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- Denzil Quarrier - 40/53 -
"And he thinks I shall never succeed in finding you out! Well, he is mistaken, you see--things of this kind are always found out, as you and he might have known. You can't do wrong and live all your life as if you were innocent."
The admonition came rather inappropriately from him, but it shook Lilian in spite of her better sense.
"It can't be changed," she exclaimed. "It can't be undone."
"That's all nonsense!"
"I will die rather than leave him!"
Hot jealousy began to rage in him. He was not a man of vehement passions, but penal servitude had wrought the natural effect upon his appetites. The egotism of a conceited disposition tended to the same result. He swore within himself a fierce oath that, come what might, this woman should be his. She contrasted him with her wealthy lover, despised him; but right and authority were on his side.
"Leave him you must--and shall so there's plain speaking! You will never go into that house again."
Lilian turned as if to flee from him. No one was within sight; and how could she have appealed to any one for help? In the distance she saw the roof of Mrs. Wade's cottage; it allayed her despair for the moment. There, at all events, was a friend who would intervene for her, a strong and noble-minded woman, capable of offering the best counsel, of acting with decision. Vain now to think of hiding her secret from that friend--and who could he more safely trusted with it?
But she still had the resource of entreaty.
"You talk of right and wrong--is it right to be merciless? What can I ever be to you? Would you take me away by force, and compel me to live with you? I have told yen I would die rather. When you think of everything, have you no pity for me? Whatever you intended, wasn't our marriage a terrible injustice to me? Oughtn't you to give a thought to that?"
"You are living an immoral life," replied Northway, with tremulous emphasis. "I could hold you. up to shame. No, I don't ask you to come and live with me at once; I don't expect that. But you must leave that man, and live a respectable life, and--then in time I shall forgive you, instead of disgracing you in the divorce court. I ask only what is right. You used to be religious"----
"Oh, how can you talk to me like that! If you really think me wicked and disgraced, leave me to my own conscience! Have _you_ no sins that ask for forgiveness?"
"It isn't for you to speak of them," he retorted, with imbecile circling. "All I know is that you are my wife by law, and it is my duty to save you from this position. I sha'n't let you go back. If you resist my authority, I shall explain everything to any one who asks, that's all.--Who was that lady you were talking to?"
"She lives in the little house over there. I must go and speak to her."
"Does she know?"
"What have you to say to her, then?"
They looked into each other's eyes for a moment. Northway was gauging the strength of her character, and he half believed that by an exertion of all his energy he might overcome her, lead her away at once. He remembered that before the close of this day Quarrier's secret would be universally known, and when that had come to pass, he would have no hold upon either the man or the woman. They would simply turn their backs upon him, and go beyond his reach.
He laid his hand upon her, and the touch, the look in his eyes, drove Lilian to the last refuge.
"You must go with me, then, to Mr. Quarrier," she said, firmly. "You have no power to stop me. I shall go home, and you must follow me, if you choose."
"No, you will go with _me_! Do you hear? I command you to come with me!"
It was his best imitation of resistless authority, and he saw, even in speaking, that he had miscalculated. Lilian drew back a step and looked at him with defiance.
"Command me, you cannot. I am as free from your control as any stranger."
"Try, and see. If you attempt to go back into the town, I shall hold you by force, and the consequences will be worse to you than to me. Do as you please."
Again her eyes turned to the distant roof of Peartree Cottage. She, too, had estimated her strength and his She knew by instinct what his face meant--the swollen, trembling lips, the hot eyes; and understood that he was capable of any baseness. To attempt to reach her home would he an abandonment of all hope, the ruin of Denzil. A means of escape from worst extremity, undiscoverable by her whirling brain, might suggest itself to such a mind as Mrs. Wade's. If only she could communicate with the cottage!
"Then I shall go to my friend here," she said, pointing.
"Who is she?"
"A lady who lives quite alone."
"What's the good of your going there?"
She had recourse to artifice, and acted weakness much better than he had simulated strength.
"I _must_ have some one's advice! I must know how others regard your claim."
He saw no possibility of restraining her, and it might befall that this lady, intentionally or not, would use her influence on his side. Those last words signified a doubt in Lilian's mind. Was it not pretty certain that any respectable woman, on learning how matters stood, must exclaim against that pretended marriage? Northway's experience lay solely among the representatives of English morality, and the frankly vicious; he could hardly imagine a "lady" whose view of the point at issue would admit pleas on Lilian's behalf.
"If you go there," he said, "I must be with you."
Lilian made no answer, but moved away. They passed into the road, tinned towards the cottage. On reaching the gate, Lilian saw Mrs. Wade standing just before her.
"I must speak to you" she said, holding out her hands impulsively.
Mrs. Wade looked from her to the man in the background, who again had awkwardly raised his hat--a cheap but new cylinder, which, together with his slop-made coat and trousers, classed him among uncertain specimens of humanity.
"Will you let him come in?" Lilian whispered, a sob at length breaking her voice.
The widow was perfectly self-possessed. Her eyes gleamed very brightly and glanced hither and thither with the keenest scrutiny. She held Lilian's hand, answering in a low voice:
"Trust me, dear! I'm so glad you have come. What is his name?"
Mrs. Wade addressed him, and invited him to enter; but Northway, having ascertained that there was no escape from the cottage which he could not watch, drew back.
"Thank you," he said; "I had rather wait out here. If that lady wants me, I shall be within reach."
Mrs. Wade nodded, and drew her friend in. Lilian of a sudden lost her physical strength; she had to be supported, almost carried, into the sitting-room. The words of kindness with which Mrs. Wade sought to recover her had a natural enough effect; they invited an hysterical outbreak, and for several minutes the sufferer wailed helplessly. In the meantime she was disembarrassed of her out-door clothing. A stimulant at length so far restored her that she could speak connectedly.
"I don't know what you will think of me.--I am obliged to tell you something I hoped never to speak of. Denzil ought to know first what has happened; but I can't go to him.--I must tell you, and trust your friendship. Perhaps you can help me; you will--I know you will if you can."
"Anything in my power," replied the listener, soothingly. "Whatever you tell me is perfectly safe. I think you know me well enough, Lily."
Then Lilian began, and told her story from first to last.
Told it rapidly, now and then confusedly, but with omission of nothing essential. So often she had reviewed her life, at successive stages of culture and self-knowledge. Every step had been debated in heart and conscience. She had so much to say, yet might not linger in the narration, and feared to seem eager ill the excuse of what she had done. To speak of these things to one of her own sex was in
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