A MisadventureJan. 10th, 1827. While writing the above, yesterday evening, I sat in the drawing-room. Mr. Huntingdon was present, but, as I thought, asleep on the sofa behind me. He had risen however, unknown to me, and, actuated by some base spirit of curiosity, been looking over my shoulder for I know not how long; for when I had laid aside my pen, and was about to close the book, he suddenly placed his hand upon it, and saying--With your leave, my dear, I'll have a look at this,' forcibly wrested it from me, and, drawing a chair to the table, composedly sat down to examine it--turning back leaf after leaf to find an explanation of what he had read. Unluckily for me, he was more sober that night than he usually is at such an hour.
Of course I did not leave him to pursue this occupation in quiet: I made several attempts to snatch the book from his hands, but he held it too firmly for that; I upbraided him in bitterness and scorn for his mean and dishonourable conduct, but that had no effect upon him; and, finally, I extinguished both the candles, but he only wheeled round to the fire, and raising a blaze sufficient for his purposes, calmly continued the investigation. I had serious thoughts of getting a pitcher of water and extinguishing that light too; but it was evident his curiosity was too keenly excited to be quenched by that, and the more I manifested my anxiety to baffle his scrutiny, the greater would be his determination to persist in it-- besides it was too late.
`It seems very interesting, love,' said he, lifting his head and turning to where I stood wringing my hands in silent rage and anguish; `but it's rather long; I'll look at it some other time;--and meanwhile, I'll trouble you for your keys, my dear.'
`The keys of your cabinet, desk, drawers, and whatever else you possess,' said he, rising and holding out his hand.
`I've not got them,' I replied. The key of my desk, in fact, was, at that moment, in the lock, and the others were attached to it.
`Then you must send for them,' said he; `and if that old bitch, Rachel, doesn't immediately deliver them up, she tramps bag and baggage to-morrow.'
`She doesn't know where they are,' I answered, quietly placing my hand upon them, and taking them from the desk, as I thought, unobserved. `I know, but I shall not give them up without a reason.'
`And I know, too,' said he, suddenly seizing my closed hand and rudely abstracting them from it. He then took up one of the candles and relighted it by thrusting it into the fire.
`Now then,' sneered he, `we must have a confiscation of property. But first, let us take a peep into the studio.'
And putting the keys into his pocket, he walked into the library. I followed, whether with the dim idea of preventing mischief or only to know the worst I can hardly tell. My painting materials were laid together on the corner table, ready for to-morrow's use, and only covered with a cloth. He soon spied them out, and putting down the candle, deliberately proceeded to cast them into the fire--palette, paints, bladders, pencils, brushes, varnish--I saw them all consumed--the palette knives snapped in two--the oil and turpentine sent hissing and roaring up the chimney. He then rang the bell.
`Benson, take those things away,' said he, pointing to the easel, canvass, and stretcher;' `and tell the housemaid she may kindle the fire with them: your mistress won't want them any more.'
Benson paused aghast and looked at me.
`Take them away, Benson,' said I; and his master muttered an oath.
`And this and all, sir?' said the astonished servant referring to the half-finished picture.
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