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_"Dec. 22nd._--A miserable day: low spirited and hysterical. We are really going away. Edward has begun to make packing-cases: I stood over him and sighed, and asked him questions: he said he was going to take unfurnished rooms in London, send up what furniture is absolutely necessary, and sell the rest by auction, with the lease of our dear, dear house, where we were all so happy once. So, what with his 'knowledge of the markets, and the world,' and his sense, and his strong will, we have only to submit. And then he is so kind, too: 'Don't cry, little girl,' he said. 'Not but what I could turn on the waters myself if there was anything to be gained by it. _Shall_ I cry, Ju,' said he, 'or shall I whistle? I think I'll whistle.' And he whistled a tune right through while he worked with a heart as sick as my own, perhaps. Poor Edward!"
_"Dec. 23rd._--My Christian friend has her griefs, too. But then _she_ puts them to profit: she says today, 'We are both tasting the same flesh-crucifying but soul-profiting experience.' Her every word is a rebuke to me: torn at this solemn season of the year with earthly passions. Went down after reading her letter, and played and sang the _Gloria in Excelsis_ of Pergolesi, with all my soul. So then I repeated it, and burst out crying in the middle. Oh shame! shame!"
_"Dec. 24th._--Edward started for London at five in the morning to take a place for us. The servants were next told, and received warning; the one we had the poorest opinion of, she is such a flirt, cried, and begged mamma to let her share our fallen fortunes, and said she could cook a little and would do her best. I kissed her violently, and quite forgot I was a young lady till she herself reminded me; and she looked frightened at mamma. But mamma only smiled through her tears and said, 'Think of it quietly, Sarah, before you commit yourself.'"
"I am now sitting in my old room, cold as a stone: for I have packed up some things: so the first step is actually taken. Oh, if I but knew that he was happy! Then I could endure anything. But how can I think so? Well, I will go, and never tell a soul what I suspect, and he cannot tell, even if he knows: for it is his father. Jane, too, avoids all mention of her own father and brother more than is natural. Oh, if I could only be a child again!
"Regrets are vain; I will cease even to record them; these diaries feed one's selfishness, and the unfortunate passion, that will make me a bad daughter and an ungrateful soldier of Him who was born as to-morrow: to your knees, false Christian! to your knees!"
"I am calmer now; and feel resigned to the will of Heaven; or benumbed; or something. I will pack this box and then go down and comfort my mother; and visit my poor people, perhaps for the last time: ah me!
"A knock at the street door! his knock! I know every echo of his hand, and his foot. Where is my composure now? I flutter like a bird. I will not go down. He will think I love him so.
"At least I will wait till he has nearly gone.
"Elizabeth has come to say I am wanted in the drawing-room.
"So I _must_ go down whether I like or no.
"Bedtime. Oh that I had the pen of a writer to record the scene I have witnessed, worthily. When I came in, I found mamma and him both seated in dead silence. He rose and looked at me and I at him: and years seemed to have rolled over his face since last I saw it. I was obliged to turn my head away; I curtseyed to him distantly, and may Heaven forgive me for that: and we sat down, and presently turned round and all looked at one another like the ghosts of the happy creatures we once were altogether.
"Then Alfred began, not in his old imperative voice, but scarce above a whisper; and oh the words such as none but himself in the wide world would have spoken--I love him better than ever; I pity him; I adore him; he is a scholar; he is a chevalier; he is the soul of honour; he is the most unfortunate and proudest gentleman beneath the sun; oh, my darling! my darling!!
"He said, 'Mrs. Dodd, and you Miss Dodd, whom I loved before I lost the right to ask you to be mine, and whom I shall love to the last hour of my miserable existence, I am come to explain my own conduct to you, and to do you an act of simple justice, too long delayed. To begin with myself, you must know that my understanding is of the Academic School: I incline to weigh proofs before I make up my mind. But then I differ from that school in this, that I cannot think myself to an eternal standstill; (such an expression! but what does that matter, it was _his;)_ I am a man of action: in Hamlet's place I should have either turned my ghost into ridicule, or my uncle into a ghost; so I kept away from you while in doubt, but now I doubt no longer. I take my line: ladies, you have been swindled out of a large sum of money.
"My blood ran cold at these words. Surely nothing on earth but a man could say this right out like that.
"Mamma and I looked at one another; and what did I see in her face, for the first time ? Why that she had her suspicions too, and had been keeping them from me. Pitying angel!
"He went on: 'Captain Dodd brought home several thousand pounds?'
"Mamma said 'Yes.' And I think she was going to say how much, but he stopped her and made her write the amount in an envelope, while he took another and wrote in it with his pencil. He took both envelopes to me, and asked me to read them out in turn: I did, and mamma's said fourteen thousand pounds: and his said fourteen thousand pounds. Mamma looked such a look at me.
"Then he turned to me: 'Miss Dodd, do you remember that night you and I met at Richard Hardie's door? Well, scarce five minutes before that, your father was standing on our lawn and called to the man, who was my father, in a loud voice--it rings in my ears now--"Hardie, Villain! give me back my money, my fourteen thousand pounds! give me my children's money, or may your children die before your eyes." Ah, you wince to hear me whisper these dreadful words: what if you had been where I was and heard them spoken, and in a terrible voice; the voice of Despair; the voice of Truth! Soon a window opened cautiously, and a voice whispered, "Hush! I'll bring it you down." And _this_ voice was the voice of fear, of dishonesty, and of Richard Hardie.'
"He turned deadly white when he said this, and I cried to mamma, 'Oh, stop him! stop him!' And she said, 'Alfred, think what you are saying. Why do you tell us what we had better never know?' He answered directly.
"'Because it is the truth: and because I loathe injustice. Some time afterwards I taxed Mr. Richard Hardie with this fourteen thousand pounds: and his face betrayed him. I taxed his clerk, Skinner: and Skinner's face betrayed him: and he fled the town that very night.
"My mother looked much distressed and said, 'To what end do you raise this pitiable subject? Your father is a bankrupt, and we but suffer with the rest.'
"'No, no,' said he, 'I have looked through the bankrupt's books, and there is no mention of the sum. And then who brought Captain Dodd here? Skinner? and Skinner is his detected confederate. It is clear to me poor Captain Dodd trusted that sum to _us_ before he had the fit; beyond this all is conjecture.'
"Mamma looked at me again, and said, 'What am I to do; or say?'
'I screamed, 'Do nothing, say nothing: oh pray, pray make him hold his tongue, and let the vile money go. It is not _his_ fault.'
"'Do?' said the obstinate creature: 'why tell Edward, and let him employ a sharp attorney: you have a supple antagonist and a daring one. Need I say I have tried persuasion, and even bribes: but he defies me. Set an attorney on him, or the police. Fiat Justitia, ruat coelum.' I put both hands out to him and burst out 'Oh, Alfred, why did you tell? A son expose his own father? For shame; for shame! I have suspected it all long ago: but _I_ would never have told.'
"He started a little; but said, 'Miss Dodd, you were very generous to me: but that is not exactly a reason why I should be a cur to you; and an accomplice in a theft by which you suffer. I have no pretensions to religion like my sister: so I can't afford to tamper with plain right and wrong. What, look calmly on and see one man defraud another? I can't do it. See _you_ defrauded? you, Mrs. Dodd, for whom I profess affection and friendship? You, Miss Dodd, for whom I profess love and constancy? Stand and see you swindled into poverty? Of what do you think I am made? My stomach rises against it, my blood boils against it, my flesh creeps at it, my soul loathes it:' then after this great burst he seemed to turn _so_ feeble: 'Oh,' said he, faltering, 'I know what I have done; I have signed the death warrant of our love, dear to me as life. But I can't help it. Oh, Julia, Julia, my lost love, you can never look on me again; you must not love a man you cannot marry. Cheat Hardie's wretched son. But what could I do? Fate offers me but the miserable choice of desolation or cowardly rascality. I choose desolation and I mean to stand by my choice like a man. So good-bye, ladies.'
"The poor proud creature rose from his seat, and bowed stiffly and haughtily to us both, and was going away without another word, and I do believe for ever. But his soul had been too great for his body; his poor lips turned pale and he staggered; and would have fallen, but mamma screamed to me, and she he loves so dearly, and abandons so cruelly, woke from a stupor of despair, and flew and caught him fainting in these arms."
"WE laid the poor proud creature on the sofa, and bathed his face with eau de Cologne. He spoke directly, and said that was nice, and 'His head! his head!' And I don't think he was ever quite insensible, but he did not know what was going on, for presently he opened his eyes wide, and stared at us so, and then closed them with, oh such a sigh; it swelled my heart almost to bursting. And to think I could say nothing: but mamma soothed him and insisted on his keeping quiet; for he wanted to run away from us. She was never so good to him before: she said, 'My dear child, you have my pity and my esteem; alas! that at your age you should be tried like this. How few in this sorry world would have acted like you: I should have sided with my own flesh and blood, for one.'
"'What, right or wrong?' he asked.
"'Yes,' said she, 'right or wrong.' Then she turned to me: 'Julia, shall all the generosity be on his side?'
"I kissed her and clung to her, but dared not speak; but I was mad enough to hope, I scarcely know what, till she said in the same kind, sorrowful voice, 'I agree with you; you can never be my son; nor Julia's husband. But as for that money, it revolts me to proceed to extremes against one, who after all is your father, my poor, poor, chivalrous boy.' But she would decide nothing without Edward; he had taken his father's place in
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