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Lucy was quite ready in herself to comply. For one reason, she had something upon her mind about which she wanted to talk to him. But she objected.
“My grandmother is not fit to be left alone, Thomas," she said, regretfully.
"Oh ! ah !" said Thomas.
“Never mind me, child," interposed the old woman. “You'll make me wish myself in my grave, if you make me come between young people. You go, my dear, and never mind me. You needn't be gone a great while, you know.”
***Oh, no, grannie ; I'll be back in an hour, or less, if you like, said Lucy, hastening to put on her bonnet.
“No, no, my dear. An hour's in reason. Anything in reason, you know."
So Lucy made the old lady comfortable in her arm-chair, and went out with Thomas.
The roar of the city had relaxed. There would be no more blocks in Gracechurch Street that night. There was little smoke in the air, only enough to clothe the dome of St. Paul's in a faintly rosy garment, tinged from the west, where the sun was under a cloud. The huge mass looked ethereal, melted away as to a shell of thicker air against a background of slate-colour, where a wind was gathering to flow at sunset through the streets and lanes, cooling them from the heat of the day, of the friction of iron and granite, of human effort, and the thousand fires that prepared the food of the city-dining population. Crossing the chief thoroughfares, they went down one of the lanes leading towards the river. Here they passed through a sultry region of aromatic fragrance, where the very hooks that hung from cranes in doorways high above the ground, seemed to retain something of the odour of the bales they had lifted from the waggons below during the hot sunshine that wiled out their imprisoned essences. By yet closer alleys they went towards the river, descending still, and at length, by a short wooden stair, and a long wooden way, they came on a floating pier. There the wind blew sweet and cooling, and very grateful, for the summer was early and fervid. Down into the east the river swept away, sombre and sullen, to gurgle blindly through the jungle of masts that lay below the bridge and crossed the horizontal lines of the sky with their delicate spars, and yet more delicate cordage. Little diá Thomas think that one of those masts rose from a vessel laden, one might say, with his near, though not his final fate,-a fate that truth might have averted, but which the very absence of truth made needful and salutary. A boat was just starting up the river towards the light.
“Let's have a blow," said Thomas.
“That will be delightful,” answered Lucy, and they went on board. First the wheels went round backwards, then dashed forwardą,
churning the Stygian waters of the Thames into a white fury, and they were moving up the stream. They went forward into the bows of the boat to get clear of the smoke, and sat down. There were so few on board, that they could talk without being overheard. But they sat silent for some time; the stillness of the sky seemed to have sunk into their hearts. For that was as pure over their heads, as if there had been no filthy Thames under their feet; and its light and colour illuminated the surface of the river, which was not yet so vile that it could not reflect the glory that fell upon its face. The tide was against them, and with all the struggles of the little steamer they made but slow way over the dark hurrying water. Lucy sat gazing at the ragged banks, where the mighty city on either hand has declined into sordid meanness, skeleton exposure; where the struggles of manufacture and commerce are content to abjure their own decencies for the sake of the greater gain. Save where the long line of Somerset House, and the garden of the Temple asserted the ancient dignity of order and cleanlin ss, the whole looked like a mean, tattered, draggled fringe upon a rich garment. Then she turned her gaze down on the river, which, as if ashamed of the condition into which it had fallen from its first estate, crawled fiercely away to hide itself in the sea.
"How different,” she said, looking up at Thomas, who had been sitting gazing at her all the time that she contemplated the shore and the river-"How different things would be if they were only clean !”
“Yes, indeed," returned Thomas. “Think what it would be to see the fishes--the salmon, say-shooting about in clear water under us, like so many silver fishes in a crystal globe ! If people were as fond of the cleanliness you want as they are of money, things would look very different indeed !"
I have said that Thomas loved Lucy more and more. Partly a cause, partly a consequence of this, he had begun to find out that there was a poetic element in her, and he flattered himself that he had developed it. No doubt he had had a share in its development, but it was of a deeper, truer, simpler kind than his own, and would never have been what it was, in rapport always with the facts of nature and life, if it had been only a feminine response to his. Men like women to reflect them, no doubt; but the woman who can only reflect a man, and is nothing in herself, will never be of much service to him. The woman who cannot stand alone is not likely to make either a good wife or mother. She may be a pleasart companion as far as the intercourse of love-making goes, no doubt-scarcely more ; save, indeed, the trials that ensue upon marriage bring out the power latent in her. But the remark with which Thomas responded to Lucy was quite beyond his usual strain, He had a far finer nature underneath than his education had allowed to manifest itself, and the circumstances in which he was
at the moment were especially favourable to his best. Casca, on his first appearance in Julius Cæsar, talks blunt and snarling prose : in the very next scene, which is a fearfully magnificent * *under-storm, he speaks poetry. “He was quick mettle when he
it to school," and the circumstances brought it out. I wish the world was clean, Thomas, all through,” said Lucy.
Thomas did not reply. His heart smote him. Those few words ent deeper than all Mr. Simon's sermons, public and private. For a long time he had not spoken a word about religion to Lucy. Nor had what he said ever taken any hold upon her intellect, although it had upon her conscience ; for, not having been brought up to his vocabulary, and what might be called the technical phrases if not slang of his religion, it had been to her but a vague sound, which yet she received as a reminder of duty. Some healthy religious teaching would be of the greatest value to her now. But Mr. Potter provided no food beyond the established fare ; and whatever may be said about the sufficiency of the church-service, and the uselessness of preaching, I for one believe that a dumb ass, if the Lord only opens his mouth, may rebuke much madness of prophets, and priests too. But where there is neither honesty nor earnestness, as in the case of Mr. Potter, the man is too much of an ass for even the Lord to open his mouth to any useful purpose. His heart has to be opened first, and that takes time and trouble.
Finding that Thomas remained silent, Lucy looked into his face, and saw that he was troubled. This brought to the point of speech the dissatisfaction with himself which had long been moving restlessly and painfully in his heart, and of which the quiet about him, the peace of the sky, and that sense of decline and coming repose which invades even the heart of London with the sinking sun, had made him more conscious than he had yet been.
“Oh, Lucy," he said, “I wish you would help me to be good.”
To no other could he have said so. Mr. Simon, for instance, aroused all that was most contrarious in him. But Lucy at this moment seemed so near to him that before her he could be humble without humiliation, and could even enjoy the confession of weak. ness implied in his appeal to her for aid.
She loked at him with a wise kind of wonder in her look. For a moment she was silent.
“I do not know how I can help you, Thomas, for you know better about all such things than I do. But there is one thing I want very much to speak to you about, because it makes me un. happy-rather-not very, you know."
She laid her hand upon his. He looked at her lovingly. She was encouraged, and continued.
“I don't like this way of going on, Thomas. I never quite liked it, but I've been thinking more about it, lately. I thought
you must know best, but I am not satisfied with myself at all about it."
What do you mean, Lucy ?" asked Thomas, his heart begin. ning already to harden at the approach of definite blame. It was all very well for him to speak as if he might be improved : it was another thing for Lucy to do so. Do not be vexed with me, Thomas. You must know what I
I wish your mother knew all about it,” she added, hastily, after a pause. And then her face flushed red as a sunset.
She'll know all about it in good time," returned Thomas, testily ; adding in an undertone, as if he did not mean to press the remark, although he wanted her to hear it: “You do not know my mother, or you would not be so anxious for her to know all about it.”
“Couldn't you get your father to tell her, then, and make it easier for you ?"
“My father," answered Thomas, coolly, “would turn me out of the house if I didn't give you up; and as I don't mean to do that, and don't want to be turned out of the house just at present, when I have nowhere else to go, I don't want to tell him.”
“ I can't go on in this way, then Besides, they are sure to hear of it, somehow.”
“Oh no, they won't. Who's to tell them ?"
“Don't suppose I've been listening, Tom, because I have heard your last words,” said a voice behind them that of Mr. Wither. “I haven't been watching you, but I have been watching for an opportunity of telling you that Stopper is keeping far too sharp a look-out on you to mean you any good by it. I beg your pardon, Miss Boxall,” he resumed, taking off his hat. “I fear I have been rude; but as I say, I was anxious to tell Mr. Worboise to be cautious. I don't see why a fellow should get into a scrape for want of a hint."
The manner with which Wither spoke to her made poor Lucy feel that there was not merely something unfitting, but something even disreputable, in the way her relation to Thomas was kept up. She grew as pale as death, rose and turned to the side of the vessel, and drew her veil nervously over her face.
" It's no business of mine, of course, Tom. But what I tell you is true. Though, if you take my advice," said Wither, and here he dropped his voice to a whisper, “this connexion is quite as fit a one to cut as the last; and the sooner you do it the better, for it'll make a devil of a row with old Boxall. You ought to think of the girl, you know. Your own governor's your own lookout. There's none of it any business of mine, you know."
He turned with a nod and went aft; for the steamer was just drawing in to the Hungerford pier, where he had to go ashore.
For a few minutes not a word passed between Thomas and
Lucy. A sudden cloud had fallen upon them. They must not go on this way, but what other way were they to take? They stood side by side, looking into the water, Thomas humiliated and Lucy disgraced. There was no comfort to be got out of that rushing blackness, and the mud-banks grew wider and wider.
Lucy was the first to speak, for she was far more capable than Tom.
“We must go ashore at the next pier,” she said.
“ Very well," said Tom, as if he had been stunned into sullen. ness. If you want to get rid of me because of what that fellow said"
“Oh, Tom !” said Lucy, and burst out crying.
“Nonsense!” said Tom, nearly crying himself, for a great painful lump had risen in his throat.
“We can love each other all the same," said Lucy, still sob. bing; "only you must not come to see me any more-that is--I do not mean-never any more at all--but till you have told them-all about it. I don't mean now, but some time, you know. When will you be of age, Tom?"
“Oh, that makes no difference. As long's I'm dependent, it's all the same. I wish I was my own master. I should soon let them see I didn't care what they said.”
Silence again followed, during which Lucy tried in vain to stop her tears by wiping them away. A wretched feeling awoke in her that Thomas was not manly, could not resolve--or rather, could not help her when she would do the right thing. She would have borne anything rather than that. It put her heart in a vice.
The boat stopped at the Westminster pier. They went on shore. The sun was down, and the fresh breeze that blew, while it pleasantly cooled the hot faces that moved westward from their day's work, made Lucy almost shiver with cold. For loss had laid hold of her heart. They walked up Parliament Street. Thomas felt that he must say something, but what he should say he could not think. He always thought what he should say-never what he should do.
“Lucy, dear,” he said, at last, " we won't make up our minds tonight. Wait till I see you next. I shall have time to think about it before then. I will be a match for that sneaking rascal, Stopper, yet."
Lucy felt inclined to say that to sneak was no way to give sneak. ing its own. But she said neither that nor anything else.
They got into an omnibus at Charing Cross, and returneddeatened, stupefied, and despondent-into the city. They parted at Lucy's door, and Thomas went home, already much later than usual