Part 2 out of 8
Gazing at the forms of silvered cloud floating on blue depths, he heard
a movement immediately behind him; he turned, to behold Emily standing
in the doorway. The moon's rays shone full upon her; a light shawl which
seemed to have covered her head had slipped down to her shoulders, and
one end was held in a hand passed over her breast. There was something
in the attitude which strikingly became her; her slight figure looked
both graceful and dignified. The marble hue of her face, thus gleamed
upon, added to the statuesque effect; her eyes had a startled look,
their lids drooped as Wilfrid regarded her.
'You have been sitting here since you left us?' he asked, in a voice
attuned to the night's hush.
'I was tempted to come out; the night is so beautiful.'
He uttered the assent mechanically; his eyes, like hers, had fallen, but
he raised them again to her face. It seemed to him in this moment the
perfect type of spiritual beauty; the brow so broad and pure, the eyes
far-seeing in their maidenly reserve, the lips full, firm, of infinite
refinement and sweetness. He felt abashed before her, as he had never
done. They had stood thus but a moment or two, yet it seemed long to
both. Emily stepped from the wooden threshold on to the grass.
'Somebody wants the "Spectator,"' he said hurriedly. 'I believe I left
'Yes, it is on the table.'
With a perfectly natural impulse, she quickly re-entered the house, to
reach the paper she had seen only a minute ago. Without reflection,
heart-beats stifling his thought, he stepped after her. The shadow made
her turn rapidly; a shimmer of silver light through the lattice-work
still touched her features; her lips were parted as if in fear.
He did not know that he had spoken. The name upon his tongue, a name he
had said low to himself often to-day and yesterday, was born of the
throe which made fire-currents of his veins, the passion which at the
instant seized imperiously upon his being. She could not see his face,
and hers to him was a half-veiled glory, yet each knew the wild gaze,
the all but terror, in the other's eyes, that anguish which indicates a
supreme moment in life, a turning-point of fate.
She had no voice. Wilfrid's words at length made way impetuously.
'I thought I could wait longer, and try in the meanwhile to win your
kind thoughts for me; but I dare not part from you for so long, leaving
it a mere chance that you will come back. I must say to you what it
means, the hope of seeing you again. All the other desires of my life
are lost in that. You are my true self, for which I shall seek in vain
whilst I am away from you. Can you give me anything--a promise of kind
thought--a hope--to live upon till I see you?'
'I cannot come back.'
But for the intense stillness he could not have caught the words; they
were sighed rather than spoken.
'Because I have said this?--Emily!'
He saw the white shape of her hand resting upon the table, and held it
in his own, that exquisite hand which he had so often longed to touch;
how cold it was! yet how soft, living! She made no effort to draw it
'I cannot say now what I wish to,' he spoke hurriedly. 'I must see you
to-morrow--you will not refuse? I _must_ see you! You are often out very
early; I shall be at the hollow, where we talked yesterday, early, at
seven o'clock--you will come? If the morning is not fine, then the day
after. Emily, you will meet me?'
'I will meet you.'
He touched her fingers with his lips, took the paper, and hastened back
to the house. His absence had not seemed long: it was only of five
minutes. Reaching the open windows, he did not enter at once, but stood
there and called to those within to come and admire the night; he felt
his face hot and flushed.
'What is there remarkable about the night?' asked Mr. Athel, sauntering
'Come and look at this glorious moon, Miss Redwing,' Wilfrid exclaimed,
once more with the natural friendliness of his habitual tone to her.
'It seems to have put you into excellent spirits,' remarked Mrs.
Rossall, as, followed by Beatrice, she approached the window. 'Have you
found the "Spectator?" that's the point.'
Wilfrid continued speaking in a raised voice, for it was just possible,
he thought, that Emily might come this way round to enter, and he wished
her to be apprised of their presence. All went back into the room after
a few moments, and, as the air had grown cooler, the windows were
closed. As Wilfrid seated himself in a dusky part of the room, he
noticed that Beatrice was regarding him steadily. She had not spoken
since his return, and did not do so till she presently rose to say
good-night. To Wilfrid she used no form of words, merely giving him her
hand; that other had been so cold, how hot this was!
She laughed as she turned from him.
'What is the source of amusement?' inquired Mr. Athel, who was standing
by with his hands upon his hips.
'Indeed I don't know,' returned Beatrice, laughing again slightly. 'I
sometimes laugh without cause.'
Emily had passed upstairs and gone to her bedroom but a moment before,
treading with quick soundless steps. When Wilfrid left her in the
summer-house, she stood unmoving, and only after a minute or two changed
her attitude by putting her palms against her face, as if in the gloom
she found too much light. It was a sensation of shame which came upon
her, a tremor of maidenhood in re-living, swift instant by instant, all
that had just passed. Had she in any way aided in bringing about that
confession? Had she done anything, made a motion, uttered a tone, which
broke away the barrier between herself and him? When she could recover
self-consciousness, disembarrass herself of the phantom moments which
would not fleet with the rest of time, it was scarcely joy which she
read in her heart; apprehension, dismay, lack of courage to look forward
beyond this night, these oppressed her. Then, close upon the haunting
reality of his voice, his touch, came inability to believe what had
happened. Had a transient dreamful slumber crept upon her as she sat
here alone? So quickly had the world suffered re-creation, so magical
the whelming of old days in a new order, so complete the change in
herself. One word she knew which had power from eternity to do these
things, and that word neither he nor she had uttered. But there was no
need, when the night spoke it in every beat of time.
Fearful of being seen, she at length ventured to return to the house.
Moonlight streamed full upon her bed; it would have irked her as yet to
take off her clothes, she lay in the radiance, which seemed to touch her
with warm influences, and let her eyes rest upon the source of light.
Then at length joy came and throned in her heart, joy that would mate
with no anxious thought, no tremulous brooding. This was _her_ night!
There might be other happy beings in the world to whom it was also the
beginning of new life, but in _her_ name was its consecration, hers the
supremacy of blessedness. Let the morrow wait on the hour of waking, if
indeed sleep would ever come; this moment, the sacred _now_, was all
that she could comprehend.
She undressed at length, and even slept, fitfully, always to start into
wakefulness with a sense of something to be thought upon, to be
realised, to be done. The weariness of excitement perturbed her joy; the
meeting which was to take place in a few hours became a nervous
preoccupation. The moonlight had died away; the cold light of dawn began
to make objects in the room distinct. Was it good to have consented so
readily to meet him? Nay, but no choice had been left her; his eagerness
would take no refusal; and it was impossible for things to remain as
they were, without calmer talk between them. It was her resource to
remember his energetic will, his force of character; the happiness of
passively submitting to what he might dictate; sure of his scrupulous
honour, his high ideal. Could she indeed have borne to go into exile
from his presence, without a hope that this the noblest and most
aspiring life that had ever approached her might be something more than
a star to worship? If wealth comes, we wonder how we drew breath in
poverty; yet we lived, and should have lived on. Let the gods be
thanked, whom it pleases to clothe the soul with joy which is
superfluous to bare existence Might she not now hallow herself to be a
true priestess of beauty? Would not life be vivid with new powers and
possibilities? Even as that heaven was robing itself in glory of
sunrise, with warmth and hue which strengthened her again to overcome
anxieties. Was he waking? Was he impatient for the hour of his meeting
with her? She would stand face to face with him in the full Sunlight
this time, but with what deep humility! Should she be able to find
words? She had scarcely spoken to him, ever, as yet, and now there was
more to say than hours of solitude would leave time for. She knew not
whether to bid the sun linger or speed.
There was nothing unusual in her rising and going forth early, though
perhaps she had never issued from the house quite so early as this
morning; it was not yet six o'clock when she gently closed the
garden-gate behind her, and walked along the road which led on to the
common. The sun had already warmed the world, and the sheen of earth and
heaven was at its brightest; the wind sweeping from the downs was like
the breath of creation, giving life to forms of faultless beauty.
Emily's heart lacked no morning hymn; every sense revelled in that pure
joy which is the poetry of praise. She wished it had been near the hour
of meeting, yet again was glad to have time to prepare herself. Walking,
she drank in the loveliness about her, marked the forms of trees, the
light and shade of heavy leafage, the blendings of colour by the
roadside, the grace of remote distances; all these things she was making
part of herself, that in memory they might be a joy for ever. It is the
art of life to take each moment of mental joy, of spiritual openness, as
though it would never be repeated, to cling to it as a pearl of great
price, to exhaust its possibilities of sensation. At the best, such
moments will be few amid the fateful succession of common cares, of
lassitudes, of disillusions. Emily had gone deep enough in thought
already to understand this; in her rapture there was no want of
discerning consciousness. If this morning were to be unique in her life,
she would have gained from it all that it had to give. Those subtle
fears, spiritual misgivings, which lurked behind her perceptions would
again have their day, for it was only by striving that she had attained
her present modes of thought; her nature concealed a darker strain, an
instinct of asceticism, which had now and again predominated, especially
in the period of her transition to womanhood, when the material
conditions of her life were sad and of little hope. It was no spirit of
unreflective joy that now dwelt within her, but the more human happiness
extorted from powers which only yield to striving. Hitherto her life's
morning had been but cold and grey; she had trained herself to expect no
breaking forth of gleams from the sober sky. This sudden splendour might
But who was that already standing by the hollow? Was it likely that he
would be later than she at the place of meeting! Emily stood with a
shock of life at the gates of her heart. She tried to keep her eyes
raised to his as she approached slowly, he with more speed. Would she
not after all find voice for the things she had to say?
Wilfrid came to her with bare head, and took her hand; no more than took
her hand, for he was in awe of the solemn beauty of her countenance.
'You thought I should keep you waiting?' he asked in a low voice
trembling with joy. 'I have watched the sun rise.'
'The door had not been opened--'
'My window is not high above the ground,' he answered, with an uncertain
They walked side by side over the heather, towards the beginning of a
wood, young fir trees mingling with gorse and bracken. Beyond was the
dense foliage of older growths. He had again taken one of her hands, and
so led her on.
She was able to look into his face for a moment, but the moving of her
lips gave no sound.
'I could not sleep,' he went on, 'so I read of you till dawn in the
Knightes Tale. It is a name I have always loved, sweet, musical, but of
deep meaning. Will you not let me hear you speak, Emily?'
She uttered a few timid words, then they passed on in silence till the
wood was all about them.
'May I tell you the plan which I have made in the night?' he said, as
they stood on a spot of smooth turf, netted with sunlight. 'You leave us
in two days. Before we start for London, I shall speak with my father,
and tell him what has come about. You remember what I was saying about
him the day before yesterday; perhaps it was with a half-thought of
this--so daring I was, you see! I have no fear of his kindness, his good
sense. At the same time, it is right you should know that my
independence is assured; my grandfather left me far more than enough for
mere needs. By the summer of next year I shall be free of Oxford. I care
little now for such honours as those; you have honoured me more than any
other voice has power to do. But my father would be disappointed if I
did not go on to the end, and do something of what is expected. Now you
must tell me freely is there absolute necessity for your maintaining
yourself in the meanwhile, for your leaving home?'
'There is,' she replied.
'Then will you continue to teach the children as usual?'
She was touched with apprehension.
'Gladly I would do so--but is it possible? Would you conceal from Mrs.
'I meant to. But your instincts are truer than mine; say what you think.
I believe my father would countenance it, for it involves no real
'If you wish it,' Emily said, after a silence, in a low voice.
'Of my aunt,' pursued Wilfrid, 'I have just this degree of doubt. She
might make difficulties; her ways of thinking differ often from ours.
Yet it is far better that you should continue to live with us. I myself
shall scarcely ever be at home; it will not be as if I dwelt under the
roof; I will make my visits as short as possible, not to trouble you. I
could not let you go to the house of other people--you to lack
consideration, perhaps to meet unkindness! Rather than that, you shall
stay in your own home, or I will not return to Oxford at all.'
Emily stood in anxious thought. He drew a step nearer to her; seemed
about to draw nearer still, but checked himself as she looked up.
'I fear we must not do that,' she said. 'Mrs. Rossall would not forgive
Woman's judgment of woman, and worth much more than Wilfrid's rough and
'Then she also shall know,' he exclaimed. 'She shall take nay view of
this; I will not be gainsaid. What is there in the plan that common
sense can object to? Your position is not that of a servant; you are
from the first our friend you honour us by the aid you give, efficient
as few could make it. Yes, there shall be no concealment far better so.'
'You have no fear of the views they will take?'
'None!' he said, with characteristic decision. 'If they are
unreasonable, absurd, our course is plain enough. You will be my wife
when I ask you to, Emily?'
She faltered, and held her hand to him.
'Is it worth while to go hack to Oxford?' he mused, caressing the
fingers he had kissed.
'Oh, yes; you must,' Emily urged, with a sort of fear in her sudden
courage. 'You must not disappoint them, your father, your friends.'
'My fair wise one!' he murmured, gazing rapturously at her. 'Oh, Emily,
think what our life will be! Shall we not drain the world of its wisdom,
youth of its delight! Hand in hand, one heart, one brain--what shall
escape us? It was you I needed to give completeness to my thought and
The old dream, the eternal fancy. This one, this and no other, chosen
from out the myriads of human souls. Individuality the servant of
passion; mysteries read undoubtingly with the eye of longing. Bead
perhaps so truly; who knows?
She came nearer, imperceptibly, her raised face aglow like the morning.
'Wilfrid--you believe--you know that I love you?'
The last word breathed out in the touching of lips with lips. What could
he reply, save those old, simple words of tenderness, that small
vocabulary of love, common to child and man? The goddess that made
herself woman for his sake--see, did he not hold her clasped to him! But
she was mute again. The birds sang so loudly round about them, uttered
their hearts so easily, but Emily could only speak through silence. And
afterwards she knew there was so much she should have said. What matter?
One cannot find tongue upon the threshold of the holy of holies.
A CONFLICT OF OPINIONS
Beatrice Redwing's visit only extended over the second day, and during
that there was little, if any, separate conversation between her and
Wilfrid. The change in her from the free gaiety and restfulness of the
morning of her arrival could not escape notice, though she affected a
continuance of the bright mood. Mr. Athel and his sister both observed
her real preoccupation, as if of trouble, and mentally attributed it to
something that had passed during the afternoon's ride. Mrs. Rossall did
not look for confidences. Beatrice would gossip freely enough of trivial
experiences, or of the details of faith and ritual, but the innermost
veil of her heart was never raised; all her friends felt that, though
they could not easily have explained in what way they became conscious
of this reserve, she seemed so thoroughly open, not to say so shallow.
She left The Firs to return to town, and thence in a week or two went to
Cowes, a favourite abode of her mother's.
The next day, Emily also left, journeying to London on her way to the
north, Wilfrid and she had no second meeting; their parting was formal,
in the family circle. Mr. Athel displayed even more than his usual
urbanity; Mrs. Rossall was genuinely gracious; the twins made many
promises to write from Switzerland. Emily was self-possessed, but
Wilfrid read in her face that she was going through an ordeal. He felt
the folly of his first proposal, that she should play a part before Mrs.
Rossall through the winter months. He decided, moreover, that no time
should be lost in making the necessary disclosure to his father.
Naturally it would be an anxious time with Emily till she had news from
him. She had asked him to direct letters to the Dunfield post office,
not to her home; it was better so for the present.
Wilfrid, though anything but weakly nervous, was impatient of suspense,
and, in face of a situation like the present, suffered from the
excitability of an imaginative temperament. He had by no means yet
outgrown the mood which, when he was a boy, made the anticipation of any
delight a physical illness. In an essentially feeble nature this extreme
sensibility is fatal to sane achievement; in Wilfrid it merely enforced
the vigour of his will. As a child he used to exclaim that he _could_
not wait; at present he was apt to say that he would not. He did not, in
very truth, anticipate difficulties with his father, his conviction of
the latter's reasonableness being strongly supported by immense
confidence in his own powers of putting a case incontrovertibly. As he
had said to Emily, he could scarcely allow that deep affection for his
father dwelt within him, nor did the nature of the case permit him to
feel exactly reverent; these stronger emotions were reserved for the
memory of the parent who was long dead. He thought of his father with
warm friendliness, that temper which is consistent with clear perception
of faults and foibles, which makes of them, indeed, an occasion for the
added kindliness of indulgence, and which, on the other hand, leaves
perfect freedom in judgment and action. We know that it is for the most
part a misfortune to be the son of a really great man, and for the
reason that nature, so indifferent to the individual, makes the
well-being of each generation mainly consist in early predominance over
the generation which gave it birth. Wilfrid suffered no such exceptional
hardship. At three-and-twenty he felt himself essentially his father's
superior. He would not have exposed the fact thus crudely, for he was
susceptible to the comely order of things. The fact was a fact, and
nature, not he, was responsible for it. That, and the circumstance of
his material independence, would necessarily keep the ensuing interview
well within the limits of urbane comedy. The young man smiled already at
the suggested comparison with his father's own choice in matrimony.
Wilfrid had never had the details of that story avowedly represented to
him, but it was inevitable that he should have learnt enough to enable
him to reconstruct them with tolerable accuracy.
Emily was gone long before the hour of luncheon. After that meal, Mr.
Athel lit a cigar and went to a favourite seat in the garden. Mrs.
Rossall was going with the twins to make a farewell call on neighbouring
friends. As soon as the carriage had left the house, Wilfrid sought his
father, who was amusing himself with a review.
'I thought you would have gone with your aunt,' Mr. Athel remarked,
after a glance to see who was approaching him.
'I had an object in remaining behind,' Wilfrid returned, composedly,
seating himself on a camp-stool which he had brought out. 'I wished to
talk over with you a matter of some importance.'
Mr. Athel stroked his chin, and smiled a little. It occurred to him at
once that something relative to Beatrice was about to be disclosed.
'What is it?' he added, throwing one leg over the other, and letting the
review lie open on his lap.
'It concerns Miss Hood,' pursued the other, assuming the same attitude,
save that he had nothing to lean hack against. 'A day or two ago I asked
her to engage herself to me, and she consented.'
Perhaps this was the simplest way of putting it. Wilfrid could not utter
the words with complete calmness; his hands had begun to tremble a
little, and his temples were hot. By an effort he kept his eyes steadily
fixed on his father's face, and what he saw there did not supply
encouragement to proceed in the genial tone with which he had begun. Mr.
Athel frowned, not angrily, but as if not quite able to grasp what had
been told him. He had cast his eyes down.
There was silence for a moment.
'I have chosen the earliest moment for telling you of this,' Wilfrid
continued, rather hurriedly. 'It was of course better to leave it till
Miss Hood had gone.'
On the father's face displeasure had succeeded to mere astonishment.
'You could have told me few things that I should be so sorry to hear,'
were his first words, delivered in an undertone and with grave
'Surely that does not express your better thought,' said Wilfrid, to
whom a hint of opposition at once gave the firmness he had lacked.
'It expresses my very natural thought. In the first place, it is not
pleasant to know that clandestine proceedings of this kind have been
going on under my roof. I have no wish to say anything disrespectful of
Miss Hood, but I am disposed to think that she has mistaken her
vocation; such talents for dissimulation would surely have pointed to--'
Mr. Athel had two ways of expressing displeasure. Where ceremony was
wholly unnecessary, he gave vent to his feelings in an outburst of
hearty English wrath, not coarsely, for his instincts were invariably
those of a gentleman, but in the cultivated autocratic tone; an
offending. groom, for instance, did not care to incur reproof a second
time. Where this mode of utterance was out of place, he was apt to have
recourse to a somewhat too elaborate irony, to involve himself in
phrases which ultimately led to awkward hesitations, with the effect
that he grew more heated by embarrassment. 'lad he been allowed to
proceed, he would at present have illustrated this failing, for he had
begun with extreme deliberation, smoothing the open pages with his right
hand, rounding his words, reddening a little in the face. But Wilfrid
'I must not let you speak or think of Miss Hood so mistakenly,' he said
firmly, but without unbecoming self-assertion. 'She could not possibly
have behaved with more reserve to me than she did until, three days ago,
I myself gave a new colour to our relations. The outward propriety which
you admit has been perfectly genuine; if there is any blame in the
matter--and how can there be any?--it rests solely upon me. I dare say
you remember my going out to fetch the "Spectator," after Miss Redwing
had been singing to us. By chance I met Miss Hood in the garden. I was
led to say something to her which made a longer interview inevitable;
she consented to meet me on the common before breakfast, the following
morning. These are the only two occasions which can be called
clandestine. If she has disguised herself since then, how could she have
behaved otherwise? Disguise is too strong a word; she has merely kept
silence. I need not inquire whether you fully believe what I say.'
'What you say, I believe, as a matter of course,' replied Mr. Athel, who
had drummed with his fingers as he listened impatiently. 'It can
scarcely alter my view of the position of things. Had you come to me
before offering yourself to this young lady, and done me the honour of
asking my advice, I should in all probability have had a rather strong
opinion to express; as it is, I don't see that there is anything left to
'What would your opinion have been?' Wilfrid asked.
'Simply that for an idle fancy, the unfortunate result of unoccupied
days, you were about to take a step which would assuredly lead to regret
at least, very probably to more active repentance. In fact, I should
have warned you not to spoil your life in its commencement.'
'I think, father, that you would have spoken with too little knowledge
of the case. You can scarcely know Miss Hood as I do. I have studied her
since we came here, and with--well, with these results.'
Mr. Athel looked up with grave sadness.
'Wilf, this is a deeply unfortunate thing, my boy. I grieve over it more
than I can tell you. I am terribly disappointed. Your position and your
hopes pointed to very different things. You have surprised me, too; I
thought your mind was already made up, in quite a different quarter.'
'You refer to Miss Redwing?'
'You have, indeed, been mistaken. It was impossible that I should think
of her as a wife. I must have sympathy, intellectual and moral. With her
I have none. We cannot talk without flagrant differences--differences of
a serious, a radical nature. Be assured that such a thought as this
never occurred to Miss Redwing herself; her very last conversation with
me forbids any such idea.'
Mr. Athel still drummed on the book, seemingly paying little heed to the
'You find sympathy in Miss Hood?' he asked suddenly, with a touch of
'The deepest. Her intellectual tendencies are the same as my own; she
has a mind which it. refreshes and delights me to discover. Of course
that is not all, but it is all I need speak of. I know that I have
chosen well and rightly.'
'I won't be so old-fashioned,' remarked Mr. Athel, still with subdued
sarcasm, 'as to hint that some thought of me might have entered into
your choosing' (did he consciously repeat his own father's words of
five-and-twenty years back, or was it but destiny making him play his
part in the human comedy?) 'and, in point of fact' (perhaps the parallel
touched him at this point), 'you are old enough to judge the affair on
its own merits. My wonder is that your judgment has not been sounder.
Has it occurred to you that a young lady in Miss Hood's position would
find it at all events somewhat difficult to be unbiassed in her assent
to what you proposed?'
'Nothing has occurred to me,' replied Wilfrid, more shortly than
hitherto, 'which could cast a shadow of suspicion on her perfect truth.
I beg that you will not suggest these things. Some day you will judge
her with better knowledge.'
'I am not sure of that,' was the rejoinder, almost irritably uttered.
'What do you mean by that, father?' Wilfrid asked in a lower tone.
'I mean, Wilf, that I am not yet in the frame of mind to regard the
children's governess as my daughter-in-law. Miss Hood may be all you
say; I would not willingly be anything but scrupulously just. The fact
remains that this is not the alliance which it became you to make. It
is, in a very pronounced sense, marrying beneath you. It is not easy for
me to reconcile myself to that.'
It was Wilfrid's turn to keep silence. What became of his plans? They
were hardly in a way to be carried out as he had conceived them. A
graver uneasiness was possessing him. Resolve would only grow by
opposition, but there was more of pain in announcing an independent
course than he had foreseen.
'What are your practical proposals?' his father inquired, his mollified
tone the result of observing that he had made a certain impression, for
he was distinctly one of the men who are to be overcome by yielding.
'I had a proposal to make, but of such a kind that it is hardly worth
while to speak of it. I shall have to reflect.'
'Let me hear what you were going to say. There's no harm in that, at all
'My idea was, that, with your consent and my aunt's, Miss Hood should
return just as if nothing had happened, and continue to teach the twins
till next summer, when I should have done with Oxford. There appears to
me to be nothing irrational or unseemly in such a plan. If she were our
cook or housemaid, there might be reasonable objections. As it is, it
would hardly involve a change even in your tone to her, seeing that you
are in the habit of treating her as a lady, and with a certain degree of
familiar kindness. I confess I had anticipated no difficulties. We are
not a household of bigoted Conservatives; it is hard for me to imagine
you taking any line but that of an enlightened man who judges all things
from the standpoint of liberal reflection. I suppose my own scorn of
prejudices is largely due to your influence. It is not easy to realise
our being in conflict on any matter involving calm reasonableness.'
In another this would have been a shrewd speech. Wilfrid was incapable
of conscious artifice of this kind; this appeal, the very strongest he
could have made to his father, was urged in all sincerity, and derived
its force from that very fact. He possessed not a little of the
persuasive genius which goes to make an orator--hereafter to serve him
in fields as yet undreamed of--and natural endowment guided his feeling
in the way of most impressive utterance. Mr. Athel smiled in spite of
'And what about your aunt?' he asked. 'Pray remember that it is only by
chance that Miss Hood lives under my roof. Do you imagine your aunt
Mr. Athel was, characteristically, rather fond of side-glancings at
feminine weaknesses. An opportunity of the kind was wont to mellow his
'To be quite open in the matter,' Wilfrid replied, 'I will own that my
first idea was to take you alone into my confidence; to ask you to say
nothing to Aunt Edith. Miss Hood felt that that would be impossible, and
I see that she was right. It would involve deceit which it is not in her
nature to practise.'
'You and Miss Hood have discussed us freely,' observed the father, with
a return to his irony.
'I don't reply to that,' said Wilfrid, quietly. 'I think you must give
me credit for the usual measure of self-respect; and Miss Hood does not
fall short of it.'
The look which Mr. Athel cast at his son had in it something of pride.
He would not trust himself to speak immediately.
'I don't say,' he began presently, with balancing of phrase, 'that your
plan is not on the face of it consistent and reasonable. Putting aside
for the moment the wretchedly unsatisfactory circumstances which
originate it, I suppose it is the plan which naturally suggests itself.
But, of course, in practice it is out of the question.'
'You feel sure that aunt would not entertain it?'
'I do. And I don't see how I could recommend her to do so.'
'In that case,' he said, 'I have only one alternative. I must give up my
intention of returning to Oxford, and marry before the end of the year.'
The words had to his own ears a somewhat explosive sound. They were
uttered, however, and he was glad of it. A purpose thus formulated he
would not swerve from. Of that his father too was well aware.
Mr. Athel rose from his seat, held the rolled-up magazine in both hands
behind his back, and took a turn across a few yards of lawn. Wilfrid sat
still, leaning forward, watching his father's shadow. The shadow
'Wilf, is there no _via media_? Cannot Miss Hood remain at home for a
while? Are you going to throw up your career, and lay in a stock of
repentance for the rest of your life?'
'I don't think you quite understand me, father. I contemplate no career
which could possibly be injured even by my immediate marriage. If you
mean University honours--I care nothing about them. I would go through
the routine just for the sake of completeness; it is her strong wish
that I should. But my future, most happily, does not depend on success
of that kind. I shall live the life of a student, my end will be
self-culture. And Miss Hood is unfortunately not able to remain at home.
I say unfortunately, but I should have regarded it as preferable that
she should continue in her position with us. You and aunt Edith would
come to know her, and the air of a home like ours would, I believe, suit
her better than that of her own. There is nothing in her work that might
not be performed by any lady.'
'What do you know of her people?'
'Nothing, except that her father has scientific interests. It is plain
enough, though, that they cannot be without refinement. No doubt they
are poor; we hardly consider that a crime.'
He rose, as if he considered the interview at an end.
'Look here,' said Mr. Athel, with a little bluffness, the result of a
difficulty in making concessions; 'if Miss Hood returned to us, as you
propose, should you consider it a point of honour to go on with your
work at Balliol as if nothing had happened, and to abstain from
communication with her of a kind which would make things awkward?'
'Both, undoubtedly. I could very well arrange to keep away from home
entirely in the interval.'
'Well, I think we have talked enough for the present. I have no kind of
sympathy with your position, pray understand that. I think you have made
about as bad a mistake as you could have done. All the same, I will
speak of this with your aunt--'
'I think you had better not do that,' interrupted Wilfrid, 'I mean with
any view of persuading her. I am afraid I can't very well bring myself
to compromises which involve a confession of childish error. It is
better I should go my own way.'
'Well, well, of course, if you take the strictly independent attitude--'
Mr. Athel took another turn on the lawn, his brows bent. It was the
first time that there had ever been an approach to serious difference
between himself and his son. The paternal instinct was strong in him,
and it was inevitable that he should be touched by sympathetic
admiration of his past self as revived in Wilfrid's firm and dignified
bearing. He approached the latter again.
'Come to me in the study about ten to-night, will you?' he said.
It was the end of the discussion for the present.
Shortly after dinner, when coffee had been brought to the drawing-room,
Wilfrid wandered out to the summer-house. Emily would be home by this
time. He thought of her....
'The deuce of it is,' exclaimed Mr. Athel, conversing with his sister,
'that it's so hard to find valid objections. If he had proposed to marry
a barmaid, one's course would be clear, but as it is--'
Mrs. Rossall had listened in silence to a matter-of-fact disclosure of
Wilfrid's proceedings. In the commencement her attention had marked
itself by a slight elevation of the brows; at the end she was cold and
rather disdainful. Observation of her face had the result of confirming
her brother in the apologetic tone. He was annoyed at perceiving that
Edith would justify his prediction.
'I am sorry to hear it, of course,' were her first words, 'but I suppose
Wilfrid will act as he chooses.'
'Well, but this isn't all,' pursued Mr. Athel, laying aside an
affectation of half-humorous indulgence which he had assumed. 'He has
urged upon me an extraordinary proposal. His idea is that Miss Hood
might continue to hold her position here until he has taken his degree.'
'I am not surprised. You of course told him that such a thing was out of
'I said that _you_ would probably consider it so.'
'But surely--Do you hold a different view?'
'Really, I hold no views at all. I am not sure that I have got the right
focus yet. I know that the plans of a lifetime are upset; I can't get
much beyond that at present.'
Mrs. Rossall was deeply troubled. She sat with her eyes drooped, her
lower lip drawn in.
'Do you refer to any plan in particular?' she asked next.
'Yes, I suppose I do.'
'I am very, very sorry for Beatrice,' she said, in a subdued voice.
'You think it will---'
Mrs. Rossall raised her eyebrows a little, and kept her air of pained
'Well, what is to be done?' resumed her brother, always impatient of
mere negatives. 'He has delivered a sort of ultimatum. In the event of
this proposal--as to Miss Hood's return--being rejected, he marries at
'And then goes back to Balliol?'
'No, simply abandons his career.'
Mrs. Rossall smiled. It was not in woman's nature to be uninterested by
decision such as this.
'Do you despair of influencing him?' she asked.
'Entirely. He will not hear of her taking another place in the interval,
and it seems there are difficulties in the way of her remaining at home.
Of course I see very well the objections on the surface to her coming
'The objections are not on the surface at all, they are fundamental. You
are probably not in a position to see the ease as I do. Such a state of
things would be ludicrous; we should all be playing parts in a farce. He
cannot have made such a proposal to her; she would have shown him at
once its absurdity.'
'But the fact of the matter is that she acceded to it,' said Mr. Athel,
with a certain triumph over female infallibility.
'Then I think worse of her than I did, that's all.'
'I'm not at all sure that you are right in that,' observed her brother,
with an impartial air. 'Pray tell me your serious opinion of Miss Hood.
One begins, naturally, with a suspicion that she has not been altogether
passive in this affair. What Wilf says is, of course, nothing to the
point; he protests that her attitude has been irreproachable.'
'Especially in making assignations for six o'clock in the morning.'
'Well, well, that is merely granting the issue; you are a trifle'
'No doubt I am. You, on the other hand, seem to be very much of Wilf's
opinion. I am sorry that I can't do as you wish,'
'Well, we shall not gain anything by giving way to irritation. He must
be told how matters stand, and judge for himself.'
As Mr. Athel was speaking, Wilfrid entered the room. Impatience had
overcome him. He knew of course that a discussion was in progress
between his father and his aunt, and calm waiting upon other people's
decisions was not in his nature. He came forward and seated himself.
'I gather from your look, aunt,' he began, when the others did not seem
disposed to break silence, 'that you take my father's view of what he
has been telling you.'
'I am not sure what your father's view is,' was Mrs. Rossall's reply,
given very coldly. 'But I certainly think you have proposed what is
'Yes, you are right,' rejoined Wilfrid, to the surprise of both. 'The
plan was not well considered. Pray think no more of it.'
'What do you substitute?' his father inquired, after another long
'I cannot say.' He paused, then continued with some emotion, 'I would
gladly have had your sympathy. Perhaps I fail to see the whole matter in
the same light as yourselves, but it seems to me that in the step I have
taken there is nothing that should cause lasting difference between us.
I involve the family in no kind of disgrace--that, I suppose, you
Mrs. Rossall made no answer. Mr. Athel moved uneasily upon his chair,
coughed, seemed about to speak, but in the end said nothing.
'I am afraid I shall not be able to leave England with you,' continued
Wilfrid, rising. 'But that fortunately need cause no change in your
Mr. Athel was annoyed at his sister's behaviour. He had looked to her
for mediation; clearly she would offer nothing of the kind. She was
wrapping herself in a cloak of offended dignity; she had withdrawn from
'Come with me to my room,' he said moving from his chair.
'I think it will be better to have no further discussion, Wilfrid
replied firmly, 'at all events to-night.'
'As you please,' said his father, shortly.
He went from the room, and Wilfrid, without further speech to his aunt,
THE SHADOW OF HOME
The house which was the end of Emily's journey was situated two miles
outside the town of Dunfield, on the high road going southward, just
before it enters upon a rising tract of common land known as the Heath.
It was one of a row of two-storied dwellings, built of glazed brick,
each with a wide projecting window on the right hand of the front door,
and with a patch of garden railed in from the road, the row being part
of a straggling colony which is called Banbrigg. Immediately opposite
these houses stood an ecclesiastical edifice of depressing appearance,
stone-built, wholly without ornament, presenting a corner to the
highway, a chapel-of-ease for worshippers unable to go as far as
Dunfield in the one direction or the village of Pendal in the other.
Scattered about were dwelling-houses old and new; the former being
cottages of the poorest and dirtiest kind, the latter brick structures
of the most unsightly form, evidently aiming at constituting themselves
into a thoroughfare, and, in point of fact, already rejoicing in the
name of Regent Street. There was a public-house, or rather, as it
frankly styled itself in large letters on the window, a dram-shop; and
there were two or three places for the sale of very miscellaneous
articles, exhibiting the same specimens of discouraging stock throughout
the year. At no season, and under no advantage of sky, was Banbrigg a
delectable abode. Though within easy reach of country which was not
without rural aspects, it was marked too unmistakably with the squalor
of a manufacturing district. Its existence impressed one as casual; it
was a mere bit of Dunfield got away from the main mass, and having
brought its dirt with it. The stretch of road between it and the bridge
by which the river was crossed into Dunfield had in its long, hard
ugliness something dispiriting. Though hedges bordered it here and
there, they were stunted and grimed; though fields were seen on this
side and on that, the grass had absorbed too much mill-smoke to exhibit
wholesome verdure; it was fed upon by sheep and cows, seemingly turned
in to be out of the way till needed for slaughter, and by the sorriest
of superannuated horses. The land was blighted by the curse of what we
name--using a word as ugly as the thing it represents--industrialism.
As the cab brought her along this road from Dunfield station, Emily
thought of the downs, the woodlands, the fair pastures of Surrey. There
was sorrow at her heart, even a vague tormenting fear. It would be hard
to find solace in Banbrigg.
Hither her parents had come to live when she was thirteen years old, her
home having previously been in another and a larger manufacturing town.
Her father was a man marked for ill-fortune: it pursued him from his
entrance into the world, and would inevitably--you read it in his
face--hunt him into a sad grave. He was the youngest of a large family;
his very birth had been an added misery to a household struggling with
want. His education was of the slightest; at twelve years of age he was
already supporting himself, or, one would say, keeping himself above the
point of starvation; and at three-and-twenty--the age when Wilfrid Athel
is entering upon life in the joy of freedom--was ludicrously bankrupt, a
petty business he had established being sold up for a debt something
short of as many pounds as he had years. He drifted into indefinite
mercantile clerkships, an existence possibly preferable to that of the
fourth circle of Inferno, and then seemed at length to have fallen upon
a piece of good luck, such as, according to a maxim of pathetic optimism
wherewith he was wont to cheer himself, must come to every man sooner or
later--provided he do not die of hunger whilst it is on the way. He
married a schoolmistress, one Miss Martin, who was responsible for the
teaching of some twelve or fifteen children of tender age, and who, what
was more, owned the house in which she kept school. The result was that
James Hood once more established himself in business, or rather in
several businesses, vague, indescribable, save by those who are unhappy
enough to understand such matters--a commission agency, a life insurance
agency and a fire insurance ditto, I know not what. Yet the semblance of
prosperity was fleeting. As if connection with him meant failure, his
wife's school, which she had not abandoned (let us employ negative terms
in speaking of this pair), began to fall off; ultimately no school was
left. It did in truth appear that Miss Martin had suffered something in
becoming Mrs. Hood. At her marriage she was five-and-twenty, fairly
good-looking, in temper a trifle exigent perhaps, sanguine, and capable
of exertion; she could not claim more than superficial instruction, but
taught reading and writing with the usual success which attends teachers
of these elements. After the birth of her first child, Emily, her moral
nature showed an unaccountable weakening; the origin was no doubt
physical, but in story-telling we dwell very much on the surface of
things; it is not permitted us to describe human nature too accurately.
The exigence of her temper became something generally described by a
harsher term; she lost her interest in the work which she had
unwillingly entrusted for a time to an assistant; she found the
conditions of her life hard. Alas, they grew harder. After Emily, two
children were successively born; fate was kind to them, and neither
survived infancy. Their mother fell into fretting, into hysteria; some
change in her life seemed imperative, and at length she persuaded her
husband to quit the town in which they lived, and begin life anew
elsewhere. Begin life anew! James Hood was forty years old; he
possessed, as the net result of his commercial enterprises, a capital of
a hundred and thirty pounds. The house, of course, could be let, and
would bring five-and-twenty pounds a year. This it was resolved to do.
He had had certain dealings in Dunfield, and in Dunfield he would strike
his tent--that is to say, in Banbrigg, whence he walked daily to a
little office in the town. Rents were lower in Banbrigg, and it was
beyond the range of certain municipal taxings.
Mrs. Hood possessed still her somewhat genteel furniture. One article
was a piano, and upon this she taught Emily her notes. It had been a
fairly good piano once, but the keys had become very loose. They were
looser than ever, now that Emily tried to play on them, on her return
Business did not thrive in Dunfield; yet there was more than ever need
that it should, for to neglect Emily's education would be to deal
cruelly with the child--she would have nothing else to depend upon in
her battle with the world. Poor Emily A feeble, overgrown child, needing
fresh air, which she could not get, needing food of a better kind, just
as unattainable. Large-eyed, thin-checked Emily; she, too, already in
the clutch of the great brute world, the helpless victim of a
civilisation which makes its food of those the heart most pities. How
well if her last sigh had been drawn in infancy, if she had lain with
the little brother and sister in that gaunt, grimy cemetery, under the
shadow of mill chimneys! She was reserved for other griefs; for
consolations, it is true, but--
Education she did get, by hook or by crook; there was dire pinching to
pay for it, and, too well knowing this, the child strove her utmost to
use the opportunities offered her. Each morning going into Dunfield,
taking with her some sandwiches that were called dinner, walking home
again by tea-time, tired, hungry--ah, hungry No matter the weather, she
must walk her couple of miles--it was at least so far to the school. In
winter you saw her set forth with her waterproof and umbrella, the
too-heavy bag of books on her arm; sometimes the wind and rain beating
as if to delay her--they, too, cruel. In summer the hot days tried her
perhaps still more; she reached home in the afternoon well-nigh
fainting, the books were so heavy. Who would not have felt kindly to
her? So gentle she was, so dreadfully shy and timid, her eyes so eager,
so full of unconscious pathos. 'Hood's little girl,' said the people on
the way who saw her pass daily, and, however completely strangers, they
said it with a certain kindness of tone and meaning. A little thing that
happened one day--take it as an anecdote. On her way to school she
passed some boys who were pelting a most wretched dog, a poor, scraggy
beast driven into a corner. Emily, so timid usually she could not raise
her eyes before a stranger, stopped, quivering all over, _commanded_
them to cease their brutality, divine compassion become a heroism. The
boys somehow did her bidding, and walked on together. Emily stayed
behind, opened her bag, threw something for the dog to eat. It was half
Her mind braced itself. She had a passionate love of learning; all books
were food to her. Fortunately there was the library of the Mechanics'
Institute; but for that she would have come short of mental sustenance,
for her father had never been able to buy mole than a dozen volumes, and
these all dealt with matters of physical science. The strange things she
read, books which came down to her from the shelves with a thickness of
dust upon them; histories of Greece and Rome ('Not much asked for,
these,' said the librarian), translations of old classics, the Koran,
Mosheim's 'Ecclesiastical History,' works of Swedenborg, all the poetry
she could lay hands on, novels not a few. One day she asked for a book
on 'Gymnoblastic Hydroids'; the amazing title in the catalogue had
filled her with curiosity; she must know the meaning of everything. She
was not idle, Emily.
But things in the home were going from bad to worse. When Emily was
sixteen, her father scarcely knew where to look for each day's dinner.
Something must be done. Activity took a twofold direction. First of all,
Emily got work as a teacher in an infant's school. It was at her own
motion; she could bear her mother's daily querulousness no longer; she
must take some step. She earned a mere trifle; but it was earning,
instead of being a source of expense. And in the meantime she worked on
for certain examinations which it would benefit her to have passed. The
second thing done was that her father abandoned his office, and obtained
a place in the counting-house of a worsted-mill, under the firm of
Dagworthy and Son. His salary was small, but the blessing of it was its
certainty; the precariousness of his existence had all but driven poor
Hood mad. There came a season of calm. Emily's sphere of work extended
itself; the school only took her mornings, and for the afternoon there
was proposed to her the teaching of the little Baxendales. The
Baxendales were well-to-do people; the father was, just then, mayor of
Dunfield, the mother was related to the member of Parliament for the
town. We have had mention of them as connections of Beatrice Redwing.
At nineteen she for the first time left home. Through the Baxendales she
obtained the position of governess in a family residing in Liverpool,
and remained with them till she went to London, to the Athels. These
three years in Liverpool were momentous for her; they led her from
girlhood to womanhood, and established her character. Her home was in
the house of a prosperous ship-owner, a Lancashire man, outwardly a
blustering good-tempered animal, yet with an inner light which showed
itself in his love of books and pictures, in his easy walking under the
burden of self-acquired riches, in a certain generous freedom which
marked his life and thoughts. His forename was Laurence: Emily, in
letters to her father, used to call him Lorenzo the Magnificent, a title
which became him well enough. In the collection of works of art he was
really great; he must have spent appalling sums annually on his picture
gallery and the minor ornaments scattered about his house. He had a
personal acquaintance, through his pecuniary dealings, with the foremost
artists of the day; he liked to proclaim the fact and describe the men.
To Emily the constant proximity of these pictures was a priceless
advantage; the years she spent among them were equivalent to a
university course. Moreover, she enjoyed, as with the Athels later, a
free command of books; here began her acquaintance with the most modern
literature, which was needful to set her thoughts in order, to throw
into right perspective her previous miscellaneous reading, and to mark
out her way in the future. Her instinctive craving for intellectual
beauty acquired a reflective consistency; she reformed her ideals, found
the loveliness of much that in her immaturity had seemed barren, put
aside, with gentle firmness, much that had appeared indispensable to her
moral life. The meanings which she attached to that word 'moral' largely
modified themselves, that they should do so was the note of her
progress. Her prayer was for 'beauty in the inward soul,' which, if it
grew to be her conviction, was greatly--perhaps wholly--dependent on
the perception of external beauty. The development of beauty in the soul
would mean a life of ideal purity; all her instincts pointed to such a
life; her passionate motives converged on the one end of spiritual
One ever-present fear she had to strive with in her progress toward
serene convictions. The misery of her parents' home haunted her, and by
no effort could she expel the superstition that she had only escaped
from that for a time, that its claws would surely overtake her and fix
themselves again in her flesh. Analysing her own nature, she discerned,
or thought she did, a lack of independent vigour; it seemed as if she
were too reliant on external circumstances; she dreaded what might
follow if their assistance were withdrawn. To be sure she had held her
course through the countless discouragements of early years; but that,
in looking back, seemed no assurance for the future; her courage, it
appeared to her, had been of the unconscious kind, and might fail her
when she consciously demanded it. As a child she had once walked in her
sleep, had gone forth from the house, and had, before she was awakened,
crossed the narrow footing of a canal-lock, a thing her nervousness
would not allow her to do at other times. This became to her a figure.
The feat she had performed when mere vital instinct guided her, she
would have failed in when attempting it with the full understanding of
its danger. Suppose something happened which put an end to her
independence--failure of health, some supreme calamity at home--could
she hold on in the way of salvation? Was she capable of conscious
heroism? Could her soul retain its ideal of beauty if environed by
The vice of her age--nay, why call it a vice?--the necessary issue of
that intellectual egoism which is the note of our time, found as good
illustration in this humble life as in men and women who are the
mouthpieces of a civilisation. Pre occupied with problems of her own
relation to the world, she could not enjoy without thought in the rear,
ever ready to trouble her with suggestions of unreality. Her distresses
of conscience were all the more active for being purely human; in her
soul dwelt an immense compassion, which, with adequate occasion, might
secure to itself such predominance as to dwarf into inefficiency her
religion of culture. It was exquisite misery to conceive, as, from inner
observation, she so well could, some demand of life which would make her
ideals appear the dreams of bygone halcyon days, useless and worse amid
the threats of gathering tempest. An essentially human apprehension, be
it understood. The vulgarities of hysterical pietism Emily had never
known; she did not fear the invasion of such blight as that; the thought
of it was noisome to her. Do you recall a kind of trouble that came upon
her, during that talk in the hollow, when Wilfrid suggested the case of
her being called upon to make some great sacrifice in her father's
behalf? It was an instance of the weakness I speak of; the fact of
Wilfrid's putting forward such a thought had in that moment linked her
to him with precious bonds of sympathy, till she felt as if he had seen
into the most secret places of her heart. She dreaded the force of her
compassionateness. That dog by the roadside; how the anguish of its eyes
had haunted her through the day I It was the revolt of her whole being
against the cruelty inherent in life. That evening she could not read
the book she had in hand; its phrases seemed to fall into triviality.
Yet--she reasoned at a later time--it should not have been so; the
haggard gaze of fate should not daunt one; pity is but an element in the
soul's ideal of order, it should not usurp a barren sovereignty. It is
the miserable contradiction in our lot that the efficiency of the
instincts of beauty-worship waits upon a force of individuality
attainable only by a sacrifice of sensibility. Emily divined this. So it
was that she came to shun the thought of struggle, to seek an abode
apart from turbid conditions of life. She was bard at work building for
her soul its 'lordly pleasure-house,' its Palace of Art. Could she, poor
as she was, dependent, bound by such obvious chains to the gross earth,
hope to abide in her courts and corridors for ever?...
Friday was the day of her arrival at Banbrigg. On the Saturday afternoon
she hoped to enjoy a walk with her father; he would reach home from the
mill shortly after two o'clock, and would then have his dinner. Mrs.
Hood dined at one, and could not bring herself to alter the hour for
Saturday; it was characteristic of her. That there might be no culinary
cares on Sunday morning, she always cooked her joint of meat on the last
day of the week; partaking of it herself at one o'clock, she cut slices
for her husband and kept them warm, with vegetables, in the oven. This
was not selfishness in theory, however much it may have been so in
practice; it merely meant that she was unable to introduce variation
into a mechanical order; and, as her husband never dreamed of
complaining, Mrs. Hood could see in the arrangement no breach of the
fitness of things, even though it meant that poor Hood never sat down to
a freshly cooked meal from one end of the year to the other. To Emily it
was simply a detestable instance of the worst miseries she had to endure
at home. Coming on this first day, it disturbed her much. She knew the
uselessness, the danger, of opposing any traditional habit, but her
appetite at one o'clock was small.
Mrs. Hood did not keep a servant in the house; she engaged a charwoman
once a week, and did all the work at other times herself. This was not
strictly necessary; the expense of such a servant as would have answered
purposes could just have been afforded; again and again Emily had
entreated to be allowed to pay a girl out of her own earnings. Mrs. Hood
steadily refused. No, she had _once_ known what it was to have luxuries
about her (that was naturally before her marriage), but those days were
gone by. She thus entailed upon herself a great deal of labour, at once
repugnant to her tastes and ill-suited to the uncertainty of her health,
but all this was forgotten in the solace of possessing a standing
grievance, one obvious at all moments, to be uttered in a sigh, to be
emphasised by the affectation of cheerfulness. The love which was
Emily's instinct grew chill in the presence of such things.
Saturday was from of old a day of ills. The charwoman was in the house,
and Mrs. Hood went about in a fatigued way, coming now and then to the
sitting-room, sinking into a chair, letting her head fall back with
closed eyes. Emily had, of course, begged to be allowed to give
assistance, but her mother declared that there was nothing whatever she
'Shut the door,' she said, 'and then you won't hear the scrubbing so
plainly. I can understand that it annoys you; I used to have the same
feeling, but I've accustomed myself. You might play something; it would
keep away your thoughts.'
'But I don't want to keep away my thoughts,' exclaimed Emily, with a
laugh. 'I want to help you so that you will have done the sooner.'
'No, no, my dear; you are not used to it. You'll tell me when you'd like
something to eat if you get faint.'
'I am not likely t6 grow faint, mother, if I do nothing.'
'Well, well; I have a sinking feeling now and then, I thought you might
be the same.'
Just when his dinner in the oven had had time to grow crusty, Mr. Hood
arrived. He was a rather tall man, of sallow complexion, with greyish
hair. The peculiarly melancholy expression of his face was due to the
excessive drooping of his eyelids under rounded brows; beneath the eyes
were heavy lines; he generally looked like one who has passed through a
night of sleepless grief. He wore a suit of black, which had for several
years been his reserve attire, till it grew too seamy for use on
Sundays. The whole look of the man was saddening; to pass him in the
street as a stranger was to experience a momentary heaviness of heart.
He had very long slender fingers--Emily's matchless hand in a
rudimentary form--and it seemed to be a particular solicitude to keep
them scrupulously clean; he frequently examined them, and appeared to
have a pleasure in handling things in a dainty way--the pages of a
book, for instance. When he smiled it was obviously with effort--a
painful smile, for all that an exceedingly gentle one. In his voice
there was the same gentleness, a self-suppression, as it were; his way
of speaking half explained his want of success in life.
Emily was standing at the window in expectation of his coming. As soon
as he reached the iron gate in front of the house she ran to open the
door for him. He did not quicken his step, even stopped to close the
gate with deliberate care, but if his face could ever be said to light
up, it did so as he bent to the girl's kiss. She took his hat from him,
and went to see that his dinner was made ready.
'How fine it is!' he said in his subdued tone, when he came downstairs
and stood by the table stroking his newly washed hands. 'Shall we have a
walk before tea-time? Mother is too busy, I'm afraid.'
Mrs. Hood came into the room shortly, and seated herself in the usual
'Did you bring the cake?' she asked, when her presence had caused
silence for a few moments.
'The cake?' he repeated in surprise.
'Didn't I ask you to bring a cake? I suppose my memory is going; I meant
to, and thought I mentioned it at breakfast. I shall have nothing for
Emily protested that it was needless to get unusual things on her
'We must do what we can to make you comfortable, my dear. I can't keep a
table like that you are accustomed to, but that I know you don't expect.
Which way are you going to walk this afternoon? If you pass a shop you
might get a cake, or buns, whichever you like.'
'Well, I thought we might have a turn over the Heath,' said Mr. Hood.
'However, we'll see what we can do.'
A thought of some anxious kind appeared suddenly to strike Mrs. Hood;
she leaned forward in her chair, seemed to listen, then started up and
out of the room.
Emily sat where she could not see her father eating; it pained,
exasperated her to be by him whilst he made such a meal. He ate slowly,
with thought of other things; at times his eye wandered to the window,
and he regarded the sky in a brooding manner. He satisfied his hunger
without pleasure, apparently with indifference. Shortly after three
o'clock the two started for their walk. Not many yards beyond the house
the road passed beneath a railway bridge, then over a canal, and at once
entered upon the common. The Heath formed the long side of a slowly
rising hill; at the foot the road divided itself into two branches, and
the dusty tracks climbed at a wide angle with each other. The one which
Emily and her father pursued led up to stone quarries, which had been
for a long time in working, and, skirting these, to the level ground
above them, which was the end of the region of furze and bracken. Here
began a spacious tract of grassy common; around it were houses of
pleasant appearance, one or two meriting the name of mansion. In one of
them dwelt Mr. Richard Dagworthy, the mill-owner, in whose
counting-house James Hood earned his living. He alone represented the
firm of Dagworthy and Son; his father had been dead two years, and more
recently he had become a widower, his wife leaving him one child still
At the head of the quarries the two paused to look back upon Dunfield.
The view from this point was extensive, and would have been interesting
but for the existence of the town itself. It was seen to lie in a broad
valley, along which a river flowed; the remoter districts were
pleasantly wooded, and only the murkiness in the far sky told that a yet
larger centre of industry lurked beyond the horizon. Dunfield offered no
prominent features save the chimneys of its factories and its fine
church, the spire of which rose high above surrounding buildings; over
all hung a canopy of foul vapour, heavy, pestiferous. Take in your
fingers a spray from one of the trees even here on the Heath, and its
touch left a soil.
'How I wish you could see the views from the hills in Surrey!' Emily
exclaimed when they had stood in silence. 'I can imagine nothing more
delightful in English scenery. It realises my idea of perfect rural
beauty, as I got it from engravings after the landscape painters. Oh,
you shall go there with me some day.'
Her father smiled and shook his head a little.
'Perhaps,' he said; and added a favourite phrase of his, 'while there is
life there is hope.'
'Of course there is,' rejoined Emily, with gaiety which was unusual in
her. 'No smoke; the hills blue against a lovely sky! trees covered to
the very roots with greenness; rich old English homes and cottages--oh,
you know the kind your ideal of a cottage--low tiled roofs, latticed
windows, moss and lichen and climbing flowers. Farmyards sweet with hay,
and gleaming dairies. That country is my home!'
With how rich a poetry it clothed itself in her remembrance, the land of
milk and honey, indeed, her heart's home. It was all but impossible to
keep the secret of her joy, yet she had resolved to do so, and her
purpose held firm.
'I am very glad indeed that you are so happy there,' sail her father,
looking at her with that quiet absorption in another's mood of which he
was so capable. 'But it will be London through the winter. You haven't
told me much about London; but then you were there so short a time.'
'But I saw much. Mrs. Rossall could not have been kinder; for the first
few days it was almost as if I had been a visitor; I was taken
'I should like to see London before I die,' mused her father. 'Somehow I
have never managed to get so far.'
'Oh, we will see it together some day.'
'There's one thing,' said Mr. Hood, reflectively, 'that I wish
especially to see, and that is Holborn Viaduct. It must be a wonderful
piece of engineering; I remember thinking it out at the time it was
constructed. Of course you have seen it?'
'I am afraid not. We are very far away from the City. But I will go and
see it on the first opportunity.'
'Do, and send me a full description.'
His thoughts reverted to the views before them.
'After all, this isn't so bad. There's a great advantage in living so
near the Heath. I'm sure the air here is admirable; don't you smell how
fresh it is? And then, one gets fond of the place one's lived in for
years. I believe I should find it hard to leave Dunfield.'
Emily smiled gently.
'I wonder,' he pursued, 'whether you have the kind of feeling that came
to me just then? It struck me that, suppose anything happened that would
enable us to go and live in another place, there would be a sort of
ingratitude, something like a shabby action, in turning one's back on
the old spot. I don't like to feel unkind even to a town.'
The girl glanced at him with meaning eyes. Here was an instance of the
sympathetic relations of which she had spoken to Wilfrid; in these words
was disclosed the origin of the deepest sensibilities of her own nature.
They pursued their walk, across the common and into a tree-shaded lane.
Emily tried to believe that this at length was really the country; there
were no houses in view, meadows lay on either hand, the leafage was
thick. But it was not mere prejudice which saw in every object a
struggle with hard conditions, a degeneration into coarseness, a blight.
The quality of the earth was probably poor to begin with; the herbage
seemed of gross fibre; one would not risk dipping a finger in the stream
which trickled by the roadside, it suggested an impure source. And
behold, what creatures are these coming along the lane, where only
earth-stained rustics should be met? Two colliers, besmutted wretches,
plodding homeward from the 'pit' which is half a mile away. Yes, their
presence was in keeping with the essential character of the scene.
'One might have had a harder life,' mused Mr. Hood aloud, when the
pitmen were gone by.
'I think there's a fallacy in that,' replied Emily. 'Their life is
probably not hard at all. I used to feel that pity, but I have reasoned
myself out of it. They are really happy, for they know nothing of their
'By the bye,' said her father presently, 'how is young Mr. Athel, the
young fellow who had to come home from college ?'
'He is quite well again, I think,' was Emily's reply.
'I suppose, poor fellow, he has a very weak constitution?'
'Oh no, I think not.'
'What is he studying for? Going into the Church?'
Emily laughed; it was a relief to do so.
'Isn't it strange,' she said, 'how we construct an idea of an unknown
person from some circumstance or piece of description? I see exactly
what your picture of Mr. Athel is: a feeble and amiable young man, most
likely with the shocking voice with which curates sometimes read the
She broke off and laughed again.
'Well,' said her father, 'I admit I thought of him a little in that
way--I scarcely know why.'
'You could hardly have been further from the truth. Try to imagine the
intellectual opposite of such a young man, and you--That will be far
more like Mr. Athel.'
'He isn't conceited? My want of experience has an unfortunate tendency
to make me think of young fellows in his position as unbearably vain. It
must be so hard to avoid it.'
'Perhaps it is, if they have the common misfortune to be born without
Other subjects engaged their attention.
'When do you take your holiday, father?' Emily asked.
'I think about the middle of this month. It won't be more than a week or
'Don't you think you ought to go to Cleethorpes, if only for a day or
To suggest any other place of summer retreat would have been too
alarming. Mr. Hood's defect of imagination was illustrated in this
matter; he had been somehow led, years ago, to pay a visit to
Cleethorpes, and since then that one place represented for him the
seaside. Others might be just as accessible and considerably more
delightful, but it did not even occur to him to vary. It would have cost
him discomfort to do so, the apprehension of entering upon the unknown.
The present was the third summer which had passed without his quitting
home. Anxiety troubled his countenance as Emily made the proposal.
'Not this year, I think,' he said, as if desirous of passing the subject
'Father, what possible objection can there be to my bearing the expense
of a week at Cleethorpes? You know how well I can afford it; indeed I
should like to go; it is rather unkind of you to refuse.'
This was an old subject of discussion. Since Emily had lived away from
home, not only her father, but her mother just as strenuously, had
refused to take from her any of the money that she earned. It had been
her habit at first indirectly to overcome this resistance by means of
substantial presents in holiday time; but she found such serious
discomfort occasioned by the practice that most reluctantly she had
abandoned it. For the understanding of the Hoods' attitude in this
matter, it must be realised how deeply their view of life was coloured
by years of incessant preoccupation with pecuniary difficulties. The
hideous conception of existence which regards each individual as
fighting for his own hand, striving for dear life against every other
individual, was ingrained in their minds by the inveterate bitterness of
their own experience; when Emily had become a woman, and was gone forth
to wrest from the adverse world her own subsistence, her right to what
she earned was indefeasible, and affection itself protested against her
being mulcted for their advantage. As for the slight additional expense
of her presence at home during the holidays, she must not be above
paying a visit to her parents; the little inconsistency was amiable
enough. Father and mother both held forth to her in the same tone: 'You
have the battle of life before you; it is a terrible one, and the world
is relentless. Not only is it your right, but your very duty, to spare
every penny you can; for, if anything happened to prevent your earning
money, you would become a burden upon us--a burden we would gladly
strive to bear, but the thought of which would be very hard for
yourself. If, on the other hand, your mother were left a widow, think
how dreadful it would be if you could give her no assistance. You are
wrong in spending one farthing more than your absolute needs require; to
say you do it in kindness to us is a mere mistake of yours.' The logic
was not to be encountered; it was as irresistible as the social
conditions which gave it birth. Emily had abandoned discussion on these
points; such reasoning cost her sickness of heart. In practice she
obeyed her parents' injunctions, for she herself was hitherto only too
well aware of the fate which might come upon her in consequence of the
most trifling mishap; she knew that no soul in the world save her
parents would think it a duty to help her, save in the way of bare
charity. Naturally her old point of view was now changed; it was this
that led her to revive the discussion with her father, and to speak in a
tone which Mr. Hood heard with some surprise.
'Next year, perhaps, Emily,' he said. 'After Surrey, I don't think you
can really need another change. I am delighted to see how well you look.
I, too, am remarkably well, and I can't help thinking your mother gets
stronger. How do you find her looking?'
'Better than usual, I really think. All the same, it is clearly
impossible for you and her to live on year after year without any kind
'Oh, my dear, we don't feel it. It's so different with older people; a
change rather upsets us than otherwise. You know how nervous your mother
gets when she is away from home.'
Their walk brought them round again to the top of the Heath. Mr. Hood
looked at his watch, and found that it was time to be moving homewards.
Tea was punctually at five. Mrs. Hood would take it ill if they were
late, especially on Saturday.
As they walked across the smooth part of the upper common, looking at
the houses around, they saw coming towards them a gentleman followed by
three dogs. He was dressed in a light tweed suit, and brandished a
walking-stick, as if animal spirits possessed him strongly.
'Why, here comes Mr. Dagworthy,' remarked Mr. Hood, in a low tone,
though the other was still at a considerable distance. 'He generally
goes off somewhere on Saturday afternoon. What a man he is for dogs! I
believe he keeps twenty or thirty at the house there.'
Emily evinced just a little self-consciousness. It was possible that Mr.
Dagworthy would stop to speak, for she had become, in a measure,
acquainted with him in the preceding spring. She was at home then for a
few weeks before her departure for London, and the Baxendales, who had
always shown her much kindness, invited her to an evening party, at
which Dagworthy was present. He had chatted with her on that occasion.
Yes, he was going to speak. He was a man of five-and-thirty, robust,
rather florid, with eyes which it was not disagreeable to meet, though
they gazed with embarrassing persistency, and a mouth which he would
have done well to leave under the natural shelter of a moustache; it was
at once hard and sensual. The clean-shaving of his face gave his
appearance a youthfulness to which his tone of speech did not
'How do you do, Miss Hood? Come once more into our part of the world,
then? You have been in London, I hear.'
It was the tone of a man long accustomed to have his own way in life,
and not overmuch troubled with delicacies of feeling. His address could
not be called disrespectful, but the smile which accompanied it
expressed a sort of good-natured patronage, perhaps inevitable in such a
man when speaking to his clerk's daughter. The presence of the clerk
himself very little concerned him. He kept his eyes steadily on the
girl's face, examining her with complete frankness. His utterance was
that of an educated man, but it had something of the Yorkshire accent, a
broadness which would have distressed the ear in a drawing-room.
Emily replied that she had been in London; it did not seem necessary to
enter into details.
'Pleasant afternoon, isn't it? Makes one want to get away to the moors.
I suppose you will be off somewhere soon with your family, Mr. Hood?'
He would not have employed the formal prefix to his clerk's name but for
Emily's presence; the father knew that, and felt grateful.
'Not this year, I think, sir,' he replied, with perfect cheerfulness.
Of the three dogs that accompanied Dagworthy, one was a handsome collie.
This animal came snuffing at Emily's hand, and involuntarily, glad
perhaps to have a pretence for averting her face, she caressed the silky
'Fine head, isn't it, Miss Hood?' said Dagworthy at once, causing her to
remove her hand quickly. 'Ay, but I've a finer collie than that. Just
walk in with me, will you?' he added, after a scarcely perceptible
pause. 'I always like to show off my dogs. You're in no hurry, I
suppose? Just come and have a look at the kennels.'
Emily was deeply annoyed, both because such a visit was in itself
distasteful to her, and on account of the irritation which she knew the
delay would cause her mother. She did not for a moment expect her father
to refuse; his position would not allow him to do so. Mr. Hood, in fact,
murmured thanks, after a mere half glance at his daughter, and the three
walked together to Dagworthy's house, the entrance to which was not
fifty yards from where they were standing.
The dwelling was neither large nor handsome, but it stood in a fine
garden and had an air of solid well-being. As soon as they had passed
the gates, they were met by a middle-aged woman carrying a child of two
years old, an infant of wonderfully hearty appearance. At the sight of
its father it chuckled and crowed. Dagworthy took it from the woman's
arms, and began a game which looked not a little dangerous; with
surprising strength and skill, he tossed it up some feet into the air,
caught it as it descended, tossed it up again. The child shrieked with
delight, for all that the swift descent positively stopped its breath,
and made a hiatus in the screaming.
'Theer, that's abaht enough, Mr. Richard,' said the woman, in broad
dialect, when the child had gone up half a dozen times; she was nervous,
and kept holding out her arms involuntarily. 'Ah doan't ovver much fancy
that kind o' laakin. What's more, he's allus reight dahn fratchy after a
turn o' that. See nah, he'll nivver want you to stop. Do a' done nah,
'Here you are then; take him in, and tell them I want some tea; say I
have friends with me.'
The child was carried away, roaring obstreperously, and Dagworthy,
laughing at the vocal power displayed, led the way round to the back of
the house. Here had been constructed elaborate kennels; several dogs
were pacing in freedom about the clean yard, and many more were chained
up. Much information was imparted to the visitors concerning the more
notable animals; some had taken prizes at shows, others were warranted
to do so, one or two had been purchased at fancy prices. Mr. Hood now
and then put a question, as in duty bound to do; Emily restricted her
speech to the absolutely necessary replies.
Dagworthy conducted them into the house. It appeared to be furnished in
a solid, old-fashioned way, and the ornaments, though few, were such as
might better have been dispensed with. Old Dagworthy had come to live
here some five-and-twenty years previously, having before that occupied
a small house in conjunction with his mill. He had been one of the
'worthies' of Dunfield, and in his time did a good deal of useful work
for the town. Personally, he was anything but amiable, being devoid of
education and refinement, and priding himself on his spirit of
independence, which exhibited itself in mere boorishness. Though
anything but miserly, he had, where his interests were concerned, an
extraordinary cunning and pertinacity; he was universally regarded as
one of the shrewdest men of business in that part of Yorkshire, and
report credited him with any number of remarkable meannesses. It was
popularly said that 'owd Dick Dagworthy' would shrink from no dirty
trick to turn a sixpence, but was as likely as not to give it away as
soon as he had got it. His son had doubtless advanced the character of
the stock, and, putting aside the breeding of dogs, possessed many
tastes of which the old man had no notion; none the less, he was
credited with not a little of his father's spirit in business. In
practical affairs he was shrewd and active; he never--as poor Hood might
have testified--paid a man in his employ a penny more than there was
need, and fell far short of the departed Dagworthy's generosity; to be
at his mercy in a pecuniary transaction was to expect and to receive
none. For all that, there was something in the man which hinted at
qualities beneath the surface; a glance, a tone, now and then, which
seemed on the point of revealing a hidden humanity.
When he chose, he could be courteous; he was so at present, as he
requested Emily and her father to seat themselves in a large homely room
which looked out upon the garden. The woman who had carried the child
reappeared and poured out cups of tea. When she had left the room--
'I must ask you to excuse the roughness of my establishment, Miss Hood,'
he said. 'I have to make shift for the resent with Mrs. Jenkins. She
isn't as refined as she might e, but she's been with us here for more
than twelve years, and I should be sorry to replace her with any other
Pieces of bread and butter of somewhat undue solidity were offered.
Emily 'declined anything but the cup of tea. She was very ill at ease,
though she succeeded in suppressing any manifestation of it; Dagworthy
kept his gaze on her constantly.
'Now I know you didn't care very much about the dogs,' he said to her
presently. 'I think I've got something here that will be rather more in
He brought from a corner of the room a large portfolio, set it upon a
chair in front of Emily, and exposed its contents. These were a number
of fine photographs of continental cathedrals and churches.
'I bought these when I took my run through France and Germany last
year,' he explained. 'I've something of a turn for architecture, I
believe; at all events, I know I like a fine building, and I like to
find out all I can about it.'
He went through the collection, with remarks which proved that he had
certainly attained a rudimentary knowledge of the subject, and that his
appreciation was often keen when his technical understanding might be at
'The worst of it is,' he said, at one point, with a modesty which was a
new feature in his conversation, 'I can't pronounce the names properly.
Now, how do you read that, Miss Hood? To be sure; I know it when I hear
it. Have you ever been in France?'
The negative reply came.
'You'd like to see the old-fashioned streets in which some of these
As soon as it was possible to do so, Emily looked meaningly at her
father, and he, just as anxious to be on his way homeward, rose for
leave-taking. Dagworthy offered no opposition; he went with them to the
gates, and shook hands with both, then stood gazing after them as they
walked across the common.
'Well, I never knew young Dagworthy anything like that before,' said Mr.
Hood, when they were at some distance from the gate. 'I couldn't believe
it when he asked us to go into the house.'
'I'm afraid mother will be very uneasy,' was Emily's reply.
'Yes, my dear, I'm afraid she will; let's walk sharply. But he was
really uncommonly pleasant; I shall think a good deal better of him than
I have done.'
This was the only aspect of the afternoon's adventure which presented
itself to Mr. Hood. Emily was divided between relief at having got away
from that persistent gaze and apprehension of what might meet them on
their arrival at home. The latter feeling was only too well justified.
Mrs. Hood sat in the kitchen, the window darkened. When speech was at
length elicited from her, it appeared that a headache to which she was
subject had come on in its severest form. Emily was at once active with
remedies, not that any of those that she urged were likely to avail
themselves, but because she was well aware that the more solicitude she
showed the sooner her mother would resume her ordinary state. Mrs. Hood
begged to be left to herself; let them have their tea and leave her in
the kitchen, she was best there, out of people's way; it would soon be
bedtime, the evening was practically gone. In the course of half an hour
she was at length prevailed upon to come into the sitting-room, and even
to taste a cup of tea. At first she had paid no attention to the reasons
alleged for the unpunctuality; little by little she began to ask
questions on her own account, petulantly but with growing interest.
Still, the headache was not laid aside, and all spent a very dolorous
In the relation these things have their humorous side; Emily may be
excused if she was slow to appreciate it. She knew very well that the
crisis meant for her father several days of misery, and perhaps in her
youthful energy she was disposed to make too little allowance for her
mother, whose life had been so full of hardship, and who even now was
suffering from cares and anxieties the worst of which her daughter was
not allowed to perceive. After the girl's early departure to her bedroom
the other two sat talking drearily; after one of her headaches Mrs. Hood
always dwelt in conversation on the most wretched features of her life,
with despairing forecast. Poor woman, there was little of a brighter
kind to occupy her thoughts. Two occasions of grave anxiety were at
present troubling her, and, though he spoke of them less, her husband in
no less a degree. It had just been announced to them that at the ensuing
Christmas their rent would be raised, and at the same time the tenant
who had for years occupied the house which they owned in the town of
Barnhill had given notice of departure. There was a certain
grotesqueness in the fact of James Hood being a proprietor of real
estate. Twice an attempt had been made to sell the house in question,
but no purchaser could be found; the building was in poor repair, was
constantly entailing expense to the landlord, and, in the event of its
becoming unoccupied, would doubtless wait long for another tenant. This
event had come about, or would in a couple of months, and the loss of
that five-and-twenty pounds a year would make the difficulty of
existence yet more desperate. Once more an attempt at sale must be made,
in itself involving outlays which, however petty, could ill be borne;
and to sell, even if it could be done, meant a serious loss of income.
'What did it mean, do you think?' Mrs. Hood asked, recurring to the
subject of Dagworthy and his astonishing behaviour. She put the question
dispiritedly, not venturing to hope for a solution that would help her
to a more cheerful frame of mind.
Hood scarcely dared to utter the words which came into his mind.
'You remember that they met at the Baxendales'--'
'How did Emily behave?' the mother next inquired.
'She was very quiet. I don't think she liked it. We must bear in mind
the kind of society she is used to. Young Dagworthy won't seem of much
account to her, I fancy.'
'But he has had a good education, hasn't he?'
'Pretty good, I suppose. He confessed to us, though, that he couldn't
pronounce French words.'
'It's quite certain,' said Mrs. Hood, 'he wouldn't have invited you in
if you had been alone.'
'Certain enough,' was the reply, in a tone wholly disinterested. 'But it
must have been just a fancy, a whim. Things of that kind don't happen
'Not to us, at all events,' murmured the other dejectedly.
'Well, there must come what will,' she added, leaning her head back once
more, and losing interest in the subject. 'I hope nothing and expect
Alas, these two sitting together in the dull little room, speaking in
disjointed phrases of despondency, exchanging no look, no word of mutual
kindness, had they not once loved each other, with the love of youth and
hope? Had it not once been enough to sit through long evenings and catch
with eagerness each other's lightest word? Time had robbed them of
youth, and the injustice of the world's order had starved love to less
than a shadow of itself, to a more habit of common suffering. Tender
memories were buried in the grave of children whom the resources of ever
so modest a fortune would have kept alive; the present was a mere
struggle to support existence, choking the impulses of affection. One
would not murmur at the kindly order of life, whereby passion gives
place to gentle habitudes, and the fiery soul of youth tames itself to
comely gravity; but that love and joy, the delights of eager sense and
of hallowed aspiration, should be smothered in the foul dust of a brute
combat for bread, that the stinted energies of early years should change
themselves to the blasted hopes of failing manhood in a world made ill
by human perverseness, this is not easily--it may be, not well--borne
with patience. Put money in thy purse; and again, put money in thy
purse; for, as the world is ordered, to lack current coin is to lack the
privileges of humanity, and indigence is the death of the soul.
A VISITOR BY EXPRESS
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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
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