“Ah!” Mr. Wesley cleared his throat. “There is no reason, Mr. Wright, why we should protract a business which (as you may guess) must needs be extremely painful to some of us here. I have made inquiries about you and find that, though not well-to-do, you bear the reputation of an honest man, even a kind one. It appears that at great cost to yourself you have made provision for an aged father, going (I am told) well beyond the strict limits of a son’s duty. Filial obedience—” The Rector’s eyes here fell upon Hetty and he checked himself. “But I will not enlarge upon that. You ask to marry my daughter. She is in no position to decline your offer, but must rather accept it and with thanks, in humility. As her father I commend her to your love and forbearance.”
There was silence for a while. Mr. Wright lifted his head: and now his culprit’s look had vanished and in its place was one of genuine earnestness.
“I thank ye, sir,” he said; “but, if ’tis no liberty, I’d like to hear what Miss Hetty says.” Hetty, too, lifted her eyes and for the first time since entering rested them on the man who was to be her husband. Mrs. Wesley saw how they blenched and how she compelled them to steadiness; and turned her own away.
“Sir,” said Hetty, “you have heard my father. Although he has not chosen to tell you, I am bound; and must answer under my bond unless he release me.”
“For your salvation, as I most firmly believe, I refuse to release you,” said the Rector.
“Then, sir,” she continued, still with her eyes on William Wright, “under my bond I will answer you. If, as I think, those who marry without love sin against God and themselves, my father is driving out sin by sin. I cannot love you: but what I do under force I will do with an honest wish to please. I thank you for stooping to one whom her parents cast out. I shall remember my unworthiness all the more because you have overlooked it. You are all strange to me. Just now I shrink from you. But you at least see something left in me to value. Noble or base your feeling may be: it is something which these two, my parents who begat me, have not. I will try to think it noble—to thank you for it all my days—to be a good wife.”
She held out her hand. As Mr. Wright extended his, coarse and not too clean, she touched it with her finger-tips and faced her father, waiting his word of dismissal.
But the Rector was looking at his wife. For a moment he hesitated; then, stepping forward, drew her arm within his, and the pair left the room together.
William Wright stared at the door as it closed upon them. Hetty did not stir. To reach it she must pass him. She stood by the writing-table, her profile turned to him, her body bent with a great shame; suffering anguish, yet with an indignant pride holding it down and driving it inward as she repressed her bosom’s rise and fall. Even a callous man must have pitied her; and William Wright, though a vulgar man, was by no means a callous one.