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And Mr. Brudenell, after a short pause, commenced and gave a narrative of his own eventful life, beginning with his college days, and detailing all the incidents of his youthful career until it culminated in the dreadful household wreck that had killed Nora, exiled his family and blasted his own happiness forever.
Ishmael listened with the deepest sympathy.
It was indeed the tearing open of old wounds in Herman Brudenell's breast; and it was the inflicting of new ones in Ishmael's heart. It was an hour of unspeakable distress to both. Herman did not spare himself in the relation; yet in the end Ishmael exculpated his father from all blame. We know indeed that in his relations with Nora he was blameless, unless his fatal haste could be called a fault. And so for his long neglect of Ishmael, which really was a great sin, and the greatest he had ever committed, Ishmael never gave a thought to that, it was only a sin against himself, and Ishmael was not selfish enough to feel or resent it.
Herman Brudenell ended his story very much as he had commenced it.
"And since that day of doom, Ishmael, I have been a lonely, homeless, miserable wanderer over the wide world! The fabled Wandering Jew not more wretched than I!" And the bowed head, blanched complexion, and quivering features bore testimony to his words.
FATHER AND SON.
For though thou work'st my mother ill I feel thou art my father still! --_Byron._
Yet what no chance could then reveal, And no one would be first to own, Let fate and courage still conceal, When truth could bring reproach alone. --_Milnes._
Ishmael had been violently shaken. It was with much effort that he controlled his own emotions in order to administer consolation to one who was suffering even more than he himself was, because that suffering was blended with a morbid remorse.
"Father," he said, reaching forth his hand to the stricken man; but his voice failed him.
Herman Brudenell looked up; an expression of earnest love chasing away the sorrow from his face, as he said:
"Father? Ah, what a dear name! You call me thus, Ishmael? Me, who worked your mother so much woe?"
"Father, it was your great misfortune, not your fault; she said it on her death-bed, and the words of the dying are sacred," said Ishmael earnestly, and caressing the pale, thin hand that he held.
"Oh, Nora! Oh, Nora!" exclaimed Herman, as all his bosom's wounds bled afresh.
"Father, do not grieve so bitterly; and after all these years so morbidly! God has wiped away all tears from her eyes. She has been a saint in glory these many years!"
"You try to comfort me, Ishmael. You, Nora's son?" exclaimed Herman, with increased emotion.
"Who else of all the world should comfort you but Nora's son?"
"You love me, then, a little, Ishmael?"
"She loved you, my father, and why should not I?"
"Ah, that means that you will love me in time; for love is not born in an instant, my son."
"My heart reaches out to you, my father: I love you even now, and sympathize with you deeply; and I feel that I shall love you more and more, and as I shall see you oftener and know you better," said the simply truthful son.
"Ishmael! this is the happiest hour I have known since Nora's death, and Nora's son has given it to me."
"None have a better right to serve you."
"My son, I am a prematurely old and broken man, ruined and impoverished, but Brudenell Hall is still mine, and the name of Brudenell is one of the most ancient and honored in the Old and New World! If you consent, Ishmael, I will gladly, proudly, and openly acknowledge you as my son. I will get an act of the Legislature passed authorizing you to take the name and arms of Brudenell. And I will make you the heir of Brudenell Hall. What say you, Ishmael?"
"Father," said the young man, promptly but respectfully, "no! In all things I will be to you a true and loving son; but I cannot, cannot consent to your proposal; because to do so would be to cast bitter, heavy, unmerited reproach upon my sweet mother's memory! For, listen, sir: you are known to have been the husband of the Countess Hurstmonceux for more years than I have lived in this world; you are known to have been so at the very time of my birth; you could not go about explaining the circumstances to everyone who would become acquainted with the facts, and the consequences would be what I said! No, father, leave me as I am; for, besides the reasons I have given, there is yet another reason why I may not take your name."
"What is that, Ishmael?" asked Brudenell, in a broken voice.
"It is, that in an hour of passionate grief, after hearing my mother's woeful story from the lips of my aunt, I fell upon that mother's grave and vowed to make her name--the only thing she had to leave me, poor mother!--illustrious. It was a piece of boyish vainglory, no doubt, but it was a vow, and I must try to keep it," said Ishmael, faintly smiling.
"You will keep it; you will make the name of Worth illustrious in the annals of the country, Ishmael," said Mr. Brudenell.
There was a pause for a little while, at the end of which the latter said:
"There is another way in which I may be able to accomplish my purpose, Ishmael. Without proclaiming you as my son, and risking the reproach you dread for your dear mother's memory, I might adopt you as my son, and appoint you as my heir. Will you make me happy by consenting to that measure, Ishmael?" inquired the father, in a persuasive tone.
"Dear sir, I cannot. Oh, do not think that I am insensible to all your kindness, for indeed I am not! I thank you; I love you; and I deeply sympathize with you in your disappointment; but--"
"But what, my son? what is the reason you cannot agree to this last proposal?" asked Mr. Brudenell, in a voice quivering with emotion.
"A strong spirit of independence, the growth of years of lonely struggle with the world, possesses and inspires me. I could not for an hour endure patronage or dependence, come they from where or how they might. It is the law of my life," said Ishmael firmly, but affectionately.
"It is a noble law, and yours has been a noble life, my son. But--is there nothing, nothing I can do for you to prove my affection, and to ease my heart, Ishmael?"
"Yes!" said the young man, after a pause. "When you return to England, you will see--Lady Vincent!" The name was uttered with a gasp. "Tell her what you have told me--the history of your acquaintance with my mother; your mutual love; your private marriage, and the unforeseen misfortune that wrecked your happiness! Tell her how pure and noble and lovely my young mother was! that her ladyship may know once for all Nora Worth was not"--Ishmael covered his face with his hands, and caught his breath, and continued--"not, as she said, 'the shame of her own sex and the scorn of ours'; that her son is not 'the child of sin,' nor 'his heritage dishonor!'" And Ishmael dropped his stately head upon his desk, and sobbed aloud; sobbed until all his athletic form shook with the storm of his great agony.
Herman Brudenell gazed at him--appalled. Then, rising, he laid his hand on the young man's shoulder, saying:
"Ishmael! Ishmael! don't do so! Calm yourself, my son; oh, my dear son, calm yourself!"
He might as well have spoken to a tempest. Sobs still shook Ishmael's whole frame.
"Oh, Heaven! oh, Heaven! Would to the Lord I had never been born!" cried Herman Brudenell, in a voice of such utter woe that Ishmael raised his head and struggled hard to subdue the storm of passion that was raging in his bosom. "Or would that I had died the day I met Nora, and before I had entailed all this anguish on you!" continued Herman Brudenell, amid groans and sighs.
"Don't say so, my father! don't say so! You were not in fault. You were as blameless as she herself was; and you could not have been more so," said Ishmael, wiping his fevered brow, and looking up.
"My generous son! But did Claudia--did Lady Vincent use the cruel words you have quoted, against your mother and yourself?"
"She did, my father. Oh, but I have suffered!" exclaimed Ishmael, with shaking voice and quivering features.
"I know you have; I know it, Ishmael; but you have grandly, gloriously conquered suffering," said Mr. Brudenell, with enthusiasm.
"Not quite conquered it yet; but I shall endeavor to do so," replied the young man, who had now quite regained his self-possession.
And another pause fell between them.
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