"My dear young lady," he said, "Mr. Ablewhite's conduct has naturally shocked you, and taken you by surprise. If it was worth while to contest the question with such a man, we might soon show him that he is not to have things all his own way. But it isn't worth while. You were quite right in what you said just now; he is beneath our notice."
"You know," he resumed, turning back again to Rachel, "that it was part of your poor mother's fine nature always to see the best of the people about her, and never the worst. She named her brother-in-law your guardian because she believed in him, and because she thought it would please her sister. I had never liked Mr. Ablewhite myself, and I induced your mother to let me insert a clause in the will, empowering her executors, in certain events, to consult with me about the appointment of a new guardian. One of those events has happened to-day; and I find myself in a position to end all these dry business details, I hope agreeably, with a message from my wife. Will you honour Mrs. Bruff by becoming her guest? And will you remain under my roof, and be one of my family, until we wise people have laid our heads together, and have settled what is to be done next?"
At those words, I rose to interfere. Mr. Bruff had done exactly what I had dreaded he would do, when he asked Mrs. Ablewhite for Rachel's bonnet and shawl.
Before I could interpose a word, Rachel had accepted his invitation in the warmest terms. If I suffered the arrangement thus made between them to be carried out - if she once passed the threshold of Mr. Bruff's door - farewell to the fondest hope of my life, the hope of bringing my lost sheep back to the fold! The bare idea of such a calamity as this quite overwhelmed me. I cast the miserable trammels of worldly discretion to the winds, and spoke with the fervour that filled me, in the words that came first.
"Stop!" I said - "stop! I must be heard. Mr. Bruff! you are not related to her, and I am. I invite her - I summon the executors to appoint me guardian. Rachel, dearest Rachel, I offer you my modest home; come to London by the next train, love, and share it with me!"
Mr. Bruff said nothing. Rachel looked at me with a cruel astonishment which she made no effort to conceal.
"You are very kind, Drusilla," she said. "I shall hope to visit you whenever I happen to be in London. But I have accepted Mr. Bruff's invitation, and I think it will be best, for the present, if I remain under Mr. Bruff's care."
"Oh, don't say so!" I pleaded. "I can't part with you, Rachel - I can't part with you!"
I tried to fold her in my arms. But she drew back. My fervour did not communicate itself; it only alarmed her.
"Surely," she said, "this is a very unnecessary display of agitation? I don't understand it."
"No more do I," said Mr. Bruff.
Their hardness - their hideous, worldly hardness - revolted me.
"Oh, Rachel! Rachel!" I burst out. "Haven't you seen yet, that my heart yearns to make a Christian of you? Has no inner voice told you that I am trying to do for you, what I was trying to do for your dear mother when death snatched her out of my hands?"
Rachel advanced a step nearer, and looked at me very strangely.
"I don't understand your reference to my mother," she said. "Miss Clack, will you have the goodness to explain yourself?"
Before I could answer, Mr. Bruff came forward, and offering his arm to Rachel, tried to lead her out of the room.
"You had better not pursue the subject, my dear," he said. "And Miss Clack had better not explain herself."
If I had been a stock or a stone, such an interference as this must have roused me into testifying to the truth. I put Mr. Bruff aside indignantly with my own hand, and, in solemn and suitable language, I stated the view with which sound doctrine does not scruple to regard the awful calamity of dying unprepared.
Rachel started back from me - I blush to write - with a scream of horror.
"Come away!" she said to Mr. Bruff. "Come away, for God's sake, before that woman can say any more! Oh, think of my poor mother's harmless, useful, beautiful life! You were at the funeral, Mr. Bruff; you saw how everybody loved her; you saw the poor helpless people crying at her grave over the loss of their best friend. And that wretch stands there, and tries to make me doubt that my mother, who was an angel on earth, is an angel in heaven now! Don't stop to talk about it! Come away! It stifles me to breathe the same air with her! It frightens me to feel that we are in the same room together!"
Deaf to all remonstrance, she ran to the door.
At the same moment, her maid entered with her bonnet and shawl. She huddled them on anyhow. "Pack my things," she said, "and bring them to Mr. Bruff's." I attempted to approach her - I was shocked and grieved, but, it is needless to say, not offended. I only wished to say to her, "May your hard heart be softened! I freely forgive you!" She pulled down her veil, and tore her shawl away from my hand, and, hurrying out, shut the door in my face. I bore the insult with my customary fortitude. I remember it now with my customary superiority to all feeling of offence.
Mr. Bruff had his parting word of mockery for me, before he too hurried out, in his turn.
"You had better not have explained yourself, Miss Clack," he said, and bowed, and left the room.
The person with the cap-ribbons followed.
"It's easy to see who has set them all by the ears together," she said. "I'm only a poor servant - but I declare I'm ashamed of you!" She too went out, and banged the door after her.
I was left alone in the room. Reviled by them all, deserted by them all, I was left alone in the room.
Is there more to be added to this plain statement of facts - to this touching picture of a Christian persecuted by the world? No! my diary reminds me that one more of the many chequered chapters in my life ends here. From that day forth, I never saw Rachel Verinder again. She had my forgiveness at the time when she insulted me. She has had my prayerful good wishes ever since. And when I die - to complete the return on my part of good for evil - she will have the LIFE, LETTERS, AND LABOURS OF MISS JANE ANN STAMPER left her as a legacy by my will.