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A Perilous Secret by Charles Reade

Part 7 out of 7

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funeral. Middleton was there and saw them, and asked them to attend it,
and to speak to him after the reading of the will.

"Proceedings are stayed," said he; "but, perhaps, having acted
against me, you might like to see whether it would not pay better to
act with me."

"And no mistake," said one of them; so they were feasted with the rest,
for it was a magnificent funeral, and after that Middleton squared them
with L50 apiece to hold their tongues--and more, to divert all suspicion
from the house and the beautiful woman who now held it as only trustee
for her son.

Remembering that he had left the estate to another man's child, Monckton,
one fine day, bequeathed his personal estate on half a sheet of
note-paper to Lucy. This and the large allowance Middleton obtained from
the Court for her, as trustee and guardian to the heir, made her a rich
woman. She was a German, sober, notable, and provident; she kept her
sheep, and became a sort of squire. She wrote to her husband in the
States, and, by the advice of Middleton, told him the exact truth instead
of a pack of fibs, which she certainly would have done had she been left
to herself. Poverty had pinched Jonathan Braham by this time; and as he
saw by the tone of her letter she did not care one straw whether he
accepted the situation or not, he accepted it eagerly, and had to court
her as a stranger, and to marry her, and wear the crown matrimonial; for
Middleton drew the settlements, and neither Braham nor his creditors
could touch a half-penny. And then came out the better part of this
indifferent woman. Braham had been a good friend to her in time of need,
and she was a good and faithful friend to him now. She was generally
admired and respected; kind to the poor; bountiful, but not lavish; an
excellent manager, but not stingy.

In vain shall we endeavor, with our small insight into the bosoms of men
and women, to divide them into the good and the bad. There are mediocre
intellects; there are mediocre morals. This woman was always more
inclined to good than evil, yet at times temptation conquered. She was
virtuous till she succumbed to a seducer whom she loved. Under his
control she deceived Walter Clifford, and attempted an act of downright
villainy; that control removed, she returned to virtuous and industrious
habits. After many years, solitude, weariness, and a gloomy future
unhinged her conscience again: comfort and affection offered themselves,
and she committed bigamy. Deserted by Braham, and once more fascinated by
the only man she had ever greatly loved, she joined him in an abominable
fraud, broke down in the middle of it by a sudden impulse of conscience,
and soon after settled down into a faithful nurse. She is now a faithful
wife, a tender mother, a kind mistress, and nearly everything that is
good in a medium way; and so, in all human probability, will pass the
remainder of her days, which, as she is healthy, and sober in eating and
drinking, will perhaps be the longer period of her little life.

Well may we all pray against great temptations; only choice spirits
resist them, except when they are great temptations to somebody else, and
somehow not to the person tempted.

It has lately been objected to the writers of fiction--especially to
those few who are dramatists as well as novelists--that they neglect
what Shakespeare calls "the middle of humanity," and deal in eccentric
characters above or below the people one really meets. Let those who
are serious in this objection enjoy moral mediocrity in the person of
Lucy Monckton.

For our part we will never place Fiction, which was the parent of
History, below its child. Our hearts are with those superior men and
women who, whether in History or Fiction, make life beautiful, and
raise the standard of Humanity. Such characters exist even in this
plain tale, and it is these alone, and our kindly readers, we take
leave of with regret.

THE END.

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