- CHAPTER XXVIII. THE WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING.
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THE WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING.
THE Marine Parade, at Brighton, is not the most pleasant residence in England, for those who like retirement and shade, and few make up their minds to suffer it for a continuance For it is composed of one long unbroken row of slices, calling themselves houses; dreadful, uncomfortable-looking slices, which are all packed close together, and lean against each other, as if without that mutual support they must totter and fall. White and staring houses, moreover, whose windows blink and wink at the sun-lighted sea, as if they were weak eyes, and required a green shade put over them. Which some of their owners, in pity for themselves, most certainly contrive to do. But the glare, and the innumerable stairs, and the sensation when you reach the top of one of those houses, and view the breeze sporting with the flapping window-blinds, and feel the shaking of the floor beneath you, that you are on board ship, or in a bathing machine, or any other miserable predicament, is not the worst part of the Marine Parade at Brighton. For it is a thoroughfare abounding with unholy sights and sounds; with brass bands and Ethiopian serenaders; with virtuous ballad-singing one-legged, one-armed, or one-eyed men, and women, followed by the proofs of their virtue (or vice) in the shape of endless trains of cleansed children; with performing ponies, and Punch and Judies, mixed up with a continuous and never-failing panorama of knitted dolls, fresh fish, fluffy mats, fruit, organ-men and monkeys—until to attempt to meditate or read is to become, in thought, a suicide, and to approach one of the weak-eyed windows is to be seized with a violent and irresistible wish to do a damage to yourself or somebody else.| | 325
It is not much better when you stroll down to the shingly beach, for there you encounter bathing-women, shell-cats, and baskets of shrimps; nor, when the lamps are lighted, and you sit down to dinner, for then the music is mixed up with sounds of drunkenness and vice, and it becomes discordant. No! Brighton is not bearable, unless viewed from the luxurious seats of a well-hung carriage, with horses that carry you swiftly through everything that is unpleasant or inconvenient; but can never carry you away (run as they will) from the health-inspiring breeze, and the pure, fresh smell, which everywhere pervades that cleanest, most unpicturesque, and yet most fashionable of watering-places. And of all months in the year, October is the most pleasant month for Brighton. When other sea-side places are beginning to look dreary, and feel cold, the favourite resort of George of unhallowed memory, begins to bloom as it has never bloomed since the January before. Not with vegetable beauty, although even that acknowledges the power of its mild autumn breezes, and lingers long about it; but with human blossoms, who throng there to revive their drooping charms, and parade the town, esplanade, and pier, with their half-soiled dresses of the past London season, trailing behind them, as they go.
They look a little too self-conscious, those ruralizing London belles, to be always pleasing; a little too contemptuously upon the dresses of the residents (who have, for the most part, been living next door to them during that wondrous season, if they had but known it); a little too much, perhaps, as if they thought their ways, their fashion, and their beauty were articles too good for Brighton, and only exhibited there because "everybody" is out of town. But still it is good to see them, if only for the pleasure of watching their fantastic airs and graces, as they cluster along the cliffs, their cavaliers in close attendance, and make a goodly show of English beauty. And if the Marine Parade is ever bearable, it is in the month alluded to, the very season, although now verging on November, that Mrs. Craven had chosen to desert her home and take a lodging there. She had usually sought the place before that time; but her visitors this year, and other reasons, had deterred her, and when the strain, both mental and bodily, of entertaining them was lifted off, she had felt the immediate need of change. | | 326 Her son had not intended to join her at the sea-side. He disliked Brighton, in the first place, and none of his particular friends were there, in the second. But, when his mother wrote, urging him to visit her for a day, and to bring her some things that she needed from the Court, he did not like to refuse, particularly as the widow and her daughter were her guests. He was no less surprised than disgusted, when he heard that such was the fact, and that Mrs. Arundel had so little delicacy as to thrust herself in the way of meeting him again; but as it was the case, he did not care to put his mother, or himself, to inconvenience on her account. Besides, he was not averse to the idea of having an opportunity to treat her with the cool neglect that she deserved. And therefore he had presented himself at the Marine Parade, on the morning that the housekeeper had surmised he had gone there, and been persuaded by Mrs. Craven to pass the night in Brighton also.
But he had found the day drag wearily, and intended leaving for Aldershot on the following morning. But on that morning, when his mother, after waiting breakfast for him until nearly ten o'clock, and receiving the maid's assurance that she had "knocked repeated" at his door, went up herself to learn the cause of his extreme drowsiness, she found his room vacated, and no traces of him left; and all the light the servant had to throw upon the matter was, that there "came a note for the gentleman, a goodish bit past nine," and she took it up with his shaving-water, and put it inside the door; but she hadn't heard him go out since—nor even come downstairs, nor yet, nobody—and would Mrs. Craven please to have up the coffee and buttered toast, at once.
Mrs. Craven wondered where on earth he could have gone to, and the widow simpered "that it was exceedingly strange;" but they waited for ten minutes more, and then decided upon having their breakfast without him; and it was well they did so, for the coffee, and the toast, and the other et ceteras of the well-furnished table, would have been truly uneatable and undrinkable, had they waited until Major Craven's return. For he was sitting the while, in the room of a quiet hotel a little way out of the town, clasping the hand of Rachel Norreys, and listening to the long and passionate story which fell from her excited lips.| | 327
"How glad I am that I stayed the night here! How very fortunate it is. I should never have forgiven myself otherwise," were the self-congratulatory phrases which kept ringing the changes upon one another, as Cecil heard what she had to tell him. And Rachel herself shuddered to think what she would have had to go through without his presence and protection, had she arrived, only to find him gone.
She had asked some of the railway officials to direct her in the choice of some hotel, as soon as she had left the train; and thence she had written the brief note, which had brought Cecil, fresh from his bed, to her side. His astonishment at seeing her alone was only equalled by what he felt, when he heard the reason she had to give him for her presence there. Rachel did not spare herself or him, one iota of the whole narration. She repeated the words that had taken place between her husband and herself (all except that wild appeal of hers, which had been so roughly rejected by him), detailed the circumstances of her flight, and her subsequent discoveries at Laburnum Cottage.
"Look, here they are, Cecil," she said, producing the blotting-case and its contents for his inspection. "I have carried them in my hands the whole way. This is a copy of the letter that she sent to Raymond, these of those for Lady Riversdale and Mrs. Craven, I suppose. They are slightly different from his. I wonder your mother has not received hers, this morning."
"It has gone to the Court, no doubt," he replied; "the widow is too cunning to have had it addressed here."
"And I imagined it was Caroline Wilson all the time. I never could have suspected Elise of such a base and cowardly trick. Oh, Cecil! what motive can she have possibly had?"
"I will tell you her motive, my dear," he responded. "I will blazon it out to all the world, since she will have it so." And then he told Rachel the story of his quondam love-making to the widow, when he was but a boy, and her subsequent designs upon him.
"I was very young, Rachel, at the time," he concluded, "and all boys have their absurd fancies at that age; though Heaven knows, my youthful vision must have been unusually distorted. However, it was so, and it is the fact of my en- | | 328 gagement to Frances, that has put this Jezebel up to her revenge. But I will be revenged on her in return.
"Cecil! what are we to do?" asked Rachel, hurriedly.
"Do!" he rejoined, shortly. "Why, I'll take you on my arm, Rachel, and march you up to the Marine Parade; and if, with our united evidence, and this bundle of papers, we cannot utterly confound Mrs. Arundel, and give her her orders to march, it will be a pity; for I'll be hanged if ever she darkens my mother's doors again."
"But, Cecil, dear Cecil!" said Rachel, in reply, "that will not mend matters, so far as you and I are concerned."
He was not so quick as she was, and had not viewed the matter in all its various lights. He had thought that the treachery of the widow once fully exposed, and herself turned out of the house, the difficulty before them would be grappled with, and settled. But her imagination went beyond his.
"Why not?" he asked.
"It will prove Eliza to have been a false friend and as false a woman, Cecil; but though she has been both to us, the facts related in these letters remain facts, and cannot be disputed. You never made love to me, nor I to you, but how are we to satisfy my husband, or your fiancée, of the truth of our assertion, whilst we are unable to tell them why such familiarities passed between us, and yet we still were blameless. That oath, Cecil—that promise to my dying father—it will be the ruin of us both."
"Too true I" was all he answered, as the truth of her assertion dawned upon his mind.
"We little thought, so careful as we were, that there was a spy upon our actions, Cecil, and an enemy within the camp; did we? We were simple enough to forget, knowing our perfect innocence, that appearances were so much against us, and that many a conviction takes place upon circumstantial evidence alone. But we have been foolish and imprudent, and the time has come when we must pay for our folly. But oh, Cecil!" she exclaimed, bursting into tears, "I am so sorry to think that I (to whom you have been so generous and so kind) should be the one to bring this blight upon your prospects; for I suppose it will prove the rupture of your engagement also,"| | 329
"So be it," he replied. "If Frances cannot take me upon trust, she may go elsewhere for a husband. But it is I who should ask your pardon, dear, for soiling thus your pure, unblemished fame through my thoughtless imprudence and self-indulgence; and I so many years the oldest. Good heavens! I have much to answer for."
"You cannot be more to blame than I am," replied Rachel. "On knowing that our interests were mutual, we were both alike in the desire to show affection to each other; but, Cecil, there is one who could clear up all this cruel doubt by a single word, and make us happy again. Could we not ask it of her? Surely we have a claim, at least, to make such a request."
"Ask her, and what?" said Cecil, in a low voice; "to tell what? Rachel, you forget. I, for my part, would rather never own another friend—would rather die—than have it published to the world. And you?——"
"I would rather die also!" exclaimed Rachel, in a burst of grief. "Oh, how I wish that I had never been born!"
"We will be all the world to one another henceforth," said Cecil, raising her gently in his arms. "Rachel, I told you once that if ever you wanted a home, you would find it with me. Let me redeem my promise now. Come and live with me, and let us try to make up to one another for this rupture in our lives, by the exercise of the affection which occasioned it."
"But what would people say?" whispered Rachel.
"Hang people!" was the emphatic, if ill-judged response.
"Ah! no," she said, shuddering to imagine herself sunk still lower than she was, in the estimation of the man she loved—"Ah! no, dear Cecil, though thank you all the same for your generous offer; but it cannot, and it must not be. There is but one path open to you and myself—to live and pray that heaven may send the means by which so foul a stigma may be lifted off our heads; and, if it never comes, to die without having encountered further reproach, however unmerited. It will all be made right then. Cecil, when this life is over, Raymond will know my innocence, Lady Frances will acknowledge yours, and there will be no more disunion or misunderstanding between us, and until that happens, we can only pray and hope——"
"Against hope," he replied, fiercely, "for the remedy is | | 330 worse than the disease. No, Rachel; there is one thing more to be done besides praying and hoping, and that is, to kick the widow Arundel out of my mother's house—more practical and to the purpose certainly,'' he added, laughing, with a violent attempt to be merry, and disguise his feelings, "and very much to my taste. So, with your leave, I'll call a fly and take you to the Marine Parade. Whatever difficulties are in store for us in the future, this part of our duty has to do with the present, and is plain enough to my mind. Will you come at once, Rachel?"
Yes. She had dried her tears and was ready to follow him; and by the time the fly was at the door, her simple dress was re-arranged, and she stepped into it without hesitation, the blotting case still fast held in her hands.
"You are not nervous, are you?" inquired Cecil, as they stopped at the number of the Marine Parade at which Mrs. Craven lodged.
"Not in the least," she said. "I am too angry and too indignant to be nervous. When I think of Eliza Arundel, and of finding myself in her presence, I feel like a warhorse scenting the battle."
And as she stepped from the carriage and up the tedious flight of stairs, she carried herself with a proud bearing, conscious of right and impatient of wrong, that well suited the character of the comparison she had instituted for herself.
As the drawing-room door was flung open, discovering the two ladies still sitting over the uncleared breakfast-table, and Rachel entered, accompanied by Cecil Craven, his mother sprang to meet them with an exclamation of unbounded welcome and surprise; but Mrs. Arundel turned ashy white, although she attempted an echo of her hostess' sentiments.
"My dear Rachel," said Mrs. Craven, "what an unexpected pleasure to see you here! Are your mother and sister-in-law in Brighton, or have you only come down with your husband?"
"I am perfectly alone, Mrs. Craven," said Rachel, firmly, "and am come upon very unpleasant business, I regret to say."
And then, as Mrs. Arundel approached her with a Judas-like kiss, although the lips that she proffered for her acceptance were livid with a newly-awakened fear? she put her away with quiet decision.| | 331
"No, thank you, Eliza; not yet; not till you have heard the errand that brings me here this morning."
There was no appearance of a girl about her then. Her manners were so stately and lady-like—her words so cold and composed—that she might have been practising how to convict her friends of unexpected treachery, without compromising her own dignity, all the days of her life.
"Rachel!—Cecil!—what is all this about?" exclaimed Mrs. Craven. "My dear children, what is the matter?"
"Matter enough," said Cecil, "and disgrace enough, as you will acknowledge presently, mother; but Rachel has come all this distance for the pleasure of telling her own story, and so I will not disappoint her."
The pleasantry of Major Craven could not divert, for one moment, the look of intense surprise which had crept over the face of Mrs. Craven—any more than the horror and amazement which were gradually becoming depicted in that of Mrs. Arundel—or the cool pride with which Rachel conducted herself throughout the whole proceeding.
"If Cecil wishes me to speak, I will," she said, "although he knows quite as much about it as I do. I need not ask you if you know these papers, Eliza," she continued, turning to that lady (for she could not at once divest herself of the habit of calling her by that familiar name).
Mrs. Arundel knew them well enough, as her agitated face denoted, but she gave a kind of sickly smile as she answered—
"What papers, dear? This is my old blotting-book, I see, that I gave some time ago to Caroline Wilson; but I really don't know anything about what papers may happen to be in it."
"Perhaps you don't know this one," replied Rachel, selecting and holding forth the sheet on which the signature of Eliza Arundel had been so often scribbled.
The widow turned very white as she recognised it, but attempted no further to pander with excuses in her own defence; and indeed her lips were trembling too much to allow her to speak. She saw her fate was marching down upon her, though she had yet to learn by what unhappy chance it had so come.| | 332
"I will take a chair, if you will allow me, Mrs. Craven," said Rachel next, "for my story is a long one, and I am tired."
And then they all sat down. As Rachel proceeded with her recital, Mrs. Craven's eyes were fixed upon her face, whilst horror and shame, and a look very like despair, passed over her own features. Cecil, a little apart from the others, kept his eyes sternly fixed upon the changing countenance of Mrs. Arundel; whilst she, convicted more forcibly by every word that issued from the mouth of her injured friend, kept quickly varying her impatient action from her foot to her head, from her head to her foot, whilst she vainly attempted to sit still, and appear at her ease.
Rachel spared herself no trouble in the telling. In just as much detail as Caroline Wilson had related it to Martha the night before, did she now tell the story of her friendship at Gibraltar with Major Craven and Mrs. Arundel; and only when she mentioned the first did she venture to send an appealing glance to the eyes fixed upon her own, as though she would say, "For this, is it possible that you can blame me?" And before her glance, whatever its intimation, Mrs. Craven's own eyes drooped, and her face flushed with the pain of listening.
"I have told you everything, Mrs. Craven," said Rachel, in conclusion, "as I am bound to do, considering that a letter similar to this will be forwarded to you. to-morrow morning. I have no defence to make relative to my behaviour with Major Craven. In my own heart I know no defence is needed, for we were dear friends, and nothing more; but I came here to-day to convict that woman of her deceit and treachery towards myself and Cecil, and to ask you, after hearing this, if you will make more of a friend of her than I shall?"
"Mrs. Arundel, is what you have heard true?" demanded Mrs. Craven, rising from her chair, and slowly addressing the widow.
"I suppose it would be no earthly use my saying it is not true," nervously giggled that lady, "when two people whom you think so much of as Mrs. Norreys and Major Craven, are resolved to have it otherwise, else I might have asked them for their proofs that these papers were written by my hand?"| | 333
"The proof of your own signature," shouted Cecil. "What better one is needed?"
"May not some one have been sufficiently interested in this affair to forge my signature," she asked, "and practise forging it? What motive should I have in making so much mischief?"
But before the words were well out of her mouth, Mrs. Arundel was conscious that in them she had made a great mistake, and bit her lips to know it.
"What motive, Mrs. Arundel?" demanded Cecil, striding up to her, and looking her well in the face. "Do you wish me to tell my part of this story? It is not a pleasant episode in one's life to have to relate before one's mother; but, if necessary, I will not shrink even from that."
But she shrank from it visibly, and the first consciousness of shame which seemed to have assailed her, mounted to her forehead.
"I see it will not be necessary," he continued. "You will own these papers as your writing, without forcing us both to go through such an ordeal?"
But Mrs. Arundel had no time to answer this appeal before the door was again thrown open, and the maid announced "two ladies" for Mrs. Craven, and Martha and her mother stood before them.
Caroline Wilson looked almost as confounded as Mrs. Arundel, but Martha bore more the appearance of a young lion than anything else as she pushed her way into the centre of the group.
"Martha, you here!" exclaimed Rachel, in unfeigned surprise.
"Yes, please, ma'am," replied Martha, in a violent hurry, and without any stops. "I followed you to Weybridge last night, and I arrived at the Cottage just when you had left it, and heard all about the blotting-book, and the shameful tricks that have been played you from my mother here; and if you please, ma'am, I have brought her down to Brighton to-day as a witness against them as did it, and to humbly beg your pardon, ma'am, for her share in the business. And now, mother," she added, giving her maternal ancestor a good shove, "the sooner you get it over the easier you'll feel in your mind, and that I can tell you."| | 334
But Caroline Wilson was not nearly so energetic as her daughter would have had her be.
"I am very sorry, ma'am," she said, in a cringing, sneaking kind of tone, as she was forced to confront Rachel, "for the turn things have taken, and I beg your pardon, I'm sure. I wish I had never given Mrs. Arundel up the stud, nor the notes, nor anything, but she did so coax and persuade, and threaten and abuse me, that sometimes I didn't know if I was standing on my head or my heels, and put out, as I was, too, about my Martha here."
"What, woman!" exclaimed Mrs. Arundel, coming forward, "do you mean to lay all the blame of your own malicious revenge upon me, when you know you have had a spite against Mrs. Norreys for months past?"
Caroline Wilson did not mind being told she was malicious and revengeful half so much as being called a "woman," which is gall and wormwood to the lower classes, and especially to such as have least claim to the title.
"Woman, indeed!" she exclaimed, that famous "rough side" to her tongue turning uppermost. "Woman yourself, Mrs. Arundel, if you please. Do you mean to deny that you wrote all those three letters, and left them with me to post in London during your absence, and that you gave me a five-pound note before you could coax me to give up that stud of Major Craven's, and the bits of paper? Woman, indeed! You're a nice person to call me a woman, when the whole regiment knows as well as can be that you were sweet upon Major Craven long before your own husband died, more shame for you! and 'twas in revenge for him taking no notice of you lately, that you went and wrote these letters. Woman, indeed! I should like to know who's a woman if you're not a woman!"
"Go on, mother; give her more," whispered Martha, delighted at Mrs. Wilson's eloquence.
But here Cecil interposed. With all his utter contempt for the widow's conduct, he could not hear a lady insulted in his hearing, and remain silent.
"Mrs. Wilson, you will oblige me by holding your tongue," he said, authoritatively. "What we want is, not your abuse, but your evidence. You are ready to affirm that Mrs. Arundel wrote the letters that you posted?"| | 335
"Ready to swear it, sir, and the reason why she wrote them also."
"That is nothing to the purpose," he replied. "Mrs. Arundel, do you deny it any longer, in the face of this witness?"
"I shall leave the house," said Mrs. Arundel, with an air of off ended displeasure. "I thought I was amongst gentle people; but it seems I was mistaken. I shall not stay here to answer any more questions, put with the sole intent of directly insulting me." And she tried to gain the door as she spoke.
"Not so fast, Mrs. Arundel, if you please," now interposed Mrs. Craven. "I shall make no objection to your passing through that door, never to recross threshold of mine, when you have first satisfied me upon one or two points. Of the personal share you have taken in this matter, and your reasons for so acting, I disclaim to question you. I am already sufficiently convinced of the amount, and evidence of both, but I cannot let you go from here, free to circulate your own version of this unhappy matter amongst your friends and mine, or leaving behind you no proof that what I am convinced of is the truth. Others, besides Rachel Norreys and my son, will be sufferers through your malice. I must have a statement in your own handwriting to show to Lady Riversdale, and any others whom it may concern, that when we say you were the author of these cruel slanders, we speak no falsehood."
Mrs. Arundel now attempted to put on a show of great bravado.
"Oh! I can have no objection in the world," she said, "to confess that I wrote the letters. That is very easily done; and, after all, I only wrote what I know to have been the case. Your task will be a more difficult one, to prove them to be slanders."
But Mrs. Craven would parley no more than was necessary with her. With her usual quickness she wrote out a brief but complete confession of the authorship of the three anonymous letters, and handed it for signature to the widow; and Eliza Arundel wrote her name beneath it with as great an affectation of not caring about the matter, as if she had been affixing it to a marriage settlement or a deed of gift. And then she raised her eyes, and said, addressing Caroline Wilson—| | 336
"Do yon return to my service?"
"No, ma'am, never," was the answer, firmly given.
"Well, you wont get any wages, then," the widow briefly and almost lightly answered, and making a sweeping curtsy, which included the whole room, she added—
"A very good-morning to every one present, and you have my sincere wishes, Mrs. Craven, that this very unpleasant business may be as speedily cleared up as is consistent with possibility."
And then she sailed up the stairs, still trembling, still livid, but resolved to maintain an air of defiance to the last, and they saw no more of her until her box was heard being carried down to the hall-door, and Cecil, looking from the window, announced that the widow and her belongings were actually in a fly, and about to take their departure.
"And now we are rid of her altogether, thank heaven!" he exclaimed. "Rachel, we should bless the anonymous letters for that, if nothing else."
But the mournful look in Rachel's eyes recalled him to himself, and stayed his jocularity. The Wilsons had been dismissed before this to make their own arrangements, Martha having expressed her determination to stay with her mistress, and Caroline to return to her husband at Aldershot Barracks, and the three friends were alone.
"I can never bless them," Rachel said, sadly.
"My dearest child, you will surely return to your husband?" said Mrs. Craven, anxiously.
"To Raymond? How can I?" replied Rachel. "He believes me guilty; and how can I clear myself?"
Mrs. Craven looked nervously from Cecil to Rachel, and from Rachel to Cecil, and then she ejaculated faintly—
"Children, what bred this fatal intimacy between you?"
They glanced at one another, and were silent, she still gazing at them as if she would wrest the truth from their Very eyes.
"Mother," said Cecil, suddenly, and turning towards her, "it is impossible for us to tell you why; but perhaps you may guess we had a good reason for being thus familiar with each other. Would to heaven that we never had been, that we had remained as strangers to this moment! But, mother," | | 337 he continued, kneeling beside her chair, "if there is any knowledge in your heart this day why it was and why it should be so, and if you value my happiness and the happiness of the daughter of your old friend more than that knowledge, for God's sake speak, and clear our names—your name, mother, and mine—if not before the world, at least to those whom it immediately concerns, to know us innocent. If there are motherly feelings springing in your bosom at this moment as you see our distress, and something whispers in your soul that you could heal our trouble if you chose, listen to that prompting, even though it lead to the humbling of a pride more powerful than itself. We are all weak at times, all foolish, and all faulty, but never so weak, so foolish, or so wrong, as when we suffer others to take the consequence of our evil-doing on their guiltless heads, and bear the blow, if not the blame. Mother, I could not bear to know you thus. I would rather see you dead. I would rather die myself, than not believe you to be all that is most generous, and motherly, and noble. Surely a public acknowledgment——"
"Hush! hush, Cecil! you mistake; you quite mistake," interrupted his mother, nervously. "Give me a little time first. At present let us speak of other things. Rachel, your husband must be written to."
"To what purpose?" she asked, wearily.
"To let him know where you are, and how far for truth these letters are to be depended on. Stay; it will be a painful task for you, my dear. I will write to him myself, and tell him that for the present, knowing you to be as innocent in the matter as himself, I shall retain you as my guest. And now, dear child, let me show you to a room, and call your faithful Martha to help you to undress, for you must be in sore need of rest and sleep." And then when she had done as she had proposed, and was about to leave Rachel to herself, she bent and kissed her, saying, "Don't think more hardly, dear child, of—of any one than you can help. In God's good time all this misery may come right again." And Rachel had drawn her face down to her own, and whispered to her that whatever happened, she would have her blessing, if no other's, till she died.
"Cecil," said Mrs. Craven, re-entering the drawing-room, | | 338 the tears still lingering in her eyes which Rachel's words had called there—"Cecil, I have suspected it before, and now I feel convinced, that you and Rachel know what I thought was a secret locked up in my own breast. Don't speak, my dear, to-day, or acknowledge it, because I feel I cannot enter into details; only tell me, why have neither of you ever mentioned what you knew?"
"Because we were bound by an oath never to moot the subject to a living creature."
"Dr. Browne; he babbled it in his delirium."
"Oh, my God!" exclaimed his mother, sitting down and burying her face in her hands, "how Thy judgments pursue Thy guilty creatures!"
"Dearest mother," said Cecil, softly drawing near to her, "you will not let her suffer for it, will you? You will not make us all miserable? You can see now what a fearful predicament we are placed in. Without you we can have no means of escape. I loved her; I tried to be kind to her, and this is the end of it—the destruction of all our happiness."
"No, no, Cecil! that shall never be!" replied his mother; "but give me time; only give me time; I cannot act alone in such a dilemma. I must have advice. Cousin Gus will be here in a few days, and then I will tell you further; but not now—not now."
"Cousin Gus!" ejaculated Cecil; "what on earth has he to do with it?"
But all her cry was—
"Only wait a little while, until I have again seen Cousin Gus; only wait, Cecil, until Cousin Gus arrives."
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