I Say No, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter lxvii.

The True Consolation.

Emily closed the pages which told her that her father had died by his own hand.

Cecilia still held her tenderly embraced. By slow degrees, her head dropped until it rested on her friend’s bosom. Silently she suffered. Silently Cecilia bent forward, and kissed her forehead. The sounds that penetrated to the room were not out of harmony with the time. From a distant house the voices of children were just audible, singing the plaintive melody of a hymn; and, now and then, the breeze blew the first faded leaves of autumn against the window. Neither of the girls knew how long the minutes followed each other uneventfully, before there was a change. Emily raised her head, and looked at Cecilia.

“I have one friend left,” she said.

“Not only me, love — oh, I hope not only me!”

“Yes. Only you.”

“I want to say something, Emily; but I am afraid of hurting you.”

“My dear, do you remember what we once read in a book of history at school? It told of the death of a tortured man, in the old time, who was broken on the wheel. He lived through it long enough to say that the agony, after the first stroke of the club, dulled his capacity for feeling pain when the next blows fell. I fancy pain of the mind must follow the same rule. Nothing you can say will hurt me now.”

“I only wanted to ask, Emily, if you were engaged — at one time — to marry Mr. Mirabel. Is it true?”

“False! He pressed me to consent to an engagement — and I said he must not hurry me.”

“What made you say that?”

“I thought of Alban Morris.”

Vainly Cecilia tried to restrain herself. A cry of joy escaped her.

“Are you glad?” Emily asked. “Why?”

Cecilia made no direct reply. “May I tell you what you wanted to know, a little while since?” she said. “You asked why Mr. Morris left it all to me, instead of speaking to you himself. When I put the same question to him, he told me to read what he had written. ‘Not a shadow of suspicion rests on Mr. Mirabel,’ he said. ‘Emily is free to marry him — and free through Me. Can I tell her that? For her sake, and for mine, it must not be. All that I can do is to leave old remembrances to plead for me. If they fail, I shall know that she will be happier with Mr. Mirabel than with me.’ ‘And you will submit?’ I asked. ‘Because I love her,’ he answered, ‘I must submit.’ Oh, how pale you are! Have I distressed you?”

“You have done me good.”

“Will you see him?”

Emily pointed to the manuscript. “At such a time as this?” she said.

Cecilia still held to her resolution. “Such a time as this is the right time,” she answered. “It is now, when you most want to be comforted, that you ought to see him. Who can quiet your poor aching heart as he can quiet it?” She impulsively snatched at the manuscript and threw it out of sight. “I can’t bear to look at it,” she said. “Emily! if I have done wrong, will you forgive me? I saw him this morning before I came here. I was afraid of what might happen — I refused to break the dreadful news to you, unless he was somewhere near us. Your good old servant knows where to go. Let me send her —”

Mrs. Ellmother herself opened the door, and stood doubtful on the threshold, hysterically sobbing and laughing at the same time. “I’m everything that’s bad!” the good old creature burst out. “I’ve been listening — I’ve been lying — I said you wanted him. Turn me out of my situation, if you like. I’ve got him! Here he is!”

In another moment, Emily was in his arms — and they were alone. On his faithful breast the blessed relief of tears came to her at last: she burst out crying.

“Oh, Alban, can you forgive me?”

He gently raised her head, so that he could see her face.

“My love, let me look at you,” he said. “I want to think again of the day when we parted in the garden at school. Do you remember the one conviction that sustained me? I told you, Emily, there was a time of fulfillment to come in our two lives; and I have never wholly lost the dear belief. My own darling, the time has come!”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30