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But soon as once the genial plain
Has drunk the life-blood of the slain,
Indelible the spots remain;
And aye for vengeance call,
Till racking pangs of piercing pain
Upon the guilty fall.--AEschylus. (Translated by Professor Anstice.)
If Tom May's arrival at home was eagerly anticipated there, it was with a heavy heart that he prepared for what he had never ceased to look on as a treadmill life. He had enjoyed Paris, both from the society and the abstract study, since he still retained that taste for theory rather than practice, which made him prefer diseases to sick people, and all sick people to those of Stoneborough. The student life, in the freedom of a foreign capital, was, even while devoid of license and irregularity, much pleasanter than what he foresaw at home, even though he had obtained a separate establishment. His residence at Paris, with the vague hope it afforded, cost him more in the resignation than his prospects in London. It was the week when he would have been canvassing for the appointment, and he was glad to linger abroad out of reach of Sir Matthew's remonstrances, and his father's compunction, while he was engaged in arranging for a French translation of Dr. Spencer's book, and likewise in watching an interesting case, esteemed a great medical curiosity, at the Hotel Dieu.
He was waiting in the lecture-room, when one of the house surgeons came in, saying, 'Ah! I am glad to see you here. A compatriot of yours has been brought in, mortally injured in a gambling fray. You may perhaps assist in getting him identified.'
Tom followed him to the accident ward, and beheld a senseless figure, with bloated and discoloured features, distorted by the effects of the injury, a blow upon the temple, which had caused a fall backwards on the sharp edge of a stove, occasioning fatal injury to the spine. Albeit well accustomed to gaze critically upon the tokens of mortal agony, Tom felt an unusual shudder of horror and repugnance as he glanced on the countenance, so disfigured and contorted that there was no chance of recognition, and turned his attention to the clothes, which lay in a heap on the floor. The contents of the pockets had been taken out, and consisted only of some pawnbroker's duplicates, a cigar-case, and a memorandum-book, which last he took in his hand, and began to unfasten, without looking at it, while he took part in the conversation of the surgeons on the technical nature of the injuries. Thus he stood for some seconds, before, on the house surgeon asking if he had found any address, he cast his eyes on the pages which lay open in his hand.
'Ha! What have you found?--He does not hear! Is it the portrait of the beloved object? Is it a brother--an enemy--or a debt? But he is truly transfixed! It is an effect of the Gorgon's head!'
'July 15th, 1860. Received £120. 'L. A. WARD.'
There stood Tom May, like one petrified, deaf to the words around, his dazzled eyes fixed on the letters, his faculties concentrated in the endeavour to ascertain whether they were sight or imagination. Yes, there they were, the very words in the well-known writing, the school-boy's forming into the clerk's, there was the blot in the top of the L! Tom's heart gave one wild bound, then all sensation, except the sight of the writing, ceased, the exclamations of those around him came surging gradually on his ear, as if from a distance, and he did not yet hear them distinctly when he replied alertly, almost lightly, 'Here is a name that surprises me. Let me look at the patient again.'
'No dear friend?' asked his chief intimate, in a tone ready to become gaiety or sympathy.
'No, indeed,' said Tom, shuddering as he stood over the insensible wretch, and perceived what it had been which had thrilled him with such unwonted horror, for, fixed by the paralyzing convulsion of the fatal blow, he saw the scowl and grin of deadly malevolence that had been the terror of his childhood, and that had fascinated his eyes at the moment of Leonard's sentence. Changed by debauchery, defaced by violence, contorted by the injured brain, the features would scarcely have been recalled to him but for the frightful expression stamped on his memory by the miseries of his timid boyhood.
'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.' The awful thought, answering his own struggle for faith in Divine Justice, crossed him, as he heard the injury on the head defined, in almost the same scientific terms that had so often rung on his ears as the causes of Francis Axworthy's death; but this was no society where he could give vent to his feelings, and mastering himself with difficulty he answered, 'I know Him. He is from my own town.'
'Has he friends or relations?'
'Relations, yes,' said Tom, hardly able to restrain a trembling of the lip, half horror, half irony. 'None here, none near. They shall know.'
'Once he had. Probably none now.'
To Tom's great relief, a new case drew off general attention. There only remained the surgeon who had called him at first, and with whom he was particularly intimate.
'Gaspard,' he said, 'shall you have charge of this case?'
'Brief charge it will be, apparently! I will volunteer to watch it, if it is your desire! Is it friendship, or enmity, or simple humanity?'
'All!' said Tom, hastily. 'It is the clearing up of a horrible mystery--freedom for an innocent prisoner--I must tell you the rest at leisure. There is much to be done now in case of his reviving.'
This was remotely possible, but very doubtful; and Tom impressed on both Gaspard and the nursing sister the most stringent entreaties to summon him on the first symptom. He then gave the name of the unhappy man, and, though unwilling to separate himself from that invaluable pocket-book, perceived the necessity of leaving it as a deposit with the authorities of the hospital, after he had fully examined it, recognizing Leonard's description in each particular, the cipher F. A. on the tarnished silver clasp, the shagreen cover, and the receipt on a page a little past the middle. On the other half of the leaf was the entry of some sums due to the house; and it contained other papers which the guilty wretch had been evidently eager to secure, yet afraid to employ, and that, no doubt, were the cause that, like so many other murderers on record, he had preserved that which was the most fatal proof against himself. Or could it be with some notion of future relenting, that he had refrained from its destruction?
With brain still seeming to reel at the discovery, and limbs actually trembling with the shock, Tom managed to preserve sufficient coolness and discretion to bring back to mind the measures he had so often planned for any such contingency. Calling a cabriolet, he repaired to the police-station nearest to the scene of the contest, and there learnt that Axworthy had long been watched as a dangerous subject, full of turbulence, and with no visible means of maintenance. The officials had taken charge of the few personal effects in his miserable lodgings, and were endeavouring to secure the person who had struck the fatal blow.
His next measure was to go to the British Embassy, where, through his sister Flora's introductions, and his own Eton connections, he was already well known; and telling his story there, without any attempt to conceal his breathless agitation, he had no difficulty in bringing with him a companion who would authenticate the discovery of the receipt, and certify to any confession that might be obtained.
A confession! That was the one matter of the most intense interest. Tom considered whether to secure the presence of a clergyman, but suspected that this would put Axworthy on his guard rather than soften him, and therefore only wrote to the chaplain, begging him to hold himself in readiness for a summons to the Hotel Dieu, whither he drove rapidly back with his diplomatic friend, whom he wrought up well-nigh to his own pitch of expectation. He had already decided on his own first address--pitying, but manifesting that nothing, not even vengeance, could be gained by concealment; and then, according to the effect, would he try either softening or threatening to extort the truth.
Gaspard was eagerly awaiting them. 'I had already sent for you,' he said. 'The agony is commencing; he has spoken, but he has not his full consciousness.'
Tom hurried on, drawing after him the young diplomate, who would have hung back, questioning if there were any use in his witnessing the dying struggles of a delirious man.
'Come, come,' peremptorily repeated Tom, 'there must be some last words. Every moment is of importance.'
Yet his trust was shaken by the perception of the progress that death had made in the miserable frame during his absence. The fixed expression of malignity had been forced to yield to exhaustion and anguish, the lips moved, but the murmurs between the moans were scarcely articulate.
'He is almost past it,' said Tom, 'but there is the one chance that he may be roused by my voice.'
And having placed his friend conveniently, both for listening and making notes, he came close to the bed, and spoke in a tone of compassion. 'Axworthy, I say, Axworthy, is there anything I can do for you?'
There was a motion of the lid of the fast-glazing eye; but the terrible face of hatred came back, with the audible words, 'I tell you, you old fool, none of the Mays are to come prying about my place.'
Appalled by the deadly malice of the imprecation and the look that accompanied this partial recognition of his voice, Tom was nerving himself to speak again, when the dying man, as if roused by the echo of his own thought, burst out, 'Who? What is it? I say Dr. May shall not be called in! He never attended the old man! Let him mind his own business! I was all night at the Three Goblets. Yes, I was! The new darling will catch it--going off with the money upon him--' and the laugh made their blood run cold. 'I've got the receipt;' and he made an attempt at thrusting his hand under the pillow, but failing, swore, shouted, howled with his last strength, that he had been robbed--the pocket-book--it would hang him! and with one of the most fearful shrieks of despair that had perhaps ever rung through that asylum of pain, woe, and death, the wretched spirit departed.
Tom May turned aside, made a few steps, and, to the infinite surprise of every one, fell helplessly down in a swoon. A nature of deep and real sensibility, though repressed by external reserve and prudence, could not with entire impunity undergo such a scene. The sudden discovery, the vehement excitement forced down, the intense strain of expectation, and finally, the closing horror of such a death, betraying the crime without repenting of it, passing to the other world with imprecations on the lips, and hatred in the glare of the eye, all the frightfulness enhanced by the familiarity of the allusions, and the ghastly association of the tones that had tempted and tyrannized over his childhood, altogether crushed and annihilated his faculties, mental and bodily.
Oh, when our very hearts burn for justice, how little do we know how intolerable would be the sight of it! Tom's caution and readiness returned as soon as--after a somewhat long interval--he began to distinguish the voices round him, and perceive the amazement he had created. Before he was able to sit up on the couch, where he had been laid out of sight of the scene which had affected him so strongly, he was urging his friend to set down all that had been spoken, and on Gaspard's writing a separate deposition. The pocket- book, and other effects, were readily ceded to the British authority, and were carried away with them.
How Tom got through the remaining hours of the day and the night he never recollected, though he knew it must have been in the bustle of preparation, and that he had imparted the tidings to Leonard's friend Brown, for when he and his friend had attended that which answered to an inquest on the body, and had obtained a report of the proceedings, he was ready to start by the night train, bearing with him the attestations of the death-bed scene at the Hotel Dieu, and the long- lost memorandum-book, and was assured that the next mail would carry an official letter to the Home Office, detailing the circumstances of Samuel Axworthy's decease. Brown came to bid him farewell, full of gladness and warm congratulation, which he longed to send to his friend, but which Tom only received with hasty, half-comprehending assents.
Late in the afternoon he reached Stoneborough, found no one come in, and sat down in the fire-light, where, for all his impatience, fatigue had made him drop asleep, when he was roused by Gertrude's voice, exclaiming, 'Here really is Tom come, as you said he would, without writing. Here are all his goods in the hall.'
'Is it you, Tom!' cried Ethel. 'Notice or no notice, we are glad of you. But what is the matter?'
'Where's my father?'
'Coming. Charles Cheviot took him down to look at one of the boys. Is there anything the matter?' she added, after a pause.
'You look very odd,' added Gertrude.
He gave a nervous laugh. 'You would look odd, if you had travelled all night.'
They commented, and began to tell home news; but Ethel noted that he neither spoke nor heard, only listened for his father. Gertrude grew tired of inattentive answers, and said she should go and dress. Ethel was turning to follow, when he caught hold of her cloak, and drew her close to him. 'Ethel,' he said, in a husky, stifled voice, 'do you know this?'
On her knees, by the red fire-light, she saw the 'L. A. Ward,' and looked up. 'Is it?' she said. He bowed his head.
And then Ethel put her arm round his neck, as he knelt down by her; and he found that her tears, her rare tears, were streaming down, silent but irrepressible. She had not spoken, had asked no question, made no remark, when Dr. Mays entrance was heard, and she loosed her hold on her brother, out without rising from the floor, looked up from under the shade of her hat, and said, 'O, papa! it is found, and he has done it! Look there!'
Her choked voice, and tokens of emotion, startled the Doctor; but Tom, in a matter-of-fact tone, took up the word: 'How are you, father?--Yes. I have only met with this little memorandum.'
Dr. May recognized it with a burst of incoherent inquiry and exclamation, wringing Tom's hand, and giving no time for an answer; and, indeed, his son attempted none--till, calming himself, the Doctor subsided into his arm-chair, and with a deep sigh, exclaimed, 'Now then, Tom, let us hear. Where does this come from?'
'From the casualty ward at the Hotel Dieu.'
'He is dead,' said Tom, answering the unspoken question. 'You will find it all here. Ethel, do I sleep here to-night? My old room?' As he spoke, he bent to light a spill at the fire, and then the two candles on the side-table; but his hand shook nervously, and though he turned away his face, his father and sister saw the paleness of his cheek, and knew that he must have received a great shock. Neither spoke, while he put one candle conveniently for his father, took up the other, and went away with it. With one inquisitive glance at each other, they turned to the papers, and with eager eyes devoured the written narratives of Tom himself and of the attache, then, with no less avidity, the French reports accompanying them. Hardly a word was spoken while Ethel leant against her father's knee, and he almost singed his hair in the candle, as they helped one another out in the difficulties of the crooked foreign writing.
'Will it be enough?' asked Ethel, at last, holding her breath for the answer.
'If there is justice in England!' said Dr. May. 'Heaven forgive me, Ethel, this business has tried my trust more than anything that ever befell me; but it will all be right now, and righter than right, if that boy comes out what I think him.'
'And oh, how soon?'
'Not a moment longer than can be helped. I'd go up by the mail train this very night if it would do any good.'
Tom, who reappeared as soon as he had spared himself the necessity of the narration, was willing and eager to set out; but Dr. May, who by this time had gathered some idea of what he had gone through, and saw that he was restless, nervous, and unhinged, began to reconsider the expedience of another night journey, and was, for once in his life, the person cool enough to see that it would be wisest to call Bramshaw into their counsels, and only that night to send up a note mentioning that they would do themselves the honour of calling at the Home Office the next day, on matters connected with the intelligence received that morning from the British Embassy at Paris.
Tom was disappointed; he was in no mood for sitting still, and far less for talking. As a matter of business, he would elucidate any question, but conversation on what he had witnessed was impossible to him; and when Gertrude, with a girl's lightness, lamented over being balked of a confession and explanation, he gravely answered, that she did not know what she was talking of; and his father led away from the subject. Indeed, Dr. May was full of kindness and consideration, being evidently not only grateful for the discovery, but touched by his entire absence of exulting triumph, and his strong sense of awe in the retribution.
That changed and awe-struck manner impressed both the sisters, so that all the evening Ethel felt subdued as by a strange shock, and even through the night and morning could hardly realize that it was intense relief--joy, not sorrow--that made her feel so unlike herself, and that the burthen was taken away from her heart. Even then, there was a trembling of anxiety. The prisoner might be set free; but who could give back to him the sister who had pined away in exile, or the three years of his youthful brightness? There might be better things in store; but she knew she must not look again for the boy of ingenuous countenance, whose chivalrous devotion to herself had had such a charm, even while she tried to prize it at its lightest worth. It was foolish to recollect it with a pang, but there was no helping it. In the great tragedy, she had forgotten that the pretty comedy was over, but she regretted it, rather as she did the pleasant baby-days of Aubrey and Gertrude.
Indeed, during the day of suspense, while the two physicians were gone to London, taking with them the papers, and a minute detail of the evidence at the trial, Gertrude's high spirits, triumph over Charles Cheviot, and desire to trumpet forth the good news, were oppressive. How many times that day was Mab stroked, and assured that her master would come back! And how often did the two sisters endeavour to persuade themselves that she was not grown broader in the back! Mary was, of course, told early in the day, but Gertrude got less sympathy from her than answered to that damsel's extortionate expectations, for, according to her wicked account, Mary's little Charlie had sneezed three times, and his mamma must regret what sent all the medical science of Stoneborough away by the early train.
However, Tom came home at night. The interview had been satisfactory. The letters received in the morning had prepared the way, and revived the recollection of the unsatisfactory case of Leonard Axworthy Ward, and of the representations of the then Mayor of Market Stoneborough. After all the new lights upon the matter had been looked into, the father and son had been assured that, as soon as possible, a free pardon should be issued, so drawn up as to imply a declaration of innocence--the nearest possible approach to a reversal of the sentence; and they further were told of a mention of his exemplary conduct in a late report from Portland, containing a request that he might be promoted to a post of greater influence and trust before the ordinary time of probation had passed. Dr. May was eager to be at Portland at the same time as the pardon, so to give Leonard the first intelligence, and to bring him home; and he had warmly closed with Tom's offer to look after the work, while he himself waited till the necessary forms had been complied with. He had absolutely begged Tom's pardon for going in his stead. 'It is your right,' he said; 'but, somehow, I think, as I have been more with him, I might do better.' To which Tom had assented with all his heart, and had added that he would not go if he were paid for it. He had further taken care that the Doctor should take with him a suit of clothes for Leonard to come home in, and had himself made the selection; then came back with the tidings that filled the house with the certainty of joy, and the uncertainty of expectation.
Nobody was, however, in such a fever as Tom himself. He was marvellously restless all the morning. Gertrude asserted it was because he was miserable at not venturing to set his father's study to rights; and to be sure he was seen looking round at the litter with a face of great disgust, and declaring that he was ashamed to see a patient in a room in such a mess. But this did not fully account for his being in and out, backwards and forwards, all the morning, looking wistfully at Ethel, and then asking some trivial question about messages left for his father, or matters respecting his own new abode, where he kept on Dr. Spencer's old housekeeper, and was about to turn in paperers and painters. He had actually brought a drawing-room paper from Paris, a most delicate and graceful affair, much too lady-like for the old house, as Daisy told him, when she pursued him and her sister down to a consultation.
Late in the afternoon, as the sisters were coming up the High Street, they met him setting out in Hector's dog-cart. 'Oh, I say, Ethel,' he said, drawing up, 'do you like a drive out to Chilford? Here's a note come to ask my father to see the old lady there, and I want some one to give me courage to be looked at, like the curate in the pulpit instead of the crack preacher.'
It was an offer not to be despised, though Ethel knew what a waiting there would be, and what a dark drive home. Up she jumped, and Tom showed his usual thoughtfulness by ordering Gertrude to run home and fetch her muff and an additional cloak, tucking her up himself with the carriage rug. That affection of Tom's had been slow in coming, but always gave her a sense of gratitude and enjoyment.
They drove all the seven miles to Chilford without twenty words passing between them; and when there, she sat in the road, and watched one constellation after another fill up its complement of stars as well as the moon permitted, wondering whether Tom's near- sighted driving would be safe in the dark; but her heart was so light, so glad, that she could not be afraid, she did not care how long she waited, it was only sitting still to recollect that deliverance had come to the captive--Leonard was free--'free as heart can think or eye can see,' as would keep ringing in her ears like a joy-bell; and some better things, too. 'Until the time came that his cause was known, the Word of the Lord tried him.'
Whether she were really too happy to note time, or that gossipry was deducted from the visit, Tom certainly returned sooner than her experience had led her to expect, made an exclamation of dismay at finding the machine was innocent of lamps, and remounted to his seat, prepared to be extremely careful.
'I could not get them to take me for my father in a new wig,' he said; 'but it was a very easy-going rheumatic case, and I think I satisfied her.'
Then on he drove for a mile, till he was out of the bad cross-country road, and at last he said, 'Ethel, I have made up my mind. There's no press of work just now, and I find it is advisable I should go to America before I get into harness here.'
'Yes, about this book of dear old Spencer's. It is a thing that must be complete, and I find he was in correspondence with some men of science there. I could satisfy my mind on a few points, which would make it infinitely more valuable, you see--and get it published there too. I know my father would wish every justice to be done to it.'
'I know he would; and,' continued Ethel, as innocently as she could, 'shall you see the Wards?'
'Why,' said Tom, in his deliberate voice, 'that is just one thing; I want particularly to see Henry. I had a talk with Wright this morning, and he tells me that young Baines, at Whitford, is going to the dogs, and the practice coming in to him. He thinks of having a partner, and I put out a feeler in case Henry Ward should choose to come back, and found it might do very well. But the proposal must come from him, and there's no time to be lost, so I thought of setting out as soon as I hear my father is on his way back.'
'Not waiting to see Leonard?'
'I did see him not a month ago. Besides--' and his voice came to a sudden end.
'Yes, the first news,' said Ethel. 'Indeed it is due to you, Tom.'
Ten minutes more of silence.
'Ethel, did she ever tell you?'
'Never,' said Ethel, her heart beating.
'Then how did you know all about it?'
'I didn't know. I only saw--'
'That you were very much distressed.'
'And very kind and rational you were about it,' said Tom, warmly; 'I never thought any woman could have guessed so much, without making mischief. But you must not put any misconstruction on my present intention. All I mean to do as yet is to induce Henry to remove them out of that dismal swamp, and bring them home to comfort and civilization. Then it may be time to--'
He became silent; and Ethel longed ardently to ask further, but still she durst not, and he presently began again.
'Ethel, was I very intolerable that winter of the volunteers, when Harry was at home?'
'You are very much improved since,' she answered.
'That's just like Flora. Answer like yourself.'
'Well, you were! You were terribly rampant in Eton refinement, and very anxious to hinder all the others from making fools of themselves.'
'I remember! I thought you had all got into intimacies that were for nobody's good, and I still think it was foolish. I know it has done for me! Well,' hastily catching up this last admission, as if it had dropped out at unawares, 'you think I made myself disagreeable?'
'Ah! then you would not wonder at what she said--that she had never seen anything in me but contemptuous irony.'
'I think, sometimes feeling that you were satirical, she took all your courtesy for irony--whatever you meant. I have heard other people say the same. But when--was this on the day--the day you went to remonstrate?'
'Yes. I declare to you, Ethel, that I had no conception of what I was going to do! I never dreamt that I was in for it. I knew she was--was attractive--and that made me hate to see Harry with her, and I could not bear her being carried off to this horrible place--but as to myself, I never thought of it till I saw her--white and broken--' and then came that old action Ethel knew so well in her father, of clearing the dew from the glasses, and his voice was half sob, 'and with no creature but that selfish brother to take care of her. I couldn't help it, Ethel--no one could--and this--this was her answer. I don't wonder. I had been a supercilious prig, and I ought to have known better than to think I could comfort her.'
'I think the remembrance must have comforted her since.'
'What--what, has she said anything?'
'Oh no, she could not, you know. But I am sure, if it did anger her at the moment, there must have been comfort in recollecting that even such a terrible trouble had not alienated you. And now--'
'Now that's just what I don't want! I don't want to stalk in and say here's the hero of romance that has saved your brother! I want to get her home, and show her that I can be civil without being satirical, and then, perhaps, she would forgive me.'
'I mean forgiveness won, not purchased. And after all, you know it was mere accident--Providence if you please--that brought me to that poor wretch; all my plans of tracking him had come to an end; any one else could have done what I did.'
'She will not feel that,' said Ethel; 'but indeed, Tom, I see what you mean, and like it. It is yourself, and not the conferrer of the benefit, that you want her to care for.'
'Exactly,' said Tom. 'And, Ethel, I must have seen her and judged of my chance before I can be good for anything. I tried to forget it-- own it as a lucky escape--a mere passing matter, like Harry's affairs--but I could not do it. Perhaps I could if things had gone well; but that dear face of misery, that I only stung by my attempts to comfort, would stick fast with me, and to go and see Leonard only brought it more home. It is a horrid bad speculation, and Flora and Cheviot and Blanche will scout it; but, Ethel, you'll help me through, and my father will not mind, I know.'
'Papa will feel as I do, Tom--that it has been your great blessing, turn out as it may.'
'H'm! has it? A blessing on the wrong side of one's mouth--to go about with a barb one knew one was a fool for, and yet couldn't forget! Well, I know what you mean, and I believe it was. I would not have had it annihilated, when the first mood was over.'
'It was that which made it so hard to you to come home, was it not?'
'Yes; but it was odd enough, however hard it was to think of coming, you always sent me away more at peace, Ethel. I can't think how you did it, knowing nothing.'
'I think you came at the right time.'
'You see, I did think that while Spencer lived, I might follow up the track, and see a little of the world--try if that would put out that face and voice. But it won't do. If this hadn't happened, I would have tied myself down, and done my best to get comfort out of you, and the hospital, and these 'Diseases of Climate'--I suppose one might in time, if things went well with her; but, as it is, I can't rest till I have seen if they can be got home again. So, Ethel, don't mind if I go before my father comes home. I can't stand explanations with him, and I had rather you did not proclaim this. You see the book, and getting Henry home, are really the reasons, and I shan't molest her again--no--not till she has learnt to know what is irony.'
'I think if you did talk it over with papa, you would feel the comfort, and know him better.'
'Well, well, I dare say, but I can't do it, Ethel. Either he shuts me up at first, with some joke, or--' and Tom stopped; but Ethel knew what he meant. There was on her father's side an involuntary absence of perfect trust in this son, and on Tom's there was a character so sensitive that her father's playfulness grated, and so reserved that his demonstrative feelings were a still greater trial to one who could not endure outward emotion. 'Besides,' added Tom, 'there is really nothing--nothing to tell. I'm not going to commit myself. I don't know whether I ever shall. I was mad that day, and I want to satisfy my mind whether I think the same now I am sane, and if I do, I shall have enough to do to make her forget the winter when I made myself such an ass. When I have done that, it may be time to speak to my father. I really am going out about the book. When did you hear last?'
'That is what makes me anxious. I have not heard for two months, and that is longer than she ever was before without writing, except when Minna was ill.'
'We shall know if Leonard has heard.'
'No, she always writes under cover to us.'
The course that the conversation then took did not look much like Tom's doubt whether his own views would be the same. All the long- repressed discussion of Averil's merits, her beautiful eyes, her sweet voice, her refinement, her real worth, the wonder that she and Leonard should be so superior to the rest of the family, were freely indulged at last, and Ethel could give far heartier sympathy than if this had come to her three years ago. Averil had been for two years her correspondent, and the patient sweetness and cheerfulness of those letters had given a far higher estimate of her nature than the passing intercourse of the town life had left. The terrible discipline of these years of exile and sorrow had, Ethel could well believe, worked out something very different from the well- intentioned wilful girl whose spirit of partisanship had been so fatal an element of discord. Distance had, in truth, made them acquainted, and won their love to one another.
Tom's last words, as he drew up under the lime-trees before the door, were, 'Mind, I am only going about the 'Diseases of Climate'.'
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