There was something in her tone that puzzled John Somerville, but he was far enough from suspecting that she knew the truth, and at last knew him too.
“Rosa,” he said, after a pause, “I, too, believe that Ida still lives. Do you love her well enough to make a sacrifice for the sake of recovering her?”
“What sacrifice?” she asked, fixing her eye upon him.
“A sacrifice of your feelings.”
“Explain. You speak in enigmas.”
“Listen, then. I have already told you that I, too, believe Ida to be living. Indeed, I have lately come upon a clew which I think will lead me to her. Withdraw the opposition you have twice made to my suit, promise me that you will reward my affection by your hand if I succeed, and I will devote myself to the search for Ida, resting not day or night till I have placed her in your arms. This I am ready to do. If I succeed, may I claim my reward?”
“What reason have you for thinking you would be able to find her?” asked Mrs. Clifton, with the same inexplicable manner.
“The clew that I spoke of.”
“And are you not generous enough to exert yourself without demanding of me this sacrifice?”
“No, Rosa,” he answered, firmly, “I am not unselfish enough. I have long loved you. You may not love me; but I am sure I can make you happy. I am forced to show myself selfish, since it is the only way in which I can win you.”
“But consider a moment. Put it on a different ground. If you restore me my child now, will not even that be a poor atonement for the wrong you did me seven years since”—she spoke rapidly now—“for the grief, and loneliness, and sorrow which your wickedness and cruelty have wrought?”
“I do not understand you,” he said, faltering.
“It is sufficient explanation, Mr. Somerville, to say I have seen the woman who is now in prison—your paid agent—and that I need no assistance to recover Ida. She is in my house.”
He uttered only this word, and, rising, left the presence of the woman whom he had so long deceived and injured.
His grand scheme had failed.
It is quite time to return to New York, from which Ida was carried but three short weeks before.
“I am beginning to feel anxious about Jack,” said Mrs. Harding. “It’s more than a week since we heard from him. I’m afraid he’s got into some trouble.”
“Probably he’s too busy to write,” said the cooper, wishing to relieve his wife’s anxiety, though he, too, was not without anxiety.
“I told you so,” said Rachel, in one of her usual fits of depression. “I told you Jack wasn’t fit to be sent on such an errand. If you’d only taken my advice you wouldn’t have had so much worry and trouble about him now. Most likely he’s got into the House of Reformation, or somewhere. I knew a young man once who went away from home, and never came back again. Nobody ever knew what became of him till his body was found in the river half eaten by fishes.”