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whole of the next day. The day after, I
succeeded in making my peace, and thought no
more of it. Had Rachel reverted to this
unlucky accident, at the critical moment when my
place in her estimation was again, and far more
seriously, assailed? Mr. Bruff, when I had
mentioned the circumstances to him, answered that
question at once in the affirmative.

"It would have its effect on her mind," he
said gravely. "And I wish, for your sake, the
thing had not happened. However, we have
discovered that there was a predisposing
influence against youand there is one
uncertainty cleared out of our way, at any rate. I
see nothing more that we can do now. Our
next step in this inquiry must be the step that
takes us to Rachel."

He rose, and began walking thoughtfully up
and down the room. Twice, I was on the
point of telling him that I had determined on
seeing Rachel personally; and twice, having
regard to his age and his character, I hesitated
to take him by surprise at an unfavourable
moment.

"The grand difficulty is," he resumed, "how
to make her show her whole mind in this
matter, without reserve. Have you any
suggestion to offer?"

"I have made up my mind, Mr. Bruff, to
speak to Rachel myself."

"You!" He suddenly stopped in his walk,
and looked at me as if he thought I had taken
leave of my senses. "You, of all the people
in the world!" He abruptly checked himself,
and took another turn in the room. "Wait a
little," he said. "In cases of this extraordinary
kind, the rash way is sometimes the best way."
He considered the question for a moment or
two, under that new light, and ended boldly by
a decision in my favour. "Nothing venture,
nothing have," the old gentleman resumed.
"You have a chance in your favour which I
don't possessand you shall be the first to try
the experiment."

"A chance in my favour?" I repeated, in
the greatest surprise.

Mr. Bruff's face softened, for the first time,
into a smile.

"This is how it stands," he said. "I tell
you fairly, I don't trust your discretion, and I
don't trust your temper. But I do trust in
Rachel's still preserving, in some remote little
corner of her heart, a certain perverse weakness
for you. Touch thatand trust to the
consequences for the fullest disclosure that can flow
from a woman's lips! The question ishow
are you to see her?"

"She has been a guest of your's at this
house," I answered. "May I venture to suggest
if nothing was said about me beforehand
that I might see her here?"

"Cool!" said Mr. Bruff. With that one
word of comment on the reply that I had made
to him, he took another turn up and down the
room.

"In plain English," he said, "my house is to
be turned into a trap to catch Rachel; with a
bait to tempt her, in the shape of an invitation
from my wife and daughters. If you were
anybody else but Franklin Blake, and if this
matter was one atom less serious than it really
is, I should refuse point-blank. As things are,
I firmly believe Rachel will live to thank me for
turning traitor to her in my old age. Consider
me your accomplice. Rachel shall be asked to
spend the day here; and you shall receive due
notice of it."

"When? To-morrow?"

"To-morrow won't give us time enough to
get her answer. Say the day after."

"How shall I hear from you?"

"Stay at home all the morning and expect me
to call on you."

I thanked him for the inestimable assistance
which he was rendering to me, with the gratitude
which I really felt; and, declining a
hospitable invitation to sleep that night at
Hampstead, returned to my lodgings in London.

Of the day that followed, I have only to say
that it was the longest day of my life. Innocent
as I knew myself to be, certain as I was
that the abominable imputation which rested on
me must sooner or later be cleared off, there
was nevertheless a sense of self-abasement in
my mind which instinctively disinclined me
to see any of my friends. We often hear
(almost invariably, however, from superficial
observers) that guilt can look like innocence.
I believe it to be infinitely the truer axiom of
the two that innocence can look like guilt. I
caused myself to be denied, all day, to every
visitor who called; and I only ventured out
under cover of the night.

The next morning, Mr. Bruff surprised me at
the breakfast table. He handed me a large key,
and announced that he felt ashamed of
himself for the first time in his life.

"Is she coming?"

"She is coming to-day, to lunch and spend
the afternoon with my wife and my girls."

"Are Mrs. Bruff, and your daughters, in the
secret?"

"Inevitably. But women, as you may have
observed, have no principles. My family don't
feel my pangs of conscience. The end being to
bring you and Rachel together again, my wife
and daughters pass over the means employed to
gain it, as composedly as if they were Jesuits."

"I am infinitely obliged to them. What is
this key?"

"The key of the gate in my back-garden
wall. Be there at three this afternoon. Let
yourself into the garden, and make your way
in by the conservatory door. Cross the small
drawing-room, and open the door in front of
you which leads into the music-room. There,
you will find Racheland find her, alone."

"How can I thank you!"

"I will tell you how. Don't blame me for
what happens afterwards."

With those words, he went out.

I had many weary hours still to wait through.
To while away the time, I looked at my letters
Among them was a letter from Betteredge.

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