‘I believe you, Gilbert,’ said his father; ’but you well know that the only way of atoning for the past, as well as of avoiding such wretchedness and disgrace for the future, is to show greater firmness.’
‘I know it is,’ said Gilbert, sorrowfully.
‘I cannot look into your heart,’ added Mr. Kendal. ’I can only hope and believe that your grief for the sin is as deep, or deeper, than that for the public stigma, for which comparatively, I care little.’
Gilbert exclaimed that so indeed it was, and this was no more than the truth. Out of sight of temptation, and in that pure atmosphere, the loud revel and coarse witticisms that had led him on, were only loathsome and disgusting, and made him miserable in the recollection.
‘I am ready to submit to anything,’ he added, fervently. ’As long as you forgive me, I am ready to bear anything.’
‘I forgive you from my heart,’ said Mr. Kendal, warmly. ’I only wish to consider what may be most expedient for you. I should scarcely like to send you back to Oxford to retrieve your character, unless I were sure that you would be more resolute in resisting temptation. No, do not reply; your actions during this time of penance will be a far more satisfactory answer than any promises. I had thought of again applying to your cousin John, to take you into his bank, though you could not now go on such terms as you might have done when there was no error in the background, and I still sometimes question whether it be not the safer method.’
‘Whatever you please,’ said Gilbert; ‘I deserve it all.’
’Nay, do not look upon my decision, whatever it may be, as punishment, but only as springing from my desire for your real welfare. I will write to your cousin and ask whether he still has a vacancy, but without absolutely proposing you to him, and we will look on the coming months as a period of probation, during which we may judge what may be the wisest course. I will only ask one other question, Gilbert, and you need not be afraid to answer me fully and freely. Have you any debts at Oxford?’
‘A few,’ stammered Gilbert, with a great effort.
‘Can you tell me to whom, and the amount?’
He tried to recollect as well as he could, while completely frightened and confused by the gravity with which his father was jotting them down in his pocket-book.
‘Well, Gilbert,’ he concluded, ’you have dealt candidly with me, and you shall never have cause to regret having done so. And now we will only feel that you are at home, and dwell no longer on the cause that has brought you. Come out, and see what we have been doing in the meadow.’
Gilbert seemed more overthrown and broken down by kindness than by reproof. He hardly exerted himself even to play with Maurice, or to amuse his grandmother; and though his sisters treated him as usual, he never once lifted up his eyes to meet Sophy’s glance, and scarcely used his voice.