“A person has been calling, named Sherwin,” he said, “and inquiring about you every day. What intimate connection between you authorises this perfect stranger to me to come to the house as frequently as he does, and to make his inquiries with a familiarity of tone and manner which has struck every one of the servants who have, on different occasions, opened the door to him? Who is this Mr. Sherwin?”
“It is not with him, Sir, that I can well begin. I must go back—”
“You must go back farther, I am afraid, than you will be able to return. You must go back to the time when you had nothing to conceal from me, and when you could speak to me with the frankness and directness of a gentleman.”
“Pray be patient with me, Sir; give me a few minutes to collect myself. I have much need for a little self-possession before I tell you all.”
“All? your tones mean more than your words—they are candid, at least! Have I feared the worst, and yet not feared as I ought? Basil!—do you hear me, Basil? You are trembling very strangely; you are growing pale!”
“I shall be better directly, Sir. I am afraid I am not quite so strong yet as I thought myself. Father! I am heart-broken and spirit-broken: be patient and kind to me, or I cannot speak to you.”
I thought I saw his eyes moisten. He shaded them a moment with his hand, and sighed again—the same long, trembling sigh that I had heard before. I tried to rise from my chair, and throw myself on my knees at his feet. He mistook the action, and caught me by the arm, believing that I was fainting.
“No more to-night, Basil,” he said, hurriedly, but very gently; “no more on this subject till to-morrow.”
“I can speak now, Sir; it is better to speak at once.”
“No: you are too much agitated; you are weaker than I thought. To-morrow, in the morning, when you are stronger after a night’s rest. No! I will hear nothing more. Go to bed now; I will tell your sister not to disturb you to-night. To-morrow, you shall speak to me; and speak in your own way, without interruption. Good-night, Basil, good-night.”
Without waiting to shake hands with me, he hastened to the door, as if anxious to hide from my observation the grief and apprehension which had evidently overcome him. But, just at the moment when he was leaving the room, he hesitated, turned round, looked sorrowfully at me for an instant, and then, retracing his steps, gave me his hand, pressed mine for a moment in silence, and left me.
After the morrow was over, would he ever give me that hand again?
The morning which was to decide all between my father and me, the morning on whose event hung the future of my home life, was the brightest and loveliest that my eyes ever looked on. A cloudless sky, a soft air, sunshine so joyous and dazzling that the commonest objects looked beautiful in its light, seemed to be mocking at me for my heavy heart, as I stood at my window, and thought of the hard duty to be fulfilled, on the harder judgment that might be pronounced, before the dawning of another day.