on one side, and rustled the pages of a French grammar, at last throwing a glance at Richard from the corners of her eyes.
'But do you expect Miss Hood to come soon?' Dagworthy asked, playing his part very well, in spite of a nervousness which possessed him.
'No doubt she's in the garden already. I've given her a key, so that if she gets there first---- But what do you want me to do?'
'Why, I was going to ask you to walk to the station and meet the ten thirty-five train from Hebsworth. Your father will get in by it, I expect, and I want him to come and see me at once at the mill.'
'All right,' Jessie exclaimed with eagerness, 'I'll go. Just let me run and tell Emily----'
Dagworthy was consulting his watch.
'You've only bare time to get to the station, walking as quickly as you can? Which is your garden? Let me go and tell her you are not coming.'
'Will you? The second door round the corner there, You'll have to apologize properly -- I hope you know how to.'
This was Jessie's maidenly playfulness; she held out her hand, with many graces, to take leave.
'If he doesn't come,' said Dagworthy, 'will you just walk over to the mill to let me know?'
'I don't know that I shall; I don't think it would be proper.'
'Ho, ho! I like that! But you'll have to be off, or you'll never get there in time.'
She ran away, rejoicing in her escape from the lesson, Of course she looked back several times; the first glance showed her Dagworthy still gazing after her, at the second she saw that he was walking towards the garden.
He pushed open the wooden door, and passed between the hedges; the next door stood open, and he already saw Emily; she had seated herself under one of the pear trees, and was reading. As soon as his eyes discovered her he paused; his hands clasped themselves nervously behind him. Then he proceeded more slowly. As soon as he stepped within the garden, Emily heard his approach, and turned her head with a smile, expectant of Jessie, At the sight of Dagworthy the smile vanished instantly, she became noticeably pale, and at length rose with a startled motion.
Dagworthy drew near to her; when close enough to hold out his hand, he could no longer keep his eyes upon her face; they fell, and his visage showed an embarrassment which, even in her confusion -- her all but dread -- Emily noticed as a strange thing. She was struggling to command herself, to overcome by reason the fear which always attacked her in this man's presence. She felt it as a relief to be spared the steady gaze which, on former meetings, he had never removed from her.
'You are surprised to see me here?' he began, taking hold of the chair which Emily had risen from and swaying it backwards and forwards. Even his voice was more subdued than she had ever known it. 'I have come to apologise to you for sending Miss Cartwright to meet her father at the station. I met her by chance just out there in the road, and as I wanted a messenger very badly I took advantage of her good-nature. But she wouldn't go unless I promised to come here and explain her absence.'
'Thank you,' Emily replied, as naturally as she could. 'Will she still come back for her lesson, do you think?'
'I'm afraid not; she said I had better ask you to excuse her this morning.'
Emily gathered up two or three books which lay on the other chair.
'You find her rather troublesome to teach, I should be afraid,' Dagworthy pursued, watching her every moment. 'Jessie isn't much for study, is she?'
'Perhaps she is a little absent now and then,' replied Emily, saying the first thing that occurred to her.
She had collected her books and was about to fasten a strap round them.
'Do let me do that for you,' said Dagworthy, and he forestalled her assent, which she would probably not have given, by taking the books from her hands. He put up his foot on the chair, as if for. the convenience of doing the strapping on his knee, but before he had finished it he spoke again.
'You are fond of teaching, I suppose?'
'Yes, I like it.'
She stood in expectant waiting, her hands held together before her, her head just bent. The attitude was grace itself. Dagworthy raised his eyes slowly from her feet to her face.
'But you wouldn't care to go on with it always?'
'I -- I don't think about it,' she replied, nervousness again seizing her. There was a new look in his eyes, a vehemence, a fervour, which she dared not meet after the first glance. He would not finish the strapping of the books, and she could not bid him do so. Had she obeyed her instinct, she would have hastened away, heedless of anything but the desire to quit his presence.
'How long will your holidays be?' he asked, letting the books fall to the chair, as if by accident.
'Till the end of September, I think.'
'So long? I'm glad to hear that. You will come again some day to my house with your father, won't you?'
The words trembled upon his lips; it was not like his own voice, he could not control it.
'Thank you, Mr. Dagworthy,' she replied.
He bent to the books again, and this time succeeded in binding them together. As he fastened the buckle, drops of perspiration fell from his forehead.
Emily thanked him, and held forth her hand for the books. He took it in his own.
She drew her hand away, almost by force, and retreated a step; his face terrified her.
'I sent Jessie off on purpose,' he continued. 'I knew you were here, and wanted to speak to you alone. Since I met you that day on the Heath, I have had no rest -- I've wanted so to see you again. The other morning at the Cartwrights' it was almost more than I could do to go away. I don't know what's come to me; I can't put you out of my thoughts for one minute; I can't give my attention to business, to anything. I meant to have gone away before now, but I've put it off, day after day; once or twice I've all but come to your house, to ask to see you----'
He spoke in a hurried, breathless way, almost with violence; passion was forcing the words from him, in spite of a shame which kept his face on fire. There was something boyish in the simplicity of his phrases; he seemed to be making a confession that was compelled by fear, and at length his speech lost itself in incoherence. He stood with his eyes fixed on the ground; perspiration covered his face.
Emily tried to break the intolerable silence. Her strength was answering now to the demand upon it; his utter abashment before her could not but help her to calmness. But the sound of her first word gave him voice again.
'Let me speak first,' he broke forth, now looking full at her. 'That's nothing of what I wanted to say; it sounds as if I wasn't man enough to know my own mind. I know it well enough, and I must say all I have to say, whilst you're here to listen to me. After all, you're only a girl; but if you'd come here straight from heaven, I couldn't find it harder to speak to you.'
'Mr. Dagworthy, don't speak like this -- don't say more -- I beg you not to! I cannot listen as you would wish me to.'
'You can't listen? But you don't know what I have to say still,' he urged, with hasty entreaty, his voice softer. 'I'm asking nothing yet; I only want you to know how you've made me feel towards you. No feeling will ever come to you like this that's come to me, but I want you to know of it, to try and understand what it means -- to try and think of me. I don't ask for yes or no, it wouldn't be reasonable; you haven't had to think of me in this way. But God knows how I shall live without you; it would be the cruelest word woman ever said if you refused even to give me a hope.'
'I cannot -- do hear me -- it is not in my power to give you hope.'
'Oh, you say that because you think you must, because I have come to you so suddenly; I have offended you by talking in this way when we scarcely know each other even as friends, and you have to keep me at a distance; I see it on your face. Do you think there is a danger that I should be less respectful to you than I ought? That's because you don't understand me. I've spoken in rough, hasty words, because to be near you takes all sense from me. Look, I'm quieter now. What I ought to have said at first is this. You're prejudiced against me; you've heard all sorts of tales; I know well enough what people say about me -- well, I want you to know me better. We'll leave all other feelings aside. We'll say I just wish you to think of me in a just way, a friendly way, nothing more. It's impossible for you to do more than that at first. No doubt even your father has told you that I have a hasty temper, which leads me to say and do things I'm soon sorry for. It's true enough, but that doesn't prove that I am a brute, and that I can't mend myself. You've heard things laid to my charge that are false -- about my doings in my own home -- you know what I mean. Get to know me better, and some day I'll tell you the whole truth. Now it's only this I ask of you -- be just to me. You're not a woman like these in Dunfield who talk and talk behind one's back; though I have seen so little of you, don't I know the difference between you and them? I'm ignorant enough, compared with you, but I can feel what it is that puts you above all other women. It must be that that makes me mad to gain a kind word from you. One word -- that you'll try to think of me; and I'll live on that as long as I can.'
The mere utterances help little to an understanding of the terrible force of entreaty he put into this speech. His face, his hands, the posture of his body, all joined in pleading. He had cast off all shamefacedness, and spoke as if his life depended on the answer she would return; the very lack of refinement in his tone, in his pronunciation of certain words, made his appeal the more pathetic. With the quickness of jealousy, he had guessed at the meaning there might lie in Emily's reluctance to hear him, but he dared not entertain the thought; it was his passionate instinct to plead it down. Whatever it might be that she had in mind, she must first hear him. As he spoke, he watched her features with the eagerness of desire, of fear; to do so was but to inflame his passion. It was an extraordinary struggle between the force of violent appetite and the constraint of love in the higher sense. How the former had been excited, it would be hard to explain. Wilfrid Athel had submitted to the same influence. Her beauty was of the kind which, leaving the ordinary man untouched, addressed itself with the strangest potency to an especially vehement nature here and there. Her mind, uttering itself in the simplest phrases, laid a spell upon certain other minds set apart and chosen. She could not speak but the soul of this rude mill-owner was exalted beyond his own intelligence.
Forced to wait the end of his speech, Emily stood with her head bowed in sadness. Fear had passed; she recognised the heart-breaking sincerity of his words, and compassionated him. When he became silent, she could not readily reply. He was speaking again, below his breath.
'You are thinking? I know how you can't help regarding me. Try only to feel for me.'
'There is only one way in which I can answer you,' she said; 'I owe it to you to hide nothing. I feel deeply the sincerity of all you have said, and be sure, Mr. Dagworthy, that I will never think of you unjustly or unkindly. But I can promise nothing more; I have already given my love.'
Her voice faltered before the last word, the word she would never lightly utter. But it must be spoken now; no paraphrase would confirm her earnestness sufficiently.
Still keeping her eyes on the ground, she knew that he had started.
'You have promised to marry some one?' he asked, as if it were necessary to have the fact affirmed in the plainest words before he could accept it.
She hoped that silence might be her answer.
'Have you? Do you mean that?'
She saw that he was turning away from her, and with an effort she looked at him. She wished she had not; his anguish expressed itself like an evil passion; his teeth were set with a cruel savageness. It was worse when he caught her look and tried to smile.
'Then I suppose that's -- that's the end,' he said, as if he would make an effort to joke upon it, though his voice all but failed in speaking the few words.
He walked a little apart, then approached her again.
'You don't say this just to put me off?' he asked, with a roughness which was rather the effect of his attempt to keep down emotion than intentional.
'I have told you the truth,' Emily replied firmly.
'Do other people know it? Do the Cartwrights?'
'You are the only one to whom I have spoken of it.'
'Except your father and mother, you mean?'
'They do not know.'
Though so troubled, she was yet able to ask herself whether his delicacy was sufficiently developed to enjoin silence. The man had made such strange revelation of himself, she felt unable to predict his course. No refinement in him would now have surprised her; but neither would any outbreak of boorishness. He seemed capable of both. His next question augured ill.
'Of course it is not any one in Dunfield?'
'It is not.'
Jealousy was torturing him. He was quite conscious that he should have refrained from a single question, yet he could no more keep these back than he could the utterance of his passion.
'May I leave you, Mr. Dagworthy?' Emily asked, seeing that he was not likely to quit her. She moved to take the books from the chair.
'One minute more. -- Will you tell me who it is? -- I am a brute to ask you, but -- if you---- Good God! How shall I bear this?'
He turned his back upon her; she saw him quiver. It was her impulse to walk from the garden, but she feared to pass him.
He faced her again. Yes, the man could suffer.
'Will you tell me who it is?' he groaned rather than spoke. 'You don't believe that I should speak of it? But I feel I could bear it better; I should know for certain it was no use hoping.'
Emily could not answer.
'It is some one in London?'
'Yes, Mr. Dagworthy, I cannot tell you more than that. Please do not ask more.'
'I won't. Of course your opinion of me is worse than ever. That doesn't matter much. -- If you could kill as easily as you can drive a man mad, I would ask you to still have pity on me. -- I'm forgetting: you want me to go first, so that you can lock up the garden. -- Good-bye!'
He did not offer his hand, but cast one look at her, a look Emily never forgot, and walked quickly away.
Emily could not start at once homewards. When it was certain that Dagworthy had left the garden, she seated herself; she had need of rest and of solitude to calm her thoughts. Her sensation was that of having escaped a danger, the dread of which thrilled in her. Though fear had been allayed for an interval, it regained its hold upon her towards the end of the dialogue; the passion she had witnessed was so rude, so undisciplined, it seemed to expose elementary forces, which, if need be, would set every constraint at defiance. It was no exaggeration to say that she did not feel safe in the man's presence. The possibility of such a feeling had made itself known to her even during the visit to his house; to find herself suddenly the object of his almost frenzied desire was to realize how justly her instinct had spoken. This was not love, as she understood it, but a terrible possession which might find assuagement in inflicting some fearful harm upon what it affected to hold dear. The Love of Emily's worship was a spirit of passionate benignity, of ecstatic calm, holy in renunciations, pure unutterably in supreme attainment. Her knowledge of life was insufficient to allow her to deal justly with love as exhibited in Dagworthy; its gross side was too offensively prominent; her experience gave her no power of rightly appreciating this struggle of the divine flame in a dense element. Living, and having ever lived, amid idealisms, she was too subjective in her interpretation of phenomena so new to her. It would have been easier for her to judge impartially had she witnessed this passion directed towards another; addressed to her, in the position she occupied, any phase of wooing would have been painful; vehemence was nothing less than abhorrent. Wholly ignorant of Dagworthy's inner life, and misled with regard to the mere facts of his outward behaviour, it was impossible that she should discern the most deeply significant features of the love he expressed so ill, impossible for her to understand that what would be brutality in another man was in him the working of the very means of grace, could circumstances have favoured their action. One tribute her instinct paid to the good which hid itself under so rude a guise; as she pondered over her fear, analysing it as scrupulously as she always did those feelings which she felt it behoved her to understand once for all, she half discovered in it an element which only severe self-judgment would allow; it seemed to her that the fear was, in an infinitesimal degree, of herself, that, under other conditions, she might have known what it was to respond to the love thus offered her. For she neither scorned nor loathed the man, notwithstanding her abhorrence of his passion as devoted to herself. She wished him well; she even found herself thinking over those women in Dunfield whom she knew, if perchance one of them might seem fitted to make his happiness. None the less, it was terrible to reflect that she must live, perhaps for a long time, so near to him, ever exposed to the risk of chance meetings, if not to the danger of a surprise such as to-day's for she could not assure herself that he would hold her answer final. One precaution she must certainly take; henceforth she would never come to the garden save in Jessie's company. She wondered how Dagworthy had known of her presence here, and it occurred to her to doubt of Jessie; could the latter have aided in bringing about this interview? Dagworthy, confessing his own manoeuvre, would naturally conceal any conscious part in it that Jessie might have taken.
Her spirits suffered depression as she communed thus with herself; all the drearier aspects of her present life were emphasised; she longed, longed with aching of the heart for the day which should set her free for ever from these fears and sorrows. Another secret would henceforth trouble her. Would that it might remain a secret! If Jessie indeed knew of this morning's events, there was small likelihood that it would remain unknown to others; then the whole truth must be revealed. Would it not be better to anticipate any such discovery, to tell her father this very day what had happened and why it was so painful to her? Yet to speak of Dagworthy might make her father uneasy in his position at the mill -- would inevitably do so. Therein lay a new dread. Was Dagworthy capable of taking revenge upon her father? Oh surely, surely not! -- The words passed her lips involuntarily. She would not, she could not, believe so ill of him; had he not implored her to do him justice? . . .
When Mr. Hood returned from business on the following day, he brought news that Dagworthy had at last gone for his holiday. It was time, he said; Dagworthy was not looking himself; at the mill they had been in mortal fear of one of his outbreaks.
'Did he speak harshly to you, father?' Emily was driven to ask, with very slight emphasis on the 'you.'
'Fortunately,' was the reply, with the sad abortive laugh which was Mr. Hood's nearest approach to mirth, 'fortunately he left me alone, and spoke neither well nor ill. He didn't look angry, I thought, so much as put out about something.'
Emily was relieved from one fear at least, and felt grateful to Dagworthy. Moreover, by observation, she had concluded that Jessie could not possibly be aware of what had taken place in the garden. And now Dagworthy was likely to be away for three weeks. Her heart was lighter again.
Dagworthy was absent not quite a fortnight, and he returned looking anything but the better for his holiday. The wholesome colour of his cheeks had changed almost to sallowness those who met him in Dunfield looked at him with surprise and asked what illness he had been suffering. At the mill, they did not welcome his re-appearance; his temper was worse than it had been since the ever-memorable week which witnessed his prosecution for assault and battery. At home, the servants did their best to keep out of his way, warned by Mrs. Jenkins. She, good woman, had been rash enough to bring the child into the dining-room whilst Dagworthy was refreshing himself with a biscuit and a glass of wine upon his arrival; in a minute or two she retreated in high wrath.
'Let him dom me, if he loikes,' she went away exclaiming; 'ah'm ovver auld to care much abaht such fond tantrums; but when he gets agaate o' dommin his awn barn, it fair maaks my teeth dither ageean. The lad's aht on his 'eead.'
That was seven o'clock in the evening. He dined an hour later, and when it was dark left the house. Between then and midnight he was constantly in and out, and Mrs. Jenkins, who was kept up by her fears that 't' master' was seriously unwell, made at length another attempt to face him. She knocked at the door of the sitting-room, having heard him enter a minute or two before; no answer was vouchsafed, so she made bold to open the door. Dagworthy was sitting with his head upon the table, his arms stretched out; he appeared to be asleep.
'Mr. Richard!' she said softly. 'Mr. Richard!'
He looked up. 'Well? What is it?'
'Yo' scahr'd me; ah thowt summat 'ad come to yo'. What's wrong wi' yo', Mr. Richard? You look as if you could hardly he'd your heead up.'
To her surprise he spoke quite calmly.
'Yes, I've got a bit of a headache. Get me some hot water, will you? I'll have some brandy and go to bed.'
She began to advise other remedies, but Dagworthy speedily checked her.
'Get me some hot water, I tell you, and go to bed yourself. What are you doing up at this hour?'
He went to business at the usual time next morning, and it seemed as if the worst had blown over; at home he was sullen, but not violent.
The third day after his return, on entering his office at the mill, he found Hood taking down one of a row of old ledgers which stood there upon a shelf.
'What are you doing?' he asked abruptly, at the same time turning his back upon the clerk.
Hood explained that he was under the necessity of searching through the accounts for several years, to throw light upon a certain transaction which was giving trouble.
'All right,' was the reply, as Dagworthy took his keys out to open his desk.
A quarter of an hour later, he entered the room where Hood was busy over the ledger. A second clerk was seated there, and him Dagworthy summoned to the office, where he had need of him. Presently Hood came to replace the ledger he had examined, and took away the succeeding volume. A few minutes later Dagworthy said to the clerk who sat with him --
'I shall have to go away for an hour or so. I'm expecting a telegram from Legge Brothers; if it doesn't come before twelve o'clock, you or Hood must go to Hebsworth. It had better be Hood; you finish what you're at. If there's no telegram, he must take the twelve-thirteen, and give this note here to Mr. Andrew Legge; there'll be an answer. Mind you see to this.'
At the moment when Dagworthy's tread sounded on the stairs, Mr. Hood was on the point of making a singular discovery. In turning a page of the ledger, he came upon an envelope, old and yellow, which had evidently been shut up in the hook for several years; it was without address and unsealed. He was going to lay it aside, when his fingers told him that it contained something; the enclosure proved to be a ten-pound note, also old and patched together in the manner of notes that have been sent half at a time.
'Now I wonder how that got left there?' Hood mused. 'There's been rare searching for that, I'll be bound. Here's something to put our friend into a better temper.'
He turned the note over once or twice, tried in vain to decipher a scribbled endorsement, then restored it to the envelope. With the letter in his hand, he went to the office.
'Mr. Dagworthy out?' he asked of his fellow-clerk on looking round.
The clerk was a facetious youth. He rose from his seat, seized a ruler, and began a species of sword-play about Hood's head, keeping up a grotesque dance the while. Hood bore it with his wonted patience, smiling faintly.
'Mr. Dagworthy out?' he repeated, as soon as he was free from apprehension of a chance crack on the crown.
'He is, my boy. And what's more, there's a chance of your having a spree in Hebsworth. Go down on your knees and pray that no telegram from Foot Brothers -- I mean, Legge -- arrives during the next five-and-twenty minutes.'
'If not, you're to takee this notee to Brother Andrew Leggee, -- comprenez? The boss was going to send me, but he altered his mind, worse luck.'
'Twelve-thirteen?' asked Hood.
'Yes. And now if you're in the mind, I'll box you for half a dollar -- what say?'
He squared himself in pugilistic attitude, and found amusement in delivering terrific blows which just stopped short of Hood's prominent features. The latter beat a retreat.
Twelve o'clock struck, and no telegram had arrived; neither had Dagworthy returned to the mill. Hood was indisposed to leave the envelope to be given by other hands; he might as well have the advantage of such pleasure as the discovery would no doubt excite. So he put it safely in his pocket-book, and hastened to catch the train, taking with him the paper of sandwiches which represented his dinner. These he would eat on the way to Hebsworth.
It was a journey of ten miles, lying at first over green fields, with a colliery vomiting blackness here and there, then through a region of blight and squalor, finally over acres of smoke-fouled streets, amid the roar of machinery; a journey that would have crushed the heart in one fresh from the breath of heaven on sunny pastures. It was a slow train, and there were half a dozen stoppages. Hood began to eat his sandwiches at a point where the train was delayed for a few minutes by an adverse signal; a coal-pit was close by, and the smoke from the chimney blew in at the carriage windows, giving a special flavour to the bread and meat. There was a drunken soldier in the same compartment, who was being baited by a couple of cattle-drovers with racy vernacular not to be rendered by the pen. Hood munched his smoky sandwich, and with his sad eyes watched the great wheel of the colliery revolve, and the trucks rise and descend. The train moved on again. The banter between the other three passengers was taking an angry turn; to escape the foul language as far as possible, Hood kept his head at the window. Of a sudden the drunken soldier was pushed against him, and before he could raise his hands, his hat had flown off on the breeze.
He turned round with angry remonstrance. The soldier had fallen back on to the seat, and was grinning inanely; the drovers were enjoying the joke beyond measure.
'Theer, lad!' one of them cried. 'Tha's doon it nah! Tha'll a' to buy him a new 'at for his 'eead, soon as we get i'to Hebs'orth.'
''Appen he's got no brass,' suggested the other, guffawing.
It was the case; the soldier had a copper or two at most. The drovers of course held themselves free of responsibility. Hood felt in his own pocket; but he was well aware that a shilling and three-halfpence was all he carried with him -- save the bank-note in his pocket-book. Yet it was impossible to go through Hebsworth with uncovered head, or to present himself hatless at the office of Legge Brothers. Already the train was slackening speed to enter the station. Would any hatter trust him, on his representing whence he came? He feared not. Not the least part of his trouble was the thought of having to buy a new hat at all; such an expense was ill to be borne just now. Of course -- he said to himself, with dreary fatalism -- a mishap is sure to come at the worst time. It was the experience of his life.
Hood was a shy man; it was misery to have attention drawn to himself as it naturally would be as soon as he stepped out on to the platform. But there was no help; with a last angry look at the drunken soldier, he nerved himself to face the ordeal. As he walked hurriedly out of the crowd, the cry 'Cab, sir?' fell upon his ears. Impossible to say how he brought himself to such a pitch of recklessness, but in a moment he was seated in a hansom, having bidden the driver take him to the nearest hatter's. The agony of embarrassment has driven shy men to strange audacities, but who ever dared more than this? He would be compelled to change the note!
Whatever might be the cause, whether it was the sudden sense of refuge from observation, or the long unknown pleasure of riding in a cab, as he sped along the streets he grew almost merry; at length he positively laughed at the adventure which had befallen him. It mattered nothing whether he gave Dagworthy the money in a note or in change, and, on being told the story, his employer might even feel disposed to pay for the hat. He would pay for the hat! By the time the cab drew up, Hood had convinced himself of this. He was in better spirits than he had been for many a day.
'Can you change me a ten-pound note?' were his first words to the hatter. 'If you can't, I must go elsewhere; I have nothing smaller.'
The salesman hesitated.
'You want a silk hat?'
'Yes, but not an expensive one.'
A pen was brought, and Hood was requested to endorse the note. What security -- under the circumstances -- such a proceeding could give, the hatter best knew; he appeared satisfied, and counted out his sovereigns. Hood paid the cabman, and walked off briskly towards the office of Legge Brothers.
He stopped in the middle of the pavement as if a shot had struck him. Supposing Dagworthy had no recollection of a ten-pound note having been lost, nor of any note having been lost; and supposing it occurred to him that he, Hood, had in reality found a larger sum, had invented the story of the lost hat, and was returning a portion only of his discovery, to gain the credit of honesty? Such an idea could only possess the brain of a man whose life had been a struggle amid the chicaneries and despicabilities of commerce; who knew that a man's word was never trusted where there could enter the slightest suspicion of an advantage to himself in lying; whose daily terror had been lest some error, some luckless chance, should put him within the nets of criminality. It is the deepest curse of such a life as his that it directs the imagination in channels of meanness, and preoccupies the thought with sordid fears. What would it avail him, in the present instance, to call the shopman to witness? The note, ten to one, would be paid away, and here also a man's word was worth nothing. But Dagworthy might merely think such an accusation: ay, that would be the worst. To lie henceforth under suspicion of dishonesty: that meant, to lose his place before long, on some pretence.
And he felt that, in spite of absolute sincerity, he could not stand before Dagworthy and tell his tale with the face and voice of an honest man, -- felt it with a horrible certainty. In a man of Hood's character, this state of mind was perfectly natural. Not only was he weakly constructed, but his incessant ill-fortune had done him that last wrong which social hardship can inflict upon the individual, it, had undermined his self-respect. Having been so often treated like a dog, he had come to expect such treatment, and, what was worse, but feebly to resent it. He had lost the conscious dignity of manhood; nay, had perhaps never possessed it, for his battle had begun at so early an age. The sense that he was wretchedly poor, and the knowledge that poverty is the mother of degradation, made him at any moment a self-convicted criminal; accused, however wrongly, it was inevitable that his face should be against him. To go to Dagworthy with sovereigns in his hand, and this story upon his lips, would be to invite suspicion by every strongest sign of guilt.
I am representing the poor fellow's thoughts and feelings. Whether or not Dagworthy would really entertain such a suspicion is quite another matter. For the first time in his life, Hood had used for his own purposes money which did not belong to him; he did it under the pressure of circumstances, and had not time to reflect till the act was irrevocable. Then this horror came upon him. Forgetting his errand, he drew aside into a quieter street, and struggled with his anguish. Do you laugh at him for his imbecility? Try first to understand him.
But his business must be performed; with trembling limbs he hurried onwards, and at length reached the office of Legge Brothers. The member of the firm to whom the note which he bore was addressed had but a few minutes ago left the place; he would return within an hour. How could the time be spent? He began to wander aimlessly about the streets. In passing a spot where scaffolding was erected before new buildings, the wish entered his mind that something might fall and crush him. He thought of such an end as a blessed relief.
A hand was laid upon his shoulder, and at the touch his heart leaped as though it would burst his side. He turned and, with starting eyes, glared at the man before him, a perfect stranger, he thought.
'Is it? Or isn't it? Hood, or his ghost?'
The man who spoke was of the shabbiest appearance, wearing an almost napless high hat, a coloured linen shirt which should have been at the laundress's, no neck-tie, a frock-coat with only one button, low shoes terribly down at heel; for all that, the most jovial-looking man, red-nosed, laughing. At length Hood was capable of recognising him.
'Cheeseman! Well, who on earth would have expected to meet you!'
'I've followed you half along the street; couldn't be sure. Afraid I startled you at last, old friend.'
They had known each other as young men, and it was now ten years at least since they had met. They were companions in ill-hap, the difference between them being that Cheeseman bore the buffets of the world with imperturbable good humour; but then he had neither wife nor child, kith nor kin. He had tried his luck in all parts of England and in several other countries; casual wards had known him, and he had gained a supper by fiddling in the streets. Many a beginning had he made, but none led to anything; he seemed, in truth, to enjoy a haphazard existence. If Cheeseman had possessed literary skill, the story of his life from his own hand would have been invaluable; it is a misfortune that the men who are richest in 'material' are those who would never dream of using it.
They were passing a public-house; Cheeseman caught his friend by the arm and, in spite of resistance, drew him in.
'Two threes of gin hot,' was his order. 'The old drink, Hood, my boy; the drink that has saved me from despair a thousand times. How many times have you and I kept up each other's pecker over a three of gin! You don't look well; you've wanted old Cheeseman to cheer you up. Things bad? Why, damn it, of course things are bad; when were they anything else with you and me, eh? Your wife, how is she? Remember me to her, will you? She never took to me, but never mind that. And the little girl? How's the little girl? Alive and well, please God?'
'Rather more than a little girl now,' returned Hood. 'And doing well, I'm glad to say. She's a governess; has an excellent place in London.'
'You don't say so? I never was so glad to hear anything in my life! Ah, but Hood, you're leaving me behind, old friend; with the little girl doing so well you can't call yourself a poor devil; you can't, upon my soul! I ought to have married; yes, I should ha' married long ago; it 'ud a' been the making of me. It's the sole speculation, I do believe, that I haven't tried. Ah, but I've got something before me now! What say you to a patent fire-escape that any man can carry round his waist? Upon my soul, I've got it! I'm going to London about it as soon as I can get my fare; and that I shall have to-morrow, please God.'
'What brings you to Hebsworth?'
'I don't care much to talk about it in a public place,' replied Cheeseman, with caution which contrasted comically with his loud tone hitherto. 'Only a little matter, but---- Well, we'll say nothing about it; I may communicate with you some day. And you? Do you live here?'
Hood gave an account of his position. Under the influence of the glass of spirits, and of the real pleasure it gave him to see one of the very few men he had ever called friend, he had cast aside his cares for the moment. They went forth presently from the bar, and, after a few paces, Cheeseman took his friend by the coat collar and drew him aside, as if to impart a matter of consequence.
'Two threes of gin!' he said, with a roll of the eye which gave his face a singularly humorous expression. 'That's sixpence. A tanner, Hood, was the last coin I possessed. It was to have purchased dinner, a beefsteak pudding, with cabbage and potatoes; but what o' that? When you and I meet, we drink to old times; there's no getting out of that.'
Hood laughed, for once in a really natural way. His usual abstemiousness made the gin potent.
'Why,' he said, 'I confess to feeling hungry myself; I've only had a sandwich. Come along; we'll have dinner together.'
'You mean it, old friend?' cried the other, with irrepressible delight.
'Of course I mean it. You don't think I'll let you spend your last coin, and send you off dinnerless? Things are bad, but not quite as bad as that. I'm as hungry as a hunter; where is there an eating-house?'
They found one at a little distance.
'It must be beefsteak pudding, Hood,' whispered Cheeseman, as they entered. 'I've set my heart on that. Whatever else you like, but a beefsteak pudding to start with.'
The article was procurable, smoking, juicy. Cheeseman made an incision, then laid down his knife and gloated over his plate.
'Hood,' he said, with much solemnity, 'you've done me many a kindness, old friend, but this caps all. I'm bound to you for life and death. I should have wandered about these streets a starving man.'
The other laughed still; he had a fit of laughter on him; he had not laughed so since he was young.
'Stout-and-mild is my drink, Hood,' remarked Cheeseman, suggestively. 'It has body, and I need the support.'
They each had a pint, served in the native pewter. When Cheeseman had taken a deep draught he leaned forward across the table.
'Hood, I don't forget it; never you believe that I forget it, however appearances may be against me?'
'Forget what? -- give me the mustard, as soon as you can spare it; ha, ha!'
'That ten-pound note!'
Hood dropped his knife and fork.
'What on earth's up? You look just like you did when I clapped you o' the shoulder. Your nerves are out of order, old friend.'
'Why, so they are. I know now what you mean; I couldn't for the life of me think what you were talking about.'
'Don't think I forget it,' pursued the other, after a mouthful.
'It's twelve years last Easter since you lent me that ten-pound note, and it's been on my conscience ever since. But I shall repay it; never you fear but I'll repay it. Did I mention a fire-escape that any man can wear round his waist? Hush! wait a month or two. Let me make a note of your address whilst I think of it. This pudding's hot, but it's a fault on the right side, and time 'll mend it. You wouldn't mind, I daresay, being my agent for Dunfield -- for the fire-escape, you know? I'll communicate with you, don't fear.'
A hot meal in the middle of the day was a luxury long unknown to Hood. Now and again the thought of what he was doing flashed across him, but mere bodily solace made his conscience dull. As the meal proceeded he even began to justify himself. Was he never to know an hour's enjoyment? Was his life to be unbroken hardship? What if he had borrowed a few shillings without leave; somehow difficulties would be got over; why, at the very worst, Emily would gladly lend him a pound. He began to talk of Emily, to praise her, to wax warm in the recounting of her goodness, her affection. What man living had so clever and so loving a daughter!
'It's what I said, Hood,' put in Cheeseman, with a shake of the head. 'You've left me behind. You've got into smooth water. The old partnership of ill-luck is broken up. Well, well! I ought to have married. It's been my one mistake in life.'
'Why, it's none too late yet,' cried Hood, merrily.
'None too late! Powers defend us! What have I got to marry on?'
'But the fire-escape?'
'Yes, yes, to be sure; the fire-escape! Well, we'll see; wait till things are set going. Perhaps you're right; perhaps it isn't too late. And, Hood----'
'You couldn't manage one single half-crown piece, could you? To be sure there's always an archway to be found, when night comes on, but I can't pretend to like it. I always try to manage a bed at least once a week -- no, no, not if there's the least difficulty. Times are hard, I know. I'd rather say not another word about it.'
'Nonsense; take the half-crown and have done with it, Why, you've cheered me up many a half-crownsworth; I feel better than I did. Don't I look it? I feel as if I'd some warmth in my body. What say you, Cheeseman? One half-pint more?'
'Come, come, old friend; that's speaking feelingly. You shouldn't try me in that way, you know. I shouldn't like to suggest a pint, with a scrap of cheese. Eh? No, no; follow your own counsel, boy; half a pint be it.'
But the suggestion was accepted. Then at length it occurred to Hood that time must be wearing away; he spoke of the obligation he was under to finish his business and return to Dunfield as soon as possible. Cheeseman declared himself the last man to stand in the way of business. They left the eating-house and walked together part of the way to the office of Legge Brothers.
'Old friend, I'm grateful to you,' said Cheeseman, when at length they parted. 'I've got your address, and you shall hear from me; I've a notion it won't be so long before we meet again. In any case it's another day to look back upon; I little thought of it when I spent twopence-halfpenny on my breakfast this morning and left sixpence for dinner. It's a rum world, eh, Hood? Good-bye, and God bless you!'
Hood hurried on to the office, received his reply, and proceeded to the station. He had more than half an hour to wait for a train. He took a seat in the waiting-room, and began to examine the money in his pocket, to ascertain exactly the sum he would have to replace. The deficit amounted to a little less than eighteen shillings. After all, it was very unlikely that Dagworthy would offer to bear the expense of the lost hat. Say that a pound had to be restored.
He was in the comfortable mood, following upon unusual indulgence of the appetite, in which the mind handles in a free and easy way the thoughts it is wont to entertain with unquestionable gravity; when it has, as it were, a slippery hold on the facts of life, and constructs a subjective world of genial accommodations. A pound to restore; on the other hand, nine pounds in pocket. The sight of the sovereigns was working upon his imagination, already touched to a warmer life than was its habit. Nine pounds would go a long way towards solving the financial difficulties of the year; it would considerably more than replace the lacking rent of the house in Barnhill; would replace it, and pay as well the increased rent of the house at Banbrigg for twelve months to come. Looked at in this way, the money became a great temptation.
His wife -- how explain to her such a windfall? For it was of course impossible to use it secretly. There was a way, seemingly of fate's providing. If only he could bring himself to the lie direct and shameless.
After all, a lie that would injure no mortal. As far as Dagworthy was concerned, the money had long since become the property of nobody; Dagworthy did not even know that this sum existed; if ever missed, it must have been put out of mind long ago. And very possibly it had never belonged to Dagworthy; some cashier or other clerk might just as well have lost it. Hood played with these speculations. He did not put to himself the plain alternative: Shall I keep the money, or shall I give it up? He merely let a series of reflections pass over his mind, as he lay back on the cushioned seat, experiencing an agreeable drowsiness. At the moment of finding the note, he would have handed it over to his employer without a thought; it would perhaps not even have occurred to him to regret that it was not his own. But during the last three hours a singular chain of circumstances had led to this result: it was just as possible as not that Hood would keep the coins in his pocket and say nothing about them.
It was time to go to the train. Almost with the first moving of the carriages he fell into a doze. A sense of mental uneasiness roused him now and then, but only for a few moments together; he slumbered on till Dunfield was reached.
At the entrance to the mill he was in fierce conflict with himself. As is usually the case in like circumstances, the sleepy journey had resulted in bodily uneasiness; he had a slight headache, was thirsty, felt indisposed to return to work. When he had all but crossed the threshold, he turned sharply back, and entered a little public-house a few yards away; an extraordinary thing for him to do, but he felt that a small glass of spirits would help him to quieter nerves, or at all events would sustain his unusual exhilaration till the interview with Dagworthy was over. At the very door of the office he had not decided whether it should be silence or restitution.
'That you, Hood?' Dagworthy asked, looking up from a letter he was writing. 'Been rather a long time, haven't you?'
The tone was unusually indulgent. Hood felt an accession of confidence; he explained naturally the cause of his delay.
'All right,' was the reply, as Dagworthy took the note which his correspondent had sent.
Hood was in his own room, and -- the money was still in his pocket. . . .
He did not set out to walk home with his usual cheerfulness that evening. His headache had grown worse, and he wished, wished at every step he took, that the lie he had to tell to his wife was over and done with. There was no repentance of the decision which, it seemed on looking back, he had arrived at involuntarily. The coin which made his pocket heavy meant joy to those at home, and, if he got it wrongfully, the wrong was so dubious, so shadowy, that it vanished in comparison with the good that would be done. It was not -- he said to himself -- as if he had committed a theft to dissipate the proceeds, like that young fellow who ran away from the Dunfield and County Bank some months ago, and was caught in London with disreputable associates. Here was a ten-pound note lying, one might say, by the very roadside, and it would save a family from privation. Abstractly, it was wrong; yes, it was wrong; but would abstract right feed him and pay his rent for the year to come? Hood had reached this stage in his self-examination; he strengthened himself by protest against the order of things. His headache nursed the tendency to an active discontent, to which, as a rule, his temperament did not lend itself.
But there remained the telling of the lie. How he wished that Emily were not at home! To lie before Emily, that was the hardest part of his self-imposed task. He could not respect his wife, but before Emily, since her earliest companionship with him, he had watched his words scrupulously; as a little girl she had so impressed him with the purity of her heart that his love for her had been the nearest approach he ever knew to the spirit of worship; and since her attainment of mental and moral independence, his reverence for' her had not been unmixed with awe. When her eyes met his, he felt the presence of a nature indefinitely nobler than his own; not seldom he marvelled in his dim way that such a one called him father. Could he ever after this day approach her with the old confidence? Nay, he feared her. His belief in her insight was almost a superstition. Would she not read the falsehood upon his face?
Strange state of mind; at one and the same time he wished that he had thought of Emily sooner, and was glad that he had not. That weight in his pocket was after all a joyous one, and to have been conscious of Emily as he now was, might -- would -- have made him by so much a poorer man.
She, as usual, was at the door to meet him, her face even ladder than its wont, for this morning there had been at the post-office a letter from Switzerland. How she loved that old name of Helvetia, printed on the stamps! Wilfrid wrote with ever fuller assurance that his father's mind was growing well-disposed, and Emily knew that he would not tell her other than the honest truth. For Wilfrid's scrupulous honesty she would have vouched as -- for her father's.
'You look dreadfully worn out,' she said, as Hood bent his head in entering.
'I am, dear. I have been to Hebsworth, among other things.'
'Then I hope you had dinner there?'
'I should think I had!'
It was one of Mrs. Hood's bad days; she refused to leave the kitchen. Emily had tried to cheer her during the afternoon, but in vain. There had been a misunderstanding with the next-door neighbour, that lady having expressed herself rather decidedly with regard to an incursion made into her premises by the Hoods' cat.
'She speaks to me as if I was a mere working-woman,' Mrs. Hood exclaimed, when Emily endeavoured to soothe her. 'Well, and what else am I, indeed? There was a time when no one would have ventured to speak so.'
'Mother, how can you be troubled by what such a woman says?'
'Yes, I know I am in the wrong, Emily; you always make me see that.'
So Emily had retreated to the upper room, and Mrs. Hood, resenting neglect more even than contradiction, was resolved to sit in the kitchen till bedtime.
Hood was glad when he heard of this.
'If you'll pour out my tea, Emily,' he said in an undertone, 'I'll go and speak to mother for a few moments. I have news that will please her.'
He went into the kitchen and, in silence, began to count sovereigns down upon the table, just behind his wife, who sat over some sewing and had not yet spoken. At the ring of each coin his heart throbbed painfully. He fully realised, for the first time, what he had done.
At the ring of the fifth sovereign Mrs. Hood turned her head.
'What's that?' she asked snappishly.
He went on counting till the nine were displayed.
'What is it?' she repeated. 'Why do you fidget me so?'
'You'd never guess,' Hood answered, laughing hoarsely. 'I had to go to Hebsworth to-day, and who ever do you think I met there? Why, old Cheeseman.'
'And he -- no, I'll never believe he paid his debt!' said his wife, with bitter congratulation. For years the name of Cheeseman had been gall upon her tongue; even now she had not entirely ceased to allude to him, when she wished to throw especial force of sarcasm into a reminiscence of her earlier days. A woman's powers in the direction of envenomed memory are terrible.
'You have said it,' was Hood's reply under his breath. 'It was providential. What did I do, but go and lose my hat out of the window of the train -- had it knocked off by a drunken fellow, in fact. But for this money I should have gone about Hebsworth bareheaded, and come home so, too.'
'A new hat! There's a pretty penny gone! Well, it's too much to hope that any good luck should come without bad at the same time.'
'Well, now you won't fret so much about the rent, Jane?'
He laid his hand upon her shoulder. It was a movement of tenderness such as had not come to him for years; he felt the need of sympathy; he could have begged her to give him a kind look. But she had resumed her sewing; her fingers were not quite steady, that was all.
He left the money on the table and went to Emily in the sitting-room. She was sitting at the table waiting for him with her kindly eyes.
'And what has the wise woman been doing all day?' he asked, trying in vain to overcome that terrible fluttering at his side which caught his breath and made him feel weak.
They talked for some minutes, then footsteps were heard approaching from the kitchen. Mrs. Hood entered with her sewing -- she always took the very coarsest for such days as this -- and sat at a little distance from the table. As the conversation had nothing to do with Cheeseman's debt, she grew impatient.
'Have you told Emily?' she asked.
'No, I haven't. You shall do that.'
Hood tried to eat the while; the morsels became like sawdust in his mouth, and all but choked him. He tried to laugh; the silence which followed his effort was ghastly to him.
'You see, it never does to believe too ill of a man,' he said, when he found Emily's look upon him.
Mrs. Hood grew mere at her ease, and, to his relief, began to talk freely. Emily tortured him by observing that he had no appetite. He excused himself by telling of his dinner in Hebsworth, and, as soon as possible, left the table. He went upstairs and hoped to find solitude for a time in the garret.
Emily joined him, however, before long. At her entrance he caught up the first bottle his hand fell upon, and seemed to be examining it.
'What is that?' Emily asked, noticing his intentness, which in reality had no meaning.
'This? Oh, cyanide of potassium. I was looking -- no, it's nothing. Will you read me something for half an hour, Emily?'
By this means he would avoid talking, and he knew that the girl was always delighted by the request. She generally read poetry of a kind she thought might touch him, longing to establish more of intellectual sympathy between him and herself. So she did to-night. Hood scarcely followed after the first line; he became lost in feverish brooding. When she laid the volume down, he looked up and held out his hand to her. She, at all events, would not disregard his caress; indeed, Emily took the hand and kissed it.
Then began one of the more intimate conversations which sometimes took place between them. Emily was driven now and then to endeavour to make clear to him her inner life, to speak of her ideals, her intellectual convictions. He listened always with an air of deep humility, very touching in a parent before a child. Her meaning was often dark to his sight, but he strove hard to comprehend, and every word she uttered had for him a gospel sanction. To-night his thoughts strayed; her voice was nothing but the reproach of his own soul; the high or tender words were but an emphasis of condemnation, reiterated, pitiless. She was speaking thus out of her noble heart to him -- him, the miserable hypocrite; he pretended to listen and to approve. His being was a loathed burden.
If she had spoken thus last night, surely her voice would have dwelt with him through the hour of temptation. Oh, could it not be morning again, and the day yet to live? The clock below wheezed out nine strokes as if in answer.
Dagworthy in these days could scarcely be deemed a man, with humanity's plenitude of interacting motives, of contrasting impulses, of varying affections. He was become one passion, a personified appetite. He went through his routine, at the mill and elsewhere, in a mechanical way; all the time his instincts and habits subjugated themselves to the frenzy which chafed at the centres of his life. In his face you saw the monomaniac. His eyes were bloodshot; his lips had a parched yellowness of tone; his skin seemed dry and burning. Through the day he talked, gave orders, wrote letters, and, by mere force of lifelong habit, much in his usual way; at night he wandered about the Heath, now at a great pace, driven by his passions, now loitering, stumbling. Between dark and dawn he was fifty times in front of the Hoods' house; he watched the extinguishing of the lights in window after window, and, when all were gone, made away with curses on his lips, only to return an hour later, to torture himself with conjecture which room might be Emily's. His sufferings were unutterable. What devil -- he groaned -- had sent upon him this torment? He wished he were as in former days, when the indifference he felt towards his wife's undeniable beauty had, as it seemed, involved all womankind. In those times he could not have conceived a madness such as this. How had it arisen? Was it a physical illness? Was it madness in truth, or the beginning of it? Why had it not taken him four months ago, when he met this girl at the Baxendales'? But he remembered that even then she had attracted him strangely; he had quitted the others to talk to her. He must have been prepared to conceive this frantic passion on coming together with her again.
Love alone, so felt and so frustrated, would have been bad enough; it was the added pang of jealousy that made it a fierce agony. It was well that the man she had chosen was not within his reach; his mood was that of a murderer. The very heat and vigour of his physical frame, the native violence of his temper, disposed him to brute fury, if an instinct such as this once became acute; and the imaginative energy which lurked in him, a sort of undeveloped genius, was another source of suffering beyond that which ordinary men endure. He was a fine creature in these hours, colossal, tragic; it needed this experience to bring out all there was of great and exceptional in his character. He was not of those who can quit the scene of their fruitless misery and find forgetfulness at a distance. Every searing stroke drove him more desperately in pursuit of his end. He was further from abandoning it, now that he knew another stood in his way, than he would have been if Emily had merely rejected him. He would not yield her to another man; he swore to himself that he would not, let it cost him and her what it might.
He had seen her again, with his glass, from the windows of the mill, had scarcely moved his eyes from her for an hour. A hope came to him that she might by chance walk at evening on the Heath, but he was disappointed; Emily, indeed, had long shunned walks in that direction. He had no other means of meeting her, yet he anguished for a moment's glimpse of her face.
To-day he knew a cruel assuagement of his torture. He had returned from his short absence with a resolve to risk an attempt which was only not entirely base by virtue of the passion which inspired it, and it appeared to him that his stratagem had succeeded. Scruples he had indeed known, but not at all of the weight they would have possessed for most men, and this not only because of his reckless determination to win by any means; his birth and breeding enabled him to accept meanness as almost a virtue in many of the relations and transactions of life. The trickery and low cunning of the mercantile world was in his blood; it would come out when great occasion saw use for it, even in the service of love. He believed it was leading him to success. Certainly the first result that he aimed at was assured, and he could not imagine a subsequent obstacle. He would not have admitted that he was wronging the man whom he made his tool; if honesty failed under temptation it was honesty's own look-out. Ten to one he himself would have fallen into such a trap, in similar circumstances; he was quite free from pharisaical prejudice; had he not reckoned on mere human nature in devising his plan? Nor would the result be cruel, for he had it in his power to repay a hundredfold all temporary pain. There were no limits to the kindness he was capable of, when once he had Emily for his wife; she and hers should be overwhelmed with the fruits of his devotion. It was to no gross or commonplace future that the mill-owner looked forward. There were things in him of which he was beginning to be conscious, which would lead him he could not yet see whither. Dunfield was no home for Emily; he knew it, and felt that he, too, would henceforth have need of a larger circle of life. He was rich enough, and by transferring his business to other hands he could become yet richer, gaining freedom at the same time. No disappointment would be in store for him as in his former marriage; looking back on that he saw now how boyish he had been, how easily duped. There was not even the excuse of love.
He held her gained. What choice would she have, with the alternative to be put before her? It was strange that, in spite of what should have been sympathetic intelligence, he made a slight account of that love which, as she told him, she had already bestowed. In fact, he refused to dwell upon the thought of it; it would have maddened him in earnest. Who could say? It was very possible she had told him a falsehood; it was quite allowable in any woman, to escape from a difficult position. In his heart he did not believe this, knowing her better, though his practical knowledge of her was so slight; but it was one of the devices by which he mitigated his suffering now and then. If the engagement existed, it was probably one of those which contemplated years of waiting, otherwise why should she have kept silence about it at home? In any case he held her; how could she escape him? He did not fear appeals to his compassion; against such assaults he was well armed. Emily pleading at his feet would not be a picture likely to induce him to relax his purpose. She could not take to flight, the very terms of his control restrained her. There might be flaws in his case, legally speaking, but the Hoods were in no position to profit by these, seeing that, in order to do so, they must begin by facing ruin. Emily was assuredly his.
To-day was Friday. He knew, from talk with the Cartwrights, that Jessie's lessons were on alternate days, and as he had seen the two in the garden this morning, there would be no lesson on the morrow. It was not easy to devise a plot for a private interview with Emily, yet he must see her tomorrow, and of course alone. A few words with her would suffice. To call upon her at the house would be only his last resource. He felt assured that she had not spoken to her parents of the scene in the garden; several reasons supported this belief, especially the reflection that Emily would desire to spare her father the anxieties of a difficult position. Taking this for granted, his relations with her must still be kept secret in order to avoid risking his impunity in the tactics he counted upon. His hope was that she would leave the house alone in the course of the morning.
It has been mentioned that a railway bridge crossed the road a short distance beyond the Hoods' house. On the embankment beyond this bridge, twenty or thirty yards from the road, was a cluster of small trees and shrubs, railed in from the grass which elsewhere grew upon the slope, and from the field at its foot. Here, just hidden behind a hawthorn bush and a climbing bramble, Dagworthy placed himself shortly before eight o'clock on Saturday morning, having approached the spot by a long circuit of trespass; from this position he had a complete view of the house he wished to watch. He came thus early because he thought it possible that Emily accompanied her father on his morning's walk into Dunfield; in which case he would follow at a distance, and find his opportunity as the girl returned. There had been rain in the night, and his passage through the bushes covered him with moisture; the thick grass, too, in which he stood, was so wet that before long his feet grew damp and cold. He was little mindful of bodily discomfort; never moving his eyes for a moment from the door which would give Emily to his view, he knew nothing but the impatience which made it incredible that his watch could keep pace with time; he seemed to have been waiting for hours when yet it was only half-past eight. But at length the door opened. He strained his sight across the distance, but with no reward. Hood left the house alone, and walked off quickly in the direction of Dunfield.
He must wait. It might happen that Emily would not quit home at all during the early part of the day, but he must wait on the chance. He dreaded lest rain should fall, which would naturally keep her within doors, but by nine o'clock the sky had cleared, and he saw the leaves above him drying in the sunlight. Inactivity was at all times intolerable to him to stand thus for hours was an exercise of impatient patience which only his relentless passion made possible; his body yielded to a sort of numbness, whilst the suffering expectancy of his mind only grew keener. He durst not avert his eyes from the door for an instant; his sight ached and dazzled. Still he waited.
At eleven o'clock Emily came forth. A savage delight seized him as he watched her cross the patch of garden. At the gate she hesitated a moment, then took the way neither to the Heath nor to Dunfield, but crossed to the lane which led to Pendal. From his hiding-place Dagworthy could follow her so far, and with ecstasy he told himself that she must be going to the Castle Hill. She carried a book in her hand.
At length he moved. His limbs had stiffened; it was with difficulty that he climbed to the top of the embankment. Thence he could see the whole track of the lane, which went, indeed, almost parallel with the railway line. He walked in the same direction, keeping at some distance behind Emily. Before reaching the village of Pendal, he had to cross a field, and enter the lane itself. There was now the danger that the girl might look back. But she did not. She was reading as she walked, and continued to do so the whole way to the stile which led into the Castle Hill. But now it mattered little if she turned her head.
He let her pass the stile, and himself paused before following. He was agitated; that which he was about to do seemed harder than he had imagined; he had a horrible fear lest his resolution might fail at the last moment. The brute in him for an instant almost slept. The woman in the field yonder was not only the object of his vehement desire; all the nobler possibilities of his nature united to worship her, as the highest and holiest he knew. In his heart was a subtle temptation, the voice of very love bidding him cast himself at her feet and sue but for the grace of so much human kindness as would make life without her endurable. He remembered the self-abasement which had come upon him when he tried to tell her of his love; the offering had seemed so gross, so unworthy to be brought before her. Would it not be the same now? He dreaded her power to protect herself, the secret might of purity which made him shrink at her steady gaze. But he had gone through much in the last fortnight the brute forces had grown strong by habit of self-assertion. He looked up, and the fact that Emily had gone from his sight stung him into pursuit.
She was sitting where she had sat with Wilfrid, on the fallen tree; the book lay at her side, and she was giving herself to memory. Treading on the grass, he did not attract her attention till he almost stood before her; then she looked at him, and at once rose. He expected signs of apprehension or embarrassment, but she seemed calm. She had accustomed herself to think of him, and could no longer be taken by surprise. She was self-possessed, too, in the strength of the thoughts which he had disturbed.
He fed his eyes upon her, and kept so long silent that Emily's cheek coloured, and she half turned away. Then he spoke abruptly, yet with humility, which the consciousness of his purpose could not overcome.
'You know that I have been away since I saw you last. I tried to put you out of my mind. I couldn't do it, and I am driven back to you.'
'I hoped we should not meet again like this, Mr. Dagworthy,' Emily replied, in a low voice, but firmly. She felt that her self-respect was to be tested to the uttermost, but she was better able to control herself than at the last interview. The sense of being passionately sought cannot but enhance a woman's dignity in her own eyes, and Emily was not without perception of the features in Dagworthy's character which made him anything but a lover to be contemned. She dreaded him, and could not turn away as from one who tormented her out of mere ill-breeding.
'I cannot ask you to pardon me,' he returned, 'for however often you asked me to leave you, I should pay no heed. I am here because I can't help myself; I mean what I say -- I can't, I can't help it! Since you told me there was no hope, I seem to have been in hell. These are not words to use to you -- I know it. It isn't that I don't respect you, but because I must speak what I feel. Look -- I am worn out with suffering; I feel as if it would take but a little more to kill me, strong man as I am. You don't think I find a pleasure in coming and facing that look you have? I don't know that I ever saw the man I couldn't meet, but before you I feel -- I can't put it into words, but I feel I should like to hide my face. Still, I have come, I have followed you here. It's more than I can do to give you up.'
At the last words he half sobbed. Her fear of him would not allow Emily to feel deep distress, but she was awed by the terrible evidence of what he endured. She could not at once find words for reply.
'Will you sit down?' he said. 'I will stand here, but I have more to say to you before I go.'
'Why should you say more?' Emily urged. 'Can you not think how very painful it is to hear you speak in this way? What purpose can it serve to speak to me when I may not listen?'
'You must listen. I can't be sent away as you would another man; no other on earth can love you as I do, no one. No one would do for you all that I would do. My love gives me a claim upon you. It is you that have brought me to this state; a woman owes a man something who is driven mad by her. I have a right to be here and to say all I feel.'
He was struggling with a dread of the words he had come to utter; a wild hope sprang in him that he might yet win her in other ways; he used language recklessly, half believing that his arguments would seem of force. His passion was in the death-grapple with reason and humanity.
'If your regard for me is so strong,' Emily replied, 'should you not shrink from causing me pain? And indeed you have no such right as you claim. Have I in any way sought to win your affection? Is it manly to press upon me a suit which you know it is out of my power to favour? You say you respect me; your words are not consistent with respect. I owe you nothing, Mr. Dagworthy, and it is certainly my right to demand that you will cease to distress and trouble me.'
He stood with his eyes on the ground.
'That is all you have to say?' he asked, almost sullenly.
'What more can I say? Surely you should not have compelled me to say even so much. I appeal to your kindness, to your sense of what is due from a man to a woman, to let me leave you now, and to make no further attempt to see me. If you refuse, you take advantage of my powerlessness. I am sure you are not capable of that.'
'Yes, I am capable of more than you think,' he replied, the words coming between his teeth. His evil demon, not himself, was speaking; in finding utterance at length it made him deadly pale, and brought a cold sweat to his brow. 'When you think afterwards of what I say now, remember that it was love of you that made me desperate. A chance you little dream of has put power into my hands, and I am going to use it. I care for nothing on this earth but to make you my wife -- and I can do so.'
Terror weighed upon her heart. His tone was that of a man who would stick at nothing, and his words would bear no futile meaning. Her thoughts were at once of her father; through him alone could he have power over her. She waited, sick with agonised anticipation, for what would follow.
The gulf between purpose and execution once passed, he had become cruel; human nature has often enough exemplified the law in prominent instances. As he pronounced the words, he eyed her deliberately, and, before proceeding, paused just long enough to see the anguish flutter in her breast.
'Your father has been guilty of dishonesty; he has taken money from the mill. Any day that I choose I can convict him.'
She half closed her eyes and shook, as if under a blow. Then the blood rushed to her face, and, to his astonishment. she uttered a strange laugh.
'That is your power over me!' she exclaimed, with all the scorn her voice could express. 'Now I know that you are indeed capable of shameful things. You think I shall believe that of my father?'
Dagworthy knew what it was to feel despicable. He would, in this moment, have relinquished all his hope to be able to retract those words. He was like a beaten dog before her; and the excess of his degradation made him brutal.
'Believe it or not, as you choose. All I have to say is that your father put into his pocket yesterday morning a ten-pound note of mine, which he found in a ledger he took out of my room. He had to go to Hebsworth on business, and there he changed the note to buy himself a new hat; I have a witness of it. When he came back hoof course had nothing to say about the money; in fact, he had stolen it.'
She heard, and there came into her mind the story of Cheeseman's debt. That was of ten pounds. The purchase her father had been obliged to make, of that also she had heard. Last night, and again this morning, her mother had incessantly marvelled at this money having been at length returned; it was an incredible thing, she had said; only the sight of the coins could convince her of its truth. Emily's mind worked over the details of the previous evening with terrible rapidity and insight. To her directly her father had spoken not a word of the repayment; he had bidden her keep in another room while he informed her mother of it; he had shown disinclination to return to the subject when, later, they all sat together. 'Well, here it is,' he had said, 'and we'll talk no more about it.' She heard those words exactly as they were spoken, and she knew their tone was not natural; even at the time that had struck her, but her thought had not dwelt upon it.
She almost forgot Dagworthy's presence; he and his threats were of small account in this shaking of the depths of her nature. She was awakened by his voice.
'Do you think I am lying to you for my own purposes?'
'I cannot say,' she answered, with unnatural calm. 'It is more likely than that what you say is true.'
He, by now, had attained a self-control which would not desert him. So far in crime, there was no turning back; he could even enjoy the anticipation of each new move in the game, certain of winning. He could be cruel now for cruelty's sake; it was a form of fruition.
'Well,' he said, 'it is your own concern whether you believe me or not. If you wish for evidence, you shall have it, the completest. What I have to say is this. From now till Monday morning your father is free. Whether I have him arrested then or not depends upon yourself. If you consent to become my wife as soon as it is possible for us to be married, neither you nor he will ever hear another word of the matter. What's more, I will at once put him in a position of comfort. If you refuse, there will be a policeman ready to arrest him as soon as he comes to the mill; if he tries to escape, a warrant will be issued. In any case he will be ruined.'
Then, after a pause --
'So you have till to-morrow night to make up your mind. You can either send me a note or come and see me; I shall be at home whenever you come.'
Emily stood in silence.
'I hope you quite understand what I mean,' Dagworthy continued, as if discussing an ordinary matter of business. 'No one will ever dream that your father has done anything to be ashamed of. After all, it is not so impossible that you should marry me for my own sake;' -- he said it with bitterness. 'People will see nothing to wonder at. Fortunately, no one knows of that -- of what you told me. Your father and mother will be easy for the rest of their lives, and without a suspicion that there has been anything but what appears on the surface. I needn't say how things are likely to look in the other event.'
Still she stood silent.
'I don't expect an answer now----'
Emily shook her head.
'But,' he continued, 'you mustn't leave it after to-morrow night. It will be too late.'
She began to move away from him. With a step or two he followed her; she turned, with a passionate movement of repulsion, terror, and hate transfiguring her countenance, made for the expression of all sweet and tender and noble things.
Dagworthy checked himself, turned about, and walked quickly from the place.
Emily reached home a few minutes before dinner-time. Her mother came to her from the back of the house, where things were in Saturday tumult, speaking with a voice of fretful satisfaction.
'I'd just given you up, and was wondering whether to let the meat spoil or begin dinner alone.'
'I am sorry to be late, mother.'
'No, you're not late, my dear,' the mother admitted. 'It's only that you're a little uncertain, and when one o'clock draws on I can never be quite sure of you, if you're out. I must say I like punctuality, though I dare say it's an old-fashioned kind of thing. Which would you like, potatoes baked or boiled? I've got both, as I always think the baked keep better for your father.'
'Whichever you have yourself, mother.'
'Now, child, do make a choice! As if you couldn't say which you would prefer.'
'There now, you say that because you think there won't be enough of the others. I know very well yen always like the baked, when I have them. Don't you, now, Emily?'
'Mother, which you like! What does it matter?'
'Well, my dear, I'm sure I only wanted to please you,' said Mrs. Hood, in her tone of patience under injury. 'I can't see why you should be angry with me. If I could give you more choice I would. No doubt you're used to having potatoes done in all sorts of superior ways, but unfortunately I wasn't brought up as a cook----'
The strange look with which Emily was regarding her brought her to a pause; her voice dropped.
'Mother dear,' said the girl, in a low and shaken tone, 'I am neither foolish nor unkind; do try to believe that. Something is troubling me. To-day let your choice be mine.'
Mrs. Hood moved away, and served the dinner in silence.
'What is your trouble, my dear?' she asked presently. 'Can't you tell me?'
Emily shook her head. Her mother relapsed into thoughtfulness, and they finished their meal with little conversation. Mrs. Heed was just rising from the table, when there was a sound of some one opening the gate before the house; she looked to the window, and at once uttered an exclamation of astonishment.
'Well! If that isn't----! He hasn't altered a bit all these years!'
'Who is it, mother?' Emily asked nervously.
'Why, my dear, it's that man Cheeseman! The very idea of his coming here! Now, mark my words, he's come to ask for that money back again, or for some of it, at all events. It was just showing off, pretending to pay it back; exactly like him! But if your father's foolish enough to do anything of the kind---- There, he's knocking. I hoped never to see his face again as long as I lived; how ever he can have the impudence to come! I suppose I must let him in; but I'm sure I shan't offer him any dinner.'
Emily had risen from her chair, and was trembling with excitement.
'Oh yes, mother,' she cried, with a joy which astonished Mrs. Heed, 'we must behave kindly to him. He paid father the money; we must remember that.'
'Well, you'll see if I'm net right. But I can't keep him standing at the door. Do untie this apron, Emily; I'm so nervous, I can't get at the knot. See, now, if he hasn't come for the money back again.'
'Never mind; he paid it! He paid it!'
'I can't understand you, child. What is there to be so pleased about?'
'Mother, do go to the door. Or shall I?'
The girl was overcome with a sudden light in utter darkness. She grasped at her mother's explanation of the visitor's arrival; unable, in her ardour, to calculate probabilities, to review details. Dagworthy had been guilty of a base falsehood; the man approached who could assure her of it. It was a plot, deeply planned. In some manner Dagworthy had learned what had happened to her father in Hebsworth, and had risked everything on the terror he could inspire in her. The coming of her father's friend was salvation.
She found herself clasping his hand warmly.
'Well, Miss Hood,' Cheeseman came in exclaiming, 'you may perhaps have half a recollection of me, when you're told who I am, but I'm quite sure I shouldn't have known you. Your good father was telling me about you yesterday; rare and proud he was to speak of you, too, and not without reason, I see. Mrs. Hoed, you've no need to complain of your for tune. Times have been hard, no doubt, but they've brought you a blessing. If I had a young lady such as this to look at me and call me father -- well, well, it won't do to think of it.'
In spite of her determination, Mrs. Hoed was mollified into an offer of dinner. Mr. Cheeseman affected to refuse, but at a word from Emily he allowed himself to be persuaded. The two sat with him, and listened to his talk of bygone days. Emily's face was flushed; she kept her eyes on Cheeseman as if his arrival were that of a long-hoped-for friend. The visitor abounded in compliments to mother and daughter alike. He ate, the while, with extreme heartiness, and at length drew from the table in the most effusive mood.
'Mrs. Hood,' he said, leaning forward, 'I owe you an apology, many apologies. You and your good husband in times long past did me a service of a very substantial kind. You thought I had forgotten it -- yes, you couldn't help but think it----'
'Oh, we won't talk about that, Mr. Cheeseman,' interposed Mrs. Hood, not without a suggestion in her tone that she had indeed entertained the thought attributed to her.
'Ah, but I can't help speaking of it,' said Cheeseman, feelingly. 'Miss Hood, you probably don't know what I refer to; you were a very little lady in those days. They were hard times with me; indeed, I've never known anything else. I was saying to your good father yesterday that he could no longer talk of his ill-luck. Many a day he and I have encouraged each other to face fortune, but that's all over for him; he's got his foot on firm ground, thank heaven! I'm still catching at straws, you see; I dare say it's a good deal my own fault; and then I never had a good wife to look after me, and a daughter growing up to teach me prudence. Well but, Miss Hood, I was saying that your father did me a great service; he lent me what was a large sum for him in those days----'
'Not a little one even in these, Mr. Cheeseman,' remarked Mrs. Hood.
'Well, well, but in those times it was a thing few men in his position would have done. He lent me a ten-pound note, Miss Hood, and it's right you should know it. Years have gone by, years, and any one would think I'd kept out of the way to avoid paying the money back. I assure you, Mrs. Hood, and to you, Miss Hood, I give my solemn word of honour, that I've never from that day to this had more money than would just keep me in bread and cheese and such poor clothing as this you see on me. Why, even yesterday, as no doubt your good father has told you, I had but a sixpenny-piece in the world, but one coin of sixpence. Ah, you may well look sad, my good young lady. Please God, you'll never know what that means. But one sixpence had I, and but for my old friend I should have been hard driven to find a place of rest last night. Now do I look and speak like an ungrateful man? Mrs. Hood, I've come here this day because I felt in duty bound to call on you, being so near. I didn't know your address, till that meeting by chance yesterday. When my old friend left me, I got restless; I felt I must see you all again before I went south, as I hope to do -- to-morrow, perhaps. I felt I must clear myself from the charge of in gratitude; I couldn't live easy under it. It was too much like a piece of dishonesty, and that I've never yet been guilty of, for all I've gone through, and, please God, never shall. My old friend Hood and I, in days even before he had the happiness to meet you, Mrs. Hood, we used to say to each other -- Let luck do its worst, we'll live and die honest men. And, thank heaven, we've kept our word; for an honester man than James Hood doesn't walk the earth, and no one ever yet brought a true charge of dishonesty against Alfred Cheeseman.'
He looked from mother to daughter. The former sat in helpless astonishment, gazing about her; Emily had hardened her face.
'You find it a sad tale,' Cheeseman proceeded. 'Why, so it is, dear ladies. If ever I had owned a ten-pound note, over and above the price of a loaf of bread and a night's lodging, it should have been put aside with the name of James Hood written on the back of it, and somehow I'd have found him out. And I say the same thing now. Don't think, Mrs. Hood, that I'm pleading my poverty as a way of asking you to forgive the debt. The debt shall be paid; be assured of that. If I can only get to London, there's a prospect before me; I have a project which I explained to my old friend yesterday. You shall have the money, and, what's more, you shall have interest -- four per cent. per annum. Oh yes, you shall. Only let me somehow get to London.'
The gate sounded again.
'Emily,' exclaimed Mrs. Hood, 'there's your father!'
She was pale, and the hand with which she pointed could not steady itself.
'Mother,' said the girl, just above her breath, 'go! He is coming in!'
Mrs. Hood rose and left the room. Cheeseman could not but observe that some strange agitation possessed them both. Possibly he explained it by the light of his own conscience. He sat, smiling at Emily rather uneasily. Then, seeing that there was likely to be a delay before Hood entered, he bent forward to speak confidentially.
'Miss Hood, I see it in your face, you're as kind and warm-hearted as your father is, and that's saying much. You won't think hardly of a poor fellow who oftener misses a dinner than gets one? Every word I've said to you's as true as the light of heaven, And my only chance is to get to London. I've made an invention, and I feel sure I know a man who will buy it of me. It took my last farthing to get here from Hebsworth. You don't think hardly of me? I don't drink, on my word I don't; it's sheer hard luck. Ah, if I had a home like this! It 'ud be like living in the garden of Eden. Well, well!'
The door opened, and Hood came in, followed by his wife. He was laughing, laughing loudly; the voice was so unlike his that this alone would have caused Emily to gaze at him in astonishment.
'So you've looked us up!' he exclaimed, holding out his hand. 'Why, you couldn't have done better; I was sorry afterwards I hadn't asked you. My wife tells me you've had dinner; you won't mind sitting by whilst I eat? And what do you think of Emily, eh? Grown a little since you saw her last -- ha, ha! So you've made up your mind to go to London? Emily had dinner? Why, of course you have; I was forgetting. Baked potatoes! Remember my old weakness for them baked, Cheeseman? We used to buy 'em in the street at night, halfpenny apiece, eh? Old man with one arm, remember? We used to hear him coming when he was half a mile off; what a voice! And the man who sold peas; remember him? "All 'ot! All 'ot!" We were lads then, eh, Cheeseman? Emily, just a mouthful, with butter? Let me tempt you. No? -- What train did you come by?'
He talked ceaselessly. There was a spot of red in the midst of each of his sallow cheeks, and his eyes gleamed with excitement. On leaving the mill a sudden thirst had come upon him, and he had quenched it with a glass of spirits at the first public-house he passed. Perhaps that had some part in his elation.
Emily almost immediately withdrew and went up to her bedroom. Here she sat alone for more than an hour, in fear lest her mother should come to the door. Then she heard the gate open, and, looking from the window, saw her father and his friend pass into the road and walk away together, the former still talking in an excited way. A minute or two later came the knock which she dreaded. She opened the door, and her mother entered.
'Emily, did you ever know your father so strange?' Mrs. Hood asked, in a tone of genuine alarm. She had sunk upon a chair, and looked to the girl as if overcome with physical weakness. 'What can it all mean? When I asked him why he had told that story about the money, he only laughed -- said it was a joke, and he'd explain it all before long. I can't think where the money came from! And now he's gone to pay that man's fare to London, and no doubt to lend him more money too.'
Emily made no reply. She stood near the window, and looked out at the clouds which were breaking after a brief shower.
'Wherever the money may have come from,' pursued her mother, 'it's cruel that it should go in this way. We never wanted it worse than we do now. It's my belief he's borrowed it himself; a nice thing to borrow for one's own needs, and then throw it away on such a good-for-nothing as that.'
Emily turned and put a question quietly.
'Are you in more than usual need of money?'
'Well, my dear, you know I always try to say as little about such things as I can, but now your father's been and borrowed -- as of course he must have done -- there's no choice but to tell you. The house at Barnhill's going to be empty at the end of the quarter, and our rent here's going to be raised, and, all things coming together, we've had a good deal to make us anxious. It's just like your father -- wanting to make me believe that things are better than they really are; it always was his way, and what's the good of it I never could see. Of course he means it well, but he'd far better have been open about it, and have told me what he was going to do.'
Emily was shaken with agitation.
'Mother!' she exclaimed, 'why have you both insisted on keeping silence before me about your difficulties? There was no kindness in it; you have done me the cruelest wrong. Had I not money in plenty beyond what I needed? What if the future be uncertain? Has not the present its claims, and can your needs be separated from mine? Because you have succeeded in keeping me apart from the troubles of your life, you -- you and father -- have thought you had done a praiseworthy thing. Is it not bad enough that one human being should be indifferent to the wants of another, just because they call each other strangers? Was it right to bring such a hateful spirit of independence into a home, between parents and child? If the world is base and unjust, is not that a reason the more why we should draw ever more closely to each other, and be to each other all that our power allows? Independent! Because I earned money and could support myself, you have told me I must be independent, and leave you the same. That is the lesson that life has taught you. It is well to have understanding for lessons of a deeper kind.'
'Well, my child,' protested the mother, to whom the general tenor of such reasoning was well-nigh as dark as its special application, 'we have always felt we were doing our duty to you. At your age it is only right you should have your money for yourself; who knows when you may want it? I don't think you should be angry with us, just because we've felt we'd rather put up with a little hardship now and then than have you feel some day we'd been a burden on you. I haven't complained, and I'm not complaining now. I'm sorry I came to speak to you about such a thing. It seems as if you could never take a thing as I mean it. It's like the potatoes at dinner; I meant to do you a kindness by giving you the choice, and you flew out as if you hadn't patience with me.'
Emily kept her eyes upon the window.
'How you can say,' went on Mrs. Hood, 'that we've been cruel to you and done you a wrong---- I know we've very different ways of looking at most things, but where we've wronged you is more than I can understand.'
'You have taken from me,' replied Emily, without moving her eyes, 'the power to help you. I might have done much, now I can do nothing; and your loss is mine.'
'No, indeed, it isn't, and shan't be, Emily. Your father and I have always said that one thing, that you shouldn't suffer by us. What did your father always say years ago? "Emily," he said, "shall have a good education, however we stint ourselves; then, when she grows up, she'll always be able to keep herself from want, and our poverty won't matter to her." And in that, at all events, he was right, and it's come about as he said. No, Emily, we're not going to be a burden to you, so don't fear it.'
'Mother, will you let me be by myself a little? I will come down to you presently.'
'Aren't you well, my dear?' the mother asked, with a mixture of offended reserve and anxiety occasioned by the girl's voice and aspect.
'I have a headache. I will rest till tea-time.'
Mrs. Hood had for a long time been unused to tend Emily with motherly offices; like her husband, she was not seldom impressed with awe of this nature so apart from her own. That feeling possessed her now; before Emily's last words she moved away in silence and closed the door behind her gently.
The irony of fate, coming out so bitterly in all that her mother had said, was like a cold hand on Emily's heart. She sat again in the chair from which she had risen, and let her head lie back. Her vitality was at a low ebb; the movement of indignation against the cruelty which was wrecking her life had passed and left behind it a weary indifference. Happily she need not think yet. There were still some hours of respite before her; there was the night to give her strength. The daylight was a burden; it must be borne with what patience she could summon. But she longed for the time of sacred silence.
To a spirit capable of high exaltations, the hour of lassitude is a foretaste of the impotence of death. To see a purpose in the cold light of intellectual conviction, and to lack the inspiring fervour which can glorify a struggle with the obstacles nature will interpose, is to realise intensely the rugged baldness of life stripped of illusion, life as we shall see it when the end approaches and the only voice that convinces tell us that all is vanity. It is the mood known by the artist when, viewing the work complete within his mind, his heart lacks its joy and his hand is cold to execute. Self-consciousness makes of life itself a work of art. There are the blessed moments when ardour rises in pursuit of the ideal, when it is supreme bliss to strive and overcome; and there are the times of aching languor, when the conception is still clear in every line, but the soul asks wearily -- To what end? In Emily it was reaction after the eagerness of her sudden unreasoning hope. Body and mind suffered beneath a burden of dull misery. Motives seemed weak; effort was weary and unprofitable; life unutterably mean. It could scarcely be called suffering, to feel thus.
She was roused by voices below, and, immediately after, her mother came to her door again.
'Isn't it vexatious?' Mrs. Hood whispered. 'Here are Jessie and Geraldine. I'm obliged to ask them to stay tea. Do you feel well enough to come down?'
Emily went down at once, almost with a sense of relief, and presented herself to the girls very much in her usual way.
'Now, I know very well you don't want us,' said Jessie, with her sprightly frankness. 'We shouldn't have thought of coming if it hadn't been that we met Mr. Hood just this side of the bridge, and he forced us to come on; he said it wouldn't be very long before he was back himself. But of course we shan't stay tea, so it's no use----'
'Oh, of course not,' put in Geraldine. 'We know Mrs. Hood's always far too busy on a Saturday afternoon. I didn't want to come; I told Jessie it would be far better to put it off till to-morrow----'
'All the same,' resumed her sister, 'she wanted to see you very much. She's got something to tell you. Now you may as well get it out and done with, Jerry; you needn't expect I'm going to help you.'
The two giggled together.
'What is it,' inquired Mrs. Hood. 'I daresay I could guess if I tried very hard. Couldn't you, Emily?'
'Now then, Jerry, for the awful news,' urged her sister.
'No, you'll have to tell, Jessie,' said the other, giggling and blushing.
'Well, I suppose one of us must. She's been and engaged herself to Mr. Baldwin. Of course we all knew----'
'Now, Jessie, you knew nothing of the kind!'
'Didn't I, though! Oughtn't she to be ashamed of herself, at her age, Mrs. Hood! I know what Emily's opinion is; she's simply disgusted. Look at her, and see if she isn't.'
The gabble of the two girls was worthy of the occasion their tongues went like mill-clappers. Whilst her mother busied herself in preparing tea, Emily sat and listened; fortunately there was little need for her to talk. To herself she seemed to be suffering a kind of trance, without detriment to her consciousness. The chattering and grimacing girls appeared before her as grotesque unrealities, puppets animated in some marvellous way, and set to caricature humanity. She tried to realise that one of them was a woman like herself, who had just consented to be a man's wife; but it was impossible to her to regard this as anything but an aping of things which at other times had a solemn meaning. She found herself gazing at Geraldine as one does at some singular piece of mechanism with a frivolous purpose. And it was not only the individuals that impressed her thus; these two represented life and the world. She had strange, cynical thoughts, imaginings which revolted her pure mind even whilst it entertained them. No endeavour would shake off this ghastly clairvoyance. She was picturing the scene of Geraldine's acceptance of the offer of marriage; then her thoughts passed on to the early days of wedded life. She rose, shuddering, and moved about the room; she talked to drive those images from her brain. It did but transfer the sense of unreality to her own being. Where was she, and what doing? Had she not dreamed that a hideous choice had been set before her, a choice from which there was no escape, and which, whatever the alternative she accepted, would blast her life? But that was something grave, earnest, and what place was there for either earnestness or gravity in a world where Geraldine represented womanhood wooed and about to be wedded? There was but one way of stopping the gabble which was driving her frantic; she threw open the piano and began to play, to play the first music that came into her mind. It was a passage from the Moonlight Sonata. A few moments, and the ghosts were laid. The girls still whispered together, but above their voices the pure stream of music flowed with gracious oblivion. When Emily ceased, it was with an inward fervour of gratitude to the master and the instrument, To know that, was to have caught once more the point of view from which life had meaning. Now let them chatter and mop and mow; the echo of that music still lived around.
Hood had not returned when they sat down to tea. Jessie began to ask questions about the strange-looking man they had met in company with him, but Mrs. Hood turned the conversation.
'I suppose you'll be coming with the same tale next, Jessie,' she said, with reference to Geraldine.
'Me, Mrs. Hood? No, indeed; I haven't had lessons from Emily for nothing. It's all very well for empty-headed chits like Jerry here, but I've got serious things to attend to. I'm like Emily, she and I are never going to be married.'
'Emily never going to be married?' exclaimed Mrs. Hood, half seriously. 'Ah, you mustn't believe all Emily tells you.'
'Oh, she hasn't told me that herself, but I'm quite sure she would be offended if any one thought her capable of such frivolity.'
'Emily will keep it to herself till the wedding-day,' said Geraldine, with a mocking shake of the bead. 'She isn't one to go telling her secrets.'
At this point Hood made his appearance. His wife paid no heed to him as he entered; Emily glanced at him furtively. He had the look of a man who has predetermined an attitude of easy good-humour, nor had the parting with Cheeseman failed to prove an occasion for fresh recourse to that fiery adjuvant which of a sudden was become indispensable to him. Want of taste for liquor and lifelong habit of abstemiousness had hitherto kept Hood the soberest of men; he could not remember to have felt the warm solace of a draught taken for solace' sake since the days when Cheeseman had been wont to insist upon the glass of gin at their meetings, and then it had never gone beyond the single glass, for he felt that his head was weak, and dreaded temptation. Four-and-twenty hours had wrought such a change in him, that already to enter a public-house seemed a familiar act, and he calculated upon the courage to be begotten of a smoking tumbler. Previously the mere outlay would have made him miserable, but the command of unearned coin was affecting him as it is wont to affect poor men. The new aid given to Cheeseman left a few shillings out of the second broken sovereign. Let the two pounds -- he said to himself -- be regarded as gone; eight remained untouched. For the odd shillings, let them serve odd expenses. So when he had purchased Cheeseman's ticket to King's Gross, he was free with small change at the station bar. At the last moment it occurred to him that he might save himself a walk by going in the train as far as Pendal. So it was here that the final parting had taken place.
He seated himself with his legs across a chair, and began to talk to Geraldine of the interesting news which Jessie had just whispered to him when they met on the road. The character of his remarks was not quite what it would have been a day or two ago; he joked with more freedom than was his custom. Studiously he avoided the eyes of his wife and daughter. He declined to sit up to the table, but drank a cup of tea with his hands resting on the back of a chair.
The Cartwright sisters were anxious to use the evening for a visit to certain other friends; shortly after six o'clock they. took their departure. While Emily and Mrs. Hood were seeing them away at the door, Hood went upstairs to his laboratory.
'Emily, come here,' Mrs. Hood said, with anxious earnestness, leading the way back into the sitting-room. And, when the door was closed----
'My dear, what is the matter with him? Don't you notice his strangeness?'
'Yes, mother, I do.'
'Can he have---- It's a thing he never does! You know what I mean? That Cheeseman has been taking him to a public-house; I am sure of it.'
Emily had had no such thought. To her a squalid horror clung about the suggestion. To picture her father in such circumstances was to realise a fresh fall into degradation, no doubt the inevitable consequence of that she already knew of. There was a painful stricture at her heart; a cry of despair all but found utterance.
Her father's voice was calling from the stair-head -- 'Emily!' She darted to the door in momentary terror and replied.
'Will you come up?' Hood said; 'I want you.'
She ascended to the garret. Hood was standing with his back to the little window, so that his face was shadowed. Emily moved to the table, and, with her hands resting upon it, her eyes bent, stood waiting.
'Emily,' he began, still with a remnant of artificial pleasantry, though his voice was not entirely under control, 'I want to explain that money-matter to you. It doesn't look well; I am a good deal ashamed of myself; if I was a boy I should deserve a whipping for telling a fib, shouldn't I?'
It was impossible to make reply to such words.
'The truth is this,' he went on more nervously; 'we've been in a little difficulty, your mother and I, that we didn't see any good in troubling you about. In fact, there's a raising of rent, and one or two other little things. When I was in Hebsworth yesterday I had an opportunity of borrowing ten pounds, and I thought it better to do so. Then I met Cheeseman, and it was his mention of the debt put into my head the stupid thought of trying to spare your mother anxiety. Of course, such tricks never succeed; I might have known it. But there, that's the truth of the matter, and I'm easier now -- now I've told it.'
Her heart bled for him, so dreadful to her ears was the choking of his voice upon the last words. At the same time she was hot with anguish of shame. He stood before her a wretched culprit, hiding his guilt with lie upon lie; he, her father, whom she had reverenced so, had compassionated so, whom she loved despairingly. She could not raise her head; she could not speak. She longed to spring to him and hold him in her arms, but other thoughts paralysed the impulse. Had there lain nothing in the background, had his falsehood, his weakness, been all, she could have comforted and strengthened him with pure pity and love. But the consciousness of what was before her killed her power to stead him in his misery. She could not speak out her very thought, and to palter with solemn words was impossible. Hypocrisy from her to him at this moment -- hypocrisy, however coloured with sincere feeling, would have sunk her in her own eyes beyond redemption.
'Let us speak no more of it, father,' she replied without raising her head.
He was sober enough now, and in her voice, her attitude, he read his hopeless condemnation. Between him and this high-hearted woman had conic that which would never be removed; before her he was shamed to eternity. Never again could he speak with her of truth, of justice, of noble aims; the words would mock him. Never again could he take her kiss upon his lips without shrinking. Her way henceforth lay ever further from his own. What part had she in a life become so base? What place had she under a roof dishonoured? If some day she wedded, his existence would be to her a secret shame. For -- worst thought of all -- it was whispered to his conscience that she did not credit even what he now told her. He seemed to himself to have betrayed the second untruth by his way of speaking it. In the silence which followed upon her words he heard promptings of despair. How could he live in her presence from day to day, not daring to meet her eyes? He looked back upon the years behind him, and they seemed to overflow with peaceful happiness. Irretrievable, his yielding and his shame; irrecoverable, the conscious rectitude bartered so cheaply. He saw now that his life had held vast blessings, and they were for ever lost.
Emily was speaking.
'Do you wish to stay here this evening, father?'
'No,' he answered hastily, 'I only called you up for -- for that.'
Her heart reproached her with cruelty, but what remained save to leave him to himself? They could not face each other, could not exchange a natural word.
She turned at the door. He had called her, but did not continue to speak.
'It's only for to-night. You'll -- you'll sit with me again as usual?'
'Oh, I hope so!'
A rush of tears had its way as she closed the door, something so deeply pathetic had there been in that appeal. It was the first time that her misery had found this outlet; unable to calm herself at once, she turned aside into her bedroom. Tears did not come to her readily; indeed, it was years since she had shed them; the fit shook her with physical suffering. The weeping would not stay itself, and to force her sobs into silence was almost beyond her power. She flung herself desperately by the bedside, throwing out her arms in the effort to free her chest from its anguishing constraint.
In an hour she went down. Her mother was sitting miserably in the kitchen, and Emily, dreading to have to talk again, kept apart in the parlour. When it began to dusk, Hood descended, and supper was prepared for in the usual way. There was small pretence of conversation, and, as soon as possible, Emily bade her parents good-night. It was long before she heard them go to their room; they whispered together in passing her door.
And now the solemn hours shed about her guardian silence, and she could listen to the voice of her soul. It was incredible that the morning of the day which was not yet dead had witnessed that scene between her and Dagworthy on the Castle Hill; long spaces of featureless misery seem to stretch between. Perforce she had overborne reflection; one torment coming upon another had occupied her with mere endurance; it was as though a ruthless hand tore from her shred after shred of the fair garment in which she had joyed to clothe herself, while a voice mockingly bade her be in congruence with the sordid shows of the world around. For a moment, whilst Beethoven sang to her, she knew the light of faith; but the dull mist crept up again and thickened. Weeping had not eased her bosom; she had only become more conscious of the load of tears surcharging it. Now she lay upon her bed in the darkness, hushing idle echoes of day, waiting upon the spirit that ever yet had comforted and guided her.
What, divested of all horror due to imagination, was the threat to which her life lay subject? Dagworthy had it in his power to ruin her father, to blast his remaining years with a desolation to which the life-long struggle with poverty would be the mere pleasantry of fate. She could no longer entertain a doubt of the guilt the first suggestion of which excited her scornful laughter, and she knew it to be more than probable that her father had yielded to temptation purposely put in his way. She was not unconscious of the power of reprisal which so gross a plot put into her hands, though it was true that the secrecy Dagworthy had maintained in his intercourse with her left but her bare assertion for evidence against him. Yet the thought was profitless. Suppose he did not venture to prosecute on the charge of theft, none the less could he work the ruin he menaced; mere dismissal from his employment, with mention of the cause to this and the other person, was all that was needed to render the wretched clerk an outcast, hopeless of future means of livelihood, for ever disgraced in the eyes of all who knew him. She felt the cruelty of which this man, whose passions she had so frenzied, was readily capable. She believed he would not spare her an item of suffering which it was in his power to inflict. She knew that appeal to him was worse than useless, for it was only too clear that for her to approach him was to inflame his resolution. Her instinctive fear of him was terribly justified.
With her alone, then, it lay to save her parents from the most dreadful fate that could befal them, from infamy, from destitution, from despair. For, even if her father escaped imprisonment, it would be impossible for him to live on in Dunfield, and how, at his age, was a new life to be begun? And it was idle to expect that the last degradation would be spared him; his disgrace would involve her; Dagworthy's jealousy would not neglect such a means of striking at her engagement. And Wilfrid must needs know; to Emily not even the possibility of hiding such a thing from him suggested itself. Could she become his wife with that stigma upon her, bringing as dowry her beggared parents for him to support?
Did it mean that? Was this the thought that she had dreaded to face throughout the day? Was it not only her father whose ruin was involved, and must she too bid farewell to hope?
She let those ghastly eyes stare from the darkness into her own, and tried to exhaust their horror. It overtaxed her courage with a smothered cry of fear she sprang upright, and her shaking hands struck a flame to bring light into the room. Not once, but again and again, did the chill of terror pass through her whole frame. She caught a passing glimpse of her image in the glass, and was fascinated into regarding it closely. 'You, who stand there in the pitiless night' -- thus did thought speak within her -- 'you, poor human thing, with the death-white face and eyes staring in all but distraction, is this the very end of the rapturous dream which has lulled you whilst destiny wrought your woe? Is it even now too late to struggle? Is this the wild sorrow of farewell to love, the beginning of an anguish which shall torture your soul to death? Have you lost him?' For moments it was as though life fought with the last and invincible enemy. On the spot where she had been standing she sank powerless to her knees, clinging to the nearest object, her head falling back.
The clock outside her door struck one; how long the dull vibration seemed to endure. She was conscious of it, though lying with all but palsied faculties. It was the first of the divisions which marked her long vigil; the hours succeeded each other quickly; between voice and voice there seemed to pass but a single wave of surging thought. But each new warning of coming day found her nearer the calm of resolve.
Look at this girl, and try to know her. Emily knew but one article of religion, and that bade her preserve, if need be, at the cost of life, the purity of her soul. This was the supreme law of her being. The pieties of kindred were as strong in her as in any heart that ever beat, but respect for them Could not constrain her to a course which opposed that higher injunction. Growing with her growth, nourished by the substance which developed her intellectual force, a sense of all that was involved in her womanhood had conic to be the guiding principle of her existence. Imagine the great artist Nature bent upon the creation of a soul which should hold in subtlest perfection of consciousness every element essential to the successive ideals of maiden, wife, mother, and the soul of this girl is pictured. Her religion of beauty was the symbolic expression of instincts wholly chaste; her body was to her a temple which preserved a sacred flame, and she could not conceive existence if once the shrine had suffered desecration. We are apt to attribute to women indiscriminately at least the outlines of this consciousness; for the vast majority it confuses itself with the prescriptions of a traditional dogma, if not with the mere prejudice of social usage. For Emily no external dogma existed, and the tenor of her life had aided her in attaining independence of ignoble dictation. Her views were often strangely at variance with those of the social tribunal which sits in judgment on virtue and vice. To her, for instance, the woman who sells herself with ecclesiastical sanction differed only in degree of impurity from her whose track is under the street-lamps. She was not censorious, she was not self-righteous; she spoke to no one of the convictions that ruled her, and to herself held them a mystery of holiness, a revelation of high things vouchsafed she knew not whence nor how. Suppose her to have been heart-free at this juncture of her fate, think you she would have found it a whit less impossible to save her father by becoming Dagworthy's wife. There was in her thought but one parallel to this dire choice which lay before her: it was the means offered to Isabel of rescuing her brother Claudio. That passion of purity which fired Isabel's speech was the breath of Emily's life. She knew well that many, and women too, would spare no condemnation of what they would call her heartless selfishness; she knew that the paltriest considerations of worldly estate are deemed sufficient to exact from a woman the sacrifice now demanded of her. That was no law to Emily. The moral sense which her own nature had developed must here alone control her. Purity, as she understood it -- the immaculate beauty of the soul -- was her religion: if other women would die rather than deny the object of their worship, to her the ideal of chastity was worth no less perfect a zeal. Far removed from the world which theorises, she presented in her character a solution of the difficulties entertained by those who doubtingly seek a substitute for the old religious sanctions. Her motives had the simplicity of elemental faith; they were indeed but the primary instincts of womanhood exalted to a rare perfection and reflected in a consciousness of exceeding lucidity.
The awakening of love in such a nature as this was, as it were, the admission to a supreme sacrament. Here was the final sanction of the creed that had grown from within. In the plighting of her troth to Wilfrid Athel, Emily had, as she herself saw it, performed the most solemn and sacred act of her life; instead of being a mere preliminary to a holy observance which should in truth unite them, it made that later formality all but trivial. It was the aspiration of her devoutest hours that this interchange of loving promise might keep its binding sanctity for ever, that no touch of mutability might come upon her heart till the last coldness stayed its heating. A second love appeared to her self-contradicted; to transfer to another those thoughts which had wedded her soul to Wilfrid's would not merely be sin, it was an impossibility. Did he ever cease to cherish her -- a thought at which she smiled in her proud confidence -- that could in nothing affect her love for him, which was not otherwise to be expressed than as the sum of her consciousness. . . .
The pale light of dawn began to glimmer through the window-blind. Emily gave it full admission, and looked out at the morning sky; faintest blue was growing between streaks of cold grey. Her eyes ached from the fixedness of intense thought; the sweet broad brow was marble, the disorder of her hair spoke of self-abandonment in anguish. She had no thought of seeking rest; very far from her was sleep and the blessedness of oblivion. She felt as though sleep would never come again.
But she knew what lay before her; doubt was gone, and there only remained fear to shake her heart. A day and a night had to be lived through before she could know her fate, so long must she suffer things not to be uttered. A day and a night, and then, perchance -- nay, certainly -- the vanguard of a vast army of pain-stricken hours. There was no passion now in her thought of Wilfrid; her love had become the sternness of resolve which dreads itself. An hour ago her heart had been pierced with self-pity in thinking that she should suffer thus so far away from him, without the possibility of his aid, her suffering undreamt by him. Now, in her reviving strength, she had something of the martyr's joy. If the worst came, if she had spoken to him her last word of tenderness, the more reason that her soul should keep unsullied the image of that bliss which was the crown of life. His and his only, his in the rapture of ideal love, his whilst her tongue could speak, her heart conceive, his name.