The interview between our lovers was, consequently, not long. The secret of their hearts being now known, each felt anxious to retire, and to look with a miser’s ecstacy upon the delicious hoard which the scene we have just described had created. Jane did not reach home until the evening devotions of the family were over, and this was the first time she had ever, to their knowledge, been absent from them before. Borne away by the force of what had just occurred, she was proceeding up to her own room, after reaching home, when Mr. Sinclair, who had remarked her absence, desired that she be called into the drawing-room.
“It is the first neglect,” he observed, “of a necessary duty, and it would be wrong in me to let it pass without at least pointing it out to the dear child as an error, and knowing from her own lips why it has happened.”
Terror and alarm, like what might be supposed to arise from the detection of secret guilt, seized upon the young creature so violently that she had hardly strength to enter the drawing-room without support: her face became the image of death, and her whole frame tottered and trembled visibly.
“Jane, my dear, why were you absent from prayers this evening?” inquired her father, with his usual mildness of manner.
This question, to one who had never yet been, in the slightest instance, guilty of falsehood, was indeed a terrible one; and especially to a girl so extremely timid as was this his best beloved daughter.
“Papa,” she at last replied, “I was out walking;” but as she spoke there was that in her voice and manner which betrayed the guilt of an insincere reply.
“I know, my dear, you were; but although you have frequently been out walking, yet I do not remember that you ever stayed, away from our evening worship before. Why is this?”
Her father’s question was repeated in vain. She hung her head and returned no answer. She tried to speak, but from her parched lips not a word could proceed. She felt as if all the family that moment were conscious of the occurrence between her and her lover; and if the wish could have relieved her, she would almost have wished to die, so much did she shrink abashed in their presence.
“Tell me, my daughter,” proceeded her father, more seriously, “has your absence been occasioned by anything that you are ashamed or afraid to mention? From me, Jane, you ought to have no secrets;—you are yet too young to think away from your father’s heart and from your mother’s also;—speak candidly, my child,—speak candidly,—I expect it.”
As he uttered the last words, the head of their beautiful flower sank upon her bosom, and in a moment she lay insensible upon the sofa on which she had been sitting.
This was a shock for which neither the father nor the family were prepared. William flew to her,—all of them crowded about her, and scarcely had he raised that face so pale, but now so mournfully beautiful in its insensibility, when her mother and sisters burst into tears and wailings, for they feared at the moment that their beloved one must have been previously seized with sudden illness, and was then either taken, or about to be taken from their eyes for ever. By the coolness of her father, however, they were directed how to restore her, in which, after a lapse of not less than ten minutes, they succeeded.