Pendril, and tell it instantly.
PEN. I comply, madam, but you are so agitated. Let us wait a little, till you have recovered yourself. (he takes letters from his pocket.)
Music.--MAGDALEN VANSTONE appears from L., at the window, slowly crosses to R., and exit. MISS G. (aside). Twelve years--twelve quiet, happy years have I lived under this roof, and their mother was my friend, I might almost say my sister.
PEN. Can you listen to me, now? Briefly, then, Mr. Andrew Vanstone began life in the army; he went to Canada with his regiment, leaving his father seriously estranged from his elder brother, Michael. Soon after his arrival in Canada, he met with a woman of great beauty, but utter want of principle, who soon succeeded in ensnaring this youth of twenty-one, and who led him to commit the fatal error of his life--he married her.
MISS G. Married her!
PEN. Even so. But hardly three months had elapsed, before he discovered her true character; when he found he could only part from her by making her a handsome allowance, and compelling her to promise she would never see his face again. Thus they separated--she to her friends in the South, he to his own country, to learn the news of his father's death, and also that he had become his heir, to the entire exclusion of his elder brother.
MISS G. Well, sir?
PEN. He at once honorably proposed to divide the property with Michael; but the latter accused him of being the cause of his father's unworthy conduct; and, refusing to retract his monstrous slander, the brothers parted, never to meet again; Michael's sole support arising from the small fortune of his wife.
MISS G. And then, sir?
PEN. And then, Andrew Vanstone, thrown on the world of London, with an impulsive nature, and great wealth, and cut off from domestic happiness by his fatal step in Canada, in sheer despair was drifted into the wildest dissipations, when he fortunately met her who was known in England as Mrs. Vanstone. She was the daughter of a London Merchant, whom he met at a city ball; she was unhappy in her home; she was refined and generous; her parents were coarse and repulsive. Andrew was the first man she had ever met who had the tastes and feelings of a gentleman, and she surrendered her heart to him at once; but he had too much honor to deceive her. He told her the entire truth; and then, loving him as she did, passionately, with no home ties to restrain her, she saw that she alone stood between him and his ruin, and she sacrificed herself to save him.
MISS G. And this was her sad secret?
PEN. Yes, madam; which I shall not stoop to defend by any false reasoning. I shall merely say, she fulfilled her aim; she saved the man she loved from utter worthlessness and ruin; she bestowed on him a home, which she blessed further with her two daughters; and when at length the news reached him of the death of his wife in America, he carried her to London, and there rendered her the justice which had been so long and sadly delayed.
MISS G. And which she lived to enjoy but a few months, following speedily to the tomb, the man for whom she had made this sacrifice; but you have still a mystery to explain, the present position of his children--these girls whom he loved so fondly?
PEN. True, madam.
MISS G. And whom you say his will no longer provides for.
PEN. Simply because, madam, it is the law of England that marriage sets aside the will of a single man, whilst it fails to legitimate all offspring born before it.
MISS G. What do I hear?
PEN. This cruelty of our legislation, our poor friend was apprised of, and, accordingly, was on the point of making a fresh will for his children's benefit, when the fatal accident occurred which swept him from existence.
MISS G. And his children are left dependent?
PEN. Yes, madam--dependent.
MISS G. On the mercy of some stranger?
PEN. On the mercy of their uncle.
MISS G. Not on Michael Vanstone?
PEN. Yes, madam, on Michael Vanstone, who is now the sole heir and successor of his brother.
SERVANT enters, C., with letter. SERV. A letter for you, Mr. Pendril, which has been forward from London.
[Exit SERVANT, C.
PEN. (he opens it)- As I expected; 'tis from their uncle, whom I wrote to a fortnight ago on the subject of the poor girls. He is living at Zurich, with his son Noel, who seems to be in bad health, and a Swiss housekeeper, one Madame Lecompte. The letter is a long one; excuse me, my dear madam a moment, whilst I ascertain what are its contents. (rises and goes off, R. D.)
Music as before. MAGDALEN reappears at back. MISS G. And at length the veil is lifted. I know the secret of her life; I can excuse, and I can grieve for it; but how can I reveal it--how convey it to her children, who have never dreampt of its humiliation--how make known to them their destitution--that the fatal accident which robbed them of a father has also left them penniless? How shall I tell them that----
MAGDALEN (comes down C, with rigid composure). There is no need, madam; they know it already!
MISS G. Magdalen! (rises to L. C.)
MAG. Mr. Vanstone's daughters have no name--are no one's children--according to the law which leaves them helpless on their uncle's mercy. (C.)
MISS G. You heard us, then?
MAG. At the window; but don't reproach me with those doubting eyes. What wrong have I done? My listening has saved you the task of a bitter revelation. You have suffered enough for us already. It is time we learned to suffer for ourselves.
MISS G. Magdalen, you frighten me.
MAG. Oh, no; do not think worse of me than I deserve. I can't cry, my heart is numbed.
MISS G. My poor child!
MAG. I see, then, I must comfort you. Ah, try not to grieve over what you have heard this morning. Does it matter, now, who we are, or what we keep or lose? What loss is there for us after the loss of our father and mother--of the unbounded love they gave us--the love that can never come again? (crosses to L., and returns to C.)
MISS G. But you have more sources of suffering. You have lost not only home and wealth, but----(crosses to R., returns to R.