Billeder på siden

for me to tell you, but I could not bear that any other lips should proclaim my sin. And when you are happy, Rachel-a happy wife and mother-try to think kindly of the man who would cheerfully have died to keep from you the shame of knowing the misery and disgrace he wrought.'

She put out her hand and laid it firmly in his. She did not tremble or hesitate now.

'Did you say my father was here in this house?' she inquired almost incredulously; indeed, to her it was all as some terrible and fantastic dream.

'Yes, Rachel, in the library. Go to him; but first bid me goodbye.'

'I will go to him,' she said softly; but I will not bid you good-bye yet.'

And, slipping her hand out of his clasp, she went firmly to the door, opened it, and walked to the top of the staircase.

For a moment she paused there, and then, turning aside, she entered her bedchamber, and, kneeling down in the darkness, prayed to her Father in heaven, where all is light.

O Lord, help me! It was her only petition; but who that ever uttered the words in faith failed of receiving an answer to them?

She did not delay further; no grief, no prayer, no consideration prevented the swift progress of her light footsteps down the stairs, straight into the hall, across it without looking to right or left; then another instant, and she was in the library, looking at two gentlemen, who stood facing her. One was Doctor Dilton; the other'Father!' she said softly. She knew him the face was familiar to her it was the older, sterner, masculine reflection of that which had met her eyes every time she looked in the glass from childhood.

'Rachel' and he would have taken her to his heart; but she drew back afraid, with the courage she had brought into the room oozing rapidly away; with a great horror upon her that she might fail to do what she desired as she wanted, to carry it out; with a sudden knowledge appalling her of the length and depth and breadth of the wrong which lay as a gulf between this man she had never known and the other she had loved all her life.

With frank kindly eyes, that held the memory of a great trouble in their blue depths, he looked on her shrinking figure as he said,

'I am afraid this has come too suddenly upon you. It is not with my good-will the knowledge has been kept from you so long.' 'I wish it had not been,' she answered.

'So do I,' he agreed; but that cannot now be helped. Are you ready to come with me, or would you rather your aunt, Miss Aggles, fetched you?"

'I cannot go,' she said, with pleading pitiful entreaty; 'I cannot leave papa.'

[ocr errors]

'You mean Sir John Moffat,' suggested her father gently, though his brow contracted at the word she used. My child, you must not stay with him; you never ought to have been permitted to remain after I knew you were in existence.'

'He has been good to me always-how good you never can know,' she faltered.

'Yes, or I should have had an even heavier account to settle with him,' was the stern reply.

She felt powerless before him. He had the right on his side, and she could not gainsay it; but she had years of tenderness, of devotion, of such love as real parents rarely bestow upon their own children, to remember, and she

could not desert even the betrayer of her father in the hour of darkness and of need.

'Doctor Dilton,' she implored, 'speak for me! You know what he has been to me. No one ought to ask me to leave him.'

'I am afraid it is only right you should do so,' answered the doctor, twice essaying to pronounce his opinion before he made it audible.

She sat down in the nearest chair, and remained silent for a few moments; then having apparently made up her mind, she crossed to the mantelpiece and rang the bell.

'Ask Sir John-ask papa to come here at once, Simonds,' she said, when the butler answered her summons. 'I want him particularly.'

'You ought not to have done that, Rachel,' said her father, when the door closed behind Simonds. 'You will make this matter a very painful one to us all.'

'I think, Mr. Palthorpe, you had better leave it altogether in abeyance till to-morrow morning,' suggested Doctor Dilton.

It has been left too long already,' answered Mr. Palthorpe ; and drawing himself up to his full height, he waited gloomily for Sir John's appearance. Doctor Dilton also waited the events of the next ten minutes anxiously.

A longer pause ensued than any of the three had anticipated, but at length slow footsteps were heard crossing the marble pavement of the hall, and Sir John Moffat entered the library accompanied by Mr. Woodham.

At sight of that gentleman, a dark frown gathered on Mr. Palthorpe's brow.

'I should have preferred,' he said pointedly, 'settling so essentially private a matter without the presence of witnesses.'

'I am here as the friend of all

parties,' Mr. Woodham answered soothingly, the while his glance wandered to Doctor Dilton, who certainly could not be considered in the light of a principal.

'Do not break down,' he added, looking at Rachel's pale face and tortured expression. Say whatever you wish to say; your father will understand you.'

'I want to say,' she cried, in little gasping sobs, rising as she spoke, and going close beside Sir John, that nothing, and no one on earth, shall ever separate me from you; that I love you as I never could learn to love any other father; that, though I am brokenhearted to hear about the sin and trouble and suffering, it makes no difference to me. I love you all the same. I can never love you less.' There ensued a silence, dead, complete. Sir John broke it.

'Rachel,' he said, 'duty is duty, and right is right. By the affection I have borne you, I conjure you obey your father's wishes without murmur now.'

'I cannot,' she answered passionately. If you were happy, if you had ever been happy, I might be able to do what you ask; but remembering what I remember, understanding all I now comprehend, how can I leave you?' and she broke into agonised weeping, shedding tears drawn from the fountains of past misery, as well as of present despair.

Involuntarily he put out his hand to touch her, and then remembering, drew it quickly back. Gray and worn and rugged, but with an infinite pathos pervading his sad face and quiet figure, he spoke to her out of the depths of his very soul, telling her the time had come he always felt must come, when they would have to part.

'You never disobeyed me,' he finished-never once that I can recall. Obey me now. Go to the

father who has suffered so much, and if you only prove half as great a blessing to him as you have done to me, he will have no cause of complaint.'

'I cannot,' she murmured. 'I will not give you up.'

My child,' interposed Mr. Palthorpe, and his voice was full of the gentlest pity, if I could spare you this trial, I would; but it is not fitting you should remain here. Knowing what you have been told, you must not stop another night in this house.'

That is true, Rachel,' said Sir John; and there was the simplest dignity in the way he thus pronounced his own condemnation.

'How can you ask me to do such a thing? It was still to Sir John she appealed. How is it possible for me to look upon any one else as my father, to think of myself as daughter to another than yourself? O papa, papa, forgive me! Let me have a little time, and I will try to do all you wish ; but I cannot obey you now.'

'Is there no third course possible?' asked Mr. Woodham, turning to Mr. Palthorpe. Will you do what I asked you this morning, give your daughter to me? Rachel, will you trust me?' he added, suddenly addressing her. I have loved you ever since I knew you. If you can take my hand in trust and confidence, I think your father may not now, perhaps, refuse his consent.'

She looked at Sir John, whose eyes said 'Trust him,' though he remained persistently silent. Perhaps no part of his trial was harder than this-to see how, by no fault of her own, but only because of the sin of others, this tender loving creature was robbed of the most beautiful season the whole of a woman's life contains, the soft uncertain comings and goings of the sunshine in the love

lit time when dreamy shadows flit over existence, steeping every object and every incident in rapturous and mysterious beauty.

But it was best so. Never afterwards could she have felt so grateful for his utterance, so ready to fly from the storms and troubles that had come upon her, to the shelter offered, to the peace and security of an assured love.

She glanced at him shyly, and the tears brimming in her eyes forgot to fall; she saw his hand stretched out eagerly, yet, though longing to take it, hesitated.

'May I?' she asked her father. 'Say yes,' urged Doctor Dilton; 'it is the true solution of the whole difficulty.'

It is not what I could have wished for you, Rachel,' said her father; but yet—'

With a tender grace she put forth her trembling fingers, and found them taken captive in a firm strong clasp.

'O' she said, with a sobbing sigh; 'O' It was like a child who, having been lost, finds itself safe at home again.

'I insist on one condition being observed,' said Mr. Palthorpe, 'namely, that you do not accept a sixpence of fortune from Sir John Moffat.'

'I want no fortune from any one,' said Mr. Woodham. I have enough for both.'

'I may stay here now, may I not?' asked Rachel timidly.

'No,' interposed Sir John. 'I leave this house for ever to-morrow, perhaps to-night.'

'You must come to me till you are married,' said her father. 'I shall ask your aunt to fetch you in an hour. Let us go now, Dilton; and without further leavetaking he quitted the room.

Sir John would have followed their example, but Rachel stopped him with an eager impulse.

'Papa,' she began, dear, dear


'There are some matters I want to attend to at once,' he answered, with a meaning look towards Mr. Woodham. 'Let me go now; I will see you again;' and murmuring, 'God Almighty bless and make you happy! Sir John left the lovers alone.

When, after the arrival of her aunt, Rachel later on inquired for him, she heard he was gone out, and knew he had meant this for leave-taking.

'I wish I could have seen him,' she whispered softly.

'Better not, dearest,' was Mr. Woodham's answer, 'better not yet; and relying on his wisdom she crossed with him the threshold of Holyrood House, never to enter it again.



'Nor even the Seatons,' decided Kensington, speaking by the mouths of several Mesdames Grundy; not even the Seatons compassed so complete a fiasco as the Moffats. The Seatons, at least, had some enjoyment of their splendid mansion-the Moffats none. The Seatons spent their money; Sir John Moffat might as well have flung his into the sea. The daughters married abominably badly; there was only one ball given in the house. They managed to get themselves and their doings talked about shockingly in the Radical papers. Even poor dear Miss Banks, after all her devotion to them, was treated scandalously. It was quite a pity ever to have known them at all; but, most fortunately, we knew very little of them.'

So Kensington wrote the epitaph of Sir John Moffat's social

pretensions, and if Sir John had heard it he would have been more than content.

His own opinion coincided perfectly with that of the world into which he had been thrust. It was a pity to have had anything to do with it; a relief to have effected his escape.

Not merely from Kensington, but also from the City, he slipped quietly away. His sons succeeded him in his business, and were, as they grew older, to be met with on 'Change and before all the altars of Mammon and high places round and about Lombard-street; but Sir John's once familiar haunts knew him no more. Laying aside the ledger, he devoted himself to the ploughshare. He bought a property far away from London, near to a certain quiet vicarage, and there sought peace, and secured it.

There is nothing on earth so certain as that a wrong once committed can never be righted.

He knew that; knew if he gave his heart's blood he could never wash the stain of dishonour off his soul. Nevertheless, Time, the great soother, has worked, and is working, a marvellous transformation in him.

He is at times almost happy now. Released from the incubus of a great burden, he moves through existence with something of the freedom and elasticity of his earlier youth.

Edwina and her husband live with him. Mr. Lassils having, as he himself said, a marvellous genius for doing nothing, and perceiving this to be a talent which might almost as easily seek its development in the country as in town, felt no hesitation in taking up his residence in the wilds of pastoral England.

He and his wife are happy enough, happier than married

people often are; but if,' remarks Mr. Lassils, in confidence, to some old acquaintance, 'you would care to see Darby and Joan in the flesh, let me trot you down to the vicarage, and introduce you to my sister-in-law and the parish clergyman. I never saw such a pair. We laugh at them; but upon my word, you know, it is no laughing matter. People have no right to be so ridiculously fond of each other. A sweet woman! Ah, indeed you may well say that. The world does not contain a sweeter truer woman.'

So Sir John believes, at any rate. True to her word, she has never forsaken him; in all the wide world she is, perhaps, the only person who understands the penalty he paid for his misdoing, the harvest of trouble he insured for himself when, tempted by her mother's fair evil face-he fell.

Occasionally, but not often, she goes to Ravelsmede Hall, where her father, in his middle age, has found at last happiness and content. Where Mira Palthorpe stood in the morning sunlight sullen and envious, children play, and call a lady fit to be the mistress of the Palthorpes' old home


He is very happy; yet he has his dark hours too, when the memory of twenty years, taken by his own haste and folly out of the best part of his life, is almost more than he can bear; when Miss Aggles, who knows all his moods and tenses by heart, advises him to take a long rushing journey to Scotland or abroad, and exorcise the twin-demons of recollection and unrest.

And so you missed the heiress, after all, Mr. Lassils,' said Miss Banks to that gentleman, meeting him one day in the High-street of Kensington.

'E'en so, Miss Banks,' he answered.

'But no doubt you have done pretty nearly as well?'

It is truly kind of you to take such an interest in my affairs.'

You all live together, I hear. Sir John must be somewhat of a damper on your exuberant spirits, I should imagine.'

'Possibly we may in time mutually improve each other,' he answered.

'You, at all events, I suppose, understand all the ins and outs of "The Mystery in Palace Gardens," as people in Kensington like to style the late Lady Moffat.'

I am not aware she was one, Miss Banks.'

'How cautious you are !' 'Not at all. Reticence with you would be quite misplaced.'

'And, really and truly, you mean to stand there and tell me you do not know who she was or what her antecedents?'

'Really and truly, I am prepared to stand anywhere and say, "I know nothing in the world about her!"' 'Nor who Rachel was ?

Pray do not bring her name into our discussion.'

'I have nothing to say against her, you may be very sure of that -the only unselfish and generous and amiable member of the family.' 'On behalf of my wife, I thank you.'

'But then, to be sure, Rachel was not a Moffat at all.'

'Not a Moffat!' repeated Mr. Lassils, in genuine astonishment.

'No. When Mr. Woodham married her in that little out-of-theway church in Norfolk, he did not take Rachel Moffat for better, for worse, but Rachel Palthorpe, daughter of Thomas Palthorpe, gentleman.'

'How did you get to know that, Miss Banks?'

'Ah,' said Miss Banks, 'how

« ForrigeFortsæt »