A Life's Morning
Part 4 out of 8
hatter. 'If you can't, I must go elsewhere; I have nothing smaller.'
The salesman hesitated.
'You want a silk hat?'
'Yes, but not an expensive one.'
A pen was brought, and Hood was requested to endorse the note. What
security--under the circumstances--such a proceeding could give, the
hatter best knew; he appeared satisfied, and counted out his sovereigns.
Hood paid the cabman, and walked off briskly towards the office of Legge
He stopped in the middle of the pavement as if a shot had struck him.
Supposing Dagworthy had no recollection of a ten-pound note having been
lost, nor of any note having been lost; and supposing it occurred to him
that he, Hood, had in reality found a larger sum, had invented the story
of the lost hat, and was returning a portion only of his discovery, to
gain the credit of honesty? Such an idea could only possess the brain of
a man whose life had been a struggle amid the chicaneries and
despicabilities of commerce; who knew that a man's word was never
trusted where there could enter the slightest suspicion of an advantage
to himself in lying; whose daily terror had been lest some error, some
luckless chance, should put him within the nets of criminality. It is
the deepest curse of such a life as his that it directs the imagination
in channels of meanness, and preoccupies the thought with sordid fears.
What would it avail him, in the present instance, to call the shopman to
witness? The note, ten to one, would be paid away, and here also a man's
word was worth nothing. But Dagworthy might merely think such an
accusation: ay, that would be the worst. To lie henceforth under
suspicion of dishonesty: that meant, to lose his place before long, on
And he felt that, in spite of absolute sincerity, he could not stand
before Dagworthy and tell his tale with the face and voice of an honest
man,--felt it with a horrible certainty. In a man of Hood's character,
this state of mind was perfectly natural. Not only was he weakly
constructed, but his incessant ill-fortune had done him that last wrong
which social hardship can inflict upon the individual, it, had
undermined his self-respect. Having been so often treated like a dog, he
had come to expect such treatment, and, what was worse, but feebly to
resent it. He had lost the conscious dignity of manhood; nay, had
perhaps never possessed it, for his battle had begun at so early an age.
The sense that he was wretchedly poor, and the knowledge that poverty is
the mother of degradation, made him at any moment a self-convicted
criminal; accused, however wrongly, it was inevitable that his face
should be against him. To go to Dagworthy with sovereigns in his hand,
and this story upon his lips, would be to invite suspicion by every
strongest sign of guilt.
I am representing the poor fellow's thoughts and feelings. Whether or
not Dagworthy would really entertain such a suspicion is quite another
matter. For the first time in his life, Hood had used for his own
purposes money which did not belong to him; he did it under the pressure
of circumstances, and had not time to reflect till the act was
irrevocable. Then this horror came upon him. Forgetting his errand, he
drew aside into a quieter street, and struggled with his anguish. Do you
laugh at him for his imbecility? Try first to understand him.
But his business must be performed; with trembling limbs he hurried
onwards, and at length reached the office of Legge Brothers. The member
of the firm to whom the note which he bore was addressed had but a few
minutes ago left the place; he would return within an hour. How could
the time be spent? He began to wander aimlessly about the streets. In
passing a spot where scaffolding was erected before new buildings, the
wish entered his mind that something might fall and crush him. He
thought of such an end as a blessed relief.
A hand was laid upon his shoulder, and at the touch his heart leaped as
though it would burst his side. He turned and, with starting eyes,
glared at the man before him, a perfect stranger, he thought.
'Is it? Or isn't it? Hood, or his ghost?'
The man who spoke was of the shabbiest appearance, wearing an almost
napless high hat, a coloured linen shirt which should have been at the
laundress's, no neck-tie, a frock-coat with only one button, low shoes
terribly down at heel; for all that, the most jovial-looking man,
red-nosed, laughing. At length Hood was capable of recognising him.
'Cheeseman! Well, who on earth would have expected to meet you!'
'I've followed you half along the street; couldn't be sure. Afraid I
startled you at last, old friend.'
They had known each other as young men, and it was now ten years at
least since they had met. They were companions in ill-hap, the
difference between them being that Cheeseman bore the buffets of the
world with imperturbable good humour; but then he had neither wife nor
child, kith nor kin. He had tried his luck in all parts of England and
in several other countries; casual wards had known him, and he had
gained a supper by fiddling in the streets. Many a beginning had he
made, but none led to anything; he seemed, in truth, to enjoy a
haphazard existence. If Cheeseman had possessed literary skill, the
story of his life from his own hand would have been invaluable; it is a
misfortune that the men who are richest in 'material' are those who
would never dream of using it.
They were passing a public-house; Cheeseman caught his friend by the arm
and, in spite of resistance, drew him in.
'Two threes of gin hot,' was his order. 'The old drink, Hood, my boy;
the drink that has saved me from despair a thousand times. How many
times have you and I kept up each other's pecker over a three of gin!
You don't look well; you've wanted old Cheeseman to cheer you up. Things
bad? Why, damn it, of course things are bad; when were they anything
else with you and me, eh? Your wife, how is she? Remember me to her,
will you? She never took to me, but never mind that. And the little
girl? How's the little girl? Alive and well, please God?'
'Rather more than a little girl now,' returned Hood. 'And doing well,
I'm glad to say. She's a governess; has an excellent place in London.'
'You don't say so? I never was so glad to hear anything in my life! Ah,
but Hood, you're leaving me behind, old friend; with the little girl
doing so well you can't call yourself a poor devil; you can't, upon my
soul! I ought to have married; yes, I should ha' married long ago; it
'ud a' been the making of me. It's the sole speculation, I do believe,
that I haven't tried. Ah, but I've got something before me now! What say
you to a patent fire-escape that any man can carry round his waist? Upon
my soul, I've got it! I'm going to London about it as soon as I can get
my fare; and that I shall have to-morrow, please God.'
'What brings you to Hebsworth?'
'I don't care much to talk about it in a public place,' replied
Cheeseman, with caution which contrasted comically with his loud tone
hitherto. 'Only a little matter, but--Well, we'll say nothing about it;
I may communicate with you some day. And you? Do you live here?'
Hood gave an account of his position. Under the influence of the glass
of spirits, and of the real pleasure it gave him to see one of the very
few men he had ever called friend, he had cast aside his cares for the
moment. They went forth presently from the bar, and, after a few paces,
Cheeseman took his friend by the coat collar and drew him aside, as if
to impart a matter of consequence.
'Two threes of gin!' he said, with a roll of the eye which gave his face
a singularly humorous expression. 'That's sixpence. A tanner, Hood, was
the last coin I possessed. It was to have purchased dinner, a beefsteak
pudding, with cabbage and potatoes; but what o' that? When you and I
meet, we drink to old times; there's no getting out of that.'
Hood laughed, for once in a really natural way. His usual abstemiousness
made the gin potent.
'Why,' he said, 'I confess to feeling hungry myself; I've only had a
sandwich. Come along; we'll have dinner together.'
'You mean it, old friend?' cried the other, with irrepressible delight.
'Of course I mean it. You don't think I'll let you spend your last coin,
and send you off dinnerless? Things are bad, but not quite as bad as
that. I'm as hungry as a hunter; where is there an eating-house?'
They found one at a little distance.
'It must be beefsteak pudding, Hood,' whispered Cheeseman, as they
entered. 'I've set my heart on that. Whatever else you like, but a
beefsteak pudding to start with.'
The article was procurable, smoking, juicy. Cheeseman made an incision,
then laid down his knife and gloated over his plate.
'Hood,' he said, with much solemnity, 'you've done me many a kindness,
old friend, but this caps all. I'm bound to you for life and death. I
should have wandered about these streets a starving man.'
The other laughed still; he had a fit of laughter on him; he had not
laughed so since he was young.
'Stout-and-mild is my drink, Hood,' remarked Cheeseman, suggestively.
'It has body, and I need the support.'
They each had a pint, served in the native pewter. When Cheeseman had
taken a deep draught he leaned forward across the table.
'Hood, I don't forget it; never you believe that I forget it, however
appearances may be against me?'
'Forget what?--give me the mustard, as soon as you can spare it; ha,
'That ten-pound note!'
Hood dropped his knife and fork.
'What on earth's up? You look just like you did when I clapped you o'
the shoulder. Your nerves are out of order, old friend.'
'Why, so they are. I know now what you mean; I couldn't for the life of
me think what you were talking about.'
'Don't think I forget it,' pursued the other, after a mouthful.
'It's twelve years last Easter since you lent me that ten-pound note,
and it's been on my conscience ever since. But I shall repay it; never
you fear but I'll repay it. Did I mention a fire-escape that any man can
wear round his waist? Hush! wait a month or two. Let me make a note of
your address whilst I think of it. This pudding's hot, but it's a fault
on the right side, and time 'll mend it. You wouldn't mind, I daresay,
being my agent for Dunfield--for the fire-escape, you know? I'll
communicate with you, don't fear.'
A hot meal in the middle of the day was a luxury long unknown to Hood.
Now and again the thought of what he was doing flashed across him, but
mere bodily solace made his conscience dull. As the meal proceeded he
even began to justify himself. Was he never to know an hour's enjoyment?
Was his life to be unbroken hardship? What if he had borrowed a few
shillings without leave; somehow difficulties would be got over; why, at
the very worst, Emily would gladly lend him a pound. He began to talk of
Emily, to praise her, to wax warm in the recounting of her goodness, her
affection. What man living had so clever and so loving a daughter!
'It's what I said, Hood,' put in Cheeseman, with a shake of the head.
'You've left me behind. You've got into smooth water. The old
partnership of ill-luck is broken up. Well, well! I ought to have
married. It's been my one mistake in life.'
'Why, it's none too late yet,' cried Hood, merrily.
'None too late! Powers defend us! What have I got to marry on?'
'But the fire-escape?'
'Yes, yes, to be sure; the fire-escape! Well, we'll see; wait till
things are set going. Perhaps you're right; perhaps it isn't too late.
'You couldn't manage one single half-crown piece, could you? To be sure
there's always an archway to be found, when night comes on, but I can't
pretend to like it. I always try to manage a bed at least once a
week--no, no, not if there's the least difficulty. Times are hard, I
know. I'd rather say not another word about it.'
'Nonsense; take the half-crown and have done with it, Why, you've
cheered me up many a half-crownsworth; I feel better than I did. Don't I
look it? I feel as if I'd some warmth in my body. What say you,
Cheeseman? _One_ half-pint more?'
'Come, come, old friend; that's speaking feelingly. You shouldn't try me
in that way, you know. I shouldn't like to suggest a pint, with a scrap
of cheese. Eh? No, no; follow your own counsel, boy; half a pint be it.'
But the suggestion was accepted. Then at length it occurred to Hood that
time must be wearing away; he spoke of the obligation he was under to
finish his business and return to Dunfield as soon as possible.
Cheeseman declared himself the last man to stand in the way of business.
They left the eating-house and walked together part of the way to the
office of Legge Brothers.
'Old friend, I'm grateful to you,' said Cheeseman, when at length they
parted. 'I've got your address, and you shall hear from me; I've a
notion it won't be so long before we meet again. In any case it's
another day to look back upon; I little thought of it when I spent
twopence-halfpenny on my breakfast this morning and left sixpence for
dinner. It's a rum world, eh, Hood? Good-bye, and God bless you!'
Hood hurried on to the office, received his reply, and proceeded to the
station. He had more than half an hour to wait for a train. He took a
seat in the waiting-room, and began to examine the money in his pocket,
to ascertain exactly the sum he would have to replace. The deficit
amounted to a little less than eighteen shillings. After all, it was
very unlikely that Dagworthy would offer to bear the expense of the lost
hat. Say that a pound had to be restored.
He was in the comfortable mood, following upon unusual indulgence of the
appetite, in which the mind handles in a free and easy way the thoughts
it is wont to entertain with unquestionable gravity; when it has, as it
were, a slippery hold on the facts of life, and constructs a subjective
world of genial accommodations. A pound to restore; on the other hand,
nine pounds in pocket. The sight of the sovereigns was working upon his
imagination, already touched to a warmer life than was its habit. Nine
pounds would go a long way towards solving the financial difficulties of
the year; it would considerably more than replace the lacking rent of
the house in Barnhill; would replace it, and pay as well the increased
rent of the house at Banbrigg for twelve months to come. Looked at in
this way, the money became a great temptation.
His wife--how explain to her such a windfall? For it was of course
impossible to use it secretly. There was a way, seemingly of fate's
providing. If only he could bring himself to the lie direct and
After all, a lie that would injure no mortal. As far as Dagworthy was
concerned, the money had long since become the property of nobody;
Dagworthy did not even know that this sum existed; if ever missed, it
must have been put out of mind long ago. And very possibly it had never
belonged to Dagworthy; some cashier or other clerk might just as well
have lost it. Hood played with these speculations. He did not put to
himself the plain alternative: Shall I keep the money, or shall I give
it up? He merely let a series of reflections pass over his mind, as he
lay back on the cushioned seat, experiencing an agreeable drowsiness. At
the moment of finding the note, he would have handed it over to his
employer without a thought; it would perhaps not even have occurred to
him to regret that it was not his own. But during the last three hours a
singular chain of circumstances had led to this result: it was just as
possible as not that Hood would keep the coins in his pocket and say
nothing about them.
It was time to go to the train. Almost with the first moving of the
carriages he fell into a doze. A sense of mental uneasiness roused him
now and then, but only for a few moments together; he slumbered on till
Dunfield was reached.
At the entrance to the mill he was in fierce conflict with himself. As
is usually the case in like circumstances, the sleepy journey had
resulted in bodily uneasiness; he had a slight headache, was thirsty,
felt indisposed to return to work. When he had all but crossed the
threshold, he turned sharply back, and entered a little public-house a
few yards away; an extraordinary thing for him to do, but he felt that a
small glass of spirits would help him to quieter nerves, or at all
events would sustain his unusual exhilaration till the interview with
Dagworthy was over. At the very door of the office he had not decided
whether it should be silence or restitution.
'That you, Hood?' Dagworthy asked, looking up from a letter he was
writing. 'Been rather a long time, haven't you?'
The tone was unusually indulgent. Hood felt an accession of confidence;
he explained naturally the cause of his delay.
'All right,' was the reply, as Dagworthy took the note which his
correspondent had sent.
Hood was in his own room, and--the money was still in his pocket....
He did not set out to walk home with his usual cheerfulness that
evening. His headache had grown worse, and he wished, wished at every
step he took, that the lie he had to tell to his wife was over and done
with. There was no repentance of the decision which, it seemed on
looking back, he had arrived at involuntarily. The coin which made his
pocket heavy meant joy to those at home, and, if he got it wrongfully,
the wrong was so dubious, so shadowy, that it vanished in comparison
with the good that would be done. It was not--he said to himself--as if
he had committed a theft to dissipate the proceeds, like that young
fellow who ran away from the Dunfield and County Bank some months ago,
and was caught in London with disreputable associates. Here was a
ten-pound note lying, one might say, by the very roadside, and it would
save a family from privation. Abstractly, it was wrong; yes, it was
wrong; but would abstract right feed him and pay his rent for the year
to come? Hood had reached this stage in his self-examination; he
strengthened himself by protest against the order of things. His
headache nursed the tendency to an active discontent, to which, as a
rule, his temperament did not lend itself.
But there remained the telling of the lie. How he wished that Emily were
not at home! To lie before Emily, that was the hardest part of his
self-imposed task. He could not respect his wife, but before Emily,
since her earliest companionship with him, he had watched his words
scrupulously; as a little girl she had so impressed him with the purity
of her heart that his love for her had been the nearest approach he ever
knew to the spirit of worship; and since her attainment of mental and
moral independence, his reverence for' her had not been unmixed with
awe. When her eyes met his, he felt the presence of a nature
indefinitely nobler than his own; not seldom he marvelled in his dim way
that such a one called him father. Could he ever after this day approach
her with the old confidence? Nay, he feared her. His belief in her
insight was almost a superstition. Would she not read the falsehood upon
Strange state of mind; at one and the same time he wished that he had
thought of Emily sooner, and was glad that he had not. That weight in
his pocket was after all a joyous one, and to have been conscious of
Emily as he now was, might--would--have made him by so much a poorer
She, as usual, was at the door to meet him, her face even ladder than
its wont, for this morning there had been at the post-office a letter
from Switzerland. How she loved that old name of Helvetia, printed on
the stamps! Wilfrid wrote with ever fuller assurance that his father's
mind was growing well-disposed, and Emily knew that he would not tell
her other than the honest truth. For Wilfrid's scrupulous honesty she
would have vouched as--for her father's.
'You look dreadfully worn out,' she said, as Hood bent his head in
'I am, dear. I have been to Hebsworth, among other things.'
'Then I hope you had dinner there?'
'I should think I had!'
It was one of Mrs. Hood's bad days; she refused to leave the kitchen.
Emily had tried to cheer her during the afternoon, but in vain. There
had been a misunderstanding with the next-door neighbour, that lady
having expressed herself rather decidedly with regard to an incursion
made into her premises by the Hoods' cat.
'She speaks to me as if I was a mere working-woman,' Mrs. Hood
exclaimed, when Emily endeavoured to soothe her. 'Well, and what else am
I, indeed? There was a time when no one would have ventured to speak
'Mother, how can you be troubled by what such a woman says?'
'Yes, I know I am in the wrong, Emily; you always make me see that.'
So Emily had retreated to the upper room, and Mrs. Hood, resenting
neglect more even than contradiction, was resolved to sit in the kitchen
Hood was glad when he heard of this.
'If you'll pour out my tea, Emily,' he said in an undertone, 'I'll go
and speak to mother for a few moments. I have news that will please
He went into the kitchen and, in silence, began to count sovereigns down
upon the table, just behind his wife, who sat over some sewing and had
not yet spoken. At the ring of each coin his heart throbbed painfully.
He fully realised, for the first time, what he had done.
At the ring of the fifth sovereign Mrs. Hood turned her head.
'What's that?' she asked snappishly.
He went on counting till the nine were displayed.
'What is it?' she repeated. 'Why do you fidget me so?'
'You'd never guess,' Hood answered, laughing hoarsely. 'I had to go to
Hebsworth to-day, and who ever do you think I met there? Why, old
'And he--no, I'll never believe he paid his debt!' said his wife, with
bitter congratulation. For years the name of Cheeseman had been gall
upon her tongue; even now she had not entirely ceased to allude to him,
when she wished to throw especial force of sarcasm into a reminiscence
of her earlier days. A woman's powers in the direction of envenomed
memory are terrible.
'You have said it,' was Hood's reply under his breath. 'It was
providential. What did I do, but go and lose my hat out of the window of
the train--had it knocked off by a drunken fellow, in fact. But for this
money I should have gone about Hebsworth bareheaded, and come home so,
'A new hat! There's a pretty penny gone! Well, it's too much to hope
that any good luck should come without bad at the same time.'
'Well, now you won't fret so much about the rent, Jane?'
He laid his hand upon her shoulder. It was a movement of tenderness such
as had not come to him for years; he felt the need of sympathy; he could
have begged her to give him a kind look. But she had resumed her sewing;
her fingers were not quite steady, that was all.
He left the money on the table and went to Emily in the sitting-room.
She was sitting at the table waiting for him with her kindly eyes.
'And what has the wise woman been doing all day?' he asked, trying in
vain to overcome that terrible fluttering at his side which caught his
breath and made him feel weak.
They talked for some minutes, then footsteps were heard approaching from
the kitchen. Mrs. Hood entered with her sewing--she always took the very
coarsest for such days as this--and sat at a little distance from the
table. As the conversation had nothing to do with Cheeseman's debt, she
'Have you told Emily?' she asked.
'No, I haven't. You shall do that.'
Hood tried to eat the while; the morsels became like sawdust in his
mouth, and all but choked him. He tried to laugh; the silence which
followed his effort was ghastly to him.
'You see, it never does to believe too ill of a man,' he said, when he
found Emily's look upon him.
Mrs. Hood grew mere at her ease, and, to his relief, began to talk
freely. Emily tortured him by observing that he had no appetite. He
excused himself by telling of his dinner in Hebsworth, and, as soon as
possible, left the table. He went upstairs and hoped to find solitude
for a time in the garret.
Emily joined him, however, before long. At her entrance he caught up the
first bottle his hand fell upon, and seemed to be examining it.
'What is that?' Emily asked, noticing his intentness, which in reality
had no meaning.
'This? Oh, cyanide of potassium. I was looking--no, it's nothing. Will
you read me something for half an hour, Emily?'
By this means he would avoid talking, and he knew that the girl was
always delighted by the request. She generally read poetry of a kind she
thought might touch him, longing to establish more of intellectual
sympathy between him and herself. So she did to-night. Hood scarcely
followed after the first line; he became lost in feverish brooding. When
she laid the volume down, he looked up and held out his hand to her.
She, at all events, would not disregard his caress; indeed, Emily took
the hand and kissed it.
Then began one of the more intimate conversations which sometimes took
place between them. Emily was driven now and then to endeavour to make
clear to him her inner life, to speak of her ideals, her intellectual
convictions. He listened always with an air of deep humility, very
touching in a parent before a child. Her meaning was often dark to his
sight, but he strove hard to comprehend, and every word she uttered had
for him a gospel sanction. To-night his thoughts strayed; her voice was
nothing but the reproach of his own soul; the high or tender words were
but an emphasis of condemnation, reiterated, pitiless. She was speaking
thus out of her noble heart to him--him, the miserable hypocrite; he
pretended to listen and to approve. His being was a loathed burden.
If she had spoken thus last night, surely her voice would have dwelt
with him through the hour of temptation. Oh, could it not be morning
again, and the day yet to live? The clock below wheezed out nine strokes
as if in answer.
AT THE SWORD'S POINT
Dagworthy in these days could scarcely be deemed a man, with humanity's
plenitude of interacting motives, of contrasting impulses, of varying
affections. He was become one passion, a personified appetite. He went
through his routine, at the mill and elsewhere, in a mechanical way; all
the time his instincts and habits subjugated themselves to the frenzy
which chafed at the centres of his life. In his face you saw the
monomaniac. His eyes were bloodshot; his lips had a parched yellowness
of tone; his skin seemed dry and burning. Through the day he talked,
gave orders, wrote letters, and, by mere force of lifelong habit, much
in his usual way; at night he wandered about the Heath, now at a great
pace, driven by his passions, now loitering, stumbling. Between dark and
dawn he was fifty times in front of the Hoods' house; he watched the
extinguishing of the lights in window after window, and, when all were
gone, made away with curses on his lips, only to return an hour later,
to torture himself with conjecture which room might be Emily's. His
sufferings were unutterable. What devil--he groaned--had sent upon him
this torment? He wished he were as in former days, when the indifference
he felt towards his wife's undeniable beauty had, as it seemed, involved
all womankind. In those times he could not have conceived a madness such
as this. How had it arisen? Was it a physical illness? Was it madness in
truth, or the beginning of it? Why had it not taken him four months ago,
when he met this girl at the Baxendales'? But he remembered that even
then she had attracted him strangely; he had quitted the others to talk
to her. He must have been prepared to conceive this frantic passion on
coming together with her again.
Love alone, so felt and so frustrated, would have been bad enough; it
was the added pang of jealousy that made it a fierce agony. It was well
that the man she had chosen was not within his reach; his mood was that
of a murderer. The very heat and vigour of his physical frame, the
native violence of his temper, disposed him to brute fury, if an
instinct such as this once became acute; and the imaginative energy
which lurked in him, a sort of undeveloped genius, was another source of
suffering beyond that which ordinary men endure. He was a fine creature
in these hours, colossal, tragic; it needed this experience to bring out
all there was of great and exceptional in his character. He was not of
those who can quit the scene of their fruitless misery and find
forgetfulness at a distance. Every searing stroke drove him more
desperately in pursuit of his end. He was further from abandoning it,
now that he knew another stood in his way, than he would have been if
Emily had merely rejected him. He would not yield her to another man; he
swore to himself that he would not, let it cost him and her what it
He had seen her again, with his glass, from the windows of the mill, had
scarcely moved his eyes from her for an hour. A hope came to him that
she might by chance walk at evening on the Heath, but he was
disappointed; Emily, indeed, had long shunned walks in that direction.
He had no other means of meeting her, yet he anguished for a moment's
glimpse of her face.
To-day he knew a cruel assuagement of his torture. He had returned from
his short absence with a resolve to risk an attempt which was only not
entirely base by virtue of the passion which inspired it, and it
appeared to him that his stratagem had succeeded. Scruples he had indeed
known, but not at all of the weight they would have possessed for most
men, and this not only because of his reckless determination to win by
any means; his birth and breeding enabled him to accept meanness as
almost a virtue in many of the relations and transactions of life. The
trickery and low cunning of the mercantile world was in his blood; it
would come out when great occasion saw use for it, even in the service
of love. He believed it was leading him to success. Certainly the first
result that he aimed at was assured, and he could not imagine a
subsequent obstacle. He would not have admitted that he was wronging the
man whom he made his tool; if honesty failed under temptation it was
honesty's own look-out. Ten to one he himself would have fallen into
such a trap, in similar circumstances; he was quite free from
pharisaical prejudice; had he not reckoned on mere human nature in
devising his plan? Nor would the result be cruel, for he had it in his
power to repay a hundredfold all temporary pain. There were no limits to
the kindness he was capable of, when once he had Emily for his wife; she
and hers should be overwhelmed with the fruits of his devotion. It was
to no gross or commonplace future that the mill-owner looked forward.
There were things in him of which he was beginning to be conscious,
which would lead him he could not yet see whither. Dunfield was no home
for Emily; he knew it, and felt that he, too, would henceforth have need
of a larger circle of life. He was rich enough, and by transferring his
business to other hands he could become yet richer, gaining freedom at
the same time. No disappointment would be in store for him as in his
former marriage; looking back on that he saw now how boyish he had been,
how easily duped. There was not even the excuse of love.
He held her gained. What choice would she have, with the alternative to
be put before her? It was strange that, in spite of what should have
been sympathetic intelligence, he made a slight account of that love
which, as she told him, she had already bestowed. In fact, he refused to
dwell upon the thought of it; it would have maddened him in earnest. Who
could say? It was very possible she had told him a falsehood; it was
quite allowable in any woman, to escape from a difficult position. In
his heart he did not believe this, knowing her better, though his
practical knowledge of her was so slight; but it was one of the devices
by which he mitigated his suffering now and then. If the engagement
existed, it was probably one of those which contemplated years of
waiting, otherwise why should she have kept silence about it at home? In
any case he held her; how could she escape him? He did not fear appeals
to his compassion; against such assaults he was well armed. Emily
pleading at his feet would not be a picture likely to induce him to
relax his purpose. She could not take to flight, the very terms of his
control restrained her. There might be flaws in his case, legally
speaking, but the Hoods were in no position to profit by these, seeing
that, in order to do so, they must begin by facing ruin. Emily was
To-day was Friday. He knew, from talk with the Cartwrights, that
Jessie's lessons were on alternate days, and as he had seen the two in
the garden this morning, there would be no lesson on the morrow. It was
not easy to devise a plot for a private interview with Emily, yet he
must see her tomorrow, and of course alone. A few words with her would
suffice. To call upon her at the house would be only his last resource.
He felt assured that she had not spoken to her parents of the scene in
the garden; several reasons supported this belief, especially the
reflection that Emily would desire to spare her father the anxieties of
a difficult position. Taking this for granted, his relations with her
must still be kept secret in order to avoid risking his impunity in the
tactics he counted upon. His hope was that she would leave the house
alone in the course of the morning.
It has been mentioned that a railway bridge crossed the road a short
distance beyond the Hoods' house. On the embankment beyond this bridge,
twenty or thirty yards from the road, was a cluster of small trees and
shrubs, railed in from the grass which elsewhere grew upon the slope,
and from the field at its foot. Here, just hidden behind a hawthorn bush
and a climbing bramble, Dagworthy placed himself shortly before eight
o'clock on Saturday morning, having approached the spot by a long
circuit of trespass; from this position he had a complete view of the
house he wished to watch. He came thus early because he thought it
possible that Emily accompanied her father on his morning's walk into
Dunfield; in which case he would follow at a distance, and find his
opportunity as the girl returned. There had been rain in the night, and
his passage through the bushes covered him with moisture; the thick
grass, too, in which he stood, was so wet that before long his feet grew
damp and cold. He was little mindful of bodily discomfort; never moving
his eyes for a moment from the door which would give Emily to his view,
he knew nothing but the impatience which made it incredible that his
watch could keep pace with time; he seemed to have been waiting for
hours when yet it was only half-past eight. But at length the door
opened. He strained his sight across the distance, but with no reward.
Hood left the house alone, and walked off quickly in the direction of
He must wait. It might happen that Emily would not quit home at all
during the early part of the day, but he must wait on the chance. He
dreaded lest rain should fall, which would naturally keep her within
doors, but by nine o'clock the sky had cleared, and he saw the leaves
above him drying in the sunlight. Inactivity was at all times
intolerable to him to stand thus for hours was an exercise of impatient
patience which only his relentless passion made possible; his body
yielded to a sort of numbness, whilst the suffering expectancy of his
mind only grew keener. He durst not avert his eyes from the door for an
instant; his sight ached and dazzled. Still he waited.
At eleven o'clock Emily came forth. A savage delight seized him as he
watched her cross the patch of garden. At the gate she hesitated a
moment, then took the way neither to the Heath nor to Dunfield, but
crossed to the lane which led to Pendal. From his hiding-place Dagworthy
could follow her so far, and with ecstasy he told himself that she must
be going to the Castle Hill. She carried a book in her hand.
At length he moved. His limbs had stiffened; it was with difficulty that
he climbed to the top of the embankment. Thence he could see the whole
track of the lane, which went, indeed, almost parallel with the railway
line. He walked in the same direction, keeping at some distance behind
Emily. Before reaching the village of Pendal, he had to cross a field,
and enter the lane itself. There was now the danger that the girl might
look back. But she did not. She was reading as she walked, and continued
to do so the whole way to the stile which led into the Castle Hill. But
now it mattered little if she turned her head.
He let her pass the stile, and himself paused before following. He was
agitated; that which he was about to do seemed harder than he had
imagined; he had a horrible fear lest his resolution might fail at the
last moment. The brute in him for an instant almost slept. The woman in
the field yonder was not only the object of his vehement desire; all the
nobler possibilities of his nature united to worship her, as the highest
and holiest he knew. In his heart was a subtle temptation, the voice of
very love bidding him cast himself at her feet and sue but for the grace
of so much human kindness as would make life without her endurable. He
remembered the self-abasement which had come upon him when he tried to
tell her of his love; the offering had seemed so gross, so unworthy to
be brought before her. Would it not be the same now? He dreaded her
power to protect herself, the secret might of purity which made him
shrink at her steady gaze. But he had gone through much in the last
fortnight the brute forces had grown strong by habit of self-assertion.
He looked up, and the fact that Emily had gone from his sight stung him
She was sitting where she had sat with Wilfrid, on the fallen tree; the
book lay at her side, and she was giving herself to memory. Treading on
the grass, he did not attract her attention till he almost stood before
her; then she looked at him, and at once rose. He expected signs of
apprehension or embarrassment, but she seemed calm. She had accustomed
herself to think of him, and could no longer be taken by surprise. She
was self-possessed, too, in the strength of the thoughts which he had
He fed his eyes upon her, and kept so long silent that Emily's cheek
coloured, and she half turned away. Then he spoke abruptly, yet with
humility, which the consciousness of his purpose could not overcome.
'You know that I have been away since I saw you last. I tried to put you
out of my mind. I couldn't do it, and I am driven back to you.'
'I hoped we should not meet again like this, Mr. Dagworthy,' Emily
replied, in a low voice, but firmly. She felt that her self-respect was
to be tested to the uttermost, but she was better able to control
herself than at the last interview. The sense of being passionately
sought cannot but enhance a woman's dignity in her own eyes, and Emily
was not without perception of the features in Dagworthy's character
which made him anything but a lover to be contemned. She dreaded him,
and could not turn away as from one who tormented her out of mere
'I cannot ask you to pardon me,' he returned, 'for however often you
asked me to leave you, I should pay no heed. I am here because I can't
help myself; I mean what I say--I can't, I can't help it! Since you told
me there was no hope, I seem to have been in hell. These are not words
to use to you--I know it. It isn't that I don't respect you, but because
I must speak what I feel. Look--I am worn out with suffering; I feel as
if it would take but a little more to kill me, strong man as I am. You
don't think I find a pleasure in coming and facing that look you have? I
don't know that I ever saw the man I couldn't meet, but before you I
feel--I can't put it into words, but I feel I should like to hide my
face. Still, I have come, I have followed you here. It's more than I can
do to give you up.'
At the last words he half sobbed. Her fear of him would not allow Emily
to feel deep distress, but she was awed by the terrible evidence of what
he endured. She could not at once find words for reply.
'Will you sit down?' he said. 'I will stand here, but I have more to say
to you before I go.'
'Why should you say more?' Emily urged. 'Can you not think how very
painful it is to hear you speak in this way? What purpose can it serve
to speak to me when I may not listen?'
'You must listen. I can't be sent away as you would another man; no
other on earth can love you as I do, no one. No one would do for you all
that I would do. My love gives me a claim upon you. It is you that have
brought me to this state; a woman owes a man something who is driven mad
by her. I have a right to be here and to say all I feel.'
He was struggling with a dread of the words he had come to utter; a wild
hope sprang in him that he might yet win her in other ways; he used
language recklessly, half believing that his arguments would seem of
force. His passion was in the death-grapple with reason and humanity.
'If your regard for me is so strong,' Emily replied, 'should you not
shrink from causing me pain? And indeed you have no such right as you
claim. Have I in any way sought to win your affection? Is it manly to
press upon me a suit which you know it is out of my power to favour? You
say you respect me; your words are not consistent with respect. I owe
you nothing, Mr. Dagworthy, and it is certainly my right to demand that
you will cease to distress and trouble me.'
He stood with his eyes on the ground.
'That is all you have to say?' he asked, almost sullenly.
'What more can I say? Surely you should not have compelled me to say
even so much. I appeal to your kindness, to your sense of what is due
from a man to a woman, to let me leave you now, and to make no further
attempt to see me. If you refuse, you take advantage of my
powerlessness. I am sure you are not capable of that.'
'Yes, I am capable of more than you think,' he replied, the words coming
between his teeth. His evil demon, not himself, was speaking; in finding
utterance at length it made him deadly pale, and brought a cold sweat to
his brow. 'When you think afterwards of what I say now, remember that it
was love of you that made me desperate. A chance you little dream of has
put power into my hands, and I am going to use it. I care for nothing on
this earth but to make you my wife--and I can do so.'
Terror weighed upon her heart. His tone was that of a man who would
stick at nothing, and his words would bear no futile meaning. Her
thoughts were at once of her father; through him alone could he have
power over her. She waited, sick with agonised anticipation, for what
The gulf between purpose and execution once passed, he had become cruel;
human nature has often enough exemplified the law in prominent
instances. As he pronounced the words, he eyed her deliberately, and,
before proceeding, paused just long enough to see the anguish flutter in
'Your father has been guilty of dishonesty; he has taken money from the
mill. Any day that I choose I can convict him.'
She half closed her eyes and shook, as if under a blow. Then the blood
rushed to her face, and, to his astonishment. she uttered a strange
'_That_ is your power over me!' she exclaimed, with all the scorn her
voice could express. 'Now I know that you are indeed capable of shameful
things. You think I shall believe that of my father?'
Dagworthy knew what it was to feel despicable. He would, in this moment,
have relinquished all his hope to be able to retract those words. He was
like a beaten dog before her; and the excess of his degradation made him
'Believe it or not, as you choose. All I have to say is that your father
put into his pocket yesterday morning a ten-pound note of mine, which he
found in a ledger he took out of my room. He had to go to Hebsworth on
business, and there he changed the note to buy himself a new hat; I have
a witness of it. When he came back hoof course had nothing to say about
the money; in fact, he had stolen it.'
She heard, and there came into her mind the story of Cheeseman's debt.
That was of ten pounds. The purchase her father had been obliged to
make, of that also she had heard. Last night, and again this morning,
her mother had incessantly marvelled at this money having been at length
returned; it was an incredible thing, she had said; only the sight of
the coins could convince her of its truth. Emily's mind worked over the
details of the previous evening with terrible rapidity and insight. To
her directly her father had spoken not a word of the repayment; he had
bidden her keep in another room while he informed her mother of it; he
had shown disinclination to return to the subject when, later, they all
sat together. 'Well, here it is,' he had said, 'and we'll talk no more
about it.' She heard those words exactly as they were spoken, and she
knew their tone was not natural; even at the time that had struck her,
but her thought had not dwelt upon it.
She almost forgot Dagworthy's presence; he and his threats were of small
account in this shaking of the depths of her nature. She was awakened by
'Do you think I am lying to you for my own purposes?'
'I cannot say,' she answered, with unnatural calm. 'It is more likely
than that what you say is true.'
He, by now, had attained a self-control which would not desert him. So
far in crime, there was no turning back; he could even enjoy the
anticipation of each new move in the game, certain of winning. He could
be cruel now for cruelty's sake; it was a form of fruition.
'Well,' he said, 'it is your own concern whether you believe me or not.
If you wish for evidence, you shall have it, the completest. What I have
to say is this. From now till Monday morning your father is free.
Whether I have him arrested then or not depends upon yourself. If you
consent to become my wife as soon as it is possible for us to be
married, neither you nor he will ever hear another word of the matter.
What's more, I will at once put him in a position of comfort. If you
refuse, there will be a policeman ready to arrest him as soon as he
comes to the mill; if he tries to escape, a warrant will be issued. In
any case he will be ruined.'
Then, after a pause--
'So you have till to-morrow night to make up your mind. You can either
send me a note or come and see me; I shall be at home whenever you
Emily stood in silence.
'I hope you quite understand what I mean,' Dagworthy continued, as if
discussing an ordinary matter of business. 'No one will ever dream that
your father has done anything to be ashamed of. After all, it is not so
impossible that you should marry me for my own sake;'--he said it with
bitterness. 'People will see nothing to wonder at. Fortunately, no one
knows of that--of what you told me. Your father and mother will be easy
for the rest of their lives, and without a suspicion that there has been
anything but what appears on the surface. I needn't say how things are
likely to look in the other event.'
Still she stood silent.
'I don't expect an answer now--'
Emily shook her head.
'But,' he continued, 'you mustn't leave it after to-morrow night. It
will be too late.'
She began to move away from him. With a step or two he followed her; she
turned, with a passionate movement of repulsion, terror, and hate
transfiguring her countenance, made for the expression of all sweet and
tender and noble things.
Dagworthy checked himself, turned about, and walked quickly from the
Emily reached home a few minutes before dinner-time. Her mother came to
her from the back of the house, where things were in Saturday tumult,
speaking with a voice of fretful satisfaction.
'I'd just given you up, and was wondering whether to let the meat spoil
or begin dinner alone.'
'I am sorry to be late, mother.'
'No, you're not late, my dear,' the mother admitted. 'It's only that
you're a little uncertain, and when one o'clock draws on I can never be
quite sure of you, if you're out. I must say I like punctuality, though
I dare say it's an old-fashioned kind of thing. Which would you like,
potatoes baked or boiled? I've got both, as I always think the baked
keep better for your father.'
'Whichever you have yourself, mother.'
'Now, child, do make a choice! As if you couldn't say which you would
'There now, you say that because you think there won't be enough of the
others. I know very well yen always like the baked, when I have them.
Don't you, now, Emily?'
'Mother, which you like! What _does_ it matter?'
'Well, my dear, I'm sure I only wanted to please you,' said Mrs. Hood,
in her tone of patience under injury. 'I can't see why you should be
angry with me. If I could give you more choice I would. No doubt you're
used to having potatoes done in all sorts of superior ways, but
unfortunately I wasn't brought up as a cook--'
The strange look with which Emily was regarding her brought her to a
pause; her voice dropped.
'Mother dear,' said the girl, in a low and shaken tone, 'I am neither
foolish nor unkind; do try to believe that. Something is troubling me.
To-day let your choice be mine.'
Mrs. Hood moved away, and served the dinner in silence.
'What is your trouble, my dear?' she asked presently. 'Can't you tell
Emily shook her head. Her mother relapsed into thoughtfulness, and they
finished their meal with little conversation. Mrs. Heed was just rising
from the table, when there was a sound of some one opening the gate
before the house; she looked to the window, and at once uttered an
exclamation of astonishment.
'Well! If that isn't--! He hasn't altered a bit all these years!'
'Who is it, mother?' Emily asked nervously.
'Why, my dear, it's that man Cheeseman! The very idea of his coming
here! Now, mark my words, he's come to ask for that money back again, or
for some of it, at all events. It was just showing off, pretending to
pay it back; exactly like him! But if your father's foolish enough to do
anything of the kind--There, he's knocking. I hoped never to see his
face again as long as I lived; how ever he can have the impudence to
come! I suppose I must let him in; but I'm sure I shan't offer him any
Emily had risen from her chair, and was trembling with excitement.
'Oh yes, mother,' she cried, with a joy which astonished Mrs. Heed, 'we
must behave kindly to him. He paid father the money; we must remember
'Well, you'll see if I'm net right. But I can't keep him standing at the
door. Do untie this apron, Emily; I'm so nervous, I can't get at the
knot. See, now, if he hasn't come for the money back again.'
'Never mind; he paid it! He paid it!'
'I can't understand you, child. What is there to be so pleased about?'
'Mother, do go to the door. Or shall I?'
The girl was overcome with a sudden light in utter darkness. She grasped
at her mother's explanation of the visitor's arrival; unable, in her
ardour, to calculate probabilities, to review details. Dagworthy had
been guilty of a base falsehood; the man approached who could assure her
of it. It was a plot, deeply planned. In some manner Dagworthy had
learned what had happened to her father in Hebsworth, and had risked
everything on the terror he could inspire in her. The coming of her
father's friend was salvation.
She found herself clasping his hand warmly.
'Well, Miss Hood,' Cheeseman came in exclaiming, 'you may perhaps have
half a recollection of me, when you're told who I am, but I'm quite sure
I shouldn't have known you. Your good father was telling me about you
yesterday; rare and proud he was to speak of you, too, and not without
reason, I see. Mrs. Hoed, you've no need to complain of your for tune.
Times have been hard, no doubt, but they've brought you a blessing. If I
had a young lady such as this to look at me and call me father--well,
well, it won't do to think of it.'
In spite of her determination, Mrs. Hoed was mollified into an offer of
dinner. Mr. Cheeseman affected to refuse, but at a word from Emily he
allowed himself to be persuaded. The two sat with him, and listened to
his talk of bygone days. Emily's face was flushed; she kept her eyes on
Cheeseman as if his arrival were that of a long-hoped-for friend. The
visitor abounded in compliments to mother and daughter alike. He ate,
the while, with extreme heartiness, and at length drew from the table in
the most effusive mood.
'Mrs. Hood,' he said, leaning forward, 'I owe you an apology, many
apologies. You and your good husband in times long past did me a service
of a very substantial kind. You thought I had forgotten it--yes, you
couldn't help but think it--'
'Oh, we won't talk about that, Mr. Cheeseman,' interposed Mrs. Hood, not
without a suggestion in her tone that she had indeed entertained the
thought attributed to her.
'Ah, but I can't help speaking of it,' said Cheeseman, feelingly. 'Miss
Hood, you probably don't know what I refer to; you were a very little
lady in those days. They were hard times with me; indeed, I've never
known anything else. I was saying to your good father yesterday that he
could no longer talk of his ill-luck. Many a day he and I have
encouraged each other to face fortune, but that's all over for him; he's
got his foot on firm ground, thank heaven! I'm still catching at straws,
you see; I dare say it's a good deal my own fault; and then I never had
a good wife to look after me, and a daughter growing up to teach me
prudence. Well but, Miss Hood, I was saying that your father did me a
great service; he lent me what was a large sum for him in those days--'
'Not a little one even in these, Mr. Cheeseman,' remarked Mrs. Hood.
'Well, well, but in those times it was a thing few men in his position
would have done. He lent me a ten-pound note, Miss Hood, and it's right
you should know it. Years have gone by, years, and any one would think
I'd kept out of the way to avoid paying the money back. I assure you,
Mrs. Hood, and to you, Miss Hood, I give my solemn word of honour, that
I've never from that day to this had more money than would just keep me
in bread and cheese and such poor clothing as this you see on me. Why,
even yesterday, as no doubt your good father has told you, I had but a
sixpenny-piece in the world, but one coin of sixpence. Ah, you may well
look sad, my good young lady. Please God, you'll never know what that
means. But one sixpence had I, and but for my old friend I should have
been hard driven to find a place of rest last night. Now do I look and
speak like an ungrateful man? Mrs. Hood, I've come here this day because
I felt in duty bound to call on you, being so near. I didn't know your
address, till that meeting by chance yesterday. When my old friend left
me, I got restless; I felt I must see you all again before I went south,
as I hope to do--to-morrow, perhaps. I felt I must clear myself from the
charge of in gratitude; I couldn't live easy under it. It was too much
like a piece of dishonesty, and that I've never yet been guilty of, for
all I've gone through, and, please God, never shall. My old friend Hood
and I, in days even before he had the happiness to meet you, Mrs. Hood,
we used to say to each other--Let luck do its worst, we'll live and die
honest men. And, thank heaven, we've kept our word; for an honester man
than James Hood doesn't walk the earth, and no one ever yet brought a
true charge of dishonesty against Alfred Cheeseman.'
He looked from mother to daughter. The former sat in helpless
astonishment, gazing about her; Emily had hardened her face.
'You find it a sad tale,' Cheeseman proceeded. 'Why, so it is, dear
ladies. If ever I had owned a ten-pound note, over and above the price
of a loaf of bread and a night's lodging, it should have been put aside
with the name of James Hood written on the back of it, and somehow I'd
have found him out. And I say the same thing now. Don't think, Mrs.
Hood, that I'm pleading my poverty as a way of asking you to forgive the
debt. The debt shall be paid; be assured of that. If I can only get to
London, there's a prospect before me; I have a project which I explained
to my old friend yesterday. You shall have the money, and, what's more,
you shall have interest--four per cent. per annum. Oh yes, you shall.
Only let me somehow get to London.'
The gate sounded again.
'Emily,' exclaimed Mrs. Hood, 'there's your father!'
She was pale, and the hand with which she pointed could not steady
'Mother,' said the girl, just above her breath, 'go! He is coming in!'
Mrs. Hood rose and left the room. Cheeseman could not but observe that
some strange agitation possessed them both. Possibly he explained it by
the light of his own conscience. He sat, smiling at Emily rather
uneasily. Then, seeing that there was likely to be a delay before Hood
entered, he bent forward to speak confidentially.
'Miss Hood, I see it in your face, you're as kind and warm-hearted as
your father is, and that's saying much. You won't think hardly of a poor
fellow who oftener misses a dinner than gets one? Every word I've said
to you's as true as the light of heaven, And my only chance is to get to
London. I've made an invention, and I feel sure I know a man who will
buy it of me. It took my last farthing to get here from Hebsworth. You
don't think hardly of me? I don't drink, on my word I don't; it's sheer
hard luck. Ah, if I had a home like this! It 'ud be like living in the
garden of Eden. Well, well!'
The door opened, and Hood came in, followed by his wife. He was
laughing, laughing loudly; the voice was so unlike his that this alone
would have caused Emily to gaze at him in astonishment.
'So you've looked us up!' he exclaimed, holding out his hand. 'Why, you
couldn't have done better; I was sorry afterwards I hadn't asked you. My
wife tells me you've had dinner; you won't mind sitting by whilst I eat?
And what do you think of Emily, eh? Grown a little since you saw her
last--ha, ha! So you've made up your mind to go to London? Emily had
dinner? Why, of course you have; I was forgetting. Baked potatoes!
Remember my old weakness for them baked, Cheeseman? We used to buy 'em
in the street at night, halfpenny apiece, eh? Old man with one arm,
remember? We used to hear him coming when he was half a mile off; what a
voice! And the man who sold peas; remember him? "All 'ot! All 'ot!" We
were lads then, eh, Cheeseman? Emily, just a mouthful, with butter? Let
me tempt you. No?--What train did you come by?'
He talked ceaselessly. There was a spot of red in the midst of each of
his sallow cheeks, and his eyes gleamed with excitement. On leaving the
mill a sudden thirst had come upon him, and he had quenched it with a
glass of spirits at the first public-house he passed. Perhaps that had
some part in his elation.
Emily almost immediately withdrew and went up to her bedroom. Here she
sat alone for more than an hour, in fear lest her mother should come to
the door. Then she heard the gate open, and, looking from the window,
saw her father and his friend pass into the road and walk away together,
the former still talking in an excited way. A minute or two later came
the knock which she dreaded. She opened the door, and her mother
'Emily, did you ever know your father so strange?' Mrs. Hood asked, in a
tone of genuine alarm. She had sunk upon a chair, and looked to the girl
as if overcome with physical weakness. 'What can it all mean? When I
asked him why he had told that story about the money, he only
laughed--said it was a joke, and he'd explain it all before long. I
can't think where the money came from! And now he's gone to pay that
man's fare to London, and no doubt to lend him more money too.'
Emily made no reply. She stood near the window, and looked out at the
clouds which were breaking after a brief shower.
'Wherever the money may have come from,' pursued her mother, 'it's cruel
that it should go in this way. We never wanted it worse than we do now.
It's my belief he's borrowed it himself; a nice thing to borrow for
one's own needs, and then throw it away on such a good-for-nothing as
Emily turned and put a question quietly.
'Are you in more than usual need of money?'
'Well, my dear, you know I always try to say as little about such things
as I can, but now your father's been and borrowed--as of course he must
have done--there's no choice but to tell you. The house at Barnhill's
going to be empty at the end of the quarter, and our rent here's going
to be raised, and, all things coming together, we've had a good deal to
make us anxious. It's just like your father--wanting to make me believe
that things are better than they really are; it always was his way, and
what's the good of it I never could see. Of course he means it well, but
he'd far better have been open about it, and have told me what he was
going to do.'
Emily was shaken with agitation.
'Mother!' she exclaimed, 'why have you both insisted on keeping silence
before me about your difficulties? There was no kindness in it; you have
done me the cruelest wrong. Had I not money in plenty beyond what I
needed? What if the future be uncertain? Has not the present its claims,
and can your needs be separated from mine? Because you have succeeded in
keeping me apart from the troubles of your life, you--you and
father--have thought you had done a praiseworthy thing. Is it not bad
enough that one human being should be indifferent to the wants of
another, just because they call each other strangers? Was it right to
bring such a hateful spirit of independence into a home, between parents
and child? If the world is base and unjust, is not that a reason the
more why we should draw ever more closely to each other, and be to each
other all that our power allows? Independent! Because I earned money and
could support myself, you have told me I must be independent, and leave
you the same. That is the lesson that life has taught you. It is well to
have understanding for lessons of a deeper kind.'
'Well, my child,' protested the mother, to whom the general tenor of
such reasoning was well-nigh as dark as its special application, 'we
have always felt we were doing our duty to you. At your age it is only
right you should have your money for yourself; who knows when you may
want it? I don't think you should be angry with us, just because we've
felt we'd rather put up with a little hardship now and then than have
you feel some day we'd been a burden on you. I haven't complained, and
I'm not complaining now. I'm sorry I came to speak to you about such a
thing. It seems as if you could never take a thing as I mean it. It's
like the potatoes at dinner; I meant to do you a kindness by giving you
the choice, and you flew out as if you hadn't patience with me.'
Emily kept her eyes upon the window.
'How you can say,' went on Mrs. Hood, 'that we've been cruel to you and
done you a wrong--I know we've very different ways of looking at most
things, but where we've wronged you is more than I can understand.'
'You have taken from me,' replied Emily, without moving her eyes, 'the
power to help you. I might have done much, now I can do nothing; and
your loss is mine.'
'No, indeed, it isn't, and shan't be, Emily. Your father and I have
always said that one thing, that you shouldn't suffer by us. What did
your father always say years ago? "Emily," he said, "shall have a good
education, however we stint ourselves; then, when she grows up, she'll
always be able to keep herself from want, and our poverty won't matter
to her." And in that, at all events, he was right, and it's come about
as he said. No, Emily, we're not going to be a burden to you, so don't
'Mother, will you let me be by myself a little? I will come down to you
'Aren't you well, my dear?' the mother asked, with a mixture of offended
reserve and anxiety occasioned by the girl's voice and aspect.
'I have a headache. I will rest till tea-time.'
Mrs. Hood had for a long time been unused to tend Emily with motherly
offices; like her husband, she was not seldom impressed with awe of this
nature so apart from her own. That feeling possessed her now; before
Emily's last words she moved away in silence and closed the door behind
The irony of fate, coming out so bitterly in all that her mother had
said, was like a cold hand on Emily's heart. She sat again in the chair
from which she had risen, and let her head lie back. Her vitality was at
a low ebb; the movement of indignation against the cruelty which was
wrecking her life had passed and left behind it a weary indifference.
Happily she need not think yet. There were still some hours of respite
before her; there was the night to give her strength. The daylight was a
burden; it must be borne with what patience she could summon. But she
longed for the time of sacred silence.
To a spirit capable of high exaltations, the hour of lassitude is a
foretaste of the impotence of death. To see a purpose in the cold light
of intellectual conviction, and to lack the inspiring fervour which can
glorify a struggle with the obstacles nature will interpose, is to
realise intensely the rugged baldness of life stripped of illusion, life
as we shall see it when the end approaches and the only voice that
convinces tell us that all is vanity. It is the mood known by the artist
when, viewing the work complete within his mind, his heart lacks its joy
and his hand is cold to execute. Self-consciousness makes of life itself
a work of art. There are the blessed moments when ardour rises in
pursuit of the ideal, when it is supreme bliss to strive and overcome;
and there are the times of aching languor, when the conception is still
clear in every line, but the soul asks wearily--To what end? In Emily it
was reaction after the eagerness of her sudden unreasoning hope. Body
and mind suffered beneath a burden of dull misery. Motives seemed weak;
effort was weary and unprofitable; life unutterably mean. It could
scarcely be called suffering, to feel thus.
She was roused by voices below, and, immediately after, her mother came
to her door again.
'Isn't it vexatious?' Mrs. Hood whispered. 'Here are Jessie and
Geraldine. I'm obliged to ask them to stay tea. Do you feel well enough
to come down?'
Emily went down at once, almost with a sense of relief, and presented
herself to the girls very much in her usual way.
'Now, I know very well you don't want us,' said Jessie, with her
sprightly frankness. 'We shouldn't have thought of coming if it hadn't
been that we met Mr. Hood just this side of the bridge, and he forced us
to come on; he said it wouldn't be very long before he was back himself.
But of course we shan't stay tea, so it's no use--'
'Oh, of course not,' put in Geraldine. 'We know Mrs. Hood's always far
too busy on a Saturday afternoon. I didn't want to come; I told Jessie
it would be far better to put it off till to-morrow--'
'All the same,' resumed her sister, 'she wanted to see you very much.
She's got something to tell you. Now you may as well get it out and done
with, Jerry; you needn't expect I'm going to help you.'
The two giggled together.
'What is it,' inquired Mrs. Hood. 'I daresay I could guess if I tried
very hard. Couldn't you, Emily?'
'Now then, Jerry, for the awful news,' urged her sister.
'No, _you'll_ have to tell, Jessie,' said the other, giggling and
'Well, I suppose one of us must. She's been and engaged herself to Mr.
Baldwin. Of course we all knew--'
'Now, Jessie, you knew nothing of the kind!'
'Didn't I, though! Oughtn't she to be ashamed of herself, at her age,
Mrs. Hood! I know what Emily's opinion is; she's simply disgusted. Look
at her, and see if she isn't.'
The gabble of the two girls was worthy of the occasion their tongues
went like mill-clappers. Whilst her mother busied herself in preparing
tea, Emily sat and listened; fortunately there was little need for her
to talk. To herself she seemed to be suffering a kind of trance, without
detriment to her consciousness. The chattering and grimacing girls
appeared before her as grotesque unrealities, puppets animated in some
marvellous way, and set to caricature humanity. She tried to realise
that one of them was a woman like herself, who had just consented to be
a man's wife; but it was impossible to her to regard this as anything
but an aping of things which at other times had a solemn meaning. She
found herself gazing at Geraldine as one does at some singular piece of
mechanism with a frivolous purpose. And it was not only the individuals
that impressed her thus; these two represented life and the world. She
had strange, cynical thoughts, imaginings which revolted her pure mind
even whilst it entertained them. No endeavour would shake off this
ghastly clairvoyance. She was picturing the scene of Geraldine's
acceptance of the offer of marriage; then her thoughts passed on to the
early days of wedded life. She rose, shuddering, and moved about the
room; she talked to drive those images from her brain. It did but
transfer the sense of unreality to her own being. Where was she, and
what doing? Had she not dreamed that a hideous choice had been set
before her, a choice from which there was no escape, and which, whatever
the alternative she accepted, would blast her life? But that was
something grave, earnest, and what place was there for either
earnestness or gravity in a world where Geraldine represented womanhood
wooed and about to be wedded? There was but one way of stopping the
gabble which was driving her frantic; she threw open the piano and began
to play, to play the first music that came into her mind. It was a
passage from the Moonlight Sonata. A few moments, and the ghosts were
laid. The girls still whispered together, but above their voices the
pure stream of music flowed with gracious oblivion. When Emily ceased,
it was with an inward fervour of gratitude to the master and the
instrument, To know that, was to have caught once more the point of view
from which life had meaning. Now let them chatter and mop and mow; the
echo of that music still lived around.
Hood had not returned when they sat down to tea. Jessie began to ask
questions about the strange-looking man they had met in company with
him, but Mrs. Hood turned the conversation.
'I suppose you'll be coming with the same tale next, Jessie,' she said,
with reference to Geraldine.
'Me, Mrs. Hood? No, indeed; I haven't had lessons from Emily for
nothing. It's all very well for empty-headed chits like Jerry here, but
I've got serious things to attend to. I'm like Emily, she and I are
never going to be married.'
'Emily never going to be married?' exclaimed Mrs. Hood, half seriously.
'Ah, you mustn't believe all Emily tells you.'
'Oh, she hasn't told me that herself, but I'm quite sure she would be
offended if any one thought her capable of such frivolity.'
'Emily will keep it to herself till the wedding-day,' said Geraldine,
with a mocking shake of the bead. 'She isn't one to go telling her
At this point Hood made his appearance. His wife paid no heed to him as
he entered; Emily glanced at him furtively. He had the look of a man who
has predetermined an attitude of easy good-humour, nor had the parting
with Cheeseman failed to prove an occasion for fresh recourse to that
fiery adjuvant which of a sudden was become indispensable to him. Want
of taste for liquor and lifelong habit of abstemiousness had hitherto
kept Hood the soberest of men; he could not remember to have felt the
warm solace of a draught taken for solace' sake since the days when
Cheeseman had been wont to insist upon the glass of gin at their
meetings, and then it had never gone beyond the single glass, for he
felt that his head was weak, and dreaded temptation. Four-and-twenty
hours had wrought such a change in him, that already to enter a
public-house seemed a familiar act, and he calculated upon the courage
to be begotten of a smoking tumbler. Previously the mere outlay would
have made him miserable, but the command of unearned coin was affecting
him as it is wont to affect poor men. The new aid given to Cheeseman
left a few shillings out of the second broken sovereign. Let the two
pounds--he said to himself--be regarded as gone; eight remained
untouched. For the odd shillings, let them serve odd expenses. So when
he had purchased Cheeseman's ticket to King's Gross, he was free with
small change at the station bar. At the last moment it occurred to him
that he might save himself a walk by going in the train as far as
Pendal. So it was here that the final parting had taken place.
He seated himself with his legs across a chair, and began to talk to
Geraldine of the interesting news which Jessie had just whispered to him
when they met on the road. The character of his remarks was not quite
what it would have been a day or two ago; he joked with more freedom
than was his custom. Studiously he avoided the eyes of his wife and
daughter. He declined to sit up to the table, but drank a cup of tea
with his hands resting on the back of a chair.
The Cartwright sisters were anxious to use the evening for a visit to
certain other friends; shortly after six o'clock they. took their
departure. While Emily and Mrs. Hood were seeing them away at the door,
Hood went upstairs to his laboratory.
'Emily, come here,' Mrs. Hood said, with anxious earnestness, leading
the way back into the sitting-room. And, when the door was closed--
'My dear, what _is_ the matter with him? Don't you notice his
'Yes, mother, I do.'
'Can he have--It's a thing he never does! You know what I mean? That
Cheeseman has been taking him to a public-house; I am sure of it.'
Emily had had no such thought. To her a squalid horror clung about the
suggestion. To picture her father in such circumstances was to realise a
fresh fall into degradation, no doubt the inevitable consequence of that
she already knew of. There was a painful stricture at her heart; a cry
of despair all but found utterance.
Her father's voice was calling from the stair-head--'Emily!' She darted
to the door in momentary terror and replied.
'Will you come up?' Hood said; 'I want you.'
She ascended to the garret. Hood was standing with his back to the
little window, so that his face was shadowed. Emily moved to the table,
and, with her hands resting upon it, her eyes bent, stood waiting.
'Emily,' he began, still with a remnant of artificial pleasantry, though
his voice was not entirely under control, 'I want to explain that
money-matter to you. It doesn't look well; I am a good deal ashamed of
myself; if I was a boy I should deserve a whipping for telling a fib,
It was impossible to make reply to such words.
'The truth is this,' he went on more nervously; 'we've been in a little
difficulty, your mother and I, that we didn't see any good in troubling
you about. In fact, there's a raising of rent, and one or two other
little things. When I was in Hebsworth yesterday I had an opportunity of
borrowing ten pounds, and I thought it better to do so. Then I met
Cheeseman, and it was his mention of the debt put into my head the
stupid thought of trying to spare your mother anxiety. Of course, such
tricks never succeed; I might have known it. But there, that's the truth
of the matter, and I'm easier now--now I've told it.'
Her heart bled for him, so dreadful to her ears was the choking of his
voice upon the last words. At the same time she was hot with anguish of
shame. He stood before her a wretched culprit, hiding his guilt with lie
upon lie; he, her father, whom she had reverenced so, had compassionated
so, whom she loved despairingly. She could not raise her head; she could
not speak. She longed to spring to him and hold him in her arms, but
other thoughts paralysed the impulse. Had there lain nothing in the
background, had his falsehood, his weakness, been all, she could have
comforted and strengthened him with pure pity and love. But the
consciousness of what was before her killed her power to stead him in
his misery. She could not speak out her very thought, and to palter with
solemn words was impossible. Hypocrisy from her to him at this
moment--hypocrisy, however coloured with sincere feeling, would have
sunk her in her own eyes beyond redemption.
'Let us speak no more of it, father,' she replied without raising her
He was sober enough now, and in her voice, her attitude, he read his
hopeless condemnation. Between him and this high-hearted woman had conic
that which would never be removed; before her he was shamed to eternity.
Never again could he speak with her of truth, of justice, of noble aims;
the words would mock him. Never again could he take her kiss upon his
lips without shrinking. Her way henceforth lay ever further from his
own. What part had she in a life become so base? What place had she
under a roof dishonoured? If some day she wedded, his existence would be
to her a secret shame. For--worst thought of all--it was whispered to
his conscience that she did not credit even what he now told her. He
seemed to himself to have betrayed the second untruth by his way of
speaking it. In the silence which followed upon her words he heard
promptings of despair. How could he live in her presence from day to
day, not daring to meet her eyes? He looked back upon the years behind
him, and they seemed to overflow with peaceful happiness. Irretrievable,
his yielding and his shame; irrecoverable, the conscious rectitude
bartered so cheaply. He saw now that his life had held vast blessings,
and they were for ever lost.
Emily was speaking.
'Do you wish to stay here this evening, father?'
'No,' he answered hastily, 'I only called you up for--for that.'
Her heart reproached her with cruelty, but what remained save to leave
him to himself? They could not face each other, could not exchange a
She turned at the door. He had called her, but did not continue to
'It's only for to-night. You'll--you'll sit with me again as usual?'
'Oh, I hope so!'
A rush of tears had its way as she closed the door, something so deeply
pathetic had there been in that appeal. It was the first time that her
misery had found this outlet; unable to calm herself at once, she turned
aside into her bedroom. Tears did not come to her readily; indeed, it
was years since she had shed them; the fit shook her with physical
suffering. The weeping would not stay itself, and to force her sobs into
silence was almost beyond her power. She flung herself desperately by
the bedside, throwing out her arms in the effort to free her chest from
its anguishing constraint.
In an hour she went down. Her mother was sitting miserably in the
kitchen, and Emily, dreading to have to talk again, kept apart in the
parlour. When it began to dusk, Hood descended, and supper was prepared
for in the usual way. There was small pretence of conversation, and, as
soon as possible, Emily bade her parents good-night. It was long before
she heard them go to their room; they whispered together in passing her
And now the solemn hours shed about her guardian silence, and she could
listen to the voice of her soul. It was incredible that the morning of
the day which was not yet dead had witnessed that scene between her and
Dagworthy on the Castle Hill; long spaces of featureless misery seem to
stretch between. Perforce she had overborne reflection; one torment
coming upon another had occupied her with mere endurance; it was as
though a ruthless hand tore from her shred after shred of the fair
garment in which she had joyed to clothe herself, while a voice
mockingly bade her be in congruence with the sordid shows of the world
around. For a moment, whilst Beethoven sang to her, she knew the light
of faith; but the dull mist crept up again and thickened. Weeping had
not eased her bosom; she had only become more conscious of the load of
tears surcharging it. Now she lay upon her bed in the darkness, hushing
idle echoes of day, waiting upon the spirit that ever yet had comforted
and guided her.
What, divested of all horror due to imagination, was the threat to which
her life lay subject? Dagworthy had it in his power to ruin her father,
to blast his remaining years with a desolation to which the life-long
struggle with poverty would be the mere pleasantry of fate. She could no
longer entertain a doubt of the guilt the first suggestion of which
excited her scornful laughter, and she knew it to be more than probable
that her father had yielded to temptation purposely put in his way. She
was not unconscious of the power of reprisal which so gross a plot put
into her hands, though it was true that the secrecy Dagworthy had
maintained in his intercourse with her left but her bare assertion for
evidence against him. Yet the thought was profitless. Suppose he did not
venture to prosecute on the charge of theft, none the less could he work
the ruin he menaced; mere dismissal from his employment, with mention of
the cause to this and the other person, was all that was needed to
render the wretched clerk an outcast, hopeless of future means of
livelihood, for ever disgraced in the eyes of all who knew him. She felt
the cruelty of which this man, whose passions she had so frenzied, was
readily capable. She believed he would not spare her an item of
suffering which it was in his power to inflict. She knew that appeal to
him was worse than useless, for it was only too clear that for her to
approach him was to inflame his resolution. Her instinctive fear of him
was terribly justified.
With her alone, then, it lay to save her parents from the most dreadful
fate that could befal them, from infamy, from destitution, from despair.
For, even if her father escaped imprisonment, it would be impossible for
him to live on in Dunfield, and how, at his age, was a new life to be
begun? And it was idle to expect that the last degradation would be
spared him; his disgrace would involve her; Dagworthy's jealousy would
not neglect such a means of striking at her engagement. And Wilfrid must
needs know; to Emily not even the possibility of hiding such a thing
from him suggested itself. Could she become his wife with that stigma
upon her, bringing as dowry her beggared parents for him to support?
Did it mean that? Was this the thought that she had dreaded to face
throughout the day? Was it not only her father whose ruin was involved,
and must she too bid farewell to hope?
She let those ghastly eyes stare from the darkness into her own, and
tried to exhaust their horror. It overtaxed her courage with a smothered
cry of fear she sprang upright, and her shaking hands struck a flame to
bring light into the room. Not once, but again and again, did the chill
of terror pass through her whole frame. She caught a passing glimpse of
her image in the glass, and was fascinated into regarding it closely.
'You, who stand there in the pitiless night'--thus did thought speak
within her--'you, poor human thing, with the death-white face and eyes
staring in all but distraction, is this the very end of the rapturous
dream which has lulled you whilst destiny wrought your woe? Is it even
now too late to struggle? Is this the wild sorrow of farewell to love,
the beginning of an anguish which shall torture your soul to death? Have
you lost _him_?' For moments it was as though life fought with the last
and invincible enemy. On the spot where she had been standing she sank
powerless to her knees, clinging to the nearest object, her head falling
The clock outside her door struck one; how long the dull vibration
seemed to endure. She was conscious of it, though lying with all but
palsied faculties. It was the first of the divisions which marked her
long vigil; the hours succeeded each other quickly; between voice and
voice there seemed to pass but a single wave of surging thought. But
each new warning of coming day found her nearer the calm of resolve.
Look at this girl, and try to know her. Emily knew but one article of
religion, and that bade her preserve, if need be, at the cost of life,
the purity of her soul. This was the supreme law of her being. The
pieties of kindred were as strong in her as in any heart that ever beat,
but respect for them Could not constrain her to a course which opposed
that higher injunction. Growing with her growth, nourished by the
substance which developed her intellectual force, a sense of all that
was involved in her womanhood had conic to be the guiding principle of
her existence. Imagine the great artist Nature bent upon the creation of
a soul which should hold in subtlest perfection of consciousness every
element essential to the successive ideals of maiden, wife, mother, and
the soul of this girl is pictured. Her religion of beauty was the
symbolic expression of instincts wholly chaste; her body was to her a
temple which preserved a sacred flame, and she could not conceive
existence if once the shrine had suffered desecration. We are apt to
attribute to women indiscriminately at least the outlines of this
consciousness; for the vast majority it confuses itself with the
prescriptions of a traditional dogma, if not with the mere prejudice of
social usage. For Emily no external dogma existed, and the tenor of her
life had aided her in attaining independence of ignoble dictation. Her
views were often strangely at variance with those of the social tribunal
which sits in judgment on virtue and vice. To her, for instance, the
woman who sells herself with ecclesiastical sanction differed only in
degree of impurity from her whose track is under the street-lamps. She
was not censorious, she was not self-righteous; she spoke to no one of
the convictions that ruled her, and to herself held them a mystery of
holiness, a revelation of high things vouchsafed she knew not whence nor
how. Suppose her to have been heart-free at this juncture of her fate,
think you she would have found it a whit less impossible to save her
father by becoming Dagworthy's wife. There was in her thought but one
parallel to this dire choice which lay before her: it was the means
offered to Isabel of rescuing her brother Claudio. That passion of
purity which fired Isabel's speech was the breath of Emily's life. She
knew well that many, and women too, would spare no condemnation of what
they would call her heartless selfishness; she knew that the paltriest
considerations of worldly estate are deemed sufficient to exact from a
woman the sacrifice now demanded of her. That was no law to Emily. The
moral sense which her own nature had developed must here alone control
her. Purity, as she understood it--the immaculate beauty of the
soul--was her religion: if other women would die rather than deny the
object of their worship, to her the ideal of chastity was worth no less
perfect a zeal. Far removed from the world which theorises, she
presented in her character a solution of the difficulties entertained by
those who doubtingly seek a substitute for the old religious sanctions.
Her motives had the simplicity of elemental faith; they were indeed but
the primary instincts of womanhood exalted to a rare perfection and
reflected in a consciousness of exceeding lucidity.
The awakening of love in such a nature as this was, as it were, the
admission to a supreme sacrament. Here was the final sanction of the
creed that had grown from within. In the plighting of her troth to
Wilfrid Athel, Emily had, as she herself saw it, performed the most
solemn and sacred act of her life; instead of being a mere preliminary
to a holy observance which should in truth unite them, it made that
later formality all but trivial. It was the aspiration of her devoutest
hours that this interchange of loving promise might keep its binding
sanctity for ever, that no touch of mutability might come upon her heart
till the last coldness stayed its heating. A second love appeared to her
self-contradicted; to transfer to another those thoughts which had
wedded her soul to Wilfrid's would not merely be sin, it was an
impossibility. Did he ever cease to cherish her--a thought at which she
smiled in her proud confidence--that could in nothing affect her love
for him, which was not otherwise to be expressed than as the sum of her
The pale light of dawn began to glimmer through the window-blind. Emily
gave it full admission, and looked out at the morning sky; faintest blue
was growing between streaks of cold grey. Her eyes ached from the
fixedness of intense thought; the sweet broad brow was marble, the
disorder of her hair spoke of self-abandonment in anguish. She had no
thought of seeking rest; very far from her was sleep and the blessedness
of oblivion. She felt as though sleep would never come again.
But she knew what lay before her; doubt was gone, and there only
remained fear to shake her heart. A day and a night had to be lived
through before she could know her fate, so long must she suffer things
not to be uttered. A day and a night, and then, perchance--nay,
certainly--the vanguard of a vast army of pain-stricken hours. There was
no passion now in her thought of Wilfrid; her love had become the
sternness of resolve which dreads itself. An hour ago her heart had been
pierced with self-pity in thinking that she should suffer thus so far
away from him, without the possibility of his aid, her suffering
undreamt by him. Now, in her reviving strength, she had something of the
martyr's joy. If the worst came, if she had spoken to him her last word
of tenderness, the more reason that her soul should keep unsullied the
image of that bliss which was the crown of life. His and his only, his
in the rapture of ideal love, his whilst her tongue could speak, her
heart conceive, his name.
THE FINAL INTERVIEW
On six days of the week, Mrs. Hood, to do her justice, made no show of
piety to the powers whose ordering of life her tongue incessantly
accused; if her mode of Sabbatical observance was bitter, the
explanation was to be sought in the mere force of habit dating from
childhood, and had, indeed, a pathetic significance to one sufficiently
disengaged from the sphere of her acerbity to be able to judge fairly
such manifestations of character. A rigid veto upon all things secular,
a preoccupied severity of visage, a way of speaking which suggested
difficult tolerance of injury, an ostentation of discomfort in bodily
inactivity--these were but traditions of happier times; to keep her
Sunday thus was to remind herself of days when the outward functions of
respectability did in truth correspond to self-respect; and it is
probable that often enough, poor woman, the bitterness was not only on
her face. As a young girl in her mother's home she had learnt that the
Christian Sabbath was to be distinguished by absence of joy, and as she
sat through these interminable afternoons, on her lap a sour little book
which she did not read, the easy-chair abandoned for one which hurt her
back, the very cat not allowed to enter the room lest it should gambol,
here on the verge of years which touch the head with grey, her life must
have seemed to her a weary pilgrimage to a goal of discontent. How far
away was girlish laughter, how far the blossoming of hope which should
attain no fruitage, and, alas, how far the warm season of the heart, the
woman's heart that loved and trusted, that joyed in a newborn babe, and
thought not of the day when the babe, in growing to womanhood, should
have journeyed such lengths upon a road where the mother might not
Neither Hood nor his daughter went to church; the former generally spent
the morning in his garret, the latter helped herself against the
depression which the consciousness of the day engendered by playing
music which respect would have compelled her to refrain from had her
mother been present. The music was occasionally heard by an acquaintance
who for some reason happened to be abroad in church time, and Mrs. Hood
was duly informed of the sad things done in her absence, but she had the
good sense to forbid herself interference with Emily's mode of spending
the Sunday. She could not understand it, but her husband's indifference
to religion had taught her to endure, and, in truth, her own zeal, as I
have said, was not of active colour. Discussion on such subjects there
had never been. Her daughter, she had learnt to concede, was strangely
other than herself; Emily was old enough to have regard for her own
Breakfast on Sunday was an hour later than on other days, and was always
a very silent meal. On the day which we have now reached it was perhaps
more silent than usual. Hood had a newspaper before him on the table;
his wife wore the wonted Sabbath absentness, suggestive of a fear lest
she should be late for church; Emily made a show of eating, but the same
diminutive slice of bread-and-butter lasted her to the end of the meal.
She was suffering from a slight feverishness, and her eyes, unclosed
throughout the night, were heavy with a pressure which was not of
conscious fatigue. Having helped in clearing the table and ordering the
kitchen, she was going upstairs when her mother spoke to her for the
'I see you've still got your headache,' Mrs. Hood said, with
plaintiveness which was not condolence.
'I shall go out a little, before dinner-time,' was the reply.
Her mother dismally admitted the wisdom of the proposal, and Emily went
to her room. Before long the bell of the chapel-of-ease opposite began
its summoning, a single querulous bell, jerked with irregular rapidity.
The bells of Pendal church sent forth a more kindly bidding, but their
music was marred by the harsh clanging so near at hand, Emily heard and
did not hear. When she had done housemaid's office in her room, she sat
propping her hot brows, waiting for her mother's descent in readiness
for church. At the sound of the opening and closing bedroom door, she
rose and accompanied her mother to the parlour. Mrs. Hood was in her
usual nervous hurry, giving a survey to each room before departure,
uttering a hasty word or two, then away with constricted features.
The girl ascended again, and, as soon as the chapel bell had ceased its
last notes of ill-tempered iteration, began to attire herself hastily
for walking. When ready, she unlocked a drawer and took from it an
envelope, of heavy contents, which lay ready to her hand. Then she
paused for a moment and listened. Above there was a light footfall,
passing constantly hither and thither. Leaving the room with caution,
she passed downstairs noiselessly and quitted the house by the back
door, whence by a circuit she gained the road. Her walk was towards the
Heath. As soon as she entered upon it, she proceeded rapidly--so
rapidly, indeed, that before long she had to check herself and take
breath. No sun shone, and the air was very still and warm; to her it
seemed oppressive. Over Dunfield hung a vast pile of purple cloud,
against which the wreaths of mill smoke, slighter than on week-days, lay
with a dead whiteness. The Heath was solitary; a rabbit now and then
started from a brake, and here and there grazed sheep. Emily had her
eyes upon the ground, save when she looked rapidly ahead to measure the
upward distance she had still to toil over.
On reaching the quarry, she stayed her feet. The speed at which she had
come, and an agitation which was increasing, made breathing so difficult
that she turned a few paces aside, and sat down upon a rough block of
stone, long since quarried and left unused. Just before her was a small
patch of marshy ground, long grass growing about a little pool. A rook
had alighted on the margin, and was pecking about. Presently it rose on
its heavy wings; she watched it flap athwart the dun sky. Then her eye
fell on a little yellow flower near her feet, a flower she did not know.
She plucked and examined it, then let it drop carelessly from her hand.
The air was growing brown; a storm threatened. She looked about her with
a hasty fear, then resumed her walk to the upper part of the Heath.
Beaching the smooth sward, she made straight across it for Dagworthy's
Crossing the garden, she was just at the front door, when it was opened,
and by Dagworthy himself. His eyes fell before her.
'Will you come this way?' he said, indistinctly.
He led into the large sitting-room where he had previously entertained
Emily and her father. As soon as he had closed the door, he took eager
steps towards her.
'You have come,' he said. 'Something told me you would come this
morning. I've watched at the window for you.'
The assurance of victory had softened him. His voice was like that of
one who greets a loving mistress. His gaze clung to her.
'I have come to bring you this!' Emily replied, putting upon the table
the heavy envelope. 'It is the money we owe you.'
Dagworthy laughed, but his eyes were gathering trouble.
'You owe me nothing,' he said, affecting easiness.
'How do you mean that?' Emily gave him a direct look. Her manner had now
nothing of fear, nor even the diffidence with which she had formerly
addressed him. She spoke with a certain remoteness, as if her business
with him were formal. The lines of her mouth were hard; her heavy lids
only half raised themselves.
'I mean that you owe nothing of this kind,' he answered, rather
confusedly. His confidence was less marked; her look overcame his.
'Not ten pounds?'
'Well, _you_ don't.' He added, 'Whose is this money?'
'It is my own; I have earned it.'
'Does your father know you are paying it?'
He does not. I was not likely to speak to him of what you told me. There
is the debt, Mr. Dagworthy; we have paid it, and now I will leave you.
He examined her. Even yet he could not be sure that he understood. In
admitting her, he had taken it for granted that she could come with but
one purpose. It was but the confirmation of the certain hope in which he
had lived through the night. Was the girl a simpleton? Had she got it
into her head that repayment in this way discharged his hold upon her
father? It was possible; women are so ludicrously ignorant of affairs.
He smiled, though darkly.
'Why have you brought this money?' he asked.
She was already moving nearer to the door. He put himself in her way.
'What good do you imagine this is?'
'None, perhaps. I pay it because I wish to.'
'And--is it your notion that this puts your father straight? Do you
think this is a way out of his difficulty?'
'I have not thought that. But it was only to restore the money that I
There was silence.
'Have you forgotten,' he asked, half wonderingly, half with quiet
menace, 'what I said to you yesterday?'
'You see my answer,' said Emily, pointing hastily to the table. 'I owe
you that, but I can give you nothing more.' Her voice quivered, as she
continued, 'What you said to me yesterday was said without thought, or
only with evil thoughts. Since then you have had hours of reflection. It
is not in your power--it would be in the power of no man who is not
utterly base and wicked--to repeat such words this morning. Mr.
Dagworthy, I believe in the affection you have professed for me; feeling
that, you are incapable of dastardly cruelty. I will not believe your
tongue against yourself. In a moment of self-forgetfulness you spoke
words which you will regret through your life, for they were inhuman,
and were spoken to a defenceless girl. After hearing them, I cannot beg
your mercy for my father but you know that misfortune which strikes him
falls also upon me. You have done me the greatest wrong that man can do
to woman; you owe me what reparation is in your power.'
She had not thought to speak thus. Since daylight dawned her heart had
felt too numb, too dead; barely to tell him that she had no answer to
his words was the purpose with which she had set out. The moment
prompted her utterance, and words came without reflection. It was a
noble speech, and nobly delivered; the voice was uncertain at times, but
it betrayed no weakness of resolve, no dread of what might follow. The
last sentences were spoken with a dignity which rebuked rather than
supplicated. Dagworthy's head bowed as he listened.
He came nearer.
'Do you think me,' he asked, under his breath, 'a mere ignorant lout,
who has to be shamed before he knows what's manly and what isn't? Do you
think because I'm a manufacturer, and the son of one, that I've no
thought or feeling above my trade? I know as well as you can tell me,
though you speak with words I couldn't command, that I'm doing a mean
and a vile thing--there; hear me say it, Emily Hood. But it's not a
cruel thing. I want to compel you to do what, in a few years, you'll be
glad of. I want you to accept love such as no other man can give you,
and with it the command of pretty well everything you can wish for. I
want to be a slave at your feet, with no other work in life than finding
out your desires and satisfying them. You're not to be tempted with
money, and I don't try to; but I value the money because it will give me
power to show my love. And mind what I say ask yourself if it isn't
true. If you hadn't been engaged already, you'd have listened to me; I
feel that power in myself; I know I should have made you care for me by
loving you as desperately as I do. I wouldn't have let you refuse
me--you hear, Emily? Emily! Emily! Emily!--it does me good to call you
by your name--I haven't done so before to-day, have I, Emily? Not a
cruel thing, because I offer you more than any man living can, more of
that for which you care most, the life a highly educated woman can
appreciate. You shall travel where you will; you shall buy books and
pictures, and all else to your heart's content; and, after all, you
shall love me. That's a bold word, but I tell you I feel the power in me
to win your love. I'm not hateful to you, even now; you can't really
despise me, for you know that whatever I do is for no mean purpose.
There is no woman living like you, and to make you my wife I am prepared
to do anything, however vile it seems. Some day you'll forgive it all,
because some day you'll love me!'
It was speaking as he had never yet done. He assumed that his end was
won, and something of the triumph of passion endued his words with a
joyous fervour. Very possibly there was truth in much that he said, for
he spoke with the intense conviction which fulfils prophecies. But the
only effect was to force Emily back upon her cold defiance.
'I am in your house, Mr. Dagworthy,' she said, 'and you can compel me to
hear whatever you choose to say. But I have no other answer than that
you know. I wish to leave you.'
His flushed eagerness could not at once adapt itself to another tone.
'No, you don't wish to leave me. You want to see that I am a man of my
word, that I mean what I say, and am not afraid to stick to it. Emily,
you don't leave me till you have promised to be my wife. You're a noble
girl. You wouldn't be frightened into yielding. And it isn't that way I
want to have you. You're more now in my eyes than ever. It shall be love
for love. Emily, you will marry me?'
What resources of passion the man was exhibiting! By forethought he
could have devised no word of these speeches which he uttered with such
vigour; it was not he who spoke, but the very Love God within him. He
asked the last question with a voice subdued in tenderness; his eyes had
a softer fire.
Emily gave her answer.
'I would not marry you, though you stood to kill me if I refused.'
No bravado, no unmeasured vehemence of tone, but spoken as it would have
been had the very weapon of death gleamed in his hand.
He knew that this was final.
'So you are willing that your father shall be put into the dock at the
police-court to-morrow morning?'
'If you can do that, it must be so.'
'If I _can_? You know very well I have the power to, and you ought to
know by now that I stick at nothing. Go home and think about it.'
It is useless. I have thought. If you think still to make me yield by
this fear, it is better that you should act at once. I will tell you If
I were free, if I had the power to give myself to you in marriage, it
would make your threat of no more avail. I love my father; to you I
cannot say more than that; but though I would give my life to save his
from ruin, I could not give--my father would not wish me, oh never!--my
woman's honour. You will find it hard to understand me, for you seem not
to know the meaning of such words.'
She closed with stern bitterness, compelled to it by the tone of his
last bidding. A glorious beauty flashed in her face. Alas, Wilfrid Athel
Back to Full Books