“You are looked upon in the neighborhood as worse than poison, Afy,” returned Joyce, in a tone, not of anger but of sorrow. “Where’s Richard Hare?”
Afy tossed her head. “Where’s who?” asked she.
“Richard Hare. My question was plain enough.”
“How should I know where he is? It’s like your impudence to mention him to me. Why don’t you ask me where Old Nick is, and how he does? I’d rather own acquaintance with him than with Richard Hare, if I’d my choice between the two.”
“Then you have left Richard Hare? How long since?”
“I have left—what do you say?” broke off Afy, whose lips were quivering ominously with suppressed passion. “Perhaps you’ll condescend to explain. I don’t understand.”
“When you left here, did you not go after Richard Hare—did you not join him?”
“I’ll tell you what it is, Joyce,” flashed Afy, her face indignant and her voice passionate, “I have put up with some things from you in my time, but human nature has its limits of endurance, and I won’t bear that. I have never set eyes on Richard Hare since that night of horror; I wish I could; I’d help to hang him.”
Joyce paused. The belief that Afy was with him had been long and deeply imbued within her; it was the long-continued and firm conviction of all West Lynne, and a settled belief, such as that, is not easily shaken. Was Afy telling the truth? She knew her propensity for making false assertions, when they served to excuse herself.
“Afy,” she said at length, “let me understand you. When you left this place, was it not to share Richard Hare’s flight? Have you not been living with him?”
“No!” burst forth Afy, with kindling eyes. “Living with him—with our father’s murderer! Shame upon you, Joyce Hallijohn! You must be precious wicked yourself to suppose it.”
“If I have judged you wrongly, Afy, I sincerely beg your pardon. Not only myself, but the whole of West Lynne, believed you were with him; and the thought has caused me pain night and day.”
“What a cannibal minded set you all must be, then!” was Afy’s indignant rejoinder.
“What have you been doing ever since, then? Where have you been?”
“Never mind, I say,” repeated Afy. “West Lynne has not been so complimentary to me, it appears, that I need put myself out of my way to satisfy its curiosity. I was knocking about a bit at first, but I soon settled down as steady as Old Time—as steady as you.”
“Are you married?” inquired Joyce, noting the word “settled.”
“Catch me marrying,” retorted Afy; “I like my liberty too well. Not but what I might be induced to change my condition, if anything out of the way eligible occurred; it must be very eligible, though, to tempt me. I am what I suppose you call yourself—a lady’s maid.”
“Indeed!” said Joyce, much relieved. “And are you comfortable, Afy? Are you in good service?”