A deep groan burst from the seaman’s lips, and his face was ashy pale. The young man trembled as he proceeded.
’The dark gentleman came and took me away from the house, and I never saw it again. My old nurse went with me. I was six years old then, and I lived with her, in a poorer place than before, and not close to the old house, for we went a long way in a carriage to reach it. We lived together so till I was near eight years old. The dark gentleman never came near us—but one day a man came, and said he had bought her, I think, and she must go with him; and they took her away from me. I clung to her, but they beat me away. Unseen by them she tied this ribbon with the locket to it round my neck, and telling me never to part with it, for it had been my mother’s, and would one day bring me rank and fortune, she went with her new master. A kind old colored woman, who used to say she was free, took me to her house, and I remember nothing more until you found me there, but that I hid the locket even from her, for I was afraid she would take it away, and that the man who took Nurse away, said, looking at me, “What a pity he is white!"’
The youth had been so intent upon collecting the reminiscences of his childhood, that he had failed to perceive the effect it had upon his companion, and the darkness now prevented his face from being seen—but the agonized sobs that broke from him now and then told that the fountains of his heart were stirred, and his very soul harrowed up, and memory had conjured up a series of terrible recollections. Lights were brought into the room, but all traces of agitation had disappeared, and his countenance bore only the look of stern, implacable resolve.
’Edward, tell me one thing more. Have you ever seen the dark-haired man since?’
‘Daily, for these ten years almost. I knew him instantly.’
’De Montford! It was by accident I discovered the secret of the picture in the justice-room, and I have availed myself of it to play spirit to him and his base agent sometimes.’
’It was a boyish trick—but you have sterner work now in hand than playing ghost—you have to avenge a murdered mother!’
‘Ah! then my mother’s sudden death, when she was recovering—’
‘Was the work of poison!’
‘I see it all!’ said the young man. ’The papers he wanted, and she refused—but I will kill him!’ He started up, and was rushing to the door. The iron grasp of the seaman arrested him.
’You must be calm, Edward. He shall die, but he must not perish by your hand. He is your uncle. But he shall first be stripped of his assumed rank and title, and his proud spirit humbled. Then he shall answer in a court of justice for the murder of your mother.’
‘Who, then, was my father?’
‘The eldest lawful son of the late Earl De Montford!’
Edward gazed proudly around him for a moment, then sank into a chair, and burying his face in his hands, burst into tears. Walter did not disturb him, but sat regarding him with a look in which affection was strangely mingled with his stern resolve. At length Edward raised his head.