“Silence, sir!” rejoined Clarence, sternly. “How dare you interfere? He may say what he likes—reproach me as he pleases—he is her father—I have no other reply; but if you dare again to utter a word, I’ll—” and Clarence paused and looked about him as if in search of something with which to enforce silence.
Feeble-looking as he was, there was an air of determination about him which commanded acquiescence, and George Stevens did not venture upon another observation during the interview.
“I want my daughter’s letters—every line she ever wrote to you; get them at once—I want them now,” said Mr. Bates, imperatively.
“I cannot give them to you immediately, they are not accessible at present. Does she want them?” he asked, feebly—“has she desired to have them back?”
“Never mind that!” said the old man, sternly; “no evasions. Give me the letters!”
“To-morrow I will send them,” said Clarence. “I will read them all over once again,” thought he.
“I cannot believe you,” said Mr. Bates.
“I promise you upon my honour I will send them tomorrow!”
“A nigger’s honour!” rejoined Mr. Bates, with a contemptuous sneer. “Yes, sir—a nigger’s honour!” repeated Clarence, the colour mounting to his pale cheeks. “A few drops of negro blood in a man’s reins do not entirely deprive him of noble sentiments. ’Tis true my past concealment does not argue in my favour.—I concealed that which was no fault of my own, but what the injustice of society has made a crime.”
“I am not here for discussion; and I suppose I must trust to your honour,” interrupted Mr. Bates, with a sneer. “But remember, if the letters are not forthcoming to-morrow I shall be here again, and then,” concluded he in a threatening tone, “my visit will not be as harmless as this has been!”
After they had gone, Clarence rose and walked feebly to his desk, which, with great effort and risk, he removed to the bed-side; then taking from it little Birdie’s letters, he began their perusal.
Ay! read them again—and yet again; pore over their contents—dwell on those passages replete with tenderness, until every word is stamped upon thy breaking heart—linger by them as the weary traveller amid Sahara’s sand pauses by some sparkling fountain in a shady oasis, tasting of its pure waters ere he launches forth again upon the arid waste beyond. This is the last green spot upon thy way to death; beyond whose grim portals, let us believe, thou and thy “little Birdie” may meet again.
“Murder will out.”
The city clocks had just tolled out the hour of twelve, the last omnibus had rumbled by, and the silence without was broken only at rare intervals when some belated citizen passed by with hurried footsteps towards his home. All was still in the house of Mr. Stevens—so quiet, that the ticking of the large clock in the hall could be distinctly heard at the top of the stairway, breaking the solemn stillness of the night with its monotonous “click, click—click, click!”