Read CHAPTER VIII - GIVE YOU FIVE MINUTES of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

As Arthur entered the library Leonard came from its farther end, and they halted on opposite sides of a large table.  Arthur was flushed and looked fearfully spent.  Leonard was pale.

“I have your letter, Arthur.”

The rector bowed.  He gave a start, but tried to conceal a gleam of triumph.

Leonard ignored it and spoke on:-

“A gentleman, Arthur,-I mean any one trying to be a whole gentleman,-is a very helpless creature, nowadays, in matters of this sort.”

He looked formidable, and as he lightly grasped a chair at his side it seemed about to be turned into a weapon.

“The old thing once called satisfaction,” he continued, “is something one can no longer either ask or offer, in any form.  He can neither rail, nor strike, nor spellbind, nor challenge, nor lampoon, nor prosecute.”

“Nearly as helpless as a clergyman,” said Arthur.

“Almost,” replied the visitor.  “No, there is no more satisfaction in any of those things, for him, than if he were all a clergyman is supposed to be.  There is none even in saying this, to you, here, now, and I’m not here to say it.  Neither am I here to vindicate myself-no, nor yet Isabel-with professions or arguments to you; I might as well argue with a forest fire.”

“Quite as well.  What are you here for?”

“Be patient and I’ll tell you; I’m trying to be so with you.”


“Stop that nonsense, Arthur.  Ah me, Arthur Winslow, I have no wish to humiliate you.  Through the loyalty of your wife’s pure heart, whatever humiliates you must humiliate her.  Oh, I could wish her in her shroud and coffin rather than have her suffer the humiliation you have prepared for yourself and for her through you.”

Arthur showed a thrill of alarm.  “Do you propose to go down to public shame and drag us all with you?”

“No, nor to let you, if I can prevent you.  Arthur, you have allowed a base jealousy to persuade you, in the face of every contrary evidence, that your fair young wife has lost her loyalty-and your nearest friend the commonest honesty-in a clandestine love.  Under the goadings of that passion you have foully guessed, have heartlessly accused, have brazenly lied.  Isabel has confessed nothing to you, and I know by your lies to me how pusillanimously you must have been lying to her.  Had your guess been right, I should not have known you were only guessing, and your successful iniquity would have remained hidden from everybody but yourself-I still do you the honor to believe you would have realized it.  Now the vital question is, do you realize it, and will you undo it?”

Arthur was deadly pale; his pointing finger trembled.  “Leave”-he choked-“leave this house.”

Leonard turned scarlet, but his tone sank low.  “Arthur, I don’t believe your soul is rotten.  If I did, I should not be such a knave or such a fool as to make any treaty with you that would leave you in your pulpit one Sabbath Day.”

“What do you-what do you mean by that?”

“I mean that such a treaty would be foul faith to everybody.”

“So, then, you do propose one common shipwreck for us all.”

“Quite the contrary.  To trust the fortunes of our loved ones to any treaty with a rotten soul would indeed be to launch them upon a stormy sea in a rotten boat.  But I do not believe your soul is so.  I believe it is sound,-still sound, though on fire; and so, to help you quench its burning, I give you my pledge to be from this day a stranger to your sweet wife.  And now will you do something for me, to prove that your soul is sound and is going to stay sound?  It shall be the least I can ask in good faith to the world we live in.”

“What is it?” asked Arthur.  There was no capitulation in his face or his voice.

“I want you to make to Isabel a full retraction and explanation of every falsehood you have uttered to her or to me in this matter.”  Leonard was pale again; Arthur burned red a moment, and then turned paler than Leonard.

“You fiend!” gasped the husband.  “I am to exalt you, and abase myself, to her?”

“No.  No, Arthur.  Women are strange; every chance is that in her eyes I shall be abased.”  The speaker went whiter than ever.

“But be that as it may, you shall have lifted your soul out of the mire.  You must do it, Arthur; don’t you see you must?”

Arthur sank into the chair at his side.  He seemed to have guessed what Leonard was keeping unsaid.  A moisture of anguish stood on his brow.  Yet-

“I will die before I will do it,” he said.

Leonard drew forth the letter, and then his watch.  “Arthur Winslow, I give you five minutes.  If you don’t make me that promise in that time, I shall this day show this letter to your bishop.”

The rector sat clenching his fingers and spreading them again, and staring at the table.

A bead of sweat, then a second, and then a third started down his forehead.

Presently he clutched the board, drew himself to his feet, and turned to leave the chair, but fell across its arms, slid heavily from them, and with one rude thump and then another lay unconscious on the floor.

Leonard sprang round the table, but when he would have lifted the fallen head it was in the arms of Isabel, and her dilated eyes were on him in a look of passionate aversion.

“Ring!” she cried.  “Ring for Sarah-and go!

“No! stop! don’t ring! he’s coming to!  Only go! go quickly and forever!  Say not a word,-oh, not a word!  I heard it all!  Despise me too, for I listened at the door!

“Oh, my husband!  Arthur, look at me, Arthur.  Look, Arthur; it’s your Isabel.  Oh, Arthur, my husband, my husband!”