Page:Court Royal.djvu/415

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when, in the nick of time, she—her dear mother—had arrived to release her. Then she was silent for a few moments, holding her mother’s hand between both of hers, and hers twitched with nervousness. ‘Mother,’ she said, then hesitated; ‘mother—hush! does no one hear?’ She listened. The house was still. She did not hear the tread of Lazarus upstairs. Nevertheless she was not satisfied; she went to the door, opened it, looked along the passage, then returned, took her mother’s hand again between her own, and said, ‘Mother—I had made up my mind. I never could, I never would, be his. I would not have lived.’

‘What do you mean, dear?’

‘I should have destroyed myself.’

‘Oh, Joanna! Joanna!’ The poor woman shrank back.

‘Mother, when you were in your deepest despair, and you saw no light before you, you threw yourself into the water. I was driven to the last point of endurance. I could not, I would not, endure to be his wife. It would have destroyed all my self-respect. I thought how I could escape, and I saw no other way but this.’

The woman shuddered. ‘I did wrong, my child, very wrong; the Lord forgive me, a poor sinner. I was as one mad at the time.’

‘I was not mad,’ said Joanna, ‘but in my soberest sense. I would never, never be his—I would die first; that was the only way of escape that I could think of. Mr. Lazarus is not a bad man altogether, and I have a kind of regard for him, he has his good points; but I cannot, and I will not endure him as a husband. Can you understand me, mother? A horror and loathing came on me—and, just as you came by, I was looking out of the window to say good-bye to the daylight which I thought I should never see again.’

‘It was very, very wrong,’ whispered the mother.

‘I can’t see that. I have two consciences, one pawnbroking, the other womanly. The first had no opinion about it, the other was very positive it was what I ought to do.’

‘But how—oh, Joanna!’ The poor woman shuddered.

‘I had made my plans. Lazarus had told me to clear away a number of bottles of drugs and chemicals from his room. Among them was a stoppered phial of laudanum, and Charles had told me about that. It gives no pain when taken, but sends you to sleep, and you sleep peacefully away into the endless sleep.’