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He heard the thundering and surging out of doors, and it seemed to
him as if his late angry mood were going about trying to get at
him. She had cast it out; she would keep it out; he trusted to her
to defend him from himself.
'She don't know me, Stephen; she just drowsily mutters and stares.
I have spoken to her times and again, but she don't notice! 'Tis
as well so. When she comes to her right mind once more, I shall
have done what I can, and she never the wiser.'
'How long, Rachael, is 't looked for, that she'll be so?'
'Doctor said she would haply come to her mind to-morrow.'
His eyes fell again on the bottle, and a tremble passed over him,
causing him to shiver in every limb. She thought he was chilled
with the wet. 'No,' he said, 'it was not that. He had had a
'Ay, ay! coming in. When I were walking. When I were thinking.
When I - ' It seized him again; and he stood up, holding by the
mantel-shelf, as he pressed his dank cold hair down with a hand
that shook as if it were palsied.
She was coming to him, but he stretched out his arm to stop her.
'No! Don't, please; don't. Let me see thee setten by the bed.
Let me see thee, a' so good, and so forgiving. Let me see thee as
I see thee when I coom in. I can never see thee better than so.
Never, never, never!'
He had a violent fit of trembling, and then sunk into his chair.
After a time he controlled himself, and, resting with an elbow on
one knee, and his head upon that hand, could look towards Rachael.
Seen across the dim candle with his moistened eyes, she looked as
if she had a glory shining round her head. He could have believed
she had. He did believe it, as the noise without shook the window,
rattled at the door below, and went about the house clamouring and
'When she gets better, Stephen, 'tis to be hoped she'll leave thee
to thyself again, and do thee no more hurt. Anyways we will hope
so now. And now I shall keep silence, for I want thee to sleep.'
He closed his eyes, more to please her than to rest his weary head;
but, by slow degrees as he listened to the great noise of the wind,
he ceased to hear it, or it changed into the working of his loom,
or even into the voices of the day (his own included) saying what
had been really said. Even this imperfect consciousness faded away
at last, and he dreamed a long, troubled dream.
He thought that he, and some one on whom his heart had long been
set - but she was not Rachael, and that surprised him, even in the
midst of his imaginary happiness - stood in the church being
married. While the ceremony was performing, and while he
recognized among the witnesses some whom he knew to be living, and
many whom he knew to be dead, darkness came on, succeeded by the
shining of a tremendous light. It broke from one line in the table
of commandments at the altar, and illuminated the building with the
words. They were sounded through the church, too, as if there were
voices in the fiery letters. Upon this, the whole appearance
before him and around him changed, and nothing was left as it had
been, but himself and the clergyman. They stood in the daylight
before a crowd so vast, that if all the people in the world could
have been brought together into one space, they could not have
looked, he thought, more numerous; and they all abhorred him, and
there was not one pitying or friendly eye among the millions that
were fastened on his face. He stood on a raised stage, under his
own loom; and, looking up at the shape the loom took, and hearing
the burial service distinctly read, he knew that he was there to
suffer death. In an instant what he stood on fell below him, and
he was gone.
- Out of what mystery he came back to his usual life, and to places
that he knew, he was unable to consider; but he was back in those
places by some means, and with this condemnation upon him, that he
was never, in this world or the next, through all the unimaginable
ages of eternity, to look on Rachael's face or hear her voice.
Wandering to and fro, unceasingly, without hope, and in search of
he knew not what (he only knew that he was doomed to seek it), he
was the subject of a nameless, horrible dread, a mortal fear of one
particular shape which everything took. Whatsoever he looked at,
grew into that form sooner or later. The object of his miserable
existence was to prevent its recognition by any one among the
various people he encountered. Hopeless labour! If he led them
out of rooms where it was, if he shut up drawers and closets where
it stood, if he drew the curious from places where he knew it to be
secreted, and got them out into the streets, the very chimneys of
the mills assumed that shape, and round them was the printed word.
The wind was blowing again, the rain was beating on the house-tops,
and the larger spaces through which he had strayed contracted to
the four walls of his room. Saving that the fire had died out, it
was as his eyes had closed upon it. Rachael seemed to have fallen
into a doze, in the chair by the bed. She sat wrapped in her
shawl, perfectly still. The table stood in the same place, close
by the bedside, and on it, in its real proportions and appearance,
was the shape so often repeated.
He thought he saw the curtain move. He looked again, and he was
sure it moved. He saw a hand come forth and grope about a little.
Then the curtain moved more perceptibly, and the woman in the bed
put it back, and sat up.
With her woful eyes, so haggard and wild, so heavy and large, she
looked all round the room, and passed the corner where he slept in
his chair. Her eyes returned to that corner, and she put her hand
over them as a shade, while she looked into it. Again they went
all round the room, scarcely heeding Rachael if at all, and
returned to that corner. He thought, as she once more shaded them
- not so much looking at him, as looking for him with a brutish
instinct that he was there - that no single trace was left in those
debauched features, or in the mind that went along with them, of
the woman he had married eighteen years before. But that he had
seen her come to this by inches, he never could have believed her
to be the same.
All this time, as if a spell were on him, he was motionless and
powerless, except to watch her.
Stupidly dozing, or communing with her incapable self about
nothing, she sat for a little while with her hands at her ears, and
her head resting on them. Presently, she resumed her staring round
the room. And now, for the first time, her eyes stopped at the
table with the bottles on it.
Straightway she turned her eyes back to his corner, with the
defiance of last night, and moving very cautiously and softly,
stretched out her greedy hand. She drew a mug into the bed, and
sat for a while considering which of the two bottles she should
choose. Finally, she laid her insensate grasp upon the bottle that
had swift and certain death in it, and, before his eyes, pulled out
the cork with her teeth.
Dream or reality, he had no voice, nor had he power to stir. If
this be real, and her allotted time be not yet come, wake, Rachael,
She thought of that, too. She looked at Rachael, and very slowly,
very cautiously, poured out the contents. The draught was at her
lips. A moment and she would be past all help, let the whole world
wake and come about her with its utmost power. But in that moment
Rachael started up with a suppressed cry. The creature struggled,
struck her, seized her by the hair; but Rachael had the cup.
Stephen broke out of his chair. 'Rachael, am I wakin' or dreamin'
this dreadfo' night?'
''Tis all well, Stephen. I have been asleep, myself. 'Tis near
three. Hush! I hear the bells.'
The wind brought the sounds of the church clock to the window.
They listened, and it struck three. Stephen looked at her, saw how
pale she was, noted the disorder of her hair, and the red marks of
fingers on her forehead, and felt assured that his senses of sight
and hearing had been awake. She held the cup in her hand even now.
'I thought it must be near three,' she said, calmly pouring from
the cup into the basin, and steeping the linen as before. 'I am
thankful I stayed! 'Tis done now, when I have put this on. There!
And now she's quiet again. The few drops in the basin I'll pour
away, for 'tis bad stuff to leave about, though ever so little of
it.' As she spoke, she drained the basin into the ashes of the
fire, and broke the bottle on the hearth.
She had nothing to do, then, but to cover herself with her shawl
before going out into the wind and rain.
'Thou'lt let me walk wi' thee at this hour, Rachael?'
'No, Stephen. 'Tis but a minute, and I'm home.'
'Thou'rt not fearfo';' he said it in a low voice, as they went out
at the door; 'to leave me alone wi' her!'
As she looked at him, saying, 'Stephen?' he went down on his knee
before her, on the poor mean stairs, and put an end of her shawl to
'Thou art an Angel. Bless thee, bless thee!'
'I am, as I have told thee, Stephen, thy poor friend. Angels are
not like me. Between them, and a working woman fu' of faults,
there is a deep gulf set. My little sister is among them, but she
She raised her eyes for a moment as she said the words; and then
they fell again, in all their gentleness and mildness, on his face.
'Thou changest me from bad to good. Thou mak'st me humbly wishfo'
to be more like thee, and fearfo' to lose thee when this life is
ower, and a' the muddle cleared awa'. Thou'rt an Angel; it may be,
thou hast saved my soul alive!'
She looked at him, on his knee at her feet, with her shawl still in
his hand, and the reproof on her lips died away when she saw the