“How could I?” repeated Peg. “Madam, you are rich. You have always had whatever wealth could procure. How can such as you understand the temptations of the poor? When want and hunger stare us in the face we have not the strength that you have in your luxurious homes.”
“Pardon me,” said Mrs. Clifton, touched by these words, half bitter, half pathetic. “Let me, at any rate, thank you for the service you have done me now. When you are released from your confinement come to me. If you wish to change your mode of life, and live honestly henceforth, I will give you the chance.”
“After all the injury I have done you, you are yet willing to trust me?”
“Who am I that I should condemn you? Yes, I will trust you, and forgive you.”
“I never expected to hear such words,” said Peg, her heart softened, and her arid eyes moistened by unwonted emotion; “least of all from you. I should like to ask one thing.”
“What is it?”
“Will you let her come and see me sometimes?” pointing to Ida as she spoke. “It will remind me that this is not all a dream—these words which you have spoken.”
“She shall come,” said Mrs. Clifton, “and I will come too, sometimes.”
They left the prison behind them, and returned home.
There was a visitor awaiting them.
“Mr. Somerville is in the drawing room,” said the servant. “He said he would wait till you came in.”
Mrs. Clifton’s face flushed.
“I will go down and see him,” she said. “Ida, you will remain here.”
She descended to the drawing room, and met the man who had injured her. He had come with the resolve to stake his all upon one desperate cast. His fortunes were desperate. But he had one hope left. Through the mother’s love for the daughter, whom she had mourned so long, whom as he believed he had it in his power to restore to her, he hoped to obtain her consent to a marriage which would retrieve his fortunes and gratify his ambition.
Mrs. Clifton entered the room, and seated herself quietly. She bowed slightly, but did not, as usual, offer her hand. But, full of his own plans, Mr. Somerville took no note of this change in her manner.
“How long is it since Ida was lost?” inquired Somerville, abruptly.
Mrs. Clifton heard this question in surprise. Why was it that he had alluded to this subject?
“Seven years,” she answered.
“And you believe she yet lives?”
“Yes, I am certain of it.”
John Somerville did not understand her. He thought it was only because a mother is reluctant to give up hope.
“It is a long time,” he said.
“It is—a long time to suffer,” said Mrs. Clifton, with deep meaning. “How could anyone have the heart to work me this great injury? For seven years I have led a sad and solitary life—seven years that might have been gladdened and cheered by my darling’s presence!”