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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 6/103 -
for decorating china, and wallpaper. At one time, I had regular pay for singing in a choir, but diphtheria injured my throat, and when I partly recovered my voice, the situation had been given to another person."
"I am informed also that before long, you intend to astonish the world with a wonderful picture, which shall distance such laggards as Troyon, Dore, and Ary Scheffer?"
She was looking, not at him, but out through the glass door, at the glowing western sky, where distant pine trees printed their silhouettes. Now her gaze came back to his face, and he noted a faint quiver in her full throat.
"If God will mercifully spare my mother to me, my loftiest and holiest ambition shall be to distance the wolfish cares and woes that have hunted her. ever since she became a widow. Any and all honest labor that can contribute to her comfort, will be welcome and sweet to me."
"The laws of heredity must be occult and complex. The offspring of a rebellious and disobedient child, is certainly entitled to no filial instincts; and some day the strain will tell, and you will overwhelm your mother with ingratitude, black as that which she showed me."
"When I do, may God eternally forsake me!"
A brief silence ensued, and the old man drummed on the table, with the fingers of his right hand.
"Who educated you?"
"My dear father."
"It seems there are two of you. Where is your brother?"
"At present, I do not know exactly where he is, but I think in the far West; possibly in Montana--probably in Canada."
"How does he earn his bread? By daubing, or fiddling?"
"Since he earns it honestly, that is his own affair. We have not heard from him for some months."
"I thought so! He inherits the worthless vagabond strain of--"
"He is his mother's idol, and she glories in his resemblance to you, sir; and to your father; hence his name--Robert L. Darrington."
"Then she must have one handsome child! I am not surprised that he is the favorite."
"Bertie certainly is her darling, and he is very handsome; not in the very least degree like me."
For the first time, their eyes met in a friendly glance, and a covert smile stirred the General's lips; but as he put out his hand toward her, she moved a step beyond his reach.
"Beryl, you consider me a dreadful, cruel old tyrant?"
She made no reply.
"You are my mother's father; and that word--father, means so much to me, that it shall shield even you, from the shadow of disrespect."
"Oh! very dutiful indeed, but dead as the days when daughters obeyed, and honored their fathers! Beggarly foreign professors wiped all that out of the minds of wealthy girls at boarding schools--just as they changed their backwoods pronunciation of French and Italian. Don't evade my question."
"I did not come here, sir, to bandy words; and I ended my mission by delivering the letter intrusted to me."
"You regard me as a vindictive old bear?"
"I had heard much of the Darringtons; I imagined a great deal more; but now, like the Queen of Sheba, I must testify--'Behold, the half was not told me.'"
He threw back his lion-like head, and laughed.
"That will do. Shake hands, child."
"No, thank you."
"And you will not sit down?"
"Frankly, I prefer not. I long to get away."
"You shall certainly be gratified, but there are a few things which I intend you shall hear. Of course you know that your mother was my only child, and an heiress; but you are ignorant probably of the fact that when she returned to boarding school for the last session, she was engaged in marriage to the son of my best friend--a man in every respect desirable, and thoroughly acceptable to me."
"So my mother told me."
"Indeed? She should blush to remember it. While she wore his engagement ring, she forgot her promise to him, her duty to me, her lineage, her birth, her position--and was inveigled by a low adventurer who--"
"Who was my own precious father--poor, but noble, and worthy of any princess! Unless you can refer to him respectfully, name him not at all, in his child's presence."
She suddenly towered over him, like some threatening fate, and her uplifted arm trembled from the intensity of her indignation.
"At least--you are loyal to your tribe!"
"I am, to my heart's core. You could pay me no higher compliment."
"Ellice wrote that she had bestowed her affections on--on--the 'exiled scion of a noble house,' who paid his board bill by teaching languages and music in the school; and who very naturally preferred to marry a rich fool, who would pay them for him. I answered her letter, which was addressed to her own mother--then quite ill at home--and I told her precisely what she might expect, if she persisted in her insane folly. As soon as my wife convalesced sufficiently to render my departure advisable, I started to bring my daughter home; but she ran away, a few hours before my arrival, and while, hoping to rescue Ellice, I was in pursuit of the precious pair, my wife relapsed and died--the victim of excitement brought on by her child's disgrace. I came back here to a desolate, silent house;--bereft of wife and daughter; and in the grave of her mother, I buried every atom of love and tenderness I ever entertained for Ellice. When the sun is suddenly blotted out at noon, and the world turns black--black, we grope to and fro aimlessly; but after awhile, we accommodate ourselves to the darkness;--and so, I became a different man--very hard, and I dare say very bitter. The world soon learned that I would tolerate no illusion to my disgrace, and people respected my family cancer, and prudently refrained from offering me nostrums to cure it. My wife had a handsome estate of her own right, and every cent of her fortune I collected, and sent with her jewelry to Ellice. Did you know this?"
"I have heard only of the jewels."
"As I supposed, the money was squandered before you could recollect."
"I know that we were reduced to poverty, by the failure of some banking house in Paris. I was old enough when it occurred, to remember ever afterward, the dismay and distress it caused. My father no doubt placed my mother's money there for safety."
"I wrote one long, final letter when I sent the checks for the money, and I told Ellice I wished never to see, never to hear from her again. I told her also, I had only one wish concerning her, and that was, that I might be able to forget her so completely, that if we should meet in the Last Judgment, I could not possibly know her. I assured her she need expect nothing at my death; as I had taken good care that my estate should not fall into the clutches of--her-- 'exiled scion of a noble house.' Now do you consider that she has any claim on me?"
"You must not ask me to sit in judgment on my parents."
"You shall decide a question of business facts. I provided liberally for her once; can you expect me to do so again? Has she any right to demand it?"
"Having defied your parental wishes, she may have forfeited a daughter's claim; but as a heart-broken sufferer, you cannot deny her the melancholy privilege of praying for your help, on her death- bed."
The proud clear voice trembled, and Beryl covered her face with her hands.
"Then we will ignore outraged ties of blood, and treat on the ground of mere humanity? Let me conclude, for it is sickening and loathsome to a man of my age, to see his long silent household graves yawn, and give up uncalled--their sheeted dead. For some years the money sent, was a quietus, and I was left in peace. I was lonely; it was, hard work to forget, because I could never forgive; and the more desolate the gray ruin, the more nature yearns to cover it close with vines and flowers; so after a time, I married a gentle, pure hearted woman, who made the best of what was left of me. We had no children, but she had one son of a former marriage, who proved a noble trustworthy boy; and by degrees he crept into my heart, and raked together the cinders of my dead affections, and kindled a feeble flame that warmed my shivering old age. When I felt assured that I was not thawing another serpent to sting me for my pains, I adopted Thorton Prince, and with the aid of a Legislative enactment, changed his name to Prince Darrington. Only a few months elapsed, before his mother, of whom I was very fond, died of consumption and my boy and I comforted each other. Then I made my second and last will, and took every possible precaution to secure my estate of every description to him. He is my sole heir, and I intend that at my death he shall receive every cent I possess. Did you know this?"
"I did, because your last endorsement on a letter of my mother's returned unopened to her, informed her of the fact."
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