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Michael Vanstone. The whole
fortune of eighty thousand pounds has virtually passed into his possession
Are there no other relations?"
asked Miss Garth. "Is there no hope from any one else?"
There are no other relations with
Michael Vanstone's claim," said the lawyer. "There are no grandfathers or
grandmothers of the dead child (on the side of either of the parents) now alive.
It was not likely there should be, considering the ages of Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone
when they died. But it is a misfortune to be reasonably lamented that no other
uncles or aunts survive. There are cousins alive—a son and two daughters of that
elder sister of Mr. Vanstone's who married Archdeacon Bartram, and who died, as
I told you, some years since. But their interest is superseded by the interest
of the nearer blood. No, Miss Garth, we must look facts as they are resolutely
in the face. The law of England, as it affects illegitimate offspring, is a
disgrace to the nation. It violates every principle of Christian mercy, by
visiting the sins of the parents on the children; it encourages vice by
depriving fathers and mothers of the strongest of all motives for making the
atonement of marriage; and it claims to produce these two abominable results in
the names of morality and religion. It is not the law of Scotland, not the law
of France, not the law (so far as I know) of any other civilized community in
Europe. A day may come when England will be ashamed of it; but that day has not
dawned yet. Mr. Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children, and the law leaves
them helpless at their uncle's mercy."
He spoke those words with the
energy of honest indignation, and rose to his feet.
"It is useless to dwell longer,"
he said, "on past and present. The morning is wearing away, and the future
claims us. The best service which I can now render you is to shorten the period
of your suspense. In less than an hour I shall be on my way back to London.
Immediately on my arrival I will ascertain the speediest means of communicating
with Mr. Michael Vanstone, and will let you know the result. Sad as the position
of the two sisters now is, we must look at it on its best side; we must not lose
"Hope?" repeated Miss Garth.
"Hope from Michael Vanstone!"
"Yes; hope from the influence on
him of time, if not from the influence of mercy. As I have already told you, he
is now an old man; he can not, in the course of nature, expect to live much
longer. If he looks back to the period when he and his brother were first at
variance, he must look back through thirty years. Surely these are softening
influences which must affect any man? Surely his own knowledge of the shocking
circumstances under which he has become possessed of this money will plead with
him, if nothing else does?"
"I will try to think as you do,
Mr. Pendril—I will try to hope for the best. Shall we be left long in suspense
before the decision reaches us?"
"I trust not. The only delay on
my side will be caused by the necessity of discovering the place of Michael
Vanstone's residence on the Continent. I think I have the means of meeting this
difficulty successfully, and the moment I reach London those means shall be
He took up his hat, and then
returned to the table on which the father's last letter and the father's useless
will were lying side by side. After a moment's consideration he placed them both
in Miss Garth's hands.
"It may help you in breaking the
hard truth to the orphan sisters," he said, in his quiet, self-repressed way,
"if they can see how their father refers to them in his will—if they can read
his letter to me, the last he ever wrote. Let these tokens tell them that the
one idea of their father's life was the idea of making atonement to his
children. 'They may think bitterly of their birth,' he said to me at the time
when I drew this useless will; 'but they shall never think bitterly of me. I
will cross them in nothing: they shall never know a sorrow that I can spare
them, or a want which I will not satisfy.' He made me put those words in his
will to plead for him when the truth which he had concealed from his children in
his lifetime was revealed to them after his death. No law can deprive his
daughters of the legacy of his repentance and his love. I leave the will and the
letter to help you: I give them both into your care."
He saw how his parting kindness
touched her, and thoughtfully hastened the farewell. She took his hand in both
her own and murmured a few broken words of gratitude. "Trust me to do my best,"
he said—and, turning away with a merciful abruptness, left her. In the broad,
cheerful sunshine he had come in to reveal the fatal truth. In the broad,
cheerful sunshine—that truth disclosed—he went out.
IT was nearly an hour past noon
when Mr. Pendril left the house. Miss Garth sat down again at the table alone,
and tried to face the necessity which the event of the morning now forced on
Her mind was not equal to the
effort. She tried to lessen the strain on it—to lose the sense of her own
position—to escape from her thoughts for a few minutes only. After a little she
opened Mr. Vanstone's letter, and mechanically set herself to read it through
One by one the last words of the
dead man fastened themselves more and more firmly on her attention. The
unrelieved solitude, the unbroken silence, helped their influence on her mind,
and opened it to those very impressions of past and present which she was most
anxious to shun. As she reached the melancholy lines which closed the letter she
almost unconsciously, at
first—tracing the fatal chain of events, link by link, backward, until she
reached its beginning in the contemplated marriage between Magdalen and Francis
That marriage had taken Mr.
Vanstone to his old friend with the confession on his lips which would otherwise
never have escaped them. Thence came the discovery which had sent him home to
summon the lawyer to the house. That summons again had produced the inevitable
acceleration of the Saturday's journey to Friday, the Friday of the fatal
accident, the Friday when he went to his death. From his death followed the
second bereavement which had made the house desolate; the helpless position of
the daughters whose prosperous future had been his dearest care; the revelation
of the secret which had overwhelmed her that morning; the disclosure, more
terrible still, which she now stood committed to make to the orphan sisters. For
the first time she saw the whole sequence of events—saw it as plainly as the
cloudless blue of the sky and the green glow of the trees in the sunlight
How—when could she tell them? Who
could approach them with the disclosure of their own illegitimacy before their
father and mother had been dead a week? Who could speak the dreadful words while
the first tears were wet on their cheeks, while the first pang of separation was
at its keenest in their hearts, while the memory of the funeral was not a day
old yet? Not their last friend left; not the faithful woman whose heart bled for
them. No! silence for the present time at all risks—merciful silence for many
days to come!
She left the room with the will
and the letter in her hand—with the natural, human pity at her heart which
sealed her lips and shut her eyes resolutely to the future. In the hall she
stopped and listened. Not a sound was audible. She softly ascended the stairs on
her way to her own room, and passed the door of Norah's bed-chamber. Voices
inside, the voices of the two sisters, caught her ear. After a moment's
consideration she checked herself, turned back, and quickly descended the stairs
again. Both Norah and Magdalen knew of the interview between Mr. Pendril and
herself: she had felt it her duty to show them his letter making the
appointment. Could she excite their suspicion by locking herself up from them in
her room as soon as the lawyer had left the house? Her hand trembled on the
stair-rail; she felt that her face might betray her. The self-forgetful
fortitude, which had never failed her until that day, had been tried once too
often—had been tasked beyond its powers at last.
At the hall door she reflected
for a moment again, and went into the garden, directing her steps to a rustic
bench and table placed out of sight of the house among the trees. In past times
she had often sat there with Mrs. Vanstone on one side, with Norah on the other,
with Magdalen and the dogs romping on the grass. Alone she sat there now—the
will and the letter, which she dared not trust out of her own possession, laid
on the table—her head bowed over them; her face hidden in her hands. Alone she
sat there, and tried to rouse her sinking courage.
Doubts thronged on her of the
dark days to come; dread beset her of the hidden danger which her own silence
toward Norah and Magdalen might store up in the near future. The accident of a
moment might suddenly reveal the truth. Mr. Pendril might write, might
personally address himself to the sisters, in the natural conviction that she
had enlightened them. Complications might gather round them at a moment's
notice; unforeseen necessities might arise for immediately leaving the house.
She saw all these perils—and still the cruel courage to face the worst, and
speak, was as far from her as ever. Ere long the thickening conflict of her
thoughts forced its way outward for relief in words and actions. She raised her
head and beat her hand helplessly on the table.
"God help me, what am I to do!"
she broke out. "How am I to tell them?"
"There is no need to tell them,"
said a voice behind her. "They know it already."
She started to her feet, and
looked round. It was Magdalen who stood before her—Magdalen who had spoken those
Yes, there was the graceful
figure, in its mourning garments, standing out tall and black and motionless
against the leafy back-ground. There was Magdalen herself, with a changeless
stillness on her white face; with an icy resignation in her steady gray eyes.
"We know it already," she
repeated, in clear, measured tones. "Mr. Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's
Children, and the law leaves them helpless at their uncle's mercy."
So, without a tear on her cheeks,
without a faltering tone in her voice, she repeated the lawyer's own words,
exactly as he had spoken them. Miss Garth staggered back a step, and caught at
the bench to support herself. Her head swam; she closed her eyes in a momentary
faintness. When they opened again Magdalen's arm was supporting her, Magdalen's
breath fanned her cheek, Magdalen's cold lips kissed her. She drew back from the
kiss; the touch of the girl's lips thrilled her with terror.
As soon as she could speak she
put the inevitable question. "You heard us," she said. "Where?"
"Under the open window."
"All the time?"
"From beginning to end."
She had listened—this girl of
eighteen, in the first week of her orphanage, had listened to the whole terrible
revelation, word by word, as it fell from the lawyer's lips, and had never once
betrayed herself! From first to last, the only movements which had escaped her
movements guarded enough and
slight enough to be mistaken for the passage of the summer breeze through the
"Don't try to speak yet," she
said, in softer and gentler tones. "Don't look at me with those doubting eyes.
What wrong have I done? When Mr. Pendril wished to speak to you about Norah and
me his letter gave us our choice to be present at the interview, or to keep
away. If my elder sister decided to keep away how could I come? How could I hear
my own story except as I did? My listening has done no harm. It has done good—it
has saved you the distress of speaking to us. You have suffered enough for us
already: it is time we learned to suffer for ourselves. I have learned. And
Norah is learning."
"Yes. I have done all I could to
spare you. I have told Norah."
She had told Norah! Was this
girl, whose courage had faced the terrible necessity from which a woman old
enough to be her mother had recoiled, the girl Miss Garth had brought up? the
girl whose nature she had believed to be as well known to her as her own?
"Magdalen!" she cried out,
passionately, "you frighten me!"
Magdalen only sighed, and turned
"Try not to think worse of me
than I deserve," she said "I can't cry. My heart is numbed."
She moved away slowly over the
grass. Miss Garth watched the tall black figure gliding away alone, until it was
lost among the trees. While it was in sight she could think of nothing else. The
moment it was gone she thought of Norah. For the first time in her experience of
the sisters her heart led her instinctively to the elder of the two.
Norah was still in her own room.
She was sitting on the couch by the window, with her mother's old music-book—the
keepsake which Mrs.Vanstone had found in her husband's study on the day of her
husband's death—spread open on her lap. She looked up from it with such quiet
sorrow, and pointed with such ready kindness to the vacant place at her side,
that Miss Garth doubted for the moment whether Magdalen had spoken the truth.
"See," said Norah, simply, turning to the first leaf in the music-book. "My My
mother's name written in it, and some verses to my father on the next page. We
may keep this for ourselves if we keep nothing else." She put her arm round Miss
Garth's neck, and a faint tinge of color stole over her cheeks. "I see anxious
thoughts in your face," she whispered. "Are you anxious about me? Are you
doubting whether I have heard it? I have heard the whole truth. I might have
felt it bitterly later; it is too soon to feel it now. You have seen Magdalen?
She went out to find you—where did you leave her?"
"In the garden. I couldn't speak
to her; I couldn't look at her. Magdalen has frightened me."
Norah rose hurriedly; rose,
startled and distressed by Miss Garth's reply.
"Don't think ill of Magdalen,"
she said. "Magdalen suffers in secret more than I do. Try not to grieve over
what you have heard about us this morning. Does it matter who we are, or what we
keep or lose? What loss is there for us after the loss of our father and mother?
Oh, Miss Garth, there is the only bitterness! What did we remember of them when
we laid them in the grave yesterday? Nothing but the love they gave us—the love
we must never hope for again. What else can we remember to-day? What change can
the world, and the world's cruel laws, make in our memory of the kindest father,
the kindest mother, that children ever had!" She stopped; struggled with her
rising grief; and quietly, resolutely kept it down. "Will you wait here," she
said, "while I go and bring Magdalen back? Magdalen was always your favorite: I
want her to be your favorite still." She laid the music-book gently on Miss
Garth's lap, and left the room.
"Magdalen was always your
favorite." Tenderly as they had been spoken, those words fell reproachfully on
Miss Garth's ear. For the first time in the long companionship of her pupils and
herself, a doubt whether she, and all those about her, had not been fatally
mistaken in their relative estimate of the sisters, now forced itself on her
She had studied the natures of
her two pupils in the daily intimacy of twelve years. Those natures, which she
believed herself to have sounded through all their depths, had been suddenly
tried in the sharp ordeal of affliction. How had they come out from the test? As
her previous experience had prepared her to see them? No: in flat contradiction
What did such a result as this
imply? Thoughts came to her as she asked herself that question which have
startled and saddened us all.
Does there exist in every human
being, beneath that outward and visible character which is shaped into form by
the social influences surrounding us, an inward, invisible disposition which is
part of ourselves; which education may indirectly modify, but can never hope to
change? Is the philosophy which denies this, and asserts that we are born with
dispositions like blank sheets of paper, a philosophy which has failed to remark
that we are not born with blank faces—a philosophy which has never compared
together two infants of a few days old, and has never observed that those
infants are not born with blank tempers for mothers and nurses to fill up at
will? Are there, infinitely varying with each individual, inbred forces of Good
and Evil in all of us, deep down below the reach of mortal encouragement and
mortal repression—hidden Good and hidden
Evil, both alike at the mercy of
the liberating opportunity and the sufficient temptation? Within these earthly
limits is earthly Circumstance ever the key; and can no human vigilance warn us
beforehand of the forces imprisoned in ourselves which that key may unlock?
For the first time thoughts such
as these rose darkly—as shadowy and terrible possibilities—in Miss Garth's mind.
For the first time she associated those possibilities with the past conduct and
characters, with the future lives and fortunes, of the orphan sisters.
Searching, as in a glass, darkly,
into the two natures, she felt her way, doubt by doubt, from one possible truth
to another. It might be that the upper surface of their characters was all that
she had thus far plainly seen in Norah and Magdalen. It might be that the
unalluring secrecy and reserve of one sister, the all-attractive openness and
high spirits of the other, were more or less referable, in each case, to those
physical causes which work toward the production of moral results. It might be
that under the surface so formed—a surface which there had been nothing,
hitherto, in the happy, prosperous, uneventful lives of the sisters to
disturb—forces of inborn and inbred disposition had remained concealed which the
shock of the first serious calamity in their lives had now thrown up into view.
Was this so? Was the promise of the future shining with prophetic light through
the surface-shadow of Norah's reserve, and darkening with prophetic gloom under
the surface glitter of Magdalen's bright spirits? If the life of the elder
sister was destined henceforth to be the ripening-ground of the undeveloped Good
that was in her, was the life of the younger doomed to be the battle-field of
mortal conflict with the roused forces of Evil in herself?
On the brink of that terrible
conclusion Miss Garth shrank back in dismay. Her heart was the heart of a true
woman. It accepted the conviction which raised Norah higher in her love: it
rejected the doubt which threatened to place Magdalen lower. She rose and paced
the room impatiently; she recoiled with an angry suddenness from the whole train
of thought in which her mind had been engaged but the moment before. What if
there were dangerous elements in the strength of Magdalen's character—was it not
her duty to help the girl against herself? How had she performed that duty? She
had let herself be governed by first fears and first impressions; she had never
waited to consider whether Magdalen's openly acknowledged action of that morning
might not imply a self-sacrificing fortitude, which promised in after-life the
noblest and highest results. She had let Norah go and speak those words of
tender remonstrance, of pleading sympathy, which she should first have spoken
herself. "Oh!" she thought bitterly, "how long I have lived in the world, and
how little I have known of my own weakness and wickedness until to-day!"
The door of the room opened.
Norah came in, as she had gone out, alone.
"Do you remember leaving any
thing on the little table by the garden-seat?" she asked, quietly.
Before Miss Garth could answer
the question she held out her father's will and her father's letter.
"Magdalen came back after you
went away," she said, "and found these last relics. She heard Mr. Pendril say
they were her legacy and mine. When I went into the garden she was reading the
letter. There was no need for me to speak to her: our father had spoken to her
from his grave. See how she has listened to him!"
She pointed to the letter. The
traces of heavy tear-drops lay thick over the last lines of the dead man's
"Her tears," said Norah, softly.
Miss Garth's head drooped low
over the mute revelation of Magdalen's return to her better self.
"Oh, never doubt her again!"
pleaded Norah. "We are alone now—we have our hard way through the world to walk
on as patiently as we can. If Magdalen ever falters and turns back, help her for
the love of old times; help her against herself."
"With all my heart and strength,
as God shall judge me, with the devotion of my whole life!" In those fervent
words Miss Garth answered. She took the hand which Norah held out to her, and
put it, in sorrow and humility, to her lips. "Oh, my love, forgive me! I have
been miserably blind—I have never valued you as I ought!"
Norah gently checked her before
she could say more—gently whispered, "Come with me into the garden—come, and
help Magdalen to look patiently to the future."
The future! Who could see the
faintest glimmer of it? Who could see any thing but the ill-omened figure of
Michael Vanstone posted darkly on the verge of the present time, and closing all
the prospect that lay beyond him?
COMMODORE FOOTE AT FORT
OUR Western artist, Mr. A.
Simplot, has sent us the sketches which we reproduce on
page 300. They
represent COMMODORE FOOTE'S FLOTILLA DESCENDING THE MISSISSIPPI WITH THE
TRANSPORTS; and the COMMENCEMENT OF THE BOMBARDMENT OF FORT WRIGHT on the
Chickasaw Bluffs, thirty-five miles in a straight Hue north of Memphis.
The correspondent of the World
thus describes the approach to
On nearing the locality, all that
can be observed ahead of us is the wide rushing stream now swollen to unusual (Next