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IT was nearly an hour past noon when Mr. Pendril left the house. Miss Garth sat
down again at the table alone, and tried to face the necessity which the event of
the morning now forced on her.
Her mind was not equal to the effort. She tried to lessen the strain on it -- to lose
the sense of her own position -- to escape from her thoughts for a few minutes
only. After a little, she opened Mr. Vanstone's letter, and mechanically set herself
to read it through once more.
One by one, the last words of the dead man fastened themselves more and more
firmly on her attention. The unrelieved solitude, the unbroken silence, helped
their influence on her mind and opened it to those very impressions of past and
present which she was most anxious to shun. As she reached the melancholy
lines which closed the letter, she found herself -- insensibly, almost
unconsciously, at first -- tracing the fatal chain of events, link by link backward,
until she reached its beginning in the contemplated marriage between Magdalen
and Francis Clare.
That marriage had taken Mr. Vanstone to his old friend, with the confession on
his lips which would otherwise never have escaped them. Thence came the
discovery which had sent him home to summon the lawyer to the house. That
summons, again, had produced the inevitable acceleration of the Saturday's
journey to Friday; the Friday of the fatal accident, the Friday when he went to his
death. From his death followed the second bereavement which had made the
house desolate; the helpless position of the daughters whose prosperous future
had been his dearest care; the revelation of the secret which had overwhelmed
her that morning; the disclosure, more terrible still, which she now stood
committed to make to the orphan sisters. For the first time she saw the whole
sequence of events -- saw it as plainly as the cloudless blue of the sky and the
green glow of the trees in the sunlight outside.