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THE HUMAN SACRIFICE.
The same wind that rushed about the funeral of William Marston in the old churchyard of Testbridge, howled in the roofless hall and ruined tower of Durnmelling, and dashed against the plate-glass windows of the dining-room, where the three ladies sat at lunch. Immediately it was over, Lady Malice rose, saying:
"Hesper, I want a word with you. Come to my room."
Hesper obeyed, with calmness, but without a doubt that evil awaited her there. To that room she had never been summoned for anything she could call good. And indeed she knew well enough what evil it was that to-day played the Minotaur. When they reached the boudoir, rightly so called, for it was more in use for sulking than for anything else, Lady Margaret, with back as straight as the door she had just closed, led the way to the fire, and, seating herself, motioned Hesper to a chair. Hesper again obeyed, looking as unconcerned as if she cared for nothing in this world or in any other. Would we were all as strong to suppress hate and fear and anxiety as some ladies are to suppress all show of them! Such a woman looks to me like an automaton, in which a human soul, somewhere concealed, tries to play a good game of life, and makes a sad mess of it.
"Well, Hesper, what do you think?" said her mother, with a dull attempt at gayety, which could nowise impose upon the experience of her daughter.
"I think nothing, mamma," drawled Hesper.
"Mr. Redmain has come to the point at last, my dear child."
"What point, mamma?"
"He had a private interview with your father this morning."
"Foolish girl! you think to tease me by pretending indifference!"
"How can a fact be pretended, mamma? Why should I care what passes in the study? I was never welcome there. But, if you wish, I will pretend. What important matter was settled in the study this morning?"
"Hesper, you provoke me with your affectation!"
Hesper's eyes began to flash. Otherwise she was still--silent-- not a feature moved. The eyes are more untamable than the tongue. When the wild beast can not get out at the door, nothing can keep him from the windows. The eyes flash when the will is yet lord even of the lines of the mouth. Not a nerve of Hesper's quivered. Though a mere child in the knowledge that concerned her own being, even the knowledge of what is commonly called the heart, she was yet a mistress of the art of self-defense, socially applied, and she would not now put herself at the disadvantage of taking anything for granted, or accept the clearest hint for a plain statement. She not merely continued silent, but looked so utterly void of interest, or desire to speak, that her mother, recognizing her own child, and quailing before the evil spirit she had herself sent on to the generations to come, yielded and spoke out.
"Mr. Redmain has proposed for your hand, Hesper," she said, in a tone as indifferent in her turn as if she were mentioning the appointment of a new clergyman to the family living.
For one moment, and one only, the repose of Hesper's faultless upper lip gave way; one writhing movement of scorn passed along its curves, and left them for a moment straightened out--to return presently to a grander bend than before. In a tone that emulated, and more than equaled, the indifference of her mother's, she answered:
"Has referred him to you, of course," replied Lady Margaret.
"What else? Why not? Is he not a bon parli?"
"Then papa did not mean it?" "I do not understand you," elaborated the mother, with a mingled yawn, which she was far from attempting to suppress, seeing she simulated it.
"If Mr. Redmain is such a good match in papa's eyes," explained Hesper, "why does papa refer him to me?"
"That you may accept him, of course."
"How much has the man promised to pay for me?"
"I beg your pardon, mamma. I thought you approved of calling things by their right names!"
"No girl can do better than follow her mother's example," said Lady Margaret, with vague sequence. "If you do, Hesper, you will accept Mr. Redmain."
Hesper fixed her eyes on her mother, but hers were too cold and clear to quail before them, let them flash and burn as they pleased.
"As you did papa?" said Hesper.
"As I did Mr. Mortimer."
"That explains a good deal, mamma."
"We are your parents, anyhow, Hesper."
"I suppose so. I don't know which to be sorrier for--you or me. Tell me, mamma: would you marry Mr. Redmain?"
"That is a foolish question, and ought not to be put. It is one which, as a married woman, I could not consider without impropriety. Knowing the duty of a daughter, I did not put the question to you. You are yourself the offspring of duty."
"If you were in my place, mamma," reattempted Hesper, but her mother did not allow her to proceed.
"In any place, in every place, I should do my duty," she said.
It was not only born in Lady Malice's blood, but from earliest years, had been impressed on her brain, that her first duty was to her family, and mainly consisted in getting well out of its way--in going peaceably through the fire to Moloch, that the rest might have good places in the Temple of Mammon. In her turn, she had trained her children to the bewildering conviction that it was duty to do a certain wrong, if it should be required. That wrong thing was now required of Hesper--a thing she scorned, hated, shuddered at; she must follow the rest; her turn to be sacrificed was come; she must henceforth be a living lie. She could recompense herself as the daughters who have sinned by yielding generally do when they are mothers, with the sin of compelling, and thus make the trespass round and full. There is in no language yet the word invented to fit the vileness of such mothers; but, as time flows and speech grows, it may be found, and, when it is found, it will have action retrospective. It is a frightful thing when ignorance of evil, so much to be desired where it can contribute to safety, is employed to smooth the way to the unholiest doom, in which love itself must ruthlessly perish, and those, who on the plea of virtue were kept ignorant, be perfected in the image of the mothers who gave them over to destruction. Some, doubtless, of the innocents thus immolated pass even through hideous fires of marital foulness to come out the purer and the sweeter; but whither must the stone about the neck of those that cause the little ones to offend sink those mothers? What company shall in the end be too low, too foul for them? Like to like it must always be.
Hesper was not so ignorant as some girls; she had for some time had one at her side capable of casting not a little light of the kind that is darkness.
"Duty, mamma!" she cried, her eyes flaming, and her cheek flushed with the shame of the thing that was but as yet the merest object in her thought; "can a woman be born for such things? How could I--mamma, how could any woman, with an atom of self-respect, consent to occupy the same--room with Mr. Redmain?"
"Hesper! I am shocked. Where did you learn to speak, not to say think, of such things? Have I taken such pains-- good God! you strike me dumb! Have I watched my child like a very--angel, as anxious to keep her mind pure as her body fair, and is this the result?" Upon what Lady Margaret founded her claim to a result more satisfactory to her maternal designs, it were hard to say. For one thing, she had known nothing of what went on in her nursery, positively nothing of the real character of the women to whom she gave the charge of it; and--although, I dare say, for worldly women, Hesper's schoolmistresses were quite respectable--what did her mother, what could she know of the governesses or of the flock of sheep--all presumably, but how certainly all white?--into which she had sent her?
"Is this the result?" said Lady Margaret.
"Was it your object, then, to keep me innocent, only that I might have the necessary lessons in wickedness first from my husband?" said Hesper, with a rudeness for which, if an apology be necessary, I leave my reader to find it.
"Hesper, you are vulgar!" said Lady Margaret, with cold indignation, and an expression of unfeigned disgust. She was, indeed, genuinely shocked. That a young lady of Hesper's birth and position should talk like this, actually objecting to a man as her husband because she recoiled from his wickedness, of which she was not to be supposed to know, or to be capable of understanding, anything, was a thing unheard of in her world-a thing unmaidenly in the extreme! What innocent girl would or could or dared allude to such matters? She had no right to know an atom about them!
"You are a married woman, mamma," returned Hesper, "and therefore must know a great many things I neither know nor wish to know. For anything I know, you may be ever so much a better woman than I, for having learned not to mind things that are a horror to me. But there was a time when you shrunk from them as I do now. I appeal to you as a woman: for God's sake, save me from marrying that wretch!"
She spoke in a tone inconsistently calm.
"Girl! is it possible you dare to call the man, whom your father and I have chosen for your husband, a wretch!"
"Is he not a wretch, mamma?"
"If he were, how should I know it? What has any lady got to do with a man's secrets?"
"Not if he wants to marry her daughter?"
"Certainly not. If he should not be altogether what he ought to be--and which of us is?--then you will have the honor of reclaiming him. But men settle down when they marry."
"And what comes of their wives?"
"What comes of women. You have your mother before you, Hesper."
"O mother!" cried Hesper, now at length losing the horrible affectation of calm which she had been taught to regard as de rigueur, "is it possible that you, so beautiful, so dignified, would send me on to meet things you dare not tell me-- knowing they would turn me sick or mad? How dares a man like that even desire in his heart to touch an innocent girl?"
"Because he is tired of the other sort," said Lady Malice, half unconsciously, to herself. What she said to her daughter was ten times worse: the one was merely a fact concerning Redmain; the other revealed a horrible truth concerning herself. "He will settle three thousand a year on you, Hesper," she said with a sigh; "and you will find yourself mistress."
"I don't doubt it," answered Hesper, in bitter scorn. "Such a man is incapable of making any woman a wife."
Hesper meant an awful spiritual fact, of which, with all her ignorance of human nature, she had yet got a glimpse in her tortured reflections of late; but her mother's familiarity with evil misinterpreted her innocence, and caused herself utter dismay. What right had a girl to think at all for herself in such matters? Those were things that must be done, not thought of!
"These things must not be thought After these ways; so, they will drive us mad."
Yes, these things are hard to think about--harder yet to write about! The very persons who would send the white soul into arms whose mere touch is a dishonor will be the first to cry out with indignation against that writer as shameless who but utters the truth concerning the things they mean and do; they fear lest their innocent daughters, into whose hands his books might chance, by ill luck, to fall, should learn that it is their business to keep themselves pure.--Ah, sweet mothers! do not be afraid. You have brought them up so carefully, that they suspect you no more than they do the well-bred gentlemen you would have them marry. And have they not your blood in them? That will go far. Never heed the foolish puritan. Your mothers succeeded with you: you will succeed with your daughters.
But it is a shame to speak of those things that are done of you in secret, and I will forbear. Thank God, the day will come--it may be thousands of years away--when there shall be no such things for a man to think of, any more than for a girl to shudder at! There is a purification in progress, and the kingdom of heaven will come, thanks to the Man who was holy, harmless, undefined, and separate from sinners. You have heard a little, probably only a little, about him at church sometimes. But, when that day comes, what part will you have had in causing evil to cease from the earth?
There had been a time in the mother's life when she herself regarded her approaching marriage, with a man she did not love, as a horror to which her natural maidenliness--a thing she could not help--had to be compelled and subjected: of the true maidenliness--that before which the angels make obeisance, and the lion cowers--she never had had any; for that must be gained by the pure will yielding itself to the power of the highest. Hence she had not merely got used to the horror, but in a measure satisfied with it; never suspecting, because never caring enough, that she had at the same time, and that not very gradually, been assimilating to the horror; had lost much of what purity she had once had, and become herself unclean, body and mind, in the contact with uncleanness. One thing she did know, and that swallowed up all the rest--that her husband's affairs were so involved as to threaten absolute poverty; and what woman of the world would not count damnation better than that?--while Mr. Redmain was rolling in money. Had she known everything bad of her daughter's suitor, short of legal crime, for her this would have covered it all.
In Hesper's useless explosion the mother did not fail to recognize the presence of Sepia, without whose knowledge of the bad side of the world, Hesper, she believed, could not have been awake to so much. But she was afraid of Sepia. Besides, the thing was so far done; and she did not think she would work to thwart the marriage. On that point she would speak to her.
But it was a doubtful service that Sepia had rendered her cousin --to rouse her indignation and not her strength; to wake horror without hinting at remedy; to give knowledge of impending doom, without poorest suggestion of hope, or vaguest shadow of possible escape. It is one thing to see things as they are; to be consumed with indignation at the wrong; to shiver with aversion to the abominable; and quite another to rouse the will to confront the devil, and resist him until he flee. For this the whole education of Hesper had tended to unfit her. What she had been taught--and that in a world rendered possible only by the self-denial of a God--was to drift with the stream, denying herself only that divine strength of honest love, which would soonest help her to breast it.
For the earth, it is a blessed thing that those who arrogate to themselves the holy name of society, and to whom so large a portion of the foolish world willingly yields it, are in reality so few and so ephemeral. Mere human froth are they, worked up by the churning of the world-sea--rainbow-tinted froth, lovely thinned water, weaker than the unstable itself out of which it is blown. Great as their ordinance seems, it is evanescent as arbitrary: the arbitrary is but the slavish puffed up--and is gone with the hour. The life of the people is below; it ferments, and the scum is for ever being skimmed off, and cast--God knows where. All is scum where will is not. They leave behind them influences indeed, but few that keep their vitality in shapes of art or literature. There they go--little sparrows of the human world, chattering eagerly, darting on every crumb and seed of supposed advantage! while from behind the great dustman's cart, the huge tiger-cat of an eternal law is creeping upon them. Is it a spirit of insult that leads me to such a comparison? Where human beings do not, will not will, let them be ladies gracious as the graces, the comparison is to the disadvantage of the sparrows. Not time, but experience will show that, although indeed a simile, this is no hyperbole.
"I will leave your father to deal with you, Hesper," said her mother, and rose.
Up to this point, Mortimer children had often resisted their mother; beyond this point, never more than once.
"No, please, mamma!" returned Hesper, in a tone of expostulation. "I have spoken my mind, but that is no treason. As my father has referred Mr. Redmain to me, I would rather deal with him."
Lady Malice was herself afraid of her husband. There is many a woman, otherwise courageous enough, who will rather endure the worst and most degrading, than encounter articulate insult. The mere lack of conscience gives the scoundrel advantage incalculable over the honest man; the lack of refinement gives a similar advantage to the cad over the gentleman; the combination of the two lacks elevates the husband and father into an autocrat. Hesper was not one her world would have counted weak; she had physical courage enough; she rode well, and without fear; she sat calm in the dentist's chair; she would have fought with knife and pistol against violence to the death; and yet, rather than encounter the brutality of an evil-begotten race concentrated in her father, she would yield herself to a defilement eternally more defiling than that she would both kill and die to escape.
"Give me a few hours first, mamma," she begged. "Don't let him come to me just yet. For all your hardness, you feel a little for me--don't you?"
"Duty is always hard, my child," said Lady Margaret. She entirely believed it, and looked on herself as a martyr, a pattern of self-devotion and womanly virtue. But, had she been certain of escaping discovery, she would have slipped the koh-i-noor into her belt-pouch, notwithstanding. Never once in her life had she done or abstained from doing a thing because that thing was right or was wrong. Such a person, be she as old and as hard as the hills, is mere putty in the fingers of Beelzebub. Hesper rose and went to her own room. There, for a long hour, she sat--with the skin of her fair face drawn tight over muscles rigid as marble--sat without moving, almost without thinking--in a mere hell of disgusted anticipation. She neither stormed nor wept; her life went smoldering on; she nerved herself to a brave endurance, instead of a far braver resistance.
I fancy Hesper would have been a little shocked if one had called her an atheist. She went to church most Sundays--when in the country; for, in the opinion of Lady Margaret, it was not decorous there to omit the ceremony: where you have influence you ought to set a good example--of hypocrisy, namely! But, if any one had suggested to Hesper a certain old-fashioned use of her chamber-door, she would have inwardly laughed at the absurdity. But, then, you see, her chamber was no closet, but a large and stately room; and, besides, how, alas! could the child of Roger and Lady M. Alice Mortimer know that in the silence was hearing--that in the vacancy was a power waiting to be sought? Hesper was not much alone, and here was a chance it was a pity she should lose; but, when she came to herself with a sigh, it was not to pray, and, when she rose, it was to ring the bell.
A good many minutes passed before it was answered. She paced the room--swiftly; she could sit, but she could not walk slowly. With her hands to her head, she went sweeping up and down. Her maid's knock arrested her before her toilet-table, with her back to the door. In a voice of perfect composure, she desired the woman to ask Miss Yolland to come to her.
Entering with a slight stoop from the waist, Sepia, with a long, rapid, yet altogether graceful step, bore down upon Hesper like a fast-sailing cutter over broad waves, relaxing her speed as she approached her.
"Here I am, Hesper!" she said.
"Sepia," said Hesper, "I am sold."
Miss Yolland gave a little laugh, showing about the half of her splendid teeth--a laugh to which Hesper was accustomed, but the meaning of which she did not understand--nor would, without learning a good deal that were better left unlearned. "To Mr. Redmain, of course!" she said.
"When are you going to be--"--she was about to say "cut up" but there was a something occasionally visible in Hesper that now and then checked one of her less graceful coarsenesses. "When is the purchase to be completed?" she asked, instead.
"Good Heavens, Sepia! don't be so heartless!" cried Hesper. "Things are not quite so bad as that! I am not yet in the hell of knowing that. The day is not fixed for the great red dragon to make a meal of me."
"I see you were not asleep in church, as I thought, all the time of the sermon, last Sunday," said Sepia.
"I did my best, but I could not sleep: every time little Mowbray mentioned the beast, I thought of Mr. Redmain; and it made me too miserable to sleep."
"Poor Hesper!--Well! let us hope that, like the beast in the fairy-tale, he will turn out a man after all."
"My heart will break," cried Hesper, throwing herself into a chair. "Pity me, Sepia; you love me a little."
A slight shadow darkened yet more Sepia's shadowy brow.
"Hesper," she said, gravely, "you never told me there was anything of that sort! Who is it?"
"Mr. Redmain, of course!--I don't know what you mean, Sepia."
"You said your heart was breaking: who is it for?" asked Sepia, almost imperiously, and raising her voice a little.
"Sepia!" cried Hesper, in bewilderment.
"Why should your heart be breaking, except you loved somebody?"
"Because I hate him," answered Hesper.
"Pooh! is that all?" returned Miss Yolland. "If there were anybody you wanted--then I grant!"
"Sepia!" said Hesper, almost entreatingly, "I can not bear to be teased to-day. Do be open with me. You always puzzle me so! I don't understand you a bit better than the first day you came to us. I have got used to you--that is all. Tell me--are you my friend, or are you in league with mamma? I have my doubts. I can't help it, Sepia."
She looked in her face pitifully. Miss Yolland looked at her calmly, as if waiting for her to finish.
"I thought you would--not help me," Hesper went on, "--that no one can except God--he could strike me dead; but I did think you would feel for me a little. I hate Mr. Redmain, and I loathe myself. If you laugh at me, I shall take poison."
"I wouldn't do that," returned Miss Yolland, quite gravely, and as if she had already contemplated the alternative; "--that is, not so long as there was a turn of the game left."
"The game!" echoed Hesper. "--Playing for love with the devil!--I wish the game were yours, as you call it!"
"Mine I'd make it, if I had it to play," returned Sepia. "I wish I were the other player instead of you, but the man hates me. Some men do.--Come," she went on, "I will be open with you, Hesper; you don't hang for thoughts in England. I will tell you what I would do with a man I hated--that is, if I was compelled to marry him; it would hardly be fair otherwise, and I have a weakness for fair play.--I would give him absolute fair play."
The last three words she spoke with a strange expression of mingled scorn and jest, then paused, and seemed to have said all she meant to say.
"Go on," sighed Hesper; "you amuse me." Her tone expressed anything but amusement. "What would a woman of your experience do in my place?"
Sepia fixed a momentary look on Hesper; the words seemed to have stung her. She knew well enough that, if Lady Malice came to know anything of her real history, she would have bare time to pack up her small belongings. She wanted Hesper married, that she might go with her into the world again; at the same time, she feared her marriage with Mr. Redmain would hardly favor her wishes. But she could not with prudence do anything expressly to prevent it; while she might even please Mr. Redmain a little, if she were supposed to have used influence on his side. That, however, must not seem to Hesper. Sepia did not yet know in fact upon what ground she had to build.
For some time she had been trying to get nearer to Hesper, but-- much like Hesper's experience with her--had found herself strangely baffled, she could not tell how--the barrier being simply the half innocence, half ignorance, of Hesper. When minds are not the same, words do not convey between them.
She gave a ringing laugh, throwing back her head, and showing all her fine teeth.
"You want to know what I would do with a man I hated, as you say you hate Mr. Redmain?--I would send for him at once-- not wait for him to come to me--and entreat him, as he loved me, to deliver me from the dire necessity of obeying my father. If he were a gentleman, as I hope he may be, he would manage to get me out of it somehow, and wouldn't compromise me a hair's breadth. But, that is, if I were you. If I were myself in your circumstances, and hated him as you do, that would not serve my turn. I would ask him all the same to set me free, but I would behave myself so that he could not do it. While I begged him, I mean, I should make him feel that he could not--should make him absolutely determined to marry me, at any price to him, and at whatever cost to me. He should say to himself that I did not mean what I said--as, indeed, for the sake of my revenge, I should not. For that I would give anything-- supposing always, don't you know? that I hated him as you do Mr. Redmain. He should declare to me it was impossible; that he would die rather than give up the most precious desire of his life--and all that rot, you know. I would tell him I hated him--only so that he should not believe me. I would say to him, 'Release me, Mr. Redmain, or I will make you repent it. I have given you fair warning. I have told you I hated you.' He should persist, should marry me, and then I would."
"Do as I said."
"Make him repent it."
With the words, Miss Yolland broke into a second fit of laughter, and, turning from Hesper, went, with a kind of loitering, strolling pace toward the door, glancing round more than once, each time with a fresh bubble rather than ripple in her laughter. Whether it was all nonsensical merriment, or whether the author of laughter without fun, Beelzebub himself, was at the moment stirring in her, Hesper could not have told; as it was, she sat staring after her, unable even to think. Just as she reached the door, however, she turned quickly, and, with the smile of a hearty, innocent child, or something very like it, ran back to Hesper, threw her arms round her, and said:
"There, now! I've done for you what I could: I have made you forget the odious man for a moment. I was curious to know whether I could not make a bride forget her bridegroom. The other thing is too easy."
"What other thing?"
"To make a bridegroom forget his bride, of course, you silly child!--But there I am, off again! when really it is time to be serious, and come to the only important point in the matter.--In what shade of purity do you think of ascending the funeral pyre? --In absolute white?--or rose-tinged?--or cream-colored!--or gold- suspect?--Eh, happy bride?"
As she ceased, she turned her head away, pulled out her handkerchief, and whimpered a little.
"Sepia!" said Hesper, annoyed, "you are a worse goose than I thought you! What have you got to cry about? you have not got to marry him!"
"No; I wish I had!" returned Sepia, wiping her eyes. "Then I shouldn't lose you. I should take care of that."
"And am I likely to gain such a friend in Mr. Redmain as to afford the loss of the only other friend I have?" said Hesper, calmly.
"Ah, Hesper! a sad experience has taught me differently, The moment you are married to the man--as married you will be--you all are--bluster as you may--that moment you will begin to change into a wife--a domesticated animal, that is--a tame tabby. Unwilling a woman must be to confess herself only the better half of a low-bred brute, with a high varnish--or not, as the case may be; and there is nothing left her to do but set herself to find out the wretch's virtues, or, as he hasn't got any, to invent for him the least unlikely ones. She wants for her own sake to believe in him, don't you know? Then she begins to repent having said hard words of the poor gentleman. The next thing, of course, will be, that you begin to hate the person, to whom you said them, and to persuade yourself she drew them out of you; and so you break off all communication with the obnoxious person; who being, in the present instance, that black-faced sheep, Sepia Yolland, she is very sorry beforehand, and hates Mr. Redmain with all her heart; first, because Hesper Mortimer hates him, and next, but twice as much, because she is going to love him. It is a great pity you should have him, Hesper. I wish you would hand him over to me. I shouldn't mind what he was. I should soon tame him."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Hesper, with righteous indignation. "You would not mind what lie was!"
Sepia laughed--this time her curious half-laugh.
"If I did, I wouldn't marry him, Hesper," she said. "Which is worse--not to mind, and marry him; or to mind, and marry him all the same? Eh, Cousin Hesper Mortimer?"
"I can't make you out, Sepia!" said Hesper. "I believe I never shall."
"Very likely. Give it up?"
"The best thing you could do. I can't always make myself out. But, then, I always give it up directly, and so it does me no harm. But it's ten times worse to worry your poor little heart to rags about such a man as that; he's not worth a thought from a grand creature like you. Where's the use, besides? Would you stand staring at your medicine a whole day before the time for taking it comes? I wouldn't have my right leg cut off because that is the side my dog walks on, and dogs go mad! Slip, cup, and lip--don't you know? The man may be underground long before the wedding-day: he's anything but sound, they tell me. But it would be far better soon after it, of course. Think only--a young widow, rich, and not a straw the worse!"
"Sepia, I can't for the life of me tell whether you are a Job's comforter or the devil's advocate."
"Not the latter, my child; for I want to see you emerge a saint from the miseries of matrimony. But, whatever you do, Hesper, don't break your heart, for you will find it hard to mend. I broke mine once, and have been mad ever since."
"What is the use of saying that to me, when you know I have to marry the man?"
"I never said you were not to marry him; I said you were not to break your heart. Marriage is nothing so long as you do not make a heart affair of it; that hurts; and, as you are not in love, there is no occasion for it at all."
"Marriage is nothing, Sepia! Is it nothing to be tied to a man-- to any man--for all your life?"
"That's as you take it. Nobody makes so much of it nowadays as they used. The clergy themselves, who are at the bottom of all the business, don't fuss about every trifle in the prayer-book. They sign the articles, and have done with it--meaning, of course, to break them, if they stand in their way."
Hesper rose in anger.
"How dare you--" she began.
"Good gracious!" cried Sepia, "you don't imagine I meant anything so wicked! How could you let such a thing come into your head? I declare you are quite dangerous to talk to!"
"It's such a horrible business," said Hesper, "it seems to make one capable of anything wicked, only to think about it. I would rather not say another word on the subject."
A shudder ran through her, as if at the sight of some hideously offensive object.
"That would be the best thing," said Sepia, "if it meant not think more about it. Everything is better for not being thought about. I would do anything to comfort you, dear. I would marry him for you, if that would do; but I fear it would scarcely meet the views of Herr Papa. If I could please the beast as well--and I think I should in time--I would willingly hand him the purchase-money. But, of course, he would scorn to touch it, except as the proceeds of the bona-fide sale of his own flesh and blood."
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