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"What is your discovery? " asked Augustus, prepared to consider the claim of my brother's with a presentiment of something wrong. daughter. What do you say?"
"It is nothing less than the fact-you will be He looked from one to the other, but received both more surprised than I was-nothing less— no answer for the moment. I am a man of the world, and take these things Then Augustus, in his dry and solemn way, as quite common occurrences-than the fact that
asked : my brother Anthony was never married at all.” • Pray, how much does Alison know of this
“Stephen !” cried Augustus, “can this be —this alleged discovery?" true?"
Stephen tried to look unembarrassed, but “ Patience," said William the Silent. “Let failed. him tell us the nature of the proof."
“She knows all," he replied. “My hand was • Oh! pardon me,” said Stephen. “The na- forced by some attempted interference with me. ture of the proof I hold in my own hands. It is I told her the exact truth; I disclosed her true among
these papers, and will be produced if ne- position.” cessary by my own lawyer, at the proper time Poor girl!” said Augustus. and place. Anthony was never married.”
“However,” said Stephen, “pity will not alter There was silence for a space.
facts. I wait for an expression of your opinion.” “I leave to you,” said Stephen, " if you like Augustus looked at his partner. William the to undertake it, the task of proving that there Silent nodded his head suggestively in the direcwas a marriage. I should advise you not to try. tion of the door. It will, I assure you, be labor lost.”
“We refer you,” said Augustus, "to Mr. BilAgain neither spoke, and Stephen was obliged liter. You may go and see him. Tell him, if 'to go on.
you please, what you have told us. Our offer The consequences of this discovery,” he made a few weeks ago is, of course, withdrawn. said, “will be very serious. It makes me the You can no longer act as Alison's guardian. Head of the House. Alison, my brother's daugh- Henceforth, it will be better for you to commuter, is entitled to nothing. I shall, of course, take nicate with us, who will assume the position of my brother's position as chief partner in this firm.” the young lady's protectors, through your solici“No!” said William, decidedly.
tors. We express no opinion on what you have Certainly not,” said Augustus. “Whatever done; we do not venture to give you any advice. happens, you will never, I assure you, be a part- Good morning." ner in this firm.”
The cold, contemptuous tone of his cousins Stephen nodded carelessly. “We shall see. was almost as intolerable as the indignation of When it comes to taking me in or taking the Alison. Stephen left the office without a word. consequences-however, I can afford to overlook When he was gone, the partners looked at a little natural surprise. Now, before I go be- each other and shook their heads. fore the Court of Probate, I am anxious to ob- “He may be lying,” said Augustus ; "he may tain your approval, your acknowledgment, that be speaking the truth. What do you think?" my course is absolutely forced upon me. Re- Lies !” said William, whose opinion of Stemember, you invited me to be guardian. In that phen was extremely low—“lies somewhere !" capacity I went into residence at Clapham; in Perhaps in either case we lose nothing by that capacity I made inquiries in Alison's in- waiting. Could we have thought Anthony capaterest; still in that capacity, still in her interest, ble of such deception?” I searched through the old papers, and—I made “ Lies !” said William again, stoutly. this discovery. She has no legal right to more Augustus Hamblin, himself a man of the than the clothes she stands in. All the rest is strictest principle, had known his cousin Anthony mine. I am the sole heir. I ask you, as busi- from boyhood, had worked beside him, knew as ness men, what I am to do. I bring to you, as he thought every action of his life. Yet he seemed my cousins and hers, the first intelligence of the ready, on the bare, unsupported statement of discovery."
Stephen, to believe that a man whose youth and He did not wait for an answer, being perhaps manhood, open to all alike, were honorable and afraid that they might either repeat that question honored, was a profligate, a deceiver of women, as to the nature of the discovery or counsel him a secret libertine. There is no man so good but to go and burn it.
that the worst shall be believed of him. The What would either of you do? It is, I just man of Athens would never have been exiled know, absurd to ask. You would advise me at had his countrymen been able to rake up a scanonce to ask for bare justice. My just and legal dal against him. For my own part, when I conclaim is for the whole estate. This is my in- sider the position, I am amazed that Aristides heritance. When that claim is granted, I am did not himself grow weary of provoking his
countrymen by the exhibition of a virtue to which game. You give up the provision we offered nothing short of the nineteenth century can show you; you risk all in a single coup. Your proofs a parallel, and openly go and break half a dozen have need to be strong. You will want them as at least of the commandments, and so regain a strong as they can be made.” hold upon the affections of sympathetic humanity. Stephen sat down upon the table familiarly
William Hamblin would doubtless have been on the awful table, before which, as a boy, he equally ready to believe this thing but for his had so often trembled. suspicion and distrust of Stephen.
“I begin to wonder," he said, with as much The latter, only half satisfied with his recep- rudeness as could be thrown into words and tion by the cousins, drove straight away to the manner, “whether you have been a dupe or an family lawyer. He would have it out at once accomplice. Anthony had plenty of dupes. He state his case, throw down the glove, and defy must have wanted an accomplice.” them to do their worst.
“Dear me!” said the lawyer, not in the least Mr. Billiter thought he was come to sign the ruffled by this insult. “Here is a turning of agreement, according to their proposal, by which tables. So I am an accomplice, am I? Well ?" he was to undertake the name of guardian, re- “ You pretend not to know what I mean. ceive an honorarium, and leave the conduct of And yet there are only you and myself in the affairs entirely in the hands of the partners. But room." Stephen pushed it aside.
" Perhaps it is not prudent to be without “You may tear that thing up,” he said rudely. witnesses when you are here; but still, you see, “The time has gone by when that sort of thing I risk it." could be signed. I have come to tell you that I “I have been treated," said Stephen, “since have made a discovery—whether you knew it all my brother's death, with the greatest contumely along or not I do not know; perhaps you did, by yourself and my cousins. You have offered very likely you did-a discovery of so important me the post of guardian, coupled with degrading a nature that it entirely alters the position both conditions. Yet I have held my hand, knowing of myself and of Alison.”
what I knew. The time has come when I shall “ Indeed!” The old lawyer's tone changed, hold it no longer. I am now prepared to strike." and his sharp, bright eyes glittered as he raised "I clearly perceive, Stephen," the lawyer obthem to look at Stephen. "Indeed! What is served, “that you have been meditating all along this discovery? Have you got it in your pock- a stroke worthy of your former reputation." et?”
“Your age protects you,” replied Stephen, “It is nothing less than the fact that my “You know that you can say whatever you brother Anthony was never married at all.” please." This was indeed a facer.
“ I have known you all your life, Stephen “What do you think of that?" asked Stephen Hamblin, and I have never yet known you do a triumphantly.
straightforward action. Now tell me, if you like, “I never allow myself to think of anything what you propose to do.” until the proofs are before me.
*This, at all events, is straightforward. I proofs."
am going to take out letters of administration, “Not at all,” replied Stephen, tapping his not for Alison, but for myself. I shall put in an breast, where lay his pocket-book—"not at all. immediate claim on the estate, as the sole heir If there was a marriage, produce your proofs.” of my brother, who left no will, and was never
The ferret-like eyes lit up with a sharpness married.” which Stephen did not like.
He tried to look the old lawyer steadily in “We assume the marriage,” said the lawyer. the face, but his eyes quailed. "The presumption is in favor of the marriage. “I see,” said the old man, “this is your maYou have to disprove it. Where are your næuvre, is it? Well, Stephen, we shall fight you. proofs ?"
I don't believe a word of your discovery. It is “As I said before,” Stephen answered, “I bounce and suspicion, and a hope that, because reserve them. You will find that the law as- we do not know where Anthony was married, sumes that there was no marriage, and will call we can not find out. Meantime, you must of upon you for the proofs.”
course live on your own resources. You will “In that case, I give no opinion. This docu- have no help from us." ment, then”-he took up the agreement—"is so “That," said Stephen, "I anticipated." much waste paper."
“You will get nothing from the estate until “It is. I refuse to sign it. I am going to the case is decided; and, of course, we shall claim the whole estate, as sole heir,"
only communicate with you through your solici“A bold game, Stephen. A desperately bold tors. I have nothing more to say."
He turned his chair round and took up some He went to his club in the evening, and dined papers. Stephen lingered a moment. His face there with his friend Jack Baker, whom we have was dark and lowering.
already met at the Birch-Tree Tavern. I hope that I have made myself sufficiently Stephen was melancholy, and inattentive to clear,” he said, stammering. “I ask for nothing the claret. but justice. I am the heir. I assert that my “You are hipped, old man,” said Jack. brother never married.”
“What is the matter?" “You are quite clear,” said Mr. Billiter, with- “ A discovery I made the other day has rather out looking up; “I am perfectly aware of what knocked me over," said Stephen. “A discovery you mean."
that obliges me to take action, in a painful way, “I only claim my rights. Do you, a lawyer, with my own people.” dare to call that dishonorable ?"
In your own interests ?” “Stephen Hamblin,” replied Mr. Billiter, lay- * Very much, if we look at it only from a ing down his papers aná leaning back in his money point of view,” Stephen said with a sigh. chair, and tapping his knuckles with his glasses, “It is connected with my brother's estate, in " I said just now that I had never known you do fact. The estate, you know, is worth, one way one single good acțion. But you have done so and the other, something like three hundred many bad ones that I am never surprised at any- thousand pounds." thing you do."
"Ah! He left no will, did he?” “As for the bad actions, as you are pleased None; and up to the present moment my to call them—it is absurd, I suppose, to remind niece, his daughter, has been supposed to be the you of the exaggerations made"
sole heiress. Now, however, we have discovered “Ta-ta-ta,” said the lawyer. “We know. that the sole heir is— But it will all come out in Your brother on whose generosity you lived be- the courts, before very long. No need to talk ing dead, you proceed to reward that generosity about it. This is very fine Léoville ; let us have by proclaiming to the world the illegitimacy of another bottle." his daughter, which you suspect, and hope to be “ And you are his only brother,” said Jack true, but can not prove. That is, indeed, the act Baker thoughtfully. “Why—" of a high-toned, whole-souled gentleman.”
If Stephen had searched about all over Lon" It is in a lawyer's office,” said Stephen, as don for the best method of spreading a report if with sorrow, “ I am upbraided in my intention abroad, he could hardly have hit upon a better of claiming what is justly due to me. So far, one than that of hinting to his friend Jack Baker however, as Alison is concerned, your own injus- that something was in prospect. Perhaps he tice and the misrepresentations of my cousins knew this. will produce no effect. I shall provide for her: so far as a yearly hundred or two, I am willing—"
“Get out of my office, man!” cried the ferret-faced little lawyer, pointing to the door.
CHAPTER XIV. “You propose to rob your niece of a quarter of a million, and you offer her a hundred a year!
THE VALLEY OF TEARS. Go, sir, and remember you have not got the money yet!”
The pudding was finished and the table
cloth removed before Alison appeared. She was Stephen had done it now. He felt rather calm now, but there was a burning spot in each cold as he walked away from Bedford Row. It cheek, and a glow in her dark eyes, from which was like parting with power in reserve. As for an enemy would have augured ill. the wrath of his cousins and the old lawyer, that She sat down and wrote two letters: one of troubled him, after the first unpleasantness, very them was to Gilbert, the other to Augustus little. One thing only seriously annoyed him. Hamblin. To the latter she related, as exactly Why had he not drawn the proffered yearly al- as she could, what had taken place. The former lowance of five hundred pounds before announc- she simply invited to call and see her as soon as ing his intentions? It was awkward, because he conveniently could. Anthony, his sole source of income, being dead, She sent Nicolas with this note to the Temand his balance at the bank being reduced to ple, and posted the former. The boy understood less than fifty pounds, it might become a difficulty that the letter meant the beginning of war, and to provide the daily expenses. However, long his enthusiasm in the cause was roused. He acbefore that difficulty presented itself, he should, quired, too, a considerable accession of self-imhe thought, have gained a decision of the Court portance from considering the fact of his own in his favor.
share in the struggle.
He took the omnibus to Blackfriars very The boy stopped, waiting for applause. None soberly, playing no pranks at all on the way, and came. turning neither to right nor to left until he found
suppose you envy me, don't you? himself in Gilbert's chambers in Brick Court. Wish you had been in my place to cowhide The young barrister was engaged in some devil- him ?” ing, that ingenious method by which the brief- Why, you don't mean to say that you—" less delude themselves into the belief that they “I promised, which is the same thing,” said are getting on. He looked up and nodded cheer- Nicolas proudly. “Let him wait till I am onefully.
and-twenty; then he shall feel how spry a curly “How is young Nick? What seeks he here?” one about the legs will make him. But, I say,
I he asked.
you're a private and particular friend of Alison's. Nicolas shook his head and looked mighty I don't mind taking you in. It's seven years to
wait, you see, and then no telling what may hap“What has happened ?"
pen. We'll stand in together, if you like.” Villainies,” replied the boy in a hollow voice “Thank you,” said Gilbert; “and where is
villainies, conspiracies, and a kick-up. Here's he?" a note for you. Alison wants you to come at “Oh, ran away! Didn't stop to reflect that once. You are not to delay one moment, she he's got seven years to wait. Ran away at once. says, not even to part your hair down the mid- Alison wouldn't have any dinner, though there dle.” The young man's middle parting was al- was-never mind. Came down when we'd finways remarkably clear and well defined. “Tellished, quite quiet, but looking dangerous-handy him,' she says, 'if he wants any more spooning, with her heels, you know—and wrote two letters. he'd better step out and get down at once.'” One was yours. I was rather glad to get out
"I must at least change my coat. Now, of the house myself. No telling whether she boy,” emerging from his bedroom, “just tell me, mightn't have rounded on me, as she's done in a few words, what has happened."
once or twice before." “ Uncle Stephen-no, I forgot, he is no long- The boy, in answer to Gilbert's questions, er to be an uncle — first-cousin-once-removed stuck to the substantial basis of his story, alStephen has been staying with us for a week or though he embellished it by features which so, as you know. He's been mighty civil to Ali- changed with each narration. Alison was not son, I must own. But the artfulness! It was the heiress, because her father was never marall to poke about among the papers. And then ried. And this statement had been made coarsehe has a row with my mother, and then with ly, and even brutally. Alison, and then he tells her that she's no right Could it be true? and if so, what was Alito the fortune at all, and it's all his Think of son's position ? that! 'Oh, yes,' he says, “you think it's yours, Gilbert lost no time in getting down to Clapdo you? Much. I'm the owner, I am. As for ham, leaving the boy behind to saunter through you, you are nobody. You may go. Nicolas the streets and follow at his leisure. Cridland,' he went on, 'may go, too, with the He found Alison standing at the window of old lady.'”
her own room, impatient and restless. She was “ Not the heiress! What does he mean?" transformed. The girl whom he had last seen,
“Here comes in the villainy. Because, he only a day or two before, soft, shrinking, gentle, says, Uncle Anthony was never married ; that's stood before him with lips set firm, defiant pose, the reason. Well, when Alison heard him say and eyes in which the glow of love and douce that-she's got a fine temper of her own, once pensée had given place to a hard and cold light. get her back up: you will discover it some day, He took her hand and wanted to kiss her. so don't say I didn't warn you—she went at him “No, Gilbert,” she said harshly. “It was with”—he looked round him in doubt—" with the not to listen to love-stories that I sent for you. tongs."
Perhaps, most likely, all that is over. You have “Nonsense!"
heard—did the boy tell you ?—what has hap“I backed her up. When she quite finished, pened ?" I let the first-cousin-once-removed have a bit of He did tell me. Stephen Hamblin seeks to the rough side of my tongue, too. I don't pre- rob you of your inheritance." tend to be a patch on Alison, because when a “ And of my name, and of my father's honor, girl-a strong girl, mind you-gets her back up and of my mother's honor. He will try to rob and her tongue well slung, she can let out in a me of all at once. There will be nothing left." way to make a man's hair stand on end. His Her voice failed her, but it was not to sob or cry hair stood up, all that's left of it; he hadn't a that she broke down. "Tell me first, Gilbert, if word to say."
you, too, were one of those who all along sus
pected this thing? My uncle says that everybody “ Do not think of it at all in connection with suspected it."
him," urged Gilbert. " Let your thoughts dwell “ It is false, Alison. Nobody, so far as I only on the happy past, which can never be forknow, ever suspected such a thing—I the least gotten. Think if he did you a great wrong, he of all men."
did all he could to repair it.” “But he said,” she repeated—" he said that “ Yes, yes," she murmured impatiently. “ It everybody always suspected."
is of—the other—that I think—the man who has “It is false again, Alison-a thousand times done the mischief to me. Yesterday I knew false! Believe me, no one ever dreamed of sus- nothing. Yesterday I was proud of my father, pecting such a thing."
and of myself. I had everything that a girl She seemed not to hear him.
wants, except him whom I had lost. I had a * So that I have been living for ten years in a lover—" fool's paradise, while people scoffed at me behind “ You have still, Alison. I will not be denied my back, and at my mother, and said hard things that title. I am your lover, whatever may hapabout my father. What a life for us both! and pen.” we never knew it."
“You are kind, Gilbert,” she said ; " but you “ Alison ! Do not believe, do not think such must not love me any longer. I will not think of things.”
love any more. I will not drag you down. I “ But if such things are true—and, whether I mean it. I am resolved in this. I will not marthink them or not, they may be true. And one ry. I will not endure to feel that your own peothing seems true, that my poor father left no will, ple would have to apologize for me, that perhaps and, unless I can prove his marriage, which—he my own children would have to blush for their -says never took place, I am a beggar in for- mother's birth. Spare me that, Gilbert, if you tune as well as in honor. I have nothing." love me, as I think you do.
“Yes, Alison "—he took her hand in his, and · The misfortune has fallen on both of us held it in the firm man's grasp which brought alike," she went on, releasing herself a third time her comfort for the moment—"yes, Alison, you from Gilbert's hands. “It has been sweet for have something left. You have me; you have me to feel that I was loved, especially since my love. You have plenty of others who love you, father's death. It is dreadful to give you up, but not so well. We shall only have to wait a Gilbert. But I am resolved. When my uncle little longer. You will not be able to hear your told me this morning, my first thought was that husband called a fortune-hunter. That is what I must give you up. Ever since then I have it means, if it is true—all it ever shall mean to been thinking about it.” you and to me."
She drew a ring from her finger—the ring of She shook her head, and the tears ran to her her engagement. “Take it back, Gilbert.
Our eyes. For some moments she could not speak. engagement is at an end. I give you back your Then she conquered herself, drew back her hand, vows with this ring. You shall marry no basedashed the tears away, and became hard again. born girl."
“ It means more, Gilbert. It means a great He refused to take the ring. deal more. I am—illegitimate.”
“I will take back neither vows nor ring, AliShe did not blush nor wince, but boldly pro- son. I am your lover. I swear that I will never nounced the word, as if she would face the thing be released unless you marry another man.” at once.
"I shall marry no one,” she said. “Go away, “I must be ashamed of my mother; I must Gilbert. You must see me no more. I forbid be ashamed of my father ; I must never, never you the house, my poor Gilbert, as long as I think of marriage or of love. This must be my have a house at all. Soon I shall have no farewell to you, dear Gilbert.”
house." He seized her in his arms, and kissed her Alison," cried the young man, “do not be again and again, until she broke away from him. cruel! I will not be sent away. Remember, I
“My darling! Do you think I should let you am always your lover." go? Why, what is it? You have lost your
She shook her head. There was resolution name; all the more reason for taking another. in every line of her figure, as she stood before And as for—for your father, you must try not to him. He saw that remonstrance, entreaties, and think unkindly—"
prayers were useless—for the moment. “Not unkindly,” she said. “Never unkindly, “You must not try to see me any more, Gilonly sorrowfully, because I thought him blame- bert. Remember that every time I see you
bring me fresh pain and misery. I will go away Each time her lover ceased to touch her, she somewhere—I dare say my cousins will not let became hard and defiant again.
me starve-and hide myself and all this shame.