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love down to friendship and tender esteem; but no, now I see you as unhappy as myself, now I can speak and wrong no one, I own I--oh Alfred my heart burns for you, bleeds for you, yearns for you, sickens for you, dies for you."
"Oh, hush! hush! Mrs. Archbold. You are saying things you will blush for the next moment."
"I blush now, but cannot hush; I have gone too far. And your happiness as well as mine is at stake. No young girl can understand or value such a man as you are: but I, like you, have suffered; I, like you, am constant; I, like you, am warm and tender; at my age a woman's love is bliss to him who can gain it; and I love you with all my soul, Alfred. I worship the ground you walk on, my sweet, sweet boy. Say you the word, dearest, and I will bribe the servants, and get the keys, and sacrifice my profession for ever to give you liberty (see how sweet the open face of nature is, sweeter than anything on earth, but love); and all I ask is a little, little of your heart in return. Give me a chance to make you mine for ever; and, if I fail, treat me as I shall deserve; desert me at once; and then I'll never reproach you; I'll only die for you; as I have lived for you ever since I first saw your heavenly face."
The passionate woman paused at last, but her hot cheek and heaving bosom and tender convulsive hand prolonged the pleading.
I am afraid few men of her own age would have resisted her; for voice and speech and all burning, melting, and winning; and then, so reasonable, lads; she did not stipulate for constancy.
But Alfred turned round to her blushing and sorrowful. "For shame!" he said; "this is not love: you abuse that sacred word. Indeed, if you had ever really loved, you would have pitied me and Julia long ago, and respected our love; and saved us by giving me my freedom long ago. I am not a fool: do you think I don't know that you are my jailer, and the cunningest and most dangerous of them all?"
"You cruel, ungrateful!" she sobbed.
"No; I am not ungrateful either," said he more gently. "You have always come between me and that kind of torture which most terrifies vulgar souls: and I thank you for it. Only if you had also pitied the deeper anguish of my heart, I should thank you more still. As it is, I forgive you for the share you have had in blasting my happiness for life; and nobody shall ever know what you have been mad enough in an unguarded moment to say; but for pity's sake talk no more of love, to mock my misery."
Mrs. Archbold was white with ire long before he had done this sentence. "You insolent creature," said she; "you spurn my love; you shall feel my hate."
"So I conclude," said he coldly: "such love as yours is hard by hate."
"It is," said she: "and I know how I'll combine the two. To-day I loved you, and you spurned me; ere long you shall love me and I'll despise you; and not spurn you."
"I don't understand you," said Alfred, feeling rather uneasy.
"What," said she, "don't you see how the superior mind can fascinate the inferior? Look at Frank Beverley--how he follows you about and fawns on you like a little dog."
"I prefer his sort of affection to yours."
"A gentleman and a man would have kept that to himself; but you are neither one nor the other; or you would have taken my offer, and then run away from me the next day, you fool. A man betrays a woman; he doesn't insult her. Ah, you admire Frank's affection; well, you shall imitate it. You couldn't love me like a man; you shall love me like a dog."
"How will you manage that, pray? " he inquired with a sneer.
"I'll drive you mad."
She hissed this fiendish threat out between her white teeth.
"Ay, sir," she said, "hitherto your reason has only encountered men. You shall see now what an insulted woman can do. A lunatic you shall be ere long, and then I'll make you love me, dote on me, follow me about for a smile: and then I'll leave off hating you, and love you once more, but not the way I did five minutes ago."
At this furious threat Alfred ground his teeth, and said, "Then I give you my honour that the moment I see my reason the least shaken, I'll kill you: and so save myself from the degradation of being your lover on any terms."
"Threaten your own sex with that," said the Archbold contemptuously; "you may kill me whenever you like; and the sooner the better. Only, if you don't do it very quickly, you shall be my property, my brain-sick, love-sick slave."
AFTER a defiance so bitter and deadly, Alfred naturally drew away from his inamorata. But she, boiling with love and hate, said bitterly, "We need not take Mr. Rooke into our secrets. Come, sir, your arm!"
He stuck it out ungraciously, and averted his head; she took it, suppressed with difficulty a petty desire to pinch, and so walked by his side. He was as much at his ease as if promenading jungles with a panther. She felt him quiver with repugnance under her soft hand; and prolonged the irritating contact. She walked very slowly, and told him with much meaning she was waiting for a signal. "Till then," said she, "we will keep one another company;" biting the word with her teeth as it went out.
By-and-by a window was opened in the asylum, and a table-cloth hung out. Mrs. Archbold pointed it out to Alfred; he stared at it; and after that she walked him rapidly home in silence. But, as soon as the door was double-locked on him, she whispered triumphantly in his ear--
"Your mother-in-law was expected to-day; that signal was to let me know she was gone."
"My mother-in-law!" cried the young man, and tried in vain to conceal his surprise and agitation.
"Ay; your mother-in-law, that shall never be. Mrs. Dodd."
"Mrs. Dodd here!" said Alfred, clasping his hands. Then he reflected, and said coolly: "It is false; what should she come here for?"
"To see your father-in-law."
"My father-in-law? What, is he here, too?" said Alfred with an incredulous sneer.
"Yes, the raving maniac that calls himself Thompson, and that you took to from the first: he is your precious father-in-law--that shall never be."
Alfred was now utterly amazed, and bewildered. Mrs. Archbold eyed him in silent scorn.
"Poor man," said he at last; and hung his head sorrowfully. "No wonder then his voice went so to my heart. How strange it all is! and how will it all end?"
"In your being a madman instead of an insolent fool," hissed the viper.
At this moment Beverley appeared at the end of the yard. Mrs. Archbold whistled him to her like a dog. He came running zealously. "Who was that called while I was out?" she inquired.
"A polite lady, madam: she said sir to me, and thanked me."
"That sounds like Mrs. Dodd," said the Archbold quietly.
"Ah, but," continued Frank, "there was another with her a beautiful young lady; oh, so beautiful!"
"Miss Julia Dodd," said the Archbold grimly.
Alfred panted, and his eyes roved wildly in search of a way to escape and follow her; she could not be far off.
"Anybody else, Frank?" inquired Mrs. Archbold.
"No more ladies, madam; but there was a young gentleman all in black. I think he was a clergyman--or a butler."
"Ah, that was her husband that is to be; that was Mr. Hurd. She can go nowhere without him, not even to see her old beau."
At these words, every one of them an adder, Alfred turned on her furiously, and his long arm shot out of its own accord, and the fingers opened like an eagle's claw. She saw, and understood, but never blenched. Her vindictive eye met his dilating flashing orbs unflinchingly.
"You pass for a woman," he said, "and I am too wretched for anger." He turned from her with a deep convulsive sob, and, almost staggering, leaned his brow against the wall of the house.
She had done what no man had as yet succeeded in; she had broken his spirit. And here a man would have left him alone. But the rejected beauty put her lips to his ear, and whispered into them, "This is only the beginning." Then she left him and went to his room and stole all his paper, and pens, and ink, and his very Aristotle. He was to have no occupation now, except to brood, and brood, and brood.
As for Alfred, he sat down upon a bench in the yard a broken man: up to this moment he had hoped his Julia was as constant as himself. But no; either she had heard he was mad, and with the universal credulity had believed it, or perhaps, not hearing from him at all believed herself forsaken; and was consoling herself with a clergyman. Jealousy did not as yet infuriate Alfred. Its first effect resembled that of a heavy blow. Little Beverley found him actually sick, and ran to the Robin. The ex-prizefighter brought him a thimbleful of brandy, but he would not take it. "Ah no, my friends," he said, "that cannot cure me; it is not my stomach; it is my heart. Broken, broken!"
The Robin retired muttering. Little Beverley kneeled down beside him, and kissed his hand with a devotion that savoured of the canine. Yet it was tender, and the sinking heart clung to it. "Oh, Frank!" he cried, "my Julia believes me mad, or thinks me false, or something, and she will marry another before I can get out to tell her all I have endured was for
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