“Oh, Dr. Ashton, will you not forgive me? The horrible trouble I brought upon myself is over now. I don’t rejoice in it under the circumstances, Heaven knows; I only speak of the fact. Let me come to your house again! Forgive me for the past.”
“In one sense the trouble is over, because the debts that were a formidable embarrassment to Mr. Elster are as nothing to Lord Hartledon,” was the reply. “But let me assure you of one thing: that your being Lord Hartledon will not make the slightest difference to my decision not to give you my daughter, unless your line of conduct shall change.”
“It is changed. Dr. Ashton, on my word of honour, I will never be guilty of carelessness again. One thing will be my safeguard, though all else should fail—the fact that I passed my word for this to my dear brother not many hours before his death. For my sake, for Anne’s sake, you will forgive me!”
Was it possible to resist the persuasive tones, the earnestness of the honest, dark-blue eyes? If ever Percival Elster was to make an effort for good, and succeed, it must be now. The doctor knew it; and he knew that Anne’s happiness was at stake. But he did not thaw immediately.
“You know, Lord Hartledon—”
“Call me Val, as you used to do,” came the pleading interruption; and Dr. Ashton smiled in spite of himself.
“Percival, you know it is against my nature to be harsh or unforgiving; just as I believe it contrary to your nature to be guilty of deliberate wrong. If you will only be true to yourself, I would rather have you for my son-in-law than any other man in England; as I would have had when you were Val Elster. Do you note my words? true to yourself.”
“As I will be from henceforth,” whispered Val, earnest tears rising to his eyes.
And as he would have been but for his besetting sin.
LATER IN THE DAY.
It happened that Clerk Gum had business on hand the day of the inquest, which obliged him to go to Garchester. He reached home after dark; and the first thing he saw was his wife, in what he was pleased to call a state of semi-idiocy. The tea-things were laid on the table, and substantial refreshment in the shape of cold meat, and a plate of muffins ready for toasting, all for the clerk’s regalement. But Mrs. Gum herself sat on a low chair by the fire, her eyes swollen with crying.
“What’s the matter now?” was the clerk’s first question.
“Oh, Gum, I told you you ought not to have gone off to-day. You might have stayed for the inquest.”
“Much good I should do the inquest, or the inquest do me,” retorted the clerk. “Has Becky gone?”
“Long ago. Gum, that dream’s coming round. I said it would. I told you there was ill in store for Lord Hartledon; and that Pike was mixed up in it, and Mr. Elster also in some way. If you’d only listen to me—”