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- Hector's Inheritance - 4/41 -
"Your--my brother, did what he could to remedy matters. In his last sickness, when too weak to sign his name, he asked me, as the legal heir of his estate, to see that you were well provided for. He wished me to see your education finished, and I promised to do so. I could see that this promise relieved his mind. Of one thing you may be assured, Hector, he never lost his affection for you."
"Thank Heaven for that!" murmured the boy, who had been deeply and devotedly attached to the man whom, all his life long, he had looked upon as his father.
"I can only add, Hector," said Mr. Roscoe, "that I feel for your natural disappointment. It is, indeed, hard to be brought up to regard yourself as the heir of a great estate, and to make the discovery that you have been mistaken."
"I don't mind that so much, Mr. Roscoe," said Hector, slowly. "It is the hardest thing to think of myself as having no claim upon one whom I have loved as a father--to think myself as a boy of unknown parentage. But," he added, suddenly, "I have it only on your word. Why should I believe it?"
"I will give you conclusive proof, Hector. Read this."
Allan Roscoe took from his pocket a letter, without an envelope. One glance served to show Hector that it was in the handwriting of his late father, or, at any rate, in a handwriting surprisingly like it.
He began to read it with feverish haste.
The letter need not find a place here. The substance of it had been accurately given by Mr. Allan Roscoe. Apparently, it corroborated his every statement.
The boy looked up from its perusal, his face pale and stricken.
"You see that I have good authority for my statement," said Mr. Roscoe.
"I can't understand it," said Hector, slowly.
"I need only add," said Mr. Roscoe, apparently relieved by the revelation, "that my brother did not repose confidence in me in vain. I accept, as a sacred charge, the duty he imposed upon me. I shall provide for you and look after your education. I wish to put you in a way to prepare yourself for a useful and honorable career. As a first step, I intend, on Monday next, to place you in an excellent boarding school, where you will have exceptional privileges."
Hector listened, but his mind was occupied by sad thoughts, and he made no comment.
"I have even selected the school with great care," said Mr. Roscoe. "It is situated at Smithville, and is under the charge of Socrates Smith, A. M., a learned and distinguished educator. You may go now. I will speak with you on this subject later."
Hector bowed. After what he had heard, his interest in other matters was but faint.
"I shall be glad to get him out of the house," thought Allan Roscoe. "I never liked him."
Hector walked out of the house in a state of mental bewilderment not easily described. Was he not Hector Roscoe, after all? Had he been all his life under a mistake? If this story were true, who was he, who were his parents, what was his name? Why had the man whom he had supposed to be his father not imparted to him this secret? He had always been kind and indulgent; he had never appeared to regard the boy as an alien in blood, but as a dearly loved son. Yet, if he had, after all, left him unprovided for, he had certainly treated Hector with great cruelty.
"I won't believe it," said Hector, to himself.
"I won't so wrong my dear father's memory at the bidding of this man, whose interest it is to trump up this story, since he and his son become the owners of a great estate in my place."
Just then Guy advanced toward Hector with a malicious smile upon his face. He knew very well what a blow poor Hector had received, for he was in his father's confidence, and he was mean enough, and malicious enough, to rejoice at it.
"What's the matter with you, Hector?" he asked, with a grin. "You look as if you had lost your last friend."
Hector stopped short and regarded Guy fixedly.
"Do you know what your father has been saying to me?" he asked.
"Well, I can guess," answered Guy. "Ho! ho! It's a great joke that you have all the time fancied yourself the heir of Castle Roscoe, when you have no claim to it at all. I am the heir!" he added, drawing himself up proudly; "and you are a poor dependent, and a nobody. It's funny!"
"Perhaps you won't think it so funny after this!" said Hector, coolly, exasperated beyond endurance. As he spoke he drew off, and in an instant Guy measured his length upon the greensward.
Guy rose, his face livid with passion, in a frame of mind far from funny. He clinched his fists and looked at Hector as if he wished to annihilate him. "You'll pay for this," he screamed. "You'll repent it, bitterly, you poor, nameless dependent, low-born, very likely--"
"Hold, there!" said Hector, advancing resolutely, and sternly facing the angry boy. "Be careful what you say. If this story of your father's is true, which I don't believe, you might have the decency to let me alone, even if you don't sympathize with me. If you dare to say or hint anything against my birth, I'll treat you worse than I have yet."
"You'll suffer for this!" almost shrieked Guy.
"I am ready to suffer now, if you are able to make me," said Hector. "Come on, and we'll settle it now."
But Guy had no desire for the contest to which he was invited. He had a wholesome fear of Hector's strong, muscular arms, aided, as they were, by some knowledge of boxing. Hector had never taken regular lessons, but a private tutor, whom his father had employed, a graduate of Yale, had instructed him in the rudiments of the "manly art of self-defense," and Hector was very well able to take care of himself against any boy of his own size and strength. In size, Guy was his equal, but in strength he was quite inferior. This Guy knew full well, and, angry as he was, he by no means lost sight of prudence.
"I don't choose to dirty my hands with you," he said. "I shall tell my father, and it would serve you right if he sent you adrift."
In Hector's present mood, he would not, perhaps, have cared much if this threat had been carried into execution, but he was not altogether reckless, and he felt that it was best to remain under Mr. Roscoe's protection until he had had time to investigate the remarkable story which he suspected his reputed uncle had trumped up to serve his own interests.
"Tell your father, if you like," said Hector, quietly. "I don't know whether he will sustain you or not in your insults, but if he does, then I shall have two opponents instead of one."
"Does that mean that you will attack my father?" demanded Guy, hoping for an affirmative answer, as it would help him to prejudice his father against our hero.
"No," answered Hector, smiling, "I don't apprehend there will be any necessity, for he won't insult me as you have done."
Guy lost notime in seeking his father, and laying the matter before him, inveighing against Hector with great bitterness.
"So he knocked you down, did he, Guy?" asked Allan Roscoe, thoughtfully.
"Yes; he took me unawares, or he couldn't have done it," answered Guy, a little ashamed at the avowal.
"What did you do?"
"I--I told him he should suffer for it."
"Why did he attack you?"
"It was on account of something I said."
"What was it?"
Guy reluctantly answered this question, and with correctness.
"It was your fault for speaking to him wrhen he was feeling sore at making a painful discovery."
"Do you justify him in pitching into me like a big brute?" asked Guy, hastily.
"No; but still, I think it, was natural, under the circumstances. You should have kept out of his way, and let him alone."
"Won't you punish him for attacking me?" demanded Guy, indignantly.
"I will speak to him on the subject," said Allan Roscoe; "and will tell him my opinion of his act."
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