Mr. McNeal at length became informed of the injurious report that was circulated about him. He immediately went to Mrs. Arden to tell her of the report, and to ask her if any inadvertency of his own in regard to her dealings at his shop occasioned her speaking so disadvantageously of him. Mrs. Arden was much astonished at what he told her, as she might well be, and assured him that she had never either spoken of him or thought of him but as thoroughly an honorable and honest tradesman. Mrs. Arden was exceedingly hurt that her name should be attached to such a cruel calumny, and, on consulting with Sir Henry Askham, it was agreed that he and Mrs. Arden should make it their business to trace it back to its authors. They found no real difficulty in tracing it back to Sally, Dr. Hammond’s servant. She was accordingly sent for to Mr. McNeal’s, where Sir Henry Askham and Mr. Arden, with some other gentlemen, were assembled on this charitable investigation. Sally, on being questioned who had told her of the report, replied, without hesitation, that she had been told by Miss Sophy, who had seen all the particulars in Mrs. Arden’s handwriting.
Mr. Arden was greatly astonished at hearing this assertion, and felt confident that the whole must have originated from some strange blunder. He and the other gentlemen immediately proceeded to Dr. Hammond’s, and having explained their business to him, desired to see Sophy. She, on being asked, confirmed what Sally had said, adding that to satisfy them she could show them Mrs. Arden’s own words, and she accordingly produced the fragment of the note. Miss Hammond, the instant she saw the paper recollected it again, and winding off the silk from the other half of Mrs. Arden’s note, presented it to Mr. Arden, who, laying the two pieces of paper together read as follows:
“MY DEAR MISS HAMMOND,—Will you as soon as you receive this be kind enough to go to your opposite neighbor, Mr. McNeal, and tell him I find by looking at his bill he has made a great mistake as to the price of the last stockings he sent; and it seems to me (by not charging them as silk) he has cheated himself, as he’ll see, of several pounds.—I am sorry to say of our new dog, that he has behaved very ill and worried two sheep, and Mr. Arden tells me he very much fears it must end in his being hanged or he’ll kill all the flock. I am exceedingly grieved, for he is a noble animal, but fear this will be the end of my poor dog.
“I am, dear Louisa, yours truly
Thus by the fortunate preservation of the last half of the note the whole affair was cleared up, Mrs. Arden’s character vindicated from the charge of being a defamer, and Mr. McNeal from all suspicion of dishonesty. And all their friends were pleased and satisfied. But how did Sophy feel? She did feel at last both remorse and humiliation. She had no one to blame but herself; she had no one to take her part, for even her father and her brother considered it due to public justice that she should make a public acknowledgment of her fault to Mr. McNeal, and to ask his pardon.