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   Chapter 42 HER SON.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 13018

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


The last lines of this sad letter were almost illegible in their faintness and irregularity; and the tangled skein of light scratches that stood proxy for a signature could never have been deciphered by the skill of man.

The Duke of Hereward had grown ten years older in the half hour he had spent in the perusal of this fatal letter. He was no longer only sixty-five years of age, and a "fine old English gentleman;" he seemed fully seventy-five years old, and a broken, decrepit, ruined man. In fact, the first blow had fallen upon that fine intellect whose subsequent eccentricities gained for him the sobriquet of the mad duke.

The hand that held the fatal letter fell heavily by his side; his head drooped upon his chest; he did not move or speak for many minutes.

His young visitor watched him with curiosity and interest that gradually grew into anxiety. At length he made a motion to attract the duke's attention-dropped a book upon the floor, picked it up, and arose to apologize.

The duke started as from a profound reverie, sighed heavily, passed his handkerchief across his brow, and finally wheeled his chair around, and looked at his visitor.

No! there could be no question about it; the boy was the living image of what he himself had been at that age, as all his portraits could prove! and his eldest son, his rightful heir, stood before him, but forever and irrecoverably disinherited and delegalized by his own rash and cruel act.

The young man stood up as if naturally waiting to hear what the duke might have to say about his mother's letter.

But the duke did not immediately allude to the letter.

"Where are you stopping, my young friend?" he asked, in as calm a voice as he could command.

"At 'Langhams,' your grace," respectfully answered the youth.

"Very well. I will call and see you at your rooms to-morrow at eleven, and we will talk over your mother's plans and see what can be done for you," said the duke, as he touched the bell, and sank back heavily in his chair.

The young man understood that the interview was closed, and he was about to take his leave, when the door opened and a footman appeared.

"Truman, attend this young gentleman to the breakfast-room, and place refreshments before him. I hope that you will take something before you go, sir," said the duke, kindly.

"Thanks. I trust your grace will permit me to decline. It is scarce two hours since I breakfasted," said the boy, with a bow.

"As you please, young sir," answered the duke.

The youth then bowed and withdrew, attended by the footman.

The duke watched them through the door, listened to their retreating steps down the hall, and then threw his clasped hands to his head, groaning:

"Great Heaven! What have I done? What foul injustice to her, what cruel wrong to him. I thank her that she has never told him! I can never do so! Nay, Heaven forbid that he should ever even suspect the truth! Nor must I ever permit him to come here again; or to any house of mine, where the duchess, where his brother, where every servant even must see the likeness he bears to the family, and-discover, or, at least, suspect the secret!"

Meanwhile the youth, respectfully attended by the footman, left the house.

As he entered his cab that was waiting at the door, a bitter, bitter change passed over his fine face; the fair brow darkened, the blue eyes contracted and glittered, the lips were firmly compressed for an instant, and then he murmured to himself:

"That they should think a secret like this could be buried, concealed from me, the most interested of all to find it out! Was ever son so accursed as I am? Other sons have been disinherited, outlawed-but I! I have been delegalized and degraded from my birth!"

The fine mouth closed with a spasmodic jerk, the brow grew darker, the eyes glittered with intenser fire. He resumed:

"It will be difficult, if not impossible, but I will be restored to my rights, or I will ruin and exterminate the ducal house of Hereward! I am the eldest son of my father; the only son of his first marriage. I am the heir not only of my father, but of the seven dukes and twenty barons that preceded him, to whom their patent of nobility was granted, to them and their heirs forever! 'Their heirs forever!' It was granted, therefore, to me and to all of my direct line! Each baron and duke had but his life-interest in his barony or dukedom, and could not alienate it from his heirs by will. It was an infamous, a fraudulent subterfuge to divorce my poor mother, and so delegalize me a few months before my birth. But-I will bide my time! This false heir may die. Such things do happen. And then, as there is no other heir to his title and estates, my father may acknowledge his eldest son, and try to undo the evil he has done. But if this should not happen, or if my father, who is old, should die, and this false heir inherit, then I will spend every shilling I have inherited from my mother to gain my own. I will have my rights, though I convict my father of a fraudulent conspiracy, and it requires an act of Parliament to effect my restoration! And if, after all, this wrong cannot be righted-although it can be abundantly proved that I am the only son of my father's first marriage, and the rightful heir of his dukedom, if, after all, I cannot be restored to my position, I will prove the mortal enemy of the race of Scott, and the destruction of the ducal house of Hereward. Meanwhile I must watch and wait; use this old man as my friend, who will not acknowledge himself as my father!"

These bitter musings lasted until the cab drew up before Langham's Hotel, and the youth got out and went into the house.

The boy, wrong in many instances, was right in this, that the secret of his birth could not be concealed from him.

His poor mother had never divulged it to him, never meant him to know that, the knowledge of which, she thought, would only make him unhappy; but she had told no falsehoods, put forth no false showing to hide it irrecoverably from him.

She was known among her poor Italian neighbors as Signora Valeria, and supposed by them to be the widow of that handsome young Pole to whom they had seen her married, and from whom they had seen her torn by her father, some years before. Of the Duke of Hereward, her second husband, and of her divorce from him, they knew nothing. But she was known to her father-confessor, to her news-agent, and later to her son, as Valerie de la Mo

tte Scott, for though no longer entitled to bear the latter name, she had tacitly allowed it to cling to her.

Now as to how the boy discovered the secret that was designed to be concealed from him.

When with childish curiosity he had inquired, his mother had told him that he had lost his father in infancy; and the boy understood that the loss was by death: but as time passed, and the lad questioned more particularly concerning his parentage, his mother, in repeating that he had lost his father in infancy, added that the loss had been attended with distressing circumstances, and begged him to desist in his inquiries. This only stimulated the interest and curiosity of the youth, and kept him on the qui vive for any word, or look, or circumstance that might give him a clew to the mystery. And thus it followed that with a mother so simple and unguarded as Valerie, and a son so cunning and watchful as Archibald, the secret she wished to keep be soon discovered. But he kept his own counsel for the sake of gaining still more information. And, at length, the full revelation and confirmation of all that he had suspected came to him in a manner and by means his mother had never foreseen or provided against.

Valerie had made a will leaving all her property to her son, and appointing the Duke of Hereward as his guardian. After her death, all her papers and other effects had to be overhauled and examined and her son took care to read every paper that he was free to handle. Among these was a copy of the will of the late Waldemar de Volaski, by which he bequeathed to Valerie de la Motte Scott, Duchess of Hereward, all his personal property.

Here was both a revelation and a mystery! Valerie de la Motte Scott, his most unhappy mother, Duchess of Hereward! and his guardian, appointed by her-the Duke of Hereward!

Who was the Duke of Hereward? That he was a great English nobleman was evident! But aside from that, who and what was he?

The boy was in a fever of excitement. It was of no use to ask any of his poor Italian neighbors, for they knew less than he did. He had heard of a mammoth London annual, called Burke's Peerage, which would tell all about the living and dead nobility; but there was no copy of it anywhere in reach.

However, his mother's dying directions had been that he should proceed at once to England, and report himself to his guardian, that very Duke of Hereward so mysteriously connected with his destiny.

Intense curiosity stimulating him, he hurried his departure, and after traveling day and night arrived in London on the evening of the last day of May.

He waited only to engage a room at Langham's and change his dress, and partake of a slight luncheon, before he ordered a cab, drove to the nearest bookstore, and purchased a copy of Burke's Peerage for that current year.

As soon as he found himself alone in his cab again, he tore the paper off the book and eagerly turned to the article Hereward, and read:

"Hereward, Duke of-Archibald-Alexander-John Scott, Marquis and Earl of Arondelle in the peerage of England, Viscount Lone and Baron Scott in the peerage of Scotland, and a baronet; born Jan. 1st, 1795; succeeded his father as seventh duke, Feb. 1st, 1840; married, March 15th 1845, Valerie, only daughter of the Baron de la Motte; divorced from her grace Feb. 13, 1846; married secondly, April 1st, 1846, Lady Augusta-Victoria, eldest daughter of the Earl of Banff, by whom he has:

"Archibald-Alexander-John, Marquis of Arondelle."

Then followed a long list of other children, girls and boys, of whom the only record was birth and death. Not one of them, except the young Marquis of Arondelle, had lived to be seven years old.

Then followed the long lineage of the family, going over a glorious history of eight centuries.

The youth glanced over the lineage, but soon recurred to the opening paragraphs.

"'Married, March 15th, 1845, Valerie, only daughter of the Baron de la Motte.' That was my poor, dear mother!

"'Divorced from her grace, Feb, 13th, 1846,' He divorced her, and what for! She was a saint on earth, I know! Perhaps it was for being that she was divorced! Let us see. 'Married secondly, April 1st, 1846, Lady Augusta Victoria, eldest daughter of the Earl of Banff.' Ah, ha! that was it! He divorced my beloved mother for the same season that the tryant Henry VIII. divorced Queen Catherine, because he was in love with another woman whom he wished to marry!"

(The study of history teaches as much knowledge of the world as does personal experience.)

"But here again," continued the youth. "He divorced my dear mother on the 13th of February, married his Anne Boylen on the 1st of April-appropriate day-and I was born on the 15th of the same month! Yes! my angel mother and my infant self branded with infamy two months before my birth, and by the very man whom nature and law should have constrained to be our protector! Will I ever forgive it? No! When I do, may Heaven never forgive me!"

As the boy made this vow he laid down the "Royal and Noble Stud-Book," and took up the bulky letter that his mother had entrusted to him to be delivered to the Duke of Hereward. He studied it a moment, then had a little struggle with his sense of right, and finally murmuring:

"Forgive me, gentle mother; but having discovered so much of your secret, I must know it all, even for your sake, and for the love and respect I bear you."

He broke the seal and read the whole of the historical letter from beginning to end.

Then he carefully re-folded and re-sealed the letter, so as to leave no trace of the violence that has been done in opening it.

Then he sat for a long time with his elbows on the table before him, and his head bowed upon his hands while tear after tear rolled slowly down his cheeks for the sad fate of that young, broken hearted mother who had perished in her early prime.

The next day, as we have seen, he went to Hereward House and presented his mother's letter to the duke. He had watched his grace while the latter was reading the letter. He had foolishly expected to see some sign of remorse, some demonstration of affection. But he had been disappointed. He had been received only as the son of some humble deceased friend, consigned to the great duke's care. His tender mood had changed to a vindictive one, and he had sworn to be restored to his rights, or to devote his life to effect the ruin and extermination of the house of Hereward.

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