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[-55-]

CHAPTER XXII.

A WOMAN'S MIND.

WHEN Louisa entered the boudoir on the morning which succeeded this eventful night, nothing in Walter's countenance denoted the painful emotions that filled her bosom. She narrated the particulars of the burglarious entry of the dwelling, and Montague's opportune arrival upon the scene of action, with a calmness which surprised her faithful attendant. The truth was, that the attempt of the robbers upon the house, and even the danger in which her own life had been placed, had dwindled, in her own estimation, into events of secondary importance, when compared with that one atrocity which had suddenly wrecked all her hopes of love and happiness for ever.
    The usual mysterious toilet was speedily performed; and, with a firm step and a countenance expressive of a stern decision, she descended to the breakfast-parlour.
    Montague was already there - pale, haggard, abashed, and trembling. He knew that the chance of possessing a lovely woman and ten thousand pounds was then at stake; and, in addition to the perilous predicament of his nearest and dearest hopes, his position was embarrassing and unpleasant in the extreme. Had he succeeded in his base attempt, he would have been a victor flushed with conquest, and prepared to dictate terms to a woman entirely at his mercy :- but he had been foiled, and he himself was the dejected and baffled being who would be compelled to crave for pardon.
    As Louisa entered the room close upon the heels of Walter, the latter greeted George Montague with a most affable morning's welcome, and conversed with him in a manner which seemed to say that she had totally forgotten the occurrence of the night.
    But the moment that Louisa had completed the arrangements of the breakfast table, and had left the room, Walter's tone and manner underwent an entire and sudden change.
    "You must not think, sir,' she said, while a proud smile of scorn and bitterness curled her laps, "that I have this morning tasted of the waters of oblivion. To save you, rather than myself, the shame of being exposed in the presence of my servant, I assumed that friendly and familiar air which appears to have deceived you."
    [-56-] "What! then you have not forgiven me?" exclaimed Montague, profoundly surprised.
    "Forgive you!" repeated the lady, almost indignantly "do you suppose that I think so little of myself, or would give you such scope to think so little of me, as to pass by in silence a crime which was atrocious in a hundred ways? I loved you sincerely - tenderly - oh! God only knows how I loved you; and you would have taken advantage of my sincere and heartfelt affection. The dream in which I had indulged is now dispelled; the vision is over; the illusion is dissipated. Never would I accompany to the altar a man whom I could not esteem; and I can no longer esteem yon. Then again, I offered you the hospitality of my abode; and that sacred rite you would have infamously violated. I cannot, therefore, even retain you as a friend, in another sense, too, your conduct was odious. You saved my life - and for that I shall ever remember you with gratitude: but you nevertheless sought to avail vourself of that service as a means of robbing me my honour. Oh! all this was abominable - detestable on your part; and what is the result? My love can never avail you now; I will crush it- extinguish it in my bosom first. My friendship cannot be awarded; my gratitude alone remains. That shall accompany you; for we must now separate - and for ever."
    "Separate - and for ever!" ejaculated Montague, who had listened with deep interest and various conflicting emotions to this strange address: "no - you cannot mean it? you will not be thus relentless ?"
    "Mr. Montague," returned the lady, with great apparent coolness - though in reality she was inflicting excruciating tortures upon her own heart; "no power on earth can alter my resolves. We shall part - here - now - and for ever; and may happiness and prosperity attend you."
    "But Mr. Stephens ?" cried Montague: "what can you say to him? what will he think?"
    "He shall never know the truth from me," answered Walter solemnly.
    "This is absurd!" ejaculated Montague, in despair at the imminent ruin of all his hopes. "Will not my humblest apology - my sincerest excuses - my future conduct, - will nothing atone for one false step, committed under the influence of generous wines and of a passion which obtained a complete mastery over me? will nothing move your forgiveness ?"
    "Nothing," answered Walter, with unvaried coolness and determination. "Were I a young girl of sixteen or seventeen, it might be different: then I might be deceived by your sophistry. Now, it is impossible! I am five and twenty years old; and circumstances, she added, glancing over her male attire, "have also tended to augment my experience in the sinuosities of human designs and the phases of the human heart."
    "Yes - you are twenty-five, it is true," cried Montague; "but that age has not robbed your charms of any of the grace and freshness of youth. Oh! then let your mind be cautious bow it adopts the severe notions of riper years!"
    "1 thank you for the compliment which you pay me," said Walter, satirically; "and I can assure you that it does not prove a welcome preface to the argument which you would found upon it. Old or young - experienced or ignorant in the ways of the world - a woman were a fool to marry where ehe could not entertain respect for her husband. I may be wrong: but this is my conviction ;- and upon it will I act."
    "This is but an excuse to break with me," said Montague: "you no longer love me."
    "No - not as I did twelve hours ago."
    "You never loved me! It is impossible to divest oneself of that passion so suddenly as this."
    "Love in my mind is a species of worship or adoration, and can be damaged by the evil suspicions that may suddenly be thrown upon its object."
    "No - that is not love," exclaimed Montague, passionately: "true love will make a woman follow her lover or her husband through all the most hideous paths of crime - even to the scaffold."
    "The woman who truly loves, will follow her husband as a duty, but not her lover to countenance him in his crimes. We are not, however, going to argue this point :- for my part, I am not acting according to the prescribed notions of romances or a false sentimentality, but strictly in accordance with my own idea of what is suitable to my happiness and proper to my condition. I repeat, I am not the heroine of a novel in her teens - I am a woman of certain age, and can reflect calmly in order to act decidedly."
    Montague made no reply, but walked towards the window. Strange and conflicting sentiments were agitating in his brain.
    'Twas thus he reasoned within himself.
    " If I use threats and menaces, I shall merely open her eyes to the real objects which Stephens has in view; and she will shrink from the fearful dangers she is about to encounter. Whether she changes her mind or not with regard to me, and whether I proceed farther in the business or not, the secret is in my hands; and Stephens will pay me handsomely to keep it. Perhaps I had even better stop short where I am: I am still in a position to demand hush-money, and avoid the extreme peril which must accrue to all who appear prominently in the affair on the 26th of the month."
   The selfish mind of George Montague thus revolved the various phases of his present position and in a few moments he was determined how to act.
    Turning towards Walter Sydney, ha exclaimed, "You are decided not to forgive me?"
    "I have made known to you my resolution-that we should now part, for ever."
    "How can we part for ever, when your friend and benefactor, Mr. Stephens, requires my services ?"
    "Mr. Stephens informed me 'that a third person was necessary to the complete success of his designs, and that he had fixed upon you.' Consequently, another friend may fill the place which he intended you to occupy."
    "You seam to have well weighed the results of your resolution to see me no more," said Montague bitterly.
    "There is time for thought throughout the live-long night, when sleep is banished from the pillow," returned the lady proudly.
    "I can scarcely comprehend your conduct," said Montague, after another pause. "You do not choose that your servants should know what occurred last night: is it your intention to acquaint Mr. Stephens with the real truth ?"
    "That depends entirely upon yourself. To speak candidly, I do not wish to come to any explanation with Mr. Stephens upon the subject. He will blame me for having concealed from him the attachment which has subsisted between us; and he will imagine [-57-]

that some levity on my part must have encouraged to violate the sanctity of my chamber. If you, sir, are a man of honour," added the lady emphatically,- "and if you have a spark of feeling and generosity left, you will take measures with Mr. Stephens to spare me that last mortification."
    "I will do as you require," returned Montague, well pleased with this arrangement. "This very day will I communicate to Mr. Stephens my desire to withdraw from any further interference in his affairs, and I will allege the pressing nature of my own concerns as an excuse."
    "Act as you will," said the lady; but let there remain behind no motive which can lead you to repeat your visits to this house. You comprehend me?"
    "Perfectly," replied Montague. "But once more lot me implore you —"
    "Enough - enough!" exclaimed Walter. "You know not the firmness of the female mind: perhaps I have this morning taught you a lesson in that respect. We must now part, Mr. Montague, and believe me - believe me, that, although no power on earth can alter the resolution to which I came during the long and painful vigil of the past night, I still wish you well ;- and, remember, my gratitude accompanies you!"
    Walter hesitated for a moment, as if another observation were trembling upon her tongue: then stifling her emotions with a powerful effort, she waved her hand to the delinquent, and abruptly left the room.
    "Is this a loftiness of mind of which not even the greatest of men often afford example? or is it the miserable caprice of a vacillating woman?" said Montague to himself, as he prepared to take his departure from the villa in which he had spent some happy hours. "I must candidly admit that this time I am at fault. All appears to be lost in this quarter - and that, too, through my own confounded folly. But Stephens's secret still remains to me; and that [-58-] secret shall be as good as an annuity for years to come. Let me see - I must have money now to insure my silence, upon breaking off all further connexion with the business. Then I must keep an eye upon him; and should he succeed on the 26th of this mouth - and he must succeed, if this punctilious lady does not see through his designs in the meantime - then can I step forward and demand another sum under a threat of exposing the entire scheme. And then, too," he added, while his countenance wore an expression of mingled revenge and triumph,- "then, too, can I appear before this vain, this scrupulous, this haughty woman, and with one word send her on her knees before me! Then will she stoop her proud brow, and her prayers and intercessions upon that occasion shall be expressed as humbly as her reproaches and her taunts were tyrannically levelled at me to-day! Yes! - I will keep my eye upon Walter Sydney and her benefactor Stephens," he said with an ironical chuckle: "they may obtain their princely fortune, but a due share shall find its way into my pocket !"
    These or similar reflections continued to occupy the mind of George Montague after he had left the villa, and while he was on his way to the nearest point where be could obtain a conveyance to take him into the City.

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