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bringing, and when the doctor had come and had left, “Mr. Weatherill ought to know the condition his wife is in, and we have a right to know what has brought her to it, at once and immediately.”
“I have been thinking so. I should not like to leave you just dow, Mary, or the directest way would be for me to go myself to Kingsport ; letters are so uncertain and lingering." “If
you did not mind the journey, I would not mind being left. It would, I think, be the best way,” his wife replied.
“There is anless I am mistaken,” he said slowly and trying to remember, "a night train that stops at Fenley Junction, which would enable me to get to Kingsport sometime in the morning. I could be at home again early the next day, or perhaps very late to-morrow evening. I am not at all sore about the trains." And the errand. boy was dispatched to purchase a Bradshaw, and as soon as it was brought, Mr. Brownslow sat down to a prolonged study of the perplexing and unfamiliar pages, coming at length to the conclusion that by catching a train reaching Fenley an hour before midnight he should, allowing for sundry detentions, reach Kingsport by 10 o'clock in the morning; and that if he could conclude his inquiries within three hours he might find himself again at the dreary Junction by 9 p.m. and regain his home (on foot, for a conveyance was only obtainable by previous order, which in the uncertainty he would not risk) somewhere between the hours of ten and eleven. A fatiguing uninviting programme it was for any one of Mrá Brownslow's quiet analterable habits; but the effort seemed to be demanded by duty to his wife and her afflicted sister.
Yet when at ten o'clock a cab stood before the door in the thick tan, and her husband entered and it moved noiselessly away, Mary herself almost wished that some other means had been found of conreying the sad intelligence to her sister's home, and of trying to elacidate the mystery which hang over the received letter and its lamentable results.
Heavily passed to Mary the hours of that night and of the succeeding day. Many sorrowful nights and days had she known in the course of life, although through recent years she had been permitted almost uninterrupted peace and quiet satisfaction. The death of their invalid mother, scarcely noticed by Clarissa and Bessy, had caused their older sister very much sorrow; quite early in life the anxieties, risks, and losses, of their father's changeful business career had weighed on her spirits heavily, and filled her with forebodings; the sacrifice she had made to home-claims by refusing Mr. Brownslow's former offer, had cost her deeper and longer pain than any of her friends suspected, and she had mourned Bessy's absence and estrangement more quietly, but quite as deeply, as had Clariesa. Presently, there had fallen upon her the crashing blow of her father's bankruptcy and death; and when at length she had fonnd rest in the house of her husband, and was rejoicing in a new life intrusted to her keeping, there came a sudden blight, hours first of hopeful, then of hopeless watching, and the going out of that little life, and the day when the tiny coffin was carried forth from the home that now seemed so strangely empty. Yet of all mournful nights she had passed she was not sure any had been so hard to endure as the one spent in vain undirected seeking and dread uncertainty; nor had many days surpassed in dreariness that of her husband's absence in Kingsport, spent in the dark ened sick room, where the attermost tenderness and love were so painfully unavailing.
Early in the day Bridget had brought to her a small scrap of paper, evidently a portion of a barned letter which she had found when lighting the kitchen fire. In the distress and agitation of the previous morning the fireplace had not received its accustomed attention; but this morning, during the diligent brushings and sweepings, she had discovered this small fragment adhering to some inequality of the masonry, where it had doubtless been arrested, while the more thoroughly burned embers continued their course up the chimney.
It was a very small irregularly shaped bit of paper, discoloured by smoke, and scorched and brittle at the edges; but Mary could discern the fine clear handwriting of her brother-in-law. It must have come from the last sheet of the letter as one side was blank: on the written side she could make out on the upper portion of the fragment, the words, "unfounded, yet unproved;" and below, as portion of the following line, “a just man,” under which was the word, “sufficient,” and below that, where the scorched paper ran down to a point, the letters, “ady.” Valueless for any purpose of information or satisfaction of any kind was this preserved scrap of the baneful letter; yet vaguely actuated by that painful fascination which, for our strangely commingled nature, mementos of the tragic possess, she did not consign the fragment to the fire, but carefully placed it in one of the china caps standing on the mantelpiece, and returned to ber sad watching beside the sick-bed.
When at length the short December day which had seemed so long had passed, and the hours of the evening had dragged on, and ten o'clock had struck, Mary began anxiously to listen for her husband's possible return, and to wonder drearily what tidings ho would bring; yet any keenness of curiosity was dolled by sorrow, and by the thought that their import could as yet to Clarissa herself matter not; if, indeed, for her the joys and sorrows of this life were not already and for ever ended.
It was nearly eleven when on the perfect stillness sounded the low knock which she felt sure announced her husband's return, and leaving the sick-room in the charge of the nurse, she hastened to meet him as he softly ascended the stairs. “You mast be very tired ? ” she said.
“Yes; I am, very," he replied, entering the dining-room and seating himself in the easy chair ; “ bow is she?”
“Very ill ; quite unconscious or else wandering. But do not talk until you have taken something, you must be worn out;" and she attended to his comforts with as much care as if that were her only anxiety. But when the much needed meal was ended, they drew their chairs close to the fire, and in deliberate words and low tones, Mr. Brownslow told what by his visit to Kingsport had been ascertained ; and his wife listened in indignation and perplexed astonishment now and then interrupting by exclamation or question.
And these were the facts he told. Mr. Weatherill was gone! He had dissolved partnership with Mr. Locke, had left his affairs in the hands of Trebilco and Ward, public accountants, with the instruction to dispose immediately of the house and household goods; and on Friday evening he had sailed from Liverpool for New York, taking Alice with him.
In thus deserting his wife he had not, however, left her unpro. vided for; in this matter he had acted even with liberality, having pat in trust for her benefit properties which, as at present invested, bore interest to the annual amount of £300, payable quarterly, and a further sum of £150 to be handed to her at once for immediate expenses. Whatever in the house had strictly belonged to the wife or had been exclusively used by her, was to be warehoused securely, until she should have determined upon her fatore residence. His arrangements had been made with such celerity and secrecy that no one in Kingsport, except the head of the firm entrusted with his affairs,
his partner, to whose honour he had confided the secret, had the smallest suspicion of his parpose. His sisters had been as ignorant of his intentions as was Clarissa herself, and had been taken even more by surprise ; for though they had considered her sndden journey as strange, their brother had quietly ignored their curiosity concerning it, and had given no remotest hint of domestic unhappiness or of impending change. Susan, indeed, perplexed by some circumstances for which she could find no explanation, her observation having been quickened by her mistress's evident agitation before leaving, had endeavoured to communicate her doubts and aneasiness to these ladies; but Miss Weatherill, holding strong opinions on the duty of servants" to keep their place,” had so discouraged such attempts that Susap had felt obliged to withhold these disquieting thoughts.
In the startling letter of farewell, and of explanation such as was vouchsafed, received by his sisters on the Saturday evening, Edward had given as the reason for his departure that his domestic happiness had been "saddenly, atterly, irretrievably destroyed," bat had also added that he despaired of his country, and that he believed in the rightness of republican as opposed to monarchical institutions. There was much, he had remarked, both politically and socially, to be found in the United States which he condemned and regarded with repugnance; but the failures of republicanism were incidental and alterable, those of monarchy inberent and therefore immovable. In regard to Alice, be bad carefully provided for her comfort during the voyage, having engaged a narse of twenty years' good character, and taken passage in a steamer carrying several ladies with children. His sisters should be informed instantly of their safe arrival; but whether there should be any continuance of correspondence would depend entirely upon whether they were prepared to accept the explanation of his conduct now given withont further inquiry, and unconditionally to promise that his address, if entrusted to them, should never be communicated to her whom he no longer regarded as his wife.
Mr. Weatherill had left in the hands of his agents a sum of £50 to be divided equally between the two servants, and a brief note addressed to Sosan expressing the hope that she would continde in the service of her mistress, if such were her mistress's desire, and prove as faithful in the future as in the past. Mr. Brownslow had seen first Mr. Locke, who had expressed his extreme mystification and regret; then the Misses Weatherill, who were, of course, far more deeply troubled and perplexed. It seemed to them almost impossible to believe that their brother had so acted altogether without cause given. Yet they were greatly affected on hearing what was Clarissa's present condition, and expressed their determination not to acquiesce in an unexplained condemnation, nor to discard their sister-in-law simply on their brother's order so to do.
The old house, Mr. Brownslow said, looked most melancholy. Notices were affixed to it of the sale, both of the furniture and of the house itself; the two servants had already left, the premises were entirely in the charge of “Trebilco and Ward."
“Poor Clarissa!” said Mary, weeping ; “no home, no husband, no child !”
“ I am very grieved, very,” her husband remarked, kindly. “But anything so strange I have never heard in all my life-
never ! For a man to throw ap a prosperous business, a good position, a comfortable home, just out of anger with his wife, and for something of which he will not speak a word; and yet to leave her so handsomely provided for—I can't understand it, I really cannot, and I never shall.”
“He always was a strange man, a severe man-a perverse, evi) temper,” Mary said ; “bat I could never have believed he could have acted thus. And to take her only child !--cruel! cruel! No wonder if it has killed her. I have been praying so for her reason to return, and that she may live, but-it may be better not. O Kitty, Kitty ! my poor child, my poor child !”
In the night there came back to Mary's recollection that scrap of unburned paper, and the fragmentary words so preserved, and in the light of the knowledge now gained, she saw what their import probably had been. Something like this :-"Because his. suspicions, though not anfounded, were yet upproved, he, being a jast man, had made provision sufficient to enable her to live as a lady."
"A jast man!” thought Mary. “Just ? Wretched self-deception! Making no charge, so that no defence is possible, forbidding her to speak. Strange justice ! Unjust, merciless, cruel, hateful, hateful !"
And as her anger thus grew, she felt the need to recall and to repeat, over and over, words spoken by Him she owned as Master, and to seek His aid that, as she thought of the ruin, the desolation wrought, her righteous indignation might not be transformed into fierce wrath and passionate, vindictive hatred.
“Lord, pity her, and-pardon him!” she prayed at length, and then she slept.
CHAPTER XXVII. – BALM IN GILEAD. The weeks which succeeded the receiving of her husband's letter remained for ever a blank in Clarissa's memory. That
year had for her no winter, no shortest day, no Christmastide, no solemn passing of the Old, no coming of the New Year Her last recollection was of that early December morning; of standing looking down into the High Street, of the breakfast, and then the coming of a letter—the opening; the one fact in its bare dreadfulness, her husband and child gone ! She remembered no more ;. nothing of the further contents of the letter, nothing of consigning it to the flames, nor of setting forth; nothing of the walking on and on, along the wide highways in the Sanday quiet; on and on, to the kindly shelter of the cottage of Canford ; nothing of the return, nor of aaght which came afterwards.