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0105_001E III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXXIV The Hut Changes Its Name

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"Doris says that you have shown me this kindness from the desire you have to see me well again Mr. Challoner. Is this true?"

"Very true. I cannot emphasise the fact too strongly."

Oswald's eyes met his again, this time with great earnestness.

"You must have serious reasons for feeling so - reasons which I do not quite understand. May I ask why you place such value upon a life which, if ever useful to itself or others, has lost and lost forever, the one delight which gave it meaning?"

It was for Mr. Challoner's voice to tremble now, as reaching out his hand, he declared, with unmistakable feeling:

"I have no son. I have no interest left in life, outside this room and the possibilities it contains for me. Your attachment to my daughter has created a bond between us, Mr. Brotherson, which I sincerely hope to see recognised by you."

Startled and deeply moved, the young man stretched out a shaking hand towards his visitor, with the feeble but exulting cry:

"Then you do not blame me for her wretched and mysterious death. You hold me guiltless of the misery which nerved her despairing arm?"

"Quite guiltless."

Oswald's wan and pinched features took on a beautiful expression and Mr. Challoner no longer wondered at his daughter's choice.

"Thank God!" fell from the sick man's lips, and then there was a silence during which their two hands met.

It was some minutes before either spoke and then it was Oswald who said:

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"I must confide to you certain facts. I honoured your daughter and realised her position fully. Our plight was never made in words, nor should I have presumed to advance any claim to her hand if I had not made good my expectations, Mr. Challoner. I meant to win both her regard and yours by acts, not words. I felt that I had a great deal to do and I was prepared to work and wait. I loved her -" He turned away his head and the silence which filled up the gap, united those two hearts, as the old and young are seldom united.

But when a little later, Mr. Challoner rejoined Doris, in her little sitting-room, he nevertheless showed a perplexity she had hoped to see removed by this understanding with the younger Brotherson.

The cause became apparent as soon as he spoke.

"These brothers hold by each other," said he. "Oswald will hear nothing against Orlando. He says that he has redeemed his fault. He does not even protest that his brother's word is to be believed in this matter. He does not seem to think that necessary. He evidently regards Orlando's personality as speaking as truly and satisfactorily for itself, as his own does. And I dared not undeceive him."

"He does not know all our reasons for distrust. He has heard nothing about the poor washerwoman."

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