He put one arm languidly round her. “I used to read of Orestes and the Furies at Eton when I was a boy, and I thought it was all a heathen fiction. Poor little motherless girl!” said he, laying his other hand on her head, with the caressing gesture he had been accustomed to use when she had been a little child. “Did you love him so very dearly, Nelly?” he whispered, his cheek against her: “for somehow of late he has not seemed to me good enough for thee. He has got an inkling that something has gone wrong, and he was very inquisitive—I may say he questioned me in a relentless kind of way.”
“Oh, papa, it was my doing, I’m afraid. I said something long ago about possible disgrace.”
He pushed her away; he stood up, and looked at her with the eyes dilated, half in fear, half in fierceness, of an animal at bay; he did not heed that his abrupt movement had almost thrown her prostrate on the ground.
“You, Ellinor! You—you—”
“Oh, darling father, listen!” said she, creeping to his knees, and clasping them with her hands. “I said it, as if it were a possible case, of some one else—last August—but he immediately applied it, and asked me if it was over me the disgrace, or shame—I forget the words we used—hung; and what could I say?”
“Anything—anything to put him off the scent. God help me, I am a lost man, betrayed by my child!”
Ellinor let go his knees, and covered her face. Every one stabbed at that poor heart. In a minute or so her father spoke again.
“I don’t mean what I say. I often don’t mean it now. Ellinor, you must forgive me, my child!” He stooped, and lifted her up, and sat down, taking her on his knee, and smoothing her hair off her hot forehead. “Remember, child, how very miserable I am, and have forgiveness for me. He had none, and yet he must have seen I had been drinking.”
“Drinking, papa!” said Ellinor, raising her head, and looking at him with sorrowful surprise.
“Yes. I drink now to try and forget,” said he, blushing and confused.
“Oh, how miserable we are!” cried Ellinor, bursting into tears—“how very miserable! It seems almost as if God had forgotten to comfort us!”
“Hush! hush!” said he. “Your mother said once she did so pray that you might grow up religious; you must be religious, child, because she prayed for it so often. Poor Lettice, how glad I am that you are dead!” Here he began to cry like a child. Ellinor comforted him with kisses rather than words. He pushed her away, after a while, and said, sharply: “How much does he know? I must make sure of that. How much did you tell him, Ellinor?”
“Nothing—nothing, indeed, papa, but what I told you just now!”
“Tell it me again—the exact words!”
“I will, as well as I can; but it was last August. I only said, ’Was it right for a woman to marry, knowing that disgrace hung over her, and keeping her lover in ignorance of it?’”