“If in a month’s time you wish to make a full confession to me,” he said, “I will hear it. But I solemnly charge you in the meanwhile to speak to no one of this difficulty between you and your husband. Whatever it may have been, it is past. If he sinned against you, he is dead, and the least you can do is to keep silence. If you wronged him”—Lady Newhaven shook her head vehemently—“if you wronged him,” repeated the Bishop, his face hardening, “be silent for the sake of the children. It is the only miserable reparation you can make him.”
“You don’t understand,” she said, feebly.
“I know that he was a kindly, gentle-natured man, and that he died a hard and bitter one,” said the Bishop. “God knows what is in that letter, but your husband said it would be of the greatest comfort and assistance to you in a difficulty which he foresaw for you. I will leave you to read it.”
And he left the room.
The early December twilight was creeping over everything. Lady Newhaven took the letter to the window, and after several futile attempts succeeded in opening it.
It ran as follows:
“It is irreligious to mourn too long for the dead. ’I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me’—II. Sam. xii. 23. In the meanwhile, until you rejoin me, I trust you will remember that it is my especial wish that you should allow one who is in every way worthy of you to console you for my loss, who will make you as happy as you both deserve to be. That I died by my own hand you and your so-called friend Miss West are of course aware. That ’the one love of your life’ drew the short lighter you are perhaps not aware. I waited two days to see if he would fulfil the compact, and as he did not—I never thought he would—I retired in his place. I present to you this small piece of information as a wedding-present, which, if adroitly handled, may add to the harmony of domestic life. And if by any chance he should have conceived the dastardly, the immoral idea of deserting you in favor of some mercenary marriage—of which I rather suspect him—you will find this piece of information invaluable in restoring his allegiance at once. He is yours by every sacred tie, and no treacherous female friend must wrest him from you.
Lady Newhaven put the letter in her pocket, and then fainted away, with her fair head on the window-ledge.
“There cannot be a pinch in death more sharp than this is.”
The Bishop’s sister, Miss Keane, whose life was a perpetual orgy of mothers’ meetings and G.F.S. gatherings, was holding a district visitors’ working party in the drawing-room at the Palace. The ladies knitted and stitched, while one of their number heaped fuel on the flame of their enthusiasm by reading aloud the “History of the Diocese of Southminster.”
Miss Keane took but little heed of the presence of Rachel and Hester in her brother’s house. Those who work mechanically on fixed lines seem, as a rule, to miss the pith of life. She was kind when she remembered them, but her heart was where her treasure was—namely, in her escritoire, with her list of Bible-classes, and servants’ choral unions, and the long roll of contributors to the guild of work which she herself had started.