"What rivals, sir?" asked Julia, drawing up.
"Your mother, your brother, your curates that would come buzzing the moment I left; your sick people, who bask on your smiles and your sweet voice till I envy them: Sarah, whom you permit to brush your lovely hair, the piano you play on, the air you deign to breathe and brighten, everybody and everything that is near you; they are all my rivals; and shall I resign you to them, and leave myself desolate? I'm not such a fool."
She smiled, and could not help feeling it was sweet to be pestered. So she said with matronly dignity, and the old Julian consistency, "You are a foolish impetuous boy. You are the plague of my life: and--the sun of my existence." That passed off charmingly. But presently his evil genius prompted Alfred to endeavour to soften Mrs. Dodd by letter, and induce her to consent to his marriage with her daughter. He received her answer at breakfast-time. It was wonderfully polite and cold; Mrs. Dodd feigned unmixed surprise at the proposal, and said that insanity being unfortunately in her own family, and the suspicion of insanity resting on himself, such a union was not to be thought of; and therefore, notwithstanding her respect for his many good qualities, she must decline with thanks the honour he offered her. She inserted a poisoned sting by way of postscript. "When you succeed in publicly removing the impression your own relations share with me, and when my husband owes his restoration to you, instead of his destruction, of course you will receive a very different answer to your proposal--should you then think it consistent with your dignity to renew it."
As hostile testators used to leave the disinherited one shilling, not out of a shilling's worth of kindly feeling, but that he might not be able to say his name was omitted through inadvertency, so Mrs. Dodd inserted this postscript merely to clench the nail and tantalise her enemy. It was a masterpiece of feminine spite.
She would have been wonderstruck could she have seen how Alfred received her missive.
To be sure he sat in a cold stupor of dejection for a good half hour; but at the end of that time he lifted up his head, and said quietly, "So be it. I'll get the trial over, and my sanity established, as soon as possible: and then I'll hire a yacht and hunt her husband till I find him."
Having settled this little plan, he looked out for Julia, whose sympathy he felt in need of after such a stern blow.
She came out much later than usual that day, for to tell the truth, her mother had detained her to show her Alfred's letter, and her answer.