There the interview ended. The doctor came in, and I retired to reflect upon the singular communication which had been made to me. On the same evening, I accepted all the trusts confided to me. In a week the sick gentleman was sleeping with his fathers. I held his hand when he died.
I shall not describe the grief and suffering of every one. I shall not trust myself, especially, to speak of Annie. Her agony was almost destructive to her health—and every throb which shook her frame, shook mine as well. The sight of her face had revived, in an instant, all the love of the past, if indeed it had ever slept. I loved her now, passionately, profoundly. As I thought that I might win her love in return, I thrilled with a vague delight.
Well, let me not spin out my story. The result of my examination of Mr. Barrington’s affairs, was saddening in the extreme. He was quite ruined. Neglect and extravagant living, with security debts, had mortgaged his entire property. When it was settled, and the hall was sold, his widow and daughter had just enough to live upon comfortably—scarcely so much. They gladly embraced my suggestion to remove to a small cottage near our own, in town, and there they now live—you may see the low roof through the window.
I am glad to say that my reexamination of the executorial accounts, which had so troubled the poor dying gentleman, proved his fears quite unfounded. There was mere disorder—no grounds for “exception.” I told as much to Annie, who alone knew all; and her smile, inexpressibly sweet and filled with thanks, was my sole executorial “commission.”
I have just been discarded by Annie.
Let me endeavor to collect my thoughts and recall what she said to me. My head is troubled to-day—it is strange what a want of self-control I have! I thought I was strong—and I am weaker than a child.
I told her that I loved her—had loved her for years—that she was dearer, far, to me than all on earth beside my mother. And she answered me—agitated, but perfectly resolved:
“I cannot marry you, Mr. Cleave.”
A long pause followed, in which she evidently labored with great distress—then she continued:
“I will frankly and faithfully say why I cannot. I know all—I know your feelings for me once. You went away because you were poor, and you thought I was rich. Shall I be less strong than yourself? I am poor now; I do not regret it, except—pardon me, sir, I am confused—I meant to say, that you are now the richer. It humbles me to speak of this—why did you not”—
There she stopped, blushing and trembling.
“Why did I not? Oh! do not stop there, I pray you.”
She replied to my words in a broken and agitated voice:
“I cannot finish. I was thinking of—of—the day when I mended your coat!”