The Highwayman (Bailey)/Chapter XVIII
Alison turned and stared into the fire. Harry filled himself a glass of port and drank it and laughed. She looked round at him. "Faith, Mr. Waverton is mighty good entertainment," he explained.
"Is that all you want to say?"
Harry would not be awed by that ominous voice. "Oh Lud, how could I dare talk after him? Our poetic orator!" He made flourishes in the air after Mr. Waverton's manner. "Nay, but I would give my new wig to have been in that upper chamber at Pontoise. Dear Geoffrey on his defence booming noble periods—and the Prince, poor gentleman, with his fingers in his ears! If dear Geoffrey was telling the truth. I wonder."
"Oh, is that what you'll pretend?"
"Pretend? I pretend nothing, ma'am. Why, to be sure, our Geoffrey always means to tell the truth—having, God bless him, no imagination. But you'll remark what when he tells a tale, it's Mr. Waverton has always the beau rôle. He sees the world like that, dear lad. So I should be glad to hear the Caledonian gentleman's notion of what happened."
"I see. You'll make that your defence. Geoffrey imagined it all."
"Egad, ma'am, you may lower your tone. I have nothing to defend, nor are you set in judgment."
Alison started up. "Do you suppose all this is to make no change?" she cried.
"You're a splendid creature, by heaven," says Harry, tilting his chair back and watching her with a little epicurean smile, the proud vigour of her, the blood in her cheeks, the flash of her eyes, and the sweep of the white arm.
"I could hate you for that," she said, and her lips set.
"Yes. I think you're in a fair way to it," says Harry. "I wonder if you know why."
"Because I have come to despise you," she cried sharply.
"You will be solemn, will you?" says Harry. "Much good may it do you. And so, egad, have at you heartily. For you have said things which both of us will find it hard to forget."
"Oh, you can feel that?"
"Look 'e, ma'am, if we are to be in earnest, we had best not snap at each other like a pair of puppies. Now, what's happened?"
"You have to ask that? My God, if you have to ask, there's no use in words between you and me."
"Oh Lud, don't be mystical. Mr. Waverton comes here to do his poor possible to make mischief between us. I suppose you saw that. He tells us that he went blundering with my father into a muddle of a plot."
"He tells us that your father planned a vile base murder and sought to make him, a man of honour, part in it. Pray, sir, is that not infamous?"
"Egad, if you haven't caught his style! You believe all that, do you?"
"We shall go far to-night, I think," Harry shrugged. "And shall I tell you why you believe it, ma'am? It's because you are looking about to find matter for blackening me."
Alison hesitated a moment. "You cannot deny it. It is proved. Your father would not stay to face them."
"Face a pistol and a furious Scot? Well, I never said he was a hero."
"Do you pretend it was only a fight he feared? Do you dare tell me it was an honest, honourable plan? Nay, come, let me see if there's anything you think shameful."
Harry shrugged. "I know my father not much better than you do, ma'am. I never thought him a Bayard. Some plot there was, I think, and these political plots are all dirty enough. But, Lord, who is clean of them? And I'm not ready to write my father off a murderer because Mr. Waverton went blundering into a business which, on his own confession, he does not understand."
"He went in your place. You should have gone with your father."
"Should have gone? D'ye wish I had, ma'am?"
Harry started up. "Oh, say it out. I knew we should go far to-night."
They stood close, fronting each other fiercely. "My God, is it strange if I wish you had gone? Your father is a base wretch who should be on the gallows, and I am to be his son's wife and bear the name, and the while he goes bragging that he took Geoffrey Waverton off so that you should be free to come at me."
"Aye, that. To be sure, that rankles. But you have known it long. I showed you the letter he left me which said he had taken Geoffrey out of my way and bade me snatch my chance of you. And you made light of that, ma'am. Oh, it was a base thing, if you will, but you know well enough it went for nought. We had done our work before. By God, Alison, Geoffrey there or Geoffrey here, you would have come to me."
"Ah!" It was like a cry of pain. "You brag of it. I forced myself on you, I suppose." Harry exclaimed something, made a gesture. "Oh yes, you were all cold virtue and chastity and honour, and I—what was I?" She shuddered and drew back from him. "Yes, you would turn on me. You would taunt me with that."
"Egad, you're in a frenzy," says Harry. "You cry aloud and cut yourself with knives. You will be hurting yourself."
"I loathe you for that calm way of yours," she cried. "You mock me till I am mad, and then you please to be grave and lofty. You—I took you out of the gutter."
"What now, ma'am?" Harry stiffened.
"It's all a mask!" she cried. "Nothing of you shows in your voice or your face—your face, bah, it's always the same, when you kiss and when you strike. A mask! You're always in a mask. That's how you took me. I was a fool, and thought there must be something fine behind it." She laughed. "You were clever enough. You knew the trick and the mystery of it would take a woman. A mask! Yes, faith, that is the wear for a highwayman. I remember how Charles Hadley used to laugh at your 'Curst stand-and-deliver stare.' I liked it, I liked the challenge of it. But he knew you better. That's your trade, the highwayman, faith, the highwayman! You trick us all and prey upon us, as you dare. So you marked me down, who was rich and a girl, and you have caught me, and you have rifled me, and, for what you care I may now go hang. I ask you for my pride again, my honour, and you mock at me. Oh, I am ashamed for a fool and worse, and you know it, God help me, but you—you—"
Harry shrugged. "I suppose we have come to the end now," he said coolly. "Well, ma'am, to be sure we married in haste, and it seems we have both come to repentance. As for wrong that I have done you—why, I can't make you a maid again, and, if you please, more's the pity. My apologies and regrets. For the rest, all of your money that hath been spent on me will go in a small purse, and, I promise you, you shall spend no more. So you may sleep sound, and I wish you good night."
She watched him cross the room, and, as he was opening the door, cried out, "What do you mean?"
He turned. "Why, would you still be talking?" Their eyes met in defiance. "You can go," she said.
"I have had the honour to tell you so," he said, and was gone.