There was silence in the room, broken only by the ticking of the little mantle clock, till in a low suppressed voice she continued:
“And you know the awful blow that came so soon after, that has broken her down. She clings to me in so many ways. No, Warner, she might yield to my persuasions, but I should never forgive myself if things went wrong.”
“Wrong?” echoed the man, bitter pain tugging at his heart. “How much more wrong could things go? But it is nothing to you that my life is made desolate, that loving you through all its best years I must quietly give you up, and that, too, when I am in condition to take care of you. Have I shown no consideration by waiting? Have I ever pressed my claim till I knew I could make you comfortable and happy? But why do I cringe and beg like this?” he added, setting his teeth hard with the pain of disappointment. “If you really loved me you could not quibble about the thing you call duty.” And he strode back and forth, refusing to take in the situation.
Then the girl’s forced composure gave way. This was not her first tilt with the man she loved, but he had never been so hard, so desperate, so unjust. Heroically she had tried to do her duty. Ignominously she now felt herself faltering in the way.
He could not bear her tears. The sight of her grief drove him from himself. Pausing before her, he said:
“Doris, I yield. Let it be as you say.”
And he lifted her hand to his lips in adieu; though in his powerfully imposed self-restraint he could not be all tenderness. His tones were gentle, and in the look he cast upon her bowed figure there was no reproach.
He was gone; and Doris went back to the mother who was unconscious that she was wrecking the happiness of this devoted child; the only one left to her. One by one they had married and gone, and now in her darkened world she was enduring a more fearful weight of woe than blindness. Ralph, her youngest, and her darling, the Benjamin of her old age, had fled the country under the awful ban of murder. His employer, a hard man, had been found dead in his private office from a blow on the back of the head. Suspicion pointed to Ralph, who, poor, hot-headed fellow, had been heard to vow vengeance against the dead man for his harshness. A fellow clerk warned him in time to flee from the officers of the law. He could not go without seeing his mother. In the silence of the night he had clasped her trembling form in his stalwart young arms, and in broken, quivering tones, bade her trust in his innocence. “Mother, believe me, only believe me; I did not do it,” and sped on in the darkness, an exile. She did believe in him. She would almost as soon have doubted her Savior’s love. But her stern, unbending pride of race was wounded. Her loving heart was pierced in its tenderest spot, and in a few short weeks she was a fretful, peevish invalid, making wholesale but unconscious draughts upon her noble daughter’s patience.