The mother, shivering and white, held Joanna away from her.
‘What else could I do? Whither could I go? I had no one to whom I belonged and with whom I could find a home. I could not remain in this house with him any more as his servant after he had wanted to make me his wife, and his wife I would not be.’
Her mother was trembling as with cold—as she trembled on that same day seven years before when she stood in the same house, though not in the same room, and when she was drenched with sea water.
‘You may say—There was Mr. Charles Cheek. But, mother, his visit came too late. I had been already to the register office with Mr. Lazarus. It is true he had written to me two or three times, to tell me what he was about, but he had not said a word in those letters about wanting me to be his wife. And, even if he had, I must have refused him, because I gave him up to his father for a hundred pounds. Now, mother, would it have been honourable in me to take that money, and afterwards go from my agreement to which I had signed my name? No, I could not, much as I like Charles—and I do, I do like him. I could take him as little as I could Mr. Lazarus. I have a conscience. I have two—they may be queer to the fancy of some folk, but they are plain and outspoken to me, and what they say, that I do, and no haggling and bargaining and beating down with them. So you see, mother, there was no help for it. I thought, when I made my plan, that if I took all the laudanum myself, master would find it out and fetch a doctor, and they would bring me round, so I was resolved to give him some of the laudanum also, enough to——’
‘Oh, Joanna!’ in a tone of agony and horror; ‘not to kill him also?’
‘No, mother, I had no thought of that. That would be murder, and no provocation would bring me to that. No. I thought if he should swallow enough to make him confused, and unable to understand what had taken me, that he would be as one drunk, and sleep, and wake when I was past recovery.’
Mrs. Rosevere wrung her hands, uttered a faint cry, and slipped out of the chair upon her knees, and, pressing her hands to her bosom, said, ‘My God! my God! I thank Thee that Thou didst bring me here in time to save the soul of my poor child.’
Joanna waited till her mother had recovered herself some-