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"One may abuse one's own property, I suppose. If you remember he is my doll now-curls and dear little teeth and all!"
I turn away, pained and disgusted.
Stay," she says, laying her hand on mine; "do not be cross. I am serious-look at me! I am sure I do not feel as if there were a joke to be got out of the whole of me."
I look at her, as she tells me-look with uncomfortable misgivings at the bright beauty that has prospered her so little: her cheeks are crimson, and the hand which holds mine burns, burns.
"Attend to me," she says imploringly. "I am very much in earnest. I have done better this time, have not I? I have been more wise at last?"
"This one is much more suitable to me, is not he? I-I" (laughing feverishly) "I begin to think that I did not care really for the other so much after all; it was only fancy-it was only my perversity. I wanted to get him because I thought nobody else could. I-I was not really fond of him, was I ?"
She looks with a sort of wild wistfulness into my face for confirmation of her words, but I do not think she finds any.
"He is much more suitable to me," she repeats vaguely, as if trying to convince herself by iteration; "much more in every respect. So much better-looking."
"Immeasurably," say I emphatically; "not that I see what that has got to say to it."
"And better off," she continues, still holding and unconsciously pressing my hand with her hot dry fingers. "We should have been miserably poor, Paul and I—miserably; and I hate poverty; I hate trying to make both ends meet. They will meet now and lap over without any difficulty, will not they?"
"I imagine so."
"And in age, too," she goes on eagerly, "we are far better fitted; is it not so? Paul was old-older than his age even-old in himself."
"He might well have been your father," I say, laughing vindictively, "except that no one would have accused you of emanating from so hard-featured a stock."
"No," she says, not in the least attending to my sarcasm, "of course not; altogether, you see," smiling mechanically-" altogether you see, Jemima, it is all for the best. I am nearly quite convinced of it now, and of course I shall grow more and more convinced every day, shall not I?"-looking at me with imploring inquiry.
I make no response, and we both lapse into silence-a silence spent by Lenore in wandering aimlessly about, pulling the blinds up and down, disarranging the few wintry flowers in the vase on the toilet
table, altering the furniture. At last she speaks with sudden abruptness:
"It is to be soon-very soon!"
"He is wise there, I think," I answer, following her doubtfully about with my eyes. "Poor boy, he has not studied you for the last six months to no purpose; he knows what a weathercock you are, and is bent on making sure of you while you are in the vein. tell when the wind may change?"
"You are mistaken," she says quickly, "it was not his idea at all; it was my suggestion. I suppose" (laughing with the same forced and hollow sound that had before pained me)-"I suppose it is the first instance on record of such a proposition emanating from the lady, but it was. Yes, you may look as if you were going to eat me--I cannot help that it was!"
"Good heavens!" repeat I devoutly, lapsing unintentionally, for the third time, into my favourite ejaculation.
"Yes, soon-very soon !" she says, half to herself, pulling her rings on and off, lacing her fingers together and then again unlacing them; "and we will have a very smart wedding-very! I hate sneaking to church with only the clerk and the beadle, as if one were ashamed of oneself. We will have all the neighbours, and men down from Gunter's, and a ball."
I stare distrustfully at her: her eyes are sparkling like diamonds at night, the splendid carnation that fever gives paints her cheeks. "And you will have it put in all the papers," she says, laughing restlessly; "all of them-you must not forget-a fine long flourishing paragraph-do you mind?-in all of them."
"What an extraordinary thing to give a thought to!" I say, suspiciously. "If you had two columns of the Times devoted to you, how much good would it do you?"
"Good? Oh, none at all; but it is amusing. Flowers of newspaper eloquence are always entertaining, don't you know? And one likes one's friends-one's friends at a distance-to know what is happening to one."
A light begins to break upon me, but it is such an unpleasant one that for the moment I ask no more questions. A pause. There are so many things-true, yet eminently disagreeable-to be said, that I hesitate which to begin upon. Lenore presently saves me the trouble.
"If-if he were to see me now," she says, sitting down at my feet, and smiling excitedly up at me," he could not think I was pining much for him, could he?"
The unpleasant light grows clearer.
"When he sees the account of my wedding in the papers-so soon so immediately-such a brilliant marriage, too; I am so glad it is
a good one-he will realise" (laughing ironically) "how irreparable an injury his desertion has inflicted on me, will not he?"
"Is it possible?" say I, with shocked emphasis. "I suspected it when you began to talk to me; I am sure of it now. Lenore ! Lenore! you are going to be madder than all Bedlam and Hanwell together!"
"I am am I?" speaking with listless inattention to my words, and still pursuing her own thoughts.
Marrying one man to pique another always seemed to me the most thorough 'pulling your nose to vex your face,'" I continue, in great heat.
No remark, no comment on my homely illustration.
Suppose he does hear of your marriage; suppose he does read every paragraph in all the papers about it; suppose he reads that you had twelve bridesmaids, and that you went off in a coach-and-six, how much the worse will he be or how much the better you?"
Still no answer; but she listens.
"He will feel a little stab of pain, perhaps of mortified vanity, more likely; but it will be a very little one, not big enough to spoil his dinner (he likes his dinner); while you, my poor soul, where will you be ?" She has been lying with her head in my lap; at these last words she snatches it hurriedly up.
"What do you mean ?" she cries, in a fury. "How dare you pity me? I am not a 'poor soul.' I am a very fortunate person-very much to be envied. Hundreds of people would change places with me; so would you, if you could."
"Hm! I don't know."
"Lenore," say I earnestly, putting my hand under her chin, and lifting her unwilling face towards mine, "listen to me, for I am talking sense. I never had a husband, which is more my misfortune than my fault, but all the same I know what I am about. If you marry Charlie now you will like him at last; I am sure of that. I do not believe in the most perversely faithful woman always hating, always having a distaste for a handsome, manly, loving husband. Yes, you will end by liking him even better than he does you. It is always the way. But you will have to go through purgatory first; and, what is more unfair, you will have to drag him through too, poor boy!"
"Bah!" she says, with a scornful laugh; "it is nothing when you are used to it. If I have not been there, I am sure I do not know where I have been, ever since that accursed ball. Shall I ever again hear those detestable fiddles squeaking, and those vile wind instruments blowing and blaring, without going mad? I doubt it-I doubt it !"-putting her hands wildly to her ears, as if to shut out sounds of utter pain and horror.
"You rather dislike him than otherwise now," pursue I, pushing my advantage; "you are always better pleased to see him leave a room than enter it; well, before your wedding tour is over, you will abhor him. It requires an immense stock of love at starting to support the dead sweet monotony of a honeymoon."
My dear child," I cry, with affectionate emphasis, "think better of it; if you must marry him-poor dear Charlie, I am sorry for him at least put it off for six months; let us have a little time to breathe. If you will reflect & moment I think you will see, that to be handed on from one man to another within a week is hardly ladylike, hardly modest!"
At the last word the deep red on her cheeks grows yet deeper; but by the hard defiant smile that curves her lips I know that I might as well have spoken to the winter wind that is howling and gnashing its angry teeth outside.
"Jemima," she says calmly, " as I once before observed to you, you will never make your fortune in the pulpit; your sentiments are firstrate, but they make one drowsy. See, I am yawning, myself. As to modest, that is neither here nor there; you dragged in the word by the head and shoulders to prop your argument. As to ladylike, it is a matter of the most perfect indifference to me whether I am or not."
To this I say nothing. I only walk away to the window.
"Do not dissuade me," she cries, falling from defiance to a tone of almost nervous entreaty, as she stands before me, twisting her hands. "Let me marry him in peace. Your little cut-and-dried saws are very neatly cut, very accurately dried, but they do not fit; you mean well, but one knows one's self best."
"Do you think," she continues, with irritable impatience, "that I can go on now in the old groove-the old groove that I kept so contentedly to before-before the earth opened and swallowed all I had ?"
"Can I go on," she pursues, with deepening agitation, "watching you drop the stitches in your knitting-listening to Sylvia's weak cackle-hearing those awful children plunging and bellowing about? Do you know, Jemima, for the last few days, every time they have come blundering and shrieking into the room, I have felt inclined to scream out loud? I have not done it, because you would have put me into a madhouse if I had; but all the same, I have felt the inclination." I shake my head despondently.
"If he marries me," she says, her eyes wandering restlessly about, and speaking quickly and excitedly, "he will take me away to beautiful places, away from all the dreadful old things and people. It will be
delightful delightful! I shall begin all over again-my life over again! He will take me where there are no children—no Sylviasno Jemimas no self. Yes" (laughing uneasily), "I mean to leave myself behind. I mean to be a new, fresh person-a happy, prosperous person. I wish to be happy-I am determined to be happy. Jemima" (entreatingly) "for God's sake, do not hinder me!"
WHAT THE AUTHOR SAYS.
No one can keep their mouth open for ever-not even Jemima Herrick -they must shut them at last. Mostly they shut them very soon. No passion is so shortlived as astonishment. "A nine days' wonder" is a hyperbolical expression. Who ever wondered at the awfullest murder, the most startling esclandre, the most unlooked-for turn of Fortune's quick wheel, during nine whole days? If walking on your head were to come into fashion, within three days it would excite no surprise to see people pounding along the pavement on their hats and bonnets, with their boots in the air. The neighbourhood has been informed of Lenore's transfer from one lover to the other, and its "Ohs" and "Ahs," and head-shakings thereon are over and done with. After all, they have been fewer than have been expected; people had so long made up their minds that Scrope was the right man, that few of them had arrived at the knowledge that he was the wrong one, before they were officially informed that he was the right one again. He has always been seen about with her; he is evidently her fittest mate in youth and comeliness; in this case all the sympathy goes with the successful lover. Does not he ride as straight as a die? Is not he as handsome as paint? Do not we know all his antecedents? Does not his property lie, does not his ugly old red abbey stand, in this our county? Paul, unknown, plain, and saturnine, commands neither good wishes nor regrets. It has been announced that the engagement was dissolved by mutual consent-a course always adopted by the friends of the lady when the gentleman cries off. Lenore, however, is no party to this deception. Everybody's presents have been returned to them, and again sent back. On the principle of "To him that hath shall be given," the rich Mrs. Scrope's wedding gifts are threefold greater and more numerous than those of the poor Mrs. Le Mesurier. On hearing of the change in her fortunes-if not for the better, at least for the more consequential-the Websters supplement their portly teapot with a cream-jug and sugar-basin to match. And Lenore, when she sees the teapot come back-the teapot out of which she was to have poured Paul's tea, in the little narrow house they had planned-she laughs violently.