Peter Atherly had been four months in England, but knew little of the country until one summer afternoon when his carriage rolled along the well-ordered road between Nonningsby Station and Ashley Grange.
In that four months he had consulted authorities, examined records, visited the Heralds’ College, written letters, and made a few friends. A rich American, tracing his genealogical tree, was not a new thing—even in that day—in London; but there was something original and simple in his methods, and so much that was grave, reserved, and un-American in his personality, that it awakened interest. A recognition that he was a foreigner, but a puzzled doubt, however, of his exact nationality, which he found everywhere, at first pained him, but he became reconciled to it at about the same time that his English acquaintances abandoned their own reserve and caution before the greater reticence of this melancholy American, and actually became the questioners! In this way his quest became known only as a disclosure of his own courtesy, and offers of assistance were pressed eagerly upon him. That was why Sir Edward Atherly found himself gravely puzzled, as he sat with his family solicitor one morning in the library of Ashley Grange.
“Humph!” said Sir Edward. “And you say he has absolutely no other purpose in making these inquiries?”
“Positively none,” returned the solicitor. “He is even willing to sign a renunciation of any claim which might arise out of this information. It is rather a singular case, but he seems to be a rich man and quite able to indulge his harmless caprices.”
“And you are quite sure he is Philip’s son?”
“Quite, from the papers he brings me. Of course I informed him that even if he should be able to establish a legal marriage he could expect nothing as next of kin, as you had children of your own. He seemed to know that already, and avowed that his only wish was to satisfy his own mind.”
“I suppose he wants to claim kinship and all that sort of thing for society’s sake?”
“I do not think so,” said the solicitor dryly. “I suggested an interview with you, but he seemed to think it quite unnecessary, if I could give him the information he required.”
“Ha!” said Sir Edward promptly, “we’ll invite him here. Lady Atherly can bring in some people to see him. Is he—ahem—What is he like? The usual American, I suppose?”
“Not at all. Quite foreign-looking—dark, and rather like an Italian. There is no resemblance to Mr. Philip,” he said, glancing at the painting of a flaxen-haired child fondling a greyhound under the elms of Ashley Park.
“Ah! Yes, yes! Perhaps the mother was one of those Southern creoles, or mulattoes,” said Sir Edward with an Englishman’s tolerant regard for the vagaries of people who were clearly not English; “they’re rather attractive women, I hear.”