Then I went back and I looked for Wheeler.
There he was, lying on the bed, drunk.
Then the devil says to me, ’What call have you to go and find him, the drunken swine? Leave him be, and you can marry Jenny, and let bygones be bygones’; and I stood there half a minute, quite still, with the smoke getting thick round me. Then, the next thing I knew, there was a cracking under my feet and the boards giving way, and I sprang across to Wheeler all in a minute, as anxious to save him as if he’d been my own twin brother. There was no waking him, it was lift him or leave him, and somehow or other I got him out; but that minute I’d given to listening to Satan had very nearly chucked us both to our death, and we only just come off by the skin of our teeth. The crowd cheered like mad when I dragged him out.
I was burned awfully bad, and such good looks as I’d had burnt off me, and I didn’t know nothing plainly for many a long day.
And when I come to myself I was in a hospital, and there was a sweet-faced charity sister sitting looking at me, and, by the Lord, if it wasn’t Amelia! And she fell on her knees beside me, and she says, ’Tom, I must tell you.
Ever since I found religion I’ve known what a wicked girl I was. O Tom, to see you lying there, so ill! O Tom, forgive me, or I shall go mad, I know I shall!’
And, with that, she told me straight out, holding nothing back, that what she’d said to me that night eight years ago was a lie, no better; and that who I’d seen in the church porch with young Wheeler was not Jenny at all, but Amelia herself, dressed in Jenny’s things.
‘Oh, forgive me, Tom!’ says Amelia, the tears runnin’ over her nun’s dress. ’Forgive me, Tom, for I can never forgive myself! I knew Jenny didn’t rightly care about you, Tom, and I loved you so dear. And Wheeler wanted Jenny, and so I was tempted to play off that trick on you; I thought you would come round to me after.’
I was weak still with my illness, but I put my hand on hers, and I says, ’I do forgive you, Amelia, for, after all, you done it for love of me. And are you a nun, my dear?’ says I.
‘No,’ says she, ’I’m only on liking as it were; if I don’t like them or they don’t like me, I can leave any minute.’
‘Then leave, for God’s sake,’ says I, ’if you’ve got a bit of love for me left. Let bygones be bygones, and marry me as soon as I come out of this, for it’s worth something to be loved as you’ve loved me, Amelia, and I was always fond of you.’
‘What?’ says she. ’Me marry you, and be happy after all the harm I’ve done? You run away from your articles and turned fireman, and Jenny married to a drunken brute—no, Tom, no! I don’t deserve to be happy; but, if you forgive me, I shan’t be as miserable as I was.’
‘Well,’ says I, ‘if ever you think better of it let me know.’