That night, when Conrade and Francis were both fast asleep, their mother and their governess sat over the fire together, languid but happy, and told out their hearts to one another—told out more than Alison had ever put into words even to Ermine, for her heart was softer and more unreserved now than ever it had been since her sister’s accident had crushed her youth. There was thenceforth a bond between her and Lady Temple that gave the young widow the strong-hearted, sympathizing, sisterly friend she had looked for in Rachel, and that filled up those yearnings of the affection that had at first made Alison feel that Colin’s return made the world dreary to her. Her life had a purpose, though that purpose was not Ermine! But where were Edward and his letter?
THE QUARTER SESSIONS.
“Is it so nominated in the bond?”—Merchant of Venice.
Malgre her disinclination, Rachel had reached the point of recovery in which the fresh air and change of scene of the drive to Avoncester could not fail to act as restoratives, and the first evening with the Dean and his gentle old sister was refreshing and comfortable to her spirits.
It was in the afternoon of the ensuing day that Mr. Grey came to tell her that her presence would soon be required, and both her mother and sister drove to the court with her. Poor Mrs. Curtis, too anxious to go away, yet too nervous to go into court, chose, in spite of all Mr. Grey’s advice, to remain in the carriage with the blinds closed, far too miserable for Grace to leave her.
Rachel, though very white, called up a heroic smile, and declared that she should get on very well. Her spirit had risen to the occasion, so as to brace her nerves to go becomingly through what was inevitable; and she replied with a ready “yes,” to Mr. Grey’s repetition of the advice for ever dinned into her ears, not to say a word more than needful, feeling indeed little disposed to utter anything that she could avoid.
She emerged from the dark passage into full view of faces which were far more familiar than she could have wished. She would have greatly preferred appearing before a judge, robed, wigged, and a stranger, to coming thus before a country gentleman, slightly known to herself, but an old friend of her father, and looking only like his ordinary self.
All the world indeed was curious to see the encounter between Rachel Curtis and her impostor, and every one who had contributed so much as a dozen stamps to the F. U. E. E. felt as if under a personal wrong and grievance, while many hoped to detect other elements of excitement, so that though all did not overtly stare at the witness, not even the most considerate could resist the impulse to glance at her reception of the bow with which he greeted her entrance.