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little gentle fear added to her pleasure, and in a moment more his arm was about her—to protect her, I daresay he said to himself.
Now be it understood that Thomas was too much in love with himself to be capable of loving any woman under the sun after a noble and true fashion. He did not love Lucy a great deal better than he loved Mary. Only Mary was an ordinary pretty blonde, and Lucy was dark, with great black eyes, and far more distinguished in appearance than Mary. Besides she was poor, and that added greatly to the romance of the thing; for it made it quite noble in him to love her, and must make her look up to him with such deserved admiration, that without reckoning the fact that the one was offered him, and the other only not forbidden because there was as yet no suspicion of his visits in Guild Court—there was positively no room to hesitate in choice between them. Still the preference was not strong enough to keep his heart from beating fast when he found the snow-storm had closed him in with Mary. He had sense enough, however, to turn
at once in order to lead her back towards the road. But this was already a matter of difficulty, for there was no path where the storm found them, and with the gathering darkness the snow already hid the high road across the heath; so that the first question was in what direction to go to find it. They kept moving, however, Mary leaning a good deal on Tom's arm, and getting more and more frightened as no path came in view. Even Tom began to be anxious about what was to come of it, and although he did his best to comfort Mary, he soon found that before the least suspicion of actual danger the whole romance of the situation had vanished. And now the snow not only fell rapidly, but the wind blew it sharply in their faces, and blinded them yet more than merely with its darkness—not that this mattered much as to the finding the way, for that was all hap-hazard long ago.
After wandering, probably in a circuitous fashion, for more than an hour, Mary burst out crying, and said she could not walk a step farther. She would have thrown herself down had not Tom prevented her. With the kindest encouragement,—though he was really downhearted himself,—he persuaded her to climb a little height near them, which with great difficulty she managed to do.
From the top they saw a light, and descending the opposite side of the hill, found themselves in a road, where an empty cab stood by the door of a public-house. After trying to persuade Mary to have some refreshment, to which she refused to listen, insisting on being taken to her mother, Thomas succeeded in getting the cabman to drive them to the station. In the railway carriage, Mary lay like one dead, and although he took off both his coats to wrap about her, she seemed quite unconscious of the attention. It was with great difficulty that she reached her home; for there was no cab at the Hackney station, and the streets were by this time nearly a foot deep in snow.
Thomas was not sorry to give her up to her mother. She immediately began to scold him. Then Mary spoke for the first time, saying, with an effort :
“Don't, mother. If it had not been for Thomas, I should have been dead long ago. could not help it. Good night, Tom.”
And she feebly held up her face to kiss him. He stooped to meet it, and went away, feeling tolerably miserable. He was wet and cold, and the momentary fancy for Mary was quite gone, while he could not help seeing that now he had kissed her before her mother he had got himself into a scrape.
Before morning Mary was in a high fever.
That night Charles Wither spent at a billiardtable, sipping brandy and water while he played, and thinking what a splendid girl Jane Boxall
But in the morning he looked all right.
HOMAS woke the next morning with a
well-deserved sense of something troubling him. This too was a holiday, but he did not feel in a holiday mood. It was not from any fear that Mary might be the worse for her exposure, neither was it from regret for his conduct towards her. What made him uncomfortable was the feeling rather than thought that now Mrs. Boxall, Mary's mother, had a window that overlooked his premises, a window over which he had no legal hold, but which, on the contrary, gave her a hold over him. It was a window also of which she was not likely, as he thought, to neglect the advantage. Nor did it console him to imagine what Lucy would think, or—which was of more weight with Thomas-say or do, if