FATHER AND SON.
While Gilbert Fenton was deliberating what steps to take next in his quest of his unknown enemy, a gentleman arrived at a small hotel near Charing Cross—a gentleman who was evidently a stranger to England, and whose portmanteaus and other travelling paraphernalia bore the names of New York manufacturers. He was a portly individual of middle age, and was still eminently handsome. He dressed well, lived expensively, and had altogether a prosperous appearance. He took care to inform the landlord of the hotel that he was not an American, but had returned to the land of his birth after an absence of something like fifteen years, and after realizing a handsome fortune upon the other side of the Atlantic. He was a very gracious and communicative person, and seemed to take life in an easy agreeable manner, like a man whose habit it was to look on the brighter side of all things, provided his own comfort was secured. Norton Percival was the name on this gentleman’s luggage, and on the card which he gave to the waiter whom he desired to look after his letters. After dining sumptuously on the evening of his arrival in London, this Mr. Percival strolled out in the autumn darkness, and made his way through the more obscure streets between Charing Cross and Wardour-street. The way seemed familiar enough to him, and he only paused now and then to take note of some alteration in the buildings which he had to pass. The last twenty years have not made much change in this neighbourhood, and the traveller from New York found little to surprise him.
“The place looks just as dull and dingy as it used to look when I was a lad,” he said to himself. “I daresay I shall find the old court unchanged in all these years. But shall I find the old man alive? I doubt that. Dead more likely, and his money gone to strangers. I wonder whether he had much money, or whether he was really as poor as he made himself out. It’s difficult to say. I know I made him bleed pretty freely, at one time and another, before he turned rusty; and it’s just possible I may have had pretty nearly all he had to give.”
He was in Wardour-street by this time, looking at the dimly-lighted shops where brokers’ ware of more or less value, old oak carvings, doubtful pictures, and rusted armour loomed duskily upon the passer-by. At the corner of Queen Anne’s Court he paused, and peered curiously into the narrow alley.
“The court is still here, at any rate,” he muttered to himself, “and I shall soon settle the other question.”
His heart beat faster than it was wont to beat as he drew near his destination. Was it any touch of real feeling, or only selfish apprehension, that quickened its throbbing? The man’s life had been so utterly reckless of others, that it would be dangerous to give him credit for any affectionate yearning—any natural remorseful pang in such a moment as this. He had lived for self, and self alone; and his own interests were involved in the issue of to-night.