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- A Life's Morning - 60/80 -
Mrs. Baxendale, the Cartwrights, and one or two other friends had attended the funeral. At Emily's request no one accompanied her home. Mrs. Baxendale drove her to the door, and went on to Dunfield.
The last link with the past was severed--almost, it seemed, the last link with the world. A sense of loneliness grew about her heart; she lived in a vast solitude, whither came faintest echoes of lamentation, the dying resonance of things that had been. It could hardly be called grief, this drawing off of the affections, this desiccation of the familiar kindnesses which for the time seemed all her being. She forced herself to remember that the sap of life would flow again, that love would come back to her when the hand of death released her from its cruel grip; as yet she could only be sensible of her isolation, her forlorn oneness. It needs a long time before the heart can companion only with memories. About its own centre it wraps such warm folds of kindred life. Tear these away, how the poor heart shivers in its nakedness.
She was alone. It no longer mattered where she lived, for her alliances henceforth were only of the spirit. She must find some sphere in which she could create for herself a new activity, for to sit in idleness was to invite dread assaults. The task of her life was an inward one, but her nature was not adapted to quiescence, and something must replace the task which had come to an end by her mother's death. Already she had shaped plans, and she dared not allow needless time to intervene before practically pursuing them.
In the evening of that day Mrs. Baxendale again came to Banbrigg. She found Emily with writing materials before her. Her object in coming was to urge Emily to quit this lonely house.
'Come and stay with me,' she entreated. 'You shall be as unmolested as here; no one but myself shall ever come near you. Emily, I cannot go home and sleep with the thought of you here alone.'
'You forget,' Emily replied, 'that I have in reality lived alone for a long time; I do not feel it as you imagine. No, I must stay here, but not for long. I shall at once find a teacher's place again.'
'That is your intention?'
'Yes. I shall sell the furniture, and ask the landlord to find another tenant as soon as possible. But till I go away I wish to live in this house.'
Mrs. Baxendale knew that Emily's projects were not to be combated like a girl's idle fancies. She did not persevere, but let sad silence be her answer.
'Would you in no case stay in Dunfield?'
'No; I must leave Dunfield. I don't think I shall find it difficult to get employment.'
Mrs. Baxendale had never ventured to ask for the girl's confidence, nor even to show that she desired it. Emily was more perplexing to her now than even at the time of Wilfrid Athel's rejection. She consoled herself with the thought that a period of active occupation was no doubt the best means of restoring this complex nature to healthy views of life; that at all events it was likely to bring about an unravelling of the mysteries in which her existence seemed to have become involved. You could not deal with her as with other girls; the sources of her strength and her weakness lay too deep; counsel to her would be a useless, an impertinent, interference with her grave self-guiding. Mrs. Baxendale could but speak words of extreme tenderness, and return whence she had come. On going away, she felt that the darkest spot of night was over that house.
Emily lived at Banbrigg for more than three weeks. After the first few days she appeared to grow lighter in mind; she talked more freely with those who came to see her, and gladly accepted friendly aid in little practical matters which had to be seen to. Half-way between Banbrigg and Dunfield lay the cemetery; there she passed a part of every morning, sometimes in grief which opened all the old wounds, more often in concentration of thought such as made her unaware of the passage of time. The winter weather was not severe; not seldom a thin gleam of sunshine would pass from grave to grave, and give promise of spring in the said reign of the year's first month. Emily was almost the only visitor at the hour she chose. She had given directions for the raising of a stone at the grave-head; as yet there was only the newly-sodded hillock. Close at hand was a grave on which friends placed hot-house flowers, sheltering them beneath glass. Emily had no desire to express her mourning in that way; the flower of her love was planted where it would not die.
But she longed to bring her time of waiting to an end. The steps she had as yet taken had led to nothing. She had not requested Mrs. Baxendale to make inquiries for her, and her friend, thinking she understood the reason, did not volunteer assistance, nor did she hear any particulars of the correspondence that went on. Ultimately, Emily communicated with her acquaintances in Liverpool, who were at once anxious to serve her. She told them that she would by preference find a place in a school. And at length they drew her attention to an advertisement which seemed promising; it was for a teacher in a girls' school near Liverpool. A brief correspondence led to her being engaged.
She was in perfect readiness to depart. For a day or two she had not seen Mrs. Baxendale, and, on the afternoon before the day of her leaving Banbrigg, she went to take leave of her friends. It was her intention to visit Mrs. Baxendale first, then to go on to the Cartwrights'. As it rained, she walked to Pendal and took train for Dunfield.
At Dunfield station she was delayed for some moments in leaving the carriage by travellers who got out before her with complexities of baggage. To reach the exit of the station she had to cross the line by a bridge, and at the foot of this bridge stood the porter who collected tickets. As she drew near to him her eyes fell upon a figure moving before her, that of a young man, wearing thick travelling apparel and carrying a bag. She did not need to see his face, yet, as he stopped to give up his ticket, she caught a glimpse of it. The train by which she had travelled had also brought Wilfrid to Dunfield.
She turned and walked to a little distance away from the foot of the stairs. There was no room that she could enter on this platform. She dropped her black veil, and seated herself on a bench. In truth she had a difficulty in standing, her body trembled so.
For five minutes she remained seated, calming herself and determining what course to take. She held it for certain that Wilfrid had come at Mrs. Baxendale's bidding. But would he go to that house first, or straight to her own? With the latter purpose he would probably have left the train at Pendal. She would have time to get home before he could come. At this moment a train was entering the station on the other side. She hurried over the bridge, and, without stopping to obtain a ticket, entered a carriage.
It was not without dread lest Wilfrid might have already arrived, and be waiting within for her return that she approached the house door. Her fears were groundless. The servant told her that no one had called.
'If anyone should call this evening,' she said, 'I cannot see them. You will say that I shall not be able to see anyone--anyone, whoever it is--till to-morrow morning.'...
At this same hour, Mrs. Baxendale, entering a shop in Dunfield, found Dagworthy making purchases.
'I shall not see you again for a long time,' he said, as he was leaving. 'I start to-morrow on a long journey.'
'Out of England?'
He did not specify his route, merely said that he was going far from England. They shook hands, and Mrs. Baxendale was left with a musing expression on her face. She turned her eyes to the counter; the purchase for which Dagworthy had just paid was a box of ladies' gloves. The shopman put them aside, to be made into a parcel and sent away.
When, half an hour later, she reached home, she was at once informed that Mr. Athel was in the drawing-room. The intelligence caused her to bite her lower lip, a way she had of expressing the milder form of vexation. She went first to remove her walking apparel, and did not hasten the process. When she at length entered the drawing-room Wilfrid was pacing about in his accustomed fashion.
'You here?' she exclaimed, with a dubious shake of the head. 'Why so soon?'
'So soon! The time has gone more quickly with you than with me, Mrs. Baxendale.'
Clearly he had not spent the last three months in ease of mind. His appearance was too like that with which he had come from Oxford on the occasion of his break-down.
'I could bear it no longer,' he continued. 'I cannot let her go away without seeing her.'
'You will go this evening?'
'Yes, I must. You have nothing hopeful to say to me?'
Mrs. Baxendale dropped her eyes, and answered, 'Nothing.' Then she regarded him as if in preface to some utterance of moment, but after all kept silence.
'Has she heard of anything yet?'
'I believe not. I have not seen her since Tuesday, and then she told me of nothing. But I don't ask her.'
'I know--you explained. I think you have done wisely. How is she?'
He let his feeling get the upper hand.
'I can't leave her again without an explanation. She _must_ tell me everything. Have I not a right to ask it of her? I can't live on like this; I do nothing. The days pass in misery of idleness. If only in pity she will tell me all.'
'Don't you think it possible,' Mrs. Baxendale asked, 'that she has already done so?'
He gazed at her blankly, despairingly.
'You have come to believe that? Her words--her manner--seem to prove that?'
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