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   Chapter 41 FATHER AND SON.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 26229

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


The first part of the letter was written in a much clearer chirography than the latter, where it grew fainter and more irregular as it proceeded, until at last, in the signature, it was so nearly illegible as to baffle the ingenuity of the reader to decipher it; as if, in the course of her task, the strength of the dying writer had grown weaker and weaker, until at the end the pen must have fallen from her failing hand.

The Duke of Hereward, who could not make out the name at the bottom of the letter, at once recognized the handwriting at the top, and knew that his correspondent from the dead was his lost wife, Valerie de la Motte.

He grew cold with the chill of an anticipated horror; but with that supreme power of self-control which was as much a matter of constitution as of education with him, he suppressed all signs of emotion, and courteously apologized to his visitor, saying:

"Excuse me, young sir; my eyes are not so good as they were some twenty years ago, and I must turn to the light," and he deliberately wheeled his chair around so as to bring his face entirely out of range of his visitor's sharp vision, while he should read the fatal letter, which was as follows:

San Vito, Italy, March 1st, 18-

Duke of Hereward: This paper will be handed you by Archibald-Alexander-John Scott, my son and yours.

This news will startle you, if you have not already been sufficiently startled by the living likeness of the boy to yourself, and by the electric chain of memory which will bring before you the weeks immediately preceding our separation, when you yourself had suspicions of my condition, and hopes of becoming a father. Those fond hopes were destined to be fulfilled by me, but doomed to be ruined by you.

Yes, Duke of Hereward, your son stands before you, strong, healthy, beautiful, perfect as ever wife bore to her husband; yet denied, delegalized, and defrauded by you, his father!

If you are inclined still to deny him, turn and look upon him, as he stands, and you can no longer do so. If you want further proof, find it in these circumstances: That this letter is written, and these statements are made by a dying woman, with the immediate prospect of eternity and its retribution before her.

But on one point be at ease before you read farther; the boy does not know who his father is, and therefore does not know how grievously, how irretrievably you wronged him by divorcing his mother and delegalizing him before his birth. I would not put enmity between father and son by telling him anything about it. He thinks that his father is dead, and I have never undeceived him. He has heard of you only as one who was a friend of his mother, and who, for her sake, may become the friend of her son. It must be for you to decide whether to leave him in this ignorance or to tell him the truth.

Perhaps you will ask why I have concealed your son's existence from you up to this time. I will tell you; but in order to do so clearly, I must refer to those last few weeks spent with you in Paris before our separation.

Remember the ball at the British Embassy, to which you persuaded me to go, and where I met, unexpectedly the Count de Volaski, my secretly married husband, supposed to be dead; remember my illness that followed! and how earnestly I tried to avoid him, an effort that was totally useless, because he, considering that he possessed the only rightful claim to my society, constantly sought me, and you, ignorant of all his antecedents, constantly helped him to see me.

My position was degrading, agonizing, intolerable. I found myself, though guiltless of any intentional wrong-doing, in the horrible dilemma of a wife with two living husbands.

Yes, by the laws of love and nature, justice and the church, I was the wife of Waldemar de Volaski; by the laws of France and England, I was the wife of the Duke of Hereward.

The discovery shocked, confused, and, perhaps, unsettled my reason. At first I knew not what to do. I prayed for death. I contemplated suicide. At length, I thought I saw a way out of my dreadful dilemma. It was to escape and to live apart from both forever.

So also thought the Count de Volaski. I consulted with him. I dared not confess to you the secret that my parents had compelled me to conceal so long. Volaski would have told you, but I would not consent that he should do so, until I should be safe out of the house; for I could not have borne, after such confession, to have met you again; and again, under any circumstances, I preferred that I myself should be your informant. I determined to leave yon, and to live apart from both, as the only life of peace and honor possible for me, and to write you a letter confessing the whole truth, as an explanation of my course of conduct. I thought that you would understand and pity me, and leave me to my fate.

I did not think that you would disbelieve my statement, publish my flight, and blast my reputation by a divorce.

I was never false to you in thought, word or deed.

Volaski was not my lover; he was my sternest mentor. He came to the house during your absence; not for the pleasure of seeing me, for he took no pleasure in my society; he came to arrange with me the programme of my departure; an angel of purity or a demon of malice might have been present at our interviews, and seen nothing to grieve the first or please the last.

I was ill and nervous and fearful; I could not travel alone, and therefore Volaski went with me, and took care of me; but it was the care a pitiless gend'arme would have taken of a convicted criminal. It was a care that only hurried me to my destination, my chosen place of exile-San Vito-and which left me on the day of my arrival there. I have never seen him since. And now let me say and swear on the Christian faith and hope of a dying woman-that-from the moment I met Count Waldemar de Volaski at the British embassy, to the moment I parted with him at San Vito, he never once came so near me as even to kiss my hand-a courtesy that any gentleman might have shown without blame. You may not believe me now; that you did not believe me before was your great misfortune, and mine, and our son's.

A week after Volaski had left me you followed us and traced us to San Vito. I heard of your visit and trembled; for, though really guiltless, I felt that to meet your eye would seem worse than death. Fortunately for us both, perhaps, you declined to see me and went away.

The next news that I heard was of the duel in which you had killed Volaski. I should scarcely have believed in his death this time, had not a packet been forwarded to me, through his second. This packet contained a letter that he had written to me on the eve of the duel, and with a presentiment of death overshadowing him. In this letter he said that in death he claimed me again as his wife, and bequeathed to me, as to his widow, all that he had the power to leave, his personal property, and he took a last solemn farewell of me.

In the packet, besides, was his will and other documents necessary to put me in possession of his bequest, and also a great number of valuable jewels.

These, together with my own small dower, have made me independent for life.

It will show how perfectly palsied was my heart when I tell you that I could not feel either horror of crime, grief for Volaski's death, or gratitude for his bequest.

I could feel nothing.

Days and weeks passed in this apathy of despair, from which I was at length painfully aroused by a most shocking discovery.

Madelena, my hostess, who tenderly watched over my health had her suspicions aroused, and put some motherly questions to me, and when I had answered them she startled me with the announcement that in a very few months I should become a mother.

This news, so joyful to most good women, only filled my soul with sorrow and dismay. It seemed to complicate my difficulties beyond all possibility of extrication.

Lena, poor woman, who had never heard of my marriage with the Duke of Hereward, but had known me as the wife of the Count de Volaski, believed that all my distress was caused by the prospect of becoming the mother of a fatherless child, and bent all her energies to try to comfort me with the assurance that this motherhood would be the greatest blessing of my lonely life.

Ah! how willing would I have confided the whole truth to this good woman if I had dared to do so! It will show how timid I had grown when I assure you that I, a faithful daughter of the church, had not even ventured to go to confession once since my arrival in Italy.

Now, Duke of Hereward, attend to my words! Had you been less bitterly incredulous of my statements, less cruel in your judgment of me, less murderous in your vengeance upon one much more sinned against than sinning, I should have ventured to write to you of my condition and my prospect of giving you an heir to your dukedom, in time to prevent your rash and fatal act by which you unconsciously delegalized your own lawful son!

But your murderous cruelty had left me in a state of stupor from which I could not rally.

Night after night I resolved to write to you. Day after day I tried to carry my resolution into effect. Time after time I failed through fear of you!

At length I persuaded myself that there was no immediate necessity for action on my part. I might defer writing to you until the arrival of my child. That child might prove to be a girl, who could not be your heir, and, therefore, could not be an object of momentous importance to you; or it might die. Either of which circumstance would relieve me from the painful duty of opening a correspondence with you; or I myself might perish in the coming trial, when the duty of communicating the facts to you would devolve upon some one whom I would appoint with my dying breath.

These were the causes of my fatal delay in writing to you.

At length the time arrived. On the fifth of April, just five months after our separation. I became the mother of a fine, healthy, beautiful boy. He brought with him the mother-love that is Heaven's first gift to the child. I loved my son as I never loved a human being before. I had prayed for death; but as I clasped my first-born to my bosom, I asked pardon for that sinful prayer, thanked the Lord that I had lived through my trial, and besought him still to spare my life for my boy's sake. From that day forth I was able to pray and to give thanks. I resolved that my first act of recovery should be to go to the church and make my confession to the good father there, gain my absolution, and then write and inform you of the birth of your heir, the infant Earl of Arondelle, for such I knew was even then the baby boy's title! With these fond hopes I rapidly recovered. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Mother-love had cast out from my soul all fear of you. I thought that you would feel so rejoiced at the news of the birth of your son, your heir, and so fine a boy, that even for his sake you would forgive his mother, supposing that you should still think you had anything to forgive.

In the midst of my vain dreaming a thunderbolt fell upon me!

My boy was six weeks old. I had not yet left the house to carry out any of my happy resolutions, when my good Madelena entered my room and brought two large parcels of English papers, such as were sent me monthly by my London correspondent. She told me that the first parcel had arrived during my confinement to my bed, and that she had laid it away and forgotten all about it until this day, when the arrival of the second parcel had reminded her of it, and now she had brought them both, and hoped I would excuse her negligence in not having remembered to bring the first parcel sooner. I readily and even hastily excused her, for I was anxious to get rid of my good hostess and read my files of papers.

As any one else would have done under the like circumstances, I opened the last parcel first, and selected the latest paper to begin with. It was the London Times of April 7th. As I opened it, a short, marked paragraph caught my eyes.

Judge of my consternation when I read the notice of your marriage with the Lady Augusta McDugald!

The letters ran together on my vision, the room whirled around with me, all grew dark, and I lost consciousness. When I recovered my senses I found myself in bed, with Madelena and several of her kind neighbors in attendance upon me. Many days passed before I was able to look again at the file of English newspapers.

You had married again! you had married just one week before the birth of my son! But under what circumstances had you married? Did you suppose me to be dead, and that my death had set you free? Or-oh, horror! had you dragged my name before a public tribunal, and by lying facts-for facts do often lie-had you branded me with infidelity, and repudiated me by divorce?

Such were the questions that tormented me, until I was able to examine the file of English newspapers, and find out from them; for, as before, I would

not have taken any one into my confidence by getting another to read the papers for me, even if I could have found any one in that rural Italian neighborhood capable of reading English.

At length, one morning, I sent for the papers, and began to look them over, and I found-merciful Heaven! what I feared to find-the full report of our divorce trial! found myself held up to public scorn and execration, the reproach of my own sex-the contempt of yours! Found myself, in short, convicted and divorced from you, upon the foulest charge that can be brought upon a woman! Guiltless as I was! wronged as I had been! wishing only to live a pure and blameless life, as I did!

Oh! the intolerable anguish of the days that followed! But for my baby boy, I think I should have died, or maddened!

In my worst paroxysms, good Madelena would come and take up my baby and lay him on my bosom, and whisper, that no doubt, though his handsome young father had gone to Heaven, it was all for the best; and we too, if we were good, would one day meet him there, or words to that effect.

Surely angels are with children, and their presence makes itself felt in the comfort children bring to wounded hearts.

One day, in a state bordering on idiocy, I think, I examined and compared dates, in the sickening hope that my darling boy might have been born before the decree of divorce had been pronounced, and thus be the heir of his father's dukedom, notwithstanding all that followed.

But, ah! that faint hope also was destined to die! The dates, compared, stood thus:

The decree of divorce was pronounced February 13th, 18-.

The marriage between yourself and Lady Augusta McDugald was solemnized April 1st, 18-.

My boy was born April 15th, 18-.

Yes, you divorced the guiltless mother two months, and married another woman two weeks, before the birth of your innocent boy.

You cruelly and unjustly disowned, disinherited, and even delegalized, and degraded your son before he was born! So that your son was not born in wedlock, could not bear your name, or inherit your title! And this misfortune came upon him by no fault of his, or of his most unhappy mother's but by the jealousy, vengeance, and fatal rashness of his father! And now there was no help, either in law or equity, for the dishonored boy.

This, Duke of Hereward, is the ruin you have wrought in his life, in mine, and in yours.

Do you wonder that when I realized it all I fell into a state of despair deeper than any I had ever yet known?-a despair that was characterized by all who saw it as melancholy madness.

My dear boy, who was at first such a comfort to me, was now only a beloved sorrow! When I held him to my bosom, I thought of nothing but his bitter, irreparable wrongs.

I do not know how long I had continued to live in this despairing and heathenish condition, when one day, in harvest time, Madelena brought good Father Antonio to see me. This Father Antonio was the priest of the chapel of Santa Maria, who had performed the marriage ceremony between Waldemar de Volaski and myself.

The father also naturally supposed that all my grief was for the death of my child's father. He began in a gentle, admonitory way to rebuke me for inordinate affection and sinful repining, and to remind me of the comfort and strength to be found in the spirit of religion and the ordinances of the Church.

My heart opened to the good old priest as it had never opened to a living man or even woman before.

Then and there I told him the whole secret history of my life, including every detail of my two unhappy marriages, and the fatal divorce preceding the birth of my son. I concealed nothing from him. I told him all, and felt infinitely relieved when I had done so.

The gentle old man dropped tears of pity over me, and sat in silent sympathy some time before he ventured to give me any words.

At length he arose and said:

"Child, I must go home and pray for wisdom before I can venture to counsel you."

"Bless me, then, holy father."

He laid his venerable hands upon my bowed head, raised his eyes to Heaven, and invoked upon me the divine benediction, of which I stood so much in need.

Then he silently passed from the room.

That night I slept in peace.

The next day the good old man came to me again.

He told me that my first marriage with Waldemar de Volaski was my only true marriage, indissoluble by anything but death, however invalid in law it might be pronounced by those who were interested in breaking it.

That my second marriage contracted with the Duke of Hereward during the life of my first husband, was sacrilegious in the eyes of religion and the church, however legal it might be considered by the laws of England or of France, and pardonable in me only on account of my ignorance at the time of the continued existence of my first husband.

That the desperate step I had taken of leaving the Duke of Hereward, upon the discovery of the existence of Waldemar de Volaski, was the right and proper course for me to pursue; but that he regretted I had not possessed the moral courage to tell the duke the whole story, for he had that much right to my confidence.

As for the divorce I so much lamented, it was to be regretted only for the sake of the son whom it had outlawed, for he was the son of a lawful marriage in the eyes of the world, if not a sacred one in the eyes of the church.

For the boy thus cruelly wronged there seemed no opening on earth. He was disowned, disinherited, delegalized, deprived even of a name in this world. All earth was closed against him.

But all Heaven was open to him. The church, Heaven's servant, would open her arms to receive the child the world had cast out. The church in baptism would give him a name and a surname; would give him an education and a mission. I must, like Hannah of old, devote my son, even from his childhood up, to the service of the altar, and the church would do the rest.

How comforted I was! I had something still to live for! My outcast son would be saved. He could not inherit his father's titles and estates; he could not be a duke, but he would be a holy minister of the Lord; he might live to be a prince of the church, an archbishop or a cardinal.

Foolish ambition of a still worldly mother you may think. Yes! but he was her only son, and she was worse than widowed.

I agreed to all the good priest said. I promised to dedicate my son to the service of the altar.

The next Sunday I went to the chapel of Santa Maria and had my child christened. I gave him in baptism the full name of his father. Beppo and Madelena stood as his sponsors. They told me St. John would be his patron saint.

I rallied from my torpor. I built a roomy cottage in a mountain dell near the chapel of Santa Maria, furnished it comfortably, and moved into it, and engaged an Italian nurse and housekeeper, for I had resolved to pass my life among the simple, kindly people who were the only friends misfortune had left me.

Another trial awaited me-a light one, however, in comparison to those I had suffered and outlived.

This trial came when my son was but little over a year old, and I had been about six months in the "Hermitage," as I called my new home.

One morning I received a file of English papers for the month of May just preceding. In the papers of the first week in May I saw announced the birth of your son, called the infant Marquis of Arondelle, and the heir. I read of the great rejoicings in all your various seats throughout the United Kingdom, and the congratulations of royalty itself, upon this auspicious event. I clasped my disinherited son to my bosom and wept the very bitterest tears I had ever shed in my life.

Later on I read in the papers for the last of May a graphic account of the grand pageantry of the christening, which took place at St. Peter's, Euston Square, where an archbishop performed the sacred rites and a royal duke stood sponsor, and of the great feastings and rejoicings in hall and hut on every estate of yours throughout the kingdom. I thought of my disowned boy's humble baptism in the village church by the country priest, where two kind-hearted peasants stood sponsors for him, and I wept myself nearly blind that night.

The next day I went to the little church and told the good father there all about it. He understood and sympathized with me, counselled and comforted me as usual.

He admonished me that to escape from the wounds of the world, I must not only forsake the world, as I had done, but forget the world as I had not done; to forget the world I must cease to search and inquire into its sayings and doings; and he advised me to write and stop all my newspapers, which only brought me news to disturb my peace of mind.

I followed the direction of my wise guide. I wrote immediately and stopped all my newspapers.

After that I devoted myself to the nurture of my child, to the care of my little household, to the relief of my poorer neighbors, and to the performance of my religious duties; and time brought me resignation and cheerfullness.

From that day to this, Duke of Hereward, I have never once seen your name printed or written, and never once heard it breathed. You may have passed away from earth, for aught I know to the contrary; though I hope and believe that you have not.

My boy throve finely. The good priest of Santa Maria took charge of his education for the first twelve years of the pupil's life, made of him, even at that early age, a good Latin and Greek scholar, and a fair mathematician; and would have prepared him to enter one of the German Universities, had not the summons come that cut short the good father's work on earth, and carried him to his eternal home.

It was soon after the loss of this kind friend, who had been the strong prop of my weakness, the wise counsellor of my ignorance, that my own health began to fail. The seeds of pulmonary consumption, inherited from my mother, began to develop, and nothing could arrest their progress. For the last three years I have been an invalid, growing worse and worse every year. Perhaps in no other climate, under no other treatment, could I have lived so long as I have been permitted to live here by the help of the pure air and the grape cure.

My boy, now fifteen years of age, is everything that I could wish him to be, except in one respect. He will not consent to enter the church. He wants to be a soldier, poor lad! Well, we cannot coerce him into a life of sanctity and self-denial. Such a life must always be a voluntary sacrifice. Neither do I wish to cross him, now that I am on my death-bed and doomed so soon to leave him.

In these last days on earth, lying on my dying bed, travailing for his good, it has come to me like an inspiration that I must send him to his father. I must not leave him friendless in the world. And now that the priest Antonio has long passed away, and I am so soon to follow, he will have no friends except these poor, helpless Italian peasants among whom he has been reared. Therefore I must send him, in the hope that you will recognize him by his exact likeness to yourself, and prove his identity as your son, by all the testimony you can be sure to gather in Paris and at San Vito. I have written this long letter, in the intervals between pain and fever, during the last few weeks.

Yesterday, my faithful physician warned me that my days on earth had dwindled down to hours; that I might pass away at any moment now, and had therefore best attend to any necessary business that I might wish to settle.

This warning admonishes me to finish and close my letter. I end as I began, by swearing to you, by all the hopes of salvation in a dying woman, that Archibald Scott is your own son. You can prove this to your own satisfaction by coming to San Vito and examining the church register as to the dates of his birth, baptism, and so forth; by which you will find that he was born just five months after I left your roof, and just six months after our return from our long yachting cruise, and the renewal of my acquaintance with Count de Volaski, at the British minister's dinner. You see, by these circumstances, there cannot be even the shadow of a doubt as to his true parentage.

I repeat, that I have not told the boy the secret of his birth; to have done so might have been to have embittered his mind against you, and I would not on my death-bed do anything to sow enmity between father and son.

I leave to yourself to tell him, if you should ever think proper to do so, and with what explanations you may please to add.

I have constituted you his sole guardian, and trustee of the moderate property I bequeath him. He wishes to enter the army, and he will have money sufficient to purchase a commission and support himself respectably in some good regiment. I hope that when the proper time comes you will forward his ambition in this direction.

And so I leave him in your hands, for my feeble strength fails, and I can only add my name.

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