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   Chapter 27 No.27

The Good Time Coming By T. S. Arthur Characters: 9270

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


THE conversation was resumed after they were again alone.

"Grace frets herself continually about Fanny," said Mrs. Markland, as her sister-in-law, after remaining for a short time, arose and left the room.

"She is always troubling herself about something," answered Mr. Markland, impatiently.

"Like many others, she generally looks at the shadowed side. But Fanny is so changed, that not to feel concern on her account would show a strange indifference."

Mr. Markland sighed involuntarily, but made no answer. He, too, felt troubled whenever his thoughts turned to his daughter. Yet had he become so absorbed in the new business that demanded his attention, and in the brilliant results which dazzled him, that to think, to any satisfactory conclusion, on the subject of Fanny's relation to Mr. Lyon, had been impossible; and this was the reason why he rather avoided than sought a conference with his wife. She now pressed the matter on his attention so closely, that he could not waive its consideration.

"Mr. Lyon's purposes are not to be mistaken," said Mrs. Markland.

"In what respect?" was evasively inquired.

"In respect to Fanny."

"I think not," was the brief response.

"Has he written you formally on the subject?"

"No."

"His conduct, then, to speak in the mildest terms, is very singular."

"His relation to Fanny has been an exceedingly embarrassing one," said Mr. Markland. "There has been no opportunity for him to speak out freely."

"That disability no longer exists."

"True, and I shall expect from him an early and significant communication."

"Let us look this matter directly in the face, Edward," said Mrs. Markland, in a sober voice. "Suppose he ask for the hand of our daughter."

"A thing not at all unlikely to happen," answered her husband.

"What then?"

"I fear you are prejudiced against Mr. Lyon," said Markland, a little coldly.

"I love my child!" was the simple, touching answer.

"Well?"

"I am a woman," she further said, "and know the wants of a woman's heart. I am a wife, and have been too tenderly loved and cared for, not to desire a like happy condition for my child." And she leaned against her husband, and gazed into his face with a countenance full of thankful love.

"Mr. Lyon is a man of honour," said Mr. Markland. "Has he a tender, loving heart? Can he appreciate a woman?"

"If Fanny loves him-"

"Oh, Edward! Edward!" returned his wife, interrupting him. "She is only a child, and yet incapable of genuine love. The bewildering passion this man has inspired in her heart is born of impulse, and the fires that feed it are consuming her. As for me-and I speak the words thoughtfully and sadly-I would rather stretch forth my hand to drop flowers on her coffin than deck her for such a bridal."

"Why do you speak so strongly, Agnes? You know nothing against Mr. Lyon. He may be all you could desire in the husband of your child."

"A mother's instincts, believe me, Edward, are rarely at fault here."

Mr. Markland was oppressed by the subject, and could not readily frame an answer that he felt would be satisfactory to his wife. After a pause, he said:

"There will be time enough to form a correct judgment."

"But let us look the matter in the face now, Edward," urged his wife. "Suppose, as I just suggested, he ask for the hand of our daughter,-a thing, as you admit, likely to happen. What answer shall we make? Are you prepared to give a decisive reply?"

"Not on the instant. I should wish time for consideration."

"How long?"

"You press the subject very closely, Agnes."

"I cannot help doing so. It is the one that involves most of good or evil in the time to come. All others are, for the present, dwarfed by it into insignificance. A human soul has been committed to our care, capable of the highest enjoyments or the deepest misery. An error on our part may prove fatal to that soul. Think of this, Edward! What are wealth, honour, eminence, in comparison with the destiny of a single human soul? If you should achieve the brilliant results that now dazzle your eyes, and in pursuit of which you are venturing so much, would there be any thing in all you gained to compensate for the destruction of our daughter's happiness?"

"But why connect things that have no relation, Agnes? What has the enterprise I am now prosecuting to do with this matter of our daughter?"

"Much, every way. Does it not so absorb your mind that you cannot think clearly on any other subject? And does not your business connection with Mr. Lyon bias your feelings unduly in his favour?"

Mr. Markland shook hi

s head.

"But think more earnestly, Edward. Review what this man has done. Was it honourable for him so to abuse our hospitality as to draw our child into a secret correspondence? Surely something must warp your mind in his favour, or you would feel a quick indignation against him. He cannot be a true man, and this conviction every thing in regard to him confirms. Believe me, Edward, it was a dark day in the calendar of our lives when the home circle at Woodbine Lodge opened to receive him."

"I trust to see the day," answered Mr. Markland, "when you will look back to this hour and smile at the vague fears that haunted your imagination."

"Fears? They have already embodied themselves in realities," was the emphatic answer. "The evil is upon us, Edward. We have failed to guard the door of our castle, and the enemy has come in. Ah, my husband! if you could see with my eyes, there would stand before you a frightful apparition."

"And what shape would it assume?" asked Mr. Markland, affecting to treat lightly the fears of his wife.

"That of a beautiful girl, with white, sunken cheeks, and hollow, weeping eyes."

An instant paleness overspread the face of Mr. Markland.

"Look there!" said Mrs. Markland, suddenly, drawing the attention of her husband to a picture on the wall. The eyes of Mr. Markland fell instantly on a portrait of Fanny. It was one of those wonders of art that transform dead colours into seeming life, and, while giving to every lineament a faultless reproduction, heightens the charm of each. How sweetly smiled down upon Mr. Markland the beautiful lips! How tender were the loving eyes, that fixed themselves upon him and held him almost spell-bound!

"Dear child!" he murmured, in a softened voice, and his eyes grew so dim that the picture faded before him.

"As given to us!" said Mrs. Markland, almost solemnly.

A dead silence followed.

"But are we faithful to the trust? Have we guarded this treasure of uncounted value? Alas! alas! Already the warm cheeks are fading; the eyes are blinded with tears. I look anxiously down the vista of years, and shudder. Can the shadowy form I see be that of our child?"

"Oh, Agnes! Agnes!" exclaimed Mr. Markland, lifting his hands, and partly averting his face, as if to avoid the sight of some fearful image.

There was another hushed silence. It was broken by Mrs. Markland, who grasped the hand of her husband, and said, in a low, impressive voice-

"Fanny is yet with us-yet in the sheltered fold of home, though her eyes have wandered beyond its happy boundaries and her ears are hearkening to a voice that is now calling her from the distance. Yet, under our loving guardianship, may we not do much to save her from consequences my fearful heart has prophesied?"

"What can we do?" Mr. Markland spoke with the air of one bewildered.

"Guard her from all further approaches of this man; at least, until we know him better. There is a power of attraction about him that few so young and untaught in the world's strange lessons as our child, can resist."

"He attracts strongly, I know," said Mr. Markland, in an absent way.

"And therefore the greater our child's danger, if he be of evil heart."

"You, wrong him, believe me, Agnes, by even this intimation. I will vouch for him as a man of high and honourable principles." Mr. Markland spoke with some warmth of manner.

"Oh, Edward! Edward!" exclaimed his wife, in a distressed voice. "What has so blinded you to the real quality of this man? 'By their fruit ye shall know them.' And is not the first fruit, we have plucked from this tree, bitter to the taste?"

"You are excited and bewildered in thought, Agnes," said Mr. Markland, in a soothing voice. "Let us waive this subject for the present, until both of us can refer to it with a more even heart-beat."

Mrs. Markland caught her breath, as if the air had suddenly grown stifling.

"Will they ever beat more evenly?" she murmured, in a sad voice.

"Why, Agnes! Into what a strange mood you have fallen! You are not like yourself."

"And I am not, to my own consciousness. For weeks it has seemed to me as if I were in a troubled dream."

"The glad waking will soon come, I trust," said Mr. Markland, with forced cheerfulness of manner.

"I pray that it may be so," was answered, in a solemn voice.

There was silence for some moments, and then the other's full heart overflowed. Mr. Markland soothed her, with tender, hopeful words, calling her fears idle, and seeking, by many forms of speech, to scatter the doubts and fears which, like thick clouds, had encompassed her spirit.

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