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HALF the night, following the receipt of Mr. Lyon's letter, was spent in writing an answer. Imploringly she besought him to release her, truly, from the obligation to secrecy with which he had bound her. Most touchingly did she picture her state of mind, and the change wrought by it upon her mother. "I cannot bear this much longer," she said. "I am too weak for the burden you have laid upon me. It must be taken away soon, or I will sink under the weight. Oh, sir! if, as you say, you love me, prove that love by restoring me to my parents. Now, though present with them in body, I am removed from them in spirit. My mother's voice has a strange sound in my ears; and when she gazes sadly into my face I can hardly believe that it is my mother who is looking upon me. If she touches me, I start as if guilty of a crime. Oh, sir! to die would be easy for me now. What a sweet relief utter forgetfulness would be."
When Fanny awoke on the next morning, she found her mother standing beside her bed, and gazing down upon her face with a tender, anxious look. Sleep had cleared the daughter's thoughts and tranquilized her feelings. As her mother bent over and kissed her, she threw her arms around her neck and clung to her tightly.
"My dear child!" said Mrs. Markland, in a loving voice.
"Dear, dear mother!" was answered, with a gush of feeling.
"Something is troubling you, Fanny. You are greatly changed. Will you not open your heart to me?"
"Oh, mother!" She sobbed out the words.
"Am I not your truest friend?" said Mrs. Markland, speaking calmly, but very tenderly.
Fanny did not reply.
"Have I ever proved myself unworthy of your confidence?" She spoke as if from wounded feeling.
"Oh, no, no, dearest mother!" exclaimed Fanny. "How can you ask me such a question?"
"You have withdrawn your confidence," was almost coldly said.
"Oh, mother!" And Fanny drew her arms more tightly about her mother's neck, kissing her cheek passionately as she did so.
A little while Mrs. Markland waited, until her daughter's mind grew calmer; then she said--
"You are concealing from me something that troubles you. Whatever doubles you is of sufficient importance to be intrusted to your mother. I am older, have had more experience than you, and am your best friend. Not to confide in me is unjust to yourself, for, in my counsels, more than in those of your own heart, is there safety."
Mrs. Markland paused, and waited for some time, but there was no response from Fanny. She then said--
"You have received a letter from Mr. Lyon."
Fanny started as if a sudden blow had aroused her.
"And concealed the fact from your mother."
No answer; only bitter weeping.
"May I see that letter?" asked the mother, after a short pause. For nearly a minute she waited for a reply. But there was not a word from Fanny, who now lay as still as death. Slowly Mrs. Markland disengaged her arm from her daughter's neck, and raised herself erect. For the space of two or three minutes she sat on the bedside. All this time there was not the slightest movement on the part of Fanny. Then she arose and moved slowly across the room. Her hand was on the door, and the sound of the latch broke the silence of the room. At this instant the unhappy girl started up, and cried, in tones of anguish--
"Oh, my mother! my mother! come back!"
Mrs. Markland returned slowly, and with the air of one who hesitated. Fanny leaned forward against her, and wept freely.
"It is not yet too late, my child, to get back the peace of mind which this concealment has destroyed. Mr. Lyon has written to you?"
"May I see his letter?"
There was no answer.
"Still not willing to trust your best friend," said Mrs. Markland.
"Can I trust you?" said Fanny, raising herself up suddenly, and gazing steadily into her mother's face. Mrs. Markland was startled as well by the words of her daughter as by the strange expression of her countenance.
"Trust me? What do you mean by such words?" she answered.
"If I tell you a secret, will you, at least for a little while, keep it in your own heart."
"Keep it from whom?"
"You frighten me, my child! What have you to do with a secret that must be kept from your father!"
"I did not desire its custody."
"If it concerns your own or your father's welfare, so much the more is it imperative on you to speak to him freely. No true friend could lay upon you such an obligation, and the quicker you throw it off the better. What is the nature of this secret?"
"I cannot speak unless you promise me."
"To conceal from father what I tell you."
"I can make no such promise, Fanny."
"Then I am bound hand and foot," said the poor girl, in a distressed voice.
A long silence followed. Then the mother used argument and persuasion to induce Fanny to unbosom herself. But the effort was fruitless.
"If you promise to keep my secret for a single week, I will speak," said the unhappy girl, at length.
"I promise," was reluctantly answered.
"You know," answered Fanny, "it was rumored that Mr. Lyon had returned from the South while father was in New York." She did not look up at her mother as she said this.
"Yes." Mrs. Markland spoke eagerly.
"It is true that he was here."
"And you saw him?"
"Yes. I was sitting alone in the summer-house, over at the Fountain Grove, on the day after father went to New York, when I was frightened at seeing Mr. Lyon. He inquired anxiously if father were at home, and was much troubled when I told him he had gone to New York. He said that he had written to him to transact certain business; and that after writing he had seen reason to change his views, and fearing that a letter might not reach him in time, had hurried back in order to have a personal interview, but arrived too late. Father had already left for New York. This being so, he started back for the South at once, after binding me to a brief secrecy. He said that the fact of his return, if it became known to father, might be misunderstood by him, and the consequence of such a misapprehension would be serious injury to important interests. So far I have kept this secret, mother, and it has been to me a painful burden. You have promised to keep it for a single week."
"And this is all?" said Mrs. Markland, looking anxiously into her daughter's face.
"No, not all." Fanny spoke firmly. "I have since received two letters from him."
"May I see them?"
Fanny hesitated for some moments, and then going to a drawer, took two letters therefrom, and handed one of them to her mother. Mrs. Markland read it eagerly.
"You answered this?" she said.
"What did you say?"
"I cannot repeat my words. I was half beside myself, and only begged him to let me speak to you freely."
"And his reply?" said Mrs. Markland.
"Read it;" and Fanny gave her the second letter.
"Have you answered this?" inquired Mrs. Markland, after reading it over twice.
Fanny moved across the room again, and taking from the same drawer another letter, folded and sealed, broke the seal, and gave it to her mother.
"My poor, bewildered, unhappy child!" said Mrs. Markland, in a voice unsteady from deep emotion; and she gathered her arms tightly around her. "How little did I dream of the trials through which you were passing. But, now that I know all, let me be your counsellor, your supporter. You will be guided by me?"
"And you will not break your promise?" said Fanny.
"To keep this from father a single week, or, until I can write to Mr. Lyon, and give him the chance of making the communication himself. This seems to me but just to him, as some interests, unknown to us, are at stake."
"Believe me, my daughter, it will be wisest to let your father know this at once."
"A week can make but little difference," urged Fanny.
"Consequences to your father, of the utmost importance, may be at stake. He is, I fear, involving himself with this man."
"Mr. Lyon is true and honourable," said Fanny. "He committed an error, that is all. Let him at least have the privilege of making his own explanations. I will add to my letter that only for a week longer can I keep his secret, and, to make an immediate revelation imperative on him, will say that you know all, and will reveal all at the end of that time, if he does not."
No considerations that Mrs. Markland could urge had any effect to change the purpose of Fanny in this matter.
"I must hold you to your promise," was the brief, final answer to every argument set forth by her mother.
How far she might hold that promise sacred was a subject of long and grave debate in the mind of Mrs. Markland. But we will not here anticipate her decision.
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