There was plenty of time for full inquiry and full reply between Mrs Ray and Mrs Prime before Rachel opened the cottage door and interrupted them. It was then nearly half past ten. Rachel had never been so late before. The last streak of the sun’s reflection in the east had vanished, the last ruddy line of evening light had gone, and the darkness of the coming night was upon them. The hour was late for any girl such as Rachel Ray to be out alone.
There had been a long discussion between the mother and the elder daughter; and Mrs Ray, believing implicitly in the last announcements made to her, was full of fears for her child. The utmost rigour of self-denying propriety should have been exercised by Rachel, whereas her conduct had been too dreadful almost to be described. Two or three hours since, Mrs Ray had fondly promised that she would trust her younger daughter, and had let her forth alone, proud in seeing her so comely as she went. An idea had almost entered her mind that if the young man was very steady, such an acquaintance might perhaps be not altogether wicked. But everything was changed now. All the happiness of her trust was gone. All her sweet hopes were crushed. Her heart was filled with fear, and her face was pale with sorrow.
“Why should she know where he was to be?” Dorothea had asked. “But he is not at Exeter — he is here, and she was with him.” Then the two had sat gloomily together till Rachel returned. As she came in there was a little forced laugh upon her face. “I am late; am I not?” she said. “Oh, Rachel, very late!” said her mother. “It is half past ten,” said Mrs Prime. “Oh, Dolly, don’t speak with that terrible voice, as though the world were coming to an end,” said Rachel; and she looked up almost savagely, showing what she was resolved to fight.
But it may be as well to say a few words about the firm of Messrs Bungall and Tappitt, about the Tappitt family generally, and about Mr Luke Rowan, before any further portion of the history of that evening is written.
Why there should have been any brewery at all at Baslehurst, seeing that everybody in that part of the world drinks cider, or how, under such circumstances, Messrs Bungall and Tappitt had managed to live upon the proceeds of their trade, I cannot pretend to say. Baslehurst is in the heart of the Devonshire cider country. It is surrounded by orchards, and farmers talk there of their apples as they do of their cheese in Cheshire, of their wheat in Essex, or their sheep in Lincolnshire. Men drink cider by the gallon — by the gallon daily; cider presses are to be found at every squire’s house, at every parsonage, and every farm homestead. The trade of a brewer at Baslehurst would seem to be as profitless as that of a breeches-maker in the Highlands, or a shoemaker in Connaught — but nevertheless Bungall and Tappitt had been brewers in Baslehurst for the last fifty years and had managed to live out of their brewery.
It is not to be supposed that they were great men like the mighty men of beer known of old — such as Barclay and Perkins, or Reid and Co. Nor were they new, and pink, and prosperous, going into Parliament for this borough and that, just as they pleased, like the modern heroes of the bitter cask. When the student at Oxford was asked what man had most benefited humanity, and when he answered “Bass,” I think that he should not have been plucked. It was a fair average answer. But no student at any university could have said as much for Bungall and Tappitt without deserving utter disgrace, and whatever penance an outraged examiner could inflict. It was a sour and muddy stream that flowed from their vats; a beverage disagreeable to the palate, and very cold and uncomfortable to the stomach. Who drank it I could never learn. It was to be found at no respectable inn. It was admitted at no private gentleman’s table. The farmers knew nothing of it. The labourers drenched themselves habitually with cider. Nevertheless the brewery of Messrs Bungall and Tappitt was kept going, and the large ugly square brick house in which the Tappitt family lived was warm and comfortable. There is something in the very name of beer that makes money.
Old Bungall, he who first established the house, was still remembered by the seniors of Baslehurst, but he had been dead more than twenty years before the period of my story. He had been a short, fat old man, not much above five feet high, very silent, very hard, and very ignorant. But he had understood business, and had established the firm on a solid foundation. Late in life he had taken into partnership his nephew Tappitt, and during his life had been a severe taskmaster to his partner. Indeed the firm had only assumed its present name on the demise of Bungall. As long as he had lived it had been Bungall’s brewery. When the days of mourning were over, then — and not till then — Mr Tappitt had put up a board with the joint names of the firm as at present called.
It was believed in Baslehurst that Mr Bungall had not bequeathed his undivided interest in the concern to his nephew. Indeed people went so far as to say that he had left away from Mr Tappitt all that he could leave. The truth in that respect may as well be told at once. His widow had possessed a third of the profits of the concern, in lieu of her right to a full half share in the concern, which would have carried with it the onus of a full half share of the work. That third and those rights she had left to her nephew — or rather to her great-nephew, Luke Rowan. It was not, however, in this young man’s power to walk into the brewery and claim a seat there as a partner. It was not in his power to do so, even if such should be his wish. When old Mrs Bungall died at Dawlish at the very advanced age of ninety-seven, there came to be, as was natural, some little dispute between Mr Tappitt and his distant connection, Luke Rowan. Mr Tappitt suggested that Luke should take a thousand pounds down, and walk forth free from all contamination of malt and hops. Luke’s attorney asked for ten thousand. Luke Rowan at the time was articled to a lawyer in London, and as the dinginess of the chambers which he frequented in Lincoln’s Inn Fields appeared to him less attractive than the beautiful rivers of Devonshire, he offered to go into the brewery as a partner. It was at last settled that he should place himself there as a clerk for twelve months, drawing a certain moderate income out of the concern; and that if at the end of the year he should show himself to be able, and feel himself to be willing, to act as a partner, the firm should be changed to Tappitt and Rowan, and he should be established permanently as a Baslehurst brewer. Some information, however, beyond this has already been given to the reader respecting Mr Rowan’s prospects. “I don’t think he ever will be a partner,” Rachel had said to her mother, “because he quarrels with Mr Tappitt.” She had been very accurate in her statement. Mr Rowan had now been three months at Baslehurst, and had not altogether found the ways of his relative pleasant. Mr Tappitt wished to treat him as a clerk, whereas he wished to be treated as a partner. And Mr Tappitt had by no means found the ways of the young man to be pleasant. Young Rowan was not idle, nor did he lack intelligence; indeed he possessed more energy and cleverness than, in Tappitt’s opinion, were necessary to the position of a brewer in Baslehurst; but he was by no means willing to use these good gifts in the manner indicated by the sole existing owner of the concern. Mr Tappitt wished that Rowan should learn brewing on a stool, and that the lessons should be purely arithmetical. Luke was instructed as to the use of certain dull, dingy, disagreeable ledgers, and informed that in them lay the natural work of a brewer. But he desired to learn the chemical action of malt and hops upon each other, and had not been a fortnight in the concern before he suggested to Mr Tappitt that by a salutary process, which he described, the liquor might be made less muddy. “Let us brew good beer,” he had said; and then Tappitt had known that it would not do. “Yes,” said Tappitt, “and sell for twopence a pint what will cost you threepence to make!” “That’s what we’ve got to look to,” said Rowan. “I believe it can be done for the money — only one must learn how to do it.” “I’ve been at it all my life,” Tappitt said. “Yes, Mr Tappitt; but it is only now that men are beginning to appreciate all that chemistry can do for them. If you’ll allow me I’ll make an experiment on a small scale.” After that Mr Tappitt had declared emphatically to his wife that Luke Rowan should never become a partner of his. “He would ruin any business in the world,” said Tappitt. “And as to conceit!” It is true that Rowan was conceited, and perhaps true also that he would have ruined the brewery had he been allowed to have his own way.
But Mrs Tappitt by no means held him in such aversion as did her husband. He was a well-grown, good-looking young man for whom his friends had made comfortable provision, and Mrs Tappitt had three marriageable daughters. Her ideas on the subject of young men in general were by no means identical with those held by Mrs Ray. She was aware how frequently it happened that a young partner would marry a daughter of the senior in the house, and it seemed to her that special provision for such an arrangement was made in this case. Young Rowan was living in her house, and was naturally thrown into great intimacy with her girls. It was clear to her quick eye that he was of a susceptible disposition, fond of ladies’ society, and altogether prone to those pleasant prematrimonial conversations, from the effects of which it is so difficult for an inexperienced young man to make his escape. Mrs Tappitt was minded to devote to him Augusta, the second of her flock — but not so minded with any obstinacy of resolution. If Luke should prefer Martha, the elder, or Cherry, the younger girl, Mrs Tappitt would make no objection; but she expected that he should do his duty by taking one of them. “Laws, T., don’t be so foolish,” she said to her husband, when he made his complaint to her. She always called her husband T., unless when the solemnity of some special occasion justified her in addressing him as Mr Tappitt. To have called him Tom or Thomas, would, in her estimation, have been very vulgar. “Don’t be so foolish. Did you never have to do with a young man before? Those tantrums will all blow off when he gets himself into harness.” The tantrums spoken of were Rowan’s insane desire to brew good beer, but they were of so fatal a nature that Tappitt was determined not to submit himself to them. Luke Rowan should never be partner of his — not though he had twenty daughters waiting to be married!
Rachel had been acquainted with the Tappitts before young Rowan had come to Baslehurst, and had been made known to him by them all collectively. Had they shared their mother’s prudence they would probably not have done anything so rash. Rachel was better-looking than either of them — though that fact perhaps might not have been known to them. But in justice to them all I must say that they lacked their mother’s prudence, They were good-humoured, laughing, ordinary girls — very much alike, with long brown curls, fresh complexions, large mouths, and thick noses, Augusta was rather the taller of the three, and therefore, in her mother’s eyes, the beauty. But the girls themselves, when their distant cousin had come amongst them, had not thought of appropriating him. When, after the first day, they became intimate with him, they promised to introduce him to the beauties of the neighbourhood, and Cherry had declared her conviction that he would fall in love with Rachel Ray directly he saw her. “She is tall, you know,” said Cherry, “a great deal taller than us.” “Then I’m sure I shan’t like her,” Luke had said. “Oh, but you must like her, because she is a friend of ours,” Cherry had answered; “and I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if you fell violently in love with her.” Mrs Tappitt did not hear all this, but, nevertheless, she began to entertain a dislike to Rachel. It must not be supposed that she admitted her daughter Augusta to any participation in her plans. Mrs Tappitt could scheme for her child, but she could not teach her child to scheme. As regarded the girl, it must all fall out after the natural, pleasant, everyday fashion of such things; but Mrs Tappitt considered that her own natural advantages were so great that she could make the thing fall out as she wished. When she was informed about a fortnight after Rowan’s arrival in Baslehurst that Rachel Ray had been walking with the party from the brewery, she could not prevent herself from saying an ill-natured word or two. “Rachel Ray is all very well,” she said, “but she is not the person whom you should show off to a stranger as your particular friend.”
“Why not, mamma?” said Cherry.
“Why not, my dear! There are reasons why not, Mrs Ray is very well in her way, but —”
“Her husband was a gentleman,” said Martha, “and a great friend of Mr Comfort’s.”
“My dear, I have nothing to say against her,” said the mother, “only this; that she does not go among the people we know. There is Mrs Prime, the other daughter; her great friend is Miss Pucker. I don’t suppose you want to be very intimate with Miss Pucker.” The brewer’s wife had a position in Baslehurst and wished that her daughters should maintain it,
It will now be understood in what way Rachel had formed her acquaintance with Luke Rowan, and I think it may certainly be admitted that she had been guilty of no great impropriety — unless, indeed, she had been wrong in saying nothing of the acquaintance to her mother. Previous to those ill-natured tidings brought home as to the first churchyard meeting Rachel had seen him but twice. On the first occasion she had thought but little of it — but little of Luke himself or of her acquaintance with him. In simple truth the matter had passed from her mind, and therefore she had not spoken of it. When they met the second time, Luke had walked much of the way home with her — with her alone — having joined himself to her when the Tappitt girls went into their house as Rachel had afterwards described to her mother. In all that she had said she had spoken absolutely the truth; but it cannot be pleaded on her behalf that after this second meeting with Mr Rowan she had said nothing of him because she had thought nothing. She had indeed thought much, but it had seemed well to her to keep her thoughts to herself.
The Tappitt girls had by no means given up their friend because their mother had objected to Miss Pucker; and when Rachel met them on that Saturday evening — that fatal Saturday — they were very gracious to her. The brewery at Baslehurst stood on the outskirts of the town, in a narrow lane which led from the church into the High Street. This lane — Brewery Lane, as it was called — was not the main approach to the church; but from the lane there was a stile into the churchyard, and a gate, opened on Sundays, by which people on that side reached the church. From the opposite side of the churchyard a road led away to the foot of the High Street, and out towards the bridge which divided the town from the parish of Cawston. Along one side of this road there was a double row of elms, having a footpath beneath them. This old avenue began within the churchyard, running across the lower end of it, and was continued for some two hundred yards beyond its precincts. This, then, would be the way which Rachel would naturally take in going home, after leaving the Miss Tappitts at their door; but it was by no means the way which was the nearest for Mrs Prime after leaving Miss Pucker’s lodgings in the High Street, seeing that the High Street itself ran direct to Gawston Bridge.
And it must also be explained that there was a third path out of the churchyard, not leading into any road but going right away across the fields. The church stood rather high, so that the land sloped away from it towards the west, and the view there was very pretty. The path led down through a small field, with high hedgerows, and by orchards, to two little hamlets belonging to Baslehurst, and this was a favourite walk with the people of the town. It was here that Rachel had walked with the Miss Tappitts on that evening when Luke Rowan had first accompanied her as far as Cawston Bridge, and it was here that they agreed to walk again on the Saturday when Rowan was supposed to be away at Exeter. Rachel was to come along under the elms, and was to meet her friends there, or in the churchyard, or, if not so, then she was to call for them at the brewery.
She found the three girls leaning against the rails near the churchyard stile. “We have been waiting ever so long,” said Cherry, who was more specially Rachel’s friend.
“Oh, but I said you were not to wait,” said Rachel, “for I never am quite sure whether I can come,”
“We knew you’d come,” said Augusta, “because —”
“Because what?” asked Rachel.
“Because nothing,” said Cherry. “She’s only joking.”
Rachel said nothing more, not having understood the point of the joke. The joke was this — that Luke Rowan had come back from Exeter, and that Rachel was supposed to have heard of his return, and therefore that her coming for the walk was certain. But Augusta had not intended to be ill-natured, and had not really believed what she had been about to insinuate. “The fact is”, said Martha, “that Mr Rowan has come home; but I don’t suppose we shall see anything of him this evening as he is busy with papa.”
Rachel for a few minutes became silent and thoughtful. Her mind had not yet freed itself from the effects of her conversation with her mother, and she had been thinking of this young man during the whole of the solitary walk into town. But she had been thinking of him as we think of matters which need not put us to any immediate trouble. He was away at Exeter, and she would have time to decide whether or no she would admit his proffered intimacy before she should see him again. “I do so hope we shall be friends,” he had said to her as he gave her his hand when they parted on Cawston Bridge. And then he had muttered something, which she had not quite caught, as to Baslehurst being altogether another place to him since he had seen her. She had hurried home on that occasion with a feeling half pleasant and half painful, that something out of the usual course had occurred to her. But, after all, it amounted to nothing. What was there that she could tell her mother? She had no special tale to tell, and yet she could not speak of young Rowan as she would have spoken of a chance acquaintance. Was she not conscious that he had pressed her hand warmly as he parted from her?
Rachel herself entertained much of that indefinite fear of young men which so strongly pervaded her mother’s mind, and which, as regarded her sister, had altogether ceased to be indefinite. Rachel knew that they were the natural enemies of her special class, and that any kind of friendship might be allowed to her except a friendship with any of them. And as she was a good girl, loving her mother, anxious to do well, guided by pure thoughts, she felt aware that Mr Rowan should be shunned. Had it not been that he himself had told her that he was to be in Exeter, she would not have come out to walk with the brewery girls on that evening. What she might hereafter decide upon doing, how these affairs might be made to arrange themselves, she by no means could foresee — but on that evening she had thought she would be safe, and therefore she had come out to walk.
“What do you think?” said Cherry; “we are going to have a party next week.”
“It won’t be till the week after,” said Augusta.
“At any rate, we are going to have a party, and you must come. You’ll get a regular invite, you know, when they’re sent out. Mr Rowan’s mother and sister are coming down on a visit to us for a few days, and so we’re going to be quite smart.”
“I don’t know about going to a party. I suppose it is for a dance?”
“Of course it is for a dance,” said Martha.
“And of course you’ll come and dance with Luke Rowan,” said Cherry. Nothing could be more imprudent than Cherry Tappitt, and Augusta was beginning to be aware of this, though she had not been allowed to participate in her mother’s schemes. After that, there was much talking about the party, but the conversation was chiefly kept up by the Tappitt girls. Rachel was almost sure that her mother would not like her to go to a dance, and was quite sure that her sister would oppose such iniquity with all her power; therefore she made no promise. But she listened as the list was repeated of those who were expected to come, and asked some few questions as to Mrs Rowan and her daughter. Then, at a sudden turn of a lane, a lane that led back to the town by another route, they met Luke Rowan himself.
He was a cousin of the Tappitts, and therefore, though the relationship was not near, he had already assumed the privilege of calling them by their Christian names; and Martha, who was nearly thirty years old, and four years his senior, had taught herself to call him Luke; with the other two he was as yet Mr Rowan. The greeting was of course very friendly, and he returned with them on their path. To Rachel he raised his hat, and then offered his hand. She had felt herself to be confused the moment she saw him — so confused that she was not able to ask him how he was with ordinary composure. She was very angry with herself, and heartily wished that she was seated with the Dorcas women at Miss Pucker’s. Any position would have been better for her than this, in which she was disgracing herself and showing that she could not bear herself before this young man as though he were no more than an ordinary acquaintance. Her mind would revert to that hand-squeezing, to those muttered words and to her mother’s caution. When he remarked to her that he had come back earlier than he expected, she could not take his words as though they signified nothing. His sudden return was a momentous fact to her, putting her out of her usual quiet mode of thought, she said little or nothing, and he, at any rate, did not observe that she was confused; but she was herself so conscious of it, that it seemed to her that all of them must have seen it.
Thus they sauntered along, back to the outskirts of the town, and so into the brewery lane, by a route opposite to that of the churchyard. The whole way they talked of nothing but the party. Was Miss Rowan fond of dancing? Then by degrees the girls called her Mary, declaring that as she was a cousin they intended so to do. And Luke said that he ought to be called by his Christian name; and the two younger girls agreed that he was entitled to the privilege, only they would ask mamma first; and in this way they were becoming very intimate. Rachel said but little, and perhaps not much that was said was addressed specially to her, but she seemed to feel that she was included in the friendliness of the gathering. Every now and then Luke Rowan would address her, and his voice was pleasant to her ears. He had made an effort to walk next to her — an attempt almost too slight to be called an effort, which she had, almost unconsciously, frustrated, by so placing herself that Augusta should be between them. Augusta was not quite in a good humour, and said one or two words which were slightly snubbing in their tendency; but this was more than atoned for by Cherry’s high good humour.
When they reached the brewery they all declared themselves to be very much astonished on learning that it was already past nine, Rachel’s surprise, at any rate, was real. “I must go home at once,” she said; “I don’t know what mamma will think of me.” And then, wishing them all goodbye, without further delay she hurried on into the churchyard.
“I’ll see you safe through the ghosts, at any rate,” said Rowan.
“I’m not a bit afraid of churchyard ghosts,” said Rachel, moving on. But Rowan followed her.
“I’ve got to go into town to meet your father,” said he to the other girls, “and I’ll be back with him.”
Augusta saw with some annoyance that he had overtaken Rachel before she had passed over the stile, and stood lingering at the door long enough to be aware that Luke was over first. “That girl is a flirt, after all,” she said to her sister Martha.
Luke was over the stile first, and then turned round to assist Miss Ray. She could not refuse him her hand in such a position; or if she could have done so she lacked the presence of mind that was necessary for such a refusal. “You must let me walk home with you,” he said.
“Indeed I will do no such thing. You told Augusta that you were going to her papa in the town.”
“So I am, but I will see you first as far as the bridge; you can’t refuse me that.”
“Indeed I can, and indeed I will. I beg you won’t come, I am sure you would not wish to annoy me.”
“Look,” said he, pointing to the west; “did you ever see such a setting sun as that? Did you ever see such blood-red colour?” The light was very wonderful, for the sun had just gone down and all the western heavens were Crimson with its departing glory. In the few moments that they stood there gazing it might almost have been believed that some portentous miracle had happened, so deep and dark, and yet so bright, were the hues of the horizon. It seemed as though the lands below the hill were bathed in blood. The elm trees interrupted their view, so that they could only look out through the spaces between their trunks. “Come to the stile,” said he. “If you were to live a thousand years you might never again see such a sunset as that. You would never forgive yourself if you missed it, just that you might save three minutes.”
Rachel stepped with him towards the stile; but it was not solely his entreaty that made her do so. As he spoke of the sun’s glory her sharp ear caught the sound of a woman’s foot close to the stile over which she had passed, and knowing that she could not escape at once from Luke Rowan, she had left the main path through the churchyard, in order that the newcomer might not see her there talking to him. So she accompanied him on till they stood between the trees, and then they remained encompassed as it were in the full light of the sun’s rays. But if her ears had been sharp, so were the eyes of this newcomer. And while she stood there with Rowan beneath the elms, her sister stood a while also on the churchyard path and recognised the figures of them both.
“Rachel,” said he, after they had remained there in silence for a moment, “live as long as you may, never on God’s earth will you look on any sight more lovely than that. Ah! do you see the man’s arm, as it were; the deep purple cloud, like a huge hand stretched out from some other world to take you? Do you see it?”
The sound of his voice was very pleasant. His words to her young ears seemed full of poetry and sweet mysterious romance. He spoke to her as no one — no man or woman — had ever spoken to her before. She had a feeling, as painful as it was delicious, that the man’s words were sweet with a sweetness which she had known in her dreams. He had asked her a question, and repeated it, so that she was all but driven to answer him; but still she was full of the one great fact that he had called her Rachel, and that he must be rebuked for so calling her. But how could she rebuke a man who had bid her look at god’s beautiful works in such language as he had used?
“Yes, I see it; it is very grand; but —”
“There were the fingers, but you see how they are melting away. The arm is there still, but the hand is gone. You and I can trace it because we saw it when it was clear, but we could not now show it to another. I wonder whether anyone else saw that hand and arm, or only you and I. I should like to think that it was shown to us, and us only.”
It was impossible for her now to go back upon that word Rachel. She must pass it by as though she had not heard it. “All the world might have seen it had they looked,” said she.
“Perhaps not. Do you think that all eyes can see alike?”
“Well, yes; I suppose so.”
“All eyes will see a loaf of bread alike, or a churchyard stile, but all eyes will not see the clouds alike. Do you not often find worlds among the clouds? I do.”
“Worlds!” she said, amazed at his energy; and then she bethought herself that he was right. She would never have seen that hand and arm had he not been there to show it her. So she gazed down upon the changing colours of the horizon, and almost forgot that she should not have lingered there a moment.
And yet there was a strong feeling upon her that she was sinking — sinking — sinking away into iniquity. She ought not to have stood there an instant, she ought not to have been there with him at all — and yet she lingered. Now that she was there she hardly knew how to move herself away.
“Yes; worlds among the clouds,” he continued; but before he did so there had been silence between them for a minute or two. “Do you never feel that you look into other worlds beyond this one in which you eat, and drink, and sleep? Have you no other worlds in your dreams?” Yes; such dreams she had known, and now, she almost thought that she could remember to have seen strange forms in the clouds. She knew that henceforth she would watch the clouds and find them there. She looked down into the flood of light beneath her, with a full consciousness that he was close to her, touching her; with a full consciousness that every moment that she lingered there was a new sin; with a full consciousness, too, that the beauty of those fading colours seen thus in his presence possessed a charm, a sense of soft delight, which she had never known before. At last she uttered a long sigh.
“Why, what ails you?” said he.
“Oh, I must go; I have been so wrong to stand here. Goodbye; pray do not come with me.”
“But you will shake hands with me.” Then he got her hand, and held it. “Why should it be wrong for you to stand and look at the sunset? Am I an ogre? Have I done anything that should make you afraid of me?”
“Do not hold me. Mr Rowan, I did not think you would behave like that.” The gloom of the evening was now coming on, and though but a few minutes had passed since Mrs Prime had walked through the churchyard, she would not have been able to recognise them had she walked there now. “It is getting dark, and I must go instantly.”
“Let me go with you, then, as far as the bridge.”
“No, no, no, pray do not vex me.”
“I will not. You shall go alone. But stand while I say one word to you. Why should you be afraid of me?”
“I am not afraid of you — at least — you know what I mean.”
“I wonder — I wonder whether — you dislike me.”
“I don’t dislike anybody. Goodnight.”
He had however again got her hand. “I’ll tell you why I ask — because I like you so much, so very much! Why should we not be friends? Well; there. I will not trouble you now. I will not stir from here till you are out of sight. But mind — remember this; I intend that you shall like me.”
She was gone from him, fleeing away along the path in a run while the last words were being spoken; and yet, though they were spoken in a low voice, she heard and remembered every syllable. What did the man mean by saying that he intended that she should like him? Like him! How could she fail of liking him? Only was it not incumbent on her to take some steps which might save her from ever seeing him again? Like him, indeed! What was the meaning of the word? Had he intended to ask her to love him? And if so, what answer must she make?
How beautiful had been those clouds! As soon as she was beyond the church wall, so that she could look again to the west, she gazed with all her eyes to see if there were still a remnant left of that arm. No; it had all melted into a monstrous shape, indistinct and gloomy, partaking of the darkness of night. The brightness of the vision was gone. But he bade her look into the clouds for new worlds, and she seemed to feel that there was a hidden meaning in his words. As she looked out into the coming darkness, a mystery crept over her, a sense of something wonderful that was out there, away — of something so full of mystery that she could not tell whether she was thinking of the hidden distances of the horizon, or of the distances of her own future life, which were still further off and more closely hidden. She found herself trembling, sighing, almost sobbing, and then she ran again. He had wrapped her in his influence, and filled her full of the magnetism of his own being. Her woman’s weakness — the peculiar susceptibility of her nature, had never before been touched, she had now heard the first word of romance that had ever reached her ears, and it had fallen upon her with so great a power that she was overwhelmed.
Words of romance! Words direct from the Evil One, Mrs Prime would have called them! And in saying so she would have spoken the belief of many a good woman and many a good man. She herself was a good woman — a sincere, honest, hardworking, self-denying woman; a woman who struggled hard to do her duty as she believed it had been taught to her. She, as she walked through the churchyard — having come down the brewery lane with some inkling that her sister might be there — had been struck with horror at seeing Rachel standing with that man. What should she do? She paused a moment to ask herself whether she would return for her; but she said to herself that her sister was obstinate, that a scene would be occasioned, that she would do no good — and so she passed on. Words of romance, indeed! Must not all such words be words from the Father of Lies, seeing that they are words of falseness? Some such thoughts passed, through her mind as she walked home, thing of her sister’s iniquity, of her sister who must be saved, like a brand from the fire, but whose saving could now be effected only by the sternest of discipline. The hours at the Dorcas meetings must be made longer, and Rachel must always be there.
In the mean time Rachel hurried home with her spirits all a-tremble. Of her immediately coming encounter with her mother and her sister she hardly thought much before she reached the door. She thought only of him, how beautiful he was, how grand — and how dangerous; of him and his words how beautiful they were, how grand, and how terribly dangerous! She knew that it was very late and she hurried her steps. She knew that her mother must be appeased, and her sister must be opposed — but neither to her mother nor to her sister was given the depth of her thoughts. She was still thinking of him, and of the man’s arm in the clouds, when she opened the door of the cottage at Bragg’s End.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55