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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Life's Morning - Chapter 6. A Visitor By Express
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A Life's Morning - Chapter 6. A Visitor By Express Post by :26chris Category :Long Stories Author :George Gissing Date :May 2012 Read :1380

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A Life's Morning - Chapter 6. A Visitor By Express

CHAPTER VI. A VISITOR BY EXPRESS

It had been arranged that Emily should receive news from Wilfrid by the first post on Monday morning. Her father left home at half-past eight, and Emily, a little ashamed at so deceiving him, went into the town at the same time on pretence of a desire to share his walk. Taking leave of him as soon as the mill was in sight, she walked towards the post-office. At this early hour there was no one before the counter: she overcame her nervousness and asked for letters. That which she expected was given to her, and at the same time a telegram.

The sight of the telegram agitated her. Drawing aside, she opened it at once. Wilfrid had despatched it the previous night from London. 'I shall be in Dunfield at one o'clock to-morrow. Please leave a note for me at the post-office, appointing any place of meeting at any time you like. I shall find the place from your description.'

The letter, as she could perceive by feeling it, was long; there was no necessity to open it until she reached home. But the note she must write at once. In agitation which would scarcely allow her to reflect, she left the office and sought a small shop where she could procure note-paper. On her way she devised a plan for meeting. In the shop where she made her purchase, she was permitted also to write the note. Having stamped the envelope, she returned to the post-office, and, to make sure that no delay might disappoint Wilfrid, gave the letter into the hands of a clerk, who promised, with a smile, that it should at once be put into the right place. Emily found the smile hard to bear, but fortunately she was unknown.

Then she set forth homewards. Such news as this, that she would see and speak with Wilfrid in a few hours, set self-command at defiance. Between joy at the thought that even now he was nearing her, and fear of the events which might have led him to such a step, she was swayed in a tumult of emotion. She longed to open the letter, yet felt she could not do so in the public roads. She tried to think whether any ill chance could possibly interpose to prevent her being at the place of meeting; none was to be anticipated, unless, what was very unlikely, her mother should propose to join her afternoon walk. But what could his coming mean? She feared that she understood too well.

Often she had to check the over-haste of her pace, and the way seemed terribly long, but at length she was at home and close shut in her bedroom. The letter did not aid her to account for his coming; it had been written late on Friday night, but made absolutely no reference to what had passed between Wilfrid and his relations. It was a long and passionate poem of his love, concerned not with outward facts, but with states of feeling. Only at the end he had added a postscript, saying that he should write again on Monday.

It was difficult to live through the morning. She felt that she must be busy with her hands, and, her mother's objections notwithstanding, set herself resolutely to active housework. Her anxious feelings in this way toned themselves to mere cheerfulness. She listened with unfailing patience to the lengthily described details of domestic annoyances of which Mrs. Hood's conversation chiefly consisted, and did her best to infuse into her replies a tone of hopefulness, which might animate without betraying too much. The hours passed over, and at length it was time to set forth. Mrs. Hood showed no desire to leave home. Emily, though foreseeing that she might again be late for tea, did not venture to hint at such a possibility, but started as if for a short walk.

Not much more than a mile from Banbrigg, in a direction away alike from the Heath and from Dunfield, is the village of Pendal, where stand the remains of an ancient castle. Very slight indeed are these relics, one window and some shapeless masses of defaced masonry being alone exposed; but a hill close beside them is supposed to cover more of the fabric, though history tells not how or when the earth was so heaped up. The circle of the moat is still complete, and generally contains water. Pendal Castle Hill, as the locality is called, is approached by a rustic lane leading from the village; it is enclosed like an ordinary meadow, and shadowed here and there with trees. On Sundays and holidays it is a resort much favoured by Dunfieldians; at other times its solitude is but little interfered with. Knowing this, Emily had appointed the spot for the meeting. She had directed Wilfrid to take a train from Dunfield to Pendal, and had described the walk up to the castle hill.

He was not before her this time, and there were endless reasons for fear lest she should wait in vain. She remained standing on the inner side of the stile by which the field was entered, and kept her gaze on the point where the lane turned. A long quarter of an hour passed, then of a sudden the expected form appeared.

There had been no train to Pendal at the right time; he had taken a meal at Dunfield station, and then had found a cab to convey him to the village.

Wilfrid was very calm, only the gleam of his fine eyes showed his delight at holding her hands again. They walked to the side of the hill remote from the road. Wilfrid looked about him, and remarked that the place was interesting. He seemed in no hurry to speak of what had brought him here; they walked hand in hand, like children. 'Emily'--and then his name in return, with interchange of looks; was it not enough for some minutes?

'There is a fallen trunk,' Wilfrid said, pointing to a remoter spot. 'Shall we sit there?'

'How well it has been managed,' he exclaimed when they had seated themselves. 'You remember the fairy tales in which the old woman bids some one go to a certain place and do such and such a thing and something is sure to happen? "And it befell just as the old woman had said."'

'And I am the old woman. They call her a witch in the stories.'

'A witch, yes; but so young and beautiful. What delight it was to find your letter, dearest! What careful directions! I laughed at your dreadful anxiety to make it quite, quite clear. Won't you take the glove off? How your hand trembles; no, I will unbutton it myself.'

He kissed the fingers lightly, and then held them pressed.

'But why have you come all this distance, Wilfrid?'

'Would it not be enough if I said I had come to see you? What distance would be too far for that?'

'But you were to have left England to-day?'

'So I was, but I shall not go--till you go with me, Emily.'

She looked at him with anxious eyes.

'Well, I will tell you all there is to tell. In the first place, my father and my aunt think that the plan of your returning to teach the little girls is not a very good one.'

He spoke with perfect cheerfulness, but firmly, as was his wont. Emily's eyes fell.

'I have felt it myself,' she said.

'And so have I; so that we are happily all agreed. We talked it all over after you had gone on Friday, and since then I have taken time to make up my mind. I can see that you would he uncomfortable in the house under such conditions; at the same time it is certainly out of the question that you should go elsewhere; and so--come to London and let us be married as soon as the arrangements can be made.'

'I don't quite understand, Wilfrid. Do you mean that your father approves this?'

'They all went off to-day. He knows, no doubt, what my intention is. In a matter like this I must judge for myself.'

She was silent, then asked with apprehension, 'Has it caused trouble?'

'Of the kind which passes as soon as it has been well talked about,' he answered with a smile; 'nothing more serious.'

She could not meet his look.

'And you wish not to return to Oxford?'

'I have done with that. I see now that to go back and play the schoolboy would have been impossible; all that is over and a new life beginning--you will be in readiness to come up as soon as I scud for you?'

She looked in his face now with pleading.

'It is too hasty, Wilfrid. It was better, far better, that we should wait till next year. Can it be your father's wish that your marriage should take place in his absence? You know that I have no foolish desires; the more simply everything is done the better it will please me. But I would, I would have it done with your father's goodwill. I foresaw his objections only too well; they are natural, it could not be otherwise; but I hoped that time would help. Let us wait!'

She closed both hands on his, and gazed at him steadily.

'I think you must be guided by me, Emily,' he replied, with his calm self-assertiveness. 'There is no reason why we should wait. My father is a man who very sensibly accepts the accomplished fact. His own marriage, I may tell you, was an affair of decision in the face of superficial objections, and he will only think the better of me for following his example. You say, and I am sure, that you care nothing for the show of a wedding; if you did, I should not be here at this moment. It is only for that that we need postpone the marriage. I will take rooms till I can find a house and have it made ready for us.'

Emily kept silence. She had released his hand. There were signs on her face of severe inward conflict.

'Will you let me go and see your parents?' he asked. 'Shall our marriage take place here? To me it is the same; I would only be ruled by your choice. May I go home with you now?'

'I would say yes if I could make up my mind to a marriage at once,' she answered. 'Dear, let me persuade you.'

'The sound of your words persuades too strongly against their sense, Emily,' he said tenderly. 'I will not put off our marriage a day longer than forms make necessary.'

'Wilfrid, let me say what--'

'I have scraps of superstition in my nature,' he broke in with a half laugh. 'Fate does not often deal so kindly as in giving you to me; I dare not _seem even to hesitate before the gift. It is a test of the worth that is in us. We meet by chance, and we recognise each other; here is the end for which we might have sought a lifetime; we are not worthy of it if we hold back from paltry considerations. I dare not leave you, Emily; everything points to one result--the rejection of the scheme for your return, my father's free surrender of the decision to myself, the irresistible impulse which has brought me here to you. Did I tell you that I rose in the middle of the night and went to Charing Cross to telegraph? It would have done just as well the first thing in the morning, but I could not rest till the message was sent. I will have no appearances come between us; there shall be no pause till you bear my name and have entered my home; after that, let life do with us what it will.'

Emily drank in the vehement flow of words with delight and fear. It was this virile eagerness, this force of personality, which had before charmed her thought into passiveness, and made her senses its subject; but a stronger motive of resistance actuated her now. In her humility she could not deem the instant gain of herself to be an equivalent to him for what he would certainly, and what he might perchance, lose. She feared that he had disguised his father's real displeasure, and she could not reconcile herself to the abrupt overthrow of all the purposes Wilfrid had entertained before he knew her. She strove with all the energy of her own strong character to withstand him for his good.

'Wilfrid, let it at least be postponed till your father's return. If his mind is what you say, he will by then have fully accepted your views. I respect your father. I owe him consideration; he is prejudiced against me now, and I would gain his goodwill. Just because we are perfectly independent let us have regard for others; better, a thousand times better, that he should be reconciled to our marriage before it takes place than perforce afterwards. Is it for my constancy, or your own, that you fear?'

'I do not doubt your love, and my own is unalterable. I fear circumstances; but what has fear to do with it; I wish to make you my own; the empire of my passion is all-subduing. I will not wait! If you refuse me, I have been mistaken; you do not love me.'

'Those are only words,' she answered, a proud smile lighting the trouble of her countenance. 'You have said that you do not doubt my love, and in your heart you cannot. Answer me one question, Wilfrid: have you made little of your father's opposition, in order to spare me pain? Is it more serious than you are willing to tell me?'

The temptation was strong to reply with an affirmative. If she believed his father to be utterly irreconcilable, there could be no excuse for lingering; yet his nobler self prevailed, to her no word of falseness.

'I have told you the truth. His opposition is temporary. When you are my wife he will be to you as to any wife I could have chosen, I am convinced of it.'

'Then more than ever I entreat you to wait, only till his return to England. If you fail then, I will resist no longer. Show him this much respect, dearest; join him abroad now; let him see that you desire his kindness. Is he not disappointed that you mean to break off your career at Oxford? Why should you do that? You promised me--did you not promise me, Wilfrid, that you would go on to the end?'

'I cannot! I have no longer the calmness, no longer the old ambitions,--how trivial they were!'

'And yet there will come a day when you will regret that you left your course unfinished, just because you fell in love with a foolish girl.'

'Do not speak like that, Emily; I hate that way of regarding love! My passion for you is henceforth my life; if it is trifling, so is my whole being, my whole existence. There is no sacrifice possible for me that I should ever regret. Our love is what we choose to make it. Regard it as a foolish pastime, and we are no better than the vulgar crowd--we know how they speak of it. What detestable thoughts your words brought to my mind! Have you not heard men and women, those who have outlived such glimpses of high things as nature ever sent them, making a jest of love in young lives, treating it, from the height of their wisdom forsooth, as a silly dream of boys and girls? If we ever live to speak or think like that, it will indeed be time to have done with the world. Even as I love you now, my heart's darling, I shall love you when years of intimacy are like some happy journey behind us, and on into the very portal of death. Regret! How paltry all will seem that was not of the essence of our love! And who knows how short our time may be? When the end comes, will it be easy to bear, the thought that we lost one day, one moment of union, out of respect for idle prejudices which vanish as soon as they find themselves ineffectual? Will not the longest life be all too short for us?'

'Forgive me the words, dear. Love is no less sacred to me.'

Her senses were playing the traitor; or--which you will--were seconding love's triumph.

'I shall come home with you now,' he said. 'You will let me?'

Why was he not content to win her promise? This proposal, by reminding her most strongly of the inevitable difficulties her marriage would entail, forced her again into resistance.

'Not now, Wilfrid. I have not said a word of this; I must prepare them for it.'

'You have not spoken of me?'

'I would not do so till I--till everything was more certain.'

'Certain!' he cried impatiently. 'Why do you torture me so, Emily? What uncertainty is there? Everything is uncertain, if you like to make it so. Is there something in your mind that I do not understand?'

'You must remember, Wilfrid, that this is a strange, new thing in my life. It has come to me so suddenly, that even yet I cannot make it part of my familiar self. It has been impossible to speak of it to others.'

'Do you think I take it as a matter of course? Is your love less a magic gift to me? I wake in a terror lest I have only dreamed of it; but then the very truth comes back, and shall I make myself miserable with imagining uncertainties, when there need be none?'

Emily hesitated before speaking again.

'I have told you very little about my home,' she said. 'You know that we are very poor.'

She could not say it as simply as she wished; she was angry with herself to recognise how nearly her feeling was one of shame, what a long habit of reason it needed to expel the unintelligent prejudice which the world bestows at birth.

'I could almost say I am glad of it,' Wilfrid replied. 'We shall have it in our power, you and I, to help so much.'

'There are many reasons,' she continued, too much occupied with her thoughts to dwell on what he said, 'why I should have time to prepare my father and mother. You will let me write the things which it is not very easy to say.'

'Say what you will, and keep silence on what you will, Emily. I cannot give so much consequence to these external things. You and I are living souls, and as such we judge each other. Shall I fret about the circumstances in which chance has cased your life? As reasonable if I withdrew my love from you because one day the colour of your glove did not please me. Time you need. You shall have it; a week, ten days. Then I will come myself and fetch you,--or you shall come to London alone, as you please.'

'Let it be till your father returns.'

'But he will be two months away.'

'You will join him in Switzerland. Your health requires it.'

'My health! Oh, how tired I am of that word! Spare it me, you at least, Emily. I am well in body and mind; your love would have raised me if I had lain at the point of death. I cannot leave England alone; I have made up my mind that you shall go with me. Have I then no power to persuade you? You will not indeed refuse?'

He looked at her almost in despair. He had not anticipated more than the natural hesitancy which he would at once overcome by force of passion. There was something terrible to him in the disclosure of a quiet force of will equal to his own. Frustration of desire joined with irritated instincts of ascendency to agitate him almost beyond endurance.

Emily gazed at him with pleading as passionate as his own need.

'Do you distrust me?' he asked suddenly, overcome with an intolerable suspicion. At the same moment he dropped her hand, and his gaze grew cold.

'Distrust you?' She could not think that she understood him.

'Do you fear to come to London with me?'

'Wilfrid?'

Her bosom heaved with passionate resentment of his thought.

'Is _that how you understand my motives?' she asked, with tremulous, subdued earnestness, fixing upon him a gaze which he could not meet.

'Yes,' he answered, below his breath, 'in a moment when love of you has made me mad.'

He turned away, leaning with one hand upon the trunk. In the silence which followed he appeared to be examining the shapeless ruins, which, from this point of view, stood out boldly against the sky.

'When was this castle destroyed?' he asked presently, in a steady voice.

He received no answer, and turned his eyes to her again. Emily's face was strung into a hard intensity. He laid his hand once more upon hers, and spoke with self-control.

'You do not know the strength of a man's love. In that moment it touched the borders of hate. I know that your mind is incapable of such a suspicion; try to think what it meant to be possessed for an instant by such frenzy.'

'You felt able to hate me?' she said, with a shake in her voice which might have become either a laugh or a sob. 'Then there are things in love that I shall never know.'

'Because your soul is pure as that of the angels they dream of. I could not love yen so terribly if you were not that perfection of womanhood to which all being is drawn. Send me to do your bidding; I will have no will but yours.'

How the light of rapture flashed athwart her face! It was hard for her to find words that would not seem too positive, too insubmissive.

'Only till you have lived with your father in the thought of this thing,' she murmured, 'and until I have taught myself to bear my happiness. Are we not one already, dear? Why should you needlessly make your life poorer by the loss--if only for a time--of all the old kindnesses? I think, I know, that in a few days your mind will be the same as my own. Do you remember how long it is since we first spoke to each other?'

'Not so many days as make a week,' he answered, smiling.

'Is not that hard to believe? And hard to realise that the new world is still within the old?'

'Sweet, still eyes--give to me seine of your wisdom! But you have a terrible way of teaching calmness.'

'You will go straight to the Continent, Wilfrid?'

'Only with one promise.'

'And that?'

'You will bow to my judgment when I return.'

'My fate shall be in your hands.'

They talked still, while the shadows of the ruins moved ever towards them. All the afternoon no footsteps had come near; it was the sight of two strangers which at length bade Emily think of the time. It was after six o'clock.

'Wilfrid, I must go. My absence will seem so strange what fables I shall have to invent on the way home. Do you know of any train that you can leave by?'

'No; it matters very little; I suppose there is a mail some time to-night? I will go back to Dunfield and take my chance.'

'How tired you will be! Two such journeys in one day.'

'And a draught of the water of life between them. But even now there is something more I ask for.'

'Something more?'

'One touch of the lips that speak so nobly.'

It was only then that her eyes gleamed for a moment through moisture. But she strengthened herself to face the parting. in spite of a heaviness at the heart like that which she had felt on leaving The Firs. She meant at first to go no further than the stile into the lane, and there Wilfrid held out his hand. She used it to aid herself in stepping over.

'I must go as far as Pendal station,' she said. 'Then you can look at the time-table, and tell me what train you will take.'

They walked the length of the lane almost in silence, glancing at each other once or twice. At the village station, Wilfrid discovered that a good train left Dunfield shortly after nine o'clock. From Pendal to Dunfield there would be a train in a quarter of an hour.

They stood together under the station shed. No other passenger was waiting, and the official had not yet arrived to open the booking-office.

'When shall I hear from you?' Emily asked, putting off from instant to instant the good-bye, which grew ever harder to say.

'In less than a week. I shall leave London early tomorrow morning.'

'But it will give you no time for rest.'

'I am not able to rest. Go as often as you can to the castle, that I may think of you as sitting there.'

'I will go very often.'

She could not trust herself to utter more than a few words. As she spoke, the station-master appeared. They moved away to the head of the stairs by which Emily had to leave.

'I shall see your train to-night as it passes Pendal,' she said.

Then there was the clasp of hands, and--good-bye. To Emily the way was dark before her as she hurried onward....

Mrs. Hood had subsided into the calm of hitter resignation. Emily found her in the kitchen, engaged in polishing certain metal articles, an occupation to which she always had recourse when the legitimate work of the day was pretty well over. Years ago, Mrs. Hood had not lacked interest in certain kinds of reading, but the miseries of her life had killed all that; the need of mechanical exertion was constantly upon her; an automatic conscience refused to allow her repose. When she heard Emily entering by the front door, a sickly smile fixed itself upon her lips, and with this she silently greeted the girl.

'It is too bad of me, mother,' Emily said, trying to assume playfulness, which contrasted strangely with an almost haggard weariness on her face. 'You will give me up as hopeless; I will promise, like the children, that it shall never happen again.'

'It is your holiday, my dear,' was the reply, as Mrs. Hood went to stir the fire. 'You must amuse yourself in your own way.'

'Of course you have had tea. I really want nothing till supper-time.'

'It was not worth while to make tea for one,' said her mother, with a sigh.

'And you have had none? Then I will make it this minute. When will father be home?'

'It is quite uncertain. He gets more and more irregular.'

'Why should he be kept so beyond the proper time? It is really too bad.'

'My dear, your father is never satisfied with doing his own work; he's always taking somebody else's as well. Of course, they find that out, and they put upon him. I've talked and talked, but it's no use; I suppose it'll go on in the same way to the end.'

Half an hour later Mr. Hood reached home, as usual, worn out. The last half mile of the walk from Dunfield was always a struggle with exhaustion. He had to sit several minutes before he was able to go upstairs to refresh himself with cold water.

'I met Mrs. Cartwright,' he said, when an unexpected cup of tea from Emily's hands had put him into good spirits. 'Jessie got home on Saturday, and wants you to go and see her, Emily. I half promised you would call to-morrow morning.'

'Yes, I will,' said Emily.

'I don't think it's altogether right,' remarked Mrs. Hood, 'that Emily should have to work in her holidays; and I'm sure it's all no use; Jessie Cartwright will never do any good if she has lessons from now to Doomsday.'

'Well, it's very necessary she should,' replied Mr. Hood. 'How ever they live as they do passes my comprehension. There was Mrs. Cartwright taking home fruit and flowers which cost a pretty penny, I'll be bound. And her talk! I thought I should never get away. There's one thing, she never has any but good-natured gossip; I never leave her without feeling that she is one of the best-hearted women I know.'

'I can't say that her daughters take after her,' Mrs. Hood remarked, soothed, as always, by comment upon her acquaintances. 'Amy was here the other afternoon, and all the time she never ceased making fun of those poor Wilkinses; it really was all I could do to keep from telling her she ought to be ashamed of herself. Mary Wilkins, at all events, makes no pretences; she may be plain, but she's a good girl, and stays at home to do what's required of her. As for the Cartwright girls--well, we shall see what'll happen some day. It can't go on, that's quite certain.'

'I don't think there's any real harm in them. They're thoughtless, but then they're very young. They oughtn't to have so much of their own way. What's your opinion of Jessie, Emily? Do you think she'll ever be fit to teach?'

'She might, if she could live apart from her mother and sisters for a time. I think she'll have to come here for her lessons; it's out of the question to do anything at that house.'

It was Mr. Hood's habit to spend his evenings in a little room at the top of the house, which he called his laboratory. It was furnished with a deal table, a couple of chairs, and some shelves. On the table was his apparatus for the study of electricity, mostly the product of his own ingenuity; also a number of retorts, crucibles, test-tubes, and the like, wherewith he experimented chemically. The shelves exhibited bottles and jars, and the dozen or so volumes which made his scientific library. These tastes he had kept up from boyhood; there was something pathetic in the persistency with which he clung to the pretence of serious study, though the physical fatigue which possessed him during his few hours of freedom would in any case have condemned him to mere trifling. Often he came upstairs, lit his lamp, and sat for a couple of hours doing nothing more than play with his instruments, much as a child might; at other times a sudden revival of zeal would declare itself, and he would read and experiment till late in the night, always in fear of the inevitable lecture on his reckless waste of lamp-oil. In the winter time the temperature of this garret was arctic, and fireplace there was none; still he could not intermit his custom of spending at least an hour in what he called scientific study, with the result that he went to bed numbed and shivering. It was but another illustration of possibilities rendered futile by circumstances. It was more than likely that the man might, with fair treatment, have really done something in one or other branch of physics. To Emily, who strove to interest herself in his subjects out of mere love and compassion, he appeared to have gained not a little knowledge of facts and theories. She liked to encourage herself in the faith that his attainments were solid as far as they went, and that they might have been the foundation of good independent work; it helped her to respect her father.

'Will you come up to-night, Emily?' he asked, with the diffidence which he always put into this request.

She assented with apparent cheerfulness, and they climbed the stairs together. The last portion of them was uncarpeted, and their footsteps sounded with hollow echoes under the roof. It was all but dark by this time; Mr. Hood found matches on the table and lit the lamp, which illuminated the bare whitewashed walls and sloping ceiling with a dreary dimness. There was no carpet on the floor, which creaked as they moved here and there. When her father was on the point of drawing down the blind, Emily interposed.

'Do you mind leaving it up, father?'

'Of course I will,' he assented with a smile. 'But why?'

'The last daylight in the sky is pleasant to look at.'

On the landing below stood an old eight-day clock. So much service had it seen that its voice was grown faint, and the strokes of each hour that it gave forth were wheezed with intervals of several seconds. It was now striking nine, and the succession of long-drawn ghostly notes seemed interminable.

The last daylight--how often our lightest words are omens!--faded out of the sky. Emily kept her eyes upon the windows none the less. She tried to understand what her father was saying sufficiently to put in a word now and then, but her sense of hearing was strained to its utmost for other sounds. There was no traffic in the road below, and the house itself was hushed; the ticking of the old clock, performed with such painful effort that it ever seemed on the point of failing, was the only sign of life outside the garret. At length Emily's ear caught a remote rushing sound; her father's low voice did not overcome it.

'These compounds of nitrogen and oxygen,' he was saying, 'are very interesting. Nitrous oxide, you know, is what they call Laughing Gas. You heat solid nitrate of ammonia, and that makes protoxide of nitrogen and water.'

The words conveyed no sense to her, though she heard them. The rushing sound had become a dull continuous thunder. Her eyes strained into the darkness. Of a sudden the horizon flamed. A train was passing a quarter of a mile away, and the furnace-door of the engine had just been opened to feed the fire, whose strength sped the carriages to far-off London. A streaming cloud of smoke reflected the glare; it was as though some flying dragon vomited crimson fumes. Involuntarily the girl half rose from her seat and pointed.

'What is it?' asked her father, looking round. 'Ah! pretty sight that fire on the smoke. Well, this protoxide of nitrogen, you see--'

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