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   Chapter 14 THE SPIDER'S WEB.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 7799

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Now that Humphreys had his prey he did not know just what to do with it. Not knowing what to say, he said nothing, in which he showed his wisdom. But he felt that saying nothing was almost as bad as saying something. And he was right. For with people of impulsive temperament reactions are sudden, and in one minute after Julia had said yes, there came to her memory the vision of August standing in the barn and looking into her eyes so purely and truly and loyally, and vowing such sweet vows of love, and she looked back upon that perfect hour with some such fooling perhaps as Dives felt looking out of torment across the great gulf into paradise. Only that Dives had never known paradise, while she had. For the man or woman that knows a pure, self-sacrificing love, returned in kind, knows that which, of all things in this world, lies nearest to God and heaven. There be those who have ears to hear this, and for them is it written. Julia thought of August's love with a sinking into despair. But then returned the memory of his faithlessness, of all she had been compelled to believe and suffer. Then her agony came back, and she was glad that she had taken a decided step. Any escape was a relief. I suppose it is under some such impulse that people kill themselves. Julia felt as though she had committed suicide and escaped.

Humphreys on his part was not satisfied. I used the wrong figure of speech awhile ago. He was not a cat with paw upon the prey. He was only an angler, and had but hooked his fish. He had not landed it yet. He felt how slender was the thread of committal by which he held Julia. August had her heart. He had only a word. The slender vantage that he had, he meant to use adroitly, craftily. And he knew that the first thing was to close this interview without losing any ground. The longer she remained bound, the better for him. And with his craft against the country girl's simplicity it would have fared badly with Julia had it not been for one defect which always inheres, in a bad man's plots in such a case. A man like Humphreys never really understands a pure woman. Certain detached facts he may know, but he can not "put himself in her place."

Humphreys remarked with tenderness that Julia must not stay in the night air. She was too precious to be exposed. This flattery was comforting to her wounded pride, and she found his words pleasant to her. Had he stopped here he might have left the field victorious. But it was very hard for an affianced lover to stop here. He must part from her in some other way than this if he would leave on her mind the impression that she was irrevocably bound to him. He stooped quickly with a well-affected devotion and lifted her hand to kiss it. That act awakened Julia Anderson. She must have awaked anyhow, sooner or later. But when one is in the toils of such a man, sooner is better. The touch of Humphreys's hand and lips sent a shudder through her frame that Humphreys felt. Instantly there came to her a perception of all that marriage with a repulsive man signifies.

Not suicide, but perdition.

She jerked her hand from his as though he were a snake.

"Mr. Humphreys, what did I say? I can't have you. I don't love you. I'm crazy to-night. I must take back what I said."

"No, Julia. Let me call you my Julia. You must not break my heart." Humphreys had lost his cue, and every word of tenderness he spoke made his case more hopeless.

"I never can marry you--let me go in," she said, brushing past him. Then she remembered that her door was fast on the inside. She had climbed out the window. She turned back, and he saw his advantage.

"I can not release you. Take time to think before you ask it. Go to sleep now and do not act hastily." He stood between her and the window, wishing to get some word to which he could hold.

Julia's two black eyes grew brighter. "I see. You took advant

age of my trouble, and you want to hold me to my words, and you are bad, and now--now I hate you!" Then Julia felt better. Hate is the only wholesome thing in such a case. She pushed him aside vigorously, stepped upon the settee, slipped in at the window, and closed it. She drew the curtain, but it seemed thin, and with characteristic impulsiveness she put out her light that she might have the friendly drapery of darkness about her. She heard the soft--for the first time it seemed to her stealthy--tread of Humphreys, as he returned to his room. Whether she swooned or whether she slept after that she never knew. It was morning without any time intervening, she had a headache and could scarcely walk, and there was August's note lying on the floor. She read it again--if not with more intelligence, at least with more suspicion. She wondered at her own hastiness. She tried to go about the house, but the excitement of the previous night, added to all she had suffered beside, had given her a headache, blinding and paralyzing, that sent her back to bed.


And there she lay in that half-asleep, half-awake mood, which a nervous headache produces. She seemed to be a fly in a web, and the spider was trying to fasten her. A very polite spider, with that smile which went half-way up his face but which never seemed able to reach his eyes. He had straps to his pantaloons, and a reddish mustache, and she shuddered as he wound his fine webs about her. She tried to shake off the illusion. But the more absurd an illusion, the more it will not be shaken off. For see! the spider was kissing her hand! Then she seemed to have made a great effort and to have broken the web. But her wings were torn, and her feet were shackled by the fine strands that still adhered. She could not get them off. Wouldn't somebody help her, even as she had many a time picked off the webs from a fly's feet out of sheer pity? And all day she would perpetually return into these half-conscious states and feel the spider's web about her feet, and ask over and over again if somebody wouldn't help her to get out of the meshes.

Toward evening her mother brought her a cup of tea and a piece of toast, and for the first time in the remembered life of the daughter made an endeavor to show a little tenderness for her. It was a clumsy endeavor, for when the great gulf is once fixed between mother and child it is with difficulty bridged. And finding herself awkward in the new role, Mrs. Anderson dropped it and resumed her old gait, remarking, as she closed the door, that she was glad to know that Julia was coming to her senses, and "had took the right road." For Mrs. Abigail was more vigorous than grammatical.

Julia did not see anything significant in this remark at first. But after a while it came to her that Humphreys must have told her mother of something that had passed during the preceding night, something on which this commendation was founded. Then she fell into the same torpor and was in the same old spider's web, and there was the same spider with the limited smile and the mustache and the watch-seals and the straps! And he was trying to fasten her, and she said "yes." And she could see the little word. The spider caught it and spun it into a web and fastened her with it. And she could break all the other webs but those woven out of that one little word from her own lips. That clung to her, and she could neither fly nor walk. August could not help her--he would not come. Her mother was helping the spider. Just then Cynthy Ann came along with her broom. Would she see her and sweep her free? She tried to call her, but alas! she was a fly. She tried to buzz, but her wings were fast bound with the webs. She was being smothered. The spider had seized her. She could not move. He was smiling at her!

Then she woke shuddering. It was after midnight.

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