“My son accompanies me to his home. If he should afterwards be wanted, he will be found at his own fireside. Good-day, my friends. I thank you for the goodwill you have this day shown us both.”
Then he entered the carriage.
The solemn way in which Frederick bared his head in acknowledgment of this public recognition of the hold he still retained on this one faithful heart, struck awe into the hearts of all who saw it. So that the carriage rolled off in silence, closing one of the most thrilling and impressive scenes ever witnessed in that time-worn village.
“Not when they are young girls”
But, alas! all tides have their ebb as well as flow, and before Mr. Sutherland and Frederick were well out of the main street the latter became aware that notwithstanding the respect with which his explanations had been received by the jury, there were many of his fellow-townsmen who were ready to show dissatisfaction at his being allowed to return in freedom to that home where he had still every prospect of being called the young master. Doubt, that seed of ramifying growth, had been planted in more than one breast, and while it failed as yet to break out into any open manifestation, there were evidences enough in the very restraint visible in such groups of people as they passed that suspicion had not been suppressed or his innocence established by the over-favourable verdict of the coroner’s jury.
To Mr. Sutherland, suffering now from the reaction following all great efforts, much, if not all, of this quiet but significant display of public feeling passed unnoticed. But to Frederick, alive to the least look, the least sign that his story had not been accepted unquestioned, this passage through the town was the occasion of the most poignant suffering.
For not only did these marks of public suspicion bespeak possible arraignment in the future, but through them it became evident that even if he escaped open condemnation in the courts, he could never hope for complete reinstatement before the world, nor, what was to him a still deeper source of despair, anticipate a day when Agnes’s love should make amends to him for the grief and errors of his more than wayward youth. He could never marry so pure a being while the shadow of crime separated him from the mass of human beings. Her belief in his innocence and the exact truth of his story (and he was confident she did believe him) could make no difference in this conclusion. While he was regarded openly or in dark corners or beside the humblest fireside as a possible criminal, neither Mr. Sutherland nor her father, nor his own heart even, would allow him to offer her anything but a friend’s gratitude, or win from her anything but a neighbour’s sympathy; yet in bidding good-bye to larger hopes and more importunate desires, he parted with the better part of his heart and the only solace remaining in this world for the boundless griefs and tragic experiences of his still young life. He had learned to love through suffering, only to realise that the very nature of his suffering forbade him to indulge in love.