Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 31

THE note Alfred Hardie received, on the 10th of April, was from Peggy Black. The letters were well formed, for she had been educated at the national school: but the style was not upon a par.

“MR. ALFRED, SIR— Margaret Black sends her respects, and if you want to know the truth about the money, I can tell you all, and where it is at this present time. Sir, I am now in situation at Silverton Grove House, about a furlong from the station; and if you will be so good to call there and ask for Margaret, I will tell you where it is, which I mean the L. 14,000; for it is a sin the young lady should be beguiled of her own. Only you must please come this evening, or else tomorrow before ten o’clock, by reason my mistress and me we are going up to London that day early, and she talk of taking me abroad along with her. — I remain, Sir, yours respectfully to command,

MARGARET BLACK.

“If you please, sir, not to show this letter on no account.”

Alfred read this twice over, and felt a contemptuous repugnance towards the writer, a cashiered servant, who offered to tell the truth out of spite, having easily resisted every worthy motive. Indeed, I think he would have perhaps dismissed the subject into the fire, but for a strange circumstance that had occurred to him this very afternoon; but I had no opportunity to relate it till now. Well, just as he was going to dress for dinner, he received a visit from Dr. Wycherley, a gentleman he scarcely knew by name. Dr. Wycherley inquired after his kephalalgia: Alfred stared and told him it was much the same; troubled him occasionally.

“And your insomnia.”

“I don’t know the word: have you any authority for it?”

Dr. Wycherley smiled with a sort of benevolent superiority that galled his patient, and proceeded to inquire after his nightly visions and voices. But at this Alfred looked grave as well as surprised and vexed. He was on his guard now, and asked himself seriously what was the meaning of all this, and could his father have been so mad as to talk over his own shame with this stranger: he made no reply whatever.

Dr. Wycherley’s curiosity was not of a very ardent kind: for he was one of those who first form an opinion, and then collect the materials of one: and a very little fact goes a long way with such minds. So, when he got no answer about the nocturnal visions and voices, he glided calmly on to another matter. “By-the-bye, that L. 14,000!”

Alfred started, and then eyed him keenly: “What L. 14,000?”

“The fabulous sum you labour under the impression of your father having been guilty of clandestinely appropriating.”

This was too much for Alfred’s patience. “I don’t know who you are, sir,” said he; “I never exchanged but three words in my life with you; and do you suppose I will talk to a stranger on family matters of so delicate a kind as this? I begin to think you have intruded yourself on me simply to gratify an impertinent curiosity.”

“The hypothesis is at variance with my established character,” replied the oleaginous one. “Do me the justice to believe in the necessity of this investigation, and that it is one of a most friendly character.”

“Then I decline the double nuisance: your curiosity and your friendship! Take them both out of my room, sir, or I shall turn them both out by one pair of shoulders.”

“You shall smart for this,” said the doctor, driven to plain English by anger, that great solvent of circumlocution with which Nature has mercifully supplied us. He made to the door, opened it, and said in considerable excitement to some one outside, “Excited! — Very!”

Now Dr. Pleonast had no sooner been converted to the vernacular, and disappeared, than another stranger entered the room. He had evidently been lurking in the passage: it was a man of smallish stature, singularly gaunt, angular, and haggard, but dressed in a spruce suit of black, tight, new, and glossy. In short, he looked like Romeo’s apothecary gone to Stultz with the money. He fluttered in with pale cheek and apprehensive body, saying hurriedly, “Now, my dear sir, be calm: pray be calm. I have come down all the way from London to see you, and I am sure you won’t make me lose my journey; will you now?”

“And pray who asked you to come all the way from London, sir?”

“A person to whom your health is very dear.”

“Oh indeed; so I have secret friends, have I? Well, you may tell my secret, underhand, friends, I never was better in my life.”

“I am truly glad to hear it,” said the little man: “let me introduce myself, as Dr. Wycherley forgot to do it.” And he handed Alfred a card, on which his name and profession were written.

“Well, Mr. Speers,” said Alfred, “I have only a moment to give you, for I must dress for dinner. What do you want?”

“I come, sir, in hopes of convincing your friends you are not so very ill; not incurable. Why your eye is steady, your complexion good: a little high with the excitement of this conversation; but, if we can only get over this little delusion, all will be well.”

“What little delusion?”

“About the L. 14,000, you know.”

“What L. 14,000? I have not mentioned L. 14,000 to you, have I?”

“No, sir: you seem to shun it like poison; that is the worst of it. You talk about it to others fast enough: but to Dr. Wycherley and myself, who could cure you of it, you would hide all about it, if you could.”

At this Alfred rose and put his hands in his pockets and looked down grimly on his inquisitor. “Mr. Speers,” said he, “you had better go. There is no credit to be gained by throwing so small an apothecary as you out of that window; and you won’t find it pleasant either; for, if you provoke me to it, I shall not stand upon ceremony: I shan’t open the window first, as I should for Dr. What’s his confounded name.”

At these suggestive words, spoken with suppressed ire and flashing eyes, Speers scuttled to the door crabwise, holding the young lion in check conventionally — to wit, with an eye as valiant as a sheep’s; and a joyful apothecary was he when he found himself safe outside the house and beside Dr. Wycherley, who was waiting for him.

Alfred soon cooled, and began to laugh at his own anger and the unbounded impudence of his visitors: but, on the other hand, it struck him as a grave circumstance that so able a man as his father should stir muddy water; should go and talk to these strangers about the money he had misappropriated. He puzzled himself all the time he was dressing: and, not to trouble the reader with all the conjectures that passed through his mind, he concluded at last, that Mr. Hardie must feel very strong, very sure there was no evidence against him but his son’s, or he would not take the eighth commandment by the horns like this.

“Injustice carries it with a high hand,” thought Alfred, with a sigh. He was not the youth to imitate his father’s shamelessness: so he locked this last incident in his own breast; did not even mention it to Julia.

But now, on reading Peggy’s note, his warlike instincts awoke, and, though he despised his correspondent and her motives, he could not let such a chance pass of defeating brazen injustice. It was unfortunate and awkward to have to go to Silverton on his wedding morning; but, after all, there was plenty of time. He packed up his things at once for the wedding tour, and in the morning took them with him in the fly to Silverton: his plan was to come back direct to Albion Villa: so he went to Silverton Grove full dressed, all ready for the wedding.

As it happened he overtook his friend Peterson just outside the town, called to him gaily, and invited him to church and breakfast.

To his surprise the young gentleman replied sullenly that he should certainly not come.

“Not come, old fellow?” said Alfred, hurt.

“You have a good cheek to ask me,” retorted the other.

This led to an explanation. Peterson’s complaint was that he had told Alfred he was in love with Julia, and Alfred had gone directly and fallen in love with her just to cut him out.

“What are you talking about?” said Alfred. “So this is the reason you have kept away from me of late: why, I was engaged to her at the very time; only my father was keeping us apart.”

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

“Because my love is not of the prattling sort.”

“Oh, nonsense; I don’t believe a word of it.”

“You don’t believe my word! Did you ever know me tell a lie? At that rate think what you please, sir: drive on, Strabo.”

And so ended that little friendship.

On the road our ardent youth arranged in his head a noble scheme. He would bring Peggy Black home with him, compensating her liberally for the place she would thereby lose: would confront her privately with his father, and convince him it was his interest to restore the Dodds their money with a good grace, take the L. 5000 he had already offered, and countenance the wedding by letting Jane be present at it. It was hard to do all this in the time, but well worth trying for, and not impossible. A two-horse fly is not a slow conveyance, and he offered the man a guinea to drive fast; so that it was not nine o’clock when they reached Silverton Grove House, a place Alfred had never heard of. This, however, I may observe, was no wonder: for it had not borne that name a twelve-month.

It was a large square mansion of red brick, with stone facings and corners, and with balustrades that hid the garret windows. It stood in its own grounds, and the entrance was through handsome iron gates, one of which was wide open to admit people on foot or horseback. The flyman got down and tried to open the other, but could not manage it. “There, don’t waste time,” said Alfred impatiently, “let me out.”

He found a notice under the bell, “Ring and enter.” He rang accordingly, and at the clang the hall-door opened, as if he had pulled a porter along with the bell; and a grey-haired servant out of livery stood on the steps to receive him. Alfred hurried across the plat, which was trimmed as neatly as a college green, and asked the servant if he could see Margaret Black.

“Margaret Black?” said the man doubtfully: “I’ll inquire, sir. Please to follow me.”

They entered a handsome hall, with antlers and armour: from this a double staircase led up to a landing with folding doors in the centre of it; one of these doors was wide open like the iron gate outside. The servant showed Alfred up the left-hand staircase, through the open door, into a spacious drawing-room, handsomely though not gaily furnished and decorated, but a little darkened by Venetian blinds.

The old servant walked gravely on and on, till Alfred began to think he would butt the wall; but he put his hand out and opened a door that might very well escape a stranger’s notice; for it was covered with looking-glass, and matched another narrow mirror in shape and size. This door led into a very long room, as plain and even sordid as the drawing-room was inviting: the unpapered walls were a cold drab, and wanted washing; there was a thick cobweb up in one corner, and from the ceiling hung the tail of another, which the housemaid’s broom had scotched not killed: that side of the room they entered by was all books. The servant said, “Stay here a moment, sir, and I’ll send her to you.” With this he retired into the drawing-room, closing the door softly after him: once closed it became invisible; it fitted like wax, and left nothing to be seen but books; not even a knob. It shut to with that gentle but clean click which a spring bolt, however polished and oiled and gently closed, will emit. Altogether it was enough to give some people a turn. But Alfred’s nerves were not to be affected by trifles; he put his hands in his pockets and walked up and down the room, quietly enough at first, but by-and-bye uneasily. “Confound her for wasting my time,” thought he; “why doesn’t she come?

Then, as he had learned to pick up the fragments of time, and hated dawdling, he went to take a book from the shelves.

He found it was a piece of iron, admirably painted: it chilled his hand with its unexpected coldness: and all the books on and about the door were iron and chilly.

“Well,” thought he, “this is the first dummy ever took me in. What a fool the man must be! Why he could have bought books with ideas in them for the price of these impostors.”

Still Peggy did not come. So he went to a door opposite, and at right angles to the farthest window, meaning to open it and inquire after her: lo and behold he found this was a knob without a door. There had been a door but it was blocked up. The only available door on that side had a keyhole, but no latch, nor handle.

Alfred was a prisoner.

He no sooner found this out than he began to hammer on the door with his fists, and call out.

This had a good effect, for he heard a woman’s dress come rustling: a key was inserted, and the door opened. But, instead of Peggy, it was a tall well-formed woman of thirty, with dark grey eyes, and straightish eyebrows massive and black as jet. She was dressed quietly but like a lady. Mrs. Archbold, for that was her name, cast on Alfred one of those swift, all-devouring glances, with which her sex contrive to take in the features, character, and dress of a person from head to foot, and smiled most graciously on him, revealing a fine white set of teeth. She begged him to take a seat; and sat down herself. She had left the door ajar.

“I came to see Margaret Black,” said Alfred.

“Margaret Black? There is no such person here,” was the quiet reply.

“What! has she gone away so early as this?”

Mrs. Archbold smiled, and said soothingly, “Are you sure she ever existed; except in your imagination?”

Alfred laughed at this, and showed her Peggy’s letter. She ran her eye over it, and returned it him with a smile of a different kind, half pitying, half cynical. But presently resuming her former manner, “I remember now,” said she in dulcet tones: “the anxiety you are labouring under is about a large sum of money, is it not?”

“What, can you give me any information about it?” said he, surprised.

“I think we can render you great service in the matter, infinite service, Mr. Hardie,” was the reply, in a voice of very honey.

Alfred was amazed at this. “You say you don’t know Peggy! And yet you seem to know me. I never saw you in my life before, madam; what on earth is the meaning of all this?”

“Calm yourself,” said Mrs. Archbold, laying a white and finely moulded hand upon his arm, “there is no wonder nor mystery in the matter: you were expected.

The colour rushed into Alfred’s face, and he started to his feet; some vague instinct told him to be gone from this place.

The lady fixed her eyes on him, put her hand to a gold chain that was round her neck, and drew out of her white bosom, not a locket, nor a key, but an ivory whistle. Keeping her eye steadily fixed on Alfred, she breathed softly into the whistle. Then two men stepped quietly in at the door; one was a short, stout snob, with great red whiskers, the other a wiry gentleman with iron-grey hair. The latter spoke to Alfred, and began to coax him. If Mrs. Archbold was honey, this personage was treacle. “Be calm, my dear young gentleman; don’t agitate yourself. You have been sent here for your good; and that you may be cured, and so restored to society and to your anxious and affectionate friends.”

“What are you talking about? what do you mean?” cried Alfred; “are you mad?”

“No, we are not,” said the short snob, with a coarse laugh.

“Have done with this fooling, then,” said Alfred sharply; “the person I came to see is not here; good morning.”

The short man instantly stepped to the door, and put his back to it. The other said calmly, “ No, Mr. Hardie, you cannot leave the house at present.”

“Can’t I? Why not, pray?” said Alfred, drawing his breath hard: and his eyes began to glitter dangerously.

“We are responsible for your safety: we have force at hand if necessary; pray do not compel us to summon it.”

“Why, where am I?” said Alfred, panting now; “is this a prison?”

“No, no,” said Mrs. Archbold soothingly: “it is a place where you will be cured of your headaches and your delusions, and subjected to no unnecessary pain nor restraint.”

“Oh, bother,” said the short snob brutally. “Why make two bites of a cherry? You are in my asylum, young gentleman, and a devilish lucky thing for you.”

At this fatal word, “asylum,” Alfred uttered a cry of horror and despair, and his eyes roved wildly round the room in search of escape. But the windows of the room, though outside the house they seemed to come as low as those of the drawing-room, were partly bricked-up within, and made just too high to be reached without a chair. And his captors read that wild glance directly, and the doctor whipped one chair away, while Mrs. Archbold, with more tact, sat quietly down on the other. They all three blew their whistles shrilly.

Alfred uttered an oath and rushed at the door; but heard heavy feet running on stone passages towards the whistles, and felt he had no chance out that way: his dilating eye fell upon the handle of the old defunct door: he made a high leap, came down with his left foot on its knob of brass, and, though of course he could not stand on it, contrived to spring from it slap at the window — Mrs. Archbold screamed — he broke the glass with his shoulder, and tore and kicked the woodwork, and squeezed through on to a stone ledge outside, and stood there bleeding and panting, just as half a dozen keepers burst into the room at his back. He was more than twenty feet from the ground: to leap down was death or mutilation: he saw the flyman driving away. He yelled to him, “Hy! hy! stop! stop!” The flyman stopped and looked round. But soon as he saw who it was, he just grinned: Alfred could see his hideous grin; and there was the rattle of chairs being brought to the window, and men were mounting softly to secure him. A coarse hand stole towards his ankle; he took a swift step and sprang desperately on to the next ledge — it was an old manor house, and these ledges were nearly a foot broad — from this one he bounded to the next, and then to a third, the last but one on this side of the building. The corner ledge was but half the size, and offered no safe footing: but close to it he saw the outside leaves of a tree. That tree, then, must grow close to the corner; could he but get round to it he might yet reach the ground whole. Urged by that terror of a madhouse which is natural to a sane man, and in England is fed by occasional disclosures, and the general suspicion they excite, he leaped on to a piece of stone no bigger than one’s hat, and then whirled himself round into the tree, all eyes to see and claws to grasp.

It was a weeping ash: he could get hold of nothing but soft yielding slivers, that went through his fingers, and so down with him like a bulrush, and souse he went with his hands full of green leaves over head and ears into the water of an enormous iron tank that fed the baths.

The heavy plunge, the sudden cold water, the instant darkness, were appalling: yet, like the fox among the hounds, the gallant young gentleman did not lose heart nor give tongue. He came up gurgling and gasping, and swimming for his life in manly silence: he swam round and round the edge of the huge tank, trying in vain to get a hold upon its cold rusty walls. He heard whistles and voices about: they came faint to him where he was, but he knew they could not be very far off.

Life is sweet. It flashed across him how, a few years before, a university man of great promise had perished miserably in a tank on some Swiss mountain — a tank placed for the comfort of travellers. He lifted his eyes to Heaven in despair, and gave one great sob.

Then he turned upon his back and floated: but he was obliged to paddle with his hands a little to keep up.

A window opened a few feet above him, and a face peered out between the bars.

Then he gave all up for lost, and looked to hear a voice denounce him; but no: the livid face and staring eyes at the window took no notice of him: it was a maniac, whose eyes, bereft of reason, conveyed no images to the sentient brain. Only by some half vegetable instinct this darkened man was turning towards the morning sun, and staring it full in the face. Alfred saw the rays strike and sparkle on those glassy orbs, and fire them; yet they never so much as winked. He was appalled yet fascinated by this weird sight: could not take his eyes off it, and shuddered at it in the very water. With such creatures as that he must be confined, or die miserably like a mouse in a basin of water.

He hesitated between two horrors.

Presently his foot struck something, and he found it was a large pipe that entered the tank to the distance of about a foot This pipe was not more than three feet under water, and Alfred soon contrived to get upon it, and rest his fingers upon the iron edge of the tank. The position was painful: yet so he determined to remain till night: and then, if possible, steal away. Every faculty of mind and body was strung up to defend himself against the wretches who had entrapped him.

He had not been long in this position, when voices approached, and next the shadow of a ladder moved across the wall towards him. The keepers were going to search his pitiable hiding-place. They knew, what he did not, that there was no outlet from the premises: so now, having hunted every other corner and cranny, they came by what is called the exhaustive process of reasoning to this tank; and when they got near it, something in the appearance of the tree caught the gardener’s quick eye. Alfred quaking heard him say, “Look here! He is not far from this.”

Another voice said, “Then the Lord have mercy on him; why there’s seven foot of water; I measured it last night.”

At this Alfred was conscious of a movement and a murmur, that proved humanity was not extinct; and the ladder was fixed close to the tank, and feet came hastily up it.

Alfred despaired.

But, as usual with spirits so quickwitted and resolute, it was but for a moment. “One man in his time plays many animals;” he caught at the words he had heard, and played the game the jackal desperate plays in India, the fox in England, the elephant in Ceylon: he feigned death; filled his mouth with water, floated on his back paddling imperceptibly, and half closed his eyes.

He was rewarded by a loud shout of dismay just above his head, and very soon another ladder was placed on the other side, and with ropes and hands he was drawn out and carried down the ladder: he took this opportunity to discharge the water from his mouth, on which a coarse voice said, “Look there! His troubles are at an end.”

However, they laid him on the grass, and sent for the doctor; then took off his coat, and one of them began to feel his heart to see whether there was any pulsation left: he found it thumping. “Look out,” he cried in some alarm; “he’s shamming Abraham.”

But, before the words were well uttered, Alfred, who was a practised gymnast, bounded off the ground without touching it with his hands, and fled like a deer towards the front of the house: for he remembered the open iron gate. The attendants followed shouting, and whistle answered whistle all over the grounds. Alfred got safe to the iron gate: alas! it had been closed at the first whistle twenty minutes ago. He turned in rage and desperation, and the head-keeper, a powerful man, was rushing incautiously upon him. Alfred instantly steadied himself, and with his long arm caught the man in full career a left-handed blow like the kick of a pony, that laid his cheek open and knocked him stupid and staggering. He followed it up like lightning with his right, and, throwing his whole weight into this second blow, sent the staggering man to grass; slipped past another, and skirting the south side of the house got to the tank again well in advance of his pursuers, seized the ladder, carried it to the garden wall, and was actually half way up it, and saw the open country and liberty, when the ladder was dragged away and he fell heavily to the ground, and a keeper threw himself bodily on him. Alfred half expected this, and drawing up his foot in time, dashed it furiously in the coming face, actually knocking the man backwards. Another kneeled on his chest: Alfred caught him by the throat so felly that he lost all power, and they rolled over and over together, and Alfred got clear and ran for it again, and got on the middle of the lawn, and hallooed to the house:—“Hy! hy! Are there any more sane men imprisoned there? Come out, and fight for your lives!” Instantly the open windows were filled with white faces, some grinning, some exulting, all greatly excited; and a hideous uproar shook the whole place — for the poor souls were all sane in their own opinion — and the whole force of attendants, two of them bleeding profusely from his blows, made a cordon and approached him. But he was too cunning to wait to be fairly surrounded; he made his rush at an under-keeper, feinted at his head, caught him a heavy blow in the pit of the stomach, doubled him up in a moment, and off again, leaving the man on his knees vomiting and groaning. Several mild maniacs ran out in vast agitation, and, to curry favour, offered to help catch him. Vast was their zeal. But when it came to the point, they only danced wildly about and cried, “Stop him! for God’s sake stop him! he’s ill, dreadfully ill; poor wretch! knock out his brains!” And, whenever he came near them, away they ran whining like kicked curs.

Mrs. Archbold, looking out at a window, advised them all to let him alone, and she would come out and persuade him. But they would not be advised: they chased him about the lawn; but so swift of foot was he, and so long in the reach, that no one of them could stop him, nor indeed come near him, without getting a facer that came like a flash of lightning.

At last, however, they got so well round him, he saw his chance was gone: he took off his hat to Mrs. Archbold at the window, and said quietly, “I surrender to you, madam.”

At these words they rushed on him rashly. On this he planted two blows right and left, swift as a cat attacked by dogs; administered two fearful black eyes, and instantly folded his arms, saying haughtily, “It was to the lady I yielded, not to you fellows.”

They seized him, shook their fists in his face, cursed him, and pinned him. He was quite passive: they handcuffed him, and drove him before them, shoving him every now and then roughly by the shoulders. He made no resistance, spoke no word. They took him to the strong-room, and manacled his ankles together with an iron hobble, and then strapped them to the bed-posts, and fastened his body down by broad bands of ticking with leathern straps at the ends: and so left him more helpless than a swaddled infant. The hurry and excitement of defence were over, and a cold stupor of misery came down and sat like lead on him. He lay mute as death in his gloomy cell, a tomb within a living tomb. And, as he lay, deeper horror grew and grew in his dilating eyes: gusts of rage swept over him, shook him, and passed: then gusts of despairing tenderness; all came and went, but his bonds. What would his Julia think? If he could only let her know! At this thought he called, he shouted, he begged for a messenger; there was no reply. The cry of a dangerous lunatic from the strong-room was less heeded here than a bark from any dog-kennel in Christendom. “This is my father’s doing,” he said. “Curse him! Curse him Curse him!” and his brain seemed on fire, his temples throbbed: he vowed to God to be revenged on his father.

Then he writhed at his own meanness in coming to visit a servant and his folly in being caught by so shallow an artifice. He groaned aloud. The clock in the hall struck ten. There was just time to get back if they would lend him a conveyance. He shouted, he screamed, he prayed. He offered terms humbly, piteously; he would forgive his father, forgive them all, he would say no more about the money, would do anything, consent to anything, if they would only let him keep faith with his Julia: they had better consent, and not provoke his vengeance. “Have mercy on me!” he cried. “Don’t make me insult her I love. They will all be waiting for me. It is my wedding-day; you can’t have known it is my wedding-day; fiends, monsters, I tell you it is my wedding-day. Oh, pray send the lady to me; she can’t be all stone, and my misery might melt a stone.” He listened for an answer, he prayed for an answer. There was none. Once in a mad-house, the sanest man is mad, however interested and barefaced the motive of the relative who has brought two of the most venal class upon the earth to sign away his wits behind his back. And once hobbled and strapped, he is a dangerous maniac, for just so many days, weeks, or years, as the hobbles, handcuffs, and jacket happen to be left upon him by inhumanity, economy, or simple carelessness. Poor Alfred’s cries and prayers were heard, but no more noticed than the night howl of a wolf on some distant mountain. All was sullen silence, but the grating tongue of the clock, which told the victim of a legislature’s shallowness and a father’s avarice — that Time, deaf to his woe, as were the walls, the men, the women, and the cutting bands, was stealing away with iron finger his last chance of meeting his beloved at the altar.

He closed his eyes, and saw her lovelier than ever, dressed all in white, waiting for him with sweet concern in that peerless face. “Julia! Julia!” he cried, with a loud heart-broken cry. The half-hour struck. At that he struggled, he writhed, he bounded: he made the very room shake, and lacerated his flesh; but that was all. No answer. No motion. No help. No hope.

The perspiration rolled down his steaming body. The tears burst from his young eyes and ran down his cheeks. he sobbed, and sobbing almost choked, so tight were his linen bands upon his bursting bosom.

He lay still exhausted.

The clock ticked harshly on: the rest was silence. With this miserable exception: ever and anon the victim’s jammed body shuddered so terribly it shook and rattled the iron bedstead, and told of the storm within, the agony of the racked and all foreboding soul.

For then rolled over that young head hours of mortal anguish that no tongue of man can utter, nor pen can shadow. Chained sane amongst the mad; on his wedding-day; expecting with tied hands the sinister acts of the soul-murderers who had the power to make their lie a truth! We can paint the body writhing vainly against its unjust bonds; but who can paint the loathing, agonised soul in a mental situation so ghastly? For my part I feel it in my heart of hearts; but am impotent to convey it to others; impotent, impotent.

Pray think of it for yourselves, men and women, if you have not sworn never to think over a novel. Think of it for your own sakes: Alfred’s turn today, it may be yours tomorrow.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33