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"From his boyhood I always found Charles singularly truthful," grandmamma interposed; "and when he returns I will-on the first favourable opportunity, when we are alone together--ask him one one question, only one, and place perfect confidence in his answer. will put it to his honour as a Christian gentleman to tell me whether it was guilt, wilfully, intentionally committed, that drove him into banishment; or was he, contrary to his wishes, to his better judgment, involved in some iniquitous or trying circumstance-entrapped into it, perhaps, without pre-intention, without desire of his own, and thereby forced to fly from justice? If he assures me the latter was the case, I will henceforward believe in and trust to his honour as implicitly as I did years ago."
An apprehensive, distressed expression came into Sariann's pale face.
"And if he confesses that guilt, determined guilt on his own part, obliged him to hide himself?" questioned Sariann in an agitated voice; "for I, too, know Charles to be incapable of falsehood."
"I do not believe it possible, my dear!"
replied grandmamma, in a tone of confidence that infinitely cheered the poor sister's sinking heart. "Under any circumstances he is not obliged to convict himself; he can, indeed I almost expect he will, take refuge in silence, and refuse to answer in any way; and with that I must be content, you know, having no right to more."
"I have always thought, and do still," exclaimed I, "despite everything Mr. Boyer and others said to the contrary, that Charles was desperately in love with some girl, who jilted him, and made all England so hateful that for that reason he ran away from it. Miss Pitt entertains the same idea, does she not grandmamma? She says she shall never think anything else of him; and so does old Tursey, and ever so many more.
Sariann smiled faintly; but it was a pleased smile nevertheless. Her soul was gladly open to any comfort, however small; and it certainly was consoling to hear there were those who did not and would not believe that "a mystery" must necessarily be a cloak to crime.
"Yes," she answered, thoughtfully, has been from the first, I know, a very
generally received opinion: thank God it has been so there is nothing disgraceful in
a thing of that kind. Oh, Oh, I trust none may ever see cause to regard the sad affair otherwise!"
A FEW days after we heard that Charles was at the Rectory. He did not seem in a hurry to renew his intimacy at the Court, however, although Sariann proposed his accompanying her to do so, she told us; but he merely returned some indistinct answer, and she forbore to press the matter further.
I was wildly anxious to see my old tormentor, for whom I entertained an affectionate sisterly remembrance, albeit not unmixed with a certain amount of fear of his criticisms and merciless badinage. Grandmamma sent a kind little message by his sister to the effect she hoped absence had not changed his heart towards his friends, or made him forgetful of
them; but for awhile nothing came of that either.
It was late in the autumn about this time, and the weather wet and stormy. One day especially it rained in torrents without intermission from morning till night, and as grandmamma and I sat in our favourite drawing-room I beguiled the tedious hours by sketching a picturesque group of trees on a distant part of the lawn, dear mammy, as I often called her, reading aloud. Suddenly an object emerging from a side walk made its appearance on the scene, whom in that place and that weather I had not expected to see there. It was that of a man rapidly approaching the house by one of the side walks skirting the aforesaid lawn. The large umbrella he carried effectually concealed his face from my view, and that which I did see of his person and movement was so little familiar to me I at once decided he was a stranger.
"He is ignorant of the geography of the country," thought I, "and, having lost his way, is endeavouring to recover it by a cut through our grounds." Under this impression I did not interrupt grandmamma's reading, but