'No! no!' cried Emily, clasping her hands together. 'When he first came into my way — that the day had never dawned upon me, and he had met me being carried to my grave! — I had been brought up as virtuous as you or any lady, and was going to be the wife of as good a man as you or any lady in the world can ever marry. If you live in his home and know him, you know, perhaps, what his power with a weak, vain girl might be. I don't defend myself, but I know well, and he knows well, or he will know when he comes to die, and his mind is troubled with it, that he used all his power to deceive me, and that I believed him, trusted him, and loved him!'
Rosa Dartle sprang up from her seat; recoiled; and in recoiling struck at her, with a face of such malignity, so darkened and disfigured by passion, that I had almost thrown myself between them. The blow, which had no aim, fell upon the air. As she now stood panting, looking at her with the utmost detestation that she was capable of expressing, and trembling from head to foot with rage and scorn, I thought I had never seen such a sight, and never could see such another.
'YOU love him? You?' she cried, with her clenched hand, quivering as if it only wanted a weapon to stab the object of her wrath.
Emily had shrunk out of my view. There was no reply.
'And tell that to ME,' she added, 'with your shameful lips? Why don't they whip these creatures? If I could order it to be done, I would have this girl whipped to death.'
And so she would, I have no doubt. I would not have trusted her with the rack itself, while that furious look lasted. She slowly, very slowly, broke into a laugh, and pointed at Emily with her hand, as if she were a sight of shame for gods and men.
'SHE love!' she said. 'THAT carrion! And he ever cared for her, she'd tell me. Ha, ha! The liars that these traders are!'
Her mockery was worse than her undisguised rage. Of the two, I would have much preferred to be the object of the latter. But, when she suffered it to break loose, it was only for a moment. She had chained it up again, and however it might tear her within, she subdued it to herself.
'I came here, you pure fountain of love,' she said, 'to see — as I began by telling you — what such a thing as you was like. I was curious. I am satisfied. Also to tell you, that you had best seek that home of yours, with all speed, and hide your head among those excellent people who are expecting you, and whom your money will console. When it's all gone, you can believe, and trust, and love again, you know! I thought you a broken toy that had lasted its time; a worthless spangle that was tarnished, and thrown away. But, finding you true gold, a very lady, and an ill-used innocent, with a fresh heart full of love and trustfulness — which you look like, and is quite consistent with your story! — I have something more to say. Attend to it; for what I say I'll do. Do you hear me, you fairy spirit? What I say, I mean to do!'
Her rage got the better of her again, for a moment; but it passed over her face like a spasm, and left her smiling.
'Hide yourself,' she pursued, 'if not at home, somewhere. Let it be somewhere beyond reach; in some obscure life — or, better still, in some obscure death. I wonder, if your loving heart will not break, you have found no way of helping it to be still! I have heard of such means sometimes. I believe they may be easily found.'
A low crying, on the part of Emily, interrupted her here. She stopped, and listened to it as if it were music.
'I am of a strange nature, perhaps,' Rosa Dartle went on; 'but I can't breathe freely in the air you breathe. I find it sickly. Therefore, I will have it cleared; I will have it purified of you. If you live here tomorrow, I'll have your story and your character proclaimed on the common stair. There are decent women in the house, I am told; and it is a pity such a light as you should be among them, and concealed. If, leaving here, you seek any refuge in this town in any character but your true one (which you are welcome to bear, without molestation from me), the same service shall be done you, if I hear of your retreat. Being assisted by a gentleman who not long ago aspired to the favour of your hand, I am sanguine as to that.'
Would he never, never come? How long was I to bear this? How long could I bear it? 'Oh me, oh me!' exclaimed the wretched Emily, in a tone that might have touched the hardest heart, I should have thought; but there was no relenting in Rosa Dartle's smile. 'What, what, shall I do!'
'Do?' returned the other. 'Live happy in your own reflections! Consecrate your existence to the recollection of James Steerforth's tenderness — he would have made you his serving-man's wife, would he not? — -or to feeling grateful to the upright and deserving creature who would have taken you as his gift. Or, if those proud remembrances, and the consciousness of your own virtues, and the honourable position to which they have raised you in the eyes of everything that wears the human shape, will not sustain you, marry that good man, and be happy in his condescension. If this will not do either, die! There are doorways and dust-heaps for such deaths, and such despair — find one, and take your flight to Heaven!'
I heard a distant foot upon the stairs. I knew it, I was certain. It was his, thank God!
She moved slowly from before the door when she said this, and passed out of my sight.
'But mark!' she added, slowly and sternly, opening the other door to go away, 'I am resolved, for reasons that I have and hatreds that I entertain, to cast you out, unless you withdraw from my reach altogether, or drop your pretty mask. This is what I had to say; and what I say, I mean to do!'
The foot upon the stairs came nearer — nearer — passed her as she went down — rushed into the room!
A fearful cry followed the word. I paused a moment, and looking in, saw him supporting her insensible figure in his arms. He gazed for a few seconds in the face; then stooped to kiss it — oh, how tenderly! — and drew a handkerchief before it.
'Mas'r Davy,' he said, in a low tremulous voice, when it was covered, 'I thank my Heav'nly Father as my dream's come true! I thank Him hearty for having guided of me, in His own ways, to my darling!'
With those words he took her up in his arms; and, with the veiled face lying on his bosom, and addressed towards his own, carried her, motionless and unconscious, down the stairs.