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One of My Sons By Anna Katharine Green Characters: 5408

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

hile waiting for this young lady, I surveyed the three Gillespies with a more critical attention than I had hitherto had the opportunity of giving them. As a result, George struck me as being the most candid, Leighton the most intellectual, and Alfred the most turbulent and ungovernable in his loves and animosities. All were under the same mental tension and in all I beheld evidence of deep humiliation and distrust, but this similarity of feeling did not draw them together even outwardly, but rather seemed to provoke a self-concentration which kept them widely apart. As I looked longer, Leighton impressed himself upon me as an interesting study-possibly because he was difficult to understand; Alfred as a good lover but dangerous hater; and George as the best of good fellows when his rights were not assailed or his kindly disposition imposed upon. None of them seemed to take any interest in me. To them I was simply a connecting link between their dead father and the letter I held in charge for Miss Meredith.

Meanwhile the coroner showed but one anxiety, and that was for the lady's speedy appearance and the consequent reading of the letter upon which all minds were fixed.

She came sooner than we expected. As her soft footfall descended the stairs a visible change took place in us all. Drooping figures started erect and furrowed brows grew smooth. Some of us even assumed that appearance of reserve which men unconsciously take on when their deeper feelings are stirred. Only Leighton acted in a perfectly natural manner; consequently it was in his direction her frightened glances flew when she realised that she had been summoned for some definite purpose.

"I don't know what more you can want of me to-night," she protested in a tone little short of a frightened gasp. "I am hardly fit to talk. But the doctor said I must come down. Why couldn't you have left me with Claire?"

"Because, dear Hope, this gentleman you see here, and who, as you know, was with my father when he died, says he has a letter, or some communication from your uncle, which he is sure was meant for your eye only. Do you think my father would be likely to leave you such a message? Have you any reason for expecting his last thoughts would be for you, rather than for his sons? Answer; we are quite prepared to hear you say Yes."

She had been trying to steady herself without laying hold of his arm. But she found this impossible. With an expression of deepest anguish she caught at his wrist, and then facing us, murmured in failing tones:

"He might. I have helped him lately a great deal with his letter-writing. Must I read it here?"

In this last question and her manner of uttering

it there was an appeal which almost took the form of prayer. But it failed to produce any effect upon the coroner, favourably as he seemed disposed to regard her. With some bluntness, I had almost said harshness, he answered her with a peremptory:

"Yes, miss, here."

She was not prepared for this refusal, and her eyes, full of entreaty, flashed from one face to another till they settled again on the coroner.

"I cannot," she protested. "Spare me! I do not seem to have full use of my faculties. My head swims-I cannot see-let me take it to the light over there-I am a nervous girl."

She had gradually drawn herself away from Leighton. The envelope which had been given her was trembling in her hand, and her eyes, wandering from George to Alfred, seemed to pray for some encouragement they were powerless to give. "I ought to be allowed the right to read the last words of one so dearly loved without feeling myself under the eyes of-of strangers," she finally declared with a certain pitiful access of hauteur certainly not natural to one of her manifestly generous temperament.

Was the shaft meant for me? I did not think so, but, in recognition of the hint conveyed, I stepped back and had almost reached the door when I heard the coroner say:

"If the words you find there have reference solely to your own interests, Miss Meredith, you will be allowed to read them in privacy. But if they refer in any way to the interests of the man who wrote it, you will yourself desire to read his words aloud, as the manner and meaning of his death is a mystery which you as well as all the other members of his household must desire to see immediately cleared up."

"Open it!" she cried, thrusting it into the hands of the physician, who by this time had rejoined the group. "And may God--"

She did not finish. The sacred name seemed to act as a restraint upon the passion in whose cause it had been invoked. With her back to them all she waited for the doctor to read the lines to which she seemed to attach so apprehensive an interest.

It was impossible for me to leave at a moment so critical. Watching the doctor, I saw him draw out the paper I had so carefully enclosed in an envelope, and after looking at it, turn it over and over in such astonishment and perplexity that we all caught the alarm and crowded about him for explanation. Alas, it was a simple one! The paper concerning which I had endured so many qualms of conscience, and from the reading of which the young girl had shrunk with every appearance of intolerable dread, proved upon opening it to be an absolutely blank one.

There was not upon its smooth surface so much as the faintest trace of words.

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