Page:The Yellow Book - 01.djvu/110

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my arms still. And now to go back there after knowin' you! It'll be worse than ever. I can't endure it and I won't! I'll put an end to it or myself somehow, I swear!"

"But, my poor Esther, how can I help it, what can I do?" said Willoughby. He was greatly moved, full of wrath with her father, with all the world which makes women suffer. He had suffered himself at the hands of a woman, and severely, but this, instead of hardening his heart, had only rendered it the more supple. And yet he had a vivid perception of the peril in which he stood. An interior voice urged him to break away, to seek safety in flight even at the cost of appearing cruel or ridiculous; so, coming to a point in the field where an elm-bole jutted out across the path, he saw with relief he could now withdraw his hand from the girl's, since they must walk singly to skirt round it.

Esther took a step in advance, stopped and suddenly turned to face him; she held out her two hands and her face was very near his own.

"Don't you care for me one little bit?" she said wistfully, and surely sudden madness fell upon him. For he kissed her again, he kissed her many times, and pushed all thoughts of the consequences far from him.

But some of these consequences already called loudly to him as he and Esther reached the last gate on the road to Orton.

"You know I have only £130 a year?" he told her: "it's no very brilliant prospect for you to marry me on that."

For he had actually offered her marriage, although such conduct to the mediocre man must appear incredible or at least uncalled for. But to Willoughby it seemed the only course possible. How else justify his kisses, rescue her from her father's brutality, or bring back the smiles to her face?

As for Esther, sudden exultation had leaped in her heart;