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Her slighted love and ruined name, Her offspring's heritage of shame, Shall witness for thee from the dead How trusty and how tender were Thy youthful love--paternal care! --_Byron_.
Her exit was almost immediately followed by the entrance of Mr. Brudenell. He also had noticed Ishmael's condition, and attributed it to overwork, and to the want of rest, with change of air. He was preparing to leave Washington for Brudenell Hall. He was going a few days in advance of Judge Merlin and the Middletons, and he intended to invite Ishmael to accompany him, or to come after him, and make a visit to Brudenell. He earnestly desired to have Ishmael there to himself for a week or two. It was with this desire that he now entered the library.
Ishmael arose from his packing, and, smiling a welcome, set a chair for his visitor.
"You are not looking well, Mr. Worth," said Herman Brudenell, as he took the offered seat.
"I am not well just at present, but I shall be so in a day or two," returned Ishmael.
"Not if you continue the course you are pursuing now, my young friend. You require rest and change of air. I shall leave Washington for Brudenell Hall on Thursday morning. It would give me great pleasure if you would accompany me thither, and remain my guest for a few weeks, to recruit your health. The place is noted for its salubrity; and though the house has been dismantled, and has remained vacant for some time, yet I hope we will find it fitted up comfortably again; for I have written down to an upholsterer of Baymouth to send in some furniture, and I have also written to a certain genius of all trades, called the 'professor,' to go over and see it all arranged, and do what else is needed to be done for our reception."
Ishmael smiled when he heard the name of the professor; but before he could make any comment, Mr. Brudenell inquired:
"What do you say, Mr. Worth? Will you accompany me thither, or will you come after me?"
"I thank you very much, Mr. Brudenell. I should like to visit Brudenell Hall; but--"
"Then you will come? I am very glad! I shall be alone there with my servants, you know, and your society will be a god-send to me. Had you not better go down at once when I do? I go by land, in a hired carriage. The carriage is very comfortable; and we can make the journey in two days, and lay by during the heat of both days. I think the trip will be pleasant. We can reach Brudenell Hall on Friday night, and have a good rest before Sunday, when we can go to the old country church, where you will be likely to meet the faces of some of your old friends. I think we shall be very comfortable, keeping bachelor-hall together at Brudenell Hall this summer, Mr. Worth," said Herman Brudenell, who longed more than tongue could tell to have Nora's son at home with him, though it might be only for a short time.
"I feel your kindness very much indeed, Mr. Brudenell; and I should be very, very happy to accept your hospitable invitation; but--I was about to say, it really is quite impossible in the existing state of my business for me to go anywhere at present," said Ishmael courteously.
"Indeed? I am very sorry for that. But the reasons you give are unanswerable, I know. I am seriously disappointed. Yet I trust, though you may not be able to come just at present, you will follow me down there after a little while--say in the course of a few days or weeks--for I shall remain at the hall all summer and shall be always delighted to receive you. Will you promise to come?"
"Indeed, I fear I cannot promise that either, for I have a very great pressure of business; but if I can possibly manage to go, without infringing upon my duties, I shall be grateful for the privilege and very happy to avail myself of it; for--do you know, sir?--I was born in that neighborhood and passed my childhood and youth there. I love the old place, and almost long to see the old hut where I lived, and the hall where I went to school, and the wooded valley that lies between them, where I gathered wild-flowers and fruits in summer and nuts in winter, and--my mother's grave," said the unconscious son, speaking confidentially, and looking straight into his father's eyes.
"Ishmael," said Herman Brudenell, in a faltering voice, and forgetting to be formal, "you must come to me: that grave should draw you, if nothing else; it is a pious pilgrimage when a son goes to visit his mother's grave."
There was something in this new friend's words, look, and manner that always drew out the young man's confidence, and he said, in a voice trembling with emotion:
"She died young, sir; and oh! so sorrowfully! She was only nineteen, two years younger than I am now; and her son was motherless the hour he was born."
Violent emotion shook the frame of Herman Brudenell. He had not entered the room with any intention of making a disclosure to Ishmael; but he felt now that--come life, come death, come whatever might of it--he must claim Nora's son.
"Ishmael," he began, in a voice shaken with agitation, "I knew your mother."
"You, sir!" exclaimed the young man in surprise.
"Yes, I knew her and her sister, naturally, for they were tenants of mine."
"I knew that they lived on the outskirts of the Brudenell estate; but I did not know you were personally acquainted with them, sir; for I thought that you had resided generally in Europe."
"Not all the time; I was at Brudenell Hall when--you were born and your mother went to heaven, Ishmael."
Some of the elder man's agitation communicated itself to the younger, who half arose from his seat and looked intently at the speaker.
"I knew your mother in those days, Ishmael. She was not only one of the most beautiful women of her day, but one of the purest, noblest, and best."
Herman Brudenell hesitated. And Ishmael, who had dropped again into his seat, bent eagerly forward, holding his breath while he listened.
"You resemble her in person and character, Ishmael. All that is best and noblest and most attractive in you, Ishmael, is derived under Divine Providence from your mother."
"I know it! Oh, I know it!"
"And, Ishmael, I loved your mother!"
"Oh, Heaven!" breathed the young man, in sickening, deadly apprehension; for well he remembered that this Mr. Herman Brudenell was the husband of the Countess of Hurstmonceux at the very time of which he now spoke.
"Ishmael, do not look so cruelly distressed. I loved her, she loved me in return, she crowned my days with joy, and--"
A gasping sound of suddenly suspended breath from Ishmael.
"I made her my wife," continued Herman Brudenell, in a grave and earnest voice.
"It was you then!" cried Ishmael, shaking with agitation.
"It was I!"
Silence like a pall fell between them.
"Oh, Ishmael! my son! my son! speak to me! give me your hand!" groaned Herman Brudenell.
"She was your wife! Yet she died of want, exposure, and grief!" said Nora's son, standing pale and stony before him.
"And I--live with a breaking heart! a harder fate, Ishmael. Since her death, I have been a wifeless, childless, homeless wanderer over the wide world! Oh, Ishmael! my son! my son! give me your hand!"
"I am your mother's son! She was your wife, you say; yet she never bore your name! She was your wife; yet her son and yours bears her maiden name! She was your wife; yet she perished miserably in her early youth; and undeserved reproach is suffered to rest upon her memory! Oh, sir! if indeed you were her husband and my father, as you claim to be, explain these things before I give you my hand! for when I give my hand, honor and respect must go with it," said Ishmael in a grave, sweet, earnest tone.
"Is it possible that Hannah has never told you? I thought she would have told you everything, except the name of your father."
"She told me everything that she could tell without violating the oath of secrecy by which she was hound; but what she told me was not satisfactory."
"Sit down then, Ishmael, sit down; and though to recall this woeful history will be to tear open old wounds afresh, I will do so; and when you have heard it, you will know how blameless we both--your mother and myself--really were, and how deep has been the tragedy of my life as well as hers--the difference between us being that hers is a dead trouble, from which she rests eternally, while mine is a living and life-long sorrow!"
Ishmael again dropped into his chair and gave undivided attention to the speaker.
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