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- A Life's Morning - 20/80 -

tumult of emotion. She longed to open the letter, yet felt she could not do so in the public roads. She tried to think whether any ill chance could possibly interpose to prevent her being at the place of meeting; none was to be anticipated, unless, what was very unlikely, her mother should propose to join her afternoon walk. But what could his coming mean? She feared that she understood too well.

Often she had to check the over-haste of her pace, and the way seemed terribly long, but at length she was at home and close shut in her bedroom. The letter did not aid her to account for his coming; it had been written late on Friday night, but made absolutely no reference to what had passed between Wilfrid and his relations. It was a long and passionate poem of his love, concerned not with outward facts, but with states of feeling. Only at the end he had added a postscript, saying that he should write again on Monday.

It was difficult to live through the morning. She felt that she must be busy with her hands, and, her mother's objections notwithstanding, set herself resolutely to active housework. Her anxious feelings in this way toned themselves to mere cheerfulness. She listened with unfailing patience to the lengthily described details of domestic annoyances of which Mrs. Hood's conversation chiefly consisted, and did her best to infuse into her replies a tone of hopefulness, which might animate without betraying too much. The hours passed over, and at length it was time to set forth. Mrs. Hood showed no desire to leave home. Emily, though foreseeing that she might again be late for tea, did not venture to hint at such a possibility, but started as if for a short walk.

Not much more than a mile from Banbrigg, in a direction away alike from the Heath and from Dunfield, is the village of Pendal, where stand the remains of an ancient castle. Very slight indeed are these relics, one window and some shapeless masses of defaced masonry being alone exposed; but a hill close beside them is supposed to cover more of the fabric, though history tells not how or when the earth was so heaped up. The circle of the moat is still complete, and generally contains water. Pendal Castle Hill, as the locality is called, is approached by a rustic lane leading from the village; it is enclosed like an ordinary meadow, and shadowed here and there with trees. On Sundays and holidays it is a resort much favoured by Dunfieldians; at other times its solitude is but little interfered with. Knowing this, Emily had appointed the spot for the meeting. She had directed Wilfrid to take a train from Dunfield to Pendal, and had described the walk up to the castle hill.

He was not before her this time, and there were endless reasons for fear lest she should wait in vain. She remained standing on the inner side of the stile by which the field was entered, and kept her gaze on the point where the lane turned. A long quarter of an hour passed, then of a sudden the expected form appeared.

There had been no train to Pendal at the right time; he had taken a meal at Dunfield station, and then had found a cab to convey him to the village.

Wilfrid was very calm, only the gleam of his fine eyes showed his delight at holding her hands again. They walked to the side of the hill remote from the road. Wilfrid looked about him, and remarked that the place was interesting. He seemed in no hurry to speak of what had brought him here; they walked hand in hand, like children. 'Emily'--and then his name in return, with interchange of looks; was it not enough for some minutes?

'There is a fallen trunk,' Wilfrid said, pointing to a remoter spot. 'Shall we sit there?'

'How well it has been managed,' he exclaimed when they had seated themselves. 'You remember the fairy tales in which the old woman bids some one go to a certain place and do such and such a thing and something is sure to happen? "And it befell just as the old woman had said."'

'And I am the old woman. They call her a witch in the stories.'

'A witch, yes; but so young and beautiful. What delight it was to find your letter, dearest! What careful directions! I laughed at your dreadful anxiety to make it quite, quite clear. Won't you take the glove off? How your hand trembles; no, I will unbutton it myself.'

He kissed the fingers lightly, and then held them pressed.

'But why have you come all this distance, Wilfrid?'

'Would it not be enough if I said I had come to see you? What distance would be too far for that?'

'But you were to have left England to-day?'

'So I was, but I shall not go--till you go with me, Emily.'

She looked at him with anxious eyes.

'Well, I will tell you all there is to tell. In the first place, my father and my aunt think that the plan of your returning to teach the little girls is not a very good one.'

He spoke with perfect cheerfulness, but firmly, as was his wont. Emily's eyes fell.

'I have felt it myself,' she said.

'And so have I; so that we are happily all agreed. We talked it all over after you had gone on Friday, and since then I have taken time to make up my mind. I can see that you would he uncomfortable in the house under such conditions; at the same time it is certainly out of the question that you should go elsewhere; and so--come to London and let us be married as soon as the arrangements can be made.'

'I don't quite understand, Wilfrid. Do you mean that your father approves this?'

'They all went off to-day. He knows, no doubt, what my intention is. In a matter like this I must judge for myself.'

She was silent, then asked with apprehension, 'Has it caused trouble?'

'Of the kind which passes as soon as it has been well talked about,' he answered with a smile; 'nothing more serious.'

She could not meet his look.

'And you wish not to return to Oxford?'

'I have done with that. I see now that to go back and play the schoolboy would have been impossible; all that is over and a new life beginning--you will be in readiness to come up as soon as I scud for you?'

She looked in his face now with pleading.

'It is too hasty, Wilfrid. It was better, far better, that we should wait till next year. Can it be your father's wish that your marriage should take place in his absence? You know that I have no foolish desires; the more simply everything is done the better it will please me. But I would, I would have it done with your father's goodwill. I foresaw his objections only too well; they are natural, it could not be otherwise; but I hoped that time would help. Let us wait!'

She closed both hands on his, and gazed at him steadily.

'I think you must be guided by me, Emily,' he replied, with his calm self-assertiveness. 'There is no reason why we should wait. My father is a man who very sensibly accepts the accomplished fact. His own marriage, I may tell you, was an affair of decision in the face of superficial objections, and he will only think the better of me for following his example. You say, and I am sure, that you care nothing for the show of a wedding; if you did, I should not be here at this moment. It is only for that that we need postpone the marriage. I will take rooms till I can find a house and have it made ready for us.'

Emily kept silence. She had released his hand. There were signs on her face of severe inward conflict.

'Will you let me go and see your parents?' he asked. 'Shall our marriage take place here? To me it is the same; I would only be ruled by your choice. May I go home with you now?'

'I would say yes if I could make up my mind to a marriage at once,' she answered. 'Dear, let me persuade you.'

'The sound of your words persuades too strongly against their sense, Emily,' he said tenderly. 'I will not put off our marriage a day longer than forms make necessary.'

'Wilfrid, let me say what--'

'I have scraps of superstition in my nature,' he broke in with a half laugh. 'Fate does not often deal so kindly as in giving you to me; I dare not _seem_ even to hesitate before the gift. It is a test of the worth that is in us. We meet by chance, and we recognise each other; here is the end for which we might have sought a lifetime; we are not worthy of it if we hold back from paltry considerations. I dare not leave you, Emily; everything points to one result--the rejection of the scheme for your return, my father's free surrender of the decision to myself, the irresistible impulse which has brought me here to you. Did I tell you that I rose in the middle of the night and went to Charing Cross to telegraph? It would have done just as well the first thing in the morning, but I could not rest till the message was sent. I will have no appearances come between us; there shall be no pause till you bear my name and have entered my home; after that, let life do with us what it will.'

Emily drank in the vehement flow of words with delight and fear. It was this virile eagerness, this force of personality, which had before charmed her thought into passiveness, and made her senses its subject; but a stronger motive of resistance actuated her now. In her humility she could not deem the instant gain of herself to be an equivalent to him for what he would certainly, and what he might perchance, lose. She feared that he had disguised his father's real displeasure, and she could not reconcile herself to the abrupt overthrow of all the purposes Wilfrid had entertained before he knew her. She strove with all the energy of her own strong character to withstand him for his good.

'Wilfrid, let it at least be postponed till your father's return. If his mind is what you say, he will by then have fully accepted your views. I respect your father. I owe him consideration; he is prejudiced against me now, and I would gain his goodwill. Just because we are perfectly independent let us have regard for others; better, a thousand times better, that he should be reconciled to our marriage before it takes place than perforce afterwards. Is it for my constancy, or your own, that you fear?'

A Life's Morning - 20/80

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