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“I hope you have not fretted much," said Mr Gray, kindly, taking a seat by bis side.
“ Not very much," returned Richard, with a faint, half sad smile, the greatest approach to cheerfulness which he had made since his bereavement. “ These papers,” he added, casting his eye on the one he held in his hand, are full of interest to a thinking mind. In perusing their varied contents, an hour or two may be very profitably spent, and many new views of human life ac
He paused suddenly, started, turned pale, and sat with his eyes fixed upon the paper.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, drawing a long breath, “I knew not of this. This is important, indeed.
“What is?” asked Mr Gray, looking at him in wonder.
“My father's death, which I find announced here," replied Richard, calmly, and without any emotion.
Mr Gray thought it strange that a son should learn of his father's decease, and manifest so little grief; and this thought must have expressed itself pretty legibly on his countenance, for the young man hastened to say,
“ Wonder not, sir, that I am so unmoved. The love which I once entertained for my father was crushed out of my
heart years ago by his own unnatural cruelty, and I have read the notice of bis dath with as much interest as I would tliat of any other man. Nay, scarcely that, after all; for otherwise it personally affects me to a great degree. I am my father's only son, and therefore the heir tv his estate. They must not have known where to find me, or I should have been made acquainted with the occurrence.”
He looked again at the paper, to learn the date of the death, and was struck to tind that it had taken place at midnight of the very day in which he had been so fearfully bereaved. This threw him into a train of deep, sorrowful musing; and Mr Gray, thinking that better and more filial thoughts were coming upon him, ruse noiselessly, and quitted the apartment.
But the good man was mistaken. It was of his dead wife and child he was thinking; and in a little his dark eye flashed, fur he thought revenge was now nearer to him. Owner now of Netherton, he would have more power to affect the baronet of Rockhart Hall, and be better able to crush and trample upon him in the terms of his oath, and in accordance with his heart's dearest desire. As be thought of this, a thrill of joy passed over him, and he resolved to depart to the country, and to his new home, immediately,
His friends had now become sincerely attached to hiin, and would gladly have had him remain; but as this, in the new circumstances, was impossible, they allowed him to go, charged with their best blessings, and promising to visit him when he got settled.
On a soft, warm evening in early autumn, he approached the gate
which led to Netherton, having left the chaise in which he had
It was no mere cloud that had veiled it, and from whence it would at some future period emerge, to shine, possibly, with renewed lustre. Alas! no, it had set; it had, from its position in the zenith, rushed down below the horizon, and would rise no more.
His life now, whether long or short, would be a groping in the darkness, illu:ninated by nothing but the lurid flashes of vengeance.
He passed the porter's lodge unperceived, and walked along the avenue towards the mansion, which he very soon reached.
Thinkiug it needless in entering his own house to observe the ceremony of ringing, he opened the hall door, ascended the stair-case without perceiving any one, and advanced into the library.
It was now dusk, and the objects in the apartment could not be very well discerned; but in a window recess, at the far end, he observed some one half-reclining on a couch.
The individual did not turn round when he approached, but continued to gaze listlessly out at the window.
You need not bring lights yet, John," said the figure, and
Frank,” he said, laying his hand upon his shoulder.
“Why, what is the matter with you?” asked Richard, half smiling. “ Are you so surprised to find me here, in the house of my late father True,” he added, bitterly,“ I have been so great a stranger of late, that my presence may well cause wonder to my relations.”
Frank had now found his tongue, though his heart still beat fast and tremblingly. “Pardon me, cousin,” he said, or rather faltered.
6 You have come so suddenly and unexpectedly, that I-I had not the power to bid
you welcome.” “I would have been here before this, had I kuown what has taken place,” said Richard, seating himself, for he felt weak after the travel. “How did it come pass that I was not informed of my father's death ?!
“You were too ill at the time to receive the information; and I considered that, in the circumstances, it would matter little though you were kept ignorant of it.”
"You allude, doubtless, to the breach which existed between my
father and me? Of course, that rendered any thing like sorrow or grief out of the question ; but, as my father's heir, I should have been immediately made acquainted with the matter."
“I did not allude, alone, to your breach with your father," observed Frank, hesitatingly, “Then, to what else ?." asked Richard, in surprise.
Why, I thought the terms in which you were mentioned in the will, might
" What! my father had a will ?” cried Richard, in amazement.
“ He left a will," repeated Frank, turning pale; but the increase ing darkness prevented his agitation from being observed.
A long pause ensued. This was indeed an unexpected blow to the youth; and a bitter sense of additional wrong seized him, for he doubted not that he had been left penniless.
" Then, who is owner of Netherton ?” he asked, in a low, hoarse voice.
“ I am," answered Frank, turning his face to the window.
Richard spoke not; but, starting up, he walked with hasty strides through the room, a terrible war raging in his heart.
“ This is horrible !” he exclaimed, stamping his foot upon the floor. “When did my father make that will ?”
“On the night of his death,” replied the guilty Frank.
“So late ?" said the other, with stern surprise. “ This is stranger still. I can understand his duing such a deed in the height of passion, when his unholy anger burned fiercely against me; but after the lapse of years, and while standing face to face with death, to commit such a foul, unnatural wrong, is monstrous beyond description."
“Does your remark point to any thing unfair on my part ?" inquired Frank, assuming something like a haughty tone.
“ Not necessarily," was the reply. 6 Yet I must confess my suspicions as to persuasion of some kind having been practised. I must, however, examine the document."
“Of course, you are at perfect liberty to do so,” said Frank, trying to put on an air of injured innocence, though conscience was tugging most mercilessly at his heart. " It is in the possession of Mr Deepwell. If you choose, we can go down to his office immediately."
" I shall go, certainly, but will not trouble you to accompany me," observed Richard coldly, taking up his hat, and preparing to depart
. “ As you please," said Frank, uneasily. “ Then, may I expect to be favoured with your company for a few days? I shall
, of course, be always happy to receive you here; and if I can, in any way, promote your views in life
No, sir," interrupted Richard, fiercely. “If my inheritance has been given to another, I cannot submit to be beholden in any way to him who has been wickedly thrust into my place. Nether
ton is mine by birthright, aud if by law I am deprived of it, never more shall I approach its precincts.”
So saying, he walked rapidly down the room, and made good his exit, without meeting any of the servants.
It is possible to describe the state of Richard's mind at this moment. These fields and woods on which he now gazed, and which he had always considered his own, were given to another. Even in death, his father's anger had burned against him, and the last act of his existence was to disinherit him. Truly, the injustice and wrong of which he had been the victim, had been like a crushing mountain in his path. Poor, persecuted youth, persecuted by his parent, on the very brink of the grave, cursed as it were by his last breath, who, even among the innocent, can bear a thought like this without a pang ?
Simon Deepwell was ruminating in his little parlour when his visitor was announced. No sooner had he heard the name, than he started up in terror; and in the confusion into which he was thrown, would have given orders for his exclusion; but the young man had followed close behind the servant, and now stood within the threshold of the closed door.
By an effort which he alone could put forth, the lawyer in a moment assumed a smooth, polite, if not a sympathizing attitude, and approaching, held out his hand, which Richard took, hardly knowing what he did, so troubled was his heart. But the sorrowful know genuine sympathy when it is offered them; and, in spite of Deepwell's professed kindness of manner, the youth was not deceived. There was no warmth with the action, no glow with the energy; but a cold, icy politeness, which disgusts where it is meant to conciliate.
“ This is quite an unexpected pleasure, my dear sir," said Deepwell, in his usual oily toues. “ I had no thought of seeing you at this moment; but do not suppose that your presence is on that account the less welcome.”
Richard bowed coldly, and fixing his burning, haggard eye on the anxious lawyer, said, “My visit, sir, is but the purpose of a moment, and is occasioned by the information I have just received, that
my father's will is in your possession. I desire to see it." “Certainly, sir, certainly,” replied Deepwell, with a dubious expression; for he did not know how far the young man's suspicions were aroused. “ If you will be good enough to call at the office to-morrow, I shall
« To-morrow, sir!" echoed Richard, impetuously. “I must see it to-night--this very moment. If its provisions are in accordance with my cousin's statement, I shall be far hence on the morrow."
The lawyer was relieved, for he saw that the youth suspected nothing; and he perceived it would be most politic to produce the
document at once, since his visitor was in such a state as to preclude any thing like a cool examination. He therefore, without a word, went to an iron safe which stood in one corner, and from thence brought forth the parchment, which he slowly unfolded, and placed before the youth.
Richard ran his eye steadily over it; and while he did so, the lawyer watched him keenly. At last his eye rested on the signature, and a thrill of fear passed over Simon's heart.
“ The document is in your handwriting, I perceive?" said the young man, looking up.
“ It is, Mr Everly. I was sent for by your father on the night of his death; and, however reluctant I might be to act according to his paivful instructions, you must be aware I had no option."
“Are you of opinion that the will is strictly legal?" asked Richard.
“0, 1 merely put the question to you as a professional man,"
, in as neutral and careless a tone as he could command. witnesses will be able to prove that he was perfectly sane, and this shuts you up in that direction.” Well, well, it matters not,” said Richard, bitterly.
“ The world is before me, and I will battle with it as best I can. But a time of reckoning must come for the wrongs of which I have been the victim. Some of them must be accounted for in the great hereafter; and others of them,” he added, fiercely, “in the open present. Ay, crushed and bound as I am, I shall yet be re, But, pshaw! I forget where I am. Farewell, Mr Deepwell. I hlame neither you nor any living person for this monstrous iniquity; but on the morrow Netherton and I part for ever.”
He seized his hat and rushed from the apartment, leaving the lawyer to breathe freely again, and fold up the will with silent satisfaction. Hardly had he deposited it in its place of safety, when the door again opened, and Frank entered in great agitation,
" Does--does he suspect?" faltered the forger, with pallid face and quivering lips.
“ He suspects nothing," answered Deepwell, chuckling. “He only thought the will might not stand, owing to its being executed on a death-bed; and, egad, he has more room to rest on there than he thinks. But I put him quite off that notion; and nos he has gone, never to return.”
w Could the will be contested and set aside ?” asked Frank, anxiously.