"Pooh! damn; don't let us have this sort of thing!" Jos cried out, alarmed, and anxious to get rid of a scene.
"I wonder what Major Dobbin has to say against Rebecca?" Amelia said in a low, clear voice with a slight quiver in it, and a very determined look about the eyes.
"I will not have this sort of thing in my house," Jos again interposed. "I say I will not have it; and Dobbin, I beg, sir, you'll stop it." And he looked round, trembling and turning very red, and gave a great puff, and made for his door.
"Dear friend!" Rebecca said with angelic sweetness, "do hear what Major Dobbin has to say against me."
"I will not hear it, I say," squeaked out Jos at the top of his voice, and, gathering up his dressing-gown, he was gone.
"We are only two women," Amelia said. "You can speak now, sir."
"This manner towards me is one which scarcely becomes you, Amelia," the Major answered haughtily; "nor I believe am I guilty of habitual harshness to women. It is not a pleasure to me to do the duty which I am come to do."
"Pray proceed with it quickly, if you please, Major Dobbin," said Amelia, who was more and more in a pet. The expression of Dobbin's face, as she spoke in this imperious manner, was not pleasant.
"I came to say — and as you stay, Mrs. Crawley, I must say it in your presence — that I think you — you ought not to form a member of the family of my friends. A lady who is separated from her husband, who travels not under her own name, who frequents public gaming-tables — "
"It was to the ball I went," cried out Becky.
" — is not a fit companion for Mrs. Osborne and her son," Dobbin went on: "and I may add that there are people here who know you, and who profess to know that regarding your conduct about which I don't even wish to speak before — before Mrs. Osborne."
"Yours is a very modest and convenient sort of calumny, Major Dobbin," Rebecca said. "You leave me under the weight of an accusation which, after all, is unsaid. What is it? Is it unfaithfulness to my husband? I scorn it and defy anybody to prove it — I defy you, I say. My honour is as untouched as that of the bitterest enemy who ever maligned me. Is it of being poor, forsaken, wretched, that you accuse me? Yes, I am guilty of those faults, and punished for them every day. Let me go, Emmy. It is only to suppose that I have not met you, and I am no worse to-day than I was yesterday. It is only to suppose that the night is over and the poor wanderer is on her way. Don't you remember the song we used to sing in old, dear old days? I have been wandering ever since then — a poor castaway, scorned for being miserable, and insulted because I am alone. Let me go: my stay here interferes with the plans of this gentleman."
"Indeed it does, madam," said the Major. "If I have any authority in this house — "
"Authority, none!" broke out Amelia "Rebecca, you stay with me. I won't desert you because you have been persecuted, or insult you because — because Major Dobbin chooses to do so. Come away, dear." And the two women made towards the door.
William opened it. As they were going out, however, he took Amelia's hand and said — "Will you stay a moment and speak to me?"
"He wishes to speak to you away from me," said Becky, looking like a martyr. Amelia gripped her hand in reply.
"Upon my honour it is not about you that I am going to speak," Dobbin said. "Come back, Amelia," and she came. Dobbin bowed to Mrs. Crawley, as he shut the door upon her. Amelia looked at him, leaning against the glass: her face and her lips were quite white.
"I was confused when I spoke just now," the Major said after a pause, "and I misused the word authority."
"You did," said Amelia with her teeth chattering.
"At least I have claims to be heard," Dobbin continued.
"It is generous to remind me of our obligations to you," the woman answered.
"The claims I mean are those left me by George's father," William said.
"Yes, and you insulted his memory. You did yesterday. You know you did. And I will never forgive you. Never!" said Amelia. She shot out each little sentence in a tremor of anger and emotion.
"You don't mean that, Amelia?" William said sadly. "You don't mean that these words, uttered in a hurried moment, are to weigh against a whole life's devotion? I think that George's memory has not been injured by the way in which I have dealt with it, and if we are come to bandying reproaches, I at least merit none from his widow and the mother of his son. Reflect, afterwards when — when you are at leisure, and your conscience will withdraw this accusation. It does even now." Amelia held down her head.
"It is not that speech of yesterday," he continued, "which moves you. That is but the pretext, Amelia, or I have loved you and watched you for fifteen years in vain. Have I not learned in that time to read all your feelings and look into your thoughts? I know what your heart is capable of: it can cling faithfully to a recollection and cherish a fancy, but it can't feel such an attachment as mine deserves to mate with, and such as I would have won from a woman more generous than you. No, you are not worthy of the love which I have devoted to you. I knew all along that the prize I had set my life on was not worth the winning; that I was a fool, with fond fancies, too, bartering away my all of truth and ardour against your little feeble remnant of love. I will bargain no more: I withdraw. I find no fault with you. You are very good- natured, and have done your best, but you couldn't — you couldn't reach up to the height of the attachment which I bore you, and which a loftier soul than yours might have been proud to share. Good-bye, Amelia! I have watched your struggle. Let it end. We are both weary of it."
Amelia stood scared and silent as William thus suddenly broke the chain by which she held him and declared his independence and superiority. He had placed himself at her feet so long that the poor little woman had been accustomed to trample upon him. She didn't wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him. She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not unfrequently levied in love.
William's sally had quite broken and cast her down. HER assault was long since over and beaten back.
"Am I to understand then, that you are going — away, William?" she said.
He gave a sad laugh. "I went once before," he said, "and came back after twelve years. We were young then, Amelia. Good-bye. I have spent enough of my life at this play."
Whilst they had been talking, the door into Mrs. Osborne's room had opened ever so little; indeed, Becky had kept a hold of the handle and had turned it on the instant when Dobbin quitted it, and she heard every word of the conversation that had passed between these two. "What a noble heart that man has," she thought, "and how shamefully that woman plays with it!" She admired Dobbin; she bore him no rancour for the part he had taken against her. It was an open move in the game, and played fairly. "Ah!" she thought, "if I could have had such a husband as that — a man with a heart and brains too! I would not have minded his large feet"; and running into her room, she absolutely bethought herself of something, and wrote him a note, beseeching him to stop for a few days — not to think of going — and that she could serve him with A.
The parting was over. Once more poor William walked to the door and was gone; and the little widow, the author of all this work, had her will, and had won her victory, and was left to enjoy it as she best might. Let the ladies envy her triumph.