"Oh, hush! hush! Mrs. Archbold. You are saying things you will blush for the next moment."
"I blush now, but cannot hush; I have gone too far. And your happiness as well as mine is at stake. No young girl can understand or value such a man as you are: but I, like you, have suffered; I, like you, am constant; I, like you, am warm and tender; at my age a woman's love is bliss to him who can gain it; and I love you with all my soul, Alfred. I worship the ground you walk on, my sweet, sweet boy. Say you the word, dearest, and I will bribe the servants, and get the keys, and sacrifice my profession for ever to give you liberty (see how sweet the open face of nature is, sweeter than anything on earth, but love); and all I ask is a little, little of your heart in return. Give me a chance to make you mine for ever; and, if I fail, treat me as I shall deserve; desert me at once; and then I'll never reproach you; I'll only die for you; as I have lived for you ever since I first saw your heavenly face."
The passionate woman paused at last, but her hot cheek and heaving bosom and tender convulsive hand prolonged the pleading.
I am afraid few men of her own age would have resisted her; for voice and speech and all burning, melting, and winning; and then, so reasonable, lads; she did not stipulate for constancy.
But Alfred turned round to her blushing and sorrowful. "For shame!" he said; "this is not love: you abuse that sacred word. Indeed, if you had ever really loved, you would have pitied me and Julia long ago, and respected our love; and saved us by giving me my freedom long ago. I am not a fool: do you think I don't know that you are my jailer, and the cunningest and most dangerous of them all?"
"You cruel, ungrateful!" she sobbed.
"No; I am not ungrateful either," said he more gently. "You have always come between me and that kind of torture which most terrifies vulgar souls: and I thank you for it. Only if you had also pitied the deeper anguish of my heart, I should thank you more still. As it is, I forgive you for the share you have had in blasting my happiness for life; and nobody shall ever know what you have been mad enough in an unguarded moment to say; but for pity's sake talk no more of love, to mock my misery."
Mrs. Archbold was white with ire long before he had done this sentence. "You insolent creature," said she; "you spurn my love; you shall feel my hate."