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- A Life's Morning - 40/80 -
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 house.
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 came.'
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 would never know the pride of seeing thus the woman he knew so noble. But Wilfrid was in her heart; his soul allied itself with hers and gave her double strength. Dagworthy had wrought for her that which in the night's conflict she could not bring about by her own force; knowing, in the face of utter despair, the whole depth of the love with which she held to her father, she could yet speak his doom with calmness, with clear intelligence that the sacrifice she was asked to make was disproportionate to the disaster threatened.
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