“Do you recognize this handwriting?” asked Mr. Vaughn, after a few moments desultory conversation, handing her a letter.
Clemence uttered an ejaculation of surprise, “Why, it looks like mine, though I never saw it before. What a singular resemblance.”
“What is more singular still, it has your signature,” said the gentleman; “read it.”
The young girl obeyed, mechanically, and her companion watched her in interested silence, while the blushes came and went on her pure face.
Her look deepened into one of anxiety and consternation as she read. “What can it mean?” she asked, in distressed tones. “Who has sought thus to injure me?”
“A jealous, wicked woman,” he returned, sadly. “It was a cruel deed, and brought its own bitter reward of remorse and shame. But I will give you the whole story.”
“You doubtless wondered at your abrupt dismissal from Mrs. Vaughn’s employment upon so slight a pretext as Gracia gave you. I never dreamed of the possibility until you were gone, and, when I questioned her as to the cause of the non-appearance of the face I had learned to watch for, she gave me this, telling me to thank her for having saved me from a dreadful fate.
“The letter seemed to explain itself. It opened my eyes to the state of my own heart.
“This shock, for a time, nearly overwhelmed me. I never believed, though, even in the darkest hour, that you could do anything really wrong. I knew that you were tried by poverty, and only pitied your sufferings, resolving to render whatever aid might lay in my power.
“In pursuance of this resolution, I therefore traced out your residence, secretly, and in my efforts learned something of your former history. I found that I had known Grosvenor Graystone in his days of prosperity, and took new courage in finding that you were the daughter of that upright man.
“Not wishing to make myself known at that time, I still hovered around you, thinking that, if you needed a protector, I would become visible at the right moment.”
“And,” interrupted Clemence, “you were the unknown friend who sent us, at our time of greatest need, the means that defrayed the expenses of my mother’s last illness, and interment. How much I thank you, you can never know.”
“I did not intend to speak of that,” continued Mr. Vaughn. “I did nothing of what I had planned, on account of being called suddenly away to the death-bed of a distant relative.
“As soon as I could do so with decency, I returned, and my first visit was to your lodgings, where I had determined to present myself in person and make the acquaintance of Mrs. Graystone.
“What was my grief to learn that that estimable lady was no more, and that, after a long and dangerous illness, her I sought more particularly, as the one whose happiness was most dear to me on earth, had gone away with a lady whose name I could not learn.