Page images

hand; “ what has brought you here, after what has passed ? Can you present yourself to the eyes of your former affectionate and cruelly deceived friends, with such unparalleled assurance? Were you not forbidden to appear here again?”

“ I did not suppose my sentence was irrevocable, sir,” replied Conrad, firmly; “neither am I aware to what circumstances you allude, which could provoke my perpetual banishment from a home I love, and friends I have never intentionally offended.”

“ Indeed !” said the Rector, in an incredulous tone, by which he endeavoured to smother an involuntary yearning towards the son of his adoption ; “ I have no doubt you think yourself a pattern of excellence; but let me tell you, sir, once for all, that, however consonant your irregularities may be with the habits of a camp, neither libertinism, extravagance, nor excess will suit this innocent retirement, or find an excuse


best course is to make it convenient, as early as possible, to return whence you came.”

“ I entreat, I beseech you," exclaimed Con

with me;

rad, throwing himself at Mr. Camden's feet, 66 do not condemn me unheard; I am innocent of the charges laid against me: that I have neglected to answer your cruel letter I allow, yet it affected me more deeply than I can describe: I was then confined to my bed, which I never left for weeks, by honourable wounds. Not any of my letters having arrived safely, I refused to send an answer, although my friends urged me to do so. I confess pride withheld me from my duty; but this, my honoured sir, is all my conscience taxes me with. As for the other crimes with which you have loaded me, I utterly disclaim them; and my urgent wish is, to clear myself in your opinion. My earthly hopes are centred here. You are the arbiter of my fate! the rock on which I trust! will you — can you refuse to give me time and opportunity to confront the abominable liar? Yes !” he continued, “ that is not too strong a term for such wicked aspersions. Do you think, sir, I should have attained the rank of major had I been the reprobate you believe me? I do not wish to sound my own praises, but honour is ever dear to a soldier, and mine has passed unsullied through many a bloody field, where I have fought and bled for my country.

id now, when I anticipated some repose after my labours, I find nothing but aspersions, coldness, and distance. Can you not give me any hopes, sir, of my being restored to the place I once occupied in your affections ?”

During the greater part of this speech, Conrad had been standing in front of Mr. Camden, with his arms folded; and when he paused for a reply, his countenance assumed a look of agonised expectation.

“ Your words are fair, Conrad," answered he, in a less austere tone,

66 but how am I to reconcile them with the proofs I have of your guilt? Your utter disregard of your friends tends to strengthen our opinion of your complete estrangement, and to confirm my idea, that idleness, or the want of money, has alone drawn

you to your despised home.” “ Was the prodigal rejected ?” said Conrad, in a tone of such deep pathos, that Mr. Camden's waning sternness fell before it, and with an outstretched hand, he replied, — “ No, Conrad, he was welcomed as a reclaimed sinner! May God forgive my harshness, if I have wronged you! You shall have time to rub off the stain

[ocr errors]

which has so long attached to your name, and God grant your character may be as spotless as I hope it is !” The tears of suppressed affection fell upon the young soldier's hand, as he bent over his best friend and warmly grasped the hand, which, a few minutes before, had been refused.

“ All mystery shall soon be removed, dear sir, depend upon it. A few days is all I require; nay, perhaps, if you will inform me of all your causes for displeasure, I may be able, even now, to refute them."

“Presently, presently, my son; let me breathe - I scarcely know where I am. Are you, indeed, so able and willing to confront accusations which have appeared so astounding and incontrovertible to me?

“ I think I may venture to say, sir, that they are false, and in that case I can have no fear in the encounter. If, on the contrary, they be just, I am ready, not only to avow my faults, but sue for pardon, and endeavour to amend them : only let me know their nature and extent. Of my friends I will not pause to enquire, until I can do so with a name as unsullied as their own.

“ I trust, Conrad, your anxiety to hear my grounds for displeasure originates in a conviction of innocence, and that your apparent confidence will not be belied. Your total disregard of our numerous affectionate letters first aroused our fears for your safety; for after the three or four months succeeding your departure, until this hour, when you appear before me, confident of your own integrity, we have not received a line from you. This neglect, however painful, I yet endeavoured to excuse for a time; but two letters I received from Colonel Taylor (Conrad started) confirmed my suspicions of the evil course you

had adopted. It was not until the second of these reached me that I consented to Mr. Yorke's writing to you, with a severity I dared not trust myself to attempt. Here are the letters, Conrad; read them, and judge if my anger and indignation have been unjustly raised against the man, to whom my beloved Agnes's happiness would have been confided, had not chance discovered his real character."

Conrad listened with the most profound attention while Mr. Camden spoke, but he made no reply; and took the letters which that gentle

« PreviousContinue »