“I did not think of that,” said the Earl, much to Wilton’s surprise. “However, I shall leave to you entirely the execution of this scheme, Wilton. You understand that my name is never to be mentioned, however, and I take it as a matter of honour, that whatever be the result, you say not one word whatsoever to inculpate me.”
“None, my lord—none, upon my honour!” replied Wilton.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Wilton?” demanded the Earl. “If not, just be good enough to copy out that letter for me against my return, for the carriage is at the door, and I must go in haste to Kensington, to see the King depart for Hampton Court. The papers are all there in that packet I have given you—the order, the note, the special licence, and everything. Is there anything more?”
“Nothing, my lord. I thank you most sincerely,” replied Wilton, sitting down to copy the letter, while the Earl took up his hat and cane, and walked a step or two towards the door. The Earl paused, however, before he reached it, and then turned again towards Wilton, gazing upon him with a cold, unpleasant sort of smile.
“By the way, Wilton,” he said, “I promised to tell you part of your own history, but did not intend to do it for some little time. As we are likely however to be separated for a month or two by this marriage trip of yours, there is one thing that I may as well tell you. But you must, in the first place, promise me, upon your honour as a gentleman, and by all you hold most sacred, not to reveal one word thereof to any one, till the safety of the Duke is quite secured—do you promise me in that solemn manner?”
“I do, indeed, my lord,” replied Wilton, “and feel most sincerely grateful to your lordship for relieving my mind on the subject at once.”
“Well, then, Wilton,” continued the Earl, “you may recollect I said to the Duke that there was as ancient and good blood in your veins as in his own or in mine. Now, Wilton, my uncle, the last Earl of Byerdale, had two other nephews besides myself, and you are the son of one of them, who, espousing the cause of the late King James, was killed at the battle of the Boyne, and all he had confiscated. Little enough it was. You are his son, I say, Wilton. Do you hear?—His natural son, by a very pretty lady called Miss Harriet Oswald!—But upon my honour I must go, or I shall miss the King.”
And turning round with an air of perfect coolness and composure, the Earl quitted the room, leaving Wilton thunderstruck and overwhelmed with grief.
The whole of the Earl’s dark scheme was cleared up to Wilton’s eyes in a moment; and the secret of his own fate was only given to him in conjunction with an insight into that black and base transaction, of which he had been made an unwitting tool.