The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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And to those thorns that
In her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her."
"For she is wise, if I can judge of her; And fair she is, if that mine eyes be true; And true she is, as she has proved herself; And therefore like herself, wise, fair, and true, Shall she be placed in my constant soul."
--Merchant of Venice.
"OH, ELEANORE!" I cried, as I made my way into her presence, "are you prepared for very good news? News that will brighten these pale cheeks and give the light back to these eyes, and make life hopeful and sweet to you once more? Tell me," I urged, stooping over her where she sat, for she looked ready to faint.
"I don't know," she faltered; "I fear your idea of good news and mine may differ. No news can be good but----"
"What?" I asked, taking her hands in mine with a smile that ought to have reassured her, it was one of such profound happiness. "Tell me; do not be afraid."
But she was. Her dreadful burden had lain upon her so long it had become a part of her being. How could she realize it was founded on a mistake; that she had no cause to fear the past, present, or future?
But when the truth was made known to her; when, With all the fervor and gentle tact of which I was capable, I showed her that her suspicions had been groundless, and that Trueman Harwell, and not Mary, was accountable for the evidences of crime which had led her into attributing to her cousin the guilt of her uncle's death, her first words were a prayer to be taken to the one she had so wronged. "Take me to her! Oh, take me to her! I cannot breathe or think till I have begged pardon of her on my knees. Oh, my unjust accusation! My unjust accusation!"
Seeing the state she was in, I deemed it wise to humor her. So, procuring a carriage, I drove with her to her cousin's home.
"Mary will spurn me; she will not even look at me; and she will be right!" she cried, as we rolled away up the avenue. "An outrage like this can never be forgiven. But God knows I thought myself justified in my suspicions. If you knew--"
"I do know," I interposed. "Mary acknowledges that the circumstantial evidence against her was so overwhelming, she was almost staggered herself, asking if she could be guiltless with such proofs against her. But----"
"Wait, oh, wait; did Mary say that?"
"Mary must be changed."
I did not answer; I wanted her to see for herself the extent of that change. But when, in a few minutes later, the carriage stopped and I hurried with her into the house which had been the scene of so much misery, I was hardly prepared for the difference in her own countenance which the hall light revealed. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks were brilliant, her brow lifted and free from shadow; so quickly does the ice of despair melt in the sunshine of hope.
Thomas, who had opened the door, was sombrely glad to see his mistress again. "Miss Leavenworth is in the drawing-room," said he.
I nodded, then seeing that Eleanore could scarcely move for agitation, asked her whether she would go in at once, or wait till she was more composed.
"I will go in at once; I cannot wait." And slipping from my grasp, she crossed the hall and laid her hand upon the drawing-room curtain, when it was suddenly lifted from within and Mary stepped out.
The ring of those voices told everything. I did not need to glance their way to know that Eleanore had fallen at her cousin's feet, and that her cousin had affrightedly lifted her. I did not need to hear: "My sin against you is too great; you cannot forgive me!" followed by the low: "My shame is great enough to lead me to forgive anything!" to know that the lifelong shadow between these two had dissolved like a cloud, and that, for the future, bright days of mutual confidence and sympathy were in store.
Yet when, a half-hour or so later, I heard the door of the reception room, into which I had retired, softly open, and looking up, saw Mary standing on the threshold, with the light of true humility on her face, I own that I was surprised at the softening which had taken place in her haughty beauty. "Blessed is the shame that purifies," I inwardly murmured, and advancing, held out my hand with a respect and sympathy I never thought to feel for her again.
The action seemed to touch her. Blushing deeply, she came and stood by my side. "I thank you," said she. "I have much to be grateful for; how much I never realized till tonight; but I cannot speak of it now. What I wish is for you to come in and help me persuade Eleanore to accept this fortune from my hands. It is hers, you know; was willed to her, or would have been if--"
"Wait," said I, in the trepidation which this appeal to me on such a subject somehow awakened. "Have you weighed this matter well? Is it your determined purpose to transfer your fortune into your cousin's hands?"
Her look was enough without the low, "Ah, how can you ask me?" that followed it.
Mr. Clavering was sitting by the side of Eleanore when we entered the drawing-room. He immediately rose, and drawing me to one side, earnestly said:
"Before the courtesies of the hour pass between us, Mr. Raymond, allow me to tender you my apology. You have in your possession a document which ought never to have been forced upon you. Founded upon a mistake, the act was an insult which I bitterly regret. If, in consideration of my mental misery at that time, you can pardon it, I shall feel forever indebted to you; if not----"
"Mr. Clavering, say no more. The occurrences of that day belong to a past which I, for one, have made up my mind to forget as soon as possible. The future promises too richly for us to dwell on bygone miseries."
And with a look of mutual understanding and friendship we hastened to rejoin the ladies.
Of the conversation that followed, it is only necessary to state the result. Eleanore, remaining firm in her refusal to accept property so stained by guilt, it was finally agreed upon that it should be devoted to the erection and sustainment of some charitable institution of magnitude sufficient to be a recognized benefit to the city and its unfortunate poor. This settled, our thoughts returned to our friends, especially to Mr. Veeley.
"He ought to know," said Mary. "He has grieved like a father over us." And, in her spirit of penitence, she would have undertaken the unhappy task of telling him the truth.
But Eleanore, with her accustomed generosity, would not hear of this. "No, Mary," said she; "you have suffered enough. Mr. Raymond and I will go."
And leaving them there, with the light of growing hope and confidence on their faces, we went out again into the night, and so into a dream from which I have never waked, though the shine of her dear eyes have been now the load-star of my life for many happy, happy months.