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and follow her, shouting, till Bates, and Thorpe Fletcher himself, would come thundering down the uncarpeted stairs to join in the pursuit. She waited in an agony of suspense till Bates returned, and asked her to step upstairs. She followed him with desperate courage. He ushered her into Mr. Fletcher's room in silence, and closed the door after her.
It was a small room, bright and sunshiny. Thorpe had been building extensively at the foundry, and his office, which was only temporary, gave a general impression of new boards. Lizzie advanced a step towards the table, which was covered with papers, and then saw him standing at the window. He turned and came towards her, with a doubtfully inquiring look. “Nothing the matter, I hope, Miss Grey? Pray sit down."
“There is nothing the matter, only I wanted to speak to you. I won't keep you a minute.”
“ You are always welcome to as much of my time as can be of any service to you," said Fletcher, apparently reassured, and anxious to reassure her. He resumed his former position by the window, a position in which the light did not fall on his face, but whence he could look sideways at the Lesborough road.
Lizzie pulled out the envelope. “Mr. Fletcher, you sent that.”
He glanced at it, and nodded in the most matter-of-fact way possible, but his eyes went quickly back to the ribbon of dusty white which lay across the level fields.
“I have brought it back," she said, puzzled at his manner. "Pray don't send any more.”
“ You don't want it?" He tapped the pane with restless fingers. “ No."
“ You have found a situation which suits you, perhaps ?” he went on, this time looking straight out of the window and fairly turning his back upon her.
Lizzie, perplexed and nervous, had half forgotten what she meant to say. His question put the clue into her hands once more.
“No, I haven't. I did hear of one, and when I went to ask about it, I found it was only another way of living on your alms."
“ The idiotic woman! She overdid it, I suppose,” growled Thorpe, manifestly disconcerted, but without the faintest attempt at disguise.
“I am sure she tried to keep your secret, Mr. Fletcher. But you have taught me to suspect any good fortune, I think."
His answer was an inarticulate grunt. He still kept his back to her. It was very disagreeable to have to address her remarks to his shoulders ani what she could see of the back of his head, which he held down doggedly. The one idea conveyed by the outline of those shoulders was that of inert and ponderous obstinacy. But she continued, passionately determined to pierce his armour in some way or other,-“Mr. Fletcher, I am tired of this. When will
you cuting me? You sent me money, I returned it to you. You persisted
leave off perse
again and again. Then you leagued yourself with that woman to cheat me into taking your charity.” (At this point the big shoulders became a little more expressive, for they were shrugged.) “ What have I done that I should be paid for it, with a bank note thrown to me every now and then ? And what business have you to pay me? I have done nothing for you. What I did, I did because I thought it was right. I am quite content, and you have nothing to do with it. Still you might have gone on, and it would not have mattered. I could have gone on returning your presents. But why did you send this to my mother?"
She did not pause to hear some muttered words which sounded remarkably like, “ Thought she might have more sense than you had.”
“ You would have enlisted my own mother on your side against me!" said Lizzie, in accents of bitter reproach ; " when we never had a real difference in our lives.”
“Oh!” said Thorpe, “then she had more sense ?” “Yes, if
choose to call it so. she wanted to take your charity for my sake. But I told her that she must choose between it and me, that I wouldn't touch the bread she bought with it, nor live in the house that was maintained with your gifts. I told her that I had no claim on you, that I had done nothing for you, given up nothing for you, and that I would never be a pensioner of yours.”
“So the old lady sent it back ?" Thorpe questioned, in a curiously gentle voice.
“ Yes; here it is,” said Lizzie. Having expected either persuasion or rough words, she did not know what to make of this calmness. His face was still obstinately turned to the window.
“ Put it on the table, anywhere, it doesn't matter. I shan't offend in that way again."
“ Thank you," said Lizzie.
Lizzie laid the guilty blue envelope on the table, and hesitated. He had spoken the last words with a certain bitterness of emphasis ; what did he mean? She had wished to make him understand her inflexible determination, but she did not want to part in anger. She would have held out her hand to him and gone her way, but for an absurd little difficulty. What was the good of holding out her hand to that broad grey-coated back! And speech had become difficult again. Now that she had ended the sort of understanding which had existed between them, and, no doubt, offended him for ever, she hardly understood her own confused and warring feelings. Only she was conscious of a lurking something, which she would die rather than reveal, and which a word might betray. Better shake hands and go. But he still stood at the window, with his back towards her and his head bowed down. She had hesitated only for a couple of minutes, but all at once she started, feeling as if she had been waiting for ages in the silent sunshiny room. As if she had known the little office in some previous existence, and had stood there, precisely
the same, on some occasion, say a million years before. As if everything else were a dream, or as if that were a dream, she hardly knew which. As if—but Thorpe Fletcher drove all the rest out of her head by turning round and confronting her.
“What are you stopping for?” he demanded, in his roughest tone. “You want nothing from me, you would die sooner than let me serve you in any way; you hate me--you say so."
She attempted a denial, and held out her hand, but he ignored it.
“No; as you have stayed you shall listen to me for a moment, since I've had to listen to you."
“Mr. Fletcher, are you ill? Is anything the matter ?” she exclaimed. As soon as she saw him in the full sunlight, she perceived that he was haggard and anxious. She started as she met his eyes. Though keen and clear, they were small, and overshadowed by his heavy brows, but that day there was a fierce spark of fire burning in their greyish-blue.
"Ill ?” he repeated. Lizzie Grey could not know it, but the Thorpe of twenty years earlier had come to the surface again, and confronted her that day.
“Am I ill? Is anything wrong? What the devil is it to you, Miss Grey, whether there is or not? It's good manners to ask, I suppose; but you know well enough you don't care. However, you shall hear, since you have asked.” He took a turn or two up and down the little room, with the old effect that there seemed to be no place for anyone else in it. Lizzie drew back a step to let him pass. He halted instantly. “Why don't you sit down ? What's the good of tiring yourself after your walk ?"
“ Thank you, I'd rather stand," said Lizzie.
“Stand, then !" was the rough rejoinder. “Look here, Miss Grey; I'd give my right hand to have been miles away two years ago, instead of coming here to meddle with your affairs. I can't see now what I did wrong; it seems to me that no one with any sense could have done otherwise. But everything went crooked; I'd better have let it alone altogether.”
“Oh, don't let us have all the old story over again !” said Lizzie. “Mr. Fletcher, I don't blame you, I never blamed you; pray don't say any more about it."
Thorpe turned upon her : “But I choose to say something about it. It's the last time-can't you have a little patience? Whether I did right or wrong, I ruined your prospects; you can't deny that. I ruined youyou, of all people in the world! I'm not going to talk about love at first sight, or any of the stuff they put in poetry. When I came to Lesborough I hadn't thought of marrying, at least not for a good while; I had other things to see after. But I soon began to think of it-I believe it was partly because I was sorry for what I'd done, and I wanted to do what I could to make it up to you.” Lizzie looked blankly at him, struck dumb by this singular frankness. “But you were so brave,” he went on, "and behaved so uncommonly well, that I saw the luck would
be on my side instead of yours. Only, when I'd made up my mind that you were the one girl in all the world for me, and that if I couldn't have you I'd have no one, I couldn't tell you so. I kept thinking, suppose Ernest should come back, I should never forgive myself if I'd ruined it all again. There, don't say anything, let me finish. Didn't I tell you it was the last time ?) Not that I thought you would be happy with him; I never did. But you had a right to choose for yourself. So I waited, and worked, and said to myself that you should be richer as my wife than if you had married Ernest with his estate. Only, as I knew things were not going very well with you, I tried to help you, just to keep your head above water till we should see what the boy would do. You wouldn't let me. I tried again, and I found out how it was: you hadn't forgiven my blundering, you weren't generous enough to let me do anything for you. Then I did try to help you without your knowing, but it seems you were too sharp for me
“Mr. Fletcher !” cried Lizzie.
“ Can't you have patience for five minutes ?” he demanded. “I suppose you think I'm a rich man? I don't know whether I am, or whether I'm ruined. I've done well enough here, but it was too slow for me; so I risked it for you. I meant to come straight to you if all went well-of course it would have been no good.”
"You have failed, then?" said Lizzie, advancing a step, with a new light in her eyes.
“You needn't be in such a hurry," he replied. “I tell you I don't know. But I heard something yesterday—what does it matter to you? Only if it's true there'll be a smash here—this place shut up, and all my men out of work. My God! what a fool I've been !” he said, with a quick little gasp. "Ah, well! you'll read it all in the next Lesborough paper, I daresay. Young Marshall promised me a telegram." He glanced at the road as he spoke. “But what do you care? Only you see how well
your time to reproach me and fling my money in my face. I want you to see that. Ernest will never come back nownever. And if I'm beggared, it would have been a pity for me to think that I had helped you a little till I could make a fresh start-wouldn't it? No! I'd better begin the world again at forty, knowing that I've lost all for nothing; that I've ruined you and myself too; that yon
hate me, that you
would rather starve--and it will come to that, I daresaythan touch a coin of mine, rather go to the workhouse than let me help you. Very well, be it so." He turned to the window again. “ I'm sick of it all!” he said, in a low voice; “I can do no more -I give up."
Quick as thought Lizzie sprang to the table and caught up envelope. “Mr. Fletcher ! I've taken it !"
He looked round. “ Taken what?"
“ This !” and holding it up, she went on in a voice which wavered wildly between laughing and crying: “Good-bye, Mr. Fletcher, and thank you! I'm going to spend it-may I?"
“ What do you mean ?” said Thorpe. “ Take it-only-are you in earnést? Do you see that it isn't quite the same ? No, no! don't say anything ! . Take it, in God's name! without conditions. When the
She pointed to the window : “Is that your messenger ?” she said, growing suddenly calm.
“ Yes !” said Fletcher. “ Three minutes, and I shall know. If I escape this time, I'll run no more risks; and you'll let me come and say what I can for myself, won't you ? "
“No!” and Lizzie looked straight into his eyes. “ If you do come I shall refuse to see you."
His face fell. “You will not see me?" he stammered, in utter bewilderment.
“No! If you want to say anything to me, you may say it here, and now."
“ Before that message comes; after that you needn't trouble yourself. I mean what I say.”
“But, now ?" said Thorpe. “I tell you I may be a beggar.”
“A good thing, too !” she exclaimed. “ You think of nothing but money. You are always harping on the money I should have had if I'd married Ernest; then you begin hoarding yours for me I hate it! And now you insult me, yes, insult me! by promising to come-if all goes well! I suppose I'm a toy you will like to buy if you are rich ? and if you are poor, perhaps some one else"
There was a noise as of an arrival below.
" Lizzie, don't tempt me. Suppose the worstI'm not so young as I was, I'm twice your 'age, child; there's not much chance for me- I should do you a cruel wrong."
“I don't tempt you. Here comes your message. I mean what I say—but
know that of old." She drew back a little and watched him ; her face was grave, defiant, intent. Theophilus turned on his heel, and took a step or two irresolutely. Bates appeared, laid 'a telegram on the table, and vanished discreetly.
Fletcher came forward, but Lizzie's hand was on it. She looked up at him, he was white to his lips. ( Will
have it?” she said. “How much more harm am I to do?" he asked. “If you would only let me help you !" Their eyes met: “ Lizzie, I'm a selfish brute, but will you share it, good or bad ?”
Ten minutes later she was saying, a little regretfully: "I almost wish you had been
poor for a few years at first.” " Thanks !” he said, passing his hand over his forehead, and looking down at her with a smile. Only by the sense of present relief could he realise what his fear had been. “ A few years! You can afford to talk like that. How old are you? Twenty? Twenty-one?”