“Yes, she will believe me easily! She will believe me too easily! For six thousand years desire has been a synonym for credulity. All men believe what they want to, except myself. I believe everything that I do not want to, and nothing that I do! But no matter. How much am I to get for this job?”
They haggled a while over the price, struck a bargain and shook hands—the same symbol being used among men to seal a compact of love or hate, virtue or vice.
“Be at the Spencer House at eleven o’clock,” said David, rising. “You will find us on the balcony. The doctor is to spend the night in a revel with the captain of the Mary Ann, and we shall be uninterrupted. Be an actor. Be a great actor, Judge. You are to deal with a soul which possesses unusual powers of penetration.”
“Do not fear! She will be no match for me, for she is innocent—and when was virtue ever a match for vice? She is predestined to her doom! Farewell! Fare-ill, I mean,” he muttered under his breath, as David passed from the room.
He gazed after him with his basilisk eyes, drank another glass of whisky and relapsed into reveries.
The mind of the lover was full of tumultuous emotions. On the thin ice of his momentary joy, he hovered like an inexperienced skater over the great deeps of sin which were waiting to engulf him.
There was still an hour before the time when he would have to take his part in the business of the evening. He determined to walk off his excitement, and chose the way along the edge of the river.
It was now quite dark. The stars were shining in the sky and lamps were twinkling in the windows. The streets were almost deserted; the citizens, wearied with the toils of the day, were eating their evening meal, or resting on the balconies and porches. Here and there on the surface of the swift-flowing river a huge steamer swept past, or little ferry-boats shot back and forth like shuttles. His thoughts composed a strangely blended web of good and evil. At the same moment in which he reiterated his resolve to prosecute this deed he consecrated himself to a life of tenderness and devotion to the woman whom he loved with all the energy of his nature! Of such inconsistencies is the soul capable!
It seemed an easy matter to him to control the august forces which he was letting loose! He was like a little child who wanders through a laboratory uncorking bottles and mixing explosives.
Having regained his calmness by a long walk, he hurried back and reached the open space along the river front where peddlers, mountebanks and street venders plied their crafts, just in time to meet the doctor as he drove up with his horses.
THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER
“Thinks thou there
are no serpents in the world
But those who slide along the grassy sod
And sting the luckless foot that presses them?
There are those who in the path of social life
Do bask their skins in Fortune’s sun
And sting the soul.” —Joanna Baillie.