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VI A Snare

FOR several days Judith did not speak to me. The sight of her pale face and reproachful eyes filled me with remorse. She seemed ill and dispirited. Mrs. Rowe, whose ancient habits of tyranny were no longer applicable to my emancipated manhood, nevertheless continued to persecute me in petty ways. She attempted to revenge my treatment of the girl by giving me cold tea at meals, sweeping the dust of the house into my bed-chamber, and talking at me when my uncle was not present. I bore these small-hardships with a meek spirit, conscious that I deserved them. But one night my remorse vanished. Strolling along a deserted wharf-front I saw Judith and Jim McGrath seated on a broken packing-case, whispering together. The man had his arm round the girl's waist, and she appeared perfectly contented. So strangely was I constituted that I experienced a thrill of jealous rage. It


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seemed to me that Judith was a wanton. I had believed that she really loved me, and I thought she was committing a sacrilege. It was my vanity that was wounded. But, calling philosophy to my aid, I slipped noiselessly away without their having observed me. I went for a long walk, and, at last with equanimity restored by meditation, returned to the shop. Judith was waiting for me, seated on a chair before the locked door of my room. My uncle and aunt had gone to bed.

“I want to speak to you,” said Judith.

I opened my door and invited her within. I lighted a candle and offered her a chair, but she preferred to stand. But I was tired, and sat upon the bed. Judith closed the door, then moved to face me.

“I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for your sake,” she said, nervously. “You'd better look out for Jim McGrath.”

“What do you mean?”

“He's jealous!”

“He has no cause.”

Judith blushed furiously. “I know that—you needn't tell me that.”

“What is the matter with him, then?”

“He knows I'm fond of you.”

“Judith!” I cried.

“I had to tell him,” she muttered.

“You don't mean to say——” I stammered.

She answered quietly, “You treated me that bad, Lucas, I hated you as long as I could. But——” and she paused—pale and trembling. I had never seen her look so pretty.

“Are you his girl now?” I asked, after a long silence.

She nodded.

“I suppose I'll have to look out for him. What will he do?”

“One of these days he'll down you, if he gets a chance; you mustn't let him.”

She came and sat down upon the bed beside me. “I wouldn't like you hurt, Lucas,” she whispered.

“Do you love him?” I asked.

“No.”

“Yet you are his girl now?”




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“That's your fault.” She rubbed her head softly against my shoulder like a kitten. I tried not to, but something made me put an arm about her, and thus she rested for several moments, sighing at intervals.

“Let's be brother and sister; I'm fond of you really, Judy,” I whispered at last.

“Kiss me!” she said.

“Sister,” I muttered. She held up her face. “I'll never be true to him,” she whispered, and our lips met.

I was dreadfully perturbed. My work to free myself from the girl seemed rendered useless. If this sort of thing were to continue, who could foresee what might not happen? I saw myself in excited fancy lying in some dark corner a mangled corpse.

“Judy,” I said, desperately. “It's not right of us, you know. You belong to him.”

“You'd get the sock if it was known,” she muttered.

I shuddered. “I'd kill myself first.”

“Don't you fear—I wouldn't tell.”

“It isn't that!” I protested, untruthfully. “It's not fair to him; you ought to be true to him.”

“Brother!” said Judith, and looked into my eyes. I had not thought her so clever. I could not help admiring her. The girl's eyes were curiously soft, but also curiously passionate.

“You'll marry him?” I asked.

She kept looking at me, and I could not remove my fascinated glance.

“On one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That you'll have me for your girl—secretly.”

How much had her instinct taught her of me? I wondered. She seemed to know that my aversion to her only extended to the binding form of marriage. I was still too innocent to detect anything criminal in her proposal, but I foresaw hosts of dangers to myself. I knew what the Push would think of such an intimacy; how they would punish it! I don't think Judith was as innocent as I was. Her eyes were full of mysterious knowledge, and seemed trying to instruct me.




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“You are afraid!” she muttered, with a sneer.

“It would be wrong,” I returned, uneasily.

“Brother and sister?” she asked.

I shivered; her eyes gave the words another meaning.

“No,” I said, and “no, no, no,” trying to gain strength from vehement iteration of the word.

“I love you,” she whispered.

I felt the world swing round me. I sprang to my feet. “You are a wicked girl!” I cried. But I could not escape her eyes; she arose, and came to me slowly, slowly, but inexorably like the march of destiny. I was as helpless as a bird in the net of a fowler. She clasped her arms about me, and, holding me closely to her, forced me to feel the pulsing softness of her frame. She kissed me again and again, and each second I was more surely her prey. “See here,” she said at last. “You needn't bother, Lucas. I won't worry you; but you like me, don't you?”

“Yes,” I muttered. She smiled, sighed, and immediately departed.

And yet the moment after she had disappeared I loathed her; shrank from the memory of her embrace, as from some black evil, and fiercely wiped my lips which burned from her caresses.

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