The other drew back.
“I will read it to you and to the company,” he answered. “There can be no wedding this morning. I trust there will be soon. But first it is my personal duty to look into this matter.”
Katie, whose face had grown rigid, swung heavily against Stephen. “She has fainted,” her mother cried coming forward.
“Take her away,” commanded the Colonel. “This is no place for her.” But the girl clung to Stephen.
“I will stay,” she said, with a tearless sob. “I must listen. I see it all, and what he meant, too, that evil man.”
“Master Shurtleff,” cried the Governor, “I command you to make all this clear to us at once. If that paper in your hand tells us the cause of your refusal to marry these young people, I bid you read it to us immediately.”
The parson, bowing with respect, cleared his throat and began, premising that Governor Wentworth’s commands had been his own intention from the first.
“It is a confession,” he said, “made by one whom many of us have welcomed to our homes as a gentleman of blameless character and honorable dealing. Why it was sent to Mistress Royal instead of to Master Archdale, or the bride, I am at a loss to understand.”
Elizabeth raised her head with a flash in her eyes, but anger died away into despair, and she stood silent with the others, and listened to the fate that fell upon her with those monotonous tones, each one heavy as lead upon her heart. She wondered if it had been sent to her because it had been feared that Stephen Archdale would keep silence.
“I write without knowing to whom I am writing,” began the paper, “except that among the readers must be some whom I have wronged. I can scarcely crave forgiveness of them, because they will surely not grant it to me. I don’t know even that I can crave it of Heaven, for I have played with sacred things, and used a power given me for good, in an evil way, to further my own devices, and, after all, I have not furthered them. I am a man loving and unloved, one who has perhaps thrown away his soul on the chance of winning earthly joy,—but such joy,—and has lost it. If any have ever done like me, let them pity and pardon. I appeal to them for compassion. I shall receive it nowhere else, unless it be possible, that the one for love of whom I have done the wrong will out of the kindness of her heart spare me by and by a thought of pity for what was the suggestion of a moment and acted on—”
“Skip all that maundering,” interrupted Stephen. “To the point. Who is this man, and what has he done? Let him keep his feelings to himself, or if they concern you, they don’t us.”
“No, no, Stephen. Fair play,” called out Governor Wentworth. “Let us hear every word, then we can judge better of the case, and of the writer’s truthfulness.”