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- The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne - 6/6 -
But there was in her gait and form, in her voice and countenance, a fixedness of purpose which he had never seen before, or at any rate had never acknowledged.
"Certainly," said he. "Shall I come out with you, or will you come up stairs?"
"We can sit down in the summer-house," she said; and thither they both went.
"Captain Broughton," she said--and she began her task the moment that they were both seated--"you and I have engaged ourselves as man and wife, but perhaps we have been over rash."
"How so?" said he.
"It may be--and indeed I will say more--it is the case that we have made this engagement without knowing enough of each other's character."
"I have not thought so."
"The time will perhaps come when you will so think, but for the sake of all that we most value, let it come before it is too late. What would be our fate--how terrible would be our misery--if such a thought should come to either of us after we have linked our lots together."
There was a solemnity about her as she thus spoke which almost repressed him,--which for a time did prevent him from taking that tone of authority which on such a subject he would choose to adopt. But he recovered himself. "I hardly think that this comes well from you," he said.
"From whom else should it come? Who else can fight my battle for me; and, John, who else can fight that same battle on your behalf? I tell you this, that with your mind standing towards me as it does stand at present, you could not give me your hand at the altar with true words and a happy conscience. Am I not true? You have half repented of your bargain already. Is it not so?"
He did not answer her; but getting up from his seat walked to the front of the summer-house, and stood there with his back turned upon her. It was not that he meant to be ungracious, but in truth he did not know how to answer her. He had half repented of his bargain.
"John," she said, getting up and following him, so that she could put her hand upon his arm, "I have been very angry with you."
"Angry with me!" he said, turning sharp upon her.
"Yes, angry with you. You would have treated me like a child. But that feeling has gone now. I am not angry now. There is my hand;--the hand of a friend. Let the words that have been spoken between us be as though they had not been spoken. Let us both be free."
"Do you mean it?"
"Certainly I mean it." As she spoke these words her eyes filled with tears, in spite of all the efforts she could make; but he was not looking at her, and her efforts had sufficed to prevent any sob from being audible.
"With all my heart," he said; and it was manifest from his tone that he had no thought of her happiness as he spoke. It was true that she had been angry with him--angry, as she had herself declared; but nevertheless, in what she had said and what she had done, she had thought more of his happiness than of her own. Now she was angry once again.
"With all your heart, Captain Broughton! Well, so be it. If with all your heart, then is the necessity so much the greater. You go to- morrow. Shall we say farewell now?"
"Patience, I am not going to be lectured."
"Certainly not by me. Shall we say farewell now?"
"Yes, if you are determined."
"I am determined. Farewell, Captain Broughton. You have all my wishes for your happiness." And she held out her hand to him.
"Patience!" he said. And he looked at her with a dark frown, as though he would strive to frighten her into submission. If so, he might have saved himself any such attempt.
"Farewell, Captain Broughton. Give me your hand, for I cannot stay." He gave her his hand, hardly knowing why he did so. She lifted it to her lips and kissed it, and then, leaving him, passed from the summer- house down through the wicket-gate, and straight home to the parsonage.
During the whole of that day she said no word to any one of what had occurred. When she was once more at home she went about her household affairs as she had done on that day of his arrival. When she sat down to dinner with her father he observed nothing to make him think that she was unhappy; nor during the evening was there any expression in her face, or any tone in her voice, which excited his attention. On the following morning Captain Broughton called at the parsonage, and the servant-girl brought word to her mistress that he was in the parlour. But she would not see him. "Laws, miss, you ain't a quarrelled with your beau?" the poor girl said. "No, not quarrelled," she said; "but give him that." It was a scrap of paper, containing a word or two in pencil. "It is better that we should not meet again. God bless you." And from that day to this, now more than ten years, they never have met.
"Papa," she said to her father that afternoon, "dear papa, do not be angry with me. It is all over between me and John Broughton. Dearest, you and I will not be separated." It would be useless here to tell how great was the old man's surprise and how true his sorrow. As the tale was told to him no cause was given for anger with any one. Not a word was spoken against the suitor who had on that day returned to London with a full conviction that now at least he was relieved from his engagement. "Patty, my darling child," he said, "may God grant that it be for the best!
"It is for the best," she answered stoutly. "For this place I am fit; and I much doubt whether I am fit for any other."
On that day she did not see Miss Le Smyrger, but on the following morning, knowing that Captain Broughton had gone off, having heard the wheels of the carriage as they passed by the parsonage gate on his way to the station,--she walked up to the Combe.
"He has told you, I suppose?" said she.
"Yes," said Miss Le Smyrger. "And I will never see him again unless he asks your pardon on his knees. I have told him so. I would not even give him my hand as he went."
"But why so, thou kindest one? The fault was mine more than his."
"I understand. I have eyes in my head," said the old maid. "I have watched him for the last four or five days. If you could have kept the truth to yourself and bade him keep off from you, he would have been at your feet now, licking the dust from your shoes."
"But, dear friend, I do not want a man to lick dust from my shoes."
"Ah, you are a fool. You do not know the value of your own wealth."
"True; I have been a fool. I was a fool to think that one coming from such a life as he has led could be happy with such as I am. I know the truth now. I have bought the lesson dearly,--but perhaps not too dearly, seeing that it will never be forgotten."
There was but little more said about the matter between our three friends at Oxney Colne. What, indeed, could be said? Miss Le Smyrger for a year or two still expected that her nephew would return and claim his bride; but he has never done so, nor has there been any correspondence between them. Patience Woolsworthy had learned her lesson dearly. She had given her whole heart to the man; and, though she so bore herself that no one was aware of the violence of the struggle, nevertheless the struggle within her bosom was very violent. She never told herself that she had done wrong; she never regretted her loss; but yet--yet--the loss was very hard to bear. He also had loved her, but he was not capable of a love which could much injure his daily peace. Her daily peace was gone for many a day to come.
Her father is still living; but there is a curate now in the parish. In conjunction with him and with Miss Le Smyrger she spends her time in the concerns of the parish. In her own eyes she is a confirmed old maid; and such is my opinion also. The romance of her life was played out in that summer. She never sits now lonely on the hill-side thinking how much she might do for one whom she really loved. But with a large heart she loves many, and, with no romance, she works hard to lighten the burdens of those she loves.
As for Captain Broughton, all the world know that he did marry that great heiress with whom his name was once before connected, and that he is now a useful member of Parliament, working on committees three or four days a week with a zeal that is indefatigable. Sometimes, not often, as he thinks of Patience Woolsworthy, a gratified smile comes across his face.
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