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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

But we don't want Sylvia to suffer


"As

I understand you, Mrs. Owen, you want some friend of hers to be in a position to protect her if any one tries to harm her; you want to shield her from any evil that might follow her from her mother's errors, if they were indeed errors. We have no right to assume that she had done anything to be ashamed of. That's the only just position for us to take in such a matter."

"That's right, Daniel. I knew you'd see it that way. It looks bad, and Andrew knew it looked bad; but at my age I ain't thinking evil of people if I can help it. If a woman goes wrong, she pays for it--keeps on paying after she's paid the whole mortgage. That's the blackest thing in the world--that a woman never shakes a debt like that the way a man can. You foreclose on a woman and take away everything she's got; put her clean through bankruptcy, and the balance is still against her; but we can't make over society and laws just sitting here talking about it. I reckon Edna Kelton suffered enough. But we don't want Sylvia to suffer. She's entitled to a happy life, and we don't want any shadows hanging over her. Now that her grandpa's gone she can't go behind what he told her,--poor man, he had trouble enough answering the questions she had a right to ask; and he had to lie to her some."

"Yes; I suppose she will be content now; she will feel that what he didn't tell her she will never know. She's not a morbid person, and won't be likely to bother

about it."

"No; I ain't afraid of her brooding on what she doesn't know. It's the fear it may fly up and strike her when she ain't looking that worries me, and it worried the Professor, too. That was why he told me. I guess when he talked to me that time he knew his heart was going to stop suddenly some day. And he'd got a hint that somebody was interested in watching Sylvia--sort o' keeping track of her. And there was conscience in it; whoever it is or was hadn't got clean away from what he'd done. Now I had a narrow escape from letting Sylvia see this letter. It was stuck away in a tin box in Andrew's bedroom, along with his commissions in the Navy. I was poking round the house, thinking there might be things it would be better not to show Sylvia, and I struck this box, and there was this letter, stuck away in the middle of the package. I gave Sylvia the commissions, but she didn't see this. I don't want to burn it till you've seen it. This must have been what Andrew spoke to me about that time; it was hardly before that, and it might have been later. You see it isn't dated. He started to tear it up, but changed his mind, so now we've got to pass on it."

She pushed the letter across the table to Harwood, and he read it through carefully. He turned it over after the first reading, and the word "Declined," written firmly and underscored, held him long--so long that he started when Mrs. Owen roused him with "Well, Daniel?"

He knew before he had finished reading that it was he who had borne the letter to the cottage in Buckeye Lane, unless there had been a series of such communications, which was unlikely on the face of it. Mrs. Owen had herself offered confirmation by placing the delivery of the dateless letter five years earlier. The internal evidence in the phrases prescribing the manner in which the verbal reply was to be sent, and the indorsement on the back of the sheet, were additional corroboration. It was almost unimaginable that the letter should have come again to his hand. He realized the importance and significance of the sheet of paper with the swiftness of a lightning flash; but beyond the intelligence conveyed by the letter itself there was still the darkness to grope in. His wits had never worked so rapidly in his life; he felt his heart beating uncomfortably; the perspiration broke out upon his forehead, and he drew out his handkerchief and mopped his face.


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