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The Two Destinies

15. The Obstacle Beats Me
HOW long was I left alone in the carriage at the door of Mrs. Van Brandt's lodgings?
Judging by my sensations, I waited half a life-time. Judging by my watch, I waited half
an hour.
When my mother returned to me, the hope which I had entertained of a happy result from
her interview with Mrs. Van Brandt was a hope abandoned before she had opened her
lips. I saw, in her face, that an obstacle which was beyond my power of removal did
indeed stand between me and the dearest wish of my life.
"Tell me the worst," I said, as we drove away from the house, "and tell it at once."
"I must tell it to you, George," my mother answered, sadly, "as she told it to me. She
begged me herself to do that. 'We must disappoint him,' she said, 'but pray let it be done
as gently as possible.' Beginning in those words, she confided to me the painful story
which you know already--the story of her marriage. From that she passed to her meeting
with you at Edinburgh, and to the circumstances which have led her to live as she is
living now. This latter part of her narrative she especially requested me to repeat to you.
Do you feel composed enough to hear it now? Or would you rather wait?"
"Let me hear it now, mother; and tell it, as nearly as you can, in her own words."
"I will repeat what she said to me, my dear, as faithfully as I can. After speaking of her
father's death, she told me that she had only two relatives living. 'I have a married aunt in
Glasgow, and a married aunt in London,' she said. 'When I left Edinburgh, I went to my
aunt in London. She and my father had not been on good terms together; she considered
that my father had neglected her. But his death had softened her toward him and toward
me. She received me kindly, and she got me a situation in a shop. I kept my situation for
three months, and then I was obliged to leave it.' "
My mother paused. I thought directly of the strange postscript which Mrs. Van Brandt
had made me add to the letter that I wrote for her at the Edinburgh inn. In that case also
she had only contemplated remaining in her employment for three months' time.
"Why was she obliged to leave her situation?" I asked.
"I put that question to her myself," replied my mother. "She made no direct reply--she
changed color, and looked confused. 'I will tell you afterward, madam,' she said. 'Please
let me go on now. My aunt was angry with me for leaving my employment--and she was
more angry still, when I told her the reason. She said I had failed in duty toward her in
not speaking frankly at first. We parted coolly. I had saved a little money from my wages;
and I did well enough while my savings lasted. When they came to an end, I tried to get
employment again, and I failed. My aunt said, and said truly, that her husband's income
was barely enough to support his family: she could do nothing for me, and I could do
nothing for myself. I wrote to my aunt at Glasgow, and received no answer. Starvation