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"I did, Polly; but I have a right to say what I think about it before it is put to the vote. I acknowledge all that Polly has said about my affairs to be true. I allow that I do believe that my marriage with Percy depends upon this will being found. But for all that, I say we cannot take this money. These women have robbed us of 25,000 each; they have robbed Sophy of 75,000; robbed us as actually as if they had stolen it from our possessionand now they offer, as a gift, 10,000 each to us. If we take it, it is on an understanding that we renounce all further claim, that we receive it as a free gift from these enemies of ours; and by this act not only should we, as it were, pledge ourselves to make no further efforts to find the will, we should not only sell our birthright to our enemies, but we should be bound to desert Sophy, and so leave her in hopeless poverty, for without our assistance she has not the slightest chance of ever finding the will. All this would be a miserable degradationa degradation so deep that nothing could satisfy our own consciences to it; even my marriage to Percy could not reconcile it to myself, and he himself would blame me for it. No, no, dears, this would be a shameful action. Let us refuse it at once. You, I know, would do it for my sake; but I would not do it for myself, much less allow you to do so. We have really, at present, strong hopes of finding the will; let us trust to that; let us believe that in the end we shall be righted. If not, God's will be done. The evil may seem to prosper at present, but at any rate let us make no terms with it."

It would have been naturally supposed that as at the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth the Harmers were by no means a wealthy race, they would speedily have been shorn of all the little property they then possessed. But it was not so. The more they were persecuted so much the more they flourished, and from mere farmers they speedily rose to the rank of county families.

"Well, Sarah," papa began, "so I hear you have discovered the secret entrance at last."

Sophy coloured and paused, and then said that she frequently walked in that direction, and that if he happened to see her as she went past, she should of course be happy to assure him that she was not in the least upset by the little start that she had had. And so they parted, and Robert Gregory felt, that as far as she was concerned, the game was won.

"Had I known it at that time, I might have done something to put a stop to it. It would, in any case, have been a delicate matter to have interfered in, merely on the grounds of what you noticed, and which Sophy would, of course, have disputed; still I might have warned Mr. Harmer against allowing such a man to enter his doors, and I would have spoken when Sophy was present, and said how bad his character was, so as to have opened her eyes to the real nature of the man. It might have done no good. A girl is very slow to believe anything against a man she loves. Still it would have been something; and had there been any opportunity, I could have related some stories about him, which I knew to be true, which must have convinced her that he was a thorough blackguard.

"Certainly, my dear; that must of course be quite understood. If you accept this money, you must give up all further search for the will, and dismiss all idea of ever hearing of it again. There, don't say any more about it now. Let us have a glass of wine and some nuts, and after that I shall go into my study, and you can talk it over among yourselves."

On his entrance his sisters rose to meet him, and greeted him with formal ceremony; but Mr. Harmer thought that, under their impassive exterior, he could perceive that they were much moved; and that, although thoroughly agreeing as they did in the propriety and justice of the deed, they were yet sorry at heart for the coming sentence which was to cut off their only surviving brother from all share in the old family property. Miss Harmer then shortly introduced her brother to those present, who received him courteously, being far too well bred men of the world to betray the least exultation over a conquered enemy who could no longer be dangerous, and towards whom, therefore, a generous magnanimity might be safely displayed.

CHAPTER XIII.