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A Life's Morning by George Gissing

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would never know the pride of seeing thus the woman he knew so noble.
But Wilfrid was in her heart; his soul allied itself with hers and gave
her double strength. Dagworthy had wrought for her that which in the
night's conflict she could not bring about by her own force; knowing, in
the face of utter despair, the whole depth of the love with which she
held to her father, she could yet speak his doom with calmness, with
clear intelligence that the sacrifice she was asked to make was
disproportionate to the disaster threatened.

He answered with cold decision.

'It's you who don't know me. I've nothing more to say to you; you are at
liberty to go. To-morrow your father will be before the magistrates.'

Emily moved to the door. The sound of the words had blanched her lips.
She felt that, if she would keep hold upon her bodily strength, she must
breathe the outer air.

'Look here, I say,' he exclaimed, stepping to the table. 'Take the
money. I've nothing to do with that.'

She made a motion with her hand, but hastened still and escaped. Once in
the garden she all but ran, thinking she heard his footsteps in pursuit,
and smitten with that sudden terror which comes sometimes when a danger
is escaped. But she had gained the Heath, and it was certain now that he
had not tried to overtake her, a glance back showed her that no one was
in sight. She walked rapidly on, though her heart seemed about to burst,
walked without pausing till she had reached the quarry. Here she sat on
the same stone as before. She was in dread of fainting; the anguish of
her leaping blood was intolerable; she had neither sight nor hearing.
But the crisis of suffering passed; she let her head fall forward and
buried it upon her lap.

Perhaps for ten minutes she remained thus, then a great crash from the
near heavens caused her to look up. It was raining, had rained since she
sat there, though she had not known it. In the little pool before her
great drops splashed and made a miniature tempest. The yellow flower she
had plucked lay close by, and was beaten by the rain. It lightened
vividly, and there followed heavier thunder than before.

She wished to shed tears--tears were choking her, but would not rise and
shed themselves; she could only sob, aloud, hysterically. The words
'Father' and 'Wilfrid' broke from her lips several times. Was there
red-hot metal poured upon her forehead?

It cost her a great effort to rise and walk homewards. The rain streamed
down, but she could no longer hasten. Still she reached the house before
her mother's return from church, and she was glad of that.

CHAPTER XIII

THE CUTTING OF THE KNOT

For the final failure of his plot Dagworthy was in no wise prepared. He
had anticipated prolonged scenes, passionate pleadings, appeals to his
better nature, and to his shame; but that his threat should prove
ineffectual was not among his fears. Illustrating a well-known tendency
of human nature, his reckless egoism based its confidence on the
presumed existence of heroic self-devotion in his victim. Starting from
a knowledge of the close affection between Emily and her father, the
logic of desire had abundant arguments to prove that the girl must and
could act in but one way. Dagworthy's was not an original mind; the
self-immolation of daughters (not of sons) on their parents' behalf is
among vulgar conceptions of the befitting, and it is more than probable
that the mill-owner was half-consciously supported by precedents drawn
from his readings in popular fiction. His imagination, as is commonly
the case, was only strong in the direction of his wishes; neglecting
Emily's avowed attachment to an accepted lover--whose shadowiness made
him difficult to realise even as an obstacle--he dwelt persistently on
the thought of Hood's position, and found it impossible to imagine a
refusal on Emily's part to avert from her father the direst of
calamities. That other motive, the strength of which in Emily was
independent of her plighted troth, was not within the range of his
conceptions; that a woman should face martyrdom rather than marry
without love was a contingency alien to his experience and to the
philosophy wherewith nature had endowed him. In spite of the attributes
of nobleness which so impressed him in the object of his love, Dagworthy
could give no credit to the utterance of such a feeling. Whilst Emily
spoke, he was for the moment overcome by a vision of vague glories;
reflecting on her words, he interpreted them as merely emphasising her
determination to wed one only. Their effect was to give new food to his
jealousy.

That solace of men's unconscious pessimism, the faith, pathetically
clung to, that in frustration of desire is the soul's health, is but too
apt to prove itself fallacious just where its efficiency would show most
glorious. Is there not lurking somewhere in your mind, not withstanding
the protests of your realistic intelligence, more than half a hope that
Richard Dagworthy will emerge radiant from the gulf into which his
passions have plunged him? For the credit of human nature! But what if
human nature oft establishes its credit by the failures over which we
shake our heads? Of many ways to the resting-place of souls, the way of
affliction is but one; cling, if it please you, to the assurance that
this is the treading of the elect, instinct will justify itself in many
to whom the denial of a supreme need has been the closing of the upward
path. Midway in his life, when slow development waited but occasion to
establish the possibilities of a passionate character, Dagworthy
underwent the trial destined to determine the future course of his life.
One hesitates to impute it to him as a fault that he was not of the
elect. A mere uneducated Englishman, hitherto balancing always between
the calls from above and from below, with one miserable delusion and its
consequent bitterness ever active in his memory, he could make no
distinction between the objects which with vehemence he desired and the
spiritual advantage which he felt the attainment would bring to him; and
for the simple reason that in his case no such distinction existed. Even
as the childhood of civilisation knows virtue only in the form of a
concrete deity, so to Dagworthy the higher life of which he was capable
took shape as a mortal woman, and to possess her was to fulfil his
being. With the certainty that she was beyond his reach came failure of
the vital forces which promised so much. A pity for it flatters us poor
mortals to discern instances of the soul's independence of the body. I
would it had been otherwise with Dagworthy; I have but to relate the
facts. It was no dark angel that had whispered to him through the hours
of his waiting for Emily's surrender. High aims, pure ambitions, were
stronger in him than they ever had been; stronger than they ever would
be again. It was when Emily left him with those proud words of defiance
that the veritable demon took stand at his ear. The leaping, fruitful
sap of his being turned itself to gall. He sat with a brow of blackness;
cruel projects worked in his brain.

Not only had he lost her, but his loss was another's gain. The pricking
of jealousy, for a while suspended, again became maddening. He had heard
her say that she would die rather than be his wife; judge, then, what
must be her love of the man she bud chosen. His desire now was to do her
injury, and his fiercest torment was the thought that he dared not
fulfil the menace with which he had hoped to overwhelm her. If he
prosecuted Hood, all the circumstances of the case would inevitably come
out; Emily had friends in Dunfield, and if her father's guilt were once
disclosed, there would be no reason for her concealment of what had
happened; facts like these put forward in mitigation of punishment would
supply the town with a fearful subject of comment--nay, was he safe from
the clutch of the law? Of these things he had not troubled to think, so
assured was he that the mere threat would suffice. From his present
point of view it was easy enough to see that the plot had been a
wretched piece of bungling; in failing of its end it became the project
of a simpleton. Had the girl herself been cool enough to see this? Did
she defy him in knowledge of the weakness of his position? Probably not;
in that case she would have spoken differently she had granted, and
clearly with sincerity, his power to do what he threatened. And then the
fact remained that he could injure Hood irremediably by means short of
criminal proceedings. Emily--his reasoning was accurate enough--had not
been careful to distinguish between modes of injury, where each meant
ruin.

What he dared to do, he would. He was acquainted with the wretched story
of struggle which had ended in Hood's taking refuge, as a clerk with a
mean salary, from the extremities of destitution. To dismiss the man
after private accusation would be to render his prospects worse than
ever, for it was easy to whisper here and there the grounds of
dismissal. Emily's mouth would be closed by the necessity of keeping
secret her father's dishonesty. But this revenge fell short of his
appetite for cruelty; it would strike the girl herself only indirectly.
And it was possible that her future husband might have it in his power
to give her parents aid. Yet he persuaded himself that the case was
otherwise; Emily's secrecy had impressed him with the belief that the
match she contemplated was anything but a brilliant one. Could he devise
no graver hurt? Through the Sunday afternoon and the night which
followed, he pondered ceaselessly on means of evil, delighted to flesh
his fangs even in imagination. Many a vile plan dwelt with him which he
knew he durst not put into practice. Monday morning came and found him
no further than the crime which had first suggested itself. Fevered with
eagerness to accomplish that at least, he left home earlier than usual.
It might be that the day would bring fresh counsel.

To Emily the hours following upon her visit to the house on the Heath
had brought unnatural quietness. Physical suffering troubled her, but
the energies of her mind were for the time expended; the aching of her
brow involved thought in sluggishness. She did not shun her parents, and
even talked with them in a listless way; solitude would have been
irksome to her just now. For once she felt glad of her mother's way of
spending Sunday; to sit inactive was all that she desired. It was
understood that her head distressed her.

In the afternoon, and again in the evening, the single bell of the
chapel clanged for worshippers. Mrs. Hood was not in the habit of
attending service more than once in the day; she sat on her uneasy
chair, at times appearing to read, more often gazing out of the windows.
The road had more traffic than on week-days, for it was the recreation
of a certain class of Dunfieldians to drive out in parties to the Heath,
either hiring a vehicle or using their own trade-carts. It would have
been a consolation to observe that in the latter case the quadruped
employed benefited by its owner's regard for his own interests; possibly
an acute spectator might have discerned gradations of inhumanity. To the
casual eye there showed but a succession of over-laden animals urged to
the utmost speed; the national predilection exhibiting itself crudely in
this locality. Towards nightfall the pleasure-seekers returned, driving
with the heightened energy attributable to Bacchic inspiration, singing,
shouting, exchanging racy banter with pedestrians. So the hours dragged
wearily on, wheezed out, one after one, by the clock on the stairs. Hood
was at no time fertile in topics of conversation; to-day he maintained
almost unbroken silence. Tea was prepared, partaken of, removed; supper,
three hours later. The day closed with rain and a rising wind.

Emily heard it about the house as she lay through hours of
sleeplessness. At first a light slumber had come to her; it was broken
by the clock striking eleven. Probably she was roused at the first
stroke, for, failing to count, the number seemed to her so interminable
that she started up and made to herself fretful complaint. Pain was
weakening her self-control; she found herself crying in a weary,
desolate way, and could not stop her tears for a long time. The gusts of
wind went by her windows and bore their voices away on to the common,
wailing and sobbing in the far distance; rain spattered the windows at
times. When her tears ceased, Emily hid her face in the pillow and
moaned; often she uttered Wilfrid's name. To-day she should by agreement
have written to him, but to do so had been impossible. He would be
uneasy at her silence. Oh, bow could she ever write to him again? What
might happen to-morrow? At the thought, she held her breath and lay in
silence.

She rose in time for breakfast, but at the last moment could not bring
herself to go down to the meal. To face her father was impossible. Her
mother came to the door, and Emily answered her that she would lie for
an hour or two longer, being still unwell. During the half-hour that
followed she sat listening intently to every sound in the house. Hood,
having breakfasted, came upstairs and entered his room; when, a few
minutes later, he came out, his steps made a pause at her threshold. Her
heart beat in sickening fear; she could not have found voice to reply to
him had he spoken. But he did not do so, and went downstairs. She heard
him open the front door, and sprang to the window to catch a glimpse of
him. At the gate he turned and looked up to her window; his face was
sorrowful. Emily held back that he might not see her; when it was too
late she could not understand this movement, and longed to wave him a
good-bye. She threw up the sash; her father did not turn again.

We follow him. Not very long after his arrival at the mill, Dagworthy
himself appeared. Hood's evil conscience led him to regard with
apprehension every unusual event. Dagworthy's unwonted earliness was
still troubling his mind, when a messenger summoned him to the private
room. There was nothing extraordinary in this, but Hood, as he crossed
the passage, shook with fear; before knocking and pushing open the door,
he dashed drops from his forehead with his hand. Dagworthy was alone,
sitting at the desk.

'Shut the door,' he said, without turning his eyes from a letter he was
reading.

The clerk obeyed, and stood for a full minute before anything more was
addressed to him. He knew that the worst had come.

Dagworthy faced half round.

'One day early last week,' he began, averting his eyes after a single
glance, 'I was looking over one of these ledgers'--he pointed to the
shelf--'and left an envelope to mark a place. I forgot about it, and
now that I look, the envelope has gone. It contained a bank-note. Of
course you came across it in the course of your work.'

It was rather an assertion than a question. Whilst he was speaking, the
courage of despair had taken hold upon his hearer. Like the terrible
flash of memory which is said to strike the brain of a drowning man,
there smote on Hood's mind a vision of the home he had just quitted, of
all it had been and all it might still be to him. This was his life, and
he must save it, by whatever means. He knew nothing but that necessity;
all else of consciousness was vague swimming horror.

'No, sir,' was his reply, given with perfect firmness, 'I found no
envelope.'

Dagworthy's coarse lips formed a smile, hard and cruel. He faced his
clerk.

'Oh, you didn't?'

'In which ledger did you leave it, sir?' Hood asked, the dryness of his
throat rendering speech more difficult as he proceeded. Still, his eye
was fixed steadily on Dagworthy's face; it was life at stake. 'I have
not had them all.'

'I don't remember which it was,' replied the other, 'and it doesn't much
matter, since I happen to know the note. I dare say you remember buying
a new hat in Hebsworth last Friday?'

The love of inflicting pain for its own sake, an element of human nature
only overgrown by civilisation, was showing itself strongly in
Dagworthy. He was prolonging this scene. On his way to the mill he had
felt that the task would be rather disagreeable; but we cannot nurture
baseness with impunity, and, face to face with a man under torture, he
enjoyed the spectacle as he scarcely would have done a little while ago.
Perhaps the feeling that his first blow at Emily was actually struck
gave him satisfaction, which he dwelt upon.

Hood made no reply to the question. He would not admit to himself that
this was the end, but he had no voice.

'You hear me?' Dagworthy reminded him.

'Yes. I bought a hat.'

'And you paid for it with the note I have lost. I happen to know it.'

There was silence.

'Well, you understand that under ordinary circumstances you would be at
once given in charge.' Dagworthy spoke almost cheerfully. 'If I don't do
that it's out of consideration for your age and your family. But as you
are not to be trusted, of course I can't continue to employ you.'

A wild hope sprang in Hood's eyes, and the rush of gratitude at his
heart compelled him to speak.

'Oh, Mr. Dagworthy, you arc generous! You have always treated me with
kindness; and this is how I repay you. It was base; I deserve no mercy.
The temptation--' he grew incoherent; 'I have been driven hard by want
of money. I know that is no excuse. I had no intention at first of
taking the money; I came here to give it you; I should have done so
without a thought of dishonesty, but you happened to be away. In going
to Hebsworth I lost my hat, and I had not enough money of my own to buy
another; I had to change the note--that was the temptation--I will
return it.--But for this work here, I might by now have been in the
workhouse. Try, sir, to forgive my baseness; I cannot forgive myself.'

Dagworthy turned his face away.

'Well,' he said, with a wave of the hand, 'all that's too late.'

'Sir,' Hood pursued, spurred by foresight of penury perhaps as much as
by dread of having to explain his dismissal at home, for penury had been
his relentless foe through life Sir, is it in vain to ask you to give me
another chance? I am not a dishonest man; never before has such a
temptation come to me, and surely never would again. Will you--I entreat
you to think what it means--at my age--my wife--I ought to be content
with thanking you for having spared me--how few would have done that!
Let me continue to serve you--a lower salary--if it be ever so
little--till I have regained your confidence--'

Dagworthy was drumming with his fingers on the desk. Not for an instant
did he falter in his purpose, but it gave him pleasure to be thus prayed
to. The employer of labour is not as a rule troubled with a lively
imagination; a pity, for it would surely gratify him to feel in its
fulness at times his power of life and death. Native defect and force of
habit render it a matter of course that a small population should eat or
starve at his pleasure; possibly his resolution in seasons of strike is
now and then attributable to awakening of insight and pleasure in
prolonging his role of hunger-god. Dagworthy appreciated his victim's
despair all the more that it made present to him the wretchedness that
would fall on Emily. Think not that the man was unashamed. With
difficulty he could bring himself to meet Hood's look. But self-contempt
may well consist with perseverance in gratification of ignoble
instincts.

When Hood ceased, there came this reply.

'I shall not grant what you ask, simply because it is against my
principles. I let you off, for it would do me no good to punish you, and
certainly, as regards yourself, the lesson will be enough. But I can't
keep you in my employ, so we'll talk no more about it. You were going to
take your holiday from the end of this week, I think? Very well, let it
be supposed that you begin to-day instead, and in a day or two write me
a note giving up your place.'

This was not yielding on Dagworthy's part; it merely occurred to him as
a way of protecting himself if there should be future need.

Hood was standing with bent head; he seemed unable either to speak or to
depart.

'You may go,' Dagworthy said.

'Sir,--I may refer to you?' asked the wretched man, roused by the
bidding.

'No, I think not,' was the calm reply. 'Unless, of course, you are
willing that I should state the plain facts of the case?'

Hood staggered from the room....

When Emily came down in the course of the morning, her appearance was
such that her mother uttered an exclamation of alarm.

'Why, child, you are like a ghost! Why didn't you stay in bed? I was
just coming up to you, hoping you'd been asleep. I must go for Dr. Evans
at once.'

Emily resisted.

'But I certainly shall, say what you like. No headache would make you
look like that. And you're as feverish as you can be. Go up to bed
again; you hardly look, though, as if you could climb the stairs. I'll
put on my things and go round.'

It was only by affecting anger that Emily could overcome her mother's
purpose. She did indeed feel ill, but to submit to treatment was
impossible whilst this day lasted. Far worse than her bodily fever was
the mental anguish which would not allow her to remain in one place for
more than a few minutes at a time, and did not suffer the pretence of
occupation. How would it come about? Was her father at this moment in
the hands of the police? How would the first news come to Banbrigg, and
when? The sound of every vehicle on the road was an approaching terror;
she was constantly at the window to watch the people who came near. It
had seemed to her that she realised what this trial would be, yet her
anticipations had fallen far below the experience of these fearful
hours. At instants, she all but repented what she had done, and asked
herself if there was not even now a chance of somehow saving her father.
The face which he had raised to the window as he left home smote her
heart. Not a word of kindness had she spoken to him since Friday night.
Oh, what inconceivable cruelty had possessed her, that she let him go
this morning without even having touched his hand! Could her mind endure
this? Was she not now and then near to delirium? Once she went to the
window, and, to her horror, could see nothing; a blue and red mist
hovered before her eyes. It left her, but other symptoms of physical
distress grew from hour to hour, and she dreaded lest strength to endure
might wholly forsake her before night came. She tried to picture her
father returning as usual; human pity might have spoken even in
Dagworthy's heart; or if not so, then he might have been induced to
forbear by a hope of winning her gratitude. Very agony made her feel
almost capable of rewarding such mercy. For Wilfrid seemed now very far
away, and her love had fallen to the background; it was not the supreme
motive of her being as hitherto. Would she suffer thus for Wilfrid? The
question forced itself upon her, and for reply she shuddered; such bonds
seemed artificial compared with those which linked her to her father,
the love which was coeval with her life. All feeling is so relative to
circumstances, and what makes so stable as the cement of habit?

In the early hours of the afternoon a lull of utter weariness relieved
her; she lay upon the couch and all but slept; it was something between
sleep and loss of consciousness following on excessive pain. She awoke
to find the doctor bending over her; Mrs. Hood had become so alarmed
that she had despatched a neighbour secretly on the errand. Emily was
passive, and by her way of speaking half disguised the worst features of
her state. Nevertheless, the order was given that she should go to bed.
She promised to obey.

'As soon as father comes,' she said, when alone again with her mother.
'It cannot be long till his time.'

She would not yield beyond this. But the hour of return came, and her
father delayed. Then was every minute an eternity. No longer able to
keep her reclining position, she stood again by the window, and her eyes
lost their vision from straining upon one spot, that at which Hood would
first appear. She leaned her head upon the window-sill, and let her ears
take their turn of watching; the first touch of a hand at the gate would
reach her. But there came none.

Can hours thus be lived through? Ah, which of us to whom time has not
been a torment of hell? Is there no nether Circle, where dread
anticipation eternally prolongs itself, eternally varied with hope in
vain for ever?

Mrs. Hood had abandoned her useless protests; she came and sat by the
girl.

'I've no doubt he's gone to the Walkers',' she kept saying, naming
acquaintances with whom Hood occasionally spent an evening. Then, 'And
why need you wait for him, my dear? Can't he go up and see you as soon
as he gets in?'

'Mother,' Emily said at last, 'will you go to the Walkers' and ask? It
is not really very far. Will you go?'

But, my child, it will take me at least an hour to walk there and back!
I should only miss him on the way. Are you afraid of something?

'Yes, I am. I believe something has happened to him.'

'Those are your fancies. You are very poorly; it is cruel to me to
refuse to go to bed.'

'Will you go, mother?--If you do not, I must; ill or not, I must go.'

She started to her feet. Her mother gazed at her in fear,--believing it
the beginning of delirium.

'Emily, my dear child,' she pleaded, laying her hand on the girl's arm,
'won't you come upstairs,--to please me, dear?'

'Mother, if you will go, I promise to lie here quietly till you return.'

'But it is impossible to leave you alone in the house. Look, now, it is
nine o'clock; in half an hour, an hour at most, your father will be
back. Why, you know how often he stays late when he gets talking.'

Emily was silent for a few minutes. Then she said--

'Will you ask Mrs. Hopkins to send her servant?'

'But think--the trouble it will be giving.'

'Will you do it? I wish it. Will you go and ask her I will give the girl
money.'

'If you are so determined, of course I will ask her. But I'm sure--'

At length she left the room, to go out of the house by the back-door and
call at the neighbours'. Scarcely was she away, when Emily darted
upstairs, and in an instant was down again, with her hat and a cloak;
another moment, and she was out in the road. She did not forget the
terror her mother would suffer, on finding her gone; but endurance had
reached its limit. It was growing dark. After one look in the direction
of Dunfield, she took the opposite way, and ran towards the Heath, ran
till her breath failed and she had to drop into a quick walk. Once more
she was going to the Upper Heath, and to the house which was the source
of all her misery. When she reached the quarry it was quite dark at her
approach she saw the shape of a man move away into the shadow of the
quarried rock, and an unreasoning fear spurred her past the spot. Five
minutes more and she was at Dagworthy's gate. She rang the door-bell.

The servant told her that Mr. Dagworthy was at home; she declined to
give her name, but said she must see him at once. Speedily she was led
into a room, where her enemy sat alone.

He looked at her wonderingly, then with a deep flush--for now he surely
had gained his end,--he advanced towards her without speaking.

'Where is my father?' she asked; the voice which disabused him did not
seem Emily's.

'Isn't he at home?'

'He has not come home. What have you done?'

'Not come home?'

'Then he is free? He is safe--my father? You have spared him?'

Dagworthy inwardly cursed himself for shortsightedness. Were he but able
to answer 'Yes,' would she not yield him anything? Why had he not made
trial of this policy? Or was it now too late? But Hoed had not returned
home. The man had gone forth from him in despair. As he gazed at the
girl, a suspicion, all but a fear, touched him. Why should Hood remain
away from his house?

She was repeating her questions imploringly.

'He is free, as far as I am concerned, Emily.'

'You have forgiven him? Oh, you have had that mercy upon us?'

'Sit down, and let us talk about it,' said Dagworthy.

She did not seem to notice that he had taken her hand; but the next
moment he was holding her in his arm, and with a cry she broke away.

'There are others in the house,' she exclaimed, her wild, fearful eyes
seeking other exit than that which he stopped. 'I must call for their
help. Can you not see that I am suffering--ill? Are you pitiless? But
no--no--for you have spared him!'

Dagworthy mastered himself, though it cost him something, and spoke with
an effort at gentleness.

'What thanks have you to give me, Emily?'

'My life's gratitude--but that will be your least reward.'

'Ay, but how is the gratitude going to be shown?'

Her keen sense found a fear in his manner of speaking.

'You have not said a word to him,' she asked, seeming to forget his
question.

Of what ultimate use was it to lie? And she would not suffer him within
reach of her.

'I couldn't very well help doing that,' he replied, unable to resolve
how it were best to speak, and uttering the first words that came,
carelessly.

'Then he knows you have discovered--'

Her voice failed. Such explanation of her father's absence was a new
terror.

'Yes, he knows,' Dagworthy answered, cruelty resuming its fascination.
'I couldn't keep him at the mill, you know, though I let him off his
punishment.'

'You dismissed him?'

'I did. It's not too late to have him back, and something better.'

'Let me go!' she said hoarsely.

He moved from the door; sight of such misery vanquished even him.

When she reached home, her mother was standing with two or three
neighbours in front of the house at the sight of Emily there were
exclamations of relief and welcome.

'My child, where can you have been?' Mrs. Hood cried, following the girl
who passed the garden-gate without pausing.

'Is father come?' was the reply.

'No, not yet. But where have you been? Why, you were coming from the
Heath, Emily, in the night air, and you so ill!'

'I have been to ask Mr. Dagworthy,' Emily said in a tired voice. 'He
knows nothing of him.'

Her strength bore her into the parlour, then she sank upon the couch and
closed her eyes. Mrs. Hood summoned the help of her friends.
Unresisting, with eyes still closed, silent, she was carried upstairs
and laid in her bed. Her mother sat by her. Midnight came, and Hood did
not return. Already Mrs. Hood had begun to suspect something mysterious
in Emily's anxiety; her own fears now became active. She went to the
front door and stood there with impatience, by turns angry and alarmed.
Her husband had never been so late. She returned to the bedroom.

'Emily, are you awake, dear?'

The girl's eyes opened, but she did not speak.

'Do you know any reason why your father should stay away?'

A slight shake of the head was the reply.

The deepest stillness of night was upon the house. As Mrs. Hood seated
herself with murmured bewailing of such wretchedness, there sounded a
heavy crash out on the staircase; it was followed by a peculiar ringing
reverberation. Emily rose with a shriek.

'My love--hush! hush!' said her mother. 'It's only the clock-weight
fallen. How that does shake my nerves! It did it only last week, and
gave me such a start.'

Grasping her mother's hand, the girl lay back, death-pale. The silence
was deeper than before, for not even the clock ticked....

Dagworthy could not sleep. At sunrise he had wearied himself so with
vain efforts to lie still, that he resolved to take a turn across the
Heath, and then rest if he felt able to. He rose and went into the still
morning air.

The Heath was beautiful, seen thus in the purple flush of the dawn. He
had called forth a dog to accompany him, and the animal careered in
great circles over the dewy sward, barking at the birds it started up,
leaping high from the ground, mad with the joy of life. He ran a race
with it to the wall which bounded the top of the quarry. The exercise
did him good, driving from his mind shadows which had clung about it in
the night. Beaching the wall he rested his arms upon it, and looked over
Dunfield to the glory of the rising sun. The smoke of the mill-chimneys,
thickening as fires were coaled for the day's work, caught delicate
reflection from the sky; the lofty spire of the church seemed built of
some beautiful rose-hued stone. The grassy country round about wore a
fresher green than it was wont to show; the very river, so foul in
reality with the refuse of manufactures, gleamed like a pure current.

Dagworthy's eyes fixed themselves on the horizon, and grew wide with the
sense of things half understood.

The dog had left him and was gone round into the quarry. A bark came
from below. At a second bark Dagworthy looked down. The dog was snuffing
at a man who lay between a big piece of quarried stone and a little
grass-bordered pool. Asleep--was he? Yet it was not the attitude in
which men sleep. The dog barked a third time.

He left his position, and followed the circuit which would bring him
down to where the man lay. Whilst still a few yards off, he checked
himself. If the man slept, his body was strangely distorted; one arm
seemed to be beneath him, the other was extended stiffly; the face
looked at the sky. A few steps, and Dagworthy, gazing upon the face,
knew it.

A cold shudder thrilled him, and he drew back. His foot struck against
something; it was a bottle. He picked it up, and read a word in large
print on the white label.

The temptation to look full into the face again was irresistible, though
horror shook him as he approached. The features were hideous, the eyes
starting from their sockets, the lips drawn back over the teeth. He
turned and walked away rapidly, followed by the dog, which roused the
quarry echoes with its barking.

'My God! I never thought of that.'

The words uttered themselves as he speeded on. Only at the garden-gate
he stayed, and then seemed to reflect upon what he should do. The
temptation was to return into the house and leave others to spread the
news; there would be workmen in the quarry in less than an hour. Yet he
did not do this, but hurried past his own door to the house of a doctor
not a hundred yards away. Him he called forth....

About midday a covered burden was brought in a cart to Banbrigg; the
cart stopped before the Hoods' house, and two men, lifting the burden,
carried it through the gate and to the door. Mrs. Hood had already
opened to them, and stood with her face half-hidden. The burden was
taken into the parlour, and placed upon the couch. The outline was that
of a man's form.

In the kitchen were two women, neighbours; as soon as the men had
departed, and the front door was closed, they stole forward, one
sobbing, the other pale with fear. They entered the sitting-room, and
Mrs. Hood went in with them. She was strangely self-controlled. All
three stood looking at the wrapped form, which was that of a man.

'I shan't dare to look at him!' Mrs. Hood whispered. 'The doctor told me
I wasn't to. Oh, my husband!'

With the sublime love of woman, conquering all dread, she dropped to her
knees and laid her head on the pillow of the couch by the side of that
head so closely shrouded.

'Thank God, Emily can't see this!' she groaned.

'Hadn't I better go up to her?' one of the women asked. Both of them
stood at a distance.

'Yes, perhaps you had. But you'll be wanted at home. Stay with me a
minute, then I'll lock this door and go up myself.'

At the sound of a hand on the door all turned with a movement of
surprise and affright. There entered Emily, hurriedly dressed, her hair
loose upon her shoulders. She looked round the room, with
half-conscious, pitiful gaze, then upon her mother, then at the form on
the couch. She pointed to it.

'He has come?'

Her voice was unearthly. The sound gave her mother strength to run to
her, and throw her arms about her, sobbing, terror-stricken.

She suffered herself to be led upstairs, and did not speak.

CHAPTER XIV

NEWS AND COMMENTS

As a man who took the world as he found it, and on the whole found it
well worth accepting on such terms, Mr. Athel was not likely to allow
his annoyance with Wilfrid to threaten the habitual excellence of his
digestion. His disappointment was real enough. When of a sudden Wilfrid
had announced that he could not accompany the family party to
Switzerland, Mr. Athel was saved from undignified irresolution by a
hearty outburst of temper, which saw him well over the Straits before it
gave way to the natural reaction, under the influence of which he called
himself a blockhead. He had, beyond a doubt, precipitated the marriage,
when postponement was the only thing he really cared about. To abuse
himself was one thing, the privilege which an Englishman is ready enough
to exercise; to have his thoughts uttered to him by his sister with
feminine neatness and candour was quite another matter. Mrs. Rossall had
in vain attempted to stem the flood of wrath rushing Channelwards.
Overcome, she clad herself in meaning silence, until her brother, too
ingenuous man, was compelled to return to the subject himself, and,
towards the end of the journey, rashly gave utterance to half a wish
that he had not left 'that young fool' behind. Mrs. Rossall, herself a
little too impetuous when triumph was no longer doubtful, made such
pointed remarks on the neglect of good advice that the ire which was
cooling shot forth flame in another direction. Brother and sister
arrived at Geneva in something less than perfect amity. Their real
affection for each other was quite capable of bearing not infrequently
the strain of irritability on both sides. A day of mutual causticities
had well prepared the ground for the return of good temper, when the
arrival of Wilfrid, by astonishing both, hastened their complete
reconciliation. Wilfrid was mysterious; for a week he kept his counsel,
and behaved as if nothing unusual had happened. By that time Mr. Athel's
patience had reached its limit; he requested to be told how matters
stood. Wilfrid, determined not to compromise his dignity by speaking
first, but glad enough when his father broached the topic, related the
story of his visit to Dunfield. Possibly he laid needless emphasis on
Emily's unselfish prudence.

'I fail to see the striking meritoriousness of all that,' Mr. Athel
observed, put into a good humour by the result, and consequently
allowing himself a little captiousness. 'It merely means that she
behaved as any woman who respected herself would under the
circumstances. Your own behaviour, on the other hand--well, let it
pass.'

'I don't see that I could have acted otherwise,' said Wilfrid, too
contented to care about arguing the point.

'You of course saw her parents ?'

Wilfrid had given no detailed account of the way in which his interview
with Emily had been obtained. He mentioned it now, his father listening
with the frowning smile of a man who judges such puerilities from the
standpoint of comfortable middle age.

The tone between them returned before long to the friendliness never
previously interrupted. Mr. Athel shortly wrote a letter to Mr.
Baxendale of Dunfield, whom he only knew by name as Beatrice Redwing's
uncle, and begged for private information regarding Emily's family. He
received a courteous reply, the details not of course wholly palatable,
but confirmatory of the modest hopes he had entertained. This reply he
showed to his sister. Mrs. Rossall raised her eyebrows resignedly, and
returned the letter in silence.

'What one expected, I suppose?' said Mr. Athel.

'I suppose so. Mr. Baxendale probably thinks the man has been applying
for a position in your pantry.'

'Well, I was obliged, you know, to hint at my reasons for seeking
information.'

'You did? Then Beatrice knows all about it by this time. As well that
way as any other, I suppose.'

'We shall have to take the matter like reasonable beings, Edith,' said
her brother, a trifle annoyed by her failure to countenance him.

'Yes; but you seem anxious that I should rejoice. That would not be very
reasonable.'

Something warned Mr. Athel that he had better abstain from rejoinder. He
pursed his lips and walked away.

Wilfrid had not spoken of the subject to his aunt since the disclosure
at The Firs, and Mrs. Rossall was offended by his silence at least as
much as by the prospect of his marrying Miss Hood. Clearly he regarded
the matter as no concern of hers, whereas a woman claims by natural
right a share in the matrimonial projects of all her male relatives with
whom she is on a footing of intimacy. Perhaps the main cause of her
displeasure in the first instance had been the fact that things should
have got to such a pass without her having as much as suspected the
imminence of danger; she regarded Emily as one that had outwitted her.
Dearly would she have liked to be able to meet her brother with the
assertion that she had suspected it all along; the impossibility of
doing so--not from conscientious scruples, but because in that case it
would clearly have been her duty to speak--exasperated her
disappointment at the frustration of the match she desired. Now that she
was getting used to the state of things, Wilfrid's behaviour to her
became the chief ground of her offence. It seemed to her that at least
he owed some kind of apology for the distress he had naturally caused
her; in truth she would have liked him to undertake the task of winning
her over to his side. Between her and her nephew there had never existed
a warm confidence, and Wilfrid's present attitude was too much a
confirmation of the feeling she had experienced now and then, that his
affection was qualified with just a little contempt. She was not, she
knew, a strong-minded woman, and on that very account cared more for the
special dominion of her sex. Since Wilfrid had ceased to be a
hobbledehoy, it would have become him to put a little more of the
courtier into his manner towards her. For are there not countries in
which their degree of kin is no bar to matrimony? Mrs. Rossall was of
the women who like the flavour of respectful worship in all men who are
neither father, brother, nor son. Wilfrid had fallen short of this, and
hence the affectation with which she had persisted in regarding him as a
schoolboy. His latest exploits were vastly more interesting to her than
anything he had done in academic spheres, and she suffered a sense of
exclusion in seeing him so determined to disregard her opinion.

She persuaded him to row her cut one evening on a lake by which they
were spending a few days. Wilfrid, suspecting that she aimed at a
_tete-a-tete_, proposed that his father should accompany them. Mrs.
Rossall overruled the suggestion.

'How wonderfully you are picking up,' she said, after watching him pull
for a few minutes. 'Do you know, Wilf, your tendency is to stoutness; in
a few years you will be portly, if you live too sedentary a life.'

He looked annoyed, and by so doing gratified her. She proceeded.

'What do you think I overheard one of our spectacled friends say this
morning--"_Sehen Sie mal_,"--you were walking at a little
distance--"_da haben Sie das Muster des englischen Aristokraten_. _O,
der gute, schlichte Junge_!"'

Wilfrid had been working up his German. He stopped rowing, red with
vexation.

'That is a malicious invention,' he declared.

'Nothing of the kind! The truth of the remark struck me.'

'I am obliged to you.'

'But, my dear boy, what is there to be offended at? The man envied you
with all his heart; and it is delightful to see you begin to look so
smooth about the cheeks.'

'I am neither an aristocrat, nor _schlicht_!'

'An aristocrat to the core. I never knew any one so sensitive on points
of personal dignity, so intolerant of difference of opinion in others,
so narrowly self-willed! Did you imagine yourself to have the air of a
hero of romance, of the intense school?'

Wilfrid looked into her eyes and laughed.

'That is your way of saying that you think my recent behaviour
incongruous. You wish to impress upon me how absurd I look from the
outside?'

'It is my way of saying that I am sorry for you.'

He laughed again.

'Then the English aristocrat is an object of your pity?'

'Certainly; when he gets into a false position.'

'Ah!--well, suppose we talk of something else. Look at the moon rising
over that shoulder of the hill.'

'That, by way of proving that you are romantic. No, we won't talk of
something else. What news have you from England?'

'None,' he replied, regarding the gleaming drops that fell from his
suspended oar.

'And you are troubled that the post brings you nothing?'

'How do you know?'

'Your emotions are on the surface.'

He made no reply.

'Ah!' Mrs. Rossall sighed, 'what a pity you are so independent. I often
think a man's majority ought to come ten years later than it does. Most
of you are mere boys till thirty at least, and you go and do things that
you repent all the rest of your lives. Dare you promise to come to me in
ten years and tell me with complete frankness what you think of--a
certain step?'

He smiled scornfully.

'Certainly; let us register the undertaking.'

After pausing a moment, he continued with an outburst of vehemence--a
characteristic of Wilfrid's speech.

'You illustrate a thought I have often had about women. The majority of
you, at all events as you get into the world, have no kind of faith in
anything but sordid motives. You are cynical beyond anything men can
pretend to; you scoff at every suggestion of idealism. I suppose it is
that which makes us feel the conversation of most women of refinement so
intolerably full of hypocrisies. Having cast away all faith, you cannot
dispense with the show of it; the traditions of your sex must be
supported. You laugh in your sleeves at the very things which are
supposed to constitute your claims to worship; you are worldly to the
core. Men are very Quixotes compared with you; even if they put on
cynicism for show, they are ashamed of it within themselves. With you,
fine feeling is the affectation. I have felt it again and again. Explain
it now; defend yourself, if you can. Show me that I am wrong, and I will
thank you heartily.'

'My word, what an arraignment!' cried Mrs. Rossall, between amusement at
his boldness and another feeling which warmed her cheeks a little. 'But
let us pass from broad accusation to particulars. I illustrate all these
shocking things--poor me! How do I illustrate them?'

'In the whole of your attitude towards myself of late. You pooh-pooh my
feelings, you refuse to regard me as anything but a donkey, you prophesy
that in a year or two I shall repent having made a disinterested
marriage. I observe the difference between your point of view and my
father's. The worst of it is you are sincere: the circumstances of the
case do not call upon you for an expression of graceful sentiments, and
you are not ashamed to show me how meanly you regard all that is highest
and purest in life.'

'Shall I explain it? Women are very quick to get at realities, to see
below the surface in conduct and profession. We become, you say, worldly
as soon as we get into the world. Precisely because we have to be so
wide awake to protect ourselves. We instinctively know the difference
between the ring of false and true, and as we hear the false so much the
oftener Your charge against us of want of real feeling is the result of
your ignorance of women; you don't see below the surface.'

'Well now, apply all this to the present instance. What has your insight
discerned in my proposed marriage to cause you to regard it as a piece
of folly?'

'Simply this. You ally yourself with some one from a class beneath your
own. Such marriages very, very seldom prove anything but miserable, and
_always_ bring a great many troubles. You will say that Miss Hood is
raised by education above the class in which she was born; but no doubt
she has relatives, and they can't be entirely got rid of. However, that
isn't the point I lay most stress on.'

'Well?'

'I am quite sure you will make her miserable. You are marrying too
young. Your character is not fixed. In a few years, before that, you
will want to get rid of her.'

'Well, that is at all events intelligible. And your grounds for the
belief?'

'You are inconstant, and you are ambitious. You might marry a woman from
a class higher than your own, and when it is too late you will
understand what you have lost.'

'Worldly advantages, precisely.'

'And how if your keen appreciation of worldly advantages results in your
wife's unhappiness?'

'I deny the keen appreciation, in your sense.'

'Of course you do. Come to me in ten years and tell me your opinion of
women's ways of thinking.'

This was the significant part of their conversation. Wilfrid came to
land confirmed in his views; Mrs. Rossall, with the satisfaction of
having prophesied uncomfortable things.

She had a letter on the following morning on which she recognised
Beatrice Redwing's bend. To her surprise, the stamp was of Dunfield. It
proved that Beatrice was on a visit to the Baxendales. Her mother, prior
to going to the Isle of Wight, had decided to accept an invitation to a
house in the midland counties which Beatrice did not greatly care to
visit; so the latter had used the opportunity to respond to a summons
from her friends in the north, whom she had not seen for four years.
Beatrice replied to a letter from Mrs. Rossall which had been forwarded
to her.

After breakfast, Mrs. Rossall took her brother aside, and pointed out to
him a paragraph in Beatrice's letter. It ran thus:--

'A very shocking thing has happened, which I suppose I may mention, as
you will necessarily hear of it soon. Miss Hood's father has committed
suicide, poisoned himself; he was found dead on a common just outside
the town. Nobody seems to know any reason, unless it was trouble of a
pecuniary kind. Miss Hood is seriously ill. The Baxendales send daily to
make inquiries, and I am afraid the latest news is anything but hopeful.
She was to have dined with us here the day after her father's death.'

There was no further comment; the writer went on to speak of certain
peculiarities in the mode of conducting service at St. Luke's church.

Mr. Athel read, and, in his manner, whistled low. His sister looked
interrogation.

'I suppose we shall have to tell him,' said the former. 'Probably he has
no means of hearing.'

'I suppose we must. He has been anxious at not receiving letters he
expected.'

'How do you know?'

'I had a talk with him last night.'

'Ah, so I thought. The deuce take it! Of course he'll pack off on the
moment. What on earth can have induced the man to poison himself?'

Such a proceeding was so at variance with Mr. Athel's views of life that
it made him seriously uncomfortable. It suggested criminality, or at
least lunacy, both such very unpleasant things to be even remotely
connected with. Poverty he could pardon, but suicide was really
disreputable. From the philosophic resignation to which he had attained,
he fell back into petulance, always easier to him than grave protest.

'The deuce take it!' he repeated.

Mrs. Rossall pointed to the words reporting Emily's condition at the
time of writing.

'That was more than two days ago,' she said meaningly.

'H'm!' went her brother.

'Will you tell him?'

'I suppose I must. Yes, it is hardly allowable even to postpone it.
Where is he?'

Wilfrid was found in the hotel garden.

'Your aunt has had a letter from Beatrice,' Mr. Athel began, with the
awkwardness of a comfortable Englishman called upon to break bad news.
'She is staying in Dunfield.'

'Indeed?'

'There's something in the letter you ought to know.'

Wilfrid looked anxiously.

'It appears that Miss Hood's father has--don't let it be a shock to
you--has just died, and died, in fact, by his own hands.'

'Has killed himself?' Wilfrid exclaimed, turning pale.

'Yes, I am sorry to say that is the report. Miss Hood is naturally
suffering from--from the shocking occurrence.'

'She is ill?' Wilfrid asked, when he had examined his father's face for
a moment.

'Yes, I am afraid she is. Beatrice gives no details.'

'You are not keeping anything from me?'

'Indeed, nothing. The words are that she is ill, and, it is feared,
seriously.'

'I must go at once.'

It was said with quiet decision. Wilfrid consulted his watch, and walked
rapidly to the hotel. He had to wait a couple of hours, however, before
he could start on his journey, and he spent the time by himself. His
father felt he could be of no use, and Mrs. Rossall found a difficulty
in approaching her nephew under such circumstances.

'You will telegraph?' Mr. Athel said, at the station, by way of
expressing himself sympathetically.

The train moved away; and the long, miserable hours of travelling had to
be lived through. Wilfrid's thoughts were all the more anxious from his
ignorance of the dead man's position and history. Even yet Emily had
said very little of her parents in writing to him; he imagined all
manner of wretched things to connect her silence with this catastrophe.
His fears on her own account were not excessive; the state of vigorous
health into which he had grown during late weeks perhaps helped him to
avoid thoughts of a desperate kind. It was bad enough that she lay ill,
and from such a cause; he feared nothing worse than illness. But his
uneasiness increased as time went on; the travelling seemed intolerably
tardy. He had to decide what his course would be on reaching Dunfield,
and decision was not easy. To go straight to the house might result in
painful embarrassments; it would at all events be better first to make
inquiries elsewhere. Could he have recourse to Beatrice? At first the
suggestion did not recommend itself, but nothing better came into his
mind, and, as his impatience grew, the obstacles seemed so trifling that
he overlooked them. He remembered that the address of the Baxendales was
unknown to him; but it could easily be discovered. Yes, he would go
straight to Beatrice.

Reaching London at ten o'clock in the morning, he drove directly to
King's Cross, and pursued his journey northwards. Though worn with
fatigue, excitement would not allow him more than a snatch of sleep now
and then. When at length he stepped out at Dunfield, he was in sorry
plight. He went to an hotel, refreshed himself as well as he could, and
made inquiry about the Baxendales' address. At four o'clock he presented
himself at the house, and sent in a card to Beatrice.

The Baxendales lived in St. Luke's, which we already know as the
fashionable quarter of Dunfield. Their house stood by itself, with high
walls about it, enclosing a garden; at the door were stone pillars, the
lower half painted a dull red. It seemed the abode of solid people, not
troubled with scruples of taste. It was with surprise that Wilfrid found
himself in a room abundantly supplied with books and furnished in
library fashion. His state of mind notwithstanding, he glanced along a
few shelves, discovering yet more unexpected things, to wit,
philosophical works. Unfortunately the corners of the room showed busts
of certain modern English statesmen: but one looks for weaknesses
everywhere.

Beatrice entered, rustling in a light, shimmery dress. Her face
expressed embarrassment rather than surprise; after the first exchange
of glances, she avoided his eager look. Her hand had lain but coldly in
his. Wilfrid, face to face with her, found more difficulty in speaking
than he had anticipated.

'I have come directly from Switzerland,' he began. 'You mentioned in a
letter to my aunt that--'

His hesitation of a moment was relieved by Beatrice.

'You mean Miss Hood's illness,' she said, looking down at her hands,
which were lightly clasped on her lap.

'Yes. I wish for news. I thought it likely you might know--'

Probably it was the effect of his weariness; he could not speak in his
usual straightforward way; hesitancy, to his own annoyance, made gaps
and pauses in his sentences.

'We heard this morning,' Beatrice said, looking past his face to the
window, 'that she is better. The danger seems to be over.'

'There has been danger?'

'The day before yesterday she was given up.'

'So ill as that.' Wilfrid spoke half to himself, and indeed it cost him
an effort to make his voice louder. He began, 'Can you tell me--' and
again paused.

'Have you heard nothing from any other quarter?' Beatrice asked, after a
silence of almost a minute.

He looked at her, wondering what she knew of his relations to Emily. It
was clear that his interest occasioned her no surprise.

'I came away immediately on hearing what your letter contained. There is
no one else with whom I could communicate. I hesitated to go to the
house, not knowing--Will you tell me what you know of this horrible
event?'

Beatrice stroked one hand with the other, and seemed to constrain
herself to lock up and to speak.

'I myself know nothing but the fact of Mr. Hood's death. It took place
some ten days ago, on Monday of last week. I arrived here on the
Wednesday.'

'Of course there was an inquest--with what results?'

'None, beyond the verdict of suicide. No definite cause could he
discovered. It is said that he suffered from very narrow means. His body
was found by Mr. Dagworthy.'

'Who is Mr. Dagworthy?'

'I thought you probably knew,' returned Beatrice, glancing quickly at
him. 'He was employed by Mr. Dagworthy as clerk in a manufactory. He had
just left for his summer holiday.'

'What evidence did his employer give?'

'He only stated that Mr. Hood had been perfectly regular and
satisfactory at his work.'

'Then in truth it is a mystery?'

'Mr. Baxendale thinks that there had been a long struggle with poverty,
quite enough to account for the end.'

Wilfrid sat in gloomy silence. He was picturing what Emily must have
endured, and reproaching himself for not having claimed a right to her
entire confidence, when it was in his power to make that hard path
smooth, and to avert this fearful misery. Looking up at length, he met
the girl's eyes.

'I need not explain myself to you, Beatrice,' he said, finding at last a
natural tone, and calling her by her Christian name because he had much
need of friendly sympathy. 'You appear to know why I have come.'

She answered rather hurriedly.

'I should not have known but for something that Mrs. Baxendale told me.
Mr. Athel wrote a short time ago to ask for information about
them--about the Hoods.'

'He wrote?'

Wilfrid heard it with a little surprise, but without concern.

'Do you know whether Mrs. Hood is alone--with her?' he went on to ask.

'I believe so.'

'And she is better?' He added quickly, 'Has she proper attendance? Have
any friends been of aid?'

'The Baxendales have shown much kindness. My aunt saw her yesterday.'

'Will it be long before she is able to leave her room, do you know?'

'I am not able to say. Mrs. Baxendale hopes you will go upstairs and see
her; she can tell you more. Will you go?'

'But is she alone? I can't talk with people.'

'Yes, she is alone, quite.'

He rose. The girl's eyes fixed themselves on him again, and she said:

'You look dreadfully tired.'

'I have not slept, I think, since I left Thun.'

'You left them all well?' Beatrice asked, with a change in her voice,
from anxious interest which would have veiled itself, to the tone of one
discharging a formal politeness.

Wilfrid replied with a brief affirmative, and they ascended the stairs
together to a large and rather dim drawing-room, with a scent of earth
and vegetation arising from the great number of growing plants arranged
about it. Beatrice presented her friend to Mrs. Baxendale, and at once
withdrew.

The lady with whom Wilfrid found himself talking was tall and finely
made, not very graceful in her bearing, and with a large face, the
singular kindness of which speedily overcame the first sense of
dissatisfaction at its plainness. She wore a little cap of lace, and
from her matronly costume breathed a pleasant freshness, akin to the
activity of her flame. Having taken the young man's hand at greeting,
she held it in both her own, and with large, grey eyes examined his face
shrewdly. Yet neither the action nor the gaze was embarrassing to
Wilfrid he felt, on the contrary, something wonderfully soothing in the
pressure of the warm, firm hands, and in her look an invitation to the
repose of confidence which was new in his experience of women--an
experience not extensive, by the bye, though his characteristic
generalisations seemed to claim the opposite. He submitted from the
first moment to an influence maternal in its spirit, an influence which
his life had lacked, and which can perhaps only be fully appreciated
either in mature reflection upon a past made sacred by death, or on a
meeting such as this, when the heart is open to the helpfulness of
disinterested sympathy. Mrs. Baxendale's countenance was grave enough to
suit the sad thoughts with which she sought to commune, yet showed an
under-smile, suggesting the consolation held in store by one much at
home in the world's sorrows. As she smiled, each of her cheeks dimpled
softly, and Wilfrid could not help noticing the marvellous purity of her
complexion, as well as the excellent white teeth just visible between
her lips.

'So you have come all the way from Switzerland,' she said, leading him
to a chair, and seating herself by him. Her voice had a touch of
masculine quality, even as her shape and features, but it chained
attention, and impressed as the utterance of a large and strong nature.
'You are tired, too, with travel; I can see that. When did you reach
Dunfield?'

'Half an hour ago.'

'And you came here at once. Beatrice and I were on the point of going to
Hebsworth this afternoon; I rejoice that we did not. I'm continually
afraid lest she should find the house dull. My husband and myself are
alone. My eldest girl was married three months ago, my younger one is
just gone to Germany, and my son is spending half a year in the United
States; the mother finds herself a little forsaken. It was really more
than kind of Beatrice to come and bury herself with me for a week or
two.'

She passed by tactful transition to the matter in hand.

'Wasn't it a strange link that she should meet Miss Hood at your house!
She has been so saddened. I never yet knew any one who could talk with
Emily without feeling deep interest in her. My daughter Louisa, I am
convinced, will never forget what she owes to her teacher She and my
youngest child used to be Miss Hood's pupils--perhaps you have heard?
My own Emily--she is dead--was passionately fond of her namesake; she
talked of her among the last words she ever spoke, poor little mite.'

'Miss Redwing tells me you saw her yesterday,' Wilfrid said.

'Yes, for the first time.'

'Was she conscious?'

'Quite. But I was afraid to talk to her more than a minute or two; even
that excited her too much. I fear you must not let her know yet of your
presence.'

'I am glad I knew nothing of this till the worst was over. From the way
in which she spoke of her father I should have feared horrible things.
Did you know him with any intimacy?'

'Only slightly, I am sorry to say. The poor man seems to have had a very
hard life; it is clear to me that sheer difficulty in making ends meet
drove him out of his senses. Are you a student of political economy?'
she asked suddenly, looking into Wilfrid's face with a peculiar smile.

'I am not. Why do you ask?'

'It is the one subject on which my husband and I hold no truce. Mr.
Baxendale makes it one of his pet studies, whilst I should like to make
a bonfire of every volume containing such cruel nonsense. You must know,
Mr. Athel, that I have an evil reputation in Dunfield; my views are held
dangerous; they call me a socialist. Mr. Baxendale, when particularly
angry, offers to hire the hall in the Corn Exchange, that I may say my
say and henceforth spare him at home. Now think of this poor man. He had
a clerkship in a mill, and received a salary of disgraceful smallness;
he never knew what it was to be free of anxiety. The laws of political
economy will have it so, says my husband; if Mr. Hood refused, there
were fifty other men ready to take the place. He couldn't have lived at
all, it seems, but that he owned a house in another town, which brought
him a few pounds a year. I can't talk of such things with patience.
Here's my husband offering himself as a Liberal candidate for Dunfield
at the election coming on. I say to him: What are you going to do if you
get into Parliament? Are you going to talk political economy, and make
believe that everything is right, when it's as wrong as can be? If so, I
say, you'd better save your money for other purposes, and stay where you
are. He tells me my views are impracticable; then, I say, so much the
worse for the world, and so much the more shame for every rich man who
finds excuses for such a state of things. It is dreadful to think of
what those poor people must have gone through. They were so perfectly
quiet under it that no one gave a thought to their position. When Emily
used to come here day after day, I've often suspected she didn't have
enough to eat, yet it was impossible for me to ask questions, it would
have been called prying into things that didn't concern me.'

'She has told me for how much kindness she is indebted to you,' Wilfrid
said, with gratitude.

'Pooh! What could I do? Oh, don't we live absurdly artificial lives? Now
why should a family who, through no fault of their own, are in the most
wretched straits, shut themselves up and hide it like a disgrace? Don't
you think we hold a great many very nonsensical ideas about self-respect
and independence and so on? If I were in want, I know two or three
people to whom I should forthwith go and ask for succour; if they
thought the worse of me for it, I should tell them they ought to be
ashamed of themselves. We act, indeed, as if we ourselves had made the
world and were bound to pretend it an admirable piece of work, without a
screw loose anywhere. I always say the world's about as bad a place as
one could well imagine, at all events for most people who live in it,
and that it's our plain duty to help each other without grimacings. The
death of this poor man has distressed me more than I can tell you; it
does seem such a monstrously cruel thing. There's his employer, a man
called Dagworthy, who never knew what it was to be without
luxuries,--I'm not in the habit of listening to scandal, but I believe
there's a great deal of truth in certain stories told about his
selfishness and want of feeling. I consider Mr. Dagworthy this poor
man's murderer; it was his bounden duty to see that a man in his
employment was paid enough to live upon,--and Mr. Hood was not. Imagine
what suffering must have brought about such an end as this. A sad
case,--say people. I call it a case of crime that enjoys impunity.'

Wilfrid listened gloomily. The broad question stirred him to no strong
feeling, but the more he heard the more passionate was his longing to
bear Emily away from the scenes of such a past. With what devotion would
he mould his life to the one task of healing her memory! Yet he knew it
must be very long before her heart could recover from the all but deadly
wound it had received. A feeling which one may not call jealousy,--that
were too inhuman,--but still one of the million forms which jealousy
assumes to torture us, drove him to ask himself what the effect of such
a crisis in her life might be on Emily's love for him. There would
always remain in her inmost soul one profound sadness in which he had no
part, and which by its existence would impugn the supremacy of that bond
which united him and her.

'How does Mrs. Hood bear it?' he asked, when he found Mrs. Baxendale
again examining his face.

'I think Emily's illness has been her great help,--poor creatures that
we are, needing one great grief to balance another. But she seems in a
very weak state; I didn't like her look yesterday.'

'Will you describe her to me?' asked Wilfrid.

'She is not the kind of mother you would give to Emily. I'm afraid her
miserable life has told upon her greatly, both in mind and body.'

'Emily never spoke of her, though so often of her father.'

'That is what I should have expected. Still, you must not think her
quite unworthy. She speaks as an educated woman, and is certainly very
devoted.'

'What of her present position? She must be in extreme difficulties.'

'No, she wants nothing for the present. Friends have been very anxious
to help her. That's what I say,--only let your misery drive you out of
the world, and people will find out all at once how very easily they
might have saved you. A hundredth part of the interest that has been
shown in the family since poor Mr. Hood's death would have found endless
ways of making his life very different. All sorts of people have
suddenly discovered that he really was a very deserving man, and that
something ought long since to have been done for him. I don't know what
has been told you of his history. He was once in independent business; I
don't know exactly what. It was only utter failure that drove him to the
miserable clerkship. How admirable it was of a man in such circumstances
to have his daughter so well educated!'

Wilfrid smiled.

'Emily,' he said with gentle fervour, 'would have found her own way.'

'Ah, don't depreciate his care!' Mrs. Baxendale urged. 'You'll find out
by degrees what a great deal of heathen doubt there is in me; among
other things, I am impressed by the power of circumstances. Emily would
always have been a remarkable girl, no doubt; but, without her
education, you and I should not have been talking about her like this,
even if we had known her. We can't dispense with these aids; that's
where I feel the cruelty of depriving people of chances. Men and women
go to their graves in wretchedness who might have done noble things with
an extra pound a week to live upon. It does not sound lofty doctrine,
does it? But I have vast faith in the extra pound a week. Emily had the
advantage of it, however it was managed. I don't like to think of her as
she might have been without it. What was it Beatrice called me
yesterday? A materialist; yes, a materialist. It was a reproach, though
she said it in the kindest way; I took it as a compliment. We can't get
out of the world of material; how long will the mind support itself on
an insufficient supply of dry bread?'

Wilfrid's intellectual sympathies were being aroused by his new friend's
original way of talking. He began to feel a keen satisfaction at having
her near him in these troubles.

'Do you think,' he asked, returning to his immediate needs, 'that I
might write to her?'

'Not yet; you mustn't think of it yet.'

'Does Mrs. Hood--' he hesitated. 'Do you think Emily has told her
mother--has spoken to her of me?'

Mrs. Baxendale looked surprised. 'I can't say; I took it for granted.'

'I wonder why she was reluctant to do so?' Wilfrid said, already
speaking with complete freedom. 'Her father cannot have known; it would
have relieved his worst anxieties; he would surely never have been
driven to such things.'

'No; I think not. The poor girl will feel that, I fear. I suppose one
can get a glimpse of her reasons for keeping silence?' She gave Wilfrid
a friendly glance as she spoke.

'How glad I am,' he exclaimed, 'to be able to talk to you! I should have
been in the utmost difficulties. Think of my position if I had been
without a friend in the town. Then, indeed, but for Miss Redwing I
should have heard nothing even yet.'

'She wrote to you?'

'Not to me; she mentioned the matter in a letter to my aunt, Mrs.
Rossall.'

'Did Beatrice--you let me question?--did she know?'

'Only, she says, in consequence of a letter my father addressed to Mr.
Baxendale.'

The lady smiled again.

'I ask because Beatrice is now and then a little mysterious to me. I
spoke to her of that letter in the full belief that she must have
knowledge of the circumstances. She denied it, yet, I thought, as if it
were a matter of conscience to do so.'

'I think it more than likely that my aunt had written to her on the
subject. And yet--no; she would not have denied it to you. That would
be unlike her.'

'Yes, I think it would.'

Mrs. Baxendale mused. Before she spoke again a servant entered the room
with tea.

'You will be glad of a cup, I am sure,' said the lady. 'And now, what do
you propose to do? Shall you return to London?'

'Oh, no! I shall stay in Dunfield till I am able to see her.'

'Very well. In that case you will not refuse our hospitality. The longer
you stay the better pleased I shall be.'

She would hear of no difficulties.

'I wouldn't ask you,' she said, 'if I were not able to promise you any
degree of privacy you like. A sitting-room is at your disposal--begging
to be occupied since my boy Charlie went away. My husband is over head
and ears in electioneering business, foolish man, and I can't tell you
how I feel the need of someone to talk to on other subjects than the
manufacture of votes. Where is your luggage?'

Wilfrid named the hotel.

'It shall be fetched. And now I'll ask my niece to come and pour out tea
for us.'

With the entrance of Beatrice the conversation naturally took a
different turn. She heard with becoming interest of Wilfrid's
establishment as a guest, and, after a little talk of Mrs. Rossall and
the twins, led to the subject of certain 'revivalist' meetings then
being held in Dunfield, an occasion of welcome excitement to such of the
inhabitants as could not absorb themselves in politics. Mrs. Baxendale
seemed to regard the religious movement dispassionately, and related a
story she had from her husband of a certain prominent townsman driven to
such a pass by his wife's perpetual absence from home on revivalist
expeditions, that he at length fairly turned the key on her in her
bedroom, and through the keyhole bade her stay there till she had
remembered her domestic duties. He was that night publicly prayed for at
a great meeting in the Corn Exchange as one who, not content with losing
his own soul, did his best to hold back others from the way of grace.

Beatrice affected to pay no heed to this anecdote.

'What is your side in politics?' she asked Wilfrid. 'Here we are all
either Blues or Yellows.'

'What do they represent?' Wilfrid inquired.

'Oh, you shouldn't ask that,' said Mrs. Baxendale. 'Yellow is yellow,
and Blue, blue; nothing else in the world. I think it an excellent idea
to use colours. Liberal and Conservative suggest ideas; names,
therefore, quite out of place in Dunfield politics--or any other
politics, I dare say, if the truth were known. My husband is a Yellow.
It pleases him to call himself a Liberal, or else a Radical. He may have
been a few months ago; now he's a mere Yellow. I tell him he's in
serious danger of depriving himself of two joys; in another month a
cloudless sky and the open sea will he detestable to him.'

'But what are you, Mr. Athel?' Beatrice asked. 'A Liberal or a
Conservative? I should really find it hard to guess.'

'In a Yellow house,' he replied, 'I am certainly Yellow.'

'Beatrice is far from being so complaisant,' said Mrs. Baxendale. 'She
detests our advanced views.'

'Rather, I know nothing of them,' the girl replied. The quiet air with
which she expressed her indifference evinced a measure of spiritual
pride rather in excess of that she was wont to show. Indeed, her manner
throughout the conversation was a little distant to both her companions.
If she jested with Wilfrid it was with the idleness of one condescending
to subjects below the plane of her interests. To her aunt she was rather
courteous than affectionate.

Whilst they still sat over tea, Mr. Baxendale came in. Like his wife, he
was of liberal proportions, and he had a face full of practical
sagacity; if anything, he looked too wide awake, a fault of shrewd men,
constitutionally active, whose imagination plays little part in their
lives. He wore an open frock-coat, with much expanse of shirt-front. The
fore part of his head was bald, and the hair on each side was brushed
forward over his ears in a manner which gave him a singular appearance.
His bearing was lacking in self-possession; each of his remarks was
followed by a short laugh, deprecatory, apologetic. It seemed impossible
to him to remain in a state of bodily repose, even with a cup of tea in
his hand he paced the room. Constantly he consulted his watch--not that
he had any special concern with the hour, but from a mere habit of
nervousness.

He welcomed the visitor with warmth, at the same time obviously
suppressing a smile of other than merely polite significance: then he
began at once to speak of electioneering matters, and did so, pacing the
carpet, for the next half hour. Wilfrid listened with such show of
interest as he could command; his thoughts were elsewhere, and weariness
was beginning to oppress him.

Shortly after dinner fatigue passed the point at which it could be
struggled against. Long waking, the harassment of fears at length
consoled, and the exhaustion consequent upon his journey, besieged him
with invincible drowsiness. Mrs. Baxendale, observing it, begged him to
discard ceremony and go to rest. Gladly he suffered himself to be led to
his room; once there, he could not note the objects about him; the very
effort of taking off his clothes was almost beyond his strength. Sleep
was binding his brows with oblivion, and relaxing every joint. His
dearest concerns were nothing to him; with a wave of the hand he would
have resigned an eternity of love; cry to him blood-chilling horrors,
and his eyelids would make no sign. The feather-softness moulded itself
to his limbs; the pillows pressed a yielding coolness to his cheek; his
senses failed amid faint fresh odours. Blessed state! How enviable above
all waking joys the impotence which makes us lords of darkness, the
silence which suffers not to reach our ears so much as an echo of the
farce of life.

CHAPTER XV

MRS. BAXENDALE'S QUESTS

A servant went to Banbrigg each morning for tidings; Emily, so the
report said, moved steadily towards recovery. On the second day after
Wilfrid's arrival Mrs. Baxendale took him with her in the brougham, and
let him wait for her whilst she made a call upon Mrs. Hood; Wilfrid saw
an upper window of which the blind was down against the sun, and would
gladly have lingered within sight of it. Beatrice had excused herself
from accompanying the two.

'I believe,' Mrs. Baxendale said on the way, 'she has gone to some
special service at St. Luke's.' She was mistaken, though Beatrice had in
truth been diligent at such services of late. 'Now there,' she added,
'is a kind of infatuation I find it difficult even to understand. How
can a girl of her sense and education waste her time in that way? Don't
think I have no religious belief, Mr. Athel; I'm not strong-minded
enough for that. But this deliberate working of oneself into a state of
nervous excitement seems to me, to speak plainly, indecent. Dr. Wardle,
with whom I chat rather wickedly now and then, tells me the revivals are
quite a windfall, subsequently, to him and his brethren. And, do you
know, I begin to see bad results even in my niece. I certainly wouldn't
have had her down just at this time if I had suspected her leanings that
way. Didn't you notice how absent she was last night, and again at
breakfast this morning? All revival, I assure you.'

'It's the want of a serious interest in life,' remarked Wilfrid,
remembering, with a smile, a certain conversation between Beatrice and
himself.

'Then it's so inconsistent,' continued the lady, 'for--you won't abuse
my confidence--a more worldly girl I never knew. In her heart I am
convinced she thinks nothing so important as the doings of fashionable
society. She asked me, the first day she was here, how I lived
without--what was it? I quite forget, but some paper or other which is
full of what they call fashionable intelligence. "My dear," I said, "I
know none of those people, and care not one grain of salt about their
flutterings hither and thither, their marryings and givings ill
marriage, their dresses and their--never mind what." And what do you
think she answered? "But you will care when my name begins to be
mentioned." And she went off with--just so much--toss of the head; you
know how Beatrice does it. Well, I suppose she really does to me an
honour by coming down to my poor dull house; no doubt she's very
brilliant in the world I know nothing about. I suppose you have seen her
at her best? She won't waste her graces upon me, wise girl; only
the--you know the movement--when I've shown my ignorance now and then.
Did you ever dance with her?'

'Oh, yes; frequently.'

'I should like to see her in a ball-room. Certainly there are few girls
more handsome; I suppose that is admitted?'

'Certainly; she queens it everywhere.'

'And her singing is lovely! Do you know a thought I often have? When I
hear her singing it seems to me as if she were not quite the same person
as at other times; she affects me, I can't quite tell you how; it's a
sort of disenchantment to talk to her immediately afterwards.'

Wilfrid liked Mrs. Baxendale the more, the more he talked with her; in a
day or two the confidence between them was as complete as if their
acquaintance had been life-long. With her husband, too, he came to be on
an excellent footing. Mr. Baxendale got him into the library when the
ladies retired for the night, and expatiated for hours on the details of
his electoral campaign. At first Wilfrid found the subject tedious, but
the energy and bright intelligence of the man ended by stirring his
interest in a remarkable way. It was new to Wilfrid to be in converse
with such a strenuously practical mind; the element of ambition in him,
of less noble ambition which had had its share in urging him to academic
triumphs, was moved by sympathetic touches; he came to understand the
enthusiasm which possessed the Liberal candidate, began to be concerned
for his success, to feel the stirrings of party spirit. He aided
Baxendale in drawing up certain addresses for circulation, and learned
the difference between literary elegance and the tact which gets at the
ear of the multitude. A vulgar man could not have moved him in this way,
and Baxendale was in truth anything but vulgar. Through his life he had
been, on a small scale, a ruler of men, and had ruled with conspicuous
success, yet he had preserved a native sincerity and wrought under the
guidance of an ideal. Like all men who are worth anything, either in
public or private, he possessed a keen sense of humour, and was too
awake to the ludicrous aspects of charlatanry to fall into the pits it
offered on every band. His misfortune was the difficulty with which he
uttered himself; even when he got over his nervousness, words came to
him only in a rough-and-tumble fashion; he sputtered and fumed and beat
his forehead for phrases, then ended with a hearty laugh at his own
inarticulateness, Something like this was his talk in the library of
nights:

'There's a man called Rapley, an old-clothes dealer--fellow I can't get
hold of. He's hanging midway--what do you call it?--trimming, with an
eye to the best bargain. Invaluable, if only I could get him, but a
scoundrel. Wants pay, you know; do anything for pay; win the election
for me without a doubt, if only I pay him; every blackguard in Dunfield
hand and glove with him. Now pay I won't, yet I'm bound to get that man.
Talked to him yesterday for two hours and thirty-five minutes by the
parish church clock, just over his shop--I mean the clock is. The fellow
hasn't a conviction, yet he can talk you blue; if I had his powers of
speech--there it is I fail, you see. I have to address a meeting
tomorrow; Rapley 'll be up at me, and turn me inside out. He'd do as
much for the other man, if only I'd pay him. That isn't my idea; I'm
going to win the election clean-handed; satisfaction in looking back on
an honest piece of work; what? I'll have another talk with him
to-morrow. Now look at this map of the town; I've coloured it with much
care. There you see the stronghold of the Blues. I'm working that
district street by street--a sort of moral invasion. No humbug; I set my
face against humbug. If a man's a rogue, or a sot, or a dirty rascal, I
won't shake hands with him and pretend--you know--respect, friendship,
how are your wife and children, so on. He's a vote, and I've only to
deal with him as a vote. Can he see that two and two make four? Good;
I'm at him by that side. There are my principles; what have you to urge
against them? He urges damned absurdities. Good; I _prove_ to him that
they are damned absurdities.'

At times Wilfrid managed to lead the talk to other subjects, such as
were suggested by the books around the room. Baxendale had read not a
little, and entirely in the spheres of fact and speculation. Political
economy and all that appertained to it was his speciality, but he was
remarkably strong in metaphysics. Wilfrid had flattered himself that he
was tolerably familiar with the highways of philosophy, but Baxendale
made him feel his ignorance. The man had, for instance, read Kant with
extraordinary thoroughness, and discussed him precisely as he did his
electioneering difficulties; the problems of consciousness he attacked
with hard-headed, methodical patience, with intelligence, moreover,
which was seldom at fault. Everything that bore the appearance of a knot
to be unravelled had for him an immense attraction. In mere mental
calculation his power was amazing. He took Wilfrid over his manufactory
one day, and explained to him certain complicated pieces of machinery;
the description was not so lucid as it might have been, owing to lack of
words, but it manifested the completest understanding of things which to
his companion were as hard as the riddle of the universe. His modesty,
withal, was excessive; to Wilfrid's humane culture he deferred at all
times; for all the learning which lay outside his own sphere he had
boundless reverence. Wilfrid's gain by him was not only of a pleasant
personal acquaintance; the intercourse extended his views, and in
particular gave direction to much that had hitherto been vague
potentiality in his character. In more than one sense this visit to
Dunfield was to prove a turning point in his life.

Beatrice, in the meantime, held herself apart; Wilfrid had never before
felt himself so little at ease in her presence. It was as though the
short time which had elapsed since their last meeting had effected a
permanent change in their mutual relations. Previously their intercourse
had gone as far in familiarity as was possible if it were not to take
quite a new colour; now all at once this past seemed to go for nothing.
Beatrice was the active source of change. She was deliberately--he could
not doubt it--extending the distance between them, annulling bygone
intimacy, shifting into ineffective remoteness all manner of common
associations. Things she would formerly have understood at a half-word
she now affected to need to have explained to her. He was 'Mr. Athel' to
an extent he had never been before; and even of his relatives she spoke
with a diminished familiarity. She emphasised at every moment the
characteristics which were alien to his sympathies, talked of the
'revival' _ad nauseam_, or changed with alarming suddenness from that to
topics of excessive frivolousness. Wilfrid little by little ceased to
converse with her, in the real sense of the word; he even felt
uncomfortable in her presence. And Mrs. Baxendale had clear eyes for at
all events the outward features of the situation.

On the fifth day of Wilfrid's presence in the house, Beatrice took the
opportunity of being alone with her aunt to observe that she must go
southwards by a certain train next morning.

'Oh, surely not!' protested Mrs. Baxendale. 'I can't spare you yet. And
your mother is still in Berkshire.'

'Yes, but that makes no difference to me, you know,' said Beatrice. 'I'm
often at home by myself. Indeed I must go to-morrow.'

'Won't you stay if I beg you? It's four years since you were here, and
who knows how long it will be before I entrap you again. You've already
threatened me, you know, with the peerage, and I'm very sure you won't
deign to honour me when that day comes. Now, there's a good girl--to the
end of the week at least.'

It seemed as though Beatrice would persist.

'Now, if it were not such an unlikely thing,' said her aunt, 'I should
be disposed to think it was Mr. Athel who is driving you away.'

'Mr. Athel!' the girl exclaimed, almost haughtily, and with a flush
which disappeared as rapidly as it came, leaving the lovely face with a
touch of exquisite paleness.

'I mean,' said Mrs. Baxendale quickly, averting her honest eyes, 'that I
fear he has offended you.'

'How can Mr. Athel have offended me?' Beatrice asked, with a certain
severity.

'I thought perhaps--a remark he made last night on the revival.'

Mrs. Baxendale felt ill at ease. Her first sentence had been
inconsiderate; she knew it as soon as it was uttered, and indeed did not
quite see what could have induced her to make such a remark. She had not
the habit of nice conversation which endows with complete command of the
tongue. But her wits had, as you see, come to her rescue.

'Mr. Athel's opinions on that subject are not likely to offend me,'
Beatrice replied, with the shadow of a smile.

'I am so afraid lest he should suspect anything of the kind. I am sure
it would grieve him dreadfully.'

The girl laughed outright, though not with much joyousness.

'Mr. Athel be grieved for such a cause! My dear aunt, you don't know
him. He's as little sensitive as any man could be. Why, he holds it a
duty to abuse people who do things he counts foolish.'

'You exaggerate,' returned her aunt, with a smile.

Beatrice continued, vivaciously.

'Oh, you don't know him as well as I do. We used to be always
wrangling--in the days of my simplicity. I have been marvelling at his
forbearance; it would have been nothing wonderful if he had called me an
idiot. Frankness of that kind is the mark of his friendship--haven't
you found that out? Hasn't he taken occasion yet to inform you that your
life is conducted on an utterly mistaken principle, that you are shallow
and inefficient, that you are worse than useless in the world, and
ought, if properly constituted, to be a torment to yourself? None of
these things he has said? Oh, then you are not admitted to Mr. Athel's
intimacy; you are not of the inner circle.'

She spoke with a kind of reckless gaiety, a mocking merriment which her
rich voice and command of facial expression made very effective. It
startled her hearer, who, when the girl ceased, took one of her hands
and patted it kindly.

'Why then,' she said, 'I have been altogether mistaken; for I did really
think he had offended you. But now I'm sure you'll stay--won't you?'

'Rather than you should think I run away from Mr. Athel's high
censure--certainly.'

Then she became silent, and shortly left the room. Mrs. Baxendale sat by
herself musing.

She was a woman given to thoughtfulness, for all that she used her
tongue freely when with those she liked. She did not greatly seek such
society as Dunfield had to offer, and partly on that account, partly
owing to alarms excited by her caustic comments on matters of popular
interest, the ladies of the town left her abundance of leisure. She used
it well. Though not a highly-educated woman, she read constantly, and
books of a solid kind. Society in Dunfield had its book club, and Mrs.
Baxendale enjoyed the advantage of choosing literature which her
fellow-members were very willing to let her keep as long as she liked.
Beatrice derived much amusement from her aunt's method of reading.
Beatrice, with the run of Mr. Mudie's catalogues, would have
half-a-dozen volumes in her lap at the same time, and as often as not
get through them--_tant bien que mal_--in the same day. But to the
provincial lady a book was a solid and serious affair. To read a chapter
was to have provided matter for a day's reflection; the marker was put
at the place where reading had ceased, and the book was not re-opened
till previous matter had been thoroughly digested and assimilated. It
was a slow method, but not without its advantages, I assure you.

Perhaps to relieve her worthy aunt of any lingering anxiousness,
Beatrice, throughout the day, wore an appearance of much contentment,
and to Wilfrid was especially condescending, even talking with him
freely on a subject quite unconnected with her pet interests. That
evening two gentlemen, politicians, dined at the house; Beatrice, under
cover of their loud discussions in the drawing-room, exchanged certain
remarks with Wilfrid.

'My aunt was so good as to apologise to me on your behalf this morning,'
she began.

'Apologise? What have I been guilty of?'

'Oh, nothing. She doesn't appreciate the freemasonry between us. It
occurred to her that your remarks on my--well, my predilections, might
have troubled me. Judge how amused I was!'

She did not look at him from the first, and appeared to be examining,
even whilst she spoke, a book of prints.

'I sincerely hope,' Wilfrid replied, 'that I have uttered no thoughtless
piece of rudeness. If I have, I beg you to forgive me.'

She glanced at him. He appeared to speak seriously, and it was the kind
of speech he would never have dreamed of making to her in former days,
at all events in this tone.

'You know perfectly well,' she answered, with slow voice, bending to
look more closely at a page, 'that you never said anything to me which
could call for apology.'

'I am not so sure of that,' Wilfrid replied, smiling.

'Then take my assurance now,' said Beatrice, closing her book, and
rising to move towards her aunt. As she went, she cast a look back, a
look of curious blankness, as if into vacancy.

She sang shortly after, and the souls of the politicians were stirred
within them. For Wilfrid, he lay back with his eyes closed, his heart
borne on the flood of music to that pale-windowed room of sickness,
whose occupant must needs be so sadly pale. The security he felt in the
knowledge that Emily grew better daily made him able to talk cheerfully
and behave like one without preoccupation, but Emily in truth was never
out of his mind. He lived towards the day when he should kneel at her
feet, and feel once more upon his forehead those cold, pure lips. And
that day, as he believed, was now very near.

To her aunt's secret surprise, Beatrice allowed the end of the week to
come and go without any allusion to the subject of departure. It was all
the more strange, seeing that the girl's show of easy friendliness with
Wilfrid had not lasted beyond the day; she had become as distant and
self-centred as before. But on the morning of the following Tuesday, as
Mrs. Baxendale sat reading not long after breakfast, Beatrice entered
the room in her light travelling garb, and came forward, buttoning her
glove.

'You are going out?' Mrs. Baxendale asked, with some misgiving.

'Yes--to London. They are calling a cab. You know how I dislike
preparatory miseries.'

Her aunt kept astonished silence. She looked at the girl, then down at
her book.

'Well,' she said at length, 'it only remains to me to remember the old
proverb. But when is the train? Are you off this moment?'

'The train leaves in five-and-twenty minutes. May I disturb uncle, do
you think?'

'Ah, now I understand why you asked if he would be at home through the
morning. I'll go and fetch him.'

She went quickly to the library. Mr. Baxendale sat there alone.

'Beatrice is going,' she said, coming behind his chair. 'Will you come
and say good-bye?'

Mr. Baxendale jumped up.

'Going? Leaving?'

His wife nodded.

'Why? What is it? You haven't quarrelled with her about the
prayer-meetings?'

'No. It's a fancy of hers, that's all. Come along; she's only twenty
minutes to catch the train.'

When they reached the drawing-room, Beatrice was not there. Upon Mrs.
Baxendale's withdrawal she had gone to Wilfrid's door and knocked at it.
Wilfrid was pacing about in thought. It surprised him to see who his
visitor was; yet more, when she advanced to him with her hand extended,
saying a simple 'Good-bye.'

'Good-bye? Wherefore?'

Her attire explained. Beatrice possessed the beauty of form and face
which makes profit of any costume; in the light-brown cape, and hat to
match, her tall, lithe figure had a womanly dignity which suited well
with the unsmiling expressiveness of her countenance. The 'good-bye' was
uttered briefly and without emphasis, as one uses any insignificant form
of speech.

Wilfrid resolved at once to accept her whim; after all, it was but
another instance of frequent eccentricities.

'Who is going to the station with you?' he asked.

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