Verdayne did not reply. His eyes were studying the pattern of the rug beneath his feet. His mother’s face flushed with embarrassment at the delicacy of the subject, but she stumbled on bravely.
“Paul,” she said, “Isabella is young yet, and you are not so very old. It may not, even now, be too late to hold a little grandchild on my knee before I die. I have been so fond of Paul—he is so very like you when you were a boy—and have wished—oh, you don’t know how a mother feels, Paul—I have often wished that he were your son, or that I might have had a grandson just like him. Do you know, Paul, I have often fancied that your son, had you had one, would have been very like this dear Boy.”
Verdayne choked back a sob. If his mother could only understand as some women would have understood! If he could have told her the truth! But, no, he never could. Even now it would have been a terrible shock to her, and she could never have forgiven, never held up her head again, if she had known.
As for marrying Isabella—could he? After all, was it right to let the old name die out for want of an heir? Was it just to his father? And Isabella would not expect to be made love to. There was never that sort of nonsense about her, and she would make all due allowance for his age and seriousness.
His mother felt she had been very kind and generous in renouncing the old objection of twenty years’ standing, and, too, she felt that it was only right, after spoiling her son’s life for so long, to do her best to atone for the mistake. It must be confessed she could not see what there was about Isabella to hold the love and loyalty of a man like Paul for so long, but then—and she sighed at the thought of the wasted years—“Love is blind,” they say—and so’s a lover! And her motherly heart longed for grandchildren—Paul’s children—as it had always longed for them.
Paul Verdayne sat opposite his penitent mother and pondered. The scent from a bowl of red roses on his mother’s table almost overpowered him with memories.
He thought of the couch of deep red roses on which he had lain, caressed by the velvet petals. He could inhale their fragrance even yet—he could look into her eyes and breathe the incense of her hair—her whole glorious person—that was like none other in all the world. Yes, she had been happy—and he would remember! She would be happier yet could she know that he had been faithful to his duty—and surely this was his duty to his race. His Queen would have it so, he felt sure.
Rising, he bent over his mother, his eyes bright with unshed tears, and kissed her calmly upon the brow. Then he walked quietly from the room. His resolution was firmly fixed.
He would marry Isabella!
Sir Charles Verdayne lingered for several weeks, no stronger, nor yet perceptibly weaker. He took a sudden fancy to see his old friend, Captain Grigsby, and the old salt was accordingly sent for. His presence acted as a tonic upon the dying man, and the two old friends spent many pleasant hours together, talking—as old people delight in talking—of the days of the distant past.