Last days are wretched days; and so are last moments wretched moments. It is not the fact that the parting is coming which makes these days and moments so wretched, but the feeling that something special is expected from them, which something they always fail to produce. Spasmodic periods of pleasure, of affection, or even of study, seldom fail of disappointment when premeditated. When last days are coming, they should be allowed to come and to glide away without special notice or mention. And as for last moments, there should be none such. Let them ever be ended, even before their presence has been acknowledged.
But Lily Dale had not yet been taught these lessons by her world’s experience, and she expected that this sweetest cup of which she had ever drank should go on being sweet — sweeter and still sweeter — as long as she could press it to her lips. How the dregs had come to mix themselves with the last drops we have already seen; and on that same day — on the Monday evening — the bitter task still remained; for Crosbie, as they walked about through the gardens in the evening, found other subjects on which he thought it necessary to give her sundry hints, intended for her edification, which came to her with much of the savour of a lecture. A girl, when she is thoroughly in love, as surely was the case with Lily, likes to receive hints as to her future life from the man to whom she is devoted; but she would, I think, prefer that such hints should be short, and that the lesson should be implied rather than declared — that they should, in fact, be hints and not lectures. Crosbie, who was a man of tact, who understood the world and had been dealing with women for many years, no doubt understood all this as well as we do. But he had come to entertain a notion that he was an injured man, that he was giving very much more than was to be given to him, and that therefore he was entitled to take liberties which might not fairly be within the reach of another lover. My reader will say that in all this he was ungenerous. Well; he was ungenerous. I do not know that I have ever said that much generosity was to be expected from him. He had some principles of right and wrong under the guidance of which it may perhaps be hoped that he will not go utterly astray; but his past life had not been of a nature to make him unselfish. He was ungenerous, and Lily felt it, though she would not acknowledge it even to herself. She had been very open with him — acknowledging the depth of her love for him; telling him that he was now all in all to her; that life without his love would be impossible to her: and in a certain way he took advantage of these strong avowals, treating her as though she were a creature utterly in his power — as indeed she was.
On that evening he said no more of Johnny Eames, but said much of the difficulty of a man establishing himself with a wife in London, who had nothing but his own moderate income on which to rely. He did not in so many words tell her that if her friends could make up for her two or three thousand pounds — that being much less than he had expected when he first made his offer — this terrible difficulty would be removed; but he said enough to make her understand that the world would call him very imprudent in taking a girl who had nothing. And as he spoke of these things, Lily remaining for the most part silent as he did so, it occurred to him that he might talk to her freely of his past life — more freely than he would have done had he feared that he might lose her by any such disclosures. He had no fear of losing her. Alas! might it not be possible that he had some such hope!
He told her that his past life had been expensive; that, though he was not in debt, he had lived up to every shilling that he had, and that he had contracted habits of expenditure which it would be almost impossible for him to lay aside at a day’s notice. Then he spoke of entanglements, meaning, as he did so, to explain more fully what were their nature — but not daring to do so when he found that Lily was altogether in the dark as to what he meant. No; he was not a generous man — a very ungenerous man. And yet, during all this time, he thought that he was guided by principle. “It will be best that I should be honest with her,” he said to himself. And then he told himself, scores of times, that when making his offer he had expected, and had a right to expect, that she would not be penniless. Under those circumstances he had done the best he could for her — offering her his heart honestly, with a quick readiness to make her his own at the earliest day that she might think possible. Had he been more cautious, he need not have fallen into this cruel mistake; but she, at any rate, could not quarrel with him for his imprudence. And still he was determined to stand by his engagement and willing to marry her, although, as he the more thought of it, he felt the more strongly that he would thereby ruin his prospects, and thrust beyond his own reach all those good things which he had hoped to win. As he continued to talk to her he gave himself special credit for his generosity, and felt that he was only doing his duty by her in pointing out to her all the difficulties which lay in the way of their marriage.
At first Lily said some words intended to convey an assurance that she would be the most economical wife that man ever had, but she soon ceased from such promises as these. Her perceptions were keen, and she discovered that the difficulties of which he was afraid were those which he must overcome before his marriage, not any which might be expected to overwhelm him after it. “A cheap and nasty menage would be my aversion,” he said to her. “It is that which I want to avoid — chiefly for your sake.” Then she promised him that she would wait patiently for his time —“I suppose we shall have to wait two years. And that’s a deuce of a bore — a terrible bore.” And there was that in the tone of his voice which grated on her feelings, and made her wretched for the moment.
As he parted with her for the night on her own side of the little bridge which led from one garden to the other, he put his arm round her to embrace her and kiss her, as he had often done at that spot. It had become a habit with them to say their evening farewells there, and the secluded little nook amongst the shrubs was inexpressibly dear to Lily. But on the present occasion she made an effort to avoid his caress, She turned from him — very slightly, but it was enough, and he felt it. “Are you angry with me?” he said. “Oh, no! Adolphus; how can I be angry with you?” And then she turned to him and gave him her face to kiss almost before he had again asked for it. “He shall not at any rate think that I am unkind to him — and it will not matter now,” she said to herself, as she walked slowly across the lawn, in the dark, up to her mother’s drawing-room window.
“Well, dearest,” said Mrs Dale, who was there alone; “did the beards wag merry in the Great Hall this evening?” That was a joke with them, for neither Crosbie nor Bernard Dale used a razor at his toilet.
“Not specially merry. And I think it was my fault, for I have a headache. Mamma, I believe I will go at once to bed.”
“My darling, is there anything wrong?
“Nothing, mamma. But we had such a long ride; and then Adolphus is going, and of course we have so much to say. Tomorrow will be the last day, for I shall only just see him on Wednesday morning; and as I want to be well, if possible, I’ll go to bed.” And so she took her candle and went.
When Bell came up, Lily was still awake, but she begged her sister not to disturb her. “Don’t talk to me, Bell,” she said.” I’m trying to make myself quiet, and I half feel that I should get childish if I went on talking. I have almost more to think of than I know how to manage.” And she strove, not altogether unsuccessfully, to speak with a cheery tone, as though the cares which weighed upon her were not unpleasant in their nature. Then her sister kissed her and left her to her thoughts.
And she had great matter for thinking; so great, that many hours sounded in her ears from the clock on the stairs before she brought her thoughts to a shape that satisfied herself. She did so bring them at last, and then she slept. She did so bring them, toiling over her work with tears that made her pillow wet, with heart-burning and almost with heart-breaking, with much doubting, and many anxious, eager inquiries within her own bosom as to that which she ought to do, and that which she could endure to do. But at last her resolve was taken, and then she slept.
It had been agreed between them that Crosbie should come down to the Small House on the next day after breakfast, and remain there till the time came for riding. But Lily determined to alter this arrangement, and accordingly put on her hat immediately after breakfast, and posted herself at the bridge, so as to intercept her lover as he came. He soon appeared with his friend Dale, and she at once told him her purpose.
“I want to have a talk with you, Adolphus, before you go in to mamma; so come with me into the field.”
“All right,” said he.
“And Bernard can finish his cigar on the lawn. Mamma and Bell will join him there.”
“All right,” said Bernard. So they separated; and Crosbie went away with Lily into the field where they had first learned to know each other in those haymaking days.
She did not say much till they were well away from the house; but answered what words he chose to speak — not knowing very well of what he spoke. But when she considered that they had reached the proper spot, she began very abruptly.
“Adolphus,” she said, “I have something to say to you — something to which you must listen very carefully.” Then he looked at her, and at once knew that she was in earnest.
“This is the last day on which I could say it,” she continued; “and I am very glad that I have not let the last day go by without saying it. I should not have known how to put it in a letter.”
“What is it, Lily?”
“And I do not know that I can say it properly; but I hope that you will not be hard upon me. Adolphus, if you wish that all this between us should be over, I will consent.”
“I mean what I say. If you wish it, I will consent; and when I have said so, proposing it myself, you may be quite sure that I shall never blame you, if you take me at my word.”
“Are you tired of me, Lily?”
“No. I shall never be tired of you — never weary with loving you. I did not wish to say so now; but I will answer your question boldly. Tired of you! I fancy that a girl can never grow tired of her lover. But I would sooner die in the struggle than be the cause of your ruin. It would be better — in every way better.”
“I have said nothing of being ruined.”
“But listen to me. I should not die if you left me — not be utterly broken-hearted. Nothing on earth can I ever love as I have loved you. But I have a God and a Saviour that will be enough for me. I can turn to them with content, if it be well that you should leave me. I have gone to them, and —”
But at this moment she could utter no more words. She had broken down in her effort, losing her voice through the strength of her emotion. As she did not choose that he should see her overcome, she turned from him and walked away across the grass. Of course he followed her; but he was not so quick after her, but that time had been given to her to recover herself. “It is true,” she said.” I have the strength of which I tell you. Though I have given myself to you as your wife, I can bear to be divorced from you now — now. And, my love, though it may sound heartless, I would sooner be so divorced from you, than cling to you as a log that must drag you down under the water, and drown you in trouble and care. I would — indeed I would. If you go, of course that kind of thing is over for me. But the world has more than that — much more; and I would make myself happy — yes, my love, I would be happy. You need not fear that.”
“But, Lily, why is all this said to me here today?”
“Because it is my duty to say it. I understand all your position now, though it is only now. It never flashed on me till yesterday. When you proposed to me, you thought that I— that I had some fortune.”
“Never mind that now, Lily.”
“But you did. I see it all now. I ought perhaps to have told you that it was not so. There has been the mistake, and we are both sufferers. But we need not make the suffering deeper than needs be. My love, you are free — from this moment. And even my heart shall not blame you for accepting your freedom.”
“And are you afraid of poverty?” he asked her.
“I am afraid of poverty for you. You and I have lived differently. Luxuries, of which I know nothing, have been your daily comforts. I tell you I can bear to part with you, but I cannot bear to become the source of your unhappiness. Yes; I will bear it; and none shall dare in my hearing to speak against you. I have brought you here to say the word; nay, more than that — to advise you to say it.”
He stood silent for a moment, during which he held her by the hand. She was looking into his face, but he was looking away into the clouds; striving to appear as though he was the master of the occasion. But during those moments his mind was wracked with doubt. What if he should take her at her word? Some few would say bitter things against him, but such bitter things had been said against many another man without harming him. Would it not be well for both if he should take her at her word? She would recover and love again, as other girls had done; and as for him, he would thus escape from the ruin at which he had been gazing for the last week past. For it was ruin — utter ruin. He did love her; so he declared to himself. But was he a man who ought to throw the world away for love? Such men there were; but was he one of them? Could he be happy in that small house, somewhere near the New Road, with five children and horrid misgivings as to the baker’s bill? Of all men living, was not he the last that should have allowed himself to fall into such a trap? All this passed through his mind as he turned his face up to the clouds with a look that was intended to be grand and noble.
“Speak to me, Adolphus, and say that it shall be so.”
Then his heart misgave him, and he lacked the courage to extricate himself from his trouble; or, as he afterwards said to himself, he had not the heart to do it. “If I understand you, rightly, Lily, all this comes from no want of love on your own part?
“Want of love on my part? But you should not ask me that.”
“Until you tell me that there is such a want, I will agree to no parting. “Then he took her hand and put it within his arm.
“No, Lily; whatever may be our cares and troubles, we are bound together — indissolubly.”
“Are we?” said she; and as she spoke, her voice trembled, and her hand shook.
“Much too firmly for any such divorce as that. No, Lily, I claim the right to tell you all my troubles; but I shall not let you go.”
“But, Adolphus —” and the hand on his arm was beginning to cling to it again.
“Adolphus,” said he, “has got nothing more to say on that subject. He exercises the right which he believes to be his own, and chooses to retain the prize which he has won.”
She was now clinging to him in very truth. “Oh, my love!” she said. “I do not know how to say it again. It is of you that I am thinking — of you, of you!”
“I know you are; but you have misunderstood me a little; that’s all.”
“Have I? Then listen to me again, once more, my heart’s own darling, my love, my husband, my lord! If I cannot be to you at once like Ruth, and never cease from coming after you, my thoughts to you shall be like those of Ruth — if aught but death part thee and me, may God do so to me and more also.” Then she fell upon his breast and wept.
He still hardly understood the depth of her character. He was not himself deep enough to comprehend it all. But yet he was awed by her great love, and exalted to a certain solemnity of feeling which for the time made him rejoice in his late decision. For a few hours he was minded to throw the world behind him, and wear this woman, as such a woman should be worn — as a comforter to him in all things, and a strong shield against great troubles. “Lily,” he said, “my own Lily! “Yes, your own, to take when you please, and leave untaken while you please; and as much your own in one way as in the other.” Then she looked up again, and essayed to laugh as she did so.” You will think I am frantic, but I am so happy. I don’t care about your going now; indeed I don’t. There; you may go now, this minute, if you like it.” And she withdrew her hand from his. “I feel so differently from what I have done for the last few days. I am so glad you have spoken to me as you did. Of course I ought to bear all those things with you. But I cannot be unhappy about it now. I wonder if I went to work and made a lot of things, whether that would help?
“A set of shirts for me, for instance?”
“I could do that, at any rate.”
“It may come to that yet, some of these days.”
“I pray God that it may.” Then again she was serious, and the tears came once more into her eyes. “I pray God that it may. To be of use to you — to work for you — to do something for you that may have in it some sober, earnest purport of usefulness — that is what I want above all things. I want to be with you at once that I may be of service to you. Would that you and I were alone together, that I might do everything for you. I sometimes think that a very poor man’s wife is the happiest, because she does do everything.”
“You shall do everything very soon,” said he; and then they sauntered along pleasantly through the morning hours, and when they again appeared at Mrs Dale’s table, Mrs Dale and Bell were astonished at Lily’s brightness. All her old ways had seemed to return to her, and she made her little saucy speeches to Mr Crosbie as she had used to do when he was first becoming fascinated by her sweetness. “You know that you’ll be such a swell when you get to that countess’s house that you’ll forget all about Allington.”
“Of course I shall,” said he.
“And the paper you write upon will be all over coronets — that is, if ever you do write. Perhaps you will to Bernard some day, just to show that you are staying at a castle.”
“You certainly don’t deserve that he should write to you,” sad Mrs Dale.
“I don’t expect it for a moment — not till he gets back to London and finds that he has nothing else to do at his office. But I should so like to see how you and Lady Julia get on together. It was quite clear that she regarded you as an ogre; didn’t she, Bell?”
“So many people are ogres to Lady Julia,” said Bell.
“I believe Lady Julia to be a very good woman,” said Mrs Dale, “and I won’t have her abused.”
“Particularly before poor Bernard, who is her pet nephew,” said Lily. “I dare say Adolphus will become a pet too when she has been a week with him at Courcy Castle. Do try and cut Bernard out.”
From all which Mrs Dale learned that some care which had sat heavy on Lily’s heart was now lightened, if not altogether removed. She had asked no questions of her daughter, but she had perceived during the past few days that Lily was in trouble, and she knew that such trouble had arisen from her engagement. She had asked no questions, but of course she had been told what was Mr Crosbie’s income, and had been made to understand that it was not to be considered as amply sufficient for all the wants of matrimony. There was little difficulty in guessing what was the source of Lily’s care, and as little in now perceiving that something had been said between them by which that care had been relieved.
After that they all rode, and the afternoon went by pleasantly. It was the last day indeed, but Lily had determined that she would not he sad. She had told him that he might go now, and that she would not be discontented at his going. She knew that the morrow would be very blank to her; but she struggled to live up to the spirit of her promise, and she succeeded. They all dined at the Great House, even Mrs Dale doing so upon this occasion. When they had come in from the garden in the evening, Crosbie talked more to Mrs Dale than he did even to Lily, while Lily sat a little distant, listening with all her ears, sometimes saying a low-toned word, and happy beyond expression in the feeling that her mother and her lover should understand each other. And it must be understood that Crosbie at this time was fully determined to conquer the difficulties of which he had thought so much, and to fix the earliest day which might be possible for his marriage. The solemnity of that meeting in the field still hung about him, and gave to his present feelings a manliness and a truth of purpose which were too generally wanting to them. If only those feelings would last! But now he talked to Mrs Dale about her daughter, and about their future prospects, in a tone which he could not have used had not his mind for the time been true to her. He had never spoken so freely to Lily’s mother, and at no time had Mrs Dale felt for him so much of a mother’s love. He apologised for the necessity of some delay, arguing that he could not endure to see his young wife without the comfort of a home of her own, and that he was now, as he always had been, afraid of incurring debt. Mrs Dale disliked waiting engagements — as do all mothers — but she could not answer unkindly to such pleading as this.
“Lily is so very young,” she said, “that she may well wait for a year or so.”
“For seven years,” said Lily, jumping up and whispering into her mother’s ear. “I shall hardly be six-and-twenty then, which is not at all too old.”
And so the evening passed away very pleasantly.
“God bless you, Adolphus!” Mrs Dale said to him, as she parted with him at her own door. It was the first time that she had called him by his Christian name. “I hope you understand how much we are trusting to you.”
“I do — I do,” said he, as he pressed her hand. Then as he walked back alone, he swore to himself, binding himself to the oath with all his heart, that he would be true to those women — both to the daughter and to the mother; for the solemnity of the morning was still upon him.
He was to start the next morning before eight, Bernard having undertaken to drive him over to the railway at Guestwick. The breakfast was on the table shortly after seven; and just as the two men had come down, Lily entered the room, with her hat and shawl. “I said I would be in to pour out your tea,” said she; and then she sat herself down over against the teapot.
It was a silent meal, for people do not know what to say in those last minutes. And Bernard, too, was there; proving how true is the adage which says, that two are company, but that three are not. I think that Lily was wrong to come up on that last morning; but she would not hear of letting him start without seeing him, when her lover had begged her not to put herself to so much trouble. Trouble! Would she not have sat up all night to see even the last of the top of his hat?
Then Bernard, muttering something about the horse, went away. “I have only one minute to speak to you,” said she, jumping up, “and I have been thinking all night of what I had to say. It is so easy to think, and so hard to speak.”
“My darling, I understand it all.”
“But you must understand this, that I will never distrust you. I will never ask you to give me up again, or say that I could be happy without you. I could not live without you; that is, without the knowledge that you are mine. But I will never be impatient, never. Pray, pray believe me! Nothing shall make me distrust you.”
“Dearest Lily, I will endeavour to give you no cause.”
“I know you will not; but I specially wanted to tell you that. And you will write — very soon?
“Directly I get there.”
“And as often as you can. But I won’t bother you; only your letters will make me so happy. I shall be so proud when they come to me. I shall be afraid of writing too much to you, for fear I should tire you.”
“You will never do that.”
“Shall I not? But you must write first, you know. If you could only understand how I shall live upon your letters! And now good-bye. There are the wheels. God bless you, my own, my own!” And she gave herself up into his arms, as she had given herself up into his heart.
She stood at the door as the two men got into the gig, and, as it passed down through the gate, she hurried out upon the terrace, from whence she could see it for a few yards down the lane. Then she ran from the terrace to the gate, and, hurrying through the gate, made her way into the churchyard, from the farther corner of which she could see the heads of the two men till they had made the turn into the main road beyond the parsonage. There she remained till the very sound of the wheels no longer reached her ears, stretching her eyes in the direction they had taken. Then she turned round slowly and made her way out at the churchyard gate, which opened on to the road close to the front door of the Small House.
“I should like to punch his head,” said Hopkins, the gardener, to himself, as he saw the gig driven away and saw Lily trip after it, that she might see the last of him whom it carried.
“And I wouldn’t think nothing of doing it; no more I wouldn’t,” Hopkins added in his soliloquy. It was generally thought about the place that Miss Lily was Hopkins’s favourite, though he showed it chiefly by snubbing her more frequently than he snubbed her sister.
Lily had evidently intended to return home through the front door; but she changed her purpose before she reached the house, and made her way slowly back through the churchyard, and by the gate of the Great House, and by the garden at the back of it, till she crossed the little bridge. But on the bridge she rested awhile, leaning against the railing as she had often leant with him, and thinking of all that had passed since that July day on which she had first met him. On no spot had he so often told her of his love as on this, and nowhere had she so eagerly sworn to him that she would he his own dutiful loving wife.
“And by God’s help so I will,” she said to herself, as she walked firmly up to the house. “He has gone, mamma,” she said, as she entered the breakfast-room. “And now we’ll go back to our work-a-day ways; it has been all Sunday for me for the last six weeks.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55