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Mr. Vane, besides being a rich, was a magnificent man; when his features were in repose their beauty had a wise and stately character. Soaper and Snarl had admired and bitterly envied him. At the present moment no one of his guests envied him--they began to realize his position. And he, a huge wheel of shame and remorse, began to turn and whir before his eyes. He sat between two European beauties, and, pale and red by turns, shunned the eyes of both, and looked down at his plate in a cold sweat of humiliation, mortification and shame.
The iron passed through Mrs. Woffington's soul. So! this was a villain, too, the greatest villain of all--a hypocrite! She turned. very faint, but she was under an enemy's eye, and under a rival's; the thought drove the blood back from her heart, and with a mighty effort she was Woffington again. Hitherto her liaison with Mr. Vane had called up the better part of her nature, and perhaps our reader has been taking her for a good woman; but now all her dregs were stirred to the surface. The mortified actress gulled by a novice, the wronged and insulted woman, had but two thoughts; to defeat her rival--to be revenged on her false lover. More than one sharp spasm passed over her features before she could master them, and then she became smiles above, wormwood and red-hot steel below--all in less than half a minute.
As for the others, looks of keen intelligence passed between them, and they watched with burning interest for the denouement. That interest was stronger than their sense of the comicality of all this (for the humorous view of what passes before our eyes comes upon cool reflection, not often at the time).
Sir Charles, indeed, who had foreseen some of this, wore a demure look, belied by his glittering eye. He offered Cibber snuff, and the two satirical animals grinned over the snuff-box, like a malicious old ape and a mischievous young monkey.
The newcomer was charming; she was above the middle height, of a full, though graceful figure, her abundant, glossy, bright brown hair glittered here and there like gold in the light; she had a snowy brow, eyes of the profoundest blue, a cheek like a peach, and a face beaming candor and goodness; the character of her countenance resembled "the Queen of the May," in Mr. Leslie's famous picture, more than any face of our day I can call to mind.
"You are not angry with me for this silly trick?" said she, with some misgiving. "After all I am only two hours before my time; you know, dearest, I said four in my letter--did I not?"
Vane stammered. What could he say?
"And you have had three days to prepare you, for I wrote, like a good wife, to ask leave before starting; but he never so much as answered my letter, madam." (This she addressed to Mrs. Woffington, who smiled by main force.)
"Why," stammered Vane, "could you doubt? I--I--"
"No! Silence was consent, was it not? But I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will forgive me. It is six months since I saw him--so you understand--I warrant me you did not look for me so soon, ladies?"
"Some of us did not look for you at all, madam," said Mrs. Woffington.
"What, Ernest did not tell you he expected me?"
"No! He told us this banquet was in honor of a lady's first visit to his house, but none of us imagined that lady to be his wife."
Vane began to writhe under that terrible tongue, whose point hitherto had ever been turned away from him.
"He intended to steal a march on us," said Pomander, dryly; "and, with your help, we steal one on him;" and he smiled maliciously on Mrs. Woffington.
"But, madam," said Mr. Quin, "the moment you did arrive, I kept sacred for you a bit of the fat; for which, I am sure, you must be ready. Pass her plate!"
"Not at present, Mr. Quin," said Mr. Vane, hastily. "She is about to retire and change her traveling-dress."
"Yes, dear; but, you forget, I am a stranger to your friends. Will you not introduce me to them first?"
"No, no!" cried Vane, in trepidation. "It is not usual to introduce in the beau monde."
"We always introduce ourselves," rejoined Mrs. Woffington. She rose slowly, with her eye on Vane. He cast a look of abject entreaty on her; but there was no pity in that curling lip and awful eye. He closed his own eyes and waited for the blow. Sir Charles threw himself back in his chair, and, chuckling, prepared for the explosion. Mrs. Woffington saw him, and cast on him a look of ineffable scorn; and then she held the whole company fluttering a long while. At length: "The Honorable Mrs. Quickly, madam," said she, indicating Mrs. Clive.
This turn took them all by surprise. Pomander bit his lip.
"Sir John Brute--"
"Falstaff," cried Quin; "hang it."
"Sir John Brute Falstaff," resumed Mrs. Woffington. "We call him, for brevity, Brute."
Vane drew a long breath. "Your neighbor is Lord Foppington; a butterfly of some standing, and a little gouty."
"Sir Charles Pomander."
"Oh," cried Mrs. Vane. "It is the good gentleman who helped us out of the slough, near Huntingdon. Ernest, if it had not been for this gentleman, I should not have had the pleasure of being here now." And she beamed on the good Pomander.
Mr. Vane did not rise and embrace Sir Charles.
"All the company thanks the good Sir Charles," said Cibber, bowing.
"I see it in all their faces," said the good Sir Charles, dryly.
Mrs. Woffington continued: "Mr. Soaper, Mr. Snarl; gentlemen who would butter and slice up their own fathers!"
"Bless me!" cried Mrs. Vane, faintly.
"Critics!" And she dropped, as it were, the word dryly, with a sweet smile, into Mabel's plate.
Mrs. Vane was relieved; she had apprehended cannibals. London they had told her was full of curiosities.
"But yourself, madam?"
"I am the Lady Betty Modish; at your service."
A four-inch grin went round the table. The dramatical old rascal, Cibber, began now to look at it as a bit of genteel comedy; and slipped out his note-book under the table. Pomander cursed her ready wit, which had disappointed him of his catastrophe. Vane wrote on a slip of paper: "Pity and respect the innocent!" and passed it to Mrs. Woffington. He could not have done a more superfluous or injudicious thing.
"And now, Ernest," cried Mabel, "for the news from Willoughby."
Vane stopped her in dismay. He felt how many satirical eyes and ears were upon him and his wife. "Pray go and change your dress first, Mabel," cried he, fully determined that on her return she should not find the present party there.
Mrs. Vane cast an imploring look on Mrs. Woffington. "My things are not come," said she. "And, Lady Betty, I had so much to tell him, and to be sent away;" and the deep blue eyes began to fill.
Now Mrs. Woffington was determined that this lady, who she saw was simple, should disgust her husband by talking twaddle before a band of satirists. So she said warmly: "It is not fair on us. Pray, madam, your budget of country news. Clouted cream so seldom comes to London quite fresh."
"There, you see, Ernest," said the unsuspicious soul. "First, you must know that Gray Gillian is turned out for a brood mare, so old George won't let me ride her; old servants are such tyrants, my lady. And my Barbary hen has laid two eggs; Heaven knows the trouble we had to bring her to it. And Dame Best, that is my husband's old nurse, Mrs. Quickly, has had soup and pudding from the Hall everyday; and once she went so far as to say it wasn't altogether a bad pudding. She is not a very grateful woman, in a general way, poor thing! I made it with these hands."
"Happy pudding!" observed Mr. Cibber.
"Is this mockery, sir?" cried Vane, with a sudden burst of irritation.
"No, sir; it is gallantry," replied Cibber, with perfect coolness.
"Will you hear a little music in the garden?" said Vane to Mrs. Woffington, pooh-poohing his wife's news.
"Not till I hear the end of Dame Bess."
"Best, my lady."
"Dame Best interests me, Mr. Vane."
"Ay, and Ernest is very fond of her, too, when he is at home. She is in her nice new cottage, dear; but she misses the draughts that were in her old one--they were like old friends. 'The only ones I have, I'm thinking,' said the dear cross old thing; and there stood I, on her floor, with a flannel petticoat in both hands, that I had made for her, and ruined my finger. Look else, my Lord Foppington?" She extended a hand the color of cream.
"Permit me, madam?" taking out his glasses, with which he inspected her finger; and gravely announced to the company: "The laceration is, in fact, discernible. May I be permitted, madam," added he, "to kiss this fair hand, which I should never have suspected of having ever made itself half so useful?"
"Ay, my lord!" said she, coloring slightly, "you shall, because you are so old; but I don't say for a young gentleman, unless it was the one that belongs to me; and he does not ask me."
"My dear Mabel; pray remember we are not at Willoughby."
"I see we are not, Ernest." And the dove-like eyes filled brimful; and all her innocent prattle was put an end to.
"What brutes men are," thought Mrs. Woffington. "They are not worthy even of a fool like this."
Mr. Vane once more pressed her to hear a little music in the garden; and this time she consented. Mr. Vane was far from being unmoved by his wife's arrival, and her true affection. But she worried him; he was anxious, above all things, to escape from his present position, and separate the rival queens; and this was the only way he could see to do it. He whispered Mabel, and bade her somewhat peremptorily rest herself for an hour after her journey, and he entered the garden with Mrs. Woffington.
Now the other gentlemen admired Mrs. Vane the most. She was new. She was as lovely, in her way, as Peggy; and it was the young May-morn beauty of the country. They forgave her simplicity, and even her goodness, on account of her beauty; men are not severe judges of beautiful women. They all solicited her to come with them, and be the queen of the garden. But the good wife was obedient. Her lord had told her she was fatigued; so she said she was tired.
"Mr. Vane's garden will lack its sweetest and fairest flower, madam," cried Cibber, "if we leave you here."
"Nay, my lord, there are fairer than I."
"Poor Quin!" cried Kitty Clive; "to have to leave the alderman's walk for the garden-walk."
"All I regret," said the honest glutton, stoutly, "is that I go without carving for Mrs. Vane."
"You are very good, Sir John; I will be more troublesome to you at supper-time."
When they were all gone, she couldn't help sighing. It almost seemed as if everybody was kinder to her than he whose kindness alone she valued. "And he must take Lady Betty's hand instead of mine," thought she. "But that is good breeding, I suppose. I wish there was no such thing; we are very happy without it in Shropshire." Then this poor little soul was ashamed of herself, and took herself to task. "Poor Ernest," said she, pitying the wrongdoer, like a woman, "he was not pleased to be so taken by surprise. No wonder; they are so ceremonious in London. How good of him not to be angry!" Then she sighed; her heart had received a damp. His voice seemed changed, and he did not meet her eyes with the look he wore at Willoughby. She looked timidly into the garden. She saw the gay colors of beaux, as well as of belles--for in these days broadcloth had not displaced silk and velvet--glancing and shining among the trees; and she sighed, but, presently brightening up a little, she said: "I will go and see that the coffee is hot and clear, and the chocolate well mixed for them." The poor child wanted to do something to please her husband. Before she could carry out this act of domestic virtue, her attention was drawn to a strife of tongues in the hall. She opened the folding-doors, and there was a fine gentleman obstructing the entrance of a somber, rusty figure, with a portfolio and a manuscript under each arm.
The fine gentleman was Colander. The seedy personage was the eternal Triplet, come to make hay with his five-foot rule while the sun shone. Colander had opened the door to him, and he had shot into the hall. The major-domo obstructed the farther entrance of such a coat.
"I tell you my master is not at home," remonstrated the major-domo.
"How can you say so," cried Mrs. Vane, in surprise, "when you know he is in the garden?"
"Simpleton!" thought Colander.
"Show the gentleman in."
"Gentleman!" muttered Colander.
Triplet thanked her for her condescension; he would wait for Mr. Vane in the hall. "I came by appointment, madam; this is the only excuse for the importunity you have just witnessed."
Hearing this, Mrs. Vane dismissed Colander to inform his master. Colander bowed loftily, and walked into the servants' hall without deigning to take the last proposition into consideration.
"Come in here, sir," said Mabel; "Mr. Vane will come as soon as he can leave his company." Triplet entered in a series of obsequious jerks. "Sit down and rest you, sir." And Mrs. Vane seated herself at the table, and motioned with her white hand to Triplet to sit beside her.
Triplet bowed, and sat on the edge of a chair, and smirked and dropped his portfolio, and instantly begged Mrs. Vane's pardon; in taking it up, he let fall his manuscript, and was again confused; but in the middle of some superfluous and absurd excuse his eye fell on the haunch; it straightway dilated to an enormous size, and he became suddenly silent and absorbed in contemplation.
"You look sadly tired, sir."
"Why, yes, madam. It is a long way from Lambeth Walk, and it is passing hot, madam." He took his handkerchief out, and was about to wipe his brow, but returned it hastily to his pocket. "I beg your pardon, madam," said Triplet, whose ideas of breeding, though speculative, were severe, "I forgot myself."
Mabel looked at him, and colored, and slightly hesitated. At last she said: "I'll be bound you came in such a hurry you forgot--you mustn't be angry with me--to have your dinner first!"
For Triplet looked like an absurd wolf-- all benevolence and starvation!
"What divine intelligence!" thought Trip. "How strange, madam," cried he, "you have hit it! This accounts, at once, for a craving I feel. Now you remind me, I recollect carving for others, I did forget to remember myself. Not that I need have forgot it to-day, madam; but, being used to forget it, I did not remember not to forget it to-day, madam, that was all." And the author of this intelligent account smiled very, very, very absurdly.
She poured him out a glass of wine. He rose and bowed; but peremptorily refused it, with his tongue--his eye drank it.
"But you must," persisted this hospitable lady.
"But, madam, consider I am not entitled to-- Nectar, as I am a man!"
The white hand was filling his plate with partridge pie: "But, madam, you don't consider how you overwhelm me with your-- Ambrosia, as I am a poet!"
"I am sorry Mr. Vane should keep you waiting."
"By no means, madam; it is fortunate--I mean, it procures me the pleasure of" (here articulation became obstructed) "your society, madam. Besides, the servants of the Muse are used to waiting. What we are not used to is" (here the white hand filled his glass) "being waited upon by Hebe and the Twelve Graces, whose health I have the honor "--(Deglutition).
"A poet!" cried Mabel; "oh! I am so glad! Little did I think ever to see a living poet! Dear heart! I should not have known, if you had not told me. Sir, I love poetry!"
"It is in your face, madam." Triplet instantly whipped out his manuscript, put a plate on one corner of it, and a decanter on the other, and begged her opinion of this trifle, composed, said he, "in honor of a lady Mr. Vane entertains to-day."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Vane, and colored with pleasure. How ungrateful she had been! Here was an attention!--For, of course, she never doubted that the verses were in honor of her arrival.
sang out Triplet.
"Nay, sir," said Mabel; "I think I know the lady, and it would be hardly proper of me--"
"Oh, madam!" said Triplet, solemnly; "strictly correct, madam!" And he spread his hand out over his bosom. "Strictly!-- 'Blunderbuss' (my poetical name, madam) never stooped to the taste of the town.
'Bright being, thou--'"
"But you must have another glass of wine first, and a slice of the haunch."
"With alacrity, madam." He laid in a fresh stock of provisions.
Strange it was to see them side by side! he, a Don Quixote, with cordage instead of lines in his mahogany face, and clothes hanging upon him; she, smooth, duck-like, delicious, and bright as an opening rose fresh with dew!
She watched him kindly, archly and demurely; and still plied him, countrywise, with every mortal thing on the table.
But the poet was not a boa-constrictor, and even a boa-constrictor has an end. Hunger satisfied, his next strongest feeling, simple vanity, remained to be contented. As the last morsel went in out came:
"'Bright being, thou whose ra--'"
"No! no!" said she, who fancied herself (and not without reason) the bright being. "Mr. Vane intended them for a surprise."
"As you please, madam;" and the disappointed bore sighed. "But you would have liked them, for the theme inspired me. The kindest, the most generous of women! Don't you agree with me, madam?"
Mabel Vane opened her eyes. "Hardly, sir," laughed she.
"If you knew her as I do."
"I ought to know her better, sir."
"Ay, indeed! Well, madam, now her kindness to me, for instance--a poor devil like me. The expression, I trust, is not disagreeable to you, madam? If so, forgive me, and consider it withdrawn."
"La, sir! civility is so cheap, if you go to that."
"Civility, ma'am? Why, she has saved me from despair--from starvation, perhaps."
"Poor thing! Well, indeed, sir, you looked--you looked--what a shame! and you a poet."
"From an epitaph to an epic, madam."
At this moment a figure looked in upon them from the garden, but retreated unobserved. It was Sir Charles Pomander, who had slipped away, with the heartless and malicious intention of exposing the husband to the wife, and profiting by her indignation and despair. Seeing Triplet, he made an extemporaneous calculation that so infernal a chatterbox could not be ten minutes in her company without telling her everything, and this would serve his turn very well. He therefore postponed his purpose, and strolled away to a short distance.
Triplet justified the baronet's opinion. Without any sort of sequency he now informed Mrs. Vane that the benevolent lady was to sit to him for her portrait.
Here was a new attention of Ernest's. How good he was, and how wicked and ungrateful she!
"What! are you a painter too?" she inquired.
"From a house front to an historical composition, madam."
"Oh, what a clever man! And so Ernest commissioned you to paint a portrait?"
"No, madam; for that I am indebted to the lady herself."
"The lady herself?"
"Yes, madam; and I expected to find her here. Will you add to your kindness by informing me whether she has arrived? Or she is gone--"
"Who, sir? (Oh, dear! not my portrait! Oh, Ernest!)"
"Who, madam!" cried Triplet; "why, Mrs. Woffington!"
"She is not here," said Mrs. Vane, who remembered all the names perfectly well. "There is one charming lady among our guests, her face took me in a moment; but she is a titled lady. There is no Mrs. Woffington among them."
"Strange!" replied Triplet; "she was to be here; and, in fact, that is why I expedited these lines in her honor."
"In her honor, sir?"
"Yes, madam. Allow me:
'Brights being, thou whose radiant brow--'"
"No! no! I don't care to hear them now, for I don't know the lady."
"Well, madam, but at least you have seen her act?"
"Act! you don't mean all this is for an actress?"
"An actress? The actress! And you have never seen her act? What a pleasure you have to come! To see her act is a privilege; but to act with her, as I once did! But she does not remember that, nor shall I remind her, madam," said Triplet sternly. "On that occasion I was hissed, owing to circumstances which, for the credit of our common nature, I suppress."
"What! are you an actor too? You are everything."
"And it was in a farce of my own, madam, which, by the strangest combination of accidents, was damned!"
"A play-writer? Oh, what clever men there are in the world--in London, at least! He is a play-writer, too. I wonder my husband comes not. Does Mr. Vane--does Mr. Vane admire this actress?" said she, suddenly.
"Mr. Vane, madam, is a gentleman of taste," said he, pompously.
"Well, sir," said the lady, languidly, "she is not here." Triplet took the hint and rose. "Good-by," said she, sweetly; and thank you kindly for your company,
"Triplet, madam--James Triplet, of 10, Hercules Buildings, Lambeth. Occasional verses, odes, epithalamia, elegies, dedications, squibs, impromptus and hymns executed with spirit, punctuality and secrecy. Portraits painted, and instruction in declamation, sacred, profane and dramatic. The card, madam" (and he drew it as doth a theatrical fop his rapier) "of him who, to all these qualifications adds a prouder still--that of being,
"Your humble, devoted and grateful servant,
He bowed in a line from his right shoulder to his left toe, and moved off. But Triplet could not go all at one time out of such company; he was given to return in real life, he had played this trick so often on the stage. He came back, exuberant with gratitude.
"The fact is, madam," said he, "strange as it may appear to you, a kind hand has not so often been held out to me, that I should forget it, especially when that hand is so fair and gracious. May I be permitted, madam--you will impute it to gratitude rather than audacity--I--I--" (whimper), "madam" (with sudden severity), "I am gone!"
These last words he pronounced with the right arm at an angle of forty-five degrees, and the fingers pointing horizontally. The stage had taught him this grace also. In his day, an actor who had three words to say, such as, "My lord's carriage is waiting," came on the stage with the right arm thus elevated, delivered his message in the tones of a falling dynasty, wheeled like a soldier, and retired with the left arm pointing to the sky and the right hand extended behind him like a setter's tail.
Left to herself, Mabel was uneasy. "Ernest is so warm-hearted." This was the way she put it even to herself. He admired her acting and wished to pay her a compliment. "What if I carried him the verses?" She thought she should surely please him by showing she was not the least jealous or doubtful of him. The poor child wanted so to win a kind look from her husband; but ere she could reach the window Sir Charles Pomander had entered it.
Now Sir Charles was naturally welcome to Mrs. Vane; for all she knew of him was, that he had helped her on the road to her husband.
Pomander. "What, madam! all alone here as in Shropshire?"
Mabel. "For the moment, sir."
Pomander. "Force of habit. A husband with a wife in Shropshire is so like a bachelor."
Pomander. "And our excellent Ernest is such a favorite!"
Mabel. "No wonder, sir!"
Pomander. "Few can so pass from the larva state of country squire to the butterfly nature of beau."
Mabel. "Yes" (sadly), "I find him changed."
Pomander. "Changed! Transformed. He is now the prop of the 'Cocoa-Tree,' the star of Ranelagh, the Lauzun of the green-room."
Mabel. "The green-room! Where is that? You mean kindly, sir; but you make me unhappy."
Pomander. "The green-room, my dear madam, is the bower where houris put off their wings, and goddesses become dowdies; where Lady Macbeth weeps over her lap-dog, dead from repletion; and Belvidera soothes her broken heart with a dozen of oysters. In a word, it is the place where actors and actresses become men and women, and act their own parts with skill, instead of a poet's clumsily."
Mabel. "Actors! actresses! Does Mr. Vane frequent such--"
Pomander. "He has earned in six months a reputation many a fine gentleman would give his ears for. Not a scandalous journal his initials have not figured in; not an actress of reputation gossip has not given him for a conquest."
"How dare you say this to me?" cried Mrs. Vane, with a sudden flash of indignation, and then the tears streamed over her lovely cheeks; and even a Pomander might have forborne to torture her so; but Sir Charles had no mercy.
"You would he sure to learn it," said he; "and with malicious additions. It is better to hear the truth from a friend."
"A friend? He is no friend to a house who calumniates the husband to the wife. Is it the part of a friend to distort dear Ernest's kindliness and gayety into ill morals; to pervert his love of poetry and plays into an unworthy attachment to actors and--oh!" and the tears would come. But she dried them, for now she hated this man; with all the little power of hatred she had, she detested him. "Do you suppose I did not know Mrs. Woffington was to come to us to-day?" cried she, struggling passionately against her own fears and Sir Charles's innuendoes.
"What!" cried he; "you recognized her? You detected the actress of all work under the airs of Lady Betty Modish?"
"Lady Betty Modish!" cried Mabel. "That good, beautiful face!"
"Ah!" cried Sir Charles, "I see you did not. Well, Lady Betty was Mrs. Woffington!"
"Whom my husband, I know, had invited here to present her with these verses, which I shall take him for her;" and her poor little lip trembled. "Had the visit been in any other character, as you are so base, so cruel as to insinuate (what have I done to you that you kill me so, you wicked gentleman?), would he have chosen the day of my arrival?"
"Not if he knew you were coming," was the cool reply.
"And he did know--I wrote to him."
"Indeed!" said Pomander, fairly puzzled.
Mrs. Vane caught sight of her handwriting on the tray, and darted to it, and seized her letter, and said, triumphantly:
"My last letter, written upon the road--see!"
Sir Charles took it with surprise, but, turning it in his hand, a cool, satirical smile came to his face. He handed it back, and said, coldly:
"Read me the passage, madam, on which you argue."
Poor Mrs. Vane turned the letter in her hand, and her eye became instantly glazed; the seal was unbroken! She gave a sharp cry of agony, like a wounded deer. She saw Pomander no longer; she was alone with her great anguish. "I had but my husband and my God in the world," cried she. "My mother is gone. My God, have pity on me! my husband does not love me."
The cold villain was startled at the mighty storm his mean hand had raised. This creature had not only more feeling, but more passion, than a hundred libertines. He muttered some villain's commonplaces; while this unhappy young lady raised her hands to heaven, and sobbed in a way very terrible to any manly heart.
"He is unworthy you," muttered Pomander. "He has forfeited your love. He has left you nothing but revenge. Be comforted. Let me, who have learned already to adore you--"
"So," cried she, turning on him in a moment (for, on some points, woman's instinct is the lightning of wisdom), "this, sir, was your object? I may no longer hold a place in my husband's heart; but I am mistress of his house. Leave it, sir! and never return to it while I live."
Sir Charles, again discomfited, bowed reverentially. "Your wish shall ever be respected by me, madam! But here they come. Use the right of a wife. Conceal yourself in that high chair. See, I turn it; so that they cannot see you. At least you will find I have but told you the truth."
"No!" cried Mabel, violently. "I will not spy upon my husband at the dictation of his treacherous friend."
Sir Charles vanished. He was no sooner gone than Mrs. Vane crouched, trembling, and writhing with jealousy, in the large, high-backed chair. She heard her husband and the soi-disant Lady Betty Modish enter. During their absence, Mrs. Woffington had doubtless been playing her cards with art; for it appeared that a reconciliation was now taking place. The lady, however, was still cool and distant. It was poor Mabel's fate to hear these words: "You must permit me to go alone, Mr. Vane. I insist upon leaving this house alone."
On this, he whispered to her.
She answered: "You are not justified."
"I can explain all," was his reply. "I am ready to renounce credit, character, all the world for you."
They passed out of the room before the unhappy listener could recover the numbing influence of these deadly words.
But the next moment she started wildly up, and cried as one drowning cries vaguely for help: "Ernest! oh, no--no! you cannot use me so! Ernest--husband! Oh, mother! mother!"
She rose, and would have made for the door, but nature had been too cruelly tried. At the first step she could no longer see anything; and the next moment, swooning dead away, she fell back insensible, with her head and shoulders resting on the chair.
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