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A Life's Morning by George Gissing

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'No one. I hate partings on the platform.'

She moved away almost as far as the door, then turned again.

'You will be in town before going back to Oxford?'

Wilfrid hesitated.

'Oh, never mind,' she said; and was gone.

Ten minutes later Wilfrid went to the drawing-room. Mr. and Mrs.
Baxendale were talking together; they became silent as he entered.

'Has Miss Redwing gone?' he asked.

'She took leave of you, didn't she?' replied the lady.

'Yes. But it was So unprepared for, I half thought it might be a joke.'

'Oh, she's fond of these surprises,' Mrs. Baxendale said, in a tone of
good-natured allowance. 'On the whole I sympathise with her; I myself
prefer not to linger over such occasions.'

Later in the day Mrs. Baxendale drove out to Banbrigg, this time alone.
On her return, she sought Wilfrid and found him in his room. There was
concern on her face.

'I have heard something very painful from Mrs. Hood,' she began. 'It
seems that Emily is in ignorance of her father's death.'

Wilfrid looked at her in astonishment.

'I told you,' Mrs. Baxendale pursued, 'that she had not been altogether
well just before it happened, but it now appears that the dreadful
incident of her entering the room just when the body was brought in must
have taken place when she was delirious. The poor woman has had no
suspicion of that; but it is proved by Emily's questions, now that she
begins to talk. Of course it makes a new anxiety. Mrs. Hood has not
dared to hint at the truth, but it cannot be concealed for long.'

'But this is most extraordinary,' Wilfrid exclaimed, 'What, then, was
the origin of her illness?'

'That is the mystery. Mrs. Hood's memory seems to be confused, but I got
her to allow that the feverish symptoms were declared even the night
before the death was known. I hardly like to hint it, but it really
seemed to me as if she were keeping something back. One moment she said
that Emily had been made ill by anxiety at her father's lateness in
coming home that night, and the next she seemed, for some reason,
unwilling to admit that it was so. The poor woman is in a sad, sad
state, and no wonder. She wishes that somebody else might tell Emily the
truth; but surely it will come most easily from her.'

Wilfrid was deeply distressed.

'It is the very worst that still remains,' he said, 'and we thought the
worst was over. What does the doctor say? Can she bear it yet? It is
impossible to let her continue in ignorance.'

It was at length decided that Mrs. Baxendale should visit the doctor,
and hear his opinion. She had got into her mind a certain distrust of
Mrs. Hood, and even doubted whether Emily ought to be left in her hands
during convalescence; there was clearly no want of devotion on the
mother's part, but it appeared to Mrs. Baxendale that the poor woman had
been overtaxed, and was herself on the point of illness, perhaps of
mental failure. From going well things had suddenly taken an anxious
turn.

CHAPTER XVI

RENUNCIATION

When Emily returned from the wastes of ravaged mind, and while yet the
images of memory were hardly distinguished from the ghosts of delirious
dream, the picture that haunted her with most persistency, with an
objective reality the more impressive the clearer her thought became,
was one which she could least comprehend or account for. She saw lying
before her a closely muffled form, the outline seeming to declare it
that of a man. The struggle of new-born consciousness was to associate
such a vision with the events which had preceded her illness. Perchance
for a day, perchance only for an hour, however long the unmeasured
transition from darkness to the dawn of self-knowledge, she suffered the
oppression of this mechanical questioning. At length the presence of her
mother by the bedside became a fact, and it led on to the thought of her
father. Her eyes moved in search for him.

The act of speech, in health a mere emphasis of thought, was only to be
attained by repetition of efforts; several times she believed herself to
have spoken whilst silence still pressed her lips. Only when the
recollection of her last waking day was complete, and when the absence
of her father from the room linked itself to memory of her anguished
waiting for him, did she succeed in uttering the words which represented
her fear. Her mother was bending over her, aware of the new light in her
questioning eyes.

'Where's father?' Emily asked.

'You shall see him, dear,' was the reply. 'Don't speak.'

'He came home?'

'Yes, he came home.'

Emily fell back into thought; this great fear allayed, the only now,
like an angel coming from afar over dark waters, past continued to
rebuild itself within her mind. And now, there gleamed the image of her
love. It had been expelled from memory by the all-possessing woe of
those last hours; it returned like a soothing warmth, an assuagement of
pain. As though soul-easing music sounded about her, she again lost her
hold on outward things and sank into a natural sleep.

Mrs. Hood feared the next waking. The question about her father, she
attributed to Emily's incomplete command of her faculties, for she had
not doubted that the muffled figure on the couch had been consciously
seen by the girl and understood. Yet with waking the error prolonged
itself; it became evident at length that Emily knew nothing of her
coming down to the sitting-room, and still had to learn that her father
no longer lived. It was a new suffering under which the poor woman gave
way. Already her natural affliction was complicated with a sense of
painful mysteries; in her delirium, Emily had uttered words which there
was no explaining, but which proved that there had been some hidden
connection between her mental trouble and her father's failure to return
at the usual hour. Dagworthy's name she had spoken frequently, and with
words which called to mind the sum of money her father had somehow
procured. Mrs. Hood had no strength to face trials such as these. As
long as her child's life seemed in danger, she strove with a mother's
predominant instinct to defend it; but her powers failed as Emily passed
out of peril. Her outlook became blank; physical exhaustion joined with
mental suffering began to render her incapable of further efforts.
Fortunately, Mrs. Baxendale perceived this in time. A nurse was
provided, in addition to the one who had assisted Mrs. Hood, and the
mother became herself the object of care.

Emily had been told that her father was ill, but this fiction it was
soon impossible to maintain. Three days after the last reported
conversation between Wilfrid and Mrs. Baxendale, it was determined that
the latter must take upon herself the office of telling Emily the truth.
Mrs. Hood implored her to do so; the poor mother was sinking into a
state which scarcely left her the command of her mind, and, though she
could not sustain the duty herself, it was her harassing desire that it
might quickly be performed. So at length the revelation was made, made
with all the forbearance and strengthening tenderness of which a
strong-souled woman is capable. But the first syllables prepared Emily
for the whole truth. A secret dread, which she had not dared to confess
to herself on that last evening, though probably it brought about the
crisis in her suffering, and which the false assurances recently given
her had perhaps not wholly overcome, rushed forth as soon as evil was
hinted at. The softened statement that her father had been stricken down
by a natural malady did not for a moment deceive her. She closed her
eyes; the pillows which supported her were scarcely whiter than her
face. But she was soon able to speak with perfect self-control.

'Was he brought home wrapped in something?' she asked. 'With his face
covered?'

'He was, Emily.'

'How and where did I see him? For I know I did see him.'

'Your mother has told me that you rose from your bed, and went to the
room below. She did not realise that you were unconscious; she believed
that you knew of this.'

This was her dread vision. As if to protect herself from it, she raised
her hand and laid it across her eyes. Then it fell again to the
coverlet--thin, flower-like hand, which in its translucency of flesh
seemed to have been created by spirit for its chosen abode.

When silence had lasted some moments--

'Now that I know he is dead,' Emily resumed--oh, the sad music of the
last word!--'I can bear to hear the manner of it without disguise. Will
you tell me the whole truth, Mrs. Baxendale?'

It was spoken like herself. Ever clinging to sincerity, ever ready to
face the truth of things, in how many a matter of less moment had the
girl spoken with just this directness, inspiring respect in all who
heard her clear, candid voice.

Mrs. Baxendale sank her eyes, and hesitated.

'He died by his own hand,' Emily said, below her breath.

The lady kept silence. Emily again closed her eyes, and, as she so lay,
felt warm lips touch her forehead.

Mrs. Baxendale believed for a moment that the sufferer had lost
consciousness, but the utterance of her name caused Emily to raise her
lids.

'Why did he do this?' she asked, regarding her friend fixedly.

'No one can say, dear.'

Emily drew a deep sigh; a gleam passed over her face.

'There was an inquest?' she asked.

'Yes.'

'Is it possible for me to see a newspaper in which it was reported?'

'If you really desire it,' said Mrs. Baxendale, with hesitation.

'I do; I wish to read it. Will you do me that great kindness?'

'I will bring it you in a day or two. But would it not be better to
delay--'

'Is there anything,' Emily asked quickly, 'that you have kept from me?'

'Nothing; nothing.'

'Then I need not put off reading it. I have borne the worst.'

As Mrs. Baxendale left the house, she was passed at a short distance
along the road by a man on horseback. This rider gave a sign to the
coachman to stop, and a moment after presented himself at the window of
the brougham. It was Dagworthy; he wished to have news of Mrs. and Miss
Hood. The lady gave him full information.

'I fear I could not see Mrs. Hood?' Dagworthy said.

'Oh, she is far too ill!' was the reply.

Having assured himself on this point, Dagworthy took his leave, and,
when the carriage was remote, rode to the house. He made fast the reins
to the gate, entered, and knocked at the door. A girl who did
subordinate work for the nurses opened.

'I want you,' Dagworthy said, 'to give this note at once to Miss Hood.
You understand?--to Miss Hood. Will you do so?'

'I will, sir.'

He went away, and, immediately after, Emily was reading these lines:

'I wish to tell you that no one has heard, and no one ever will, of the
circumstances you would desire to have unknown. I send this as soon as
you are able to receive it. You will know from whom it comes.'

She knew, and the message aided her. The shook of what she had just
heard was not, in its immediate effect, as severe as others had feared
it would be. Perhaps Emily's own sojourn at the gates of death lessened
the distance between her and him who had passed them; perhaps the vast
misery which lay behind her, the darkness threatening in the future,
brought first to her mind death's attribute of deliverance. This, in the
hours that followed, she strove to dwell upon nothing could touch her
father now, he was safe from trouble. But, as the current in her veins
grew warmer, as life held her with a stronger hand and made her once
more participant in his fears and desires, that apparition of the
motionless veiled form haunted her with access of horror. If she slept
it came into her dreams, and her waking thoughts strove with hideous
wilfulness to unmuffle that dead face. When horror failed, its place was
taken by a grief so intense that it shook the fabric of her being. She
had no relapse in health, but convalescence was severed from all its
natural joys; she grew stronger only to mourn more passionately. In
imagination she followed her father through the hours of despair which
must have ensued on his interview with Dagworthy. She pictured his
struggle between desire to return home, to find comfort among those he
loved, and the bitter shame which forbade it. How had he spent the time?
Did he wander out of the town to lonely places, until daylight failed?
Did he then come back under the shadow of the night, come back all but
to the very door of his dwelling, make one last effort to face those
within, pass on in blind agony? Was he on the heath at the very hour
when she crossed it to go to Dagworthy's house? Oh, had that been his
figure which, as she hurried past, she had seen moving in the darkness
of the quarry?

A pity which at times grew too vast for the soul to contain absorbed her
life, the pity which overwhelms and crushes, which threatens reason.
That he should have lived through long years of the most patient
endurance, keeping ever a hope, a faith, so simple-hearted, so void of
bitter feeling, so kindly disposed to all men--only to be vanquished at
length by a moment of inexplicable weakness, only to creep aside, and
hide his shame, and die. Her father, whom it was her heart's longing to
tend and cherish through the brighter days of his age--lying there in
his grave, where no voice could reach him, remote for ever from the
solace of loving kindness, his death a perpetuation of woe. The cruelty
of fate had exhausted itself; what had the world to show more pitiful
than this?

No light ever came to her countenance; no faintest smile ever touched
her lips. Through the hours, through the days, she lay heedless of
things around her, solely occupied with the past, with affliction, with
remorse. Had it not been in her power to save him? A word from her, and
at this moment he would have been living in cheerfulness such as he had
never known. She would have had but to turn her head, and his smile
would have met her; the rare laugh, so touching to her always, would
have become less rare; his struggles would have been over. She had
willed that he should die, had sent him forth relentlessly to his last
trial, to his forsaken end. Without a leave-taking he had gone forth;
his last look had been at her blank windows. That hour was passed into
eternity, and with it the better part of her life.

On the first day that she rose from her bed, she went, with the nurse's
aid, to her mother's room. What she saw there was a new shock; her
mother's face had aged incredibly, and wore a look of such feeble
intelligence that to meet her eyes was more than painful. Upon the
artificial maintenance of her strength throughout Emily's illness had
followed a collapse of the vital powers; it seemed doubtful whether she
would ever regain her normal state of mind and body. She knew her
daughter, and, when Emily kissed her, the muscles of her haggard face
contracted in what was meant for a smile; but she could not use her
voice above a whisper, and her words were seldom consequent.

Two days later Mrs. Baxendale again paid a visit. Emily was sitting in
her bed-room, unoccupied, on her countenance the sorrow-stricken gravity
which never quitted it. The visitor, when she had made her inquiries,
seemed to prepare herself to speak of some subject at once important and
cheerful.

'For a fortnight,' she said, 'I have had staying with me someone whom
you will be glad to hear of--your nearest friend.'

Emily raised her eyes slowly to the speaker's face; clearly she
understood, but was accustoming herself to this unexpected relation
between Mrs. Baxendale and Wilfrid.

'Mr. Athel came from Switzerland as soon as he heard of your illness.'

'How did he hear?' Emily inquired, gravely.

'My niece, Miss Redwing, whom you knew, happened to be visiting me. She
wrote to Mrs. Rossall.'

Emily was silent. The lines of her mouth showed a slight tremor, but no
colour sought her cheeks. The news was affecting her strongly, but only
in the way in which she now received every impression; physical weakness
had the effect of reducing outward demonstration of feeling, and her
spiritual condition favoured passiveness.

'He has asked me to give you a letter, Emily,' pursued Mrs. Baxendale,
saddened by the sight of such intense sadness.

Emily took the letter, and laid it on a table near her, murmuring her
thanks.

'He is well?' she asked, as the other did not speak.

'Quite; his holiday has completely restored him. You can't think how
glad I am to have come to know him, and to have him near me. Such
excellent friends we are! You can think how anxious he has been; and his
father scarcely less so. The inquiries have been constant. The others
have just got home; Mr. Athel had a letter from London this morning. The
little girls send you a message; I believe you will find the letter
enclosed.'

At the mention of the twins, the slightest smile came upon Emily's lips.

'You are fond of them, I see,' said the lady. 'That they ire fond of
you, needs no telling. Oh, and Clara writes from Germany to ask if she
may write to you yet. Shall I let her?'

A few more words, and Mrs. Baxendale rose. Emily retained her hand.

'You have not yet had from me one word of gratitude, Mrs. Baxendale,'
she said. 'Indeed, I have no words in which to thank you.'

The lady kissed her forehead, pressed the thin hand again, and went for
a few moments to Mrs. Hood's room before departing.

It was nearly an hour before Emily took up the letter to open it. When
at length she did so, she found that it covered only a small sheet of
notepaper. Enclosed was a letter from Mr. Athel, announcing the family's
arrival in London, asking in a kind tone for the latest news, and
repeating the message from the twins of which Mrs. Baxendale had spoken.
Wilfrid wrote with admirable delicacy and feeling; he forgot himself
wholly in her affliction, and only in those simplest words which can
still be made the most powerful uttered the tenderness which he hoped
might speak some comfort to her heart. He did not ask to see her; would
she not bid him come to her in her own good time? And only if her
strength rendered it quite easy, he begged for one word of reply. Mrs.
Baxendale would visit her again very shortly, and to her the answer
could be given.

Emily returned the writings to their envelope, and sat through the day
as she had sat since morning, scarcely ever moving, without heed of
things that were said or done in the room. Before quitting the chair for
her bed, she went to spend a quarter of an hour by her mother, whose
hand she held throughout the time. Mrs. Hood lay in the same state of
semi-consciousness alternating with sleep. In the night she generally
wandered a little. But she did not seem to suffer pain.

To-night Emily could not sleep; hitherto her rest had been profound
between sunset and early morning. As she had sat through the day, so she
lay now, her eyes fixed in the same intent gaze, as on something
unfolding itself before her. When the nurses had ceased to move about,
the house was wrapped in a stillness more complete than of old, for the
clock had not been touched since the night when the weight fell. In the
room you might have heard now and then a deep sigh, such sigh as comes
from a soul overcharged.

Mrs. Baxendale allowed one day to intervene, then came again. She did
not directly speak of Wilfrid, and only when she sat in significant
silence, Emily said:

'To-morrow I shall go downstairs. Will you ask Mr. Athel to come and see
me?'

'Gladly I will. At what hour shall he come?'

'I shall be down by eleven.'

Later in the day, Mrs. Cartwright and Jessie called. Hitherto Emily had
begged that no one might be admitted save Mrs. Baxendale; she felt it
would be unkindness to refuse her friends any longer, and the visitors
came up and sat for a while with her. Both were awed by the face which
met them; they talked scarcely above a whisper, and were sadly troubled
by the necessity of keeping awatch upon their tongues.

Emily was now able to descend the stairs without difficulty. The first
sight of the little parlour cost her a renewal of her keenest suffering.
There was the couch on which his dead body had been placed; that the
chair in which he always rested after tea before going up to the
laboratory; in a little frame on the mantelpiece was his likeness, an
old one and much faded. She moved about, laying her hand on this object
and that; she took the seat by the window where she had waited each
evening, till she saw him at the gate, to rise at once and open to him.
She had not shed tears since that last day of his life, and now it was
only a passing mist that dimmed her eyes. Her sorrow was not of the kind
which so relieves itself.

She had come down early, in order to spend some time in the room before
Wilfrid's arrival. She sat in her father's chair, once more in the
attitude of motionless brooding. But her countenance was not as
self-controlled as during the past days; emotions, struggles, at work
within her found their outward expression. At times she breathed
quickly, as if in pain; often her eyes closed. In her worn face, the
features marked themselves with strong significance; it was beauty of a
kind only to be felt by a soul in sympathy with her own. To others she
would have appeared the image of stern woe. The gentleness which had
been so readily observable beneath her habitual gravity was absorbed in
the severity of her suffering and spiritual conflicts; only a touching
suggestion of endurance, of weakness bearing up against terrible
fatality, made its plea to tenderness. Withal, she looked no older than
in the days of her happiness; a young life, a young heart, smitten with
unutterable woe.

When the sound of the opening gate made itself heard, she lay back for a
moment in the very sickness of pain it recalled the past so vividly, and
chilled her heart with the fear of what she had now before her. She
stood, as soon as the knock came at the front door, and kept the same
position as Wilfrid entered.

He was startled at the sight of her, but in an instant was holding both
her hands, gazing deep into her eyes with an ecstasy of tenderness. He
kissed her lips, and, as he did so, felt a shudder in the hands he
pressed. A few whispered words were all that he could speak; Emily kept
silence. Then he sat near to her; her hand was still in his, but gave no
sign of responsive affection, and was very cold.

'It was kind to let me see you so soon,' he said. Her fixed look of hard
suffering began to impress him painfully, even with a kind of fear.
Emily's face at this moment was that of one who is only half sensible to
words spoken. Now she herself spoke for the first time.

'You will forgive me that I did not write. It would have been better,
perhaps; it would have been easier to me. Yet why should I fear to say
to you, face to face, what I have to say?'

The last sentence was like self-questioning uttered aloud; her eyes were
fixed on him, and with appeal which searched his heart.

'Fear to say to me?' Wilfrid repeated, gravely, though without
apprehension. 'Has your suffering made strangers of us?'

'Not in the way you mean, but it has so changed my life that I cannot
meet you as I should have done.' Her utterance quickened; her voice lost
its steadiness. 'Will you be very generous to me--as good and noble as
it is in your heart to be? I ask you to give me back my promise--to
release me.

'Emily!'

He gazed at her in bewilderment. His thought was that she was not
herself; her manner since his entrance seemed to confirm it; the
tortured lines of her face seemed to express illusory fears.

'Emily! Do you know what you say, dearest?'

'Yes; I know what I say, and I know how hard you find it to believe me.
If I could explain to you what it is that makes this change, you would
not wonder at it, you would understand, you would see that I am doing
the only thing I can do. But I cannot give you my reasons; that must be
my sad secret to the end of my life. You feel you have a claim to hear
the truth; indeed, indeed, you have; but you will be forbearing and
generous. Release me, Wilfrid; I ask it as the last and greatest proof
of the love you gave me.'

He rose with a gesture of desperation.

'Emily, I cannot bear this! You are ill, my own darling; I should have
waited till you were stronger. I should have left you more time to turn
your thoughts to me from these terrible things you have passed through.'
He flung himself by her side, grasping her hands passionately. 'Dear
one, how you have suffered! It kills me to look into your face. I won't
speak; let me only stay by you, like this, for a few minutes. Will not
my love calm you--love the purest and tenderest that man ever felt? I
would die to heal your heart of its grief!'

With a great sob of uttermost anguish, she put back his hands, rose from
the chair, and stood apart. Wilfrid rose and gazed at her in dread. Had
the last calamity of human nature fallen upon her? He looked about, as
if for aid. Emily read his thoughts perfectly; they helped her to a
desperate composure.

'Wilfrid,' she said, 'do I speak like one not in her perfect mind?'

'I cannot say. Your words are meaningless to me. You are not the Emily I
knew.'

'I am not,' was her sad answer. 'If you can bring yourself to believe
that truth, you will spare yourself and me.'

'What do you mean when you say that?' he asked, his voice intensified in
suppression. 'If you are in full command of yourself, if your memory
holds all the past, what can have made of you another being? We dare not
play with words at a time such as this. Tell me at least one thing. Do I
know what it was that caused your illness?'

'I don't understand you.'

Her eyes examined him with fear.

'I mean, Emily--was it solely due to that shock you received? Or was
there any previous distress?'

'Has anything led you to think there was?' she asked, urgently.

'Mrs. Baxendale tells me you--Emily, why have I to pain you in this
way?'

'But tell me--tell me What did she say?'

'That on coming to yourself you did not know of your father's death.'

'It is true; I did not. My illness began before.'

Wilfrid stood with his eyes on the ground.

'Tell me, again,' she said. 'What else did Mrs. Baxendale say?'

'Nothing. Her surprise when she heard this from your mother was as great
as mine when it was repeated to me.'

'It is true,' Emily repeated, more calmly, as if relieved. 'I don't try
to conceal that there is a reason I may not speak of. Will you not
believe that it is strong enough to change my life? If I did not tell
you this, you might indeed refuse to listen to me, thinking I was not
myself. I cannot tell you more--I cannot, I cannot!'

She pressed her palms upon her forehead; it throbbed with pain scarcely
to be borne. Wilfrid, after a moment of wretched hesitation, said
gravely:

'What _you_ forbid me to ask, I may not even wish to know. I have come
to regard your will as the seal upon everything that is true and right.
Knowing this, seeing me here before you with my best hopes at stake, do
you tell me that something has happened which makes the bond between us
of no effect, which lays upon you a duty superior to that of the pledge
you gave me?'

She met his gaze, and answered firmly, 'I do.'

'Some duty,' he continued, with quivering voice, 'compared with which
the sacredness of our love is nothing?'

She trembled from head to foot; then, as if clutching at a last help,
said:

'I do not love you.'

And she waited with her head bowed. Wilfrid, taking up his hat, went to
her and offered his hand. When hers was given:

'Raise your eyes and look at me, Emily.'

She did so.

'You are still in the shadow of a great grief, and it may well be that
all other things seem trivial. I wish to respect you to the uttermost,
and I will try to conceive that there is a motive high enough to justify
you. But those last words must be repeated--when time has come to your
aid--before I can regard them as final.'

He released her hand, and left her....

What was her first sensation, when the door had closed, then the gate
without, and Wilfrid in very deed was gone? Was it hopeless misery,
failure, dread foresight of the life which she still must live? Rather
her mood was that of the martyr who has held firm to the last wrench of
torture, who feels that agony is overcome and fear of self surpassed.
This possibility had there ever been in Emily, though associating with
such variant instincts. Circumstances had brought the occasion which
weighed one part of her nature against the other, and with this result.

You may not judge her coldly; yet it is possible to indicate those
points which connect her enthusiasm of sacrifice with the reasonings and
emotions of the impartial mind. In the moment that she heard of her
father's self-destruction, she knew that her own destiny was cast; the
struggle with desire, with arguments of her self-love, with claims of
others, this also she foresaw and measured. Her resolve came of the
interaction of intense feeling, feeling which only process of time could
reduce from its morbid predominance, and that idealism which was the
keynote of her personality. It was not that she condemned herself for
having refused to pay the price which would have saved her father; she
may have done so in her wildest paroxysms of grief, but in the silences
which ensued she knew that there is an arbiter above natural affection,
and that not with impunity could a life be purchased by the death of a
soul. She had refused; it might be she would still have refused had she
foreseen the worst; but could she move on over her father's body to a
life of joy? Not only did piety forbid it; the compassionate voice of
her heart cried against what she deemed such cruelty. Her father was
dead; nothing that she did henceforth would concern him for good or ill;
none the less in her eyes was his claim upon her, the claim of one she
had tenderly loved calling to her for pity from that desolate grave.
Which of us entirely out-reasons that surviving claim of the beloved
dead? Which of us would, in his purest hour, desire to do so? She could
not save him, but, as she valued her most precious human privileges, she
dared not taste the fruits of life of which he was for ever robbed.
Between her and happiness loomed that agonising face, She might
disregard it, might close her eyes and press on, might live down the old
sacred pity and give herself to absorbing bliss what would be the true
value of that she gained? Nay, it was idle to affect that she had the
choice. She felt that the first memory of that face in the midst of
enjoyment would break her heart. Those last dark hours of his she must
live and relive in her own mind. Dead? He was dead? Oh, did not the
very tones of his voice linger in the rooms where she sat? Could she not
see him enter, hold to her his hand, bend and kiss her? Did she not
fancy constantly that his foot sounded on the floor above her, up in the
bare little room, where she had parted from him unkindly? Why, death
meant but little, for at any moment he was in truth standing by her.
Years of unhappiness, and then to be put aside and forgotten as soon as
the heavy clods of earth had fallen upon him? To think of that was to be
driven almost to madness by the impotence of grief. Rather than allow a
joy to tempt her thought, she would cast life from her and be his
companion in that narrow home.

And her character brought it about that the very strength of her love
for Wilfrid acted as another impulse to renunciation. Which had been the
stronger motive in her refusal to sacrifice herself--the preservation of
her chaste womanhood, or the inability to give up him she loved? Could
she, at the tribunal of her conscience, affirm that her decision had
held no mixture of the less pure? Nay, had she not known that revolt of
self in which she had maintained that the individual love was supreme,
that no title of inferiority became it? She saw now more clearly than
then the impossibility of distinguishing those two motives, or of
weighing the higher and the lower elements of her love. One way there
was, and one way only, of proving to herself that she had not fallen
below the worthiness which purest love demanded, that she had indeed
offered to Wilfrid a soul whose life was chastity--and that must be
utterly to renounce love's earthly reward, and in spirit to be faithful
to him while her life lasted. The pain of such renunciation was twofold,
for did she not visit him with equal affliction? Had she the right to do
that? The question was importunate, and she held it a temptation of her
weaker self. Wilfrid would bear with her. He was of noble nature, and
her mere assurance of a supreme duty would outweigh his personal
suffering. On him lay no obligation of faithfulness to his first love; a
man, with the world before him, he would, as was right, find another to
share his life. To think that was no light test of steadfastness in
Emily the image of Wilfrid loving and loved by another woman wrung the
sinews of her heart. That she must keep from her mind; that was more
than her strength could face and conquer. It should be enough to love
him for ever, without hope, without desire. Faithfulness would cost her
no effort to purify herself in ideal devotion would be her sustenance,
her solace.

What of her religion of beauty, the faith which had seen its end in the
nourishment of every instinct demanding loveliness within and without?
What of the ideal which saw the crown of life in passion triumphant,
which dreaded imperfectness, which allowed the claims of sense equally
with those of spirit, both having their indispensable part in the
complete existence? Had it not conspicuously failed where religion
should be most efficient? She understood now the timidity which had ever
lurked behind her acceptance of that view of life. She had never been
able entirely to divest herself of the feeling that her exaltation in
beauty-worship was a mood born of sunny days, that it would fail amid
shocks of misfortune and prove a mockery in the hour of the soul's dire
need. It shared in the unreality of her life in wealthy houses, amid the
luxury which appertained only to fortune's favourites, which surrounded
her only by chance. She had presumptuously taken to herself the religion
of her superiors, of those to whom fate allowed the assurance of peace,
of guarded leisure wherein to cultivate the richer and sweeter flowers
of their nature. How artificial had been the delights with which she
soothed herself! Here, all the time, was the reality; here in this poor
home, brooded over by the curse of poverty, whence should come shame and
woe and death. What to her now were the elegance of art, the loveliness
of nature? Beauty had been touched by mortality, and its hues were of
the corpse, of the grave. Would the music of a verse ever again fill her
with rapture? How meaningless were all such toys of thought to one whose
path lay through the valley of desolation!

Thus did Emily think and feel in this sombre season, the passionate
force of her imagination making itself the law of life and the arbiter
of her destiny. She could not take counsel with time; her temperament
knew nothing of that compromise with ardours and impulses which is the
wisdom of disillusion. Circumstances willed that she should suffer by
the nobleness of her instincts those endowments which might in a happier
lot have exalted her to such perfection of calm joy as humanity may
attain, were fated to be the source of misery inconceivable by natures
less finely cast.

CHAPTER XVII

THEIR SEVERAL WAYS

As Wilfrid quitted the house, the gate was opened by Jessie Cartwright,
who, accompanied by one of her sisters, was bringing Emily some fine
grapes, purchased, in the Cartwright manner, without regard to expense.
The girls naturally had their curiosity excited by the stranger of
interesting, even of aristocratic, appearance, who, as he hurried by,
east at them a searching look.

'Now, who ever may that be?' murmured Jessie, as she approached the
door.

'A doctor, I dare say,' was her sister's suggestion.

'A doctor! Not he, indeed. He has something to do with Emily, depend
upon it.'

The servant, opening to them, had to report that Miss Hood was too
unwell to-day to receive visitors. Jessie would dearly have liked to ask
who it was that apparently had been an exception, but even she lacked
the assurance necessary to the putting of such a question. The girls
left their offering, and went their way home; the stranger afforded
matter for conversation throughout the walk.

Wilfrid did not go straight to the Baxendales'. In his distracted state
he felt it impossible to sit through luncheon, and he could not
immediately decide how to meet Mrs. Baxendale, whether to take her into
his confidence or to preserve silence on what had happened. He was not
sure that he would be justified in disclosing the details of such an
interview; did he not owe it to Emily to refrain from submitting her
action to the judgment of any third person? If in truth she were still
suffering from the effects of her illness, it was worse than unkind to
repeat her words; if, on the other hand, her decision came of adequate
motives, or such as her sound intelligence deemed adequate, was it
possible to violate the confidence implied in such a conversation
between her and himself? Till his mind had assumed some degree of
calmness, he could not trust himself to return to the house. Turning
from the main road at a point just before the bridge over the river, he
kept on the outskirts of the town, and continued walking till he had
almost made the circuit of Dunfield. His speed was that of a man who
hastened with some express object; his limbs seemed spurred to activity
by the gallop of his thoughts. His reason would scarcely accept the
evidence of consciousness that he had indeed just heard such things from
Emily's lips; it was too monstrous for belief; a resolute incredulity
sustained him beneath a blow which, could he have felt it to be meant in
very earnest, would have deprived him of his senses. She did no!, she
could not, know what she had said! Yet she spoke with such cruel
appearance of reasoning earnestness; was it possible for a diseased mind
to assume so convincingly the modes of rational utterance? What
conceivable circumstances could bring her to such a resolution? Her
words, 'I do not love you,' made horrible repetition in his ears; it was
as though he had heard her speak them again and again. _Could they be
true_? The question, last outcome of the exercise of his imagination on
the track of that unimaginable cause, brought him to a standstill,
physically and mentally. Those words had at first scarcely engaged his
thought; it was her request to be released that seriously concerned him;
that falsehood had been added as a desperate means of gaining her end.
Yet now, all other explanations in vain exhausted, perforce he gave heed
to that hideous chime of memory. It was not her father's death that
caused her illness that she admitted, Had some horrible complication
intervened, some incredible change come upon her, since he left England?
He shook off this suggestion as blasphemy. Emily? His high-souled Emily,
upon whose faith he would stake the breath of his life? Was his own
reason failing him?

Worn out, he reached the house in the middle of the afternoon, and went
to his own sitting-room. Presently a servant came and asked whether he
would take luncheon. He declined. Lying on the sofa, he still tormented
himself with doubt whether he might speak with Mrs. Baxendale. That lady
put an end to his hesitation by herself coming to his room. He sprang
up.

'Don't move, don't move!' she exclaimed in her cheery way. 'I have only
come to ask why you resolve to starve yourself. You can't have had lunch
anywhere?'

'No; I am not hungry.'

'A headache?' she asked, looking at him with kind shrewdness.

'A little, perhaps.'

'Then at all events you will have tea. May I ask them to bring it here?'

She went away, and, a few minutes after her return, tea was brought.

'You found Emily looking sadly, I'm afraid?' she said, with one of the
provincialisms which occasionally marked her language.

'Yes,' Wilfrid replied; 'she looked far too ill to be up.'

He had seated himself on the sofa. His hands would not hold the tea-cup
steadily; he put it down by his side.

'I fear there is small chance of her getting much better in that house
of illness,' said Mrs. Baxendale, observing his agitation. 'Can't we
persuade her to go somewhere? Her mother is in excellent hands.'

'I wish we could,' Wilfrid replied, clearly without much attention to
his words.

'You didn't propose anything of the kind?'

He made no answer. A short silence intervened, and he felt there was no
choice but to declare the truth.

'The meeting was a very painful one,' he began. 'It is difficult to
speak to you about it. Do you think that she has perfectly
recovered?--that her mind is wholly--'

He hesitated; it was dreadful to be speaking in this way of Emily. The
sound of his voice reproached him; what words would not appear brutal in
such a case?

'You fear--?'

Wilfrid rose and walked across the room. It seemed impossible to speak,
yet equally so to keep his misery to himself.

'Mrs. Baxendale,' he said at length, 'I am perhaps doing a very wrong
thing in telling you what passed between us, but I feel quite unable to
decide upon any course without the aid of your judgment. I am in a
terrible position. Either I must believe Emily to speak without
responsibility, or something inexplicable, incredible, has come to pass.
She has asked me to release her. She says that something has happened
which makes it impossible for her ever to fulfil her promise, something
which must always remain her secret, which I may not hope to understand.
And with such dreadful appearance of sincerity--such a face of awful
suffering--'

His voice failed. The grave concern on Mrs. Baxendale's visage was not
encouraging.

'Something happened?' the latter repeated, in low-toned astonishment.
'Does she offer no kind of explanation?'

'None--none,' he added, 'that I can bring myself to believe.'

Mrs. Baxendale could only look at him questioningly.

'She said,' Wilfrid continued, pale with the effort it cost him to
speak, 'that she has no longer any affection for me.'

There was another silence, of longer endurance than the last. Wilfrid
was the first to break it.

'My reason for refusing to believe it is, that she said it when she had
done her utmost to convince me of her earnestness in other ways, and
said it in a way--How is it possible for me to believe it? It is only
two months since I saw her on the Castle Hill.'

'I thought you had never been here before?'

'I have never spoken to you of that. I came and left on the same day, It
was to see her before I went to Switzerland.'

'I am at a loss,' said Mrs. Baxendale. 'I can only suggest that she has
had a terrible shock, and that her recovery, or seeming recovery, has
been too rapid. Yet there is no trace of wandering in her talk with me.'

'Nor was there to-day. She was perfectly rational. Think of one's being
driven to hope that she only _seemed_ so!'

'Did you speak of correspondence?'

'No. I said that I could not agree to what she asked of me until she had
repeated it after a time. I left her scarcely knowing what I spoke. What
shall I do? How can I remain in doubt such as this? I said I wished for
your help, yet how can you--how can anyone--help me? Have I
unconsciously been the cause of this?'

'Or has anyone else consciously been so?' asked the lady, with meaning.

'What? You think--? Is it possible?'

'You only hinted that your relatives were not altogether pleased.'

Wilfrid, a light of anger flashing from his eyes, walked rapidly the
length of the room.

'She admitted to me,' he said, in a suppressed voice, 'that her illness
began before her father's death. It was not that that caused it. You
think that someone may have interfered? My father? Impossible! He is a
man of honour; he has written of her in the kindest way.'

But there was someone else. His father was honourable; could the same be
said of Mrs. Rossall? He remembered his conversation with her on the
lake of Thun; it had left an unpleasant impression on his mind--under
the circumstances, explicable enough. Was his aunt capable of dastardly
behaviour? The word could scarcely be applied to a woman's conduct, and
the fact that it could not made disagreeably evident the latitude
conceded to women in consideration of their being compelled to carry on
warfare in underhand ways. Suppose an anonymous letter. Would not Mrs.
Rossall regard that as a perfectly legitimate stratagem, if she had set
her mind on resisting this marriage? Easy, infinitely easy was it to
believe this, in comparison with any other explanation of Emily's
behaviour. In his haste to seize on a credible solution of the
difficulty, Wilfrid did not at first reflect that Emily was a very
unlikely person to be influenced by such means, still more unlikely that
she should keep such a thing secret from him. It must be remembered,
however, that the ways of treachery are manifold, and the idea had only
presented it to his mind in the most indefinite form. As it was, it
drove him almost to frenzy. He could not find a calm word, nor was it
indeed possible to communicate to Mrs. Baxendale the suspicion which
occupied him. She, watching him as he stood at a distance, all but
forgot her anxious trouble in admiration of the splendid passion which
had transformed his features. Wilfrid looked his best when thus
stirred--his best, from a woman's point of view. The pale cast of
thought was far from him; you saw the fiery nature asserting itself, and
wondered in what direction these energies would at length find scope.
Mrs. Baxendale, not exactly an impressionable woman, had a moment of
absent-mindedness.

'Come here and sit down,' she said, the motherly insistance of the tone
possibly revealing her former thought.

He threw himself on the couch.

'Of course,' she continued, 'this must remain between Emily and yourself
my own relations to her must be precisely as they have been, as if I had
heard nothing. Now I think we may conclude that the poor girl is
perfectly aware of what she is doing, but I no more than yourself
believe her explanation. In some way she has come to regard it as a duty
to abandon you. Let Emily once think it a duty, and she will go through
with it if it costs her life; so much I know of her; so much it is easy
to know, if one has the habit of observing. May I advise you? Do not try
to see her again, but write briefly, asking her whether the mystery she
spoke of in any way connects itself with you. You will know how to put
it so as to exact the answer you require. Suppose you write such a note
at once; I will send it as soon as it is ready. You are in the torment
of doubts; no misery as bad as that. Does this plan recommend itself to
you?'

'Yes; I will write.'

'Then I will take myself off whilst you do so. Ring the bell and send
for me as soon as you are ready. It is only half-past four; Emily will
have your letter in an hour, and surely will reply at once.'

The letter was written, at greater length perhaps than was quite
necessary, and Mrs. Baxendale speeded it on its way. Wilfrid begged that
he might be excused from attendance at the dinner-table.

'By all means,' was Mrs. Baxendale's reply. 'The more so that we have
politicians again, and I fear you would not be in the mood to make fun
of them as you did the other night.'

'Make fun of them? No, I was in earnest. I got interested in their
subjects, and found I had more to say than I thought.'

'Well, well; that is your politeness. Now lie down again, poor boy. But
you must promise to cat what I send you; we have quite enough illness on
our hands, remember.'

'I may have the answer before then,' Wilfrid said, moodily.

He had; it came in less than two hours from the messenger's departure.
He was alone when the servant brought it to him. Emily wrote:--

'Wilfrid,--The change is in myself, in my heart, in my life. Nothing
have I heard against you; nothing have I imagined against you; the
influence of which I spoke is in no way connected with you. Let this, I
implore you, be final. Forgive me, forgive me, that I seem to inflict
pain on you so heedlessly. I act as I must; my purpose is unchangeable.'

Having been apprised of the messenger's return, Mrs. Baxendale entered
Wilfrid's room as soon as she had dressed for dinner. He sat at the
table, the letter lying open before him. As Mrs. Baxendale approached,
he held the sheet to her.

'Then my last conjecture is fruitless,' she said, letting her hand fall.
'We cannot doubt her word.'

'Doubt it? No. There is nothing for me but to believe all she said.'

He let his face fall upon his hands; the bitterness of fate was entering
his inmost heart.

'No, no, you shall not give way,' said his friend, just touching his
fingers. 'It all looks very sad and hopeless, but I will not believe it
is hopeless. Refuse to believe that one worst thing, the only thing for
which there is no remedy. Come, defy yourself to believe it! You are
strong enough for that; there is manhood in you for anything that is
worth bearing, however hard.'

He could not reply to her encouragement; who cannot devise words of
exhortation? and what idler than such words when the heart agonises?

'Try and listen to me, Wilfrid. If I make you angry with me, it is
better than abandoning yourself to despondency. I firmly believe that
this is a matter which time will bring right. Emily is acting hastily; I
am convinced of that. Time is on your side; try and accept him as a
friend. We are not living in a novel; there are no such things as
mysteries which last a lifetime. Your part is to draw upon all the
manliness you own, to have faith in yourself, and to wait. Have faith in
her, too; there are few like her; some day you will see that this only
made her better worth winning.--Now answer me a question.'

Wilfrid raised his head.

'Do you not in your heart believe that she is incapable of folly or
wrongheadedness?'

'I believe that no truer woman lives.'

'And rightly, be sure of it. Believing that, you know she cannot break
her word to you without some reason which you would yourself say was
good and sufficient. She imagines she has such a reason; imagines it in
all sincerity. Time will show her that she has been in error, and she
will confess it. She has all her faculties, no doubt, but a trial such
as this leads her to see things in ways we cannot realise.'

'You forget that it is _not_ this shock that has so affected her.'

'Wilfrid, remember that her father's death is itself mysterious. She may
know more of what led to it than anyone else does. She may very well
have foreseen it; it may have distracted her, the cause, whatever it
was. She could not disclose anything--some secret, perhaps--that nearly
concerned her father; you know how strong were the ties between them.'

Perhaps it was inevitable that a suggestion of this kind should
ultimately offer itself. Wilfrid had not hit upon the idea, for he had
from the first accepted without reflection the reasons for Hood's
suicide which were accepted by everyone who spoke of the subject. Mrs.
Baxendale only delivered herself of the thought in fervour of
kindly-devised argument. She paused, reviewing it in her mind, but did
netlike to lay more stress upon it. Wilfrid, also thoughtful, kept
silence.

'Now, there's the gong,' Mrs. Baxendale continued, 'and I shall have to
go to the politicians. But I think I _have_ given you a grain of
comfort. Think of a prosy old woman inciting _you_ to endure for the
sake of the greatest prize you can aim at? Keep saying to yourself that
Emily cannot do wrong; if she did say a word or two she didn't
mean--well, well, we poor women! Go to bed early, and we'll talk again
after breakfast to-morrow.'

She gave him her hand, and hurried away. Even in his wretchedness,
Wilfrid could not but follow her with his eyes, and _feel_ something
like a blessing upon her strong and tender womanhood.

Fortunate fellow, who had laid behind him thus much of his earthly
journey without one day of grave suffering. Ah, something he should have
sacrificed to the envious gods, some lesser joy, that the essential
happiness of his life might be spared him. Wilfrid had yet to learn that
every sun which rises for us in untroubled sky is a portent of
inevitable gloom, that nature only prolongs our holiday to make the
journey-work of misery the harder to bear. He had enjoyed the way of his
will from childhood upwards; he had come to regard himself as exempt
from ill-fortune, even as he was exempt from the degradation of material
need; all his doings had prospered, save in that little matter of his
overtaxed health, and it had grown his habit to map the future with a
generous hand, saying: Thus and thus will I take my conquering course.
Knowing love for the first time, he had met with love in return, love to
the height of his desire, and with a wave of the hand he had swept the
trivial obstacles from his path. Now that the very sum of his exultant
youth offered itself like a wine-cup to his lips, comes forth the
mysterious hand and spills relentlessly that divine draught. See how he
turns, with the blaze of royal indignation on his brow I Who of gods or
men has dared thus to come between him and his bliss? He is not wont to
be so thwarted; he demands that the cup shall be refilled and brought
again; only when mocking laughter echoes round him, when it is but too
plain that the spirits no longer serve him, that where he most desires
his power is least, does his resentment change by cold degrees to that
chill anguish of the abandoned soul, which pays the debt of so many an
hour of triumph. For the moment, words of kindness and sustaining hope
might seem to avail him; but there is the night waiting in ambush for
his weakness, that season of the sun's silence, when the body denuded of
vestment typifies the spirit's exposure to its enemies. Let him live
through his fate-imposed trial in that torture-chamber of ancient
darkness. He will not come forth a better man, though perchance a wiser;
wisdom and goodness are from of old at issue. Henceforth he will have
eyes for many an ugly spot in his own nature, hidden till now by the
veil of happiness. Do not pity him; congratulate him rather that the
inevitable has been so long postponed.

He put on a bold face at breakfast next morning, for he could not
suppose that Mrs. Baxendale would feel any obligation to keep his secret
from her husband, and it was not in his character to play the knight of
the dolorous visage. You saw the rings round his eyes, but he was able
to discuss the latest electioneering intelligence, and even to utter one
or two more of those shrewd remarks by which he had lately been proving
that politics were not unlikely to demand more of his attention some
day. But he was glad when he could get away to the drawing-room, to
await Mrs. Baxendale's coming. He tried to read in a volume of Boswell
which lay out; at other times the book was his delight, now it had the
succulence of a piece of straw. He was in that state of mind when five
minutes of waiting is intolerable. He had to wait some twenty before
Mrs. Baxendale appeared. Only a clinging remnant of common-sense kept
him from addressing her sourly. Wilfrid was not eminently patient.

'Well, what counsel has sleep brought?' she asked, speaking as if she
had some other matter on her mind--as indeed she had--a slight
difficulty which had just arisen with the cook.

'I should not be much advanced if I had depended upon sleep,' Wilfrid
replied cheerlessly. Always sensitive, he was especially so at this
moment, and the lady seemed to him unsympathetic. He should have allowed
for the hour; matters involving sentiment should never be touched till
the day has grown to ripeness. The first thing in the morning a poet is
capable of mathematics.

'I fear you are not the only one who has not slept,' said Mrs.
Baxendale.

Wilfrid, after waiting in vain, went on in a tone very strange to him:

'I don't know what to do; I am incapable of thought. Another night like
the last will drive me mad. You tell me I must merely wait; but I cannot
be passive. What help is there? How can I kill the time?'

Mrs. Baxendale was visibly harder than on the previous evening. A
half-smile caused her to draw in her lips; she played with the
watch-chain at her girdle.

'I fear,' she said, 'we have done all that can be done. Naturally you
would find it intolerable to linger here.'

'I must return to London?'

'Under any other circumstances I should be the last to wish it, but I
suppose it is better that you should.'

He was prepared for the advice, but unreason strove in him desperately
against the facts of the situation. It was this impotent quarrel with
necessity which robbed him of his natural initiative and made Mrs.
Baxendale wonder at his unexpected feebleness. To him it seemed
something to stand his ground even for a few minutes. He could have
eased himself with angry speech. Remember that he had not slept, and
that his mind was sore with the adversary's blows.

'I understand your reluctance,' Mrs. Baxendale pursued. 'It's like a
surrendering of hope. But you know what I said last night; I could only
repeat the same things now. Don't be afraid; I will not.'

'Yes,' he murmured, 'I must go to London.'

'It would be far worse if you had no friend here. You shall hear from me
constantly. You have an assurance that the poor thing can't run away.'

In the expressive vulgar phrase, Wilfrid 'shook himself together.' He
began to perceive that his attitude lacked dignity; even in our misery
we cannot bear to appear ignoble.

'I will leave you to-day,' he said, more like his old self. 'But there
are other things that we must speak of. What of Emily's practical
position?'

'I don't think we need trouble about that. Mr. Baxendale tells me he has
no doubt that the house in Barnhill can be sold at all events for a sum
that will leave them at ease for the present. As soon as Mrs. Hood gets
better, they must both go away. You can trust me to do what can be
done.'

'It is my fear that Emily will find it difficult to accept your
kindness.'

'It will require tact. Only experience can show what my course must be.'

'I sincerely hope the house _will_ be sold. Otherwise, the outlook is
deplorable.'

'I assure you it will be. My husband does not give up anything he has
once put his hand to.'

'I shall keep my own counsel at home,' Wilfrid said.

'Do so, certainly. And you will return to Oxford?'

'I think so. I shall find it easier to live there--if, indeed, I can
live anywhere.'

'I had rather you hadn't added that,' said Mrs. Baxendale with
good-natured reproof. 'You know that you will only work the harder just
to forget your trouble. That, depend upon it, is the only way of killing
the time, as you said; if we strike at him in other ways we only succeed
in making him angry.'

'Another apophthegm,' said Wilfrid, with an attempt at brightness. 'You
are the first woman I have known who has that gift of neatness in
speech.'

'And you are the first man who ever had discernment enough to compliment
me on it. After that, do you think I shall desert your cause?'

Wilfrid made his preparations forthwith, and decided upon a train early
in the afternoon. At luncheon, Mr. Baxendale was full of good-natured
regrets that his visit could not be prolonged till the time of the
election--now very near.

'When your constituents have sent you to Westminster,' said Wilfrid, 'I
hope you will come and report to me the details of the fight?'

So he covered his retreat and retrieved in Mrs. Baxendale's eyes his
weakness of the morning. She took him to the station in her brougham,
but did not go on to the platform. Their parting was very like that of
lovers, for it ended with mutual promises to 'write often.' Mrs.
Baxendale was down-hearted as she drove home--in her a most unusual
thing.

Two days later she went to Banbrigg, carrying the satisfactory news that
at last a sale of the Barnhill property had been negotiated. To Emily
this intelligence gave extreme relief; it restored her independence.
Having this subject to speak of made the meeting easier on both sides
than it could otherwise have been. Emily was restlessly anxious to take
upon herself the task of nursing her mother; with the maid to help her,
she declared herself able to bear all responsibilities, and persisted so
strongly that Mrs. Baxendale had no choice but to assent to the nurse
who had remained being withdrawn. She could understand the need of
activity which possessed the girl, but had grave fears of the result of
an undertaking so disproportioned to her strength.

'Will you promise me,' she said, 'to give it up and get help if you find
it is trying you excessively?'

'Yes,' Emily replied, 'I will promise that. But I know I shall be better
for the occupation.'

'And you will let me still come and see you frequently?'

'I should miss you very much if you ceased to,' was Emily's answer.

Both felt that a difficulty had been surmounted, though they looked at
it from different sides.

October passed, and the first half of November. Mrs. Hood had not risen
from her bed, and there seemed slight chance that she ever would; she
was sinking into hopeless imbecility. Emily's task in that sick-room was
one which a hospital nurse would have found it burdensome to support;
she bore it without a sign of weariness or of failure in physical
strength. Incessant companionship with bodily disease was the least
oppressive of her burdens; the state of her mother's mind afflicted her
far more. Occasionally the invalid would appear in full possession of
her intellect, and those were the hardest days; at such times she was
incessantly querulous; hours long she lay and poured forth complaints
and reproaches. When she could speak no more for very weariness, she
moaned and wept, till Emily also found it impossible to check the tears
which came of the extremity of her compassion. The girl was superhuman
in her patience; never did she speak a word which was not of perfect
gentleness; the bitterest misery seemed but to augment the tenderness of
her devotion. Scarcely was there an hour of the day or night that she
could claim for herself; whilst it was daylight she tended the sufferer
ceaselessly, and her bed was in the same room, so that it often happened
that she lay down only to rise before she could sleep. Her task was
lighter when her mother's mind strayed from the present; but even then
Mrs. Hood talked constantly, and was irritated if Emily failed in
attention. The usual subject was her happiness in the days before her
marriage; she would revive memories of her school, give long accounts of
her pupils, even speak of proposals of marriage which she had had the
pleasure of declining. At no time did she refer to Hood's death, but
often enough she uttered lamentations over the hardships in which her
marriage had resulted, and compared her lot with what it might have been
if she had chosen this or that other man. Emily was pained unspeakably
by this revelation of her mother's nature, for she knew that it was idle
to explain such tendencies of thought as the effect of disease; it was,
in truth, only the emphasising of the faults she had always found it so
hard to bear with. She could not understand the absence of a single note
of affection or sorrow in all these utterances, and the fact was indeed
strange, bearing in mind Mrs. Hood's outburst of loving grief when her
husband was brought home, and the devotedness she had shown throughout
Emily's illness. Were the selfish habits of years too strong for those
better instincts which had never found indulgence till stirred by the
supreme shock? Thinking over the problem in infinite sadness, this was
the interpretation with which Emily had to satisfy herself, and she saw
in it the most dreadful punishment which a life-long fault could have
entailed.

Though to her mother so sublimely forbearing, in her heart she knew too
well the bitterness of revolt against nature's cruelty; her own causes
of suffering became almost insignificant in her view of the tragedy of
life. Was not this calamity upon her surviving parent again a result of
her own action? Was it possible to avoid a comparison between this
blasted home and the appearance it might at this moment have presented
if she had sacrificed herself? What crime had she ever been guilty of
that such expiation could be demanded of her? She mocked at her misery
for so questioning; as if causes and effects were to be thus discerned
in fate's dealings. Emily had never known the phase of faith which finds
comfort in the confession of native corruptness, nor did the desolation
of her life guide her into that orthodox form of pessimism. She was not
conscious of impurity, and her healthy human intelligence could only see
injustice in the woe that had befallen her. From her childhood up she
had striven towards the light, had loved all that is beautiful, had
worshipped righteousness; out of this had it issued that her life was
sunk in woe unfathomable, hopeless of rescue for ever. She was the
sacrifice of others' wrong-doing; the evil-heartedness of one man, the
thoughtless error of another, had brought this upon her.

Her character, like the elemental forces of earth, converted to
beneficent energy the burden of corruption thrust upon it. Active at
first because she dreaded the self-communings of idleness, she found in
her labour and her endurance sources of stern inspiration; her
indestructible idealism grasped at the core of spiritual beauty in a
life even such as this. She did not reason with herself hysterically of
evil passions to be purified by asceticism, of mysterious iniquities to
be washed out in her very life's blood; but the great principles of
devotion and renunciation became soothing and exalting presences, before
which the details of her daily task lost their toilsome or revolting
aspect in a hallowed purpose. Her work was a work of piety, not only to
the living, but to the beloved dead. If her father could know of what
she was now doing, he would be comforted by it; if he knew that she did
it for his sake it would bring him happiness. This truth she saw: that
though life be stripped of every outward charm there may yet remain in
the heart of it, like a glorious light, that which is the source of all
beauty--Love. She strove to make Love the essence of her being. Her
mother, whom it was so hard to cherish for her own sake, she would and
could love because her father had done so; that father, whose only
existence now was in her own, she loved with fervour which seemed to
grow daily. Supreme, fostered by these other affections, exalted by the
absence of a single hope for self, reigned the first and last love of
her woman-soul. Every hard task achieved for love's sake rendered her in
thought more worthy of him whom she made the ideal man. He would never
know of the passion which she perfected to be her eternal support; but,
as there is a sense of sweetness in the thought that we may be held dear
by some who can neither come near us nor make known to us their
good-will, so did it seem to Emily that from her love would go forth a
secret influence, and that Wilfrid, all unknowing, would be blest by her
faithfulness.

CHAPTER XVIII

A COMPACT

On the last day of the year, a Sunday, Dagworthy sat by his fireside,
alone; luncheon had been removed, and decanters stood within his reach.
But the glass of wine which he had poured out, on turning to the fire
half an hour ago, was still untasted, the cigar, of which he had cut the
end, was still between his fingers, unlighted. For the last three months
our friend had not lacked matter for thought; to do him justice, he had
exercised his mind upon it pretty constantly. To-day he had received
news which gave a fresh impulse to his rumination.

Dagworthy had never, since the years of early manhood, cared much for
any of the various kinds of society open to him in Dunfield, and his
failure to show himself at the houses of his acquaintance for weeks
together occasioned no comment; but during these past three months he
had held so persistently aloof that people had at length begun to ask
for an explanation--at all events, when the end of the political turmoil
gave them leisure to think of minor matters once more. The triumphant
return of Mr. Baxendale had naturally led to festive occasions; at one
dinner at the Baxendales' house Dagworthy was present, but, as it
seemed, in the body only. People who, in the provincial way, made old
jokes last a very long time, remarked to each other with a smile that
Dagworthy appeared to be in a mood which promised an item of interest in
the police reports before long. One person there was who had special
reason for observing him closely that evening, and even for inducing him
to converse on certain subjects; this was Mrs. Baxendale. A day or two
previously she had heard a singular story from a friend of hers, which
occupied her thought not a little. It interested her to discover how
Dagworthy would speak of the Hood family, if led to that topic. He did
not seem to care to dwell upon it, and the lady, after her experiment,
imagined that it had not been made altogether in vain.

With that exception Dagworthy had kept to his mill and his house. It was
seldom that he had a visitor, and those persons who did call could
hardly feel that they were desired to come again. Mrs. Jenkins, of the
Done tongue, ruled in the household, and had but brief interviews with
her master; provided that his meals were served at the proper time,
Dagworthy cared to inquire into nothing that went on--outside his
kennels--and even those he visited in a sullen way. His child he
scarcely saw; Mrs. Jenkins discovered that to bring the 'bairn' into its
father's presence was a sure occasion of wrath, so the son and heir took
lessons in his native tongue from the housekeeper and her dependents,
and profited by their instruction. Dagworthy never inquired about the
boy's health. Once when Mrs. Jenkins, alarmed by certain symptoms of
infantine disorder, ventured to enter the dining-room and broach the
subject, her master's reply was: 'Send for the doctor then, can't you?'
He had formerly made a sort of plaything of the child when in the mood
for it; now he was not merely indifferent--the sight of the boy angered
him. His return home was a signal for the closing of all doors between
his room and the remote nursery. Once, when he heard crying he had
summoned Mrs. Jenkins. 'If you can't stop that noise,' he said, 'or keep
it out of my hearing, I'll send the child to be taken care of in
Hebsworth, or somewhere else further off, and then I'll shut up the
house and send you all about your business. So just mind what I say.'

Of late it had become known that he was about to take a partner into his
business, a member of the Legge family--a name we remember. Dunfieldians
discussed the news, and revived their pleasure in speculating on the sum
total of Dagworthy's fortune. But it was as one talks of possible mines
of treasure in the moon; practical interest in the question could
scarcely be said to exist, for the chance of Dagworthy's remarriage
seemed remoter than ever. The man was beginning to be one of those
figures about whom gathers the peculiar air of mystery which ultimately
leads to the creation of myths. Let him live on in this way for another
twenty years, and stories would be told of him to children in the
nursery. The case of assault and battery, a thing of the far past, would
probably develop into a fable of manslaughter, of murder; his wife's
death was already regarded very much in that light, and would class him
with Bluebeard; his house on the Heath would assume a forbidding aspect,
and dread whispers would be exchanged of what went on there under the
shadow of night. Was it not already beginning to be remarked by his
neighbours that you met him wandering about lonely places at unholy
hours, and that he shunned you, like one with a guilty conscience? Let
him advance in years, his face lose its broad colour, his hair grow
scant and grey, his figure, per chance, stoop a little, his eyes acquire
the malignity of miserly old age--and there you have the hero of a
Dunfield legend. Even thus do such grow.

But he is sitting by his fireside this New Year's Eve, still a young
man, still fresh-coloured, only looking tired and lonely, and, in fact,
meditating an attempt to recover his interest in life. He had admitted a
partner to his business chiefly that he might be free to quit Yorkshire
for a time, and at present he was settling affairs to that end. This
afternoon he expected a visit from Mr. Cartwright, who had been serving
him in several ways of late, and who had promised to come and talk
business for an hour. The day was anything but cheerful; at times a
stray flake of snow hissed upon the fire; already, at three o'clock,
shadows were invading the room.

He heard a knock at the front door, and, supposing it to be Cartwright,
roused himself. As he was stirring the fire a servant announced--
instead of the father, the daughter. Jessie Cartwright appeared.

'Something amiss with your father?' Dagworthy asked, shaking hands with
her carelessly.

'Yes; I'm sorry to say he has such a very bad sore-throat that he
couldn't possibly come. Oh, what an afternoon it is, to be sure!'

'Why did _you_ come?' was Dagworthy's not very polite Inquiry. 'It
wasn't so important as all that. Walked all the way?'

'Of course. I'm afraid the wet 'll drip off my cloak on to the floor.'

'Take it off, then, and put it here by the fire to dry.'

He helped her to divest herself, and hung the cloak on to the back of a
chair.

'You may as well sit down. Shall I give you a glass of wine?'

'Oh, indeed, no! No, thank you!'

'I think you'd better have one,' he said, without heeding her. 'I
suppose you've got your feet wet? I can't very well ask you to take your
shoes off.'

'Oh, they're not wet anything to speak of,' said Jessie, settling
herself in a chair, as if her visit were the most ordinary event. She
watched him pour the wine, putting on the face of a child who is going
to be treated to something reserved for grown-up persons.

'What do they mean by sending you all this distance in such weather?'
Dagworthy said, as he seated himself and extended his legs, resting an
elbow on the table.

'They didn't send me. I offered to come, and mother wouldn't hear of
it.'

'Well--?'

'Oh, I just slipped out of the room, and was off before anyone could get
after me. I suppose I shall catch it rarely when I get back. But we
wanted to know why you haven't been to see us--not even on Christmas
Day. Now that, you know, was too bad of you, Mr. Dagworthy. I said you
must be ill. Have you been?'

'Ill? No.'

'Oh!' the girl exclaimed, upon a sudden thought. 'That reminds me. I
really believe Mrs. Hood is dead; at all events all the blinds were down
as I came past.'

'Yes,' was the reply, 'she is dead. She died early this morning.'

'Well, I never! Isn't poor Emily having a shocking Christmas! I declare,
when I saw her last week, she looked like a ghost, and worse.'

Dagworthy gazed at the fire and said nothing.

'One can't be sorry that it's over,' Jessie went on, 'only it's so
dreadful, her father and mother dead almost at the same time. I'm sure
it would have killed me.'

'What is she going to do?' Dagworthy asked, slowly, almost as if
speaking to himself.

'Oh, I daresay it 'll be all right as soon as she gets over it, you
know. She's a lucky girl, in one way.'

'Lucky?' He raised his head to regard her. 'How?'

'Oh well, that isn't a thing to talk about. And then I don't know
anything for certain. It's only what people say you know.'

'_What_ do people say?' he asked, impatiently, though without much sign
of active interest. It was rather as if her manner annoyed him, than the
subject of which she spoke.

'I don't see that it can interest you.'

'No, I don't see that it can. Still, you may as well explain.'

Jessie sipped her wine.

'It's only that they say she's engaged.'

'To whom?'

'A gentleman in London--somebody in the family where she was teaching.'

'How do you know that?' he asked, with the same blending of indifference
and annoyed persistency.

'Why, it's only a guess, after all. One day Barbara and I went to see
her, and just as we got to the door, out comes a gentleman we'd never
seen before. Of course, we wondered who he was. The next day mother and
I were in the station, buying a newspaper, and there was the same
gentleman, just going to start by the London train. Mother remembered
she'd seen him walking with Mrs. Baxendale in St. Luke's, and then we
found he'd been staying with the Baxendales all through Emily's
illness.'

'How did you find it out? You don't know the Baxendales.'

'No, but Mrs. Gadd does, and she told us.'

'What's his name?'

'Mr. Athel--a queer name, isn't it?'

Dagworthy was silent.

'Now you're cross with me,' Jessie exclaimed. 'You'll tell me, like you
did once before, that I'm no good but to pry into other people's
business.'

'You may pry as much as you like,' was the murmured reply.

'Just because you don't care what I do?'

'Drink your wine and try to be quiet just for a little.'

'Why?'

He made no answer, until Jessie asked--

'Why does it seem to interest you so much?'

'What?--all that stuff you've been telling me? I was thinking of
something quite different.'

'Oh!' exclaimed the girl, blankly.

There was a longer silence. Jessie let her eyes stray about the room,
stealing a glance at Dagworthy occasionally. Presently he rose, poked
the fire with violence, and drank his own wine, which had been waiting
so long.

'I must have out the carriage to send you back,' he said, going to the
window to look at the foul weather.

'The carriage, indeed!' protested the girl, with a secret joy. 'You'll
do no such thing.'

'I suppose I shall do as I choose,' he remarked, quietly. Then he came
and rang the bell.

'You're not really going to--?'

A servant answered, and the carriage was ordered.

'Well, certainly that's one way of getting rid of me,' Jessie observed.

'You can stay as long as you please.'

'But the carriage will be round.'

'Can't I keep it waiting half through the night if I choose? I've done
so before now. I suppose I'm master in my own house.'

It was strictly true, that, of the carriage. Once the coachman had been
five minutes late on an evening when Dagworthy happened to be
ill-tempered. He bade the man wait at the door, and the waiting lasted
through several hours.

The room was growing dusk.

'Aren't you very lonely here?' Jessie asked, an indescribable change in
her voice.

'Yes, I suppose I am. You won't make it any better by telling me so.'

'I feel sorry.'

'I dare say you do.'

'Of course you don't believe me. All the same, I _do_ feel sorry.'

'That won't help.'

'No?--I suppose it won't.'

The words were breathed out on a sigh. Dagworthy made no answer.

'I'm not much better off,' she continued, in a low-spirited voice.

'Nonsense!' he ejaculated, roughly, half turning his back on her.

Jessie fumbled a moment at her dress; then, succeeding in getting her
handkerchief out, began to press it against her eyes furtively.
Strangely, there was real moisture to be removed.

'What's the matter with you?' Dagworthy asked with surprise.

She no longer attempted concealment, but began to cry quietly.

'What the deuce has come to you, Jessie?'

'You--you--speak very unkindly to me,' she sobbed.

'Speak unkindly? I didn't know it. What did I say?'

'You won't believe when I say I'm sorry you feel lonely.'

'Why, confound it, I'll believe as much as you like, if it comes to
that. Put that handkerchief away, and drink another glass of wine.'

She stood up, and went to lean on the mantelpiece, hiding her face. When
he was near her again, she continued her complaints in a low voice.

'It's so miserable at home. They want me to be a teacher, and how can I?
I never pretended to be clever, and if I'd all the lessons under the
sun, I should never be able to teach French--and--arithmetic--and those
things. But I wish I could; then I should get away from home, and see
new people. There's nobody I care to see in Dunfield--nobody but one--'

She stopped on a sob.

'Who's that?' Dagworthy asked, looking at her with a singular
expression, from head to foot.

She made no answer, but sobbed again.

'What Christmas presents have you had?' was his next question,
irrelevant enough apparently.

'Oh, none--none to speak of--a few little things. What do I care for
presents? You can't live on presents.'

'Can't live on them? Are things bad at home?'

'I didn't mean that. But of course they're bad; they're always bad
nowadays. However, Barbara's going to be married in a week; she'll be
one out of the way. And of course I haven't a dress fit to be seen in
for the wedding.'

'Why then, get a dress. How much will it cost?' He went to a
writing-table, unlocked a drawer, and took out a cheque-book. 'Now
then,' he said, half jestingly, half in earnest, 'what is it to be?
Anything you like to say--I'll write it.'

'As if I wanted money!'

'I can give you that. I don't see what else I can do. It isn't to be
despised.'

'No, you can do nothing else,' she said, pressing each cheek with her
handkerchief before putting it away. 'Will you help me on with my cloak,
Mr. Dagworthy?'

He took it from the chair, and held it for her. Jessie, as if by
accident, approached her face to his hand, and, before he saw her
purpose, kissed his hard fingers. Then she turned away, hiding her face.

Dagworthy dropped the garment, and stood looking at her. He had a half
contemptuous smile on his lips. At this moment it was announced that the
carriage was coming round. Jessie caught at her cloak, and threw it over
her shoulders. Then, with sunk head, she offered to shake hands.

'No use, Jessie,' Dagworthy remarked quietly, without answering her
gesture.

'Of course, I know it's no use,' she said in a hurried voice of shame.
'I know it as well as you can tell me. I wish I'd never come.'

'But you don't act badly,' he continued.

'What do you mean?' she exclaimed, indignation helping her to raise her
eyes for a moment. 'I'm not acting.'

'You don't mean anything by it--that's all.'

'No, perhaps not. Good-bye.'

'Good-bye. I'm going away before very long. I dare say I shan't see you
again before then.'

'Where are you going to?'

'Abroad.'

'I suppose you'll bring back a foreign wife,' she said with sad
scornfulness.

'No, I'm not likely to do that. I shouldn't wonder if I'm away for some
time, though--perhaps a couple of years.'

'Years!' she exclaimed in astonishment.

He laughed.

'That startles you. I shan't be back in time for your wedding, you see.'

She sobbed again, averting her face.

'I shan't ever be married. I'm one of those wretched things nobody ever
cares for.'

'You'll have to show you deserve it. Why, you couldn't give your word
and keep it for two years.'

Through this extraordinary scene Dagworthy was utterly unlike himself.
It was as if a man suffering physical agony should suddenly begin to
jest and utter wild mirth; there was the same unreality in his
behaviour. Throughout it all the lines of his face never lost their
impress of gloom. Misery had its clutch upon him, and he was driven by
an inexplicable spirit of self-mockery to burlesque the subject of his
unhappiness. He had no sense of responsibility, and certain instincts
were strongly excited, making a kind of moral intoxication.

Jessie answered his question with wide eyes.

'I couldn't?--Ah!'

She spoke under her breath, and with sincerity which was not a little
amusing.

'It's New Year's Eve, isn't it?' Dagworthy pursued, throwing out his
words at random. 'Be here this day two years--or not, as you like. I'm
going to wander about, but I shall be here on that day--that is, if I'm
alive. You won't though. Good-bye.'

He turned away from her, and went to the 'window. Jessie moved a little
nearer.

'Do you mean that?' she asked.

'Mean it?' he repeated, 'why, yes, as much as I mean anything. Be off;
you're keeping that poor devil in the snow.'

'Mr. Dagworthy, I shall be here, and you daren't pretend to forget, or
to say you weren't in earnest.'

He laughed and waved his hand.

'Be off to your carriage!'

Jessie moved to the door reluctantly; but he did not turn again, and she
departed.

CHAPTER XIX

THE COMPLETION OF MISCHANCE

Upon Emily had fallen silence. The tongue which for three months had
incessantly sounded in her ears, with its notes of wailing, of
upbraiding, of physical pain, of meaningless misery, was at rest for
ever. As she stood beside the grave--the grave whose earth had not had
time to harden since it received her father--she seemed still to hear
that feeble, querulous voice, with its perpetual iteration of her own
name; the casting of clay upon the coffin made a sound not half so real.
Returning home, she went up to the bedroom with the same hurried step
with which she had been wont to enter after her brief absences. The bed
was vacant; the blind made the air dim; she saw her breath rise before
her.

There remained but a little servant-girl, who, coming to the
sitting-room to ask about meals, stood crying with her apron held to her
eyes. Emily spoke to her almost with tender kindness. Her own eyes had
shed but few tears; she only wept on hearing those passages read which,
by their promise of immortal life, were to her as mockery of her grief.
She did not venture to look into the grave's mouth she dreaded lest
there might be visible some portion of her father's coffin.

Mrs. Baxendale, the Cartwrights, and one or two other friends had
attended the funeral. At Emily's request no one accompanied her home.
Mrs. Baxendale drove her to the door, and went on to Dunfield.

The last link with the past was severed--almost, it seemed, the last
link with the world. A sense of loneliness grew about her heart; she
lived in a vast solitude, whither came faintest echoes of lamentation,
the dying resonance of things that had been. It could hardly be called
grief, this drawing off of the affections, this desiccation of the
familiar kindnesses which for the time seemed all her being. She forced
herself to remember that the sap of life would flow again, that love
would come back to her when the hand of death released her from its
cruel grip; as yet she could only be sensible of her isolation, her
forlorn oneness. It needs a long time before the heart can companion
only with memories. About its own centre it wraps such warm folds of
kindred life. Tear these away, how the poor heart shivers in its
nakedness.

She was alone. It no longer mattered where she lived, for her alliances
henceforth were only of the spirit. She must find some sphere in which
she could create for herself a new activity, for to sit in idleness was
to invite dread assaults. The task of her life was an inward one, but
her nature was not adapted to quiescence, and something must replace the
task which had come to an end by her mother's death. Already she had
shaped plans, and she dared not allow needless time to intervene before
practically pursuing them.

In the evening of that day Mrs. Baxendale again came to Banbrigg. She
found Emily with writing materials before her. Her object in coming was
to urge Emily to quit this lonely house.

'Come and stay with me,' she entreated. 'You shall be as unmolested as
here; no one but myself shall ever come near you. Emily, I cannot go
home and sleep with the thought of you here alone.'

'You forget,' Emily replied, 'that I have in reality lived alone for a
long time; I do not feel it as you imagine. No, I must stay here, but
not for long. I shall at once find a teacher's place again.'

'That is your intention?'

'Yes. I shall sell the furniture, and ask the landlord to find another
tenant as soon as possible. But till I go away I wish to live in this
house.'

Mrs. Baxendale knew that Emily's projects were not to be combated like a
girl's idle fancies. She did not persevere, but let sad silence be her
answer.

'Would you in no case stay in Dunfield?'

'No; I must leave Dunfield. I don't think I shall find it difficult to
get employment.'

Mrs. Baxendale had never ventured to ask for the girl's confidence, nor
even to show that she desired it. Emily was more perplexing to her now
than even at the time of Wilfrid Athel's rejection. She consoled herself
with the thought that a period of active occupation was no doubt the
best means of restoring this complex nature to healthy views of life;
that at all events it was likely to bring about an unravelling of the
mysteries in which her existence seemed to have become involved. You
could not deal with her as with other girls; the sources of her strength
and her weakness lay too deep; counsel to her would be a useless, an
impertinent, interference with her grave self-guiding. Mrs. Baxendale
could but speak words of extreme tenderness, and return whence she had
come. On going away, she felt that the darkest spot of night was over
that house.

Emily lived at Banbrigg for more than three weeks. After the first few
days she appeared to grow lighter in mind; she talked more freely with
those who came to see her, and gladly accepted friendly aid in little
practical matters which had to be seen to. Half-way between Banbrigg and
Dunfield lay the cemetery; there she passed a part of every morning,
sometimes in grief which opened all the old wounds, more often in
concentration of thought such as made her unaware of the passage of
time. The winter weather was not severe; not seldom a thin gleam of
sunshine would pass from grave to grave, and give promise of spring in
the said reign of the year's first month. Emily was almost the only
visitor at the hour she chose. She had given directions for the raising
of a stone at the grave-head; as yet there was only the newly-sodded
hillock. Close at hand was a grave on which friends placed hot-house
flowers, sheltering them beneath glass. Emily had no desire to express
her mourning in that way; the flower of her love was planted where it
would not die.

But she longed to bring her time of waiting to an end. The steps she had
as yet taken had led to nothing. She had not requested Mrs. Baxendale to
make inquiries for her, and her friend, thinking she understood the
reason, did not volunteer assistance, nor did she hear any particulars
of the correspondence that went on. Ultimately, Emily communicated with
her acquaintances in Liverpool, who were at once anxious to serve her.
She told them that she would by preference find a place in a school. And
at length they drew her attention to an advertisement which seemed
promising; it was for a teacher in a girls' school near Liverpool. A
brief correspondence led to her being engaged.

She was in perfect readiness to depart. For a day or two she had not
seen Mrs. Baxendale, and, on the afternoon before the day of her leaving
Banbrigg, she went to take leave of her friends. It was her intention to
visit Mrs. Baxendale first, then to go on to the Cartwrights'. As it
rained, she walked to Pendal and took train for Dunfield.

At Dunfield station she was delayed for some moments in leaving the
carriage by travellers who got out before her with complexities of
baggage. To reach the exit of the station she had to cross the line by a
bridge, and at the foot of this bridge stood the porter who collected
tickets. As she drew near to him her eyes fell upon a figure moving
before her, that of a young man, wearing thick travelling apparel and
carrying a bag. She did not need to see his face, yet, as he stopped to
give up his ticket, she caught a glimpse of it. The train by which she
had travelled had also brought Wilfrid to Dunfield.

She turned and walked to a little distance away from the foot of the
stairs. There was no room that she could enter on this platform. She
dropped her black veil, and seated herself on a bench. In truth she had
a difficulty in standing, her body trembled so.

For five minutes she remained seated, calming herself and determining
what course to take. She held it for certain that Wilfrid had come at
Mrs. Baxendale's bidding. But would he go to that house first, or
straight to her own? With the latter purpose he would probably have left
the train at Pendal. She would have time to get home before he could
come. At this moment a train was entering the station on the other side.
She hurried over the bridge, and, without stopping to obtain a ticket,
entered a carriage.

It was not without dread lest Wilfrid might have already arrived, and be
waiting within for her return that she approached the house door. Her
fears were groundless. The servant told her that no one had called.

'If anyone should call this evening,' she said, 'I cannot see them. You
will say that I shall not be able to see anyone--anyone, whoever it
is--till to-morrow morning.'...

At this same hour, Mrs. Baxendale, entering a shop in Dunfield, found
Dagworthy making purchases.

'I shall not see you again for a long time,' he said, as he was leaving.
'I start to-morrow on a long journey.'

'Out of England?'

He did not specify his route, merely said that he was going far from
England. They shook hands, and Mrs. Baxendale was left with a musing
expression on her face. She turned her eyes to the counter; the purchase
for which Dagworthy had just paid was a box of ladies' gloves. The
shopman put them aside, to be made into a parcel and sent away.

When, half an hour later, she reached home, she was at once informed
that Mr. Athel was in the drawing-room. The intelligence caused her to
bite her lower lip, a way she had of expressing the milder form of
vexation. She went first to remove her walking apparel, and did not
hasten the process. When she at length entered the drawing-room Wilfrid
was pacing about in his accustomed fashion.

'You here?' she exclaimed, with a dubious shake of the head. 'Why so
soon?'

'So soon! The time has gone more quickly with you than with me, Mrs.
Baxendale.'

Clearly he had not spent the last three months in ease of mind. His
appearance was too like that with which he had come from Oxford on the
occasion of his break-down.

'I could bear it no longer,' he continued. 'I cannot let her go away
without seeing her.'

'You will go this evening?'

'Yes, I must. You have nothing hopeful to say to me?'

Mrs. Baxendale dropped her eyes, and answered, 'Nothing.' Then she
regarded him as if in preface to some utterance of moment, but after all
kept silence.

'Has she heard of anything yet?'

'I believe not. I have not seen her since Tuesday, and then she told me
of nothing. But I don't ask her.'

'I know--you explained. I think you have done wisely. How is she?'

'Well, seemingly.'

He let his feeling get the upper hand.

'I can't leave her again without an explanation. She _must_ tell me
everything. Have I not a right to ask it of her? I can't live on like
this; I do nothing. The days pass in misery of idleness. If only in pity
she will tell me all.'

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