The Mayor's Wife
24. The Sins Of The Fathers
The suspense which had held us tense and speechless was for the moment
relieved and Mr. Steele allowed himself the following explanation:
"My hand trembled and the bullet, penetrated an inch too high."
Then he relapsed again into silence.
Mrs. Packard shuddered and went on:
"It may seem incredible to you, it seems incredible now to myself, but I completed
my journey, entered my uncle's house, was made welcome there and started
upon my new life without letting my eyes fall for one instant on the columns of a
newspaper. I did not dare to see what they contained. That short but bitter
episode of my sixteenth year was a nightmare of horror, to be buried with my old
name and all that could interfere with the delights of the cultured existence which
my uncle's means and affection opened before me. Two years and I hardly
remembered; three years and it came to me only in dreams; four and even
dreams failed to suggest it; the present, the glorious present was all. I had met
you, Henry, and we had loved and married.
"Did any doubts come to disturb my joy? Very few. I had never received a word
from Minnesota. I was as dead to every one there as they all were to me. I
believed myself free and that the only wrong I did was in not taking you into my
confidence. But this, the very nature of my secret forbade. How could I tell you
what would inevitably alienate your affections? That act of my early girlhood by
which I had gained an undeserved freedom had been too base; sooner than let
you know this blot on my life, I was content to risk the possibility--the
inconceivable possibility--of Mr. Brainard's having survived the attack he had
made upon his own life. Can you understand such temerity? I can not, now that I
see its results before me.
"So the die was cast and I became a wife instead of the mere shadow of one.
You were prosperous, and not a sorrow came to disturb my sense of complete
security till that day two weeks ago, when, looking up in my own library, I saw,
gleaming between me and the evening lamp, a face, which, different as it was in
many respects, tore my dead past out of the grave and sent my thoughts reeling
back to a lonely road on a black hillside with a lighted window in view, and behind
that window the outstretched form of a man with his head among leaves not
redder than his blood.
"I have said to you, I have said to others, that a specter rose upon me that day in
the library. It was such to me,--an apparition and nothing else. Perhaps he meant
to impress himself as such, for I had heard no footfall and only looked up