She began to yield already. Oh, what a bringing-up she must have had! Oh, how differently I should have acted in her place!
"Don't tempt me, Godfrey," she said; "I am wretched enough and reckless enough as it is. Don't tempt me to be more wretched and more wreckless still!"
"I! I always liked you. After what you have just said to me, I should be insensible indeed if I didn't respect and admire you as well."
"Do you know many wives, my dear Rachel, who respect and admire their husbands? And yet they and their husbands get on very well. How many brides go to the altar with hearts that would bear inspection by the men who take them there? And yet it doesn't end unhappily - somehow or other the nuptial establishment jogs on. The truth is, that women try marriage as a Refuge, far more numerously than they are willing to admit; and, what is more, they find that marriage has justified their confidence in it. Look at your own case once again. At your age, and with your attractions, is it possible for you to sentence yourself to a single life? Trust my knowledge of the world - nothing is less possible. It is merely a question of time. You may marry some other man, some years hence. Or you may marry the man, dearest, who is now at your feet, and who prizes your respect and admiration above the love of any other woman on the face of the earth."
"Gently, Godfrey! you are putting something into my head which I never thought of before. You are tempting me with a new prospect, when all my other prospects are closed before me. I tell you again, I am miserable enough and desperate enough, if you say another word, to marry you on your own terms. Take the warning, and go!"
"I won't even rise from my knees, till you have said yes!"
"If I say yes you will repent, and I shall repent, when it is too late!"
"We shall both bless the day, darling, when I pressed, and when you yielded."
"Do you feel as confidently as you speak?"
"Far from it - so far as I can see."
"When my mother was a girl, Rachel (it is no secret in the family), she had loved as you love - she had given her heart to a man who was unworthy of her. She married my father, respecting him, admiring him, but nothing more. Your own eyes have seen the result. Is there no encouragement in it for you and for me?" *
* See Betteredge's Narrative, chapter viii.
"You won't hurry me, Godfrey?"
"My time shall be yours."
"You won't ask me for more than I can give?"
"My angel! I only ask you to give me yourself."
In those two words she accepted him!
He had another burst - a burst of unholy rapture this time. He drew her nearer and nearer to him till her face touched his; and then - No! I really cannot prevail upon myself to carry this shocking disclosure any farther. Let me only say, that I tried to close my eyes before it happened, and that I was just one moment too late. I had calculated, you see, on her resisting. She submitted. To every right-feeling person of my own sex, volumes could say no more.
Even my innocence in such matters began to see its way to the end of the interview now. They understood each other so thoroughly by this time, that I fully expected to see them walk off together, arm in arm, to be married. There appeared, however, judging by Mr. Godfrey's next words, to be one more trifling formality which it was necessary to observe. He seated himself - unforbidden this time - on the ottoman by her side. "Shall I speak to your dear mother?" he asked. "Or will you?"
She declined both alternatives.
"Let my mother hear nothing from either of us, until she is better. I wish it to be kept a secret for the present, Godfrey. Go now, and come back this evening. We have been here alone together quite long enough."
She rose, and in rising, looked for the first time towards the little room in which my martyrdom was going on.
"Who has drawn those curtains?" she exclaimed.
"The room is close enough, as it is, without keeping the air out of it in that way."
She advanced to the curtains. At the moment when she laid her hand on them - at the moment when the discovery of me appeared to be quite inevitable - the voice of the fresh-coloured young footman, on the stairs, suddenly suspended any further proceedings on her side or on mine. It was unmistakably the voice of a man in great alarm.
"Miss Rachel!" he called out, "where are you, Miss Rachel?"
She sprang back from the curtains, and ran to the door.
The footman came just inside the room. His ruddy colour was all gone. He said, "Please to come down-stairs, Miss! My lady has fainted, and we can't bring her to again."
In a moment more I was alone, and free to go down-stairs in my turn, quite unobserved.
Mr. Godfrey passed me in the hall, hurrying out, to fetch the doctor. "Go in, and help them!" he said, pointing to the room. I found Rachel on her knees by the sofa, with her mother's head on her bosom. One look at my aunt's face (knowing what I knew) was enough to warn me of the dreadful truth. I kept my thoughts to myself till the doctor came in. It was not long before he arrived. He began by sending Rachel out of the room - and then he told the rest of us that Lady Verinder was no more. Serious persons, in search of proofs of hardened scepticism, may be interested in hearing that he showed no signs of remorse when he looked at Me.
At a later hour I peeped into the breakfast-room, and the library. My aunt had died without opening one of the letters which I had addressed to her. I was so shocked at this, that it never occurred to me, until some days afterwards, that she had also died without giving me my little legacy.