JAMES MAYNARD left the cottage, and mechanically retraced his steps, not slowly and hesitatingly as if dubious of his own intentions, but with a rapidity resulting from intense irritation. The condition of his mind was one of mingled disappointment, perplexity, and anger. lie rebelled against the mysterious destiny that subjected his career to the malignant influence of one who moved in a sphere so widely separated from his own; and incapable, apparently, of sympathising with him. He seemed to himself to be another Tantalus, to whom a fair and reluctant tormentor had been appointed in the person of Margaret. It was sufficient that he put forth his hand to grasp her, for her to be withdrawn from his reach.
And he had come back to
him that perhaps Lord Littmass would oppose his having the permanent appointment unless lie consented to abandon Margaret, – the appointment which he had sought solely because it would put him in a position to claim her.
Mile after mile, hour after hour, with heated head and unflagging energy he marched, now over the hills which overlooked the fire-desolated town of Minehead, now along the high road that led towards London, careless of fatigue, forgetful of food, covered with dust, and heedless of the looks with which those whom he met regarded his wild hurrying figure, until night fell, and the lights of the little town of Bridgewater stood before him. Almost staggering into the first public-house he comes to, he calls for beer. Once, twice, thrice the jug is refilled and emptied almost at a draught, and presently he is on his road again; presently again beyond the reach of the gas-lamps, and with nought but the grey track and the pile light of stars to guide him. Nought but the starlight without, and the blind, unquestioned impulse within.
A man may walk through the first hours of the night cheerily and briskly enough; but nature will not be cheated. Let him start freshly as he will, yet three, four, or five o’clock is sure to beat him, if only by the very monotony of his darkened steps. Thus Maynard found himself before dawn resisting the impulse to sit down awhile by the roadside if only for a moment – resisting it again and again, until he could resist it no longer. So down he sat, his back against a slanting milestone, and his face toward a grassy bank surmounted by a hedge, and soon fell fast asleep. The day broke, dull and lowering. There was no sun to glare in his face and wake him; no passer-by to disturb him with curious inspection. What traffic had once been on that road was now absorbed by the railway, and that was too distant to rouse him by the shrill whistle of its engines, or the roar of its rushing trains.
Towards noon he woke and resumed his way, but with a feebleness that somewhat surprised him. Coming to a village and seeing a child sitting at a cottage door, with a piece of bread in its hand, he suddenly remembered that he must be hungry, and hurrying to the inn he asked for food. Bread and cheese, and the local beverage, cider, were placed before him; and after a hasty meal he was again on the road. Soon the sun came out, with gleams of heat unusual for the season, – so at least they seemed to him, – and he felt that his system must
soon give way under the present strain. All at once he stopped and stood still.
‘Where am I going?’ he asked of himself, aloud.
An answer rushed into his mind. He thought for a moment, and being satisfied with the idea, exclaimed, –
A little farther and a station was before him. Even now the train was
approaching. Rushing into the ticket office he threw down some coin, saying, ‘
It was very late when the train reached