`So much the better!' I cried out passionately. `Who cares for his causes of complaint? Are you to break your heart to set his mind at ease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace -- they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship -- they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel. And what does the best of them give us in return? Let me go, Laura -- I'm mad when I think of it!'
The tears -- miserable, weak, women's tears of vexation and rage -- started to my eyes. She smiled sadly, and put her handkerchief over my face to hide for me the betrayal of my own weakness -- the weakness of all others which she knew that I most despised.
`Oh, Marian!' she said. `You crying! Think what you would say to me, if the places were changed, and if those tears were mine. All your love and courage and devotion will not alter what must happen, sooner or later. Let my uncle have his way. Let us have no more troubles and heart-burnings that any sacrifice of mine can prevent. Say you will live with me, Marian, when I am married -- and say no more.'
But I did say more. I forced back the contemptible tears that were no relief to me, and that only distressed her, and reasoned and pleaded as calmly as I could. It was of no avail. She made me twice repeat the promise to live with her when she was married, and then suddenly asked a question which turned my sorrow and my sympathy for her into a new direction.
`While we were at Polesdean,' she said, `you had a letter, Man-an --'
Her altered tone -- the abrupt manner in which she looked away from me and hid her face on my shoulder -- the hesitation which silenced her before she had completed her question, all told me, but too plainly, to whom the half-expressed inquiry pointed.
`I thought, Laura, that you and I were never to refer to him again,' I said gently.
`You had a letter from him?' she persisted.
`Yes,' I replied, `if you must know it.'
`Do you mean to write to him again?'
I hesitated. I had been afraid to tell her of his absence from England, or of the manner in which my exertions to serve his new hopes and projects had connected me with his departure. What answer could I make? He was gone where no letters could reach him for months, perhaps for years, to come.
`Suppose I do mean to write to him again,' I said at last. `What then, Laura?'
Her cheek grew burning hot against my neck, and her arms trembled and tightened round me.
`Don't tell him about the twenty-second,' she whispered. `Promise, Marian -- pray promise you will not even mention my name to him when you write next.'
I gave the promise. No words can say how sorrowfully I gave it. She instantly took her am from my waist, walked away to the window. and stood looking out with her back to me. After a moment she spoke once more, but without turning round, without allowing me to catch the smallest glimpse of her face.
`Are you going to my uncle's room?' she asked. `Will you say that I consent to whatever arrangement he may think best? Never mind leaving me, Marian. I shall be better alone for a little while.'
I went out. If, as soon as I got into the passage, I could have transported Mr Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde to the uttermost ends of the earth by lifting one of my fingers, that finger would have been raised without an instant's hesitation. For once my unhappy temper now stood my friend. I should have broken
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