Part 3 out of 4
not understand that he did not care to talk to her. Why did she not
understand? It was hard for a little girl like her to understand such
things as he spoke about; but she would understand; and then her thoughts
passed into words, and she said--
'I understand quite as well as Julia. She, knows the names of more books
than I, and she is very clever at pretending that she knows more than she
At that moment Mrs. Bentley entered. She saw that Emily was enjoying her
talk with her cousin, and tried to withdraw. But Hubert told her that he
had written the last act; she pretended to be looking for a book, and then
for some work which she said had dropped out of her basket.
'If Emily would only continue the talking,' she thought, 'I should be able
to get away.' But Emily said not a word. She sat as if frozen in her chair;
and at length Mrs. Bentley was obliged to enter, however cursorily, into
'If you have written out _The Gipsy_ from end to end, I should advise you
to produce it without further delay. Once it is put on the stage, you will
be able to see better where it is wrong.'
'Then it will be too late. The critics will have expressed their opinion;
the work will be judged. There are only one or two points about which I am
doubtful. I wish Harding were here. I cannot work unless I have some one to
talk to about my work. I don't mean to say that I take advice; but the very
fact of reading an act to a sympathetic listener helps me. I wrote the
first act of _Divorce_ in that way. It was all wrong. I had some vague
ideas about how it might be mended. A friend came in; I told him my
difficulties; in telling them they vanished, and I wrote an entirely new
act that very night.'
'I'm sorry,' said Mrs. Bentley, 'that I am not Mr. Harding. It must be very
gratifying to one's feelings to be able to help to solve a literary
difficulty, particularly if one cannot write oneself.'
'But you can--I'm sure you can. I remember asking your advice once before;
it was excellent, and was of immense help to me. Are you sure it will not
bore you? I shall be so much obliged if you will.'
'Bore me! No, it won't bore me,' said Mrs. Bentley. 'I'm sure I feel very
much flattered.' The colour mounted to her cheek, a smile was on her lips;
but it went out at the sight of Emily's face.
'Then come up to my study. We shall have just time to get through the first
act before dinner.'
Mrs. Bentley hesitated; and, noticing her hesitation, Hubert looked
surprised. At that moment Emily said--
'May I not come too?'
'Well, I don't know, Emily. You see that we wish to see if there is
anything in the play that a young girl should not hear.'
'Always an excuse to get rid of me. You want to be alone. I never come into
the room that you do not stop speaking. Oh, I can bear it no longer!'
'My dear Emily!'
'Don't touch me! Go to her; shut yourself up together. Don't think of me. I
can bear it no longer!' And she fled from the room, leaving behind her a
sensation of alarm and pity. Hubert and Mrs. Bentley stood looking at each
other, both at a loss for words. At last he said--
'That poor child will cry herself into her grave. Have you noticed how
poorly she is looking?'
'Not noticed! But you do not know half of it. It has been going on now a
long time. You don't know half!'
'I have noticed that things are not settling down as I hoped they would. It
really has become quite dreadful to see that poor face looking
reproachfully at you all day long. And I am quite at a loss to know what's
the right thing to do.'
'It is worse than you think. You have not noticed that we hardly speak
'You--who were such friends--surely not!'
Then she told him hurriedly, in brief phrases, of the change that had taken
place in Emily in the last three months. 'It was only the other night she
accused me of going after you, of having designs upon you. It is very
painful to have to tell you these things, but I have no choice in the
matter. She lay on her bed crying, saying that every one hated her, that
she was thoroughly miserable. Somehow she seems naturally an unhappy child.
She was unhappy at home before she came here; but then I believe she had
excellent reasons,--her mother was a very terrible person. However, all
that is past; we have to consider the present now. She accused me of having
designs on you, insisting all the while that every one was talking about
it, and that she was fretting solely because of my good name. Of course, it
is very ridiculous; but it is very pitiful, and will end badly if we don't
take means to put a stop to it. I shouldn't be surprised if she went off
her head. We ought to have the best medical advice.'
'This is very serious,' he said. And then, at the end of a long silence, he
said again, 'This is very serious--perhaps far more serious than we think.'
'Not more serious than I think. I ought to have spoken about it to you
before; but the subject is a delicate one. She hardly sleeps at all at
night; she cries sometimes for hours; she works herself up into such fits
of nervousness that she doesn't know what she is saying,--accuses me of
killing her, and then repents, declaring that I am the only one who has
ever cared for her, and begs of me not to leave her. I do assure you it is
becoming very serious.'
'Have you any proposal to make regarding her? I need hardly say that I'm
ready to carry out any idea of yours.'
'You know what the cause of it is, I suppose?'
'I do not know; I am not certain. I daresay I'm mistaken.'
'No, you are not; I wish you were--that is to say, unless---- But I was
saying that it is most serious. The child's health is affected; she is
working herself up into an awful state of mind; she is losing all
self-control. I'm sure I'm the last person who would say anything against
her; but the time has come to speak out. Well, the other day, when we were
at the Eastwicks, you took the chair next to mine when she left the room.
When she returned, she saw that you had changed your place, and she said to
Ethel Eastwick, "Oh, I'm fainting. I cannot go in there; they are
together." Ethel had to take her up to her room. Well, this morbid
sensitiveness is most unhealthy. If I walk out on the terrace, she follows,
thinking that I have made an appointment to meet you. Jealousy of me fills
up her whole mind. I assure you that I am most seriously alarmed. Something
occurs every day--trifles, no doubt; and in anybody else they would mean
nothing, but in her they mean a great deal.'
'But what do you propose?'
'Unless you intend to marry her--forgive me for speaking so plain--there is
only one thing to do. I must leave.'
'No, no; you must not leave! She could not live alone with me. But does she
want you to leave?'
'No; that is the worst of it. I have proposed it; she will not hear of it;
to mention the subject is to provoke a scene. She is afraid if I left that
you would come and see me; and the very thought of my escaping her
vigilance is intolerable.'
'It is very strange.'
'Yes, it is very strange; but, opposed though she be to all thoughts of it,
I must leave.'
'As a favour I ask you to stay. Do me this service, I beg of you. I have
set my heart on finishing my play this autumn. If it isn't finished now, it
never will be finished; and your leaving would create so much trouble that
all thought of work would be out of the question. Emily could not remain
alone here with me. I should have to find another companion for her; and
you know how difficult that would be. I'm worried quite enough as it is.' A
look of pain passed through his eyes, and Mrs. Bentley wondered what he he
could mean. 'No,' he said, taking her hands, 'we are good friends--are we
not? Do me this service. Stay with me until I finish this play; then, if
things do not mend, go, if you like, but not now. Will you promise me?'
'Thank you. I am deeply obliged to you.'
At the end of a long silence, Hubert said, 'Will you not come up-stairs,
and let me read you the first act?'
'I should like to, but I think it better not. If Emily heard that you had
read me your play, she would not close her eyes to-night; it would be tears
and misery all the night through.'
The study in which he had determined to write his masterpiece had been
fitted up with taste and care. The floor was covered with a rare Persian
carpet, and the walls were lined with graceful bookcases of Chippendale
design; the volumes, half morocco, calf, and the yellow paper of French
novels, showed through the diamond panes. The writing-table stood in front
of the window; like the bookcases, it was Chippendale, and on the dark
mahogany the handsome silver inkstand seemed to invite literary
composition. There was a scent of flowers in the room. Emily had filled a
bowl of old china with some pale September roses. The curtains were made of
a modern cretonne--their colour was similar to the bowl of roses; and the
large couch on which Hubert lay was covered with the same material. On one
wall there was a sea-piece by Courbet, and upon another a river landscape,
with rosy-tinted evening sky, by Corot. The chimney-piece was set out with
a large gilt timepiece, and candelabra in Dresden china. Hubert had bought
these works of art on the occasion of his last visit to London, about two
It was twelve o'clock. He had finished reading his second act, and the
reading had been a bitter disappointment. The idea floated, pure and
seductive, in his mind; but when he tried to reduce it to a precise shape
upon paper, it seemed to escape in some vague, mysterious way. Enticingly,
like a butterfly it fluttered before him; he followed like a child,
eagerly--his brain set on the mazy flight. It led him through a country
where all was promise of milk and honey. He followed, sure that the
alluring spirit would soon choose a flower; then he would capture it. Often
it seemed to settle. He approached with palpitating heart; but lo! when the
net was withdrawn it was empty.
A look of pain and perplexity came upon his face; he remembered the lodging
at seven shillings a week in the Tottenham Court Road. He had suffered
there; but it seemed to him that he was suffering more here. He had changed
his surroundings, but he had not changed himself. Success and failure,
despair and hope, joy and sorrow, lie within and not without us. His pain
lay at his heart's root; he could not pluck it forth, and its gratification
seemed more than ever impossible. He changed his position on the couch.
Suddenly his thoughts said, 'Perhaps I am mistaken in the subject. Perhaps
that is the reason. Perhaps there is no play to be extracted from it;
perhaps it would be better to abandon it and choose another.' For a few
seconds he scanned the literary horizon of his mind. 'No, no!' he said
bitterly, 'this is the play I was born to write. No other subject is
possible; I can think of nothing else. This is all I can feel or see.' It
was the second act that now defied his efforts. It had once seemed clear
and of exquisite proportions; now no second act seemed possible: the
subject did not seem to admit of a second act; and, clasping his forehead
with his hands, he strove to think it out.
Any distraction from the haunting pain, now become chronic, is welcome, and
he answers with a glad 'Come in!' the knock at the door.
'I'm sorry,' said Mrs. Bentley, 'for disturbing you, but I should like to
know what fish you would like for your dinner--soles, turbot, or whiting?
Immersed in literary problems as you are, I daresay these details are very
prosaic; but I notice that later in the day----'
Hubert laughed. 'I find such details far more agreeable than literature. I
can do nothing with my play.'
'Aren't you getting on this morning?'
'No, not very well.'
'What do you think of turbot?'
'I think turbot very nice. Emily likes turbot.'
'Very well, then. I'll order turbot.'
As Mrs. Bentley was about to withdraw, she said, 'I'm sorry you are not
getting on. What stops you now? That second act?'
'Come, you are not very busy. I'll read you the act as it stands, and then
tell you how I think it ought to be altered. Nothing helps me so much as to
talk it over; not only does it clear up my ideas, but it gives me desire to
write. My best work has always been done in that way.'
'I really don't think I can stay. If Emily heard that you had been reading
your play to me----'
'I'm tired of hearing of what Emily thinks. I can put up with a good deal,
and I know that it is my duty to show much forbearance; but there is a
limit to all things!' This was the first time Mrs. Bentley had seen him
show either excitement or anger; she hardly knew him in this new aspect. In
a moment the blonde calm of the Saxon had dropped from him, and some Celtic
emphasis appeared in his speech. 'This hysterical girl,' he continued, 'is
a sore burden. Tears about this, and sighs about that; fainting fits
because I happen to take a chair next to yours. You may depend upon it our
lives are already the constant gossip of the neighbourhood.'
'I know it is very annoying; and I, I assure you, receive my share. Every
look and word is misinterpreted. I must not stay here.'
'You must not go! I really want you. I assure you that your opinion will be
'But think of Emily. It will make her wretched if she hears of it. You do
not know how it affects her. The slightest thing! You hardly see anything;
I see it all.'
'But there is no sense in it; it is pure madness. I'm writing a play,
trying to work out a most difficult problem, and am in want of an audience,
and I ask you if you will be kind enough to let me read you the act, and
you cannot listen to it because--because--yes, that's just it--because!'
'You do not know how she suffers. Let me go; spare her the pain.'
'She is not the only one who suffers. Do you think that I don't suffer?
I've set my heart--my very life is set on this play. I must get through
with it; they are all waiting for it. My enemies say I cannot write it, but
I shall if you will help me.'
[Illustration: "Sometimes, in an exciting passage, the hands were
'Poor Emily's heart is equally broken. Her life is equally set----' Mrs.
Bentley did not finish. Hubert just caught the words. Their significance
struck him; he looked questioningly into Mrs. Bentley's eyes; then,
pretending not to have understood, he begged her to remain. With the air of
one who yields to a temptation, she came into the room. He felt strangely
happy, and, drawing over an arm-chair for her, he threw himself on the
couch. He noticed that she wore a loose white jacket, and once during the
reading of the act he was conscious of a beautiful hand hanging over the
rail of the chair. Sometimes, in an exciting passage, the hands were
clasped. The black slippers and the slender black-stockinged ankles showed
beneath the skirt; and when he raised his eyes from the manuscript, he saw
the blonde face and hair, and the pale eyes were always fixed upon him. She
listened with a keen and penetrating interest to his criticism of the act,
agreeing with him generally, sometimes quietly contesting a point, and with
some strange fascination drawing new and unexpected ideas from him; and in
the intellectual warmth of her femininity his brain seemed to clear and his
ideas took new shape.
'Ah,' he said, after two hours' delightful talk, 'how much I'm indebted to
you! At last I see my mistakes; in two days I shall have written the act.
And he wrote rapidly for nearly two hours, reconstructing the opening
scenes of his second act.' He then threw himself on the couch, smoked a
cigar, and after half an hour's rest continued writing till dinner-time.
When he came down-stairs, the thought of what he had been writing was still
so vivid in him that he did not notice at once the silence of those with
whom he was dining. He complimented Mrs. Bentley on the freshness of the
turbot; she hardly answered; and then he became aware that something had
gone wrong. What? Only one thing was possible. Emily had heard that Mrs.
Bentley had been in his study. Looking from the woman to the girl, he saw
that the latter had been weeping. She was still in a highly hysterical
state, and might burst into tears and fly from the dinner-table at any
moment. His face changed expression, and it was with difficulty that he
restrained his temper. His life had been made up of a constant recurrence
of these scenes, and he was wholly weary of them; and the thought of the
absolute want of reason in the causeless jealousy, and the misery that
these little bickerings made of his life, exasperated him beyond measure.
The dinner proceeded in silence, and every slight remark was a presage of
storm. Hubert hoped the girl would say nothing until the servant left the
room, and with that view he never spoke a word except to ask the ladies
what they would take to eat. These tactics might have succeeded if Mrs.
Bentley had not unfortunately said that next week she intended to go to
London for a couple of days. 'The Eastwicks are there now, and they've
asked me to stay with them.'
'I think I shall go up with you. I want to go to London,' said Emily.
'It will be very nice if you'll come; but we cannot both stay with the
Eastwicks; they have only one spare room.'
'I suppose you'd like me to go to an hotel.'
'My dear Emily, how can you think of such a thing? A young girl like you
could not stay at an hotel alone. I shall be only too pleased if you will
go to the Eastwicks; I will go to the hotel.'
Emily's lip quivered, and in the irritating silence both Hubert and Mrs.
Bentley saw that she was trying to overcome her passion. They fervently
hoped she would succeed; for at that moment the servant was handing round
the wine, and the time he took to accomplish this service seemed endless.
He had filled the last glass, had handed round the dessert, and was
preparing to leave the room when Emily said--
'The hotel will suit you very well. You'll be free to see Hubert whenever
Hubert looked up quickly, hoping Mrs. Bentley would not answer, but before
he could make a sign she said--
'What do you mean, Emily? I did not know that Hubert was going to London.'
'You hardly expect me to believe that, do you?'
The servant was still in the room; but no look of astonishment appeared on
his face, and Hubert hoped he had not heard. An awful silence glowered upon
the dinner-table. The moment the door closed Hubert said, turning angrily
'Really, I am quite surprised, Emily, that you should make such
observations in the presence of servants! This has been going on quite long
enough; you are making the house intolerable. I shall not be able to live
here any longer.'
Emily burst into a passionate flood of tears. She declared she was
wretchedly miserable, and that she fully understood that Hubert had begun
to regret that he had asked her to stay at Ashwood. Everything had been
taken from her; every one was against her. Her sobs shook her frail little
frame as if they would break it, and Hubert's heart was wrung at the sight
of such genuine suffering.
'My dear Emily, I assure you you are mistaken. We both love you very much.'
He got up from his chair, and, putting his arm about her, besought her to
dry her eyes; but she shook him passionately from her, and fled from the
Three days after, Emily tore up one of her songs, because Mrs. Bentley had
sung it without her leave. And so on and so on, week after week. No sooner
was one quarrel allayed than signs of another began to appear. Hubert
despaired. 'How is this to end?' he asked himself every day. Mrs. Bentley
begged him to cancel her promise, and allow her to go. But that was
impossible. He could not remain alone with Emily; if he left her she would
not fail to believe that he had gone after her rival. The situation had
become so tense that they ended by discussing these questions almost
without reserve. To make matters worse, Emily had begun visibly to lose her
health. There was neither colour in her cheeks nor light in her eyes; she
hardly slept at all, and had grown more than ever like a little shadow. The
doctor had been summoned, and, after prescribing a tonic, had advised quiet
and avoidance of all excitement. Therefore Hubert and Mrs. Bentley agreed
never to meet except when Emily was present, and then strove to speak as
little as possible to each other. But the very fact of having to restrain
themselves in looks, glances, and every slightest word--for Emily
misinterpreted all things--whetted their appetites for each other's
In the misery of his study, when he watched the sheet of paper, he often
sought relief in remembrance of her sweet manner, and the happy morning he
had spent in her companionship. What he had written under the direct
influence of her inspiration still seemed to him to be less bad than the
rest of his play; and he began to feel sure that, if ever this play were
written, it would be written in the benign charm of her sweet
encouragement, in the reposeful shadow of her presence. But that presence
was forbidden him--that presence that seemed so necessary; and for what
reason? Turning on the circumstances of his life, he raged against them,
declaring that it would be folly to allow his very life's desire to be
frittered away to gratify a young girl's caprice,--a caprice which in a few
years she would laugh at. And whenever he was not thinking of his play, he
remembered the charm of Mrs. Bentley's company, and the beneficent effect
it had on his work. He had never known a woman he had liked so much, and he
felt--he started at the thought, so like an inspiration did it seem to
him--that the only possible solution of the present situation was his
marriage with her. Once he was married, Emily would soon learn to forget
him. They would take her up to London for the season; and, amid the healthy
excitement of balls and parties, her girlish fancy would evaporate. No
doubt she would meet again the young cavalry officer whose addresses she
had received so coldly. She would be sure to meet him again--be sure to
think him the most charming man in the world; they would marry, and she
would make him the best possible wife. The kindest action they could do
Emily would be to marry. There was nothing else to do, and they must do
something, or else the girl would die. It seemed wonderful to Hubert that
he had not thought of all this before. 'It is the very obvious solution of
the problem,' he said; and his heart beat as he heard Mrs. Bentley's step
in the corridor. It died away in the distance; but a few days after, when
he heard it again, he jumped from his chair, and ran to the door. 'Come,'
he said, 'I want to speak to you.'
'No, no, I beg of you!'
'I must speak to you!' He laid his hand upon her arm, and said, 'I beg of
you. I have something to say--it is of great importance. Come in.'
They looked at each other a moment, and it seemed as if they could see into
each other's souls. Then a look of yielding passed into her eyes, and she
'Well, what is it?'
The familiarity of the words struck her, and she saw by the kindling
tenderness in his eyes that they had given him pleasure. She almost knew he
was going to tell her that he loved her. He looked towards the open door,
and, guessing his intention, she said--
'Don't shut it! Speak quickly. Remember that she may pass at any moment.
Were she to find us together, she would suffer; it would be tears and
reproaches. What you have to say to me is about her?'
'Of course; we never speak of anything else. But we must not be overheard.
I must shut the door.' She noticed a certain embarrassment in his manner.
Suddenly relinquishing his intention to take her hands, he said--
'This cannot go on; our lives are being made unbearable. You agree with
me--do you not?'
'Yes,' she said, with a curious inquiring look in her eyes. 'You had better
let me leave. It is the only way out of the difficulty.'
'You know very well, Julia, that that is impossible.'
It was the first time he had used her Christian name, and she knew now he
was going to ask her to marry him. A frightened look passed into her face;
she turned from him; he took her hands.
'No, Julia,' he said; 'there is another and better way out of the
difficulty. You will stop here--you will be my wife?' Reading the look of
pain that had come into her eyes, he said, 'You will not refuse me? I want
you--I can do nothing without you. If you leave me, I shall never be able
to write my play; it can only be written under your influence. I love you,
Julia!' She allowed him to draw her towards him, and then she broke away.
'Oh,' she said, 'why do you say these things? You only make my task harder.
You know that I cannot betray my friend. Why do you tempt me to do a
'A dishonourable action! What do you mean? It is the only way to save her.
Once we are married, she will forget. No doubt she will shed a few tears;
but to save the body we must often lose a limb. It is even so. Things
cannot go on as they are. We cannot watch her withering away under our very
eyes; and that is what is actually happening. I have thought it all over,
considered it from every point of view, and have come to the conclusion
that--that, well, that we had better marry. You must have seen that I
always liked you. I did not myself know how much until a few days ago. Say
that I am not wholly disagreeable to you.'
'No; I will not listen to you! My conscience tells me plainly where my duty
lies. Not for all the world will I play Emily false. I shudder to think of
such a thing; it would be the basest ingratitude. I owe everything to her.
When I hadn't a penny in the world, and when in my homelessness I wrote to
Mr. Burnett, she pleaded in my favour, and decided him to take me as a
companion. No, no! a thousand times no! Let go my hands. Do you not know
what it is to be loyal?'
'I hope I do. But, as I have explained, it is the only solution. The
romantic attachments of young girls, unless nipped in the bud, often end
fatally. Do you not see how ill she is looking? She is wearing her life
away. We shall be acting in her best interests. Besides, she is not the
only person to be considered. Do I not love you? Are you not the very woman
whose influence, whose guidance, is necessary, so that I should succeed?
Without your help I shall never write my play. A woman's influence is
necessary to every undertaking. The greatest writers owe their best
'Her heart is as closely set upon you as yours is upon your play.'
'But,' cried Hubert, 'I do not love her! Under no circumstances would I
marry her. That I swear to you. If she and I were alone on a desert
Julia looked at him one moment doubtingly, inquiringly. Then she said--
'Hers is no evanescent fancy, but a passion that goes to the very roots of
her nature, and will kill her if it be not satisfied.'
'Or cut out in time.'
'I must leave.'
'That will not mend matters.'
'My departure will, at all events, remove all cause for jealousy; and when
I am gone you may learn to love her.'
'No; that I swear is impossible!'
'You very likely think so now; but I'm bound to give her every chance of
'I say again that that is impossible! I have never seen a woman except
yourself I could marry. I tell you so: believe me as you like.... In this
matter you are acting like a woman,--you allow your emotions and not your
intellect to lead you. By acting thus, you are certainly sacrificing two
lives--hers and mine. Of your own I do not speak, not knowing what is
passing in your heart; but if by any chance you should care for me, you are
adding your own happiness to the general holocaust.' Neither spoke again
for some time.
'Why should you not marry her?' Julia said, at the end of a long silence.
'Some people think her quite a pretty girl.'
The lovers looked at each other and smiled sadly. And then, in pathetic
phrases, Hubert tried to explain why he could never love Emily. He spoke of
his age, and of difference of tastes,--he liked clever women. The
conversation fell. At the end of a long silence, Julia said--
'There is nothing for it but my departure, and the sooner the better.'
'You are not in earnest? You are surely not in earnest?'
'Yes, indeed I am.'
'Then, if you go, you must take her with you. She cannot remain here alone
with me. And even if she could, I could not live with her. Her folly has
destroyed any liking I may have ever had for her. You'll have to take her
'She would not come with me. I spoke to her once of a trip abroad.'
'And she refused?'
'She said she only wanted things to go on just as they are.'
In some trepidation Julia knocked. Receiving no reply, she opened the door,
and her candle burnt in what a moment before must have been inky darkness.
Emily lay on her bed--on the edge of it; and the only movement she made was
to avert her eyes from the light. 'What! all alone in this darkness,
Emily!... Shall I light your candles?' She had to repeat the question
before she could get an answer.
'No, thank you; I want nothing; I have no wish to see anything. I like the
'Have you been asleep?'
'No; I have not.... Why do you come to torment me? It cannot matter to you
whether I lie in the dark or the light. Oh, take that candle away! it is
blinding me.' Julia put the candle on the washstand. Then full of pity for
the grieving girl, she stood, her hand resting on the bed-rail.
'Aren't you coming down to dinner, Emily? Come, let me pour out some water
for you. When you have bathed your eyes----'
'I don't want any dinner.'
'It will look very strange if you remain in your room the whole evening.
You do not want to vex him, do you?'
'I suppose he is very angry with me. But I did not mean to vex him. Is he
'No, he is not angry at all; he is merely distressed. You distress him
'I don't know why I should distress him. I'm sure I don't mean to. You know
more about it than I. You are always whispering together--talking about
'I assure you, Emily, you are mistaken. Mr. Price and I have no secrets
'Why should you tell me these falsehoods? They make me so miserable.'
'Falsehoods, Emily! When did you ever know me to tell a falsehood?'
'You say you have no secrets! Do you think I am blind? You think, I
suppose, I did not see you showing him a ring? You took it off, too; and I
suppose you gave it to him,--an engagement ring, very likely.'
'I lost a stone from my ring, and I asked Mr. Price if he would take the
ring to London and have the stone replaced.... That is all. So you see how
your imagination has run away with you.'
Emily did not answer. At last she said, breaking the silence abruptly--
'Is he very angry? Has he gone to his study? Do you think he will come down
'I suppose he'll come down for dinner.'
'Will you go and ask him?'
'I hardly see how I can do that. He is very busy.... And if you would
listen to any advice of mine, it would be to leave him to himself as much
as possible for the present. He is so taken up with his play; I know he's
most anxious about it.'
'Is he? I don't know. He never speaks to me about it. I hate that play, and
I hate to see him go up to that study! I cannot understand why he should
trouble himself about writing plays; he doesn't want the money, and it
can't be agreeable sitting up there all alone thinking.... It is easy to
see that it only makes him unhappy. But you encourage him to go on with it.
Oh yes, you do; there's no use saying you don't. You are always talking to
him about it; you bring the conversation up. You think I don't see how you
do it, but I do; and you like doing it, because then you have him all to
yourself. I can't talk to him about that play; and I wouldn't if I could,
for it only makes him unhappy. But you don't care whether he's unhappy or
not; you only think of yourself.'
'You surely don't believe what you are saying is true? To-morrow you will
be sorry for what you have said. You cannot think that I would deceive you,
Emily? Remember what friends we have been.'
'I remember everything. You think I don't; but I do. And you think also
that there's no reason why I should be miserable; but there is. Because you
do not feel my misery, you think it doesn't exist. I daresay you think,
too, that you are very good and kind; but you aren't. You think you deceive
me; but you don't. I know all that is passing between you and Hubert. I
know a great deal more than I can explain....'
'But tell me, Emily, what is it you suspect? What do you accuse me of?'
'I accuse you of nothing. Can't you understand that things may go wrong
without it being any one's fault in particular?'
Julia wondered how Emily could think so wisely. She seemed to have grown
wiser in her grief. But grief helped her no further in her instinctive
perception of the truth, and she resumed her puerile attack on her friend.
'Nothing has gone well with me ever since you came here. I was
disinherited; and I daresay you were glad, for you knew that if the money
did not come to me it would go to Hubert, and I do know----'
'What are you saying, Emily? I never heard of such wild accusations before!
You know very well that I never set eyes on Mr. Price until he came down
'How should I know what you know or don't know? But I know that all my life
every one has been plotting against me. And I cannot make out why. I never
did harm to any one.'
The conversation paused. Emily flung herself back on the pillow. Not even a
sob. The candle burned like a long yellow star in the shadows, yielding
only sufficient light for Julia to see the outlines of a somewhat untidy
room,--an old-fashioned mahogany wardrobe, cloudy and black, upon
old-fashioned grey paper, some cardboard boxes, and a number of china
ornaments, set out on a small table covered with a tablecloth in
'I would do anything in the world for you, Emily. I am your best friend,
'I have no friend. I don't believe in friends. You think people are your
friends, and then you find they are not.'
'How can I convince you of the injustice of your suspicions?'
'I see all plainly enough; it is fate, I suppose.... Selfishness. We all
think of ourselves--we can't help it; and that's what makes life so
miserable.... He would be a very good match. You have got him to like you.
Perhaps you didn't intend to; but you have done it all the same.'
'But, Emily dear, listen! There is no question of marriage between me and
Mr. Price. If you will only have patience, things will come right in the
'For you, perhaps.'
'Emily, Emily! ... You should try to understand things better.'
'I feel them, even if I don't understand.'
'Admit that you were wrong about the ring. Have I not convinced you that
you were wrong?'
Emily did not answer. But at the end of a long silence, in which she had
been pursuing a different train of thought, she said, 'Then you mean that
he has never asked you to marry him?'
The directness of the question took Julia by surprise, and, falsehood being
unnatural to her, she hesitated, hardly knowing what to answer. Her
hesitation was only momentary; but in that moment there came up such a wave
of pity for the grief-stricken girl that she lied for pity's sake, 'No, he
never asked me to marry him. I assure you that he never did. If you do not
believe me----' As she was about to say, 'I will swear it if you like,' an
irresponsible sensation of pride in her ownership of his love surged up
through her, overwhelming her will, and she ended the sentence, 'I am very
sorry, but I cannot help it.'
The words were still well enough; it was in the accent that the truth
transpired. And then yielding still further to the force which had
subjugated her will, she said--
'I admit that we have talked about a great many things.' (Again she strove
not to speak, but the words rose red-hot to her lips.) 'He has said that he
would like to marry, but I should not think of accepting----'
'Then it is just as I thought!' Emily cried; 'he wants to get rid of me!'
Julia was shocked and surprised at the depth of disgraceful vanity and
cowardice which special circumstances had brought within her consciousness.
The Julia Bentley of the last few moments was not the Julia Bentley she was
accustomed to meet and interrogate, and she asked herself how she might
exorcise the meanness that had so unexpectedly appeared in her. Should she
pile falsehood on falsehood? She felt it would be cruel not to do so; but
Emily said, 'He wants to marry to get rid of me, and not because he loves
you.' Then it was hard to deny herself the pleasure of telling the whole
truth; but she mastered her desire of triumph, and, actuated by nothing but
sincerest love and pity, she said--
'Oh, Emily dear, he never asked me to marry him; he does not love me at
all! Why will you not believe me?'
'Because I cannot!' she cried passionately. 'I only ask to be left alone.'
'A little patience, Emily, and all will come right. Mr. Price does not want
to get rid of you. You wrong him just as you wrong me. He has often said
how much he likes you; indeed he has.' Although speaking from the bottom of
her heart, it seemed to Julia that she was playing the part of a cruel,
false woman, who was designingly plotting to betray a helpless girl; and
not understanding why this was so, she was at once puzzled and confused. It
seemed to her that she was being borne on in a wind of destiny, and her
will seemed to beat vainly against it, like a bird's wings when a storm is
blowing. She was conscious of a curious powerlessness; it surprised her,
and she could not understand why she continued talking, so vain and useless
did words seem to her--an idle patter. She continued--
'You think that I stand between you and Mr. Price. Now, I assure you that
it is not so. I tell you I should refuse Mr. Price, even if he were to ask
me to marry him, here, at this very moment. I pledge you my word on this.
Give me your hand, Emily. You will not refuse it?' Emily gave her hand. 'It
is quite ridiculous to promise, for he will never ask me; but I promise not
to marry him even if he should ask me.' She gave the promise, determined to
keep it; and yet she knew she would not keep it. She argued passionately
with herself, a prey to an inward dread; for no matter how firmly she
forced resolution upon resolution, they all seemed to melt in her soul like
snow on a blazing fire. Then, determined to rid herself of a numb sensation
of powerlessness, and achieve the end she desired, she said, 'I'll tell
you, Emily, what I'll do. I'll not stay here; I will go away. Let me go
away, dear, and then it will be all right.'
'No, no! you mustn't leave; I don't want you to leave. It would be said
everywhere that I had you sent away.... You promise me not to leave?'
Raising herself, Emily clung to Julia's arm, detaining her until she had
extorted the desired promise.
'Very well; I promise,' she said sadly. 'But I think you are wrong; indeed
I do. I have always thought that "the only solution of the problem" was my
departure.' Memory had betrayed her into Hubert's own phrase.
'Why should you go? You think, I suppose, that I'm in love with Hubert? I'm
not. All I want is for things to go on just the same--for us to be friends
as we were before.'
'Very well, Emily--very well.... But in the meantime you must not neglect
your meals as you have been doing lately. If you don't take care, you'll
lose your health and your looks. I have been noticing how thin you are
'I suppose you have told him that I am looking thin and ill.... Men like
tall, big, healthy women like you--don't they?'
'I see, Emily, that it is hopeless; every word one utters is
misinterpreted. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes; or, if you like, I
will dine up-stairs; and you and Mr. Price----'
'But is he coming down to dinner? I thought you said he had gone to his
study; sometimes he dines there.'
'I can tell you nothing about Mr. Price. I don't know whether he'll dine
up-stairs or down.'
At that moment a knock was heard at the door, and the servant announced
that dinner was ready. 'Mr. Price has sent down word, ma'am, that he is
very busy writing; he hopes you'll excuse him, and he'll be glad if you
will send him his dinner up on a tray.'
'Very well; I shall be down directly.'
The slight interruption had sufficed to calm Julia's irritation, and she
stood waiting for Emily. But seeing that she showed no signs of moving, she
said, 'Aren't you coming down to dinner, Emily?' It was a sense of strict
duty that impelled the question, for her heart sank at the prospect of
spending the evening alone with the girl. But seeing the tears on Emily's
cheeks, she sat down beside her, and said, 'Dearest Emily, if you would
only confide in me!'
'There's nothing to confide....'
'You mustn't give way like this; you really mustn't. Come down and have
'It is no use; I couldn't eat anything.'
'He may come into the drawing-room in the course of the evening, and will
be so disappointed and grieved to hear that you have not been down.'
'No; he will spend the whole evening in his room; we shall not see him
'But if I go and ask him to come; if I tell him----'
'No; do not speak to him about me; he'd only say that I was interfering
with his work.'
'That is unjust, Emily; he has never reproached you with interfering with
his work. Shall I go and tell him that you won't come down because you
think he is angry with you?'
Ten minutes passed, and no answer could be obtained from Emily--only
passionate and illusive refusals, denials, prayer to be left alone; and
these mingled with irritating suggestions that Julia had better go at once,
that Hubert might be waiting for her. But Julia bore patiently with her and
did not leave her until Hubert sent to know why his dinner was delayed.
Emily had begun to undress; and, tearing off her things, she hardly took
more than five minutes to get into bed.
'Shall I light a candle?' Julia asked before leaving.
'No, thank you.'
'Shall I send you up some soup?'
'No; I could not touch it.'
'You are not going to remain in the dark? Let me light a night-light?'
'No, thank you; I like the dark.'
Hubert and Mrs. Bentley stood by the chimney-piece in the drawing-room,
waiting for the doctor; they had left him with Emily, and stood facing each
other absorbed in thought, when the door opened, and the doctor entered.
'What do you think, Doctor? Is she seriously ill?'
'There is nothing, so far as I can make out, organically the matter with
her, but the system is running down. She is very thin and weak. I shall
prescribe a tonic, but----'
'But what, doctor?'
'She seems to be suffering from extreme depression of spirits. Do you know
of any secret grief--any love affair? At her age, anything of that sort
fills the entire mind, and the consequences are often grave.'
'And supposing it were so, what would be your advice? Change of air and
'Have you spoken to her on the subject?'
'Yes; but she says she will not leave Ashwood.'
'We cannot send her away by force. What would you advise us to do?'
'There's nothing to be done. We must hope for the best. There is no
immediate cause for fear.... But, by the way, she looks as if she suffered
'Yes, she does; but she has been ordered chloral. Any harm in that?'
'In her case, it is a necessity; but do you think she takes it?'
'Oh yes, she has been taking choral.'
The conversation paused; the doctor went over to the writing-table, wrote a
prescription, made a few remarks, and took his leave, announcing his
intention of returning that day fortnight.
Hubert said, and his tone implied reference to some anterior conversation,
'We are powerless in this matter. You see we can do nothing. We only
succeed in making ourselves unhappy; we do not change in anything. I am
'Believe me,' she said, raising her arms in a beautiful feminine movement,
'I do not wish to make you unhappy.'
'Then why do you persist? Why do you refuse to take the only step that may
lead us out of this difficulty?'
'How can you ask me? Oh, Hubert, I did not think you could be so cruel! It
would be a shameful action.'
It was the first time she had used his Christian name, and his face changed
'I cannot,' she said, 'and I will not, and I do not understand how you can
ask me--you who are so loyal, how can you ask me to be disloyal?'
'Spare me your reproaches. Fate has been cruel. I have never told you the
story of my life. I have suffered deeply; my pride has been humiliated, and
I have endured hunger and cold; but those sufferings were light compared to
this last misfortune.'
She looked at him with sublime pity in her eyes. 'I do not conceal from
you,' she said, 'that I love you very much. I, too, have suffered, and I
had thought for one moment that fate had vouchsafed me happiness; but, as
you would say--the irony of life.'
'Julia, do not say you never will?'
'We cannot look into the future. But this I can say--I will not do Emily
any wrong, and so far as is in my power I will avoid giving her pain. There
is only one way out of this difficulty. I must leave this house as soon as
I can persuade her to let me go.'
The door opened; involuntarily the speakers moved apart; and though their
faces and attitudes were strictly composed when Emily entered, she knew
they had been standing closer together.
'I'm afraid I'm interrupting you,' she said.
'No, Emily; pray do not go away. We were only talking about you.'
'If I were to leave every time you begin to talk about me, I should spend
my life in my room. I daresay you have many faults to find. Let me hear all
about your fresh discoveries.'
It was a thin November day: leaves were whirling on the lawn, and at that
moment one blew rustling down the window-pane. And, even as it, she seemed
a passing thing. Her face was like a plate of fine white porcelain, and the
deep eyes filled it with a strange and magnetic pathos; the abundant
chestnut hair hung in the precarious support of a thin tortoiseshell; and
there was something unforgetable in the manner in which her aversion for
the elder woman betrayed itself--a mere nothing, and yet more impressive
than any more obvious and therefore more vulgar expression of dislike would
'A little patience, Emily. You will not have me here much longer.'
'I suppose that I am so disagreeable that you cannot live with me. Why
should you go away?'
'My dear Emily, you must not excite yourself. The doctor----'
'I want to know why she said she was going to leave. Has she been
complaining about me to you? What is her reason for wanting to go?'
'We do not get on together as we used to--that is all, Emily. I can please
you no longer.'
'It is not my fault if we do not get on. I don't see why we shouldn't, and
I do not want you to go.'
'Emily, dear, everything shall be as you like it.'
The girl looked at him with the shy, doubting look of an animal that would
like, and still does not dare, to go to the beckoning hand. How frail
seemed the body in the black dress! and how thin the arms in the black
sleeves! Hubert took the little hand in his. At his touch a look of content
and rest passed into her eyes, and she yielded herself as the leaf yields
to the wind. She was all his when he chose. Mrs. Bentley left the room;
and, seeing her go, a light of sudden joy illuminated the thin, pale face;
and when the door closed, and she was alone with him, the bleak, unhappy
look, which had lately grown strangely habitual to her, faded out of her
face and eyes. He fetched her shawl, and took her hand again in his,
knowing that by so doing he made her happy. He could not refuse her the
peace from pain that these attentions brought her, though he would have
held himself aloof from all women but one. She knew the truth well enough;
but they who suffer much think only of the cessation of pain. He wondered
at the inveigling content that introduced itself into her voice, face, and
gesture. Settling herself comfortably on the sofa, she said--
'Now tell me what the doctor said. Did he say I would soon recover? Did he
say that I was very bad? Tell me all.'
'He said that you ought to have a change--that you should go south
'And you agree with him that I ought to go away?'
'Is he not the best judge?--the doctor's orders!'
'Then you, too, have learnt to hate me. You, too, want to send me away?'
'My dear Emily, I only want to do as you like. You asked me what the doctor
said, and I told you.'
Hubert got up and walked aside. He passed his hand across his eyes. He
could hardly contain himself; the emotion that discussion with this sick
girl caused him went to his head. She looked at him curiously, watching his
movement, and he failed to understand what pleasure it could give her to
have him by her side, knowing, as she clearly did, that his heart was
elsewhere. Turning suddenly, he said--
'But tell me, Emily, how are you feeling? You are, after all, the best
'I feel rather weak. I should get strong enough if----'
She paused, as if waiting for Hubert to ask her to finish the sentence. But
he hurriedly turned the conversation.
'The doctor said you looked as if you had not had any sleep for several
nights. I told him that that was strange, for you were taking chloral.'
'I sleep well enough,' she said. 'But sometimes life seems so sad, that I
do not think I shall be able to bear with it any longer. You do not know
how unfortunate I have been. When I was a child, father and mother used to
quarrel always, and I was the only child. That was why Mr. Burnett asked me
to come and live at Ashwood. I came at first on a visit; and when father
and mother died, he said he wished to adopt me. I thought he loved me; but
his love was only selfishness. No one has ever loved me. I feel so utterly
alone in this world--that is why I am unhappy.'
Her eyes filled with tears, and at the sight of her tears Hubert's feelings
were overwrought, and again he had to walk aside. He would give her all
things; but she was dying for him, and he could not save her. No longer was
there any disguisement between them. The words they uttered were as
nothing, so clearly did the thought shine out of their eyes, 'I am dying of
love for you,' and then the answer, 'I know that is so, and I cannot help
it.' Her whole soul was spoken in her eyes, and he felt that his eyes
betrayed him equally plainly. They stood in a sort of mental nakedness. The
woman no longer sought for words to cover herself with; the man did, but he
did not find them. They had not spoken for some time; they had been
thinking of each other. At last she said, and with the querulous perversity
of the sick---
'But even if I wished to go abroad, with whom could I go?'
Hubert fell into the trap, and, noticing the sudden brightness in his eyes,
a cloud of disappointment shadowed hers. 'Of course, with Mrs. Bentley. I
assure you, my dear Emily, that you----'
'No, no, I am not mistaken! She hates me, and I cannot bear her. It is she
who is making me ill.'
'Hate you! Why should she hate you?'
Emily did not reply. Hubert watched her, noticing the pallor of her cheek,
so entirely white and blue, hardly a touch of warm colour anywhere, even in
the shadow of the heavy hair.
'I would give anything to see you friends again.'
'That is impossible! I can never be friends with Julia as I once was. She
has---- No, never can we be friends again. But why do you always take her
part against me? That is what grieves me most. If only you thought----'
'Emily dear, these are but idle fancies. You are mistaken.'
The conversation fell. The girl lay quite still, her hands clasped across
the shawl, her little foot stretched beyond the limp black dress, the hem
of which fell over the edge of the grey sofa. Hubert sat by her on a low
chair, and he looked into the fire, whose light wavered over the walls, now
and again bringing the face of one of the pictures out of the darkness. The
wind whined about the windows. Then, speaking as if out of a dream, Emily
'Julia and I can never be friends again--that is impossible.'
'But what has she done?' Hubert asked incautiously, regretting his words as
soon as he had uttered them.
'What has she done?' she said, looking at him curiously. 'Well, one thing,
she has got it reported that--that I am in love with you, and that that is
the reason of my illness.'
'I am sure she never said any such thing. You are entirely mistaken. Mrs.
Bentley is incapable of such wickedness.'
'A woman, when she is jealous, will say anything. If she did not say it,
can you tell me how it got about?'
'I don't believe any one ever said such a thing.'
'Oh yes, lots have said so--things come back to me. Julia always was
jealous of me. She cannot bear me to speak to you. Have you not noticed how
she follows us? Do you think she would have left the room just now if she
could have helped it?'
'If you think this is so, had she not better leave?'
Emily did not answer at once. Motionless she lay on the sofa, looking at
the grey November day with vague eyes that bespoke an obsession of
hallucination. Suddenly she said, 'I do not want her to go away. She would
spread a report that I was jealous of her, and had asked you to send her
away. No; it would not be wise to send her away. Besides,' she said, fixing
her eyes, now full of melancholy reproach, 'you would like her to remain.'
'I have said before, Emily, and I assure you I am speaking the truth, I
want you to do what you like. Say what you wish to be done, and it shall be
'Is that really true? I thought no one cared for me. You must care for me a
little to speak like that.'
'Of course I care for you, Emily.'
'I sometimes think you might have if it had not been for that play; for, of
course, I'm not clever, and cannot discuss it with you.... Julia, I
suppose, can--that is the reason why you like her. Am I not right?'
'Mrs. Bentley is a clever woman, who has read a great deal, and I like to
talk an act over with her before I write it.'
'Is that all? Then why do people say you are going to marry her?'
'But nobody ever said so.'
'Oh yes, they have. Is it true?'
'No, Emily; it is not true.'
'Are you quite sure?'
'Yes, quite sure.'
'If that is so,' she said, turning her eyes on Hubert, and looking as if
she could see right down into his soul, 'I shall get well very soon. Then
we can go on just the same; but if you married her, I----'
'Nothing! I feel quite happy now. I did not want you to marry her. I could
not bear it. It would be like having a step-mother--worse, for she would
not have me here at all; she would drive me away.'
Hubert shook his head.
'You don't know Julia as well as I do. However, it is no use discussing
what is not going to be. You have been very nice to-day. If you would be
always nice, as you are to-day, I should soon get well.'
Her pale profile seemed very sharp in the fading twilight, and her delicate
arms and thin bosom were full of the charm and fascination of deciduous
things. She turned her face and looked at Hubert. 'You have made me very
happy. I am content.'
He was afraid to look back at her, lest she should, in her subtle, wilful
manner, read the thought that was passing in his soul. Even now she seemed
to read it. She seemed conscious of his pity for her. So little would give
her happiness, and that little was impossible. His heart was irreparably
another's. But though Emily's eyes seemed to know all, they seemed to say,
'What matter? I regret nothing, only let things remain as they are.' And
then her voice said--
'I think I could sleep a little; happiness has brought me sleep. Don't go
away. I shall not be asleep long.' She looked at him, and dozed, and then
fell asleep. Hubert waited till her breathing grew deeper; then he laid the
hand he held in his by her side, and stole on tiptoe from the room.
The strain of the interview had become too intense; the house was
unbearable. He went into the air. The November sky was drawing into wintry
night; the grey clouds darkened, clinging round the long plain,
overshadowing it, blotting out colour, leaving nothing but the severe green
of the park, and the yellow whirling of dishevelled woods.
'I must,' he said to himself, 'think no more about it. I shall go mad if I
do. Nature will find her own solution. God grant that it may be a merciful
one! I can do nothing.' And to escape from useless consideration, to
release his overwrought brain, he hastened his steps, extending his walk
through the farthest woods. As he approached the lodge gate he came upon
Mrs. Bentley. She stood, her back turned from him, leaning on the gate, her
thoughts lost in the long darkness of autumnal fields and woods.
'You have left Emily. How did you leave her?'
'She is fast asleep on the sofa. She fell asleep. Then why should I remain?
The house was unbearable. She went to sleep, saying she felt very happy.'
'Really! What induced such a change in her? Did you----'
'No; I did not ask her to marry me; but I was able to tell her that I was
not going to marry you, and that seemed entirely to satisfy her.'
'Did she ask you?'
'Yes. And when I told her I was not, she said that that was all she wanted
to know--that she would soon get well now. How we human beings thrive in
each other's unhappiness!'
'Quite true, and we have been reproaching ourselves for our selfishness.'
'Yes, and hers is infinitely greater. She is quite satisfied not to be
happy herself, so long as she can make sure of our unhappiness. And what is
so strange is her utter unconsciousness of her own fantastic and hardly
conceivable selfishness.... It is astonishing!'
'She is very young, and the young are naturally egotistic.'
'Possibly. Still, it is hardly more agreeable to encounter. Come, let's go
for a walk; and, above all things, let's talk no more about Emily.'
The roads were greasy, and the hedges were torn and worn with incipient
winter, and when they dipped the town appeared, a reddish-brown mass in the
blue landscape. Hubert thought of his play and his love; but not
separately--they seemed to him now as one indissoluble, indivisible thing;
and he told her that he never would be able to write it without her
assistance. That she might be of use to him in his work was singularly
sweet to hear, and the thought reached to the end of her heart, causing her
to smile sadly, and argue vainly, and him to reply querulously. They walked
for about a mile; and then, wearied with sad expostulation, the
conversation fell, and at the end of a long silence Julia said--
'I think we had better turn back.'
The suggestion filled Hubert's heart with rushing pain, and he answered--
'Why should we return? I cannot go back to that girl. Oh, the miserable
life we are leading!'
'What can we do? We must go back; we cannot live in a tent by the wayside.
We have no tent to set up.'
'Come to London, and be my wife.'
'No,' she said; 'that is impossible. Let us not speak of it.'
Hubert did not answer; and, turning their faces homeward, they walked some
way in silence. Suddenly Hubert said--
'No; it is impossible. I cannot return. There is no use. I'm at the end of
my tether. I cannot.'
She looked at him in alarm.
'Hubert,' she said, 'this is folly! I cannot return without you.'
'You ruin my life; you refuse me the only happiness. I'm more wretched than
I can tell you!'
'And I! Do you think that I'm not wretched?' She raised her face to his;
her eyes were full of tears. He caught her in his arms, and kissed her. The
warm touch of her lips, the scent of her face and hair, banished all but
desire of her.
'You must come with me, Julia. I shall go mad if you don't. I can care for
no one but you. All my life is in you now. You know I cannot love that
girl, and we cannot continue in this wretched life. There is no sense in
it; it is a voluntary, senseless martyrdom!'
'Hubert, do not tempt me to be disloyal to my friend. It is cruel of you,
for you know I love you. But no, nothing shall tempt me. How can I? We do
not know what might happen. The shock might kill her. She might do away
'You must come with me,' said Hubert, now completely lost in his passion.
'Nothing will happen. Girls do not do away with themselves; girls do not
die of broken hearts. Nothing happens in these days. A few more tears will
be shed, and she will soon become reconciled to what cannot be altered. A
year or so after, we will marry her to a nice young man, and she will
settle down a quiet mother of children.'
'Perhaps you are right.'
An empty fly, returning to the town, passed them. The fly-man raised his
'Take you to the railway station in ten minutes!'
Hubert spoke quietly; nevertheless there was a strange nervousness in his
eyes when he said--
'Fate comes to help me; she offers us the means of escape. You will not
Her upraised face was full of doubt and pain, and she was perplexed by the
fly-man's dull eyes, his starved horse, his ramshackle vehicle, the wet
road, the leaden sky. It was one of those moments when the familiar appears
strange and grotesque. Then, gathering all her resolution, she said--
'No, no; it is impossible! Come back, come back.'
He caught her arm: quietly and firmly he led her across the road. 'You must
listen to me.... We are about to take a decisive step. Are you sure
'No, no, Hubert, I cannot; let us return home.'
'I go back to Ashwood! If I did, I should commit suicide.'
'Don't speak like that.... Where will you go?'
'I shall travel.... I shall visit Italy and Greece.... I shall live
'You are not serious?'
'Yes, I am, Julia. That cab may not take both, but it certainly will take
one of us away from Ashwood, and for ever.'
'Take you to Southwater, sir--take you to the station in ten minutes,' said
the fly-man, pulling in his horse. A zig-zag fugitive thought passed: why
did the fly-man speak of taking them to the station? How was it that he
knew where they wanted to go? They stopped and wondered. The poor horse's
bones stood out in strange projections, the round-shouldered little fly-man
sat grinning on his box, showing three long yellow fangs. The vehicle, the
horse, and the man, his arm raised in questioning gesture, appeared in
strange silhouette upon the grey clouds, assuming portentous aspect in
their tremulous and excited imaginations. 'Take you to Southwater in ten
minutes!' The voice of the fly-man sounded hard, grating, and derisive in
He had stopped in the middle of the road, and they walked slowly past,
through a great puddle, which drenched their feet.
'Get in, Julia. Shall I open the door?'
'No, no; think of Emily. I cannot, Hubert,--I cannot; it would kill her.'
The conversation paused, and in a long silence they wondered if the fly-man
had heard. Then they walked several yards listening to the tramp of the
hoofs, and then they heard the fly-man strike his horse with the whip. The
animal shuffled into a sort of trot, and as the carriage passed them the
fly-man again raised his arm and again repeated the same phrase, 'Drive you
to the station in ten minutes!' The carriage was her temptation, and Julia
hoped the man would linger no longer. For the promise she had given to
Emily lay like a red-hot coal upon her heart; its fumes rose to her head,
and there were times when she thought they would choke her, and she grew so
sick with the pain of self-denial that she could have thrown herself down
in the wet grass on the roadside, and laid her face on the cold earth for
relief. Would nothing happen? What madness! Night was coming on, and still
they followed the road to Southwater. Rain fell in heavy drops.
'We shall get wet,' she murmured, as if she were answering the fly-man, who
had said again, 'Drive you to the station in ten minutes!' She hated the
man for his persistency.
'Say you will come with me!' Hubert whispered; and all the while the rain
came down heavier.
'No, no, Hubert.... I cannot; I promised Emily that I never would. I am
'Then we must say good-bye. I will not go back.'
'You don't mean it. You don't really intend me to go back to Emily and tell
her?... She will not believe me; she will think I have sent you away to
gain my own end. Hubert, you mustn't leave me ... and in all this wet. See
how it rains! I shall never be able to get home alone.'
'I will drive you on as far as the lodge-gate; farther than the lodge I
will not go. Nothing in the world shall tempt me to pass it.'
At a sign from Hubert the little fly-man scrambled down from his box. He
was a little old man, almost hunchbacked, with small mud-coloured eyes and
a fringe of white beard about his sallow, discoloured face. He was dressed
in a pale yellow jacket and waistcoat, and they both noticed that his
crooked little legs were covered with a pair of pepper-and-salt trousers.
They felt sure he must have overheard a large part of their conversation,
for as he opened the carriage door he grinned, showing his three yellow
fangs.... His appearance was not encouraging. Julia wished he were
different, and then she looked at Hubert. She longed to throw herself into
his arms and weep. But at that moment the heavens seemed to open, and the
rain came down like a torrent, thick and fast, splashing all along the road
in a million splashes.
'Horrible weather, sir; shan't be long a-takin' you to Southwater. What
part of the town be yer going to--the railway station?'
Julia still hesitated. The rain beat on their faces, and when some chilling
drops rolled down her neck she instinctively sought shelter in the
'Drive me to the station as fast as you can. Catch the half-past five to
London, and I'll give you five shillings.'
The leather thong sounded on the starved animal's hide, the crazy vehicle
rocked from side to side, and the wet country almost disappeared in the
darkness. Hedges and fields swept past them in faintest outline, here and
there a blurred mass, which they recognised as a farm building. His arm was
about her, and she heard him murmur over and over again--
'Dearest Julia, you are what I love best in the world.'
The words thrilled her a little, but all the while she saw Emily's eyes and
heard her voice.
Hubert, however, was full of happiness--the sweet happiness of the quiet,
docile creature that has at last obtained what it loves.
Emily awoke shivering; the fire had gone out, the room was in darkness, and
the house seemed strange and lonely. She rang the bell, and asked the
servant if he had seen Mr. Price. Mr. Price had gone out late in the
afternoon, and had not come in. Where was Mrs. Bentley? Mrs. Bentley had
gone out earlier in the afternoon, and had not come in.
She suspected the truth at once. They had gone to London to be married. The
servant lighted a candle, made up the fire, and asked if she would wait
dinner. Emily made no answer, but sat still, her eyes fixed, looking into
space. The man lingered at the door. At that moment her little dog bounded
into the room, and, in a paroxysm of delight, jumped on his mistress's lap.
She took him in her arms and kissed him, and this somewhat reassured the
alarmed servant, who then thought it was no more than one of Miss Emily's
queer ways. Dandy licked his mistress's face, and rubbed his rough head
against her shoulder. He seemed more than usually affectionate that
evening. Suddenly she caught him up in her arms, and kissed him
passionately. 'Not even for your sake, dearest Dandy, can I bear with it
any longer! We are all very selfish, and it is selfish of me to leave you,
but I cannot help it.' Then a doubt crossed her mind, and she raised her
head and listened to it. It seemed difficult to believe that he had told
her a falsehood--cruel, wicked falsehood--he who had been so kind. And
yet---- Ah! yes, she knew well enough that it was all true; something told
her so. The lancinating pain of doubt passed away, and she remained
thinking of the impossibility of bearing any longer with the life.
An hour passed, and the servant came with the news that Mr. Price and Mrs.
Bentley had gone to London; they had taken the half-past five train. 'Yes,'
she said, 'I know they have.' Her voice was calm. There was a strange
hollow ring in it, and the servant wondered. A few minutes after, dinner
was announced; and to escape observation and comment she went into the
dining-room, tasted the soup, and took a slice of mutton on her plate. She
could not eat it. She gave it to Dandy. It was the last time she should
feed him. How hungry he was! She hoped he would not care to eat it; he
would not if he knew she was going to leave him.
In the drawing-room he insisted on being nursed; and alone, amid the faded
furniture, watched over by the old portraits, her pale face fixed and her
pale hands clasping her beloved dog, she sat thinking, brooding over the
unhappiness, the incurable unhappiness, of her little life. She was
absorbed in self, and did not rail against Hubert, or even Julia. Their
personalities had somehow dropped out of her mind, and merely represented
forces against which she found herself unable any longer to contend. Nor
was she surprised at what had happened. There had always been in her some
prescience of her fate. She and unhappiness had always seemed so
inseparable, that she had never found it difficult to believe that this
last misfortune would befall her. She had thought it over, and had decided
that it would be unendurable to live any longer, and had borne many a
terrible insomnia so that she might collect sufficient chloral to take her
out of her misery; and now, as she sat thinking, she remembered that she
had never, never been happy. Oh! the miserable evenings she used to spend,
when a child, between her father and mother, who could not agree--why, she
never understood. But she used to have to listen to her mother addressing
insulting speeches to her father in a calm, even voice that nothing could
alter; and, though both were dead and years divided her from that time, the
memory survived, and she could see it all again--that room, the very paper
on the wall, and her father being gradually worked up into a frenzy.
When she was left an orphan, Mr. Burnett had adopted her, and she
remembered the joy of coming to Ashwood. She had thought to find happiness
there; but there, as at home, fate had gone against her, and she was hardly
eighteen when Mr. Burnett had asked her to marry him. She had loved that
old man, but he had not loved her; for when she had refused to marry him he
had broken all his promises and left her penniless, careless of what might
become of her. Then she had given her whole heart to Julia, and Julia, too,
had deceived her. And had she not loved Hubert?--no one would ever know how
much; she did not know herself,--and had he not lied to her? Oh, it was
very cruel to deceive a poor little girl in this heartless way! There was
no heart in the world, that was it--and she was all heart; and her heart
had been trampled on ever since she could remember. And when they came back
they would revenge themselves upon her--insult her with their happiness;
perhaps insist on sending her away.
Dandy drowsed on her lap. The servant brought in the tea, and when he
returned to the kitchen he said he had never seen any one look so
ghost-like as Miss Emily. The clock ticked loudly in the silence of the old
room, the hands moving slowly towards ten. She waited for the hour to
strike; it was then that she usually went to bed. Her thoughts moved as in
a nightmare; and paramount in this chaotic mass of sensation was an acute
sense of the deception that had been practised on her; with the
consciousness, now firm and unalterable, that it had become impossible for
her to live. When the clock struck she got up from her chair, and the
movement seemed to react on her brain; her thoughts unclouded, and she went
up-stairs thinking clearly of her love of this old house. The old gentleman
in the red coat, his hand on his sword, looked on her benignly; and the
lady playing the spinet smiled as sweetly as was her wont. Emily held up
the candle to the picture of the windmill. She had always loved that
picture, and the sad thought came that she should never see it again.
Dandy, who had galloped up-stairs, stood looking through the banisters,
wagging his tail.
The moment she got into her room she wrote the following note: 'I have
taken an overdose of chloral. My life was too miserable to be borne any
longer. I forgive those who have caused my unhappiness, and I hope they
will forgive me any unhappiness I have caused them.' They were nothing to
her now; they were beyond her hate, and the only pang she felt was parting
with her beloved Dandy. There he stood looking at her, standing on the edge
of the bed, waiting for her to cover him up and put him to sleep in his own
corner. 'Yes, Dandy, in a moment, dear--have patience.' She looked round
the little room, and, remembering all that she had suffered there, thought
that the walls must be saturated with grief, like a sponge.
It was a common thing at that time for her to stand before the glass and
address such words as these to herself: 'My poor girl, how I pity you, how
I pity you!' And now, looking at herself very sadly, she said, 'My poor
girl, I shall never pity you any more!' Having hung up her dress, she
fetched a chair and took various doses of chloral out of the hollow top of
her wardrobe, where she had hidden things all her life--sweets, novels,
fireworks. They more than half-filled the tumbler; and, looking at the
sticky, white liquid, she thought with repugnance of drinking so much of
it. But, wanting to make quite sure of death, she resolved to take it all,
and she undressed quickly. She was very cold when she got into bed. Then a
thought struck her, and she got out of bed to add a postscript to her
letter. 'I have only one request to make. I hope Dandy will always be taken
care of.' Surprised that she had not wrapped him up and told him he was to
go to sleep, the dog stood on the edge of the bed, watching her so
earnestly that she wondered if he knew what she was going to do. 'No, you
don't know, dear--do you? If you did, you wouldn't let me do it; you'd bark
the house down, I know you would, my own darling.' Clasping him to her
breast, she smothered him with kisses, then put him away in his corner,
covering him over for the night.
She felt neither grief nor fear. Through much suffering, thought and
sensation were, to a great extent, dead in her; and, in a sort of emotive
numbness, she laid her candlestick in its usual place on the chair by her
bedside; and, sitting up in bed, her night-dress carefully buttoned,
holding the tumbler half-filled with chloral, she tried to take a
dispassionate survey of her life. She thought of what she had endured, and
what she would have to endure if she did not take it. Then she felt she
must go, and without hesitation drank off the chloral. She placed the
tumbler by the candlestick, and lay down, remembering vaguely that a long
time ago she had decided that suicide was not wrong in itself. The last
thing she remembered was the clock striking eleven.
For half an hour she slept like stone. Then her eyes opened, and they told
of sickness now in motion within her. And, strangely enough, through the
overpowering nausea rising from her stomach to her brain, the thought that
she was not going to die appeared perfectly clear, and with it a sense of
disappointment; she would have to begin it all over again. It was with
great difficulty that she struck a match and lighted a candle. It seemed
impossible to get up. At last she managed to slip her legs out of bed, and
found she could stand, and through the various assaults of retching she
thought of the letter: it must be destroyed; and, leaning in the corner
against the wall and the wardrobe, she tried to recover herself. A dull,
deep sleep was pressing on her brain, and she thought she would never be
able to cross the room to where the letter was. Dandy looked out of his
rug; she caught sight of his bright eyes.
On cold and shaky feet she attempted to make her way towards the letter;
but the room heaved up at her, and, fearing she should fall, and knowing if
she did that she would not be able to regain her feet, she clung to the
toilette-table. She must destroy that letter: if it were found, they would
watch her; and, however impossible her life might become, she would not be
able to escape from it. This consideration gave her strength for a final
effort. She tore the letter into very small pieces, and then, clinging to a
chair, strove to grasp the rail of the bed; but the bed rolled worse than
any ship. Making a supreme effort, she got in; and then, neither dreams nor
waking thoughts, but oblivion complete. Hours and hours passed, and when
she opened her eyes her maid stood over the bed, looking at her.
'Oh, miss, you looked so tired and ill that I didn't wake you. You do seem
poorly, miss. It is nearly two o'clock. Should you like to sleep a little
longer, or shall I bring you up some breakfast?'
'No, no, no, thank you. I couldn't touch anything. I'm feeling wretched;
but I'll get up.'
The maid tried to dissuade her; but Emily got out of bed, and allowed
herself to be dressed. She was very weak--so weak that she could hardly
stand up at the washstand; and the maid had to sponge her face and neck.
But when she had drunk a cup of tea and eaten a little piece of toast, she
said she felt better, and was able to walk into the drawing-room. She
thought no more of death, nor of her troubles; thought drowned in her; and
in a passive, torpid state she sat looking into the fire till dinner-time,
hardly caring to bestow a casual caress on Dandy, who seemed conscious of
his mistress's neglect, for, in his sly, coaxing way, he sometimes came and
rubbed himself against her feet. She went into the dining-room, and the
servant was glad to see that she finished her soup, and, though she hardly
tasted it, she finished a wing of a chicken, and also the glass of wine
which the man pressed upon her. Half an hour after, when he brought out the
tea, he found her sitting on her habitual chair nursing her dog, and
staring into the fire so drearily that her look frightened him, and he
hesitated before he gave her the letter which had just come up from the
town; but it was marked 'Immediate.'
When he left the room she opened it. It was from Mrs. Bentley:--
'Dearest Emily,--I know that Hubert told you that he was not going to marry
me. He thought he was not, for I had refused to marry him; but a short time
after we met in the park quite accidentally, and--well, fate took the
matter out of our hands, and we are to be married to-morrow. Hubert insists
on going to Italy, and I believe we shall remain there two months. We have
made arrangements for your aunt to live with you until we come back; and
when we do come back, I hope all the little unpleasantnesses which have
marred our friendship for this last month or two will be forgotten. So far
as I am concerned, nothing shall be left undone to make you happy. Your
will shall be law at Ashwood so long as I am there. If you would like to
join us in Italy, you have only to say the word. We shall be delighted to
Emily could read no more. 'Join them in Italy!' She dashed the letter into
the fire, and an intense hatred of them both pierced her heart and brain.
It was the kiss of Judas. Oh, those hateful, lying words! To live here with
her aunt until they came back, to wait here quietly until she returned in
triumph with him--him who had been all the world to her. Oh no; that was
not possible. Death, death--escape she must. But how? She had no more
chloral. Suddenly she thought of the lake. 'Yes, yes; the lake, the lake!'
And then a keen, swift, passionate longing for death, such as she had not
felt at all the night before, came upon her. There was the knowledge too
that by killing herself she would revenge herself on those who had killed
her. She was just conscious that her suicide would have this effect, but
hardly a trace of such intention appeared in the letter she wrote; it was
as melancholy and as brief as the letter she had torn up, and ended, like
it, with a request that Dandy should be well looked after. She had only
just directed the envelope when she heard the servant coming to take away
the tea-things. She concealed the letter; and when his steps died away in
the corridor and the house-door closed, she knew she could slip out
unobserved. Instinctively she thought of her hat and jacket, and, without a
shudder, remembered she would not need them. She sped down the pathway
through the shadow of the firs.
It was one of those warm nights of winter when a sulphur-coloured sky hangs
like a blanket behind the wet, dishevelled woods; and, though there was
neither moon nor star, the night was strangely clear, and the shadow of the
bridge was distinct in the water. When she approached the brink the swans
moved slowly away. They reminded her of the cold; but the black obsession
of death was upon her; and, hastening her steps, she threw herself forward.
She fell into shallow water and regained her feet, and for a moment it
seemed uncertain if she would wade to the bank or fling herself into a
deeper place. Suddenly she sank, the water rising to her shoulders. She was
lifted off her feet. A faint struggle, a faint cry, and then
nothing--nothing but the whiteness of the swans moving through the sultry
night slowly towards the island.
Its rich, inanimate air proclaimed the room to be an expensive bedroom in a
first-class London hotel. Interest in the newly-married couple, who were to
occupy the room, prompted the servants to see that nothing was forgotten;
and as they lingered steps were heard in the passage, and Hubert and Julia
entered. The maid-servants stood aside to let them pass, and one inquired
if madame wanted anything, so that her eyes might be gratified with a last
inquisition of the happy pair.
'How wonderful! oh, how wonderful! I don't think I ever saw any one act
before like that--did you?'
'She certainly had three or four moments that could not be surpassed. Her
entrance in the sleep-walking scene--what vague horror! what pale
presentiment! how she filled the stage! nothing seemed to exist but she.'
'And Ford; what did you think of Ford's Macbeth?'
'Very good. Everything he does is good. Talent; but the other has genius.'
'I shall never forget this evening. What an awful tragedy!'
'Perhaps I should have taken you to see something more cheerful; but I
wanted to see Miss Massey play Lady Macbeth. But let us talk of something
else. Splendid fire--is it not?'
Hubert threw off his overcoat, the movement attracted Julia's attention,
and it startled her to see how old he seemed to have grown. She noticed as
she had not noticed before the grey in his beard and the pathetic weary
look that haunted his eyes. And she understood in that instant that the
look his face wore was the look of those who have failed in their vocation.
And at that very moment he was wondering if he really loved her, if his
marriage were a mistake. The passion he had felt when walking with her on
the wet country road he felt no longer, only an undefinable sadness and a
weariness which he could not understand. He looked at his wife, and fearing
that she divined his thoughts, he kissed her. She returned his kiss coldly
and he wondered if she loved him. He thought that it was improbable that
she did. Why should she love him? He had never loved any one. He had never
inspired love in any one, except perhaps Emily.
'I wonder if you really wished to be married,' she said.
'I always wished to be married,' he replied. 'I hated the Bohemianism I was
forced to live in. I longed for a home, for a wife.'
'You were very poor once?'
'Yes: I've lived on tenpence and a shilling a day. I've worked in the docks
as a labourer. I went down there hoping to get a clerkship on board one of
the Transatlantic steamers. I had had enough of England, and thought of
seeking fortune elsewhere.'
'I can hardly believe you worked as a labourer in the docks.'
'Yes; I did. I saw some men going to work, and I joined them. I don't think
I thought much about it at the time. A very little misery rubs all the
psychology out of us, and we return more easily than one thinks to the
'At the end of a week the work began to tell upon me, and I drifted back in
search of my manuscript.'
'But you must have been in a dreadful condition; your clothes----'
'Ah! thereby hangs a tale. An actress lived in one of the houses I had been
'Oh, tell me about her! This is getting very interesting.'
Then passing his arm round his wife's neck, and with her sweet blonde face
looking upon him, and the insinuating warmth of the fire about them, he
told her the story of his failure.
'But,' she said, her voice trembling, 'you would not have committed
'No man knows beforehand whether he will commit suicide. I can only say
that every other issue was closed.'
At the end of a long silence Julia said, 'I wish you hadn't spoken about
suicide. I cannot but think of Emily. If she were to make away with
herself! The very possibility turns my heart to ice. What should I do--what
should we do? I ought never to have given way; we were both abominably
selfish. I can see that poor girl sitting alone in that house grieving her
'You think that we ought never to have given way!'
'I suppose we ought not. I tried very hard, you know I did.... But do you
regret?' she said, looking at him suddenly.
'No; I don't regret, but I wish it had happened otherwise.'
'You don't fear anything. Nothing will happen. What can happen?'
'The most terrible things often happen--have happened.'
'Emily may have been fond of me--I think she was; but it was no more than
the hysterical caprice of a young girl. Besides, people do not die for
love; and I assure you it will be all right. This is not a time for gloomy
'I'll try not to think of her. Well, what were we talking about? I know:
about the actress who lived in 17 Fitzroy Street. Tell me about her.'
'She was a real good girl. If she hadn't lent me that five shillings, I
don't know where I should be now.'
'Were you very fond of her?'
'No; there never was anything of that sort between us. We were merely
'And what has become of this actress?'
'You saw her to-night?'
'Was she acting in the piece we saw to-night?'
'It was she who played Lady Macbeth.'
'You are joking.'
'No, I'm not. I always knew she had genius, and they have found it out; but
I must say they have taken their time about it.'
'How wonderful! she has succeeded!'
'Yes, _she_ has succeeded!'
'And she is really the girl you intended to play Lady Hayward?'
'Yes; and I hope she will play the part one of these days.'
'Of course, she is just the woman for it. What a splendid success she has
had! All London is talking about her.'
'And I remember when Ford refused to cast her for the adventuress in
_Divorce_. If he had, there is no doubt she would have carried the piece
through. Life is but a bundle of chances; she has succeeded, whatever that
'But you will let her have the part of Lady Hayward?'
'Yes, of course--that is to say, if----'
'My thoughts are with you, dear; literature seems to have passed out of
'But you must not sacrifice your talent in worship of me. I shall not allow
you. For my sake, if not for hers, you must finish that play. I want you to
be famous. I should be for ever miserable if my love proved a upas-tree.'
'A upas-tree! It will be you who will help me; it will be your presence
that will help me to write my play. I was always vaguely conscious that you
were a necessary element in my life; but I did not wake up to any knowledge
of it until that day--do you remember?--when you came into my study to ask
me what fish I'd like for dinner, and I begged of you to allow me to read
to you that second act. It is that second act that stops me.'
'I thought you had written the second act to your satisfaction. You said
that after the talk we had that afternoon you wrote for three hours without
stopping, and that you had never done better work.'
'Yes, I wrote a great deal; but on reading it over I found that--I don't
mean to say that none of it will stand; some still seems to me to be all
right, but a great deal will require alteration.'
The conversation fell. At the end of a long silence Hubert said--
'What are you thinking of, dearest?'
'I was thinking that supposing you were mistaken--if I failed to help you
in your work.'
'And I never succeeded in writing my play?'
'No; I don't mean that. Of course you will write your play; all you have to
do is to be less critical.'
'Yes, I know--I have heard that before; but, unfortunately, we cannot
change ourselves. I'll either carry my play through completely, realise my
'Remain for ever unsatisfied?'
'Whether I write it or no, I shall be happy in your love.'
'Yes, yes; let us be happy.'
They looked at each other. He did not speak, but his thought said--
'There is no happiness on earth for him who has not accomplished his task.'
'Shall we be happy? I wonder. We have both suffered,' she said, 'we are
both tired of suffering, and it is only right that we should be happy.'
'Yes, we shall be happy, I will be happy. It shall be my pleasure to attend
to you, to give you all your desire. But you said just now that you had
suffered. I have told you my past. Tell me yours. I know nothing except
that you were unhappily married.'
'There is little else to know; a woman's life is not adventurous, like a
man's. I have not known the excitement of "first nights," nor the striving
and the craving for an artistic ideal. My life has been essentially a
woman's life,--suppression of self and monotonous duty, varied by
heart-breaking misfortune. I married when I was very young; before I had
even begun to think about life I found---- But why distress these hours
with painful memories?'
'It is pleasant to look back on the troubles we have passed through.'
'Well, I learnt in one year the meaning of three terrible words--poverty,
neglect, and cruelty. In the second year of my marriage my husband died of
drink, and I was left a widow at twenty, entirely penniless. I went to live
with my sister, and she was so poor that I had to support myself by giving
music-lessons. You think you know the meaning of poverty: you may; but you
do not know what a young woman who wants to earn her bread honestly has to
put up with, trudging through wet and cold, mile after mile, to give a
lesson, paid for at the rate of one-and-sixpence or two shillings an hour.'
Julia took her eyes from her husband's face, and looked dreamily into the
fire. Then, raising her face from the flame, she looked around with the air
of one seeking for some topic of conversation. At that moment she caught
sight of the corner of a letter lying on the mantelpiece. Reaching forth
her hand, she took it. It was addressed to her husband.
'Here is a letter for you, Hubert.... Why, it comes from Ashwood. Yes, and
it is in the hand-writing of one of the servants. Oh, it is Black's
writing! It may be about Emily. Something may have happened to her. Open it
'That is not probable. Nothing can have happened to her.'
'Look and see. Be quick!'
Hubert opened the letter, and he had not read three lines when Julia's face
caught expression from his, which had become overcast.
'It is bad news, I know. Something has happened. What is it? Don't keep me
waiting. The suspense is worse than the truth.'
'It is very awful, Julia. Don't give way.'
'Tell me what it is. Is she dead?
'Yes; she is dead.' Julia got up from her husband's knees and stood by the
mantelpiece, leaning upon it. 'It is more than mere death.'
'What do you mean? She killed herself--is that it?'
'Yes; she drowned herself the night before last in the lake.'
'Oh, it is too horrible! Then we have murdered her. Our unpardonable
selfishness! I cannot bear it!' Her eyes closed and her lips trembled.
Hubert caught her in his arms, laid her on the chair, and, fetching some
water in a tumbler, sprinkled her face; then he held it to her lips; she
drank a little, and revived. 'I'm not going to faint. Tell me--tell me when
the unfortunate child----'
'They don't know exactly. She was in the drawing-room at tea-time, and the
drawing-room was empty when Black went round three-quarters of an hour
after to lock up. He thought she had gone to her room. It was the gardener
who brought in the news in the morning about nine.'
'Oh, good God!'
'Black says he noticed that she looked very depressed the day before, but
he thought she was looking better when he brought in the tea.'
'It was then she got my letter. Does Black say anything about giving her a
'Yes, that is to say----'
'I knew it! I knew it!' said Julia; and her eyes were wild with grief, and
she rocked herself to and fro. 'It was that letter that drove her to it. It
was most ill-advised. I told you so. You should have written. She would
have borne the news better had it come from you. My instinct told me so,
but I let myself be persuaded. I told you how it would happen. I told you.
You can't say I didn't. Oh! why did you persuade me--why--why--why?'
'Julia dear, we are not responsible. We were in nowise bound to sacrifice
our happiness to her----'
'Don't say a word! I say we were bound. Life can never be the same to me
Hubert did not answer. Nothing he could say would be of the slightest
avail, and he feared to say anything that might draw from her expressions
which she would afterwards regret. He had never seen her moved like this,
nor did he believe her capable of such agitation, and the contrast of her
present with her usual demeanour made it the more impressive.
'Oh,' she said, leaning forward and looking at him fixedly, 'take this
nightmare off my brain, or I shall go mad! It isn't true; it cannot be
true. But--oh! yes, it's true enough.'
'Like you, Julia, I am overwhelmed; but we can do nothing.'
'Do nothing!' she cried; 'do nothing! We can do nothing but pray for
her--we who sacrificed her.' And she slipped on her knees and burst into a
passionate fit of weeping.
'The best thing that could have happened,' thought Hubert; and his thought
said, clearly and precisely, 'Yes; it is awful, shocking, cruel beyond
The fire was sinking, and he built it up quietly, ashamed of this proof of
his regard for physical comfort, and hoping it would pass unnoticed. His
pain expressed itself less vehemently than Julia's; but for all that his
mind ached. He remembered how he had taken everything from her--fortune,
happiness, and now life itself. It was an appalling tragedy--one of those
senseless cruelties which we find nature constantly inventing. A thought
revealed an unexpected analogy between him and his victim. In both lives
there had been a supreme desire, and both had failed. 'Hers was the better
part,' he said bitterly. 'Those whose souls are burdened with desire that
may not be gratified had better fling the load aside. They are fools who
carry it on to the end.... If it were not for Julia----'
Then he sought to determine what were his exact feelings. He knew he was
infinitely sorry for poor Emily; but he could not stir himself into a
paroxysm of grief, and, ashamed of his inability to express his feelings,
he looked at Julia, who still wept.
'No doubt,' he thought, 'women have keener feelings than we have.'