Julia looked a moment anxiously at this fragile girl, whose tiny head was poised on a long, delicate neck like a fruit on its stem.
‘Yes, go for a walk, dear,’ said Julia; ’it will do you good. Shall I go and fetch your hat and jacket?’
‘No, thank you, I will not trouble you; I’ll go myself.’
‘No, Emily, I think you had better let me go.’
‘Oh, no; I am not afraid.’
And she went up the wide oak staircase, thinking of the man who lay dead in the room at the end of the passage. She was conscious of a sense of dread; the house seemed to wear a strange air, and her dog, Dandy, was conscious of it, too; he was more silent, less joyful than usual. And when she came from her room, dressed to go out, instead of rushing down-stairs, barking with joy, he dropped his tail and lingered at the end of the passage. She called him; he still hesitated, and then, yielding to a sudden desire, she went down the passage and knocked at the door of the room. The nurse answered her knock.
‘Oh, don’t come in, miss.’
‘Why not? I want to see him before he goes away for ever.’
Upon the limp, white curtains of an old four-posted bed she saw the memorable profile—stern, unrelenting. How still he lay! Never would that face speak or laugh or see again. Although sixty-five, his head was covered with short, thick, iron-grey hair; the beard, too, was short and thick, and iron-grey. The face was rugged, and when Emily touched the coarse hand, telling of a life of toil, she started—it was singularly cold. Fear and sorrow in like measure choked her, and her soul awoke, and tremblingly she walked out of the house, glad to breathe the sweet evening air.
She walked towards the artificial water. The sky was melancholy and grey, and the park lay before her, hushed and soundless. Through the shadows of the darkening island two swans floated softly, leaving behind slight silver lines; above, the swallows flew high in the evening. There was sensation of death, too, in this cold, mournful water, and in the silence that hung about it, and in some vague way it reminded Emily of her own life. She had known little else but death; her life seemed full of death; and those reflections, so distinct and so colourless, were like death.
Then, in a sudden expansion of youth she wondered. Her own life, how strange, how personal, how intense! What did it mean, what meaning had it in the great, wide world? And the impressive tranquillity, the pale death of the day, lying like a flower on the water, seemed to symbolise her thought, and she felt more distinctly than she had ever done before. And there arose in her a nervous and passionate interest in herself. She seemed so strange, so wonderful. Her childhood was in itself an enigma. That sad and sorrowful childhood of hers, passed in that old London house; her mother’s love for her; her cruel, stern stepfather, and the endless quarrels