Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The silver cord - Part 37

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THE SILVER CORD.

BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.



CHAPTER LXXXIII.

It was late in the night, and the moonlight again lay upon Versailles, and Laura was at her window.

Her brother-in-law would see her early in the morning.

Versailles had long been silent, and the only sounds that came upon the ear of the watcher were the calm voices of the bells that told the hours, and the occasional sweep of the wind through the silvered trees. And little she heeded either, for her thoughts were of the same hour in an English home, and of children in the deep still sleep of happiness.

How long she had sat at that window, she knew not. But she believed herself to be standing near the little bed of her youngest child, and softly drawing back the clustered hair from his forehead, when she heard her name uttered, and she was again at the foliaged window of her house of exile.

Startled, first, and then with a shudder that agitated her whole being, Laura made a faint effort to reply, but the word died upon her lips, and she became stone-cold with terror.

For she knew the voice but too well.

“You are there, I can see you,” said Ernest Adair, distinctly, but not aloud.

But Laura could neither answer, nor make a sign, nor obey the instinct that bade her draw away from the window.

“You hear me but you will not reply,” he said, “It is not needful. You have the victory, and you have deserved it. But go to England, or your triumph will be useless. You hear me, go to England.”

Her hand had lain among the foliage, and an involuntary movement detached a leaf, and it fell.

“I understand you,” said Adair. “That is a sign that you hear, and will obey my counsel. Lose no time, for death is busy among us. Farewell.”

He picked up the leaf, but she did not see the action, and she heard no more. Henderson found her on the bed, when morning brought the faithful attendant to the room, and Laura was lying near the wall, and with her hands tightly clasped over her eyes, as if to shut out some horrible image. Yet she had slept, thanks to the overmastering excitement of the past day, and she woke, pale as ashes and distressingly prostrated, but in full possession of self-consciousness.

In a few minutes, however, she sprang up, hastened to the drawer where she had placed the volume of letters so strangely obtained, and hurried from the chamber, which she would not enter again.

A small room on the lower floor was hastily arranged for her, and here she awaited the arrived of Charles Hawkesley.

Laura spoke not, and Henderson attended her with silent assiduity, placed before her food which the girl had to remove untasted, and performed such few offices of the toilette as Laura would bear.

“Stay in the room,” were almost the only words that Mrs. Lygon uttered, and they were said in a tone of entreaty, all unlike her usual calm voice of gentle command. The girl stood and watched her, and counted the minutes until Hawkesley came.

Then, relieved from her guard, Henderson fled from the room and from the house. For her own inferior class of courage had fairly broken down, and she dreaded to be near Mrs. Lygon when the discovery of the truth should be made. Yet, true to her self-imposed duty, she lingered near the door, and expected to see Mr. Hawkesley rush out and hastily summon her to the aid of her mistress.

No such hasty summons came.

More than an hour passed from the time at which Hawkesley had entered the room. Then, Laura herself appeared at the door of the house, beckoned Henderson in, gave her orders to come on to Paris to an address in the writing of Mr. Hawkesley, and soon afterwards left the house with her brother-in-law.

The girl watched them as they went away, and observed that Laura kept her eyes upon the ground. This of course Henderson did not understand.

Nor did Charles Hawkesley. For, informed by Aventayle that the truth had not been told to Laura, Hawkesley had resolved to continue to withhold it until Mrs. Lygon had been removed from Versailles. It was his intention to conduct her to Paris, and then, if she would be guided by him, to escort her to England. But, in the meantime, he had the last duties to perform to him who had died in the house at Versailles.

They reached Paris, and on the way Charles Hawkesley explained to Laura that he wished her to remain there for two days, after which he proposed to take her to England. In the meantime he would place her in a lodging where she would be entirely freed from intrusion by friend or enemy.

“Have I an enemy?” said Laura, in a low voice.

He understood her, but made no direct reply. She gave a silent assent to the arrangement he proposed, and he drove with her to the lodging he had decided on, gave all directions for her comfort, and a special and private order that on no account should either French or English journals be brought to her. Then he took an affectionate leave of her, promising an early return, and left her, thoughtfully sending in a few books in the hope that Laura might avail herself of the poor yet not altogether unavailing distraction which any attempt at diversion of the current of the mind from its course of sorrow will sometimes bring to the weary.

But he might have spared this care. In another hour Laura was on the road to England.

 

CHAPTER LXXXIV.

Charles Hawkesley hastened to the bureau of M. ——, and, early as it was, he found that official in attendance.

“I suppose that I have nothing to tell you,” said Hawkesley.

“Nothing,” replied M. ——, with a manifestation of sincere sorrow—with a regret that was not a mere manifestation. “The past is past, and nothing so sad has chanced within my memory. I will not afflict you with my sympathy, Mr. Hawkesley, but be assured that I, too, have a right to be afflicted at the death of a brave, good man. I honoured him much, and when the time comes I may be able to prove to you that I have not used mere words of custom in saying this. It is more to the purpose that I should speak of the future.”

“The necessary formalities—”

“Must be strictly observed, of course, but shall be performed with every delicacy and rapidity. You will desire to charge yourself with the details of the funeral. I will send to you a person who will make this duty as light as possible—who will carry out all your directions with perfect intelligence.”

“I thank you, M. ——. And, now, has the murderer been arrested?”

“I am to conclude that you fix the deed upon one person only?”

“Have we not ample proof?”

“Of that we shall have to speak hereafter. But, be this as it may, the man Adair will be seized in due course. Up to within the last hour, he had not been captured.”

“Surely it is impossible that he should escape?”

“I have seen such escapes that I have resolved to call nothing impossible to a clear-headed and resolute man, but I cannot doubt that we shall secure him, if it is desired.”

“If it is desired!” echoed Hawkesley, astounded.

“I have, I see, given you a new thought, Mr. Hawkesley,” said M. ——. “Do not reject it, however, merely because it has surprised you.”

“Surprised is no word for what you cause in my mind.”

“Listen, nevertheless, and once more let me beg you to believe in my assurance that I am profoundly grieved at what has chanced.”

“You have used that word twice.”

“It was accidentally, then, but we need not pause upon that. Mr. Hawkesley, I believe that if I resolve to capture this man Adair, I shall have him. Whether I do so shall depend upon your own decision, and that I will not ask you to give hastily. In the meantime, beyond a certain cordon, Ernest Adair shall not pass. If you, on consideration, call for his arrest, it shall be made. But I am prepared to give you a stronger proof of my regard for the memory of him who is gone than you perhaps can appreciate. If you decide that it will be better for Ernest Adair to escape, that escape shall not be impossible.”

“The assassin!”

“I will not try to enforce my own view by any o:the lesser arguments which have occurred to me. I will not urge on you that we have no proof of the origin of the final quarrel that ended so miserably—that the probabilities are all against its having been provoked by the weaker man, and not by the stronger—that French juries have sometimes a strange tenderness for a scoundrel whose history can be mixed up with a sentimental story like that of Adair’s. I will suppose that he has committed wilful murder, and that he will be found guilty of it, and executed. What is now a mystery, save among a few relatives, and among some officials who are as mute as the tomb, will then become common scandal in Paris and London. It is not my duty—on the contrary, it is far away from my duty—to place this consideration before you; but I loved your friend, and I take all the consequences of setting all this before you.”

“It does not weigh with me, M. ——,” said Hawkesley. “Justice demands that the miscreant who betrayed my dear friend’s honour, and who has taken his life, should come out on a French scaffold, and die.”

“You speak of justice, but you mean vengeance. But that is a common confusion of thought.”

“Let it be so,” said Hawkesley, sternly. “I would myself stand by and see the wretch’s head fall.”

“Do you think that I do not share your indignation? But is there not a higher duty than the gratification of a just revenge? Will you resolve on proclaiming to the world that the noble-minded Urquhart was a dishonoured man?”

“He was not dishonoured,” returned Hawkesley. “An honourable man is robbed, but the deed of the scoundrel who pillages him does him no dishonour, and the crime of a bad man and a bad woman inflicts no shame upon the memory of Robert Urquhart. He suffered a great misfortune, and we will punish the villain who inflicted it.”

“Come and say this to me in six hours, and I will act upon what you say. But there will be one thing more for you to consider. Were the name and fame of Urquhart alone involved, and as he has happily left no children to bear the brand of disgrace, specially no daughter whose husband the world will call a bold man, there might be nothing more to say, and I would telegraph that Adair should be at once arrested. But the subject of our interviews in this room, Mr. Hawkesley, has not been the misfortune of Adair, but of another equally honourable man, whose reputation you were still more eager to protect.”

“Lygon. I have thought of that,” said Hawkesley.

“You could not fail to think of it. But have you considered well what must inevitably happen if this criminal procedure continues? Do you think that Adair on his trial will be more reserved than Adair in this room? Will he, in view of the guillotine, respect the name of your sister?”

“Do you not know that we have seized the letters, M. ——, the villain’s proofs, as he calls them?”

M. ——’s well-trained features gave no sign that he was hearing news. But he said:

“I learn this for the first time, Mr. Hawkesley, and I own it to you with perfect frankness. Others will have to explain how it is that I hear it first from you. But accept my admission as another proof that I am acting loyally by you. Who has the letters?”

“Mrs. Arthur Lygon.”

“That, then, was the packet which you carried when she left the terminus with you, and you drove away to the lodging. They should have known better than to describe it as—as a dressing-case,” said M. ——, taking up a scrap of paper that lay beside him. “It is in Mrs. Lygon’s possession, of course?”

“Yes, and he will be a shrewd man who gets it from her keeping.”

“We are on grave business, and it is not worth while for me to invite you to come in three hours and see it on this table,” said M. ——. “Let it remain in the poor lady’s keeping—she clings to it doubtless as a sheet anchor. Yet will your possession of it prevent scandal? Will not Adair rejoice in describing its contents, and in challenging you to produce the letters?”

“Who will believe a miscreant and assassin?”

“The world, which always believes the worst. And, besides, the letters are inextricably mixed up with the case. It is impossible that the treacherous revelations of Adair can be checked, if he is once arrested, unless, of course,” added M. ——, with no affectation of coolness, but in the tone of remonstrance which he had hitherto employed, “unless he should be permitted to evade a trial by placing himself beyond the reach of this world’s justice. Of this I fear there is no chance. He will have leisure in confinement to calculate the odds too well. He would be a fool to destroy himself. If he lives, he will reveal the double mystery which has come into his keeping.”

“How was it,” said Hawkesley, with a passionate oath, “that Urquhart failed to crush the very life out of him!”

“Aye,” repeated the other. “It was strange. So strange that those may be pardoned who believed that the issue which has happened would be impossible, and therefore left events to take their course.”

“What do you mean?”

“No matter. I will tell you another time. Now, will you leave me? You have a melancholy occupation before you, and that claims your first attention. I will send to you, as I have said, a man whom you can trust. Afterwards, Mr. Hawkesley, give your best consideration to all that I have said. Remember, I am counselling you neither way, but I am setting the whole case before you, and I am ready to act as your calm judgment may decide. You have before your eye a grim picture of a merited punishment. We may never be able to realise it. But, Mr. Hawkesley, even if we should, shall we have done what is best and kindest? It is a good sight to see a scoundrel’s head fall where it can plot crime no more, but it is a better sight to see a loving woman restored to the arms of her little children. Choose which picture you will have, and come to me again. And I swear to you that nothing shall be lost by your taking time for consideration.”

“He will not escape?”

“Nothing shall be lost.”

At this moment a signal was given that a subordinate had something to communicate, and the drawer in the wall gave M. —— another scrap of paper. He read it quickly.

“Stay, Mr. Hawkesley,” he said. “I have something for you. Do you know that Mrs. Lygon is now at the Northern Railway, about to depart for England?”

“It is impossible!” exclaimed Hawkesley.

“It is true—read for yourself.”

And he handed across the scrap of paper, which contained the information he had given.

“What does this mean?” said Hawkesley, bewildered.

“She is alone, you observe.”

“Alone, too.”

“That is of no consequence. And she had better return alone than in the society in which she came over to France.”

“You put a thought into my head. What if that fiend is again upon her track.”

“Be calm,” said M. ——, laying his hand on Hawkesley’s arm. “I give you my word of honour that Ernest Adair is within four miles of the house at Versailles. He has nothing to do with her journey.”

“If he appears before her, he will kill her,” said Hawkesley.

“He will not appear before her, I tell you, and why should he attempt a new violence? Ah, the letters!”

“No, I do not mean that, I do not mean that. We have not told her who has fallen—she believes that it is her enemy.”

“Ah! And the world is now clear before her, and she rushes back to England fearlessly, the first moment that she is set free. A brave lady. You must not stop her, Mr. Hawkesley; we can do so, of course, at the first station, on pretext that we want her as a witness, but it must not be. Let her go.”

“Go—I am rejoiced that she has gone, though she might have trusted me with her intentions. But she has gone with a belief that he is dead, and when she learns the truth—”

“Yes, let us consider. That complicates her position, poor lady. And yet let her go. Mr. Hawkesley—may I ask you a question which implies the most offensive suggestion, and yet—”

“You would ask whether I believe her innocent. Yes, as God shall judge me.”

“Then let her go home.”

“I will not seek to stop her. Can she have seen her husband?

“We will ascertain.”

He wrote some lines, despatched them, and renewed the conversation.

“Have you, Mr. Hawkesley, informed Mr. Lygon of the truth? No, I know that you have not done so personally, for you passed the night at Versailles, but you may have written.”

“I thought it better to entrust the mission to Mr. Aventayle, as I had little time to spare, and Mrs. Lygon was, of course, my first consideration.”

“You sent him up; but has he discharged the duty?”

“I go from hence to the hotel.”

“It might be well not to go without knowledge as to whether the lady has met her husband. Shall I ask you to wait?”

M. —— went out, and Hawkesley was left to revolve the question whether Urquhart should be avenged, or Laura should be saved from a new peril.

But, upon this occasion, he was not allowed very long to deliberate. M. —— came in to him with the double information that neither Mrs. Lygon nor Mr. Aventayle had seen Arthur. The former fact was stated, the second was equally clear, for Lygon had not opened the door of his room since the preceding night. It was not the business of the chief of the police to know how this had been ascertained, but his employé knew that the door in question opened outwards, and the rest of the evidence was simple enough.

“Then it will be my business to tell him,” said Hawkesley.

“Yes,” said M. ——, “and also, if I may suggest this, to ascertain his thoughts on the subject on which we have spoken.”

“Possibly,” said Hawkesley, thoughtfully.

“He is surely, of all persons, the most interested in the decision,” said M. ——.

“It is true. When can I see you again, M. ——?” said Hawkesley, somewhat abruptly changing the immediate subject before them.

“Always. But do not hasten. I have told you that time is not of vital consequence. One thing more. You have sent the truth to England. Your friend Aventayle has telegraphed in your name.”

“Yes, I begged him to do so.”

“I mention it only because in the event of Mrs. Lygon going to the house of her sister, the facts will at once become known to her.”

“That is true,” said Hawkesley, “and it did not occur to me.”

“Why should it? You had intended to break the truth yourself to Mrs. Lygon.”

“This is most painful!” exclaimed Charles Hawkesley, walking about the room in excitement. “Why did she not remain, as she promised?”

“I must not ask the reason of your vexation.”

“Yes,” replied Hawkesley, frankly, “it is this. I have desired my wife to tell the terrible news to her sister Bertha, who is now lying ill in my house. The scene will be a most sad and agitating one, and I did not think of causing my wife the second affliction of having to make the revelation to Mrs. Lygon, who will hasten to her with the belief in which she has left Paris.”

“Your concern at this moment is for your own wife.”

“Certainly it is. Does it appear strange to you?”

“Do not speak with irritation. I was plotting how to meet this new trouble, Mr. Hawkesley. There is a way, of course, but to adopt it would be to stop Mrs. Lygon in her journey.”

“What is it?”

“I could easily cause the truth to be told to her at Boulogne, or at Folkestone—or perhaps—yes, I will undertake to let it meet her on her arrival in London.”

“No. I will not cross her path with another grief. If she goes to her sister’s, let her learn the truth there. No one will tell it her more gently, or advise her more wisely.”

“This is for yourself to decide. Should you think differently some hours hence, there will still be time to interpose.”

“I will now go to the hotel.”

“To remain there, if you will, until a person comes to you from me. After you have dismissed him, it will be for you, Mr. Hawkesley, and for your brother-in-law, to decide on the very grave consideration which I have taken the liberty of suggesting.

“Grave indeed,” muttered Hawkesley, as he went out, “and I find myself exchanging smooth words over the question whether an infernal murderer and villain shall escape us. It is like a dream—it is like a dream.”

 

CHAPTER LXXXV.

Cautiously and thoughtfully as the telegraphic message, dispatched by Aventayle to Mrs. Hawkesley at the request of her husband, had been worded, in order to soften as far as possible the epigrammatic curtness of such messages, and to do away with the startling effect which the hardness of the official hand, in lieu of that wont to be so welcome, produces upon those unaccustomed to such communications, there was still the cruel fact which no care could render less cruel. Beatrice learned that her husband’s valued friend, the husband of the feeble woman on the sick bed above, had been stricken down in his strong manhood, and that her weak sister was a widow. Shocking as was the news, melancholy as was the thought that he concerning whom it was sent had been the subject if not of harsh judgment, of suspicion and mistrust on the part of Beatrice when she last wrote, it was far more shocking to her when she came to recal the circumstances under which he and Bertha had parted for ever, and the nature of the revelation which it became her duty to make to the scarcely penitent creature who manifested so inadequate a sense of her sin, so vague a dream of her future.

For herself, Mrs. Hawkesley, with some self-reproach, owned that horror had more share than actual grief in the sensations with which she had to struggle. That she had never thoroughly liked, perhaps had never thoroughly appreciated Urquhart, has been made clear in an earlier part of our story. The negative feelings with which she had regarded him had been altered into something almost resembling hatred by the circumstances which have been told. Chiefly had his unhesitating judgment on Laura, his imperative demand that Lygon should be convinced of her worthlessness on the strength, not of evidence examined by himself, but of testimony that had been conclusive to Urquhart, confirmed Beatrice in her hostile feelings towards him, nor had they been softened by the effect which Robert Urquhart’s sentence had produced upon the mind of her own husband. She was the best of wives, and not the less so that she had the genuine wifely belief that the best of husbands submit to few influences save those of home. Beatrice, therefore, was well prepared to be impressed, even by the careless and non-consequent tales of Bertha, and at the moment of the arrival of the despatch she had no inclination to retract a syllable of the imputations which she had conveyed to her husband.

Then came the telegraph message, and Urquhart was gone, and that strange revulsion, which the head cannot justify and which the heart cannot refuse, that disposition to see only what was good in those who are no longer with us for good or for evil, followed, and Beatrice’s affectionate nature was more afflicted than she could have imagined possible from aught connected with the stern, rough Urquhart. Before she could give herself up to the task of breaking the news to her sister, Mrs. Hawkesley had her own self-rebuke—remorse were too strong a word—to deal with, and it was with a doubly sorrowful heart that she addressed herself to the thought how she might in the gentlest manner open to Bertha the tidings that he whom she had so wickedly wronged was beyond the reach of her penitence.

“Aunt, I wish you would not have letters,” said little Fred Lygon, who had stolen into the room where Beatrice, not heeding him, was once more reading the message.

“Do you, darling?” said his aunt, too accustomed to the ways of childhood to be startled at any child-appearance from any quarter in which playfulness could reveal itself. “Why, dear Fred?”

“Because letters make you look ugly. Tell the postman not to bring any except they come from mamma or papa.”

She kissed the child, and went to her own room, whence, after some time, she passed across to Bertha’s, with a tremor foreign to her usually calm nature.

“I thought that you were never coming any more,” said Bertha, raising herself in the bed, and speaking fretfully.

“I have not been away long, dear,” answered Beatrice, more gently, perhaps, than she would have replied on another occasion. “I had a good many orders to give, and most of them were for you.”

“It is more than an hour,” persisted Bertha, “for I have heard the church clock strike twice; but you think that because I am ill in bed I must believe anything you like to tell me.”

“My dear Bertha,” said Mrs. Hawkesley, coming near her, “you cannot feel that you have been treated with any neglect here. I am sure that it has been a labour of love with us all to do all that we can for you.”

“I am not complaining,” retorted Bertha. “You are always finding fault with me, and I wish I were dead.”

“Bertha,” said her sister, very gravely, “do not speak lightly of death. It may be that you will hear of it sooner than you expect.”

“Preaching does me no good, Beatrice, as you might know by this time. I am much obliged to you, of course, for all that you have done, and to Charles for having brought me home here, but what has happened has happened, and we cannot alter it by talking. I wish I were well enough to go away from you all, and not be a trouble and a shame to those who must hate me.”

“You have no right to talk in this unkind manner, Bertha, dear. I think that you are stronger and better to-day, and I want to speak to you very seriously, but not in the way of preaching, as you call it, though I am sure you have not heard much that deserves the name, and nothing that has not been meant affectionately.”

“Give me some of the lemonade. It is not fresh, and it is quite warm, but it is good enough for me.”

“Fresh is being made for you, dear. Now, can you listen to me for a few minutes, as I have something to say which you must hear?”

“If I must I must, and it is of no use asking. I dare say that I am as well to-day as I shall be to-morrow.”

“I have a letter from Paris, a very sad letter.”

“What has happened?” said Bertha, eagerly. “He is not coming over after me—do not say that.”

“Indeed he is not.”

“You are quite certain?”

“Bertha, I have a message for you which you will remember to the last hour of your life,” said Beatrice, desirous to bring her sister into a more fitting frame of mind to receive the fatal intelligence.

“It is of no use sending me reproaches. As soon as the doctor will let me, I will go away, and be out of the reach of you all.”

“And where will you go, Bertha?”

“I do not know. I suppose Charles will advise me. I suppose that he will do something for me when he has calmed down, and will not let his wife be without the means of living.”

“Whom do you mean by he?”

“Whom should I mean—my husband.”

“You have no husband, Bertha.”

“Beatrice,” said Bertha, clutching at her sister’s arm. “What do you mean? He has divorced me?”

“You are divorced indeed.”

“But that is impossible. It is not true, Beatrice; you are saying it to work upon me. There are no divorces in France. I know that, though you think I know nothing. It is wicked of you to play upon my feelings.”

“You are divorced for ever, Bertha. Mr. Urquhart is gone.”

“Gone!”

“He is dead.”

Mrs. Hawkesley turned away, that she might not see the agitation which she felt that her words must produce in the face of her sister. Beatrice even listened for the rapid breath, for the sob, but she heard nothing, and her immediate impression was that Bertha must have fainted. The next instance Beatrice was about to throw her arms round Bertha, but paused, so utterly different was the result of her words from that which she had expected.

Bertha was lying back on her pillow, but her cheek had not lost the fever flush, and her eyes, undimmed with tears, were even brighter than before. She was muttering something, but Mrs. Hawkesley was too much shocked to seek to hear what it was—and as she looked, the expression on her lip was assuredly not that of grief, and Beatrice struggled against the impression that it partook of an opposite character. There must have been seen in Beatrice’s face something of the indignation which she felt, or else Bertha’s own conscience must have accused her of heartlessness, for she raised herself, and said, though in no tone befitting the occasion—

“It is very shocking. How did it happen, Beatrice?”

“Suddenly.”

“Ah! He told me more than once, poor fellow, that he knew that it would be sudden when it came. Poor Robert!”

And she hid her face in her handkerchief, but when she withdrew it, there were no tears glistening on her cheek.

“It was sudden indeed, Bertha. He died a violent death.”

“My God! One of his railway accidents—was it so, Beatrice?”

“He died by the hand of a murderer.”

This time the face of Bertha became white indeed. The fearful news had found its way to her selfish heart, and in the agitation with which she clung to Beatrice there was no feigning.

“Don’t tell me that. Say it is not so, and that you were only trying me?”

“Do you dare to think that I would speak falsely on such a matter? Bertha, your husband, your noble husband, has been killed in his own house, in the house that was yours until you left it of your own will.”

“Do not speak to me so. I am too weak to bear it, I am indeed. Tell me—no, do not tell me until I am stronger. He has been killed. Was it a robber that broke in—yes, tell me that and no more.”

“He has been killed by the worst of robbers—by the man who robbed him of the heart of his wife.”

Bertha gazed at her for a few moments, and then, with a sort of cry, said,

“You are speaking falsely to me after all. He is dead—yes, and he has died of a broken heart—say it is so.”

“His heart was too proud to break for what you could do, Bertha,” replied her sister. “He has been killed, I tell you, and the man who has killed him is Ernest Adair.”

“Then Robert must have attacked him, and Adair must have acted in self-defence. It is very dreadful, but it must have been so, and every one has a right to defend himself. But it is very dreadful,” she repeated, shrinking from under the kindled eye of her sister.

“It is dreadful,” repeated Mrs. Hawkesley, slowly, “but not so dreadful as this. And your first impulse is to find an excuse for the murderer.”

“No, no, I did not, I do not. I was only saying—how eager you are to judge me!—I was only saying how it must have been, for I remember that poor Robert declared he would one day be the death of Ernest.”

“Of Ernest?” said Mrs. Hawkesley, bitterly. “Can you use the name as if—O! I cannot speak to you, Bertha. May it please God to bring you to a fitter state of mind! I cannot speak to you. There is the telegram; read it if you please, and if you can, pray to be forgiven the fearful wickedness which has brought a good man to such a grave. Oh! Bertha, Bertha!”

And, weeping the only tears which had been shed at that interview, to which she had looked with so much agitation, Beatrice hastened from the room.

“What would she have had me say,” murmured Bertha, when she was alone. “Throw myself back in an agony, and declare that I loved him better than my life. I did not, and I will not say so.”