The doctor was standing in the middle of the room; in his hand a large, round-bellied, crystal flask, some three parts full of a bright amber-coloured liquid; on his face a rapture of gratitude and joy unspeakable. As he saw me he raised the flask at arm's length. 'Victory!' he cried. 'Victory, Asenath!' And then-- whether the flask escaped his trembling fingers, or whether the explosion were spontaneous, I cannot tell--enough that we were thrown, I against the door-post, the doctor into the corner of the room; enough that we were shaken to the soul by the same explosion that must have startled you upon the street; and that, in the brief space of an indistinguishable instant, there remained nothing of the labours of the doctor's lifetime but a few shards of broken crystal and those voluminous and ill-smelling vapours that pursued me in my flight.
THE SQUIRE OF DAMES (Concluded)
What with the lady's animated manner and dramatic conduct of her voice, Challoner had thrilled to every incident with genuine emotion. His fancy, which was not perhaps of a very lively character, applauded both the matter and the style; but the more judicial functions of his mind refused assent. It was an excellent story; and it might be true, but he believed it was not. Miss Fonblanque was a lady, and it was doubtless possible for a lady to wander from the truth; but how was a gentleman to tell her so? His spirits for some time had been sinking, but they now fell to zero; and long after her voice had died away he still sat with a troubled and averted countenance, and could find no form of words to thank her for her narrative. His mind, indeed, was empty of everything beyond a dull longing for escape. From this pause, which grew the more embarrassing with every second, he was roused by the sudden laughter of the lady. His vanity was alarmed; he turned and faced her; their eyes met; and he caught from hers a spark of such frank merriment as put him instantly at ease.
'You certainly,' he said, 'appear to bear your calamities with excellent spirit.'
'Do I not?' she cried, and fell once more into delicious laughter. But from this access she more speedily recovered. 'This is all very well,' said she, nodding at him gravely, 'but I am still in a most distressing situation, from which, if you deny me your help, I shall find it difficult indeed to free myself.'
At this mention of help Challoner fell back to his original gloom.
'My sympathies are much engaged with you,' he said, 'and I should be delighted, I am sure. But our position is most unusual; and circumstances over which I have, I can assure you, no control, deprive me of the power--the pleasure--Unless, indeed,' he added, somewhat brightening at the thought, 'I were to recommend you to the care of the police?'
She laid her hand upon his arm and looked hard into his eyes; and he saw with wonder that, for the first time since the moment of their meeting, every trace of colour had faded from her cheek.
'Do so,' she said, 'and--weigh my words well--you kill me as certainly as with a knife.'
'God bless me!' exclaimed Challoner.
'Oh,' she cried, 'I can see you disbelieve my story and make light of the perils that surround me; but who are you to judge? My family share my apprehensions; they help me in secret; and you saw yourself by what an emissary, and in what a place, they have chosen to supply me with the funds for my escape. I admit that you are brave and clever and have impressed me most favourably; but how are you to prefer your opinion before that of my uncle, an ex-minister of state, a man with the ear of the Queen, and of a long political experience? If I am mad, is he? And you must allow me, besides, a special claim upon your help. Strange as you may think my story, you know that much of it is true; and if you who heard the explosion and saw the Mormon at Victoria, refuse to credit and assist me, to whom am I to turn?'
'He gave you money then?' asked Challoner, who had been dwelling singly on that fact.