It took him some time to recollect his thoughts. He had awakened with a certain blank and childish sense of pleasure, like a man who had received a legacy overnight; but this feeling gradually died away, and was then suddenly and stunningly succeeded by a conviction of the truth. The whole story of the past night sprang into his mind with every detail, as by an exercise of the direct and speedy sense of sight, and he arose from the ditch and, with rueful courage, went to meet his love.
She came up to him walking steady and fast, her face still pale, but to all appearance perfectly composed; and she showed neither surprise, relief, nor pleasure at finding her lover on the spot. Nor did she offer him her hand.
'Here I am,' said he.
'Yes,' she replied; and then, without a pause or any change of voice, 'I want you to take me away,' she added.
'Away?' he repeated. 'How? Where?'
'To-day,' she said. 'I do not care where it is, but I want you to take me away.'
'For how long? I do not understand,' gasped Dick.
'I shall never come back here any more,' was all she answered.
Wild words uttered, as these were, with perfect quiet of manner and voice, exercise a double influence on the hearer's mind. Dick was confounded; he recovered from astonishment only to fall into doubt and alarm. He looked upon her frozen attitude, so discouraging for a lover to behold, and recoiled from the thoughts which it suggested.
'To me?' he asked. 'Are you coming to me, Esther?'
'I want you to take me away,' she repeated with weary impatience. 'Take me away - take me away from here.'
The situation was not sufficiently defined. Dick asked himself with concern whether she were altogether in her right wits. To take her away, to marry her, to work off his hands for her support, Dick was content to do all this; yet he required some show of love upon her part. He was not one of those tough-hided and small-hearted males who would marry their love at the point of the bayonet rather than not marry her at all. He desired that a woman should come to his arms with an attractive willingness, if not with ardour. And Esther's bearing was more that of despair than that of love. It chilled him and taught him wisdom.
'Dearest,' he urged, 'tell me what you wish, and you shall have it; tell me your thoughts, and then I can advise you. But to go from here without a plan, without forethought, in the heat of a moment, is madder than madness, and can help nothing. I am not speaking like a man, but I speak the truth; and I tell you again, the thing's absurd, and wrong, and hurtful.'
She looked at him with a lowering, languid look of wrath.
'So you will not take me?' she said. 'Well, I will go alone.'
And she began to step forward on her way. But he threw himself before her.
'Esther, Esther!' he cried.
'Let me go - don't touch me - what right have you to interfere? Who are you, to touch me?' she flashed out, shrill with anger.
Then, being made bold by her violence, he took her firmly, almost roughly, by the arm, and held her while he spoke.
'You know well who I am, and what I am, and that I love you. You say I will not help you; but your heart knows the contrary. It is you who will not help me; for you will not tell me what you want. You see - or you could see, if you took the pains to look - how I have waited here all night to be ready at your service. I only asked information; I only urged you to consider; and I still urge and beg you to think better of your fancies. But if your mind is made up, so be it; I will beg no longer; I give you my orders; and I will not allow - not allow you to go hence alone.'
She looked at him for awhile with cold, unkind scrutiny like one who tries the temper of a tool.
'Well, take me away, then,' she said with a sigh.
'Good,' said Dick. 'Come with me to the stables; there we shall get the pony-trap and drive to the junction. To-night you shall be in London. I am yours so wholly that no words can make me more so; and, besides, you know it, and the words are needless.