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- MARY BARTON - 30/90 -
don't want to have anything more to do with him. It was very wrong, I dare say, keeping company with him at all, but I'm very sorry, if I've led him to think too much of me; and I don't want him to think any more. Will you tell him this, Sally? and I'll do anything for you, if you will."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Sally, in a more relenting mood; "I'll go back with you to where he's waiting for us; or rather, I should say, where I told him to wait for a quarter of an hour, till I seed if your father was at home; and if I didn't come back in that time, he said he'd come here, and break the door open but he'd see you."
"Oh, let us go, let us go," said Mary, feeling that the interview must be, and had better be anywhere than at home, where her father might return at any minute. She snatched up her bonnet, and was at the end of the court in an instant; but then, not knowing whether to turn to the right or to the left, she was obliged to wait for Sally, who came leisurely up, and put her arm through Mary's with a kind of decided hold, intended to prevent the possibility of her changing her mind and turning back. But this, under the circumstances, was quite different to Mary's plan. She had wondered more than once if she must not have another interview with Mr. Carson; and had then determined, while she expressed her resolution that it should be the final one, to tell him how sorry she was if she had thoughtlessly given him false hopes. For, be it remembered, she had the innocence, or the ignorance, to believe his intentions honourable; and he, feeling that at any price he must have her, only that he would obtain her as cheaply as he could, had never undeceived her; while Sally Leadbitter laughed in her sleeve at them both, and wondered how it would all end--whether Mary would gain her point of marriage, with her sly affectation of believing such to be Mr. Carson's intention in courting her.
Not very far from the end of the street, into which the court where Mary lived opened, they met Mr. Carson, his hat a good deal slouched over his face, as if afraid of being recognised. He turned when he saw them coming, and led the way without uttering a word (although they were close behind) to a street of half-finished houses.
The length of the walk gave Mary time to recoil from the interview which was to follow; but even if her own resolve to go through with it had failed, there was the steady grasp of Sally Leadbitter, which she could not evade without an absolute struggle.
At last he stopped in the shelter and concealment of a wooden fence, put up to keep the building rubbish from intruding on the foot- pavement. Inside this fence, a minute afterwards, the girls were standing by him; Mary now returning Sally's detaining grasp with interest, for she had determined on the way to make her a witness, willing or unwilling, to the ensuing conversation. But Sally's curiosity led her to be a very passive prisoner in Mary's hold.
With more freedom than he had ever used before, Mr. Carson put his arm firmly round Mary's waist, in spite of her indignant resistance.
"Nay, nay! you little witch! Now I have caught you, I shall keep you prisoner. Tell me now what has made you run away from me so fast these few days--tell me, you sweet little coquette!"
Mary ceased struggling, but turned so as to be almost opposite to him, while she spoke out calmly and boldly--
"Mr. Carson! I want to speak to you for once and for all. Since I met you last Monday evening, I have made up my mind to have nothing more to do with you. I know I've been wrong in leading you to think I liked you; but I believe I didn't rightly know my own mind; and I humbly beg your pardon, sir, if I've led you to think too much of me."
For an instant he was surprised; the next, vanity came to his aid, and convinced him that she could only be joking. He, young, agreeable, rich, handsome! No! she was only showing a little womanly fondness for coquetting.
"You're a darling little rascal to go on in this way! 'Humbly begging my pardon if you've made me think too much of you.' As if you didn't know I think of you from morning till night. But you want to be told it again and again, do you?"
"No, indeed, sir, I don't. I would far liefer* that you should say you would never think of me again, than that you should speak of me in this way. For, indeed, sir, I never was more in earnest than I am, when I say to-night is the last night I will ever speak to you."
*Liefer; rather. "Yet had I LEVRE unwist for sorrow die." --CHAUCER, Troilus and Creseide.
"Last night, you sweet little equivocator, but not last day. Ha, Mary, I've caught you, have I?" as she, puzzled by his perseverance in thinking her joking, hesitated in what form she could now put her meaning.
"I mean, sir," she said sharply, "that I will never speak to you again, at any time, after to-night."
"And what's made this change, Mary?" said he, seriously enough now. "Have I done anything to offend you?" added he earnestly.
"No, sir," she answered gently, but yet firmly. "I cannot tell you exactly why I've changed my mind; but I shall not alter it again; and, as I said before, I beg your pardon if I've done wrong by you. And now sir, if you please, good-night."
"But I do not please. You shall not go. What have I done, Mary? Tell me. You must not go without telling me how I have vexed you. What would you have me do?"
"Nothing, sir, but" (in an agitated tone), "oh! let me go! You cannot change my mind; it's quite made up. Oh, sir! why do you hold me so tight? If you WILL know why I won't have anything more to do with you, it is that I cannot love you. I have tried, and I really cannot."
This naive and candid avowal served her but little. He could not understand how it could be true. Some reason lurked behind. He was passionately in love. What should he do to tempt her? A thought struck him.
"Listen! Mary. Nay, I cannot let you go till you have heard me. I do love you dearly; and I won't believe but what you love me a very little, just a very little. Well, if you don't like to own it, never mind! I only want now to tell you how much I love you, by what I am ready to give up for you. You know (or perhaps you are not fully aware) how little my father and mother would like me to marry you. So angry would they be, and so much ridicule should I have to brave, that of course I have never thought of it till now. I thought we could be happy enough without marriage." (Deep sank those words into Mary's heart.) "But now, if you like, I'll get a licence to-morrow morning--nay, to-night, and I'll marry you in defiance of all the world, rather than give you up. In a year or two my father will forgive me, and meanwhile you shall have every luxury money can purchase, and every charm that love can devise to make your life happy. After all, my mother was but a factory girl." (This was said to himself, as if to reconcile himself to this bold step.) "Now, Mary, you see how willing I am to--to sacrifice a good deal for you; I even offer you marriage, to satisfy your little ambitious heart; so now, won't you say, you can love me a little, little bit?"
He pulled her towards him. To his surprise, she still resisted. Yes! though all she had pictured to herself for so many months in being the wife of Mr. Carson was now within her grasp, she resisted. His speech had given her but one feeling, that of exceeding great relief. For she had dreaded, now she knew what true love was, to think of the attachment she might have created; the deep feeling her flirting conduct might have called out. She had loaded herself with reproaches for the misery she might have caused. It was a relief to gather that the attachment was of that low despicable kind which can plan to seduce the object of its affection; that the feeling she had caused was shallow enough, for it only pretended to embrace self, at the expense of the misery, the ruin, of one falsely termed beloved. She need not be penitent to such a plotter! that was the relief.
"I am obliged to you, sir, for telling me what you have. You may think I am a fool; but I did think you meant to marry me all along; and yet, thinking so, I felt I could not love you. Still I felt sorry I had gone so far in keeping company with you. Now, sir, I tell you, if I had loved you before, I don't think I should have loved you now you have told me you meant to ruin me; for that's the plain English of not meaning to marry me till just this minute. I said I was sorry, and humbly begged your pardon; that was before I knew what you were. Now I scorn you, sir, for plotting to ruin a poor girl. Goodnight."
And with a wrench, for which she had reserved all her strength, she flew off like a bolt. They heard her flying footsteps echo down the quiet street. The next sound was Sally's laugh, which grated on Mr. Carson's ears, and keenly irritated him.
"And what do you find so amusing, Sally?" asked he.
"Oh, sir, I beg your pardon. I humbly beg your pardon, as Mary says, but I can't help laughing to think how she's outwitted us." (She was going to have said, "outwitted you," but changed the pronoun.)
"Why, Sally, had you any idea she was going to fly out in this style?"
"No, I hadn't, to be sure. But if you did think of marrying her, why (if I may be so bold as to ask) did you go and tell her you had no thought of doing otherwise by her? That was what put her up at last!"
"Why, I had repeatedly before led her to infer that marriage was not my object. I never dreamed she could have been so foolish as to have mistaken me, little provoking romancer though she be! So I naturally wished her to know what a sacrifice of prejudice, of--of myself, in short, I was willing to make for her sake; yet I don't think she was aware of it after all. I believe I might have any lady in Manchester if I liked, and yet I was willing and ready to marry a poor dressmaker. Don't you understand me now? and don't you see what a sacrifice I was making to humour her? and all to no avail."
Sally was silent, so he went on--
"My father would have forgiven any temporary connection, far sooner
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