“Wait a few minutes, Reuben.”
She retained his hand.
“I can’t dear; I can’t.” His cheeks were hot. “I have an appointment.”
“What appointment? With whom?”
“A friend. It is something important. I’ll tell you another time.”
“Tell me now. Your sister is more to you than a friend. I ask you to stay with me, Reuben.”
In his haste, he did not understand how great an effort over herself such words as these implied. The egoist rarely is moved to wonder at unusual demonstrations made on his own behalf. Miriam was holding his hand firmly, but he broke away. Then he turned back, took her in his arms, and kissed her more tenderly than he ever had done since he was a child. Miriam had a smile of hope, but only for a moment. After all, he was gone.
IN DUE COURSE
A change of trains, and half an hour’s delay, at Manchester, then on through Lancashire civilization, through fumes and evil smells and expanses of grey-built hideousness, as far as the station called Bartles.
Miriam remarked novelties as she alighted. The long wooden platform, which used to be almost bare, was now in part sheltered by a structure of iron and glass. There was a bookstall. Porters were more numerous. The old stationmaster still bustled about; he recognized her with a stare of curiosity, but did not approach to speak, as formerly he would have done. Miriam affected not to observe him; he had been wont to sit in the same chapel with her.
The wooden stairs down into the road were supplanted by steps of stone, and below waited several cabs, instead of the two she remembered. “To Redbeck House.” The local odours were, at all events, the same as ever; with what intensity they revived the past! Every well-known object, every familiar face, heightened the intolerable throbbing of her heart; so that at length she drew herself into a corner of the cab and looked at nothing.
In the house itself nothing was new; even the servants were the same Miriam had left there. Mrs. Fletcher lived precisely the life of three and a half years ago, down to the most trivial habit; used the same phrases, wore the same kind of dress. To Miriam everything seemed unreal, visionary; her own voice sounded strange, for it was out of harmony with this resuscitated world. She went up to the room prepared for her, and tried to shake off the nightmare oppression. The difficulty was to keep a natural consciousness of her own identity. Above all, the scents in the air disturbed her, confused her mind, forced her to think in forgotten ways about the things on which her eyes fell.
The impressions of every moment were disagreeable, now and then acutely painful. To what purpose had she faced this experience? She might have foreseen what the result would be, and her presence here was unnecessary.