It needed but this. He fixed his eyes on hers now, and the light in them first quivered, then grew steady as a beam. “Did you hear me give my promise?” he demanded.
“You had no right to promise it.”
“I do not break promises. And I take others at their word. Has she, or has she not, vowed herself ready to marry the first honest man who will take her; ay, and to thank him?”
“She was beside herself. We cannot take advantage of such a vow.”
“You are stripping her of the last rag of honour. I prefer to credit her with courage at least: to believe that she hands me the knife and says, ‘cut out this sore.’ But wittingly or no she has handed it to me, and by heaven, ma’am, I will use it!”
“It will kill her.”
“There are worse things than death.”
“But if—if the other should seek her and offer atonement—”
Mr. Wesley pacing the room with his hands beneath his coat-tails, halted suddenly and flung up both arms, as a man lifts a stone to dash it down.
“What! Accept a favour from him! Have you lived with me these years and know me so little? And can you fear God and think to save your daughter out of hell by giving her back her sin, to rut in it?”
Mrs. Wesley shook her head helplessly. “Let her be punished, then, in God’s natural way! Vengeance is His, dear: ah, do not take it out of His hands in your anger, I beseech you!”
“God for my sins made me her father, and gave me authority to punish.” He halted again and cried suddenly, “Do you think this is not hurting me!”
“Pause then, for it is His warning. Who is this man? What do you know of him? To think of him and Hetty together makes my flesh creep!”
“Would you rather, then, see her—” But at sound of a sobbing cry from her, he checked the terrible question. “You are trying to unnerve me. ‘Who is he?’ you ask. That is just what I am going to find out.” At the door he turned. “We have other children to think of, pray you remember. I will harbour no wantons in my house.”
At first Hetty walked swiftly across the fields, not daring to look back. “Is it he?” she kept asking herself, and as often cried out against the hope. She had no right to pray as she was praying: it was suing God to make Himself an accomplice in sin. She ought to hate the man, yet—God forgive her!—she loved him still. Was it possible to love and despise together? If he should come. . . . She caught herself picturing their meeting. He would follow across the fields in search of her. She would hear his footstep. Yet she would not turn at once—he should not see how her heart leapt. He would overtake her, call her by name. . . . She must not be proud: just proud enough to let him see how deep the wrong had been. But she would be humble too. . . .