“No, you hardly knew her. And she? She hardly knew you; if she had she would have abhorred rather than enriched you. Frederick, I had rather see you dead than stand before me the inheritor of Philemon and Agatha Webb’s hard-earned savings.”
“You are right; it would be better,” murmured Frederick, hardly heeding what he said. Then, as he encountered his father’s eye resting upon him with implacable scrutiny, he added, in weak repetition: “Why should she give her money to me? What was I to her that she should will me her fortune?”
The father’s finger trembled to a certain line in the document, which seemed to offer some explanation of this; but Frederick did not follow it. He had seen that his father was expecting a reply to the question he had previously put, and he was casting about in his mind how to answer it.
“When did you know of this will?” Mr. Sutherland now repeated. “For know of it you did before you came to me for money.”
Frederick summoned up his full courage and confronted his father resolutely.
“No,” said he, “I did not know of it. It is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you.”
He lied. Mr. Sutherland knew that he lied and Frederick knew that he knew it. A shadow fell between them, which the older, with that unspeakable fear upon him roused by Sweetwater’s whispered suspicions, dared no longer attempt to lift.
After a few minutes in which Frederick seemed to see his father age before his eyes, Mr. Sutherland coldly remarked:
“Dr. Talbot must know of this will. It has been sent here to me from Boston by a lawyer who drew it up two years ago. The coroner may not as yet have heard of it. Will you accompany me to his office to-morrow? I should like to have him see that we wish to be open with him in an affair of such importance.”
“I will accompany you gladly,” said Frederick, and seeing that his father neither wished nor was able to say anything further, he bowed with distant ceremony as to a stranger and quietly withdrew. But when the door had closed between them and only the memory of his father’s changed countenance remained to trouble him, he paused and laid his hand again on the knob, as if tempted to return. But he left without doing so, only to turn again at the end of the hall and gaze wistfully back. Yet he went on.
As he opened his own door and disappeared within, he said half audibly:
“Easy to destroy me now, Amabel. One word and I am lost!”
THE MAN OF NO REPUTATION
And what of Sweetwater, in whose thoughts and actions the interest now centres?