that leaves just sixty-six pounds clear. I am to have my salary raised if I go on well. Now, Joe! Take away your hand, and let me see your face, let me look into your eyes. Will you give me the hope that you will come and be mine, and let us begin the world anew together? I will—I will work, and you shall never reproach me with idleness again. If I have you, I shall be happy; I shall care for nothing else. I shall do my work with a light heart, and sing over it, knowing that I am going home to you. You have done me a great deal of good already. You will make me do a great deal more hereafter, if you will consent to be with me always, to encourage me.’
He put up his hand to draw aside her arm from shading her face. Then he saw how great was her agitation. She was shaking like an aspen leaf, her face ash white, her eyes dim. She clasped her hands, and they quivered. She unclosed them, and put one to her brow, and put it down again, then laid her hand on her breast, and seemed to gasp for breath. She could not speak.
‘Joe!’ he said, ‘why do you not answer me? It was for you that I refused my father’s help, that I might have the right to choose whom I would, and I will have none but you. You have had a wretched life here. I have led a wasted life. You have taught me to break away from my past, and I would release you, in return, from yours. We shall begin the world together on very little, but love lightens every load and seasons every dish.’
Then she put both her hands outspread before her, and touched his breast, as he leaned forward, and thrust him away. Her eyes were dark in their sockets, and gleamed. ‘I cannot—I cannot,’ she said, quivering in voice, eyes, and lips, and every muscle of her body.
He looked at her in surprise. ‘Why not, Joe? You must, indeed. If you take from me this hope, this ambition, I dare not say what will become of me. It is only my love for you which has lifted me to the threshold of a better life; now that you have led me to it, will you thrust me back into the folly and emptiness from which I have struggled up?’
‘I cannot,’ she said, slowly recovering herself. ‘I signed you away for a hundred pounds. That is why I never answered your letters. That is why—now—now——’ She could not speak. Something rose in her throat and choked her.
‘Is that all?’ exclaimed Charles. ‘That was a joke.’