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- The Trespasser, Volume 1. - 5/13 -

The other coolly put up her pince-nez. She caught Gaston's profile and the turn of his shoulder.

"Yes, like, Sophie; but Robert never had such a back, nor anything like the face."

She spoke with no attempt to modulate her voice, and it carried distinctly to Gaston. He turned and glanced at them.

"He's a Belward, certainly, but like what one I don't know; and he's terribly eccentric, my dear! Did you see the boots and the sash? Why, bless me, if you are not shaking! Don't be silly--shivering at the thought of Robert Belward after all these years."

So saying, Mrs. Warren Gasgoyne tapped Lady Dargan on the arm, and then turned sharply to see if her daughters had been listening. She saw that they had; and though herself and not her sister was to blame, she said:

"Sophie, you are very indiscreet! If you had daughters of your own, you would probably be more careful--though Heaven only knows, for you were always difficult!"

With this they vanished up the staircase, Mrs. Gasgoyne's daughters, Delia and Agatha, smiling at each other and whispering about Gaston.

Meanwhile the seeker after a kingdom was shown into Sir William Belward's study. No one was there. He walked to the mantelpiece, and, leaning his arm on it, looked round. Directly in front of him on the wall was the picture of a lady in middle-life, sitting in an arbour. A crutch lay against one arm of her chair, and her left hand leaned on an ebony silver-topped cane. There was something painful, haunting, in the face --a weirdness in the whole picture. The face was looking into the sunlight, but the effect was rather of moonlight--distant, mournful. He was fascinated; why, he could not tell. Art to him was an unknown book, but he had the instinct, and he was quick to feel. This picture struck him as being out of harmony with everything else in the room. Yet it had, a strange compelling charm.

Presently he started forward with an exclamation. Now he understood the vague, eerie influence. Looking out from behind the foliage was a face, so dim that one moment it seemed not to be there, and then suddenly to flash in--as a picture from beyond sails, lightning-like, across the filmy eyes of the dying. It was the face of a youth, elf-like, unreal, yet he saw his father's features in it.

He rubbed his eyes and looked again. It seemed very dim. Indeed, so delicately, vaguely, had the work been done that only eyes like Gaston's, trained to observe, with the sight of a hawk and a sense of the mysterious, could have seen so quickly or so distinctly. He drew slowly back to the mantel again, and mused. What did it mean? He was sure that the woman was his grandmother.

At that moment the door opened, and an alert, white-haired man stepped in quickly, and stopped in the centre of the room, looking at his visitor. His deep, keen eyes gazed out with an intensity that might almost be fierceness, and the fingers of his fine hands opened and shut nervously. Though of no great stature, he had singular dignity. He was in evening- dress, and as he raised a hand to his chin quickly, as if in surprise or perplexity, Gaston noticed that he wore a large seal-ring. It is singular that while he was engaged with his great event, he was also thinking what an air of authority the ring gave.

For a moment the two men stood at gaze without speaking, though Gaston stepped forward respectfully. A bewildered, almost shrinking look came into Sir William's eyes, as the other stood full in the light of the candles.

Presently the old man spoke. In spite of conventional smoothness, his voice had the ring of distance, which comes from having lived through and above painful things.

"My servant announced you as Sir Gaston Belward. There is some mistake?"

"There is a mistake," was the slow reply. "I did not give my name as Sir Gaston Belward. That was Falby's conclusion, sir. But I am Gaston Robert Belward, just the same."

Sir William was dazed, puzzled. He presently made a quick gesture, as if driving away some foolish thought, and, motioning to a chair, said:

"Will you be seated?"

They both sat, Sir William by his writing-table. His look was now steady and penetrating, but he met one just as firm.

"You are--Gaston Robert Belward? May I ask for further information?"

There was furtive humour playing at Gaston's mouth. The old man's manner had been so unlike anything he had ever met, save, to an extent, in his father, that it interested him. He replied, with keen distinctness: "You mean, why I have come--home?"

Sir William's fingers trembled on a paper-knife. "Are you-at home?"

"I have come home to ask for my heritage--with interest compounded, sir."

Sir William was now very pale. He got to his feet, came to the young man, peered into his face, then drew back to the table and steadied himself against it. Gaston rose also: his instinct of courtesy was acute--absurdly civilised--that is, primitive. He waited. "You are Robert's son?"

"Robert Belward was my father."

"Your father is dead?"

"Twelve years ago."

Sir William sank back in his chair. His thin fingers ran back and forth along his lips. Presently he took out his handkerchief and coughed into it nervously. His lips trembled. With a preoccupied air he arranged a handful of papers on the table.

"Why did you not come before?" he asked at last, in a low, mechanical voice.

"It was better for a man than a boy to come."

"May I ask why?"

"A boy doesn't always see a situation--gives up too soon--throws away his rights. My father was a boy."

"He was twenty-five when he went away."

"I am fifty!"

Sir William looked up sharply, perplexed. "Fifty?"

"He only knew this life: I know the world."

"What world?"

"The great North, the South, the seas at four corners of the earth."

Sir William glanced at the top-boots, the peeping sash, the strong, bronzed face.

"Who was your mother?" he asked abruptly.

"A woman of France."

The baronet made a gesture of impatience, and looked searchingly at the young man.

All at once Gaston shot his bolt, to have it over. "She had Indian blood also."

He stretched himself to his full height, easily, broadly, with a touch of defiance, and leaned an arm against the mantel, awaiting Sir William's reply.

The old man shrank, then said coldly: "Have you the marriage- certificate?"

Gaston drew some papers from his pockets.

"Here, sir, with a letter from my father, and one from the Hudson's Bay Company."

His grandfather took them. With an effort he steadied himself, then opened and read them one by one, his son's brief letter last--it was merely a calm farewell, with a request that justice should be done his son.

At that moment Falby entered and said:

"Her ladyship's compliments, and all the guests have arrived, sir."

"My compliments to her ladyship, and ask her to give me five minutes yet, Falby."

Turning to his grandson, there seemed to be a moment's hesitation, then he reached out his hand.

"You have brought your luggage? Will you care to dine with us?"

Gaston took the cold outstretched fingers.

"Only my saddle-bag, and I have no evening-dress with me, else I should be glad."

There was another glance up and down the athletic figure, a half- apprehensive smile as the baronet thought of his wife, and then he said:

"We must see if anything can be done."

He pulled a bell-cord. A servant appeared.

"Ask the housekeeper to come for a moment, please." Neither spoke till the housekeeper appeared. "Hovey," he said to the grim woman, "give Mr. Gaston the room in the north tower. Then, from the press in the same room lay out the evening-dress which you will find there.... They were your father's," he added, turning to the young man. "It was my wife's wish to keep them. Have they been aired lately, Hovey?"

"Some days ago, sir."

"That will do." The housekeeper left, agitated. You will probably be in time for the fish," he added, as he bowed to Robert.

The Trespasser, Volume 1. - 5/13

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