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