“No: I want you to understand. It’s because your honesty makes me able to be honest with you.” She drew herself up to the height of her superb beauty and touched her breast. “You see me?” she asked in a low, hurried voice. “I am yours. My father has said it, and I repeat it, adding this: I make no bargain, except that you will be honest. I am to be your wife: use me as you will. All that life with you calls to be undergone, I will undergo: as his drudge to the hind in the fields I offer myself. Nothing less than that shall satisfy me, since through it—can you not see?—I must save myself. But oh, sir! since something in me makes you prize me above other women, even as I am, let that compel you to be open with me always! When, as it will, a thought makes you turn from me—though but for a moment—do not hide it. I would drink all the cup. I must atone— let me atone!”
She walked straight up to him in her urgency, but suddenly dropped her arms. He stared at her, bewildered.
“I shall have no such thoughts, Miss Hetty.”
Beyond the kitchen-garden a raised causeway led into the Bawtry road, between an old drain of the Tome River and a narrower ditch running down to the parsonage duck-pond. The ditch as a rule was dry, or almost dry, being fed through a sluice in the embankment from time to time when the waters of the duck-pond needed replenishing.
Half an hour later, as William Wright—who had business at Bawtry— left the yard by the small gate and came stepping briskly by the pond, Johnny Whitelamb pushed through the hedge at the end of the kitchen-garden, attempted a flying leap across the ditch and scrambled—with one leg plastered in mud to the knee—up to the causeway, where he stood waving his arms like a windmill and uttering sounds as rapid as they were incoherent.
The plumber, catching sight of this agitated figure on the path ahead, stood still for a moment. He understood neither the noises nor the uncouth gestures, but made sure that some accident had happened.
“Here, what’s wrong?” he demanded, moving on and coming to a halt again in front of Johnny.
But still Johnny gurgled and choked. “You—you mustn’t come here!”
“Eh, why not? What’s doing?”
“You mustn’t come here. You sha’n’t—it’s worse than murder! P-promise me you won’t come here again!”
Mr. Wright began to understand, and his eye twinkled. “Who’s to prevent it, now?”
“I will, if you w-won’t listen to reason. You are killing her, between you: you don’t know w-what wickedness you’re doing. She’s—she’s an angel.”
“Bravo, my lad! So she is, every inch of her.” The plumber held out his hand.
Johnny drew his away indignantly and began to choke again. “She’s not for you. It’ll all come right if you stay away. P-promise me you’ll stay away!