’Austin—your papa—was very kind to him—very; but then, you know, he’s an oddity, dear—he is an oddity, though no one may have told you before—and he never forgave him for his marriage. Your father, I suppose, knew more about the lady than I did—I was young then—but there were various reports, none of them pleasant, and she was not visited, and for some time there was a complete estrangement between your father and your uncle Silas; and it was made up, rather oddly, on the very occasion which some people said ought to have totally separated them. Did you ever hear anything—anything very remarkable—about your uncle?’
’No, never, they would not tell me, though I am sure they know. Pray go on.’
’Well, Maud, as I have begun, I’ll complete the story, though perhaps it might have been better untold. It was something rather shocking—indeed, very shocking; in fact, they insisted on suspecting him of having committed a murder.’
I stared at my cousin for some time, and then at the little boy, so refined, so beautiful, so funeste, in the oval frame.
‘Yes, dear,’ said she, her eyes following mine; ’who’d have supposed he could ever have—have fallen under so horrible a suspicion?’
‘The wretches! Of course, Uncle Silas—of course, he’s innocent?’ I said at last.
‘Of course, my dear,’ said Cousin Monica, with an odd look; ’but you know there are some things as bad almost to be suspected of as to have done, and the country gentlemen chose to suspect him. They did not like him, you see. His politics vexed them; and he resented their treatment of his wife—though I really think, poor Silas, he did not care a pin about her—and he annoyed them whenever he could. Your papa, you know, is very proud of his family—he never had the slightest suspicion of your uncle.’
‘Oh no!’ I cried vehemently.
‘That’s right, Maud Ruthyn,’ said Cousin Monica, with a sad little smile and a nod. ‘And your papa was, you may suppose, very angry.’
‘Of course he was,’ I exclaimed.
’You have no idea, my dear, how angry. He directed his attorney to prosecute, by wholesale, all who had said a word affecting your uncle’s character. But the lawyers were against it, and then your uncle tried to fight his way through it, but the men would not meet him. He was quite slurred. Your father went up and saw the Minister. He wanted to have him a Deputy-Lieutenant, or something, in his county. Your papa, you know, had a very great influence with the Government. Beside his county influence, he had two boroughs then. But the Minister was afraid, the feeling was so very strong. They offered him something in the Colonies, but your father would not hear of it—that would have been a banishment, you know. They would have given your father a peerage to make it up, but he would not accept it, and broke with the party.