“So make the most of me now,” Hetty murmured, “while you have me to hold, dear; for what I am is not mine to give.”
“Hetty!” Molly drew back. “You will not go—to him—again?”
“If he will marry me. I do not think he will, dear: I do not think he has the courage. But if he calls me, I will go humbly, thankfully.”
“And if not—”
Hetty turned her face aside: but after a moment she looked up, staring, as before. There were no tears in her eyes now.
“I do not know.” She was silent awhile, then went on slowly. “But if any honest man will have me, I vow before God to marry him. Yes, and I would take his hand and bless it for so much honour, were he the lowest hind in the fields.”
Molly choked down a cry and held her breath. Her arms slipped from around the dear body she could have saved from fire, from drowning, from anything but this. This pair had loved and honoured each other from babyhood: the heart of each had been a shrine for the other, daily decked with pretty thoughts as a shrine with flowers in season. All that was best they had brought each other: how much at need they were ready to give God alone knew. And now, by the law which in Eden divided woman from man, the basest stranger among the millions of men held the power denied to Molly, the only salvation for Hetty’s need. “What I am is not mine to give”—for a minute Molly bowed over her sister, helpless.
“But no,” she cried suddenly, “that is wicked! It would be a thousand times worse than the other, however bad. You shall take no such oath! You did not know what it meant. Hetty, Hetty, take it back!”
She flung herself forward sobbing.
“I have said it,” Hetty answered quietly. The two lay shuddering, breast to breast.
Downstairs a sad-eyed woman sat over the dead fire. She heard a chair pushed back in the next room, and trembled. By and by she heard her husband trying the bolts of the doors and window-shutters. He looked into the kitchen and, finding her there seated with the lamp beside her, withdrew without a word. She had not raised her head. His footsteps went up the stair slowly.
For another hour, almost, she sat on, staring at the gray ashes: then took the lamp and went shivering to her room.
The worst (or perhaps the best) of a temper so choleric as Mr. Wesley’s is that by constant daily expenditure on trifles it fatigues itself, and is apt to betray its possessor by an unexpected lassitude when a really serious occasion calls. A temper thoroughly cruel (which his was not) steadily increases its appetite: but a temper less than cruel, or cruel only by accident, will run itself to a standstill and either cry for a strong whip or yield to the temptation to defer the crisis.
On this Mrs. Wesley was building when she broke to her husband the news of Hetty’s return. He lifted himself in his chair, clutching its arms. His face was gray with spent passion.