LILY FORD had been extraordinarily moved by Roger’s declaration. It had an effect upon her imagination which was beyond all reason, and quite out of proportion with the event. She had not been without stirrings of heart as to Roger’s visits in the days when her mind was still free, and Stephen was to her only a vague shadow of that hero of romance for whose arrival she was looking daily. Roger’s appearance had been, indeed, the first that had roused the expectation in her, and made that general and shadowy sense of something about to happen, which is always dominant in a girl’s mind, into a still shadowy but more possible reality. Her heart had beat its first, not for him, but for the excitement of his coming, the prince, the knight, the lover of all the romances. Afterwards Lily had grown a little afraid of Roger. His visits, his looks, his tones, all flattered her, but frightened her at the same time. Perhaps she never could have been at her ease with him as with Stephen. He reverenced her too much, and Lily knew very well that this was not the appropriate sentiment with which to regard her. Admiration she understood perfectly, and love more or less ; but that ideal respect bewildered her, and impaired her self-possession in his presence. That she should look up to him as an elder brother and head of the family was a much more possible relation than anything more familiar, and in this light she had begun to regard Roger vaguely before his sudden disappearance. But now that all was changed, now that she was Stephen’s betrothed, almost his bride, his brother’s sudden arrival, his sudden appeal to her, the almost certainty there seemed in his mind that he must be the first who had so addressed her, and that only her anxiety for her father prevented her full response, was an overwhelming surprise, and indeed a horror, to Lily. It shocked and paralyzed her. Her “ Oh, Mr. Roger! ” was a cry of terror. No other words would come, nor did she know what to do except to fly, to hurry away, to hide her face and stop her ears, that she might not hear nor see those avowals, which not only were almost criminal, but would raise, she felt vaguely, such a wall of separation between herself and the brother of her future husband as nothing hereafter could overcome.
Lily was altogether more painfully affected by this incident than could have been supposed possible. It made her wretched, it filled her with visionary terror. It was wrong, wicked, unnatural. His sister-in-law ! and she dared not tell him, — dared not betray the position in which she stood towards Stephen, who by this time had no doubt got the license and prepared everything for their marriage. The situation overwhelmed the girl; no better expedient occurred to her than to shut herself up in her room, from which, scarcely venturing to breathe lest she should be discovered, with feelings of alarm and agitation indescribable, she heard the voice of Roger speaking to her mother down-stairs. Mrs. Ford, for her part, did not understand Lily’s panic, nor why she should hide herself. It was, no doubt, a very agitating and splendid event; but except for the natural tremor of so enormous a success, and some qualms of alarm as to its immediate effect upon Ford’s position as gamekeeper, — qualms calmed by the thought that everything must come right in the end, for Mrs. Ford had no faith in disinheritance, — the mother would have easily made up her mind to boundless joy and triumph. But Lily’s condition was not to be accounted for by mere nervousness or excitement. She was so determined that Roger’s suit could not be listened to for a moment, so anxious to hide herself and keep out of his way, that Mrs. Ford was compelled to yield with a troubled heart to these tremors. She had long ago discovered that she did not always understand Lily. How should she ? The girl was far above her mother in so many things. It was a pride the more to think that so humble a woman as she was could not always tell what her child meant, — her child, who was so much superior to any other woman’s child.
But while Lily thus lurked terrorstricken in her room, her mind was full of many troubled thoughts. The time had come, she felt, when her fate could no longer hang in the balance ; when that decision, which she could not but feel to be an awful one, must be made. For nothing in the world would she run the risk of meeting Roger again, or being once more addressed by him in those words she trembled to think of. Rather anything than that ; rather the final step, the plunge which she longed, yet feared, to make. She had parted from Stephen with a promise that her decision should not be long delayed, but whether without this new excitement Lily would ever have been able to wind herself up to so bold a step it is impossible to tell. She sat upon the floor in her little chamber, all crouched together, sick with alarm and nervous excitement, while the sound of Roger’s masculine voice came up from below. She had consented that Stephen should remain in town awaiting her, and that he should take all the steps about the license ; she had even promised to let him know, by a telegram, the time of her arrival, in order that he might meet and take her to the house he had selected, — the house, of course, of a good woman, an old servant, who would care for her until the hour of the marriage, for which, in the mean time, all should be prepared. Everything had been arranged between them, even to that old church in the city which Lily, aided by her experience of novels, had thought the safest, and which he had yielded to, though avowing his preference for a registrar’s office. A registrar’s office ! Oh, no, that would have been no marriage at all! And at last he had consented, and even had discovered that he knew the very place, — an old, old church, quite out of the way. All these things began to swim through Lily’s head as she sat on the floor, in the panic and humiliation of her thoughts, listening to the far-off sound of Roger’s voice ; anticipating the horror of perhaps seeing him again, of having to make him some answer, of her mother’s wondering questions, and of all the commotion which she did not know how to face.
And on the other side, how much there was ! Her lover waiting, longing, hoping that every day would bring her to his arms; a new life, the life she had always known must one day be hers, and happiness, and splendor, and her right position, and the society of ladies and gentlemen. All this lay before her, separated from her only by the decision, by the one step out of her present world into the other, which would indeed be Something like dying and coming to life again, and yet would be so quick, accompanied by so little pain ; a thing, too, that must be done sooner or later. Lily scarcely thought of the pangs she would leave behind her, of the tortures her father and mother would have to suffer. It would be only for a moment, she reflected, for a single night, or perhaps a couple of days ; and then what comfort and delight to follow ! The pain was scarcely worth thinking of. Mrs. Ford herself would not complain: she would say it was nothing ; it was a cheap price to pay for knowing her child to be so happy. Her mother’s very humbleness reassured Lily. The parents would care nothing for the anxiety after it was over; they would be so glad, so glad, when the next day a telegram told them that all was well.
But was she herself strong enough to do it, — that was the question, — strong enough to forget herself, to step out of all that was ordinary, to free herself from every prejudice ? They were only prejudices, she said to herself, — how often had Stephen told her so ! To meet him at the railway, to drive with him to that good woman’s house, was that worse than meeting him in the park ? Was it possible for her, was it honorable, was it modest even, to have any doubts of Stephen ? No, no, she had none. She would be as safe with him as with her father, she knew. It was nothing but a prejudice, a breach of the ordinary, that was all. She wanted orange-blossoms, and the children to strew flowers, and the church-bells to ring. Oh, yes, she allowed it all in her heart. That was what she would have liked best. Oh, how she would have liked it! If she had married Witherspoon, even, that was what would have happened at home. Witherspoon ! She trembled, and grew red for shame of herself, who, engaged to a gentleman, an officer, should allow herself to think it had ever been possible that she might have married Witherspoon. The gardener! while his master was there, pleading, persuading, with that tone of entreaty which she could distinguish, with a shiver, down-stairs, begging that he might see her; and he was her brother-in-law, if he had only known it! Oh, good heavens, her bridegroom’s brother! And how could she face him, or reply to him, or let him speak to her, in that dreadful mistake he was making ? No, no, no ! it was impossible ! There was only one thing to be done, and that was to go away. It must be done one time or another; tomorrow or the day after to-morrow, if not to-day. It must be done. Was not Stephen waiting for her, waiting for her telegram, with everything ready at that good woman’s house, and the license in his pocket ? It must be done ! it must be done ! It was the only way of escaping, of seeing Roger no more, — poor Roger, who loved her, yet must not love her, poor fellow!
She did not venture to get up, to run the risk of betraying her presence in the upper room even by the creaking of a board, until she heard his voice die out underneath, and then his lingering step upon the gravel. She felt sure — and her heart beat louder at the thought — that he turned, after he had left the door, to look back wistfully, if perhaps he might still see her at a window. Poor Mr. Roger ! But she dared not meet him ; it was kinder, far kinder to him that she should go away.
Presently Lily heard her mother toiling up the narrow stairs. Mrs. Ford came in panting for breath, but not only with the fatigue of the climbing. She had her apron thrown over her arm, handy for wiping her eyes or forehead, which was moist with exhaustion and trouble. She threw herself into a chair with a half groan. “I’d rather do the hardest day’s work as I ever had in my life than do what I’ve been a-doing now,” she said. “ Oh, Lily, Lily! ”
“ What is it, mother ? ” asked Lily, though with a tremor which showed how well aware she was of her mother’s meaning.
“ What is it, child ? It’s this, that I never seen a man in more trouble than the young master. To think it should be us, as has always been so well treated, that has brought him to this ! And he can’t believe as you won’t have nothing to say to him, Lily; and no more can I, no more can I! ”
“ Do you think a girl is obliged to — to accept anybody who asks her ? ” cried Lily, trying to give her excitement a color of indignation. Her eyes shone feverishly through quick-springing tears, and her color changed every minute. Her agitation and trouble were indeed very plain to see.
“ Do you call Mr. Roger ‘ anybody’ ? ” retorted the mother angrily. “ Who have you ever seen like him ? You told me you would never marry if it was n’t a gentleman, and where will you find a gentleman like Mr. Roger? And one that respects you, like you were a queen. And says the Squire will never meddle with us, seeing as he’s put it all out on him. Oh, Lily, the Squire’s cut him off with a shilling, all because of you. And now you won’t have him! Oh, poor young gentleman ! and to think this is all come to him through coming in so kind to say a pleasant word to your father and me!”
“ Cut him off with a — Mother, do you mean to say the Squire knows ? ” Lily’s voice sank into a half-frightened whisper. Her eyes grew large with terror. If this were the consequence to Roger, what would happen to Stephen ? But then she reflected, quick as a lightning flash, that Roger was the eldest son ; that no such penalty would be likely to attach to the youngest; that Stephen was an officer, and, as she thought in her foolishness, independent. This quick train of thought reassured her almost before the words were said.
“ Knows ! ” echoed Mrs. Ford, with a tone almost of contempt. “ What is there as the Squire don’t know ? ” She did not set herself up as equal to her daughter in any other kind of information ; but for this potentate, of whom her experience was so much greater than Lily’s, she could take upon herself to answer. Of course he knew ! Had he not discovered for himself what Lily was, and must he not have divined from that moment all that was happening ? “ I knew,” she added, “as it was n’t for naught that he came here, — I see it in his eyes. He was struck when you came in; he lost his senses like. Oh, Lily, Lily ! ” cried Mrs. Ford. “ You I’ve been that proud of ! May be, after all, it would ha’ been better for all of us if you ’d been more like other poor folks’ children. Oh, my pretty, that I should live to wish you different, — me that have always been that proud ! ”
“You don’t wish me different, mother, whatever happens,” said the girl, with a sudden melting of the heart, throwing her arms for a moment round the homely woman, and kissing fervently her bowed head. But Lily had disengaged herself from this rapid embrace before her mother, surprised by the sudden warmth, could return it; and when Mrs. Ford turned round to give back the kiss, Lily had already begun to arrange some small articles, collars and cuffs, which were laid out in her drawers, and was saying over her shoulder, in a voice which had a strained tone of levity, “ It’s far better for Mr. Roger that I should have nothing to say to him, in that case, mother, — better for both him and me. For the Squire will have him back when he hears it has all come to nothing. And what could we do with a shilling ? We could n’t live upon that.”
“ Oh, Lily, you have always the best of sense,” replied Mrs. Ford. “ I never thought of that. But, dear, you ’ll have to see him when he comes again. I’ve done my best for you, but I can’t take it upon me no more.”
“ When he comes again ! Is he coming again ? Oh, mother ! ”
“ How could I help it, Lily ? He would n’t take his answer, was it likely, from me.”
“ Then, mother,” cried Lily, — she spoke with her head bent over her little collars, counting them, Mrs. Ford thought, to see that they were all right after the wash, — “ then, mother ” — Her breath came quick, but that was very natural, disturbed as she had been; and she made a pause before saying any more. “ I think I must go out and stay — about the park — till night. I cannot, oh, I cannot see Mr. Roger ! It would make me ill to see him; and what would be the use ? I will take a piece of cake for my dinner, and go up into the wood, and come home with father. And then you can tell him you don’t know where I am, — and it will be quite true.”
“Oh, Lily, I have said that already, — that I did n’t know where you were. It was true enough, for I did n’t know if you were here, or in my room, or in the loft, or where you were. But if I say it again — and him looking that anxious in my face ” —
“ It will be truer than ever, mother,” said Lily. She turned again to Mrs. Ford, and put her arms, which trembled, round her, and leaned her head upon her mother’s breast. “ Oh, mother,” she cried, “ I know it’s hard upon you, I know it is ; but only have patience just a very little, and everything will come right. I know it will all come right. Only have patience a little, and don’t be vexed with me, mother dear.”
“ Vexed with you, my pretty ! ” cried Mrs. Ford, hugging her child. “ Since ever you were born, Lily, you’ve been the pride of my heart; and I would n’t have you different, not a bit different, whatever was to happen to me. There, bless you, child, don’t cry, and I ’ll go and cut you a nice bit of cake, and put some apples in the basket, and you ’ll come home with your father ; and I ’ll never say another word about Mr. Roger, poor young gentleman, though it do go to my heart.”
She went quickly away down-stairs, not trusting herself to say another word, lest she should enter again upon the forbidden subject. Lily, with hands that trembled, lifted her hat from its box. She selected her best hat, and a pretty little cloth jacket which had been purchased for Sundays; but such extravagance was not unusual with Lily, who took very good care of her clothes, though she did not always keep them for best. Perhaps this was one reason why she ran out so quickly, taking the little basket hurriedly from Mrs. Ford’s hand, that her mother might not remark upon her dress. But she left her collars lying about, not put neatly into the drawer, as was her wont. Mrs. Ford put them away very carefully afterwards, wondering a little at Lily’s carelessness ; but indeed it was no wonder, poor child, in the circumstances, that she should be put out of her usual tidy way.
AT THE RAILWAY STATION.
Roger arrived in London in the evening, before it was dark. He had not had a cheerful journey. The fact that he had not been able to see Lily, and that her mother had a second time defended her doors against him, and with flushed cheeks and troubled eyes had repeated once more that Lily was out, that she could not tell where she was, had disturbed him in his convictions. It had seemed so certain, so self-evident, that his suit must be acceptable to the gamekeeper’s daughter; was it possible that Lily was not of that opinion, that she loved some one else, that after all somebody in her own class had secured her affections ? The idea made Roger’s blood boil; but when he thought again he said to himself, No, no. She could never give herself to a man of her father’s class; it was impossible, it could not be ; and who could she have seen whom it was possible to reckon with as rivaling himself ? Roger was not vain, especially now when his heart was so profoundly touched. At the best, he had scarcely expected her to love him as he loved her. But that she should shrink and fly from him was incredible. It could be only what her mother said: that to find herself the cause of so much disturbance had overwhelmed her delicate spirit. Sweet Lily, pure flower of nature, moved by all the most generous emotions. A girl who had been brought up in the world would have liked the commotion. She would have thought of nobody but herself in the matter. But Lily held her own happiness at arm’s-length, trembling for it lest it should hurt some one else. This conception of her sweetened his thoughts, which were not bright, as he went away. He told her mother that he would write, explaining everything, and that Lily must reply to him sincerely, truly, without thought of any secondary matter. “ You shall not be disturbed ; I will take care of you,” he repeated, though he did not know how he was to do so. And thus unsatisfied, unhappy, he had gone away.
It seemed to Roger that at the junction, where there was a change of carriages for some of the humbler travelers, he saw for a moment among the changing groups a figure which reminded him of Lily; and he started from his corner to follow it with his eyes. But he knew the idea was absurd even as it flashed through his mind. It was only that he had Lily on his heart, on his brain, in his every thought, and discovered resemblances to her, visions of her, wherever he turned ; he knew that nothing could be more ridiculous than the thought that Lily was traveling to London or anywhere else, alone. It was only a delusion of his preoccupied heart.
The yellow flame of the lamps, newly lighted, was shining against the dim blue of the evening, when he reached the big railway station, crowded and echoing with voices and commotion. He had just got his bags and coats out of the carriage he had occupied, and flung them into the arms of the waiting porter, when he was suddenly startled by the appearance of another very familiar image, almost as unlikely in such a place as that of Lily. The sight of his brother Stephen was not habitually a pleasure to Roger; but there was something in his own forlornness, in his sense of severance from all his former life, which disposed him towards his own flesh and blood; and a wild idea that Stephen might have heard what had happened, and might have come to meet him, to show him a little sympathy, though they were not usually great friends, suggested itself in the heat of the moment. He turned round abruptly, straight in his brother’s way, and held out his hand. “ You’ve come to meet me, Steve ? How kind of you! ” he cried.
Stephen had been going slowly along looking into the carriages, as if searching for some one. He stopped and stared, not with the air of a man who had found the person he was seeking, but astonished at the sudden grasp of his hand and claim upon him. “ You here ! ” he cried, with a look of wonder and discomfiture ; and then he laughed, getting free of Roger’s hand. “ No, indeed,” he said, “ I did n’t come to meet you. How should I ? I did n’t know you were coming. I thought you were at home.”
“ I have left home. Steve, I have a great deal to tell you. There are things you ought to know. It may affect you, too,” added Roger, pausing, with a new thought. “ Jump into the cab with me ; don’t leave me now we’ve met. I have a great deal to say.”
“ My dear fellow,” answered Stephen, “ I ’m very sorry ; but I’ve got half a dozen engagements. I’ve come here to meet — one of our fellows, don’t you know. I can’t possibly spare you a moment to-night. You ‘re at the old place, I suppose ? Well, good-by. I ‘ll soon look you up.”
“ Stay a moment; none of your fellows can be so important as this,” said Roger, with his hand upon his brother’s arm.
A smile of conscious triumph came over Stephen’s face ; he shook off Roger’s hand and turned away, kissing the tips of his fingers. “ Ta-ta. I ’ll look you up very soon,” he cried, disappearing in the crowd. Roger divined the meaning of that triumphant smile. He looked after his brother for a moment, with a sense that Stephen’s rendezvous, whatever it was, was an offense to his own trouble and to the cause of that trouble, — a sin against love. The train was long and the platform crowded. Stephen and the person, whoever it was whom Stephen had come to meet, were lost in the groups of moving figures, indistinguishable, a continually shifting and re-forming crowd, under the mingled light of the yellow lamps and the waning day. Roger saw the pale sky at the end of a long vista, the lights, more perplexing than illuminating, in a row above the dim, long, crowded line of moving figures below. And then, with a sigh, half of disappointment, half of a vague and troubled foreboding, he turned to get into the cab, which was already laden with his traveling-gear. A curious fancy to wait and see who it was whom Stephen had come to meet crossed his mind, one of those sudden, vague fancies which blow about through a man’s consciousness without any will of his own. He pulled himself up with an indignant return upon himself. What, wait and spy upon his brother ! Of all things, that was the last. The little self-argument passed in a second, scarcely so long as it took to transfer to the porter, who stood waiting to know what address he was to give the cabman, the sixpence in Roger’s hand, — and it never really was a question at all. That he should watch Stephen and find out who it was he met was as impossible as to catch the first passer-by by the throat and rob him. And yet, if that impossible thought had been carried out, — if he had but done it, this impossible thing!
Roger went off to his chambers, the rooms which had scarcely yet begun to show the emptiness of rooms uninhabited. The invitation cards which he had taken down from the glass still lay together in a little bundle on the mantelshelf. How few hours it was since he had left them, still all uncertain, not knowing what turn his fate was to take ! Now it was all settled, beyond the reach of further change. The state of mind in which he was when he left this place, not much more than twenty-four hours before, was now almost incredible to him. He scarcely understood how it could have been. From the beginning of time it must have been clear that only in one way, only in this way, could he have acted. Doubt on the subject was an offense to him as he now saw it, and all the efforts that had been made to turn him from his purpose were as wrong as they were vain. He thought of Edmund’s action, his persuasions, the journey they had made together, in which his brother had been his slave, — a slave to all his caprices, while believing that he was the guide, weaning Roger from those plans which never could have been doubtful for a moment, which now were fixed beyond all recall. Poor Edmund, always so well intentioned, so well meaning!
Roger sat gazing at the light of his solitary lamp, and wondered within himself what Edmund would do. Would he accept, after all, the reversion of the heirship, and become in time the proprietor of Melcombe ? Why should he not accept it ? Since it was no longer Roger’s, how much better it should be Edmund’s, so good a fellow as he was, — the best of them, much the best! He paused here for a moment to wonder over again, or rather to be conscious of an impulse of wonder floating across his mind, as to who it was Stephen was going to meet, but dismissed this absurd, insignificant question, and returned to Edmund. It would be by far the best thing that Edmund should accept, and marry Elizabeth Travers, and bring her home to Melcombe. A smile came over Roger’s face as he sat thinking,— a smile altogether sweet and tender, with perhaps a touch of melancholy, as there always is in such tender thoughts. Where could there be a better pair ? They would make the house delightful; not like anything Roger had ever known in it, but far better, purer, more elevated, a home of love and kindness. Yes, that was how it must be: Edmund and Elizabeth must marry, and live happily ever after, like the lovers in a fairy tale ; “ while I and Lily,” he said to himself, “ Lily and I ” — with his smile softening more and more into a melancholy, profounder, sweeter, than any sentiment he had ever been conscious of in his life. Lily and he would not make a home like that at Melcombe. He did not anticipate any centre of life, any new world beginning, in that fated union, which was like one of the old tragic expedients of destiny in the Greek plays, he thought, — a thing that had to be, that no human effort could disturb. He smiled over it with a pathetic consciousness that it could not be what people called happy, — not like that other marriage, like Edmund and Elizabeth ; not happy in that way, — no, nor of that kind.
He returned with pleasure from the too penetrating thought of his own fate to think of these two, largely administering an ample household, a shelter from the storms outside, an ever noble, tranquil centre of life. His smile grew without his consciousness into a half laugh, in which amusement mingled. Ned would fight against it, he would not see his way, he would think it was robbing his brother, —old Ned ! the best fellow that ever was ; in love with Lizzy Travers all this time, but never owning it, never letting himself think of it, in case he might come in Roger’s way. But in the end Edmund must hear reason. — he must see that this was the most desirable thing that could happen. Roger drew his writing things towards him, and began at once to write to his brother, setting all these arguments before him. There must be no mistake upon the subject; Ned must do it, if it were but for Roger’s sake.
After writing this letter he sat motionless for some time, staring vacantly at the flame of his lamp. Then he took up the pen again, and began another letter, his great letter, his explanation to Lily. He wrote to her as to one whom he regarded with a kind of worship, reverent of all her ignorances and innocences, yet as one who belonged to him, between whom and himself there could be no obstacles that were not imaginary, to be surmounted at their pleasure. She had to understand this at the outset, — that she was his, that he would hear of no objections. He had encountered for her everything a man can encounter for the woman he loves. It was done, and there could be no further question. Family and fortune he had put away for her; it only remained that she should put away her hesitations, her anxieties for her father (who should not suffer, he promised her), her fears and diffidences for him, — a matter so easy, and yet all that was wanted to make everything clear.
It was very late when he concluded the letter, or rather early in the May morning, the solemn hour which is at once the dead of night and the approach of day. As he sealed the envelope there came over him again that insistent yet altogether irrelevant question, — Who was it whom Stephen was hurrying to meet, with that smile of triumph on his face ? He shook it from him indignantly, not knowing by what mechanical freak of fancy it should come back thus, again and again. What did it matter who it was ? Some of Stephen’s banal loves, a vulgar adventure, perhaps some one of whom it was a shame to think, while the air was still softly echoing with Lily’s name. If he had but known!
IN THE TOILS.
Lily’s heart was in her mouth, as people say, — it was fluttering like a bird. She stepped out, stumbled out, of the railway carriage, among the crowd, looking wildly about her, feeling herself for the moment lost. She had never encountered such a crowd before. She felt herself disappear in it, among the people who were running about after their luggage, and those who were calling cabs, and the porters pushing through the throng with big boxes on their shoulders. Lily felt herself lost, as if, whoever might be looking for her, she should never be found any more. It had not occurred to her to prepare for the risk of not meeting her lover. She was quite unaware where to go, what to do. She had never been in London before, nor in a crowd, nor left to herself to push her way. She was as much disconcerted at finding herself alone as if she had been a duke’s daughter instead of a gamekeeper’s ; and the noise and the bustle frightened her. She looked round helplessly, wistfully, putting up the veil which she had kept over her face during the whole journey. No one was likely to recognize her here, — no one except him for whom she was looking, who had not come. Had he not come ? Was it possible that some accident could have happened, and that he was not here ?
Lily had some ten minutes of this panic and misery. It was the first thing that had gone wrong with her; all the previous part of the journey had seemed so easy. She had walked to the junction, from whence, as had been arranged between them, the telegram was to be sent, and thus avoided all curious eyes at the little Melcombe station ; and she had been lucky enough to find a secondclass carriage empty, where she was left undisturbed all the way. She had not the least idea that Roger was in the same train, nobody had come near her except the guard, and she had seen no familiar face ; all had gone perfectly well till now. Her heart beat, indeed, with a wildly quickened movement whenever she allowed herself to think. But Lily had enough perception of the necessity of self-command to avoid thinking as much as was possible, and to concentrate her mind upon the happy meeting at the end of this exciting journey. She figured to herself Stephen appearing at the carriage window almost before the train stopped, and how in a moment all anxiety of hers, all need to act or decide for herself, would be over. She had nothing in the shape of luggage except the little basket in which her mother had put the luncheon, the slice of cake and apples, which she had been glad enough to have before the long afternoon was over. Lily had slipped into this basket a very small bundle of necessaries, which were all she had brought with her. She held it tightly in her hand as she got out, bewildered by the arrival, by the jar of the stopping, by the dreadful sensation of finding herself there alone among the crowd. She did not know how long she stood, pushed about by the other travelers, who knew where they were going, who had nothing to wait for ; but it was long enough to feel herself forsaken, lost, and to realize what it would be to have nowhere to go to, to be thrown upon her own resources in this horrible great, strange, noisy place. Then in a moment Lily’s heart gave a wild leap, and she knew it was not to be so.
But the first sensation of the meeting was not altogether sweet. Instead of Stephen’s face at the window, ready, waiting to receive her according to her dream, what really did happen was that Lily felt herself suddenly surrounded by an arm which drew her close, and felt a hot breath upon her cheek, and a “ Here you are at last, little one ! ” which jarred upon her almost as much as it relieved her. In the railway station, among all these crowds ! She started out of his embrace, freed herself, and threw a hurried glance upon the bystanders with instinctive terror almost before she looked at him. “ Oh, Stephen ! ” she exclaimed, with a little cry of reproach.
“ Don’t be frightened,” he replied; “ nobody knows us here, you little goose. I might take you up in my arms and carry you off, — nobody would mind. And so here you are, Lil, my pet; really here at last.”
She put her arm timidly through his. “ Oh, Stephen, I thought I should never find you! And what should I have done! ”
“It was not my fault,” he declared. “ Where is your luggage ? Oh, to be sure, you have n’t got any luggage! ” He stopped to laugh at this, as if it amused him very much, but pressed her arm close to his side all the time with a sort of hug, which consoled though it half frightened Lily. “ Why, how are you to get on for to-night ? ” he went on, still with that laugh. “Must we stop at a shop somewhere and buy you things for to-night ? ”
“ Oh, Stephen, don’t! ” said Lily, with a pang of wounded pride.
“ Don’t ? What ? Talk of your things, or about what you ’ll want ? Well, well, we ’ll leave all that till tomorrow.” His laugh, why should it have offended Lily ? It had never done so before. “ Here’s our cab,” he said, leading her out of the noise of the station. Lily’s heart beat so that it made her faint, as he put her into the hansom, and took his place beside her, so close, with again that sweep of his arm round her, which seemed to offend her too, though she could not tell why, — she had no right to be offended by that clasp. He had held her in his arms in the park, when they met there, with not a creature near, and she had not been offended : why should she be now, or find fault with the man who was to be her husband to-morrow, for his fondness ? She drew herself away a little, as much as was possible; but she restrained the protest that rose to her lips, and her heart fluttered and beat, and all her pulses seemed to clang in her ears, with an excitement which had pain in it and trouble, not the sensation of safety and protection and shelter for which she had hoped.
“ Fancy what made me late,” Stephen said ; “it was not my fault. As I came hurrying along, looking out for my little Lil, whom do you suppose I saw jumping out of a carriage ? — and he saw me too, worse luck, and thought, the fool, I had come to meet him. You could n’t guess if you were to try till Christmas. Why, Lily, my pet, my brother Roger ! Think what a fright I was in for a moment: for though you never would own to it, I know he was always hanging about the place ; and if you could have had the eldest son, my little Lil, I dare say you’d never have thought twice of me.”
“Oh, Stephen!” she cried, with a choking sensation in her throat. “ Oh, don’t, don’t.” He held her close as in a vise, and laughed, and delivered these remarks with his lips close to her cheek. He was excited, too, but the banter which had appeared to her so sprightly and delightful at Melcombe seemed at this tremendous moment so out of place, so dreadful to listen to. And then Roger ! — if he but knew!
“ Yes, — you did n’t know he was in the same train, did you ? Had he turned up a little sooner, you ’d have thrown me off at the last moment, would n’t you, Lil ? But Roger is one of the prudent ones, my dear. No chance for you there. Catch him offending the pater and losing his chances for all the girls in the world ! He is not that sort. He is not a fool in love, like me ! ”
“ Please, Stephen ! Oh, please, Stephen ! ” Oh, to hear all that of Mr. Roger, who had said such beautiful things to her, who had suffered she knew not what for her, who had come boldly and told her mother that he wanted Lily for his wife! All at once there sprang up in Lily’s frightened soul a consciousness that she dared not say this to Stephen, as things now were. She had been very bold with him, and said what she pleased, while she had her home within reach and had still full power over herself. But now everything seemed changed: now that she was at the height of all her dreams had pointed to, on the eve of her wedding-day, about to marry a gentleman, — and not a gentleman only, but a splendid officer, the flower of the world; now that she was about to step into another sphere, to leave her own humbleness and obscurity behind forever. Confusedly Lily was conscious of all this grandeur shining before her, — only one other step to be taken, only a few hours to pass: but still more certainly she became aware that her lover terrified her beyond description, and that in a moment there had rolled up between them a crowd of things which she dared not speak of, nor allude to, and those the very things which she most wished to say.
It was a relief to her when the cab stopped, in a quiet street, with not many lamps and scarcely any one about, — a street of houses with little gardens in front of them, narrow London inclosures, with a tiny tree or bush in the centre of a space no bigger than a table. But it was very quiet, and Lily felt a throb of satisfaction, hoping to see the good woman, the faithful creature who was to protect her and be a mother to her until to-morrow. She longed for the sight of this woman as she had never longed for anything in her life. But no woman appeared; the door was opened by a man, and Stephen led the way up to a room on the first floor, where there were lights and a table was laid. The room looked fine to Lily’s inexperienced eyes : there were flowers about, plants in pots, and huge bouquets in vases ; and the table was pretty, with its dazzling white cover, and the glass and silver that shone under the candles with their pink shades. All these details caught her eye even in this moment of troubled emotion, and gave her a thrill of pleasure, as signs and tokens of the new world into winch she was taking her first step. The man, whether servant or master of the house, who had followed them up-stairs, opened a door into a room beyond, which Lily saw was a bedroom. She took refuge hastily in this room, half because she seemed to be expected to do so, half that she might be alone for the moment and able to think.
There were candles lighted upon the toilet table, and an air of preparation, something of the ordinary and natural in the midst of all the horrible strangeness of her circumstances, which consoled her a little. She sank down upon a chair, to recover her breath and her composure, saying to herself that it was very foolish, even wicked, to be so full of nervousness and doubts and fears; that having come so far, and having done it deliberately of her own free will, she could not, must not, give way to any imaginary terrors. She might have known it would be terrible, this interval, — she might have known ! But where was the good woman, the kind woman, whom Stephen had assured her she would find waiting ? Then she recalled herself with a pang at her heart. How could she even ask for this woman, as if she had no confidence in the man who would be her husband to-morrow ? To-morrow, — only to-morrow, — it was not very long to wait. This was, no doubt, only an excitement of her nerves, such as women were so apt to have in novels. Lily had never known before what unreasonable nerves were. She took off her hat, which relieved her throbbing head for a moment. But when she caught sight of herself in the glass, her pale, scared face frightened her as if it had been a head of Medusa. She turned away from that revelation of her own instinctive alarms with a fresh access of terror; her hands trembled as she put them up to smooth her hair. The table was arranged with pretty brushes, ivory-backed, and every kind of pretty thing, such as Lily had heard of, but never seen before. They had all been put there for her, she tried to say to herself, all arranged for her gratification, and she so ungrateful! But she could not use them. She smoothed her hair tremulously with her hands. Oh, where was the woman, the kind woman, whose presence would give her a little courage ? Where was she ?
“ I say, Lil, look here ! ” cried Stephen, rattling loudly at the door. “ Don’t be long about your toilet; dinner ’s just coming.” Then he opened the door and half came in. “You want a lady’s-maid, — that’s what you want. Not used, eh, to managing for yourself, my dear?” His laugh seemed to fill the house with horrible echoes. “ Can’t I fasten something or undo something ? Here, Lil, you ’ll find me very handy,” he said, advancing to her, his large masculine presence filling the room, exhausting the atmosphere, affecting the frightened girl with a passion of terror which was almost more than she could contain.
“ Oh, please ! ” she said, her breath coming quick, “ I shall be ready — in a moment — in — in five minutes — oh, go away, please. If you would send the woman, the woman ” —
“ What woman ? ” he asked, with a stare ; then laughing, “ Oh, yes, I remember ! The woman, eh ? A faithful old servant, was n’t she ? Yes; well, she ’s looking after the dinner, I suppose ; but no doubt there’s a drudge of some kind, if you must have her. You must n’t be silly, my pretty Lil. You must make the best of your bargain, you know. Come, can’t I do ? ”
“ Oh, if I may have the woman — only for a moment — only for five minutes ! ”
“ Well, don’t work yourself into a fever,” he said. “ And mind you don’t keep the dinner waiting, for I’m as hungry as a hunter,” he added, looking back from the door.
Lily stood trembling in the middle of the room, with her hat in her hand, and that wild pain gradually rising, swelling, in her heart. It was all she could do to keep still, not to fly she knew not where. But yet she made an effort to control herself. He ought to have been more delicate, more respectful than ever, now that she was so entirely at his mercy. He ought to have treated her like something sacred. Ah ! but then, she said to herself, he had never been respectful, reverent of her, like Mr. Roger. She had preferred it so, — it was Stephen’s way; he was only a little rough, thinking there was no need for so many ceremonies, when to-morrow— to-morrow! She stood with one foot advanced, ready in her panic to fly, though she did not know where she could fly to. And then she heard his voice shouting down-stairs for some one to come up, — for the maid, for Mary. “ Here, you Stimpson, send up the girl, send Mary — whatever her name is.” Lily hastily locked the door which was between the rooms, while his voice was audible ; feeling that even the girl, even Mary, or whatever her name was, would be some protection. Wild thoughts traversed her mind as she stood there panting for breath, like clouds driven over the sky by a stormy wind, — thoughts over which she had no control. For the first time the other conclusion burst upon her, the end of the story which was in all the books: the unhappy girl betrayed, wandering home, a shameful thing, to die. O God ! O God ! would that ever happen to Lily? Not to return in pride, a gentleman’s wife on her husband’s arm, to make her parents glad, but perhaps in shame, flinging herself down before the door, dying there, never raising her head ! Oh, what folly ! what folly ! Oh, how horrible — horrible ! But it could not be, — how could it be ? It was only Stephen’s way, — a little rough, not respectful; he had never been respectful. She would have laughed at the idea before to-night, — Stephen respectful, delicate, thinking of her silly feelings. Oh, was it likely, when they were to be married to - morrow, and ceremony would be needed no more ?
Presently there came a heavy, dragging step mounting the stairs, a hard breathing as of a fatigued creature ; the other door of the room was pushed open, and some one came in with a steaming jug of hot water, a London maid-of-allwork, of a kind quite unknown to Lily, with a scrap of something white pinned upon her rough hair, and an apron hurriedly tied on. “ I ’m sorry as I forgot the ’ot water, ma’am,” she said, and put it down with much noise and commotion, shaking the room with her tread, and making everything in it ring.
She was not pretty, nor neat, nor anything that was pleasant to see, but when she turned to go away, after putting down her jug, Lily caught her arm with both hands. “ Oh,” she cried, “ don’t go away! don’t go away ! ” holding her fast. The young woman, half frightened, looked up in the face of this lady who must certainly be mad to seize upon her so.
“ Laws ! ” she cried ; and then, “ If it’s for lady’s-maidin’, ma’am, I ain’t no good; and Missis wants me downstairs.
“ Oh, wait a moment! wait a moment ! ” cried Lily under her breath. A hundred questions pushed to her lips, but she did not know how to put them into words. “ Did n’t your mistress — expect me ? ” she managed to say.
“ Missis ? Expect you ? Oh yes, ma’am ; the Captain said as you were coming.”
A little relief came to Lily’s mind.
“ She did expect me ! But why does she not come, then ? Why does n’t she come ? ”
“ Missis ! ” said the drudge, astonished. “ Why, she’s a-cookin’ of the dinner. She ain’t a lady’s-maid, ma’am, no more than me.”
“ But you said she expected me ! ”
“ Oh, bless you ! It was the Captain as expected you. He said, ‘ Mrs. Stimpson, I’m expecting of my good lady. She’s been a-visiting of her friends, and I expects her back Tuesday or Wednesday,’ he says. We was all ready for you yesterday, ma’am, and the dinner ordered; but the Captain, he says, ‘ It ’ll be to-morrow, Mrs. Stimpson.’ He said as how you was very fond of your own folks, and it was always uncertain to a day when you ’d come back.”
“ When I’d come back ? ”
“Yes, ma’am: I hear him sayin’ of it. ‘ Mrs. Stevens,’ he says, ‘ is very fond of her own folks.’ ”
“Is that — is that — what he said? And where does he — live, then ? ” said Lily, in a whisper which she could scarcely make audible.
“ Captain Stevens — when he’s at home ? Laws! how can I tell you ? But for the last week he has been living here, a-waitin’ for his good lady, — just as Missis is waiting for me to help dish up the dinner down-stairs.”
Lily did not say another word. She fixed her wild eyes upon the maid’s face, and signed to her to go, impatiently. The drudge was surprised at this rapid dismissal, but she was too much occupied with her own dreary life to trouble herself what happened, and her mistress, she knew, would scold her for her delay. She went down-stairs, not looking behind, not hearing the steps that followed her. Lily followed like a ghost; her foot was light, not like the heavy steps of the maid. She went behind her step by step, not thinking of anything but of how to get away, incapable of thought. She had her little basket still in one hand, her gloves in the other, which she held mechanically. When the woman turned the corner of the stairs to pursue her way to the kitchen, Lily found herself in the narrow hall, lit with one dull flame of gas, alone. She flew noiseless as a bird to the door which was before her, the only way of salvation. In another moment she was outside in the fresh cool air of the spring night.
Outside, — outside of everything ; alone in London, without a soul to turn to, — alone in the unknown streets, on the verge of the awful night!
M. O. W. Oliphant.
T. B. Aldrich.