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"Sir," said Alfred sadly, "it is not a fault I have to acknowledge, but a misfortune."
"Tell me all about it," said Dr. Alder guardedly.
He told it, omitting nothing essential that could touch the heart or excite the ironical humour of an academician.
Well, 'truth is more wonderful than fiction,'" said the doctor. And I conclude the readers of this tale are all of the doctor's opinion; so sweet to the mind is cant.
Alfred offered his certificates.
Now Dr. Alder had been asking himself in what phrases he should decline this young genius, who was sane now, but of course had been mad, only had forgotten the circumstance. But the temptation to get an Ireland scholar into his Hall suddenly overpowered him. The probability that he might get a first-class in a lucid interval was too enticing; nothing venture, nothing have. He determined to venture a good deal.
"Mr. Hardie," said he, "this house shall always be open to good morals and good scholarship while I preside over it, and it shall be open to them all the more when they come to me dignified, and made sacred, by 'unmerited calamity.'"
Now this fine speech, like Minerva herself, came from the head. Alfred was overcome by it to tears. At that the doctor's heart was touched, and even began to fancy it had originated that noble speech.
It was no use doing things by halves; so Dr. Alder gave Alfred a delightful set of rooms; and made the Hall pleasant to him. He was rewarded by a growing conviction that he had made an excellent acquisition. This opinion, however, was anything but universal: and Alfred finding the men of his own college suspected his sanity, and passed jokes behind his back, cut them all dead, and confined himself to his little Hall. There they petted him, and crowed about him, and betted on him for the schools as freely as if he was a colt the Hall was going to enter for the Derby.
He read hard, and judiciously, but without his old confidence: he became anxious and doubtful; he had seen so many first-rate men just miss a first-class. The brilliant creature analysed all his Aristotelian treatises, and wrote the synopses clear with marginal references on great pasteboard cards three feet by two, and so kept the whole subject before his eye, till he obtained a singular mastery. Same system with the historians: nor did he disdain the use of coloured inks. Then the brilliant creature drew lists of all the hard words he encountered in his reading, especially in the common books, and read these lists till mastered. The stake was singularly heavy in his case, so he guarded every crevice.
And at this period he was not so unhappy as he expected. The laborious days went swiftly, and twice a week at least came a letter from Julia. Oh, how his grave academic room with oaken panels did brighten, when her letter lay on the table. It was opened, and seemed written with sunbeams. No quarrels on paper! Absence made the heart grow fonder. And Edward came to see him, and over their wine let out a feminine trait in Julia. "When Hurd calls, she walks out of the room, just as my poor mother does when you come. That is spite: since you are sent away, nobody else is to profit by it. Where is her Christianity, eh? and echo answers-- Got a cigar, old fellow?" And, after puffing in silence awhile, he said resignedly, "I am an unnatural monster."
"Oh, are you?" said the other serenely; for he was also under the benign influence.
"Yes," said Edward, "I am your ally, and a mere spy in the camp of those two ladies. I watch all their moves for your sake."
Alfred forgave him. And thus his whole life was changed, and for nearly twelve months (for Dr. Alder let him reside in the Hall through the vacation) he pursued the quiet tenor of a student's life, interrupted at times by law; but that is another topic.
WIFE AND NO WIFE.
Mrs. Dodd was visibly shaken by that calamity which made her shrink with horror from the sight of Alfred Hardie. In the winter she was so unwell that she gave up her duties with Messrs. Cross and Co. Her connection with them had been creditable to both parties. I believe I forgot to say why they trusted her so; well, I must tell it elsewhere. David off her hands, she was independent, and had lost the motive and the heart for severe work. She told the partners she could no longer do them justice, and left them, to their regret. They then advised her to set up as a milliner, and offered her credit for goods at cash prices up to two thousand pounds. She thanked them like a sorrowful queen, and went her way.
In the spring she recovered some spirit and health; but at midsummer a great and subtle misfortune befell her. Her mind was bent on David night and day, and used to struggle to evade the laws of space that bind its grosser companion, and find her lost husband on the sea. She often dreamt of him, but vaguely. But one fatal night she had a dream as clear as daylight, and sharp as white pebbles in the sun. She was on a large ship with guns; she saw men bring a dead sailor up the side; she saw all their faces, and the dead man's too. It was David. His face was white. A clear voice said he was to be buried in the deep next morning. She saw the deck at her feet, the breeches of the guns, so clear, so defined, that, when she awoke, and found herself in the dark, she thought reality was the illusion. She told the dream to Julia and Edward. They tried to encourage her, in vain. "I saw him," she said, "I saw him; it was a vision, not a dream; my David is dead. Well, then, I shall not be long behind him."
Dr. Sampson ridiculed her dream to her face. But to her children he told another story. "I am anxious about her," he said, "most anxious. There is no mortal ill the distempered brain may not cause. Is it not devilish we can hear nothing of him? She will fret herself into the grave, as sure as fate, if something does not turn up."
Her children could not console her; they tried, but something hung round their own hearts, and chilled every effort. In a word, they shared her fears. How came she to see him on board a ship with guns? In her waking hours she always said he was on a merchant ship. Was it not one of those visions, which come to mortals and give them sometimes a peep into Space, and, far more rarely, a glance into Time?
One day in the autumn, Alfred, being in town on law business, met what seemed the ghost of Mrs. Dodd in the streets. She saw him not; her eye was on that ghastly face she had seen in her dreams. It flashed through his mind that she would not live long to part him and Julia. But he discouraged the ungenerous thought; almost forgave her repugnance to himself, and felt it would be worse than useless to ask Julia to leave her mother, who was leaving her visibly.
But her horror of him was anything but softened; and she used to tell Dr. Sampson she thought the sight of that man would kill her now. Edward himself began to hope Alfred would turn his affections elsewhere. The house in Pembroke Street was truly the house of mourning now; all their calamities were light compared with this.
THE DISTRICT VISITOR.
While Julia was writing letters to keep up Alfred's heart, she was very sad herself Moreover, he had left her for Oxford but a very few days, when she received an anonymous letter; her first. It was written in a female hand, and couched in friendly and sympathetic terms. The writer thought it only fair to warn her that Mr. Alfred Hardie was passionately fond of a lady in the asylum, and had offered her marriage. If Miss Dodd wished to be deceived, let her burn this letter and think no more of it; if not, let her insert this advertisement in the Times: "The whole Truth.--L. D.," and her correspondent would communicate particulars by word or writing.
What a barbed and poisoned arrow is to the body, was this letter to Julia's mind. She sat cold as a stone with this poison in her hand. Then came an impetuous impulse to send it down to Alfred, and request him to transfer the other half of his heart to his lady of the asylum. Then she paused; and remembered how much unjust suspicion had been levelled at him already. What right had she to insult him? She would try and keep the letter to herself. As to acting upon it, her good sense speedily suggested it came from the rival in question, real or supposed. "She wants to make use of me," said Julia; "it is plain Alfred does not care much for her; or why does she come to me?" She put the letter in her desk, and it rankled in her heart. _Hoeret lateri lethalis arundo._ She trembled at herself; she felt a savage passion had been touched in her. She prayed day and night against jealousy.
But I must now, to justify my heading, skip some months, and relate a remarkable incident that befell her in the said character. On the first of August in this year, a good Christian woman, one of her patients, asked her to call on Mr. Barkington, that lodged above. "He is a decent body, miss, and between you and me, I think his complaint is, he don't get quite enough to eat."
"Barkington!" said Julia, and put her hand to her bosom. She went and tapped at his door.
"Come in," said a shrillish voice.
She entered, and found a weazened old man seated, mending his own coat.
He rose, and she told him she was a district visitor. He said he had heard of her; they called her the beautiful lady in that court. This was news to her, and made her blush. She asked leave to read a chapter to him; he listened as to some gentle memory of childhood. She prescribed him a glass of port wine, and dispensed it on the instant. Thus physicked, her patient became communicative, and chattered on about his native place--but did not name it--and talked about the people there. Now our district visitor was, if the truth must be told, a compounder. She would permit her pupils to talk about earthly affairs, on condition they would listen to heavenly ones before she went. So she let this old man run on, and he told her he had been a banker's clerk all his life, and saved a thousand pounds, and come up to London to make his fortune on the Stock Exchange; and there he was sometimes a bull, and sometimes a bear, and whichever he was, certain foxes called brokers and jobbers got the profit and he the loss. "It's all the same as a gambling-table," said he. "The jobbers and brokers have got the same odds the bank has at Rouge et Noir, and the little capitalist like me is doomed beforehand." Then he told her that there was a crossing-sweeper near the Exchange who came from his native place, and had started as a speculator, and come down to that. Only he called it rising, and used to speak with a shudder of when he dabbled in the funds, and often told him to look sharp, and get a crossing. And lo! one day when he was cleaned out, and desperate, and hovering with the other ghosts of little capitalists about the tomb of their money, he saw his countryman fall flat, and the broom fly out of his hand. Instantly he made a rush, and so did a wooden-legged sailor; but he got first to the broom, and began to sweep while others picked up his countryman, who proved dead as a herring; and he succeeded to his broom, and it made money by the Exchange, though he never could. Still,
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