ON the next morning but one, news was received from Mr. Pendril. The place of Michael Vanstone's residence on the Continent had been discovered. He was living at Zurich; and a letter had been dispatched to him, at that place, on the day when the information was obtained. In the course of the coming week an answer might be expected, and the purport of it should be communicated forthwith to the ladies at Combe-Raven.
Short as it was, the interval of delay passed wearily. Ten days elapsed before the expected answer was received; and when it came at last, it proved to be, strictly speaking, no answer at all. Mr. Pendril had been merely referred to an agent in London who was in possession of Michael Vanstone's instructions. Certain difficulties had been discovered in connection with those instructions, which had produced the necessity of once more writing to Zurich. And there "the negotiations" rested again for the present.
A second paragraph in Mr. Pendril's letter contained another piece of intelligence entirely new. Mr. Michael Vanstone's son
(and only child), Mr. Noel Vanstone, had recently arrived in London, and was then staying in lodgings occupied by his cousin, Mr. George Bartram. Professional considerations had induced Mr. Pendril to pay a visit to the lodgings. He had been very kindly received by Mr. Bartram; but had been informed by that gentleman that his cousin was not then in a condition to receive visitors. Mr. Noel Vanstone had been suffering, for some years past, from a wearing and obstinate malady; he had come to England expressly to obtain the best medical advice, and he still felt the fatigue of the journey so severely as to be confined to his bed. Under these circumstances, Mr. Pendril had no alternative but to take his leave. An interview with Mr. Noel Vanstone might have cleared up some of the difficulties in connection with his father's instructions. As events had turned out, there was no help for it but to wait for a few days more.
The days passed, the empty days of solitude and suspense. At last, a third letter from the lawyer announced the long delayed conclusion of the correspondence. The final answer had been received from Zurich, and Mr. Pendril would personally communicate it at Combe-Raven on the afternoon of the next day.
That next day was Wednesday, the twelfth of August. The weather had changed in the night; and the sun rose watery through mist and cloud. By noon the sky was overcast at all points; the temperature was sensibly colder; and the rain poured down, straight and soft and steady, on the thirsty earth. Toward three o'clock, Miss Garth and Norah entered the morning-room, to await Mr. Pendril's arrival. They were joined shortly afterward by Magdalen. In half an hour more the familiar fall of the iron latch in the socket reached their ears from the fence beyond the shrubbery. Mr. Pendril and Mr. Clare advanced into view along the garden-path, walking arm-in-arm through the rain, sheltered by the same umbrella. The lawyer bowed as they passed the windows; Mr. Clare walked straight on, deep in his own thoughts -- noticing nothing.
After a delay which seemed interminable; after a weary scraping of wet feet on the hall mat; after a mysterious, muttered interchange of question and answer outside the door, the two came in -- Mr. Clare leading the way. The old man walked straight up to the table, without any preliminary greeting, and looked across it at the three women, with a stern pity for them in his ragged, wrinkled face.
"Bad news," he said. "I am an enemy to all unnecessary suspense. Plainness is kindness in such a case as this. I mean to be kind -- and I tell you plainly -bad news."
Mr. Pendril followed him. He shook hands, in silence, with Miss Garth and the two sisters, and took a seat near them. Mr. Clare placed himself apart on a chair by the window. The gray rainy light fell soft and sad on the faces of Norah and Magdalen, who sat together opposite to him. Miss Garth had placed herself a little behind them, in partial shadow; and the lawyer's quiet face was seen in profile, close beside her. So the four occupants of the room appeared to Mr. Clare, as he sat apart in his corner; his long claw-like fingers interlaced on his knee; his dark vigilant eyes fixed searchingly now on one face, now on another. The dripping rustle of the rain among the leaves, and the clear, ceaseless tick of the clock on the mantel-piece, made the minute of silence which followed the settling of the persons present in their places indescribably oppressive. It was a relief to every one when Mr. Pendril spoke.
"Mr. Clare has told you already," he began, "that I am the bearer of bad news. I am grieved to say, Miss Garth, that your doubts, when I last saw you, were better founded than my hopes. What that heartless elder brother was in his youth, he is still in his old age. In all my unhappy experience of the worst side of human nature, I have never met with a man so utterly dead to every consideration of mercy as Michael Vanstone."
"Do you mean that he takes the whole of his brother's fortune, and makes no provision whatever for his brother's children?" asked Miss Garth.
"He offers a sum of money for present emergencies," replied Mr. Pendril, "so meanly and disgracefully insufficient that I am ashamed to mention it."
"And nothing for the future?"
As that answer was given, the same thought passed, at the same moment, through Miss Garth's mind and through Norah's. The decision, which deprived both the sisters alike of the resources of fortune, did not end there for the younger of the two. Michael Vanstone's merciless resolution had virtually pronounced the sentence which dismissed Frank to China, and which destroyed all present hope of Magdalen's marriage. As the words passed the lawyer's lips, Miss Garth and Norah looked at Magdalen anxiously. Her face turned a shade paler -- but not a feature of it moved; not a word escaped her. Norah, who held her sister's hand in her own, felt it tremble for a moment, and then turn cold -- and that was all.
"Let me mention plainly what I have done," resumed Mr. Pendril; "I am very desirous you should not think that I have left any effort untried. When I wrote to Michael Vanstone, in the first instance, I did not confine myself to the usual formal statement. I put before him, plainly and earnestly, every one of the circumstances under which he has become possessed of his brother's fortune. When I received the answer, referring me to his written instructions to his lawyer in London -- and when a copy of those instructions was placed in my hands -- I positively declined, on becoming acquainted with them, to receive the writer's decision as final. I induce d the solicitor, on the other side, to accord us a further term of delay; I attempted to see Mr. Noel Vanstone in London for the purpose of obtaining his intercession; and, failing in that, I myself wrote to his father for the second time. The answer referred me, in insolently curt terms, to the instructions already communicated; declared those instructions to be final; and declined any further correspondence with me. There is the beginning and the end of the negotiation. If I have overlooked any means of touching this heartless man -- tell me, and those means shall be tried."
He looked at Norah. She pressed her sister's hand encouragingly, and answered for both of them.
"I speak for my sister, as well as for myself," she said, with her color a little heightened, with her natural gentleness of manner just touched by a quiet, uncomplaining sadness. "You have done all that could be done, Mr. Pendril. We have tried to restrain ourselves from hoping too confidently; and we are deeply grateful for your kindness, at a time when kindness is sorely needed by both of us."
Magdalen's hand returned the pressure of her sister's -- withdrew itself -trifled for a moment impatiently with the arrangement of her dress -- then suddenly moved the chair closer to the table. Leaning one arm on it (with the hand fast clinched), she looked across at Mr. Pendril. Her face, always remarkable for its want of color, was now startling to contemplate, in its blank, bloodless pallor. But the light in her large gray eyes was bright and steady as ever; and her voice, though low in tone, was clear and resolute in accent as she addressed the lawyer in these terms:
"I understood you to say, Mr. Pendril, that my father's brother had sent his written orders to London, and that you had a copy. Have you preserved it?"
"Have you got it about you?"
"May I see it?"
Mr. Pendril hesitated, and looked uneasily from Magdalen to Miss Garth, and from Miss Garth back again to Magdalen.
"Pray oblige me by not pressing your request," he said. "It is surely enough that you know the result of the instructions. Why should you agitate yourself to no purpose by reading them? They are expressed so cruelly; they show such abominable want of feeling, that I really cannot prevail upon myself to let you see them."
"I am sensible of your kindness, Mr. Pendril, in wishing to spare me pain. But I can bear pain; I promise to distress nobody. Will you excuse me if I repeat my request?"
She held out her hand -- the soft, white, virgin hand that had touched nothing to soil it or harden it yet.
"Oh, Magdalen, think again!" said Norah.
"You distress Mr. Pendril," added Miss Garth; "you distress us all."
"There can be no end gained," pleaded the lawyer -- "forgive me for saying so -there can really be no useful end gained by my showing you the instructions."
("Fools!" said Mr. Clare to himself . "Have they no eyes to see that she means to have her own way?")
"Something tells me there is an end to be gained," persisted Magdalen. "This decision is a very serious one. It is more serious to me -- " She looked round at Mr. Clare, who sat closely watching her, and instantly looked back again, with the first outward betrayal of emotion which had escaped her yet. "It is even more serious to me," she resumed, "for private reasons -- than it is to my sister. I know nothing yet but that our father's brother has taken our fortunes from us. He must have some motives of his own for such conduct as that. It is not fair to him, or fair to us, to keep those motives concealed. He has deliberately robbed Norah, and robbed me; and I think we have a right, if we wish it, to know why?"
"I don't wish it," said Norah.
"I do," said Magdalen; and once more she held out her hand.
At this point Mr. Clare roused himself and interfered for the first time.
"You have relieved your conscience," he said, addressing the lawyer. "Give her the right she claims. It is her right -- if she will have it."
Mr. Pendril quietly took the written instructions from his pocket. "I have warned you," he said -- and handed the papers across the table without another word. One of the pages of writing -- was folded down at the corner; and at that folded page the manuscript opened, when Magdalen first turned the leaves. "Is this the place which refers to my sister and myself?" she inquired. Mr. Pendril bowed; and Magdalen smoothed out the manuscript before her on the table.
"Will you decide, Norah?" she asked, turning to her sister. "Shall I read this aloud, or shall I read it to myself?"
"To yourself," said Miss Garth; answering for Norah, who looked at her in mute perplexity and distress.
"It shall be as you wish," said Magdalen. With that reply, she turned again to the manuscript and read these lines:
". . . . You are now in possession of my wishes in relation to the property in money, and to the sale of the furniture, carriages, horses, and so forth. The last point left on which it is necessary for me to instruct you refers to the persons inhabiting the house, and to certain preposterous claims on their behalf set up by a solicitor named Pendril; who has, no doubt, interested reasons of his own for making application to me.
"I understand that my late brother has left two illegitimate children; both of them young women, who are of an age to earn their own livelihood. Various considerations, all equally irregular, have been urged in respect to these persons by the solicitor representing them. Be so good as to tell him that neither you nor I have anything to do with questions of mere sentiment; and then state plainly, for his better information, what the motives are which regulate my conduct, and what the provision is which I feel myself justified in making for the two young women. Your instructions on both these points you will find detailed in the next paragraph.
"I wish the persons concerned to know, once for all, how I regard the circumstances which have placed my late brother's property at my disposal. Let them understand that I consider those circumstances to be a Providential interposition which has restored to me the inheritance that ought always to have been mine. I receive the money, not only as my right, but also as a proper compensation for the injustice which I suffered from my father, and a proper penalty paid by my younger brother for the vile intrigue by which he succeeded in disinheriting me. His conduct, when a young man, was uniformly discreditable in all the relations of life; and what it then was it continued to be (on the showing of his own legal representative) after the time when I ceased to hold any communication with him. He appears to have systematically imposed a woman on Society as his wife who was not his wife, and to have completed the outrage on morality by afterward marrying her. Such conduct as this has called down a Judgment on himself and his children. I will not invite retribution on my own head by assisting those children to continue the imposition which their parents practiced, and by helping them to take a place in the world to which they are not entitled. Let them, as becomes their birth, gain their bread in situations. If they show themselves disposed to accept their proper position I will assist them to start virtuously in life by a present of one hundred pounds each. This sum I authorize you to pay them, on their personal application, with the necessary acknowledgment of receipt; and on the express understanding that the transaction, so completed, is to be the beginning and the end of my connection with them. The arrangements under which they quit the house I leave to your discretion; and I have only to add that my decision on this matter, as on all other matters, is positive and final."
Line by line -- without once looking up from the pages before her -- Magdalen read those atrocious sentences through, from beginning to end. The other persons assembled in the room, all eagerly looking at her together, saw the dress rising and falling faster and faster over her bosom -- saw the hand in which she lightly held the manuscri pt at the outset close unconsciously o n the paper and crush it, as she advanced nearer and nearer to the end -- but detected no other outward signs of what was passing within her. As soon as she had done, she silently pushed the manuscript away, and put her hands on a sudden over her face. When she withdrew them, all the four persons in the room noticed a change in her. Something in her expression had altered, subtly and silently; something which made the familiar features suddenly look strange, even to her sister and Miss Garth; something, through all after years, never to be forgotten in connection with that day -- and never to be described.
The first words she spoke were addressed to Mr. Pendril.
"May I ask one more favor," she said, "before you enter on your business arrangements?"
Mr. Pendril replied ceremoniously by a gesture of assent. Magdalen's resolution to possess herself of the Instructions did not appear to have produced a favorable impression on the lawyer's mind.
"You mentioned what you were so kind as to do, in our interests, when you first wrote to Mr. Michael Vanstone," she continued. "You said you had told him all the circumstances. I want -- if you will allow me -- to be made quite sure of what he really knew about us -- when he sent these orders to his lawyer. Did he know that my father had made a will, and that he had left our fortunes to my sister and myself?"
"He did know it," said Mr. Pendril.
"Did you tell him how it happened that we are left in this helpless position?"
"I told him that your father was entirely unaware, when he married, of the necessity for making another will."
"And that another will would have been made, after he saw Mr. Clare, but for the dreadful misfortune of his death?"
"He knew that also."
"Did he know that my father's untiring goodness and kindness to both of us -- "
Her voice faltered for the first time: she sighed, and put her hand to her head wearily. Norah spoke entreatingly to her; Miss Garth spoke entreatingly to her; Mr. Clare sat silent, watching her more and more earnestly. She answered her sister's remonstrance with a faint smile. "I will keep my promise," she said; "I will distress nobody." With that reply, she turned again to Mr. Pendril; and steadily reiterated the question -- but in another form of words.
"Did Mr. Michael Vanstone know that my father's great anxiety was to make sure of providing for my sister and myself?"
"He knew it in your father's own words. I sent him an extract from your father's last letter to me."
"The letter which asked you to come for God's sake, and relieve him from the dreadful thought that his daughters were unprovided for? The letter which said he should not rest in his grave if he left us disinherited?"
"That letter and those words."
She paused, still keeping her eyes steadily fixed on the lawyer's face.
"I want to fasten it all in my mind," she said "before I go on. Mr. Michael Vanstone knew of the first will; he knew what prevented the making of the second will; he knew of the letter and he read the words. What did he know of besides? Did you tell him of my mother's last illness? Did you say that her share in the money would have been left to us, if she could have lifted her dying hand in your presence? Did you try to make him ashamed of the cruel law which calls girls in our situation Nobody's Children, and which allows him to use us as he is using us now?"
"I put all those considerations to him. I left none of them doubtful; I left none of them out."
She slowly reached her hand to the copy of the Instructions, and slowly folded it up again, in the shape in which it had been presented to her. "I am much obliged to you, Mr. Pendril." With those words, she bowed, and gently pushed the manuscript back across the table; then turned to her sister.
"Norah," she said, "if we both of us live to grow old, and if you ever forget all that we owe to Michael Vanstone -- come to me, and I will remind you."
She rose and walked across the room by herself to the window. As she passed Mr. Clare, the old man stretched out his claw-like fingers and caught her fast by the arm before she was aware of him.
"What is this mask of yours hiding?" he asked, forcing her to bend to him, and looking close into her face. "Which of the extremes of human temperature does your courage start from -- the dead cold or the white hot?"
She shrank back from him and turned away her head in silence. She would have resented that unscrupulous intrusion on her own thoughts from any man alive but Frank's father. He dropped her arm as suddenly as he had taken it, and let her go on to the window. "No," he said to himself, "not the cold extreme, whatever else it may be. So much the worse for her, and for all belonging to her."
There was a momentary pause. Once more the dripping rustle of the rain and the steady ticking of the clock filled up the gap of silence. Mr. Pendril put the Instructions back in his pocket, considered a little, and, turning toward Norah and Miss Garth, recalled their attention to the present and pressing necessities of the time.
"Our consultation has been needlessly prolonged," he sail, "by painful references to the past. We shall be better employed in settling our arrangements for the future. I am obliged to return to town this evening. Pray let me hear how I can best assist you; pray tell me what trouble and what responsibility I can take off your hands."
For the moment, neither Norah nor Miss Garth seemed to be capable of answering him. Magdalen's reception of the news which annihilated the marriage prospect that her father's own lips had placed before her not a month since, had bewildered and dismayed them alike. They had summoned their courage to meet the shock of her passionate grief, or to face the harder trial of witnessing her speechless despair. But they were not prepared for her invincible resolution to read the Instructions; for the terrible questions which she had put to the lawyer; for her immovable determination to fix all the circumstances in her mind, under which Michael Vanstone's decision had been pronounced. There she stood at the window, an unfathomable mystery to the sister who had never been parted from her, to the governess who had trained her from a child. Miss Garth remembered the dark doubts which had crossed her mind on the day when she and Magdalen had met in the garden. Norah looked forward to the coming time, with the first serious dread of it on her sister's account which she had felt yet. Both had hitherto remained passive, in despair of knowing what to do. Both were now silent, in despair of knowing what to say.
Mr. Pendril patiently and kindly helped them, by returning to the subject of their future plans for the second time.
"I am sorry to press any business matters on your attention," he said, "when you are necessarily unfitted to deal with them. But I must take my instructions back to London with me to night. With reference, in the first place, to the disgraceful pecuniary offer, to which I have already alluded. The younger Miss Vanstone having read the Instructions, needs no further information from my lips. The elder will, I hope, excuse me if I tell her (what I should be ashamed to tell her, but that it is a matter of necessity), that Mr. Michael Vanstone's provision for his brother's children begins and ends with an offer to each of them of one hundred pounds."
Norah's face crimsoned with indignation. She started to her feet, as if Michael Vanstone had been present in the room, and had personally insulted her.
"I see," said the lawyer, wishing to spare her; "I may tell Mr. Michael Vanstone you refuse the money."
"Tell him," she broke out passionately, "if I was starving by the roadside, I wouldn't touch a farthing of it!"
"Shall I notify your refusal also?" asked Mr. Pendril, speaking to Magdalen next.
She turned round from the window -- but kept her face in shadow, by standing close against it with her back to the light.
"Tell him, on my part," she said, "to think again before he starts me in life with a hundred pounds. I will give him time to think." She spoke those strange words with a ma rked emphasis; and turning back quick ly to the window, hid her face from the observation of every one in the room.
"You both refuse the offer," said Mr. Pendril, taking out his pencil, and making his professional note of the decision. As he shut up his pocketbook, he glanced toward Magdalen doubtfully. She had roused in him the latent distrust which is a lawyer's second nature: he had his suspicions of her looks; he had his suspicions of her language. Her sister seemed to have mere influence over her than Miss Garth. He resolved to speak privately to her sister before he went away.
While the idea was passing through his mind, his attention was claimed by another question from Magdalen.
"Is he an old man?" she asked, suddenly, without turning round from the window.
"If you mean Mr. Michael Vanstone, he is seventy-five or seventy-six years of age."
"You spoke of his son a little while since. Has he any other sons -- or daughters?"
"Do you know anything of his wife?"
"She has been dead for many years."
There was a pause. "Why do you ask these questions?" said Norah.
"I beg your pardon," replied Magdalen, quietly; "I won't ask any more."
For the third time, Mr. Pendril returned to the business of the interview.
"The servants must not he forgotten," he said. "They must be settled with and discharged: I will give them the necessary explanation before I leave. As for the house, no questions connected with it need trouble you. The carriages and horses, the furniture and plate, and so on, must simply be left on the premises to await Mr. Michael Vanstone's further orders. But any possessions, Miss Vanstone, personally belonging to you or to your sister -- jewelry and dresses, and any little presents which may have been made to you -- are entirely at your disposal. With regard to the time of your departure, I understand that a month or more will elapse before Mr. Michael Vanstone can leave Zurich; and I am sure I only do his solicitor justice in saying -- "
"Excuse me, Mr. Pendril," interposed Norah; "I think I understand, from what you have just said, that our house and everything in it belongs to -- ?" She stopped, as if the mere utterance of the man's name was abhorrent to her.
"To Michael Vanstone," said Mr. Pendril. "The house goes to him with the rest of the property."
"Then I, for one, am ready to leave it tomorrow!"
Magdalen started at the window, as her sister spoke, and looked at Mr. Clare, with the first open signs of anxiety and alarm which she had shown yet.
"Don't be angry with me," she whispered, stooping over the old man with a sudden humility of look, and a sudden nervousness of manner. "I can't go without seeing Frank first!"
"You shall see him," replied Mr. Clare. "I am here to speak to you about it, when the business is done."
"It is quite unnecessary to hurry your departure, as you propose," continued Mr. Pendril, addressing Norah. "I can safely assure you that a week hence will be time enough."
"If this is Mr. Michael Vanstone's house," repeated Norah; "I am ready to leave it tomorrow."
She impatiently quitted her chair and seated herself further away on the sofa. As she laid her hand on the back of it, her face changed. There, at the head of the sofa, were the cushions which had supported her mother when she lay down for the last time to repose. There, at the foot of the sofa, was the clumsy, old-fashioned arm-chair, which had been her father's favorite seat on rainy days, when she and her sister used to amuse him at the piano opposite, by playing his favorite tunes. A heavy sigh, which she tried vainly to repress, burst from her lips. "Oh," she thought, "I had forgotten these old friends! How shall we part from them when the time comes!"
"May I inquire, Miss Vanstone, whether you and your sister have formed any definite plans for the future?" asked Mr. Pendril. "Have you thought of any place of residence?"
"I may take it on myself, sir," said Miss Garth, "to answer your question for them. When they leave this house, they leave it with me. My home is their home, and my bread is their bread. Their parents honored me, trusted me, and loved me. For twelve happy years they never let me remember that I was their governess; they only let me know myself as their companion and their friend. My memory of them is the memory of unvarying gentleness and generosity; and my life shall pay the debt of my gratitude to their orphan children."
Norah rose hastily from the sofa; Magdalen impetuously left the window. For once, there was no contrast in the conduct of the sisters. For once, the same impulse moved their hearts, the same earnest feeling inspired their words. Miss Garth waited until the first outburst of emotion had passed away; then rose, and, taking Norah and Magdalen each by the hand, addressed herself to Mr. Pendril and Mr. Clare. She spoke with perfect self-possession; strong in her artless unconsciousness of her own good action.
"Even such a trifle as my own story," she said, "is of some importance at such a moment as this. I wish you both, gentlemen, to understand that I am not promising more to the daughters of your old friend than I can perform. When I first came to this house, I entered it under such independent circumstances as are not common in the lives of governesses. In my younger days, I was associated in teaching with my elder sister: we established a school in London, which grew to be a large and prosperous one. I only left it, and became a private governess, because the heavy responsibility of the school was more than my strength could bear. I left my share in the profits untouched, and I possess a pecuniary interest in our establishment to this day. That is my story, in few words. When we leave this house, I propose that we shall go back to the school in London, which is still prosperously directed by my elder sister. We can live there as quietly as we please, until time has helped us to bear our affliction better than we can bear it now. If Norah's and Magdalen's altered prospects oblige them to earn their own independence, I can help them to earn it, as a gentleman's daughters should. The best families in this land are glad to ask my sister's advice where the interests of their children's home-training are concerned; and I answer, beforehand, for her hearty desire to serve Mr. Vanstone's daughters, as I answer for my own. That is the future which my gratitude to their father and mother, and my love for themselves, now offers to them. If you think my proposal, gentlemen, a fit and fair proposal -- and I see in your faces that you do -- let us not make the hard necessities of our position harder still, by any useless delay in meeting them at once. Let us do what we must do; let us act on Norah's decision, and leave this house to-morrow. You mentioned the servants just now, Mr. Pendril: I am ready to call them together in the next room, and to assist you in the settlement of their claims, whenever you please."
Without waiting for the lawyer's answer, without leaving the sisters time to realize their own terrible situation, she moved at once toward the door. It was her wise resolution to meet the coming trial by doing much and saying little. Before she could leave the room, Mr. Clare followed, and stopped her on the threshold.
"I never envied a woman's feelings before," said the old man. "It may surprise you to hear it; but I envy yours. Wait! I have something more to say. There is an obstacle still left -- the everlasting obstacle of Frank. Help me to sweep him off. Take the elder sister along with you and the lawyer, and leave me here to have it out with the younger. I want to see what metal she's really made of."
While Mr. Clare was addressing these words to Miss Garth, Mr. Pendril had taken the opportunity of speaking to Norah. "Before I go back to town," he said, "I should like to have a word with you in private. From what has passed today, Miss Vanstone, I have formed a very high opinion of your discretion; and, as an old friend of your father's, I want to take the freedom of speaking to you about your sister."
Before Norah could answer, she was summoned, in compliance with Mr. Clare's request, to the confere nce with the servants. Mr. Pendril followed Miss Garth, as a matter of course. When the three were out in the hall, Mr. Clare re-entered the room, closed the door, and signed peremptorily to Magdalen to take a chair.
She obeyed him in silence. He took a turn up and down the room, with his hands in the side-pockets of the long, loose, shapeless coat which he habitually wore.
"How old are you?" he said, stopping suddenly, and speaking to her with the whole breadth of the room between them.
"I was eighteen last birthday," she answered, humbly, without looking up at him.
"You have shown extraordinary courage for a girl of eighteen. Have you got any of that courage left?"
She clasped her hands together, and wrung them hard. A few tears gathered in her eyes, and rolled slowly over her cheeks.
"I can't give Frank up," she said, faintly. "You don't care for me, I know; but you used to care for my father. Will you try to be kind to me for my father's sake?"
The last words died away in a whisper; she could say no more. Never had she felt the illimitable power which a woman's love possesses of absorbing into itself every other event, every other joy or sorrow of her life, as she felt it then. Never had she so tenderly associated Frank with the memory of her lost parents, as at that moment. Never had the impenetrable atmosphere of illusion through which women behold the man of their choice -- the atmosphere which had blinded her to all that was weak, selfish, and mean in Frank's nature -- surrounded him with a brighter halo than now, when she was pleading with the father for the possession of the son. "Oh, don't ask me to give him up!" she said, trying to take courage, and shuddering from head to foot. In the next instant, she flew to the opposite extreme, with the suddenness of a flash of lightning. "I won't give him up!" she burst out violently. "No! not if a thousand fathers ask me!"
"I am one father," said Mr. Clare. "And I don't ask you."
In the first astonishment and delight of hearing those unexpected words, she started to her feet, crossed the room, and tried to throw her arms round his neck. She might as well have attempted to move the house from its foundations. He took her by the shoulders and put her back in her chair. His inexorable eyes looked her into submission; and his lean forefinger shook at her warningly, as if he was quieting a fractious child.
"Hug Frank," he said; "don't hug me. I haven't done with you yet; when I have, you may shake hands with me, if you like. Wait, and compose yourself."
He left her. His hands went back into his pockets, and his monotonous march up and down the room began again.
"Ready?" he asked, stopping short after a while. She tried to answer. "Take two minutes more," he said, and resumed his walk with the regularity of clock-work. "These are the creatures," he thought to himself, "into whose keeping men otherwise sensible give the happiness of their lives. Is there any other object in creation, I wonder, which answers its end as badly as a woman does?"
He stopped before her once more. Her breathing was easier; the dark flush on her face was dying out again.
"Ready?" he repeated. "Yes; ready at last. Listen to me; and let's get it over. I don't ask you to give Frank up. I ask you to wait."
"I will wait," she said. "Patiently, willingly."
"Will you make Frank wait?"
"Will you send him to China?"
Her head drooped upon her bosom, and she clasped her hands again, in silence. Mr. Clare saw where the difficulty lay, and marched straight up to it on the spot.
"I don't pretend to enter into your feelings for Frank, or Frank's for you," he said. "The subject doesn't interest me. But I do pretend to state two plain truths. It is one plain truth that you can't be married till you have money enough to pay for the roof that shelters you, the clothes that cover you, and the victuals you eat. It is another plain truth that you can't find the money; that I can't find the money; and that Frank's only chance of finding it, is going to China. If I tell him to go, he'll sit in a corner and cry. If I insist, he'll say Yes, and deceive me. If I go a step further, and see him on board ship with my own eyes, he'll slip off in the pilot's boat, and sneak back secretly to you. That's his disposition."
"No!" said Magdalen. "It's not his disposition; it's his love for Me."
"Call it what you like," retorted Mr. Clare. "Sneak or Sweetheart -- he's too slippery, in either capacity, for my fingers to hold him. My shutting the door won't keep him from coming back. Your shutting the door will. Have you the courage to shut it? Are you fond enough of him not to stand in his light?"
"Fond! I would die for him!"
"Will you send him to China?"
She sighed bitterly.
"Have a little pity for me," she said. "I have lost my father; I have lost my mother; I have lost my fortune -- and now I am to lose Frank. You don't like women, I know; but try to help me with a little pity. I don't say it's not for his own interests to send him to China; I only say it's hard -- very, very hard on me."
Mr. Clare had been deaf to her violence, insensible to her caresses, blind to her tears; but under the tough integument of his philosophy he had a heart -and it answered that hopeless appeal; it felt those touching words.
"I don't deny that your case is a hard one," he said. "I don't want to make it harder. I only ask you to do in Frank's interests what Frank is too weak to do for himself. It's no fault of yours; it's no fault of mine -- but it's not the less true that the fortune you were to have brought him has changed owners."
She suddenly looked up, with a furtive light in her eyes, with a threatening smile on her lips.
"It may change owners again," she said.
Mr. Clare saw the alteration in her expression, and heard the tones of her voice. But the words were spoken low; spoken as if to herself -- they failed to reach him across the breadth of the room. He stopped instantly in his walk and asked what she had said.
"Nothing," she answered, turning her head away toward the window, and looking out mechanically at the falling rain. "Only my own thoughts."
Mr. Clare resumed his walk, and returned to his subject.
"It's your interest," he went on, "as well as Frank's interest, that he should go. He may make money enough to marry you in China; he can't make it here. If he stops at home, he'll be the ruin of both of you. He'll shut his eyes to every consideration of prudence, and pester you to marry him; and when he has carried his point, he will be the first to turn round afterward and complain that you're a burden on him. Hear me out! You're in love with Frank -- I'm not, and I know him. Put you two together often enough; give him time enough to hug, cry, pester, and plead; and I'll tell you what the end will be -- you'll marry him."
He had touched the right string at last. It rung back in answer before he could add another word.
"You don't know me," she said, firmly. "You don't know what I can suffer for Frank's sake. He shall never marry me till I can be what my father said I should be -- the making of his fortune. He shall take no burden, when he takes me; I promise you that! I'll be the good angel of Frank's life; I'll not go a penniless girl to him, and drag him down." She abruptly left her seat, advanced a few steps toward Mr. Clare, and stopped in the middle of the room. Her arms fell helpless on either side of her, and she burst into tears. "He shall go," she said. "If my heart breaks in doing it, I'll tell him to-morrow that we must say Good-by!"
Mr. Clare at once advanced to meet her, and held out his hand.
"I'll help you," he said. "Frank shall hear every word that has passed between us. When he comes to-morrow he shall know, beforehand, that he comes to say Good-by."
She took his hand in both her own -- hesitated -- looked at him -- and pressed it to her bosom. "May I ask a favor of you, before you go?" she said, timidly. He tried to take his hand from her; but she knew her advantage, and held it fast. "Suppose there should be some change for the better?" she went on. "Sup pose I could come to Frank, as my fat her said I should come to him --
Before she could complete the question, Mr. Clare made a second effort and withdrew his hand. "As your father said you should come to him?" he repeated, looking at her attentively.
"Yes," she replied. "Strange things happen sometimes. If strange things happen to me will you let Frank come back before the five years are out?"
What did she mean? Was she clinging desperately to the hope of melting Michael Vanstone's heart? Mr. Clare could draw no other conclusion from what she had just said to him. At the beginning of the interview he would have roughly dispelled her delusion. At the end of the interview he left her compassionately in possession of it.
"You are hoping against all hope," he said; "but if it gives you courage, hope on. If this impossible good fortune of yours ever happens, tell me, and Frank shall come back. In the meantime -- "
"In the meantime," she interposed sadly, "you have my promise."
Once more Mr. Clare's sharp eyes searched her face attentively.
"I will trust your promise," he said. "You shall see Frank to-morrow."
She went back thoughtfully to her chair, and sat down again in silence. Mr. Clare made for the door before any formal leave-taking could pass between them. "Deep!" he thought to himself, as he looked back at her before he went out; "only eighteen; and too deep for my sounding!"
In the hall he found Norah, waiting anxiously to hear what had happened.
"Is it all over?" she asked. "Does Frank go to China?"
"Be careful how you manage that sister of yours," said Mr. Clare, without noticing the question. "She has one great misfortune to contend with: she's not made for the ordinary jog-trot of a woman's life. I don't say I can see straight to the end of the good or evil in her -- I only warn you, her future will be no common one."
An hour later, Mr. Pendril left the house; and, by that night's post, Miss Garth dispatched a letter to her sister in London.Next