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- The Argonauts of North Liberty - 5/19 -
springing to her feet and grasping him convulsively by the lapels of his overcoat. "Not a word more, or I'll kill myself. Listen! Do you know what I brought you here for? why I left my--this house and dragged you out of your hotel? Well, it was to tell you that you must leave me, leave HERE--go out of this house and out of this town at once, to-night! And never look on it or me again! There! you have said we must end this now. It is ended, as only it could and ever would end. And if you open that door except to go, or if you attempt to--to touch me again, I'll do something desperate. There!"
She threw him off again and stepped back, strangely beautiful in the loosened shackles of her long repressed human emotion. It was as if the passion-rent robes of the priestess had laid bare the flesh of the woman dazzling and victorious. Demorest was fascinated and frightened.
"Then you do not love me?" he said with a constrained smile, "and I am a fool?"
"Love you!" she repeated. "Love you," she continued, bowing her brown head over her hanging arms and clasped hands. "What then has brought me to this? Oh," she said suddenly, again seizing him by his two arms, and holding him from her with a half-prudish, half- passionate gesture, "why could you not have left things as they were; why could we not have met in the same old way we used to meet, when I was so foolish and so happy? Why could you spoil that one dream I have clung to? Why didn't you leave me those few days of my wretched life when I was weak, silly, vain, but not the unhappy woman I am now. You were satisfied to sit beside me and talk to me then. You respected my secret, my reserve. My God! I used to think you loved me as I loved you--for THAT! Why did you break your promise and follow me here? I believed you the first day we met, when you said there was no wrong in my listening to you; that it should go no further; that you would never seek to renew it without my consent. You tell me I don't love you, and I tell you now that we must part, that frightened as I was, foolish as I was, that day was the first day I had ever lived and felt as other women live and feel. If I ran away from you then it was because I was running away from my old self too. Don't you understand me? Could you not have trusted me as I trusted you?"
"I broke my promise only when you broke yours. When you would not meet me I followed you here, because I loved you."
"And that is why you must leave me now," she said, starting from his outstretched arms again. "Do not ask me why, but go, I implore you. You must leave this town to-night, to-morrow will be too late."
He cast a hurried glance around him, as if seeking to gather some reason for this mysterious haste, or a clue for future identification. He saw only the Sabbath-sealed cupboards, the cold white china on the dresser, and the flicker of the candle on the partly-opened glass transom above the door. "As you wish," he said, with quiet sadness. "I will go now, and leave the town to- night; but"--his voice struck its old imperative note--"this shall not end here, Lulu. There will be a next time, and I am bound to win you yet, in spite of all and everything."
She looked at him with a half-frightened, half-hysterical light in her eyes. "God knows!"
"And you will be frank with me then, and tell me all?"
"Yes, yes, another time; but go now." She had extinguished the candle, turned the handle of the door noiselessly, and was holding it open. A faint light stole through the dark passage. She drew back hastily. "You have left the front door open," she said in a frightened voice. "I thought you had shut it behind me," he returned quickly. "Good night." He drew her towards him. She resisted slightly. They were for an instant clasped in a passionate embrace; then there was a sudden collapse of the light and a dull jar. The front door had swung to.
With a desperate bound she darted into the passage and through the hall, dragging him by the hand, and threw the front door open. Without, the street was silent and empty.
"Go," she whispered frantically.
Demorest passed quickly down the steps and disappeared. At the same moment a voice came from the banisters of the landing above. "Who's there?"
"It's I, mother."
"I thought so. And it's like Edward to bring you and sneak off in that fashion."
Mrs. Blandford gave a quick sigh of relief. Demorest's flight had been mistaken for her husband's habitual evasion. Knowing that her mother would not refer to the subject again, she did not reply, but slowly mounted the dark staircase with an assumption of more than usual hesitating precaution, in order to recover her equanimity.
The clocks were striking eleven when she left her mother's house and re-entered her own. She was surprised to find a light burning in the kitchen, and Ezekiel, their hired man, awaiting her in a dominant and nasal key of religious and practical disapprobation. "Pity you wern't tu hum afore, ma'am, considerin' the doins that's goin' on in perfessed Christians' houses arter meetin' on the Sabbath Day."
"What's the difficulty now, Ezekiel?" said Mrs. Blandford, who had regained her rigorous precision once more under the decorous security of her own roof.
"Wa'al, here comes an entire stranger axin for Squire Blandford. And when I tells he warn't tu hum--"
"Not at home?" interrupted Mrs. Blandford, with a slight start. "I left him here."
"Mebbee so, but folks nowadays don't 'pear to keer much whether they break the Sabbath or not, trapsen' raound town in and arter meetin' hours, ez if 'twor gin'ral tranin' day--and hez gone out agin."
"Go on," said Mrs. Blandford, curtly.
"Wa'al, the stranger sez, sez he, 'Show me the way to the stables,' sez he, and without taken' no for an answer, ups and meanders through the hall, outer the kitchen inter the yard, ez if he was justice of the peace; and when he gets there he sez, 'Fetch out his hoss and harness up, and be blamed quick about it, and tell Ned Blandford that Dick Demorest hez got to leave town to-night, and ez ther ain't a blamed puritanical shadbelly in this hull town ez would let a hoss go on hire Sunday night, he guesses he'll hev to borry his.' And afore I could say Jack Robinson, he tackles the hoss up and drives outer the yard, flinging this two-dollar-and-a- half-piece behind him ez if I wur a Virginia slave and he was John C. Calhoun hisself. I'd a chucked it after him if it hadn't been the Lord's Day, and it mout hev provoked disturbance."
"Mr. Demorest is worldly, but one of Edward's old friends," said Mrs. Blandford, with a slight kindling of her eyes, "and he would not have refused to aid him in what might be an errand of grace or necessity. You can keep the money, Ezekiel, as a gift, not as a wage. And go to bed. I will sit up for Mr. Blandford."
She passed out and up the staircase into her bedroom, pausing on her way to glance into the empty back parlor and take the lamp from the table. Here she noticed that her husband had evidently changed his clothes again and taken a heavier overcoat from the closet. Removing her own wraps she again descended to the lower apartment, brought out the volume of sermons, placed it and the lamp in the old position, and with her abstracted eyes on the page fell into her former attitude. Every suggestion of the passionate, half- frenzied woman in the kitchen of the house only four doors away, had vanished; one would scarcely believe she had ever stirred from the chair in which she had formally received her husband two hours before. And yet she was thinking of herself and Demorest in that kitchen.
His prompt and decisive response to her appeal, as shown in this last bold and characteristic action, relieved, while it half piqued her. But the overruling destiny which had enabled her to bring him from his hotel to her mother's house unnoticed, had protected them while there, had arrested a dangerous meeting between him and herself and her husband in her own house, impressed her more than all. It imparted to her a hideous tranquillity born of the doctrines of her youth--Predestination! She reflected with secret exultation that her moral resolution to fly from him and her conscientiously broken promise had been the direct means of bringing him there; that step by step circumstances not in themselves evil or to be combated had led her along; that even her husband and mother had felt it their duty to assist towards this fateful climax! If Edward had never kept up his worldly friendship, if she had never been restricted and compassed in her own; if she had ever known the freedom of other girls,--all this might not have happened. She had been elected to share with Demorest and her husband the effects of their ungodliness. She was no longer a free agent; what availed her resolutions? To Demorest's imperious hope, she had said, "God knows." What more could she say? Her small red lips grew white and compressed; her face rigid, her eyes hollow and abstracted; she looked like the genius of asceticism as she sat there, grimly formulating a dogmatic explanation of her lawless and unlicensed passion.
The wind had risen to a gale without, and stirred even the sealed sepulchre of the fireplace with dull rumblings and muffled moans. At times the hot-air drum in the corner seemed to expand as with some pent-up emotion. Strange currents of air crossed the empty room like the passage of unseen spirits, and she even fancied she heard whispers at the window. This caused her to rise and open it, when she found that the sleet had given way to a dry feathery snow that was swarming through the slits of the shutter; a faint reflection from the already whitened fences glimmered in the panes. She shut the window hastily, with a little shiver of cold. Where was Demorest in this storm? Would it stop him? She thought with pride now of the dominant energy that had frightened her, and knew it would not. But her husband?--what kept him? It was twelve o'clock; he had seldom stayed out so late before. During the first half hour of her reflections she had been relieved by his absence; she had even believed that he had met Demorest in the town, and was not alarmed by it, for she knew that the latter would avoid any further confidence, and cut short any return to it. But why had not Edward returned? For an instant the terrible thought that
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