He had made his bow, and he now proceeded to depart, severity in his face and an implacable resolution in his eye. But some impulse made him stop; some secret call from deeply hidden, possibly unrecognised, affections gave him the will to say:
“A plea uttered through a veil is like an unsigned message. It partakes too much of the indefinite. Will you lift your veil, madam?”
“In a minute,” she assured him. “The voice can convey truth as certainly as the features. I will not deny you a glimpse of the latter after you have heard my story. Will you hear it, judge? Issues of no common importance hang upon your decision. I entreat--but no, you are a just man; I will rely upon your sense of right. If your son’s happiness fails to appeal to you, let that of a young and innocent girl lovely as few are lovely either in body or mind.”
“No, my daughter! Oliver Ostrander has done us that honour, sir. He had every wish and had made every preparation to marry my child, when—Shall I go on?”
It was shortly said, but a burden seemed to fall from her shoulders at its utterance. Her whole graceful form relaxed swiftly into its natural curves, and an atmosphere of charm from this moment enveloped her, which justified the description of Mrs. Yardley, even without a sight of the features she still kept hidden.
“I am a widow, sir.” Thus she began with studied simplicity. “With my one child I have been living in Detroit these many years,—ever since my husband’s death, in fact. We are not unliked there, nor have we lacked respect. When some six months ago, your son, who stands high in every one’s regard, as befits his parentage and his varied talents, met my daughter and fell seriously in love with her, no one, so far as I know, criticised his taste or found fault with his choice. I was happy, after many years of anxiety; for I idolised my child and I had suffered from many apprehensions as to her future. Not that I had the right to be happy; I see that now. A woman with a secret,—and my heart held a woful and desperate one,—should never feel that that secret lacks power to destroy her because it has long lain quiescent. I thought my child safe, and rejoiced as any woman might rejoice, and as I would rejoice now, if Fate were to obliterate that secret and emancipate us all from the horror of it.”
She paused, waiting for some acknowledgment of his interest, but not getting it, went on bitterly enough, for his stolidity was a very great mystery to her:
“And she was safe, to all appearance, up to the very morning of her marriage—the marriage of which you say you had received no intimation though Oliver seems a very dutiful son.”
“Madam!”—The hoarseness of his tone possibly increased its peremptory character—“I really must ask you to lay aside your veil.”
It was a rebuke and she felt it to be so; but though she blushed behind her veil, she did not remove it.