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- Hard Cash - 90/145 -
"Well! then I must give you as much as your place is worth. Please to calculate that, and name the figure."
"My place! I wouldn't lose it for a hundred pounds."
"Exactly. Then I'll give you a hundred guineas."
"And how am I to get my money, sir?"
"The first time you are out, come to Albion Villa, in Barkington, and I'll have it all ready for you."
"And suppose you were to say, 'No: you didn't ought ever to have been confined'?"
"I must trouble you to look in my face again, Mr. Brown. Now, do you see treason, bad faith, avarice, ingratitude, rascality in it?"
"Not a grain of 'em," said Brown, with an accent of conviction. "Well, now, I'll tell you the truth; I can read a gent by this time: and I'm no more afeared for the money than if I had it in my hand. But ye see, my stomach won't let me do it."
This was a sad disappointment; so sudden, too. " Your stomach?" said Alfred ruefully. "'What do you mean?"
"Ay, my stomach. Wouldn't _your_stomach rise against serving a man that had done you the worst turn one man can do another--been and robbed you of your sweetheart?"
Alfred stared with amazement.
Brown continued, and now with some emotion: "Hannah Blake and I were very good friends till you came, and I was thinking of asking her to name the day; but now she won't look at me. 'Don't come teasing me,' says she, 'I am meat for your master.' It's you that have turned the girl's head, sir."
"Bother the women!" said Alfred cordially. "Oh, what plagues they are! And how unjust _you_ are, to spite me for the fault of another. Can I help the fools from spooning upon me?" He reflected a moment then burst out: "Brown, you are a duffer, a regular duffer. What, don't you see your game is to get me out of the place? If you do, in forty-eight hours I shall be married to my Julia, and that dumpling-faced girl will be cured. But if you keep me here, by Gee, sir, I'll make hot love to your Hannah, boiling hot, hotter than ever was--out of the isles of Greece. Oh do help me out, and I'll give you the hundred pounds, and I'll give Hannah another hundred pounds, on condition she marries you: and, if she won't marry you, she shan't have a farthing, only a good hiding."
Brown was overpowered by his maniac's logic. "You have a head," said he; "there's my hand; I'll go in, if I die for it."
They now put their heads together over the means. Brown's plan was to wait, and wait, for an opportunity. Alfred's was to make one this very night.
"But how can I?" said Brown. "I shan't have the key of your room. I am not on watch in your part to-night."
"Hannah's? She has got no key of the male patients rooms."
"Oh yes, she has; of mine, at all events."
"What makes you think that, sir?" said Brown suspiciously.
Alfred didn't know what to say: he could not tell him why he felt sure she had a key.
"Just go quietly and ask her for it" said he: "don't tell her I sent you, now."
Brown obeyed, and returned in half-an-hour with the key of the vacant bedroom, where the hobbles and chains were hidden on the arrival of the justices.
She tells me this is the only key she has of any room in this corridor. But dear heart," said Brown, "how quicksighted the women are. She said, says she, 'If it is to bring sorrowful true lovers together again, Giles, or the like of that I'll try and get the key you want off Mrs. Archbold's bunch, though I get the sack for it,' says she. 'I know she heaves them in the parlour at night' says Hannah. She is a trump, you must allow."
Alfred coloured up. He suspected he had been unjust.
"She is a good, kind, single-hearted girl," said he; "and neither of you shall find me ungrateful."
It was evident by the alacrity Brown now showed, that he had got his orders from Hannah.
It was agreed that Alfred should be down at night in his clothes, ready to seize the right moment; that Hannah should get the key, and watch the coast clear, and let him out into the corridor; and Brown get him down by a back stairs, and out on the lawn, There he would find a ladder close by the wall, and his own arms and legs must do the rest.
And now Alfred was a changed creature: his eye sparkled; he walked on air, and already sniffed the air of liberty.
After tea Brown brought in some newspapers, and made Alfred a signal, previously agreed on, that the ladder was under the east wall. He went to bed early, put on his tweed shooting-jacket and trousers, and lay listening to the clock with beating heart.
At first, feet passed to and fro from time to time. These became less frequent as the night wore on.
Presently a light foot passed, stopped at the door, and made a sharp scratch on it with some metal instrument.
It was the key. The time was not ripe to use it, but good Hannah had taken this way to let him know she had got it.
This little scratch outside his door, oh it made his heart leap and thrill. One great difficulty was overcome. He waited, and waited, but with glowing, hopeful heart; and at last a foot came swiftly, the key turned, and Hannah opened the door. She had a bull's-eye lantern.
"Take your shoes in your hand," she whispered, "and follow me."
He followed her. She led him in and out, to the door of the public room belonging to the second-class patients. Then she drew her whistle, and breathed very softly. Brown answered as softly from the other end. He was waiting at the opposite door.
"All right," said she; "the dangerous part is over." She put a key into the door, and said very softly, "Good-bye."
"God bless you, Hannah," said Alfred, with deep emotion. "God in heaven bless you for this!"
"He will, He does," said the single-hearted girl, and put her other hand to her breast with a great gulp. She opened the door slowly. "Good-bye, dear. I shall never see you again."
And so these two parted; for Hannah could not bear the sight of Giles at that moment. He was welcome to Alfred, though, most welcome, and conducted him by devious ways to the kitchen, lantern in hand.
He opened the kitchen door softly, and saw two burly strangers seated at the table, eating with all their souls, and Mrs. Archbold standing before the fire, but looking towards him: for she had heard his footsteps ever so far off.
The men looked up, and saw Alfred. They rose to their feet, and said, "This will be the gentleman, madam?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Archbold.
"Your servant, sir," said the man very civilly. "If you are ready we are."
SAMPSON'S placard was on Barkington walls, and inside the asylum Alfred was softening hearts and buying consciences, as related; so, in fact, he had two strings to his bow.
But mark how strangely things turn; these two strings got entangled. His father, alarmed by the placard, had called at the pawnbroker's shop, and told him he must move Alfred directly to a London asylum. Baker raised objections; Mr. Hardie crushed them with his purse, _i.e.,_ with his son's and victim's sweetheart's father's money. So then, as Baker after all could not resist the project, but only postpone it for a day or two, he preferred to take a handsome present, and cooperate. He even connived at Mr. Hardie's signing the requisite name to the new order. This the giddy world calls forgery; but, in these calm retreats, far from the public's inquisitive eye, it goes for nothing. Why, Mrs. Archbold had signed Baker's name and Dr. Bailey's more than a hundred several times to orders, statements, and certificates; depriving Englishmen of their liberty and their property with a gesture of her taper fingers; and venting the conventional terms, "Aberration," "Exaltation," "Depression," "Debility," "Paralysis," "Excitable," "Abnormal," as boldly and blindly as any male starling in the flock.
On the very night, then, of Alfred's projected escape, two keepers came down from Dr. Wycherley's asylum to Silverton station: Baker met them and drove them to Silverton House in his dog-cart. They were to take Alfred up by the night train; and, when he came into the kitchen with Brown, they suspected nothing, nor did Baker or Cooper, who presently emerged from the back kitchen. Brown saw, and recovered his wits partially. "Shall I go for his portmanteau, sir?" stammered he, making a shrewd and fortunate guess at what was up. Baker assented; and soon after went out to get the horse harnessed. On this Mrs. Archbold, pale, sorrowful, and silent hitherto, beckoned Alfred into the back kitchen, and there gave him his watch and his loose money. "I took care of them for you," said she; "for the like have often been stolen in this place. Put the money in your shoes; it may be useful to you."
He thanked her somewhat sullenly; for his disappointment was so deep and bitter that small kindnesses almost irritated him.
She sighed. "It is cruel to be angry with _me,_" she said: "I am not the cause of this; it is a heavier blow to me than to you. Sooner or later you will be free--and then you will not waste a thought on me, I
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