SIX weeks after the death of the earl, and the day
following the evening spent by Colin, Katie, and myself under the old
butternut tree in the lane, Mr. Briggs appeared at the Scotch
Settlement. I recall so well his arrival at the McNabb homestead. Colin
and I were seated on the trough by the barn pump when Katie approached
and announced that a stranger had just arrived at the house and was
asking for us.
"I think he is English, from his accent," Katie
mentioned, "and he was very precise in his enquiries about you both."
We three proceeded to the house, where we found the
stranger awaiting us in the kitchen. He was engaged in conversation with
the widow, as we entered. When we approached, he rose, and bowing
courteously, said —
"Have I the honour of addressing Mr. Ross?" I bowed
acquiescingly, and he went on, "May I have the privilege of a few
minutes’ private conversation with you?"
I led the way to the "front room," and after I had
rolled the curtains, to admit the twilight (for the room was growing
dark), we both sat down.
"Perhaps I’d better light the lamp," I suggested; "it is growing
"Thank you, no; I prefer the twilight."
There seemed to be something significant in his
manner, and an impression as of something important impending took hold
of me. We sat in silence for a few moments, for the stranger did not
appear to have settled in his own mind how to open the conversation. He
gazed at me fixedly, and then, removing his spectacles, he moved his
chair closer to mine and said, "Mr. Ross, I think you came from
It was so long since I had heard the name of my old
home mentioned, that it rather startled me; more especially in view of
the circumstances under which it was recalled. I, however, made no
answer beyond the monosyllable, "Yes."
I think the lawyer gathered from my manner that, if I was not
suspicious of him, I was at least disposed to be on my guard; so he
said, with a directness and frankness that at once disarmed me : —
"Pray do not mistrust me, Mr. Ross; my mission here
is of a character that cannot fail to interest and please you."
Then, without further circumlocution, he told me what
his mission was, and in brief and direct sentences he related to me the
story told by Lord Archibald in the previous chapter. Now that I recall
the lawyer’s manner of telling the story, I can see how and where he
softened it, at points where the relating of the facts concerning my
dear, dead sister Eleanor would have reopened an old wound.
When he came to that portion of his story touching
the marriage of Edwin and Eleanor, after exhibiting the proofs of the
legality of their marriage, he declared : —
"Your nephew, Colin Stanhope, is the legal and
rightful master of the great Beaumont estates. He is Earl of Beaumont."
At first, I could think only of my wronged sister,
and exclaimed, "Thank God the imputation that rested upon Colin’s birth
and upon my sister’s marriage has been cleared away!" Then I added: "Mr.
Briggs, the young man has never been made aware of the cloud which, in
view of the facts, I must now blame myself for allowing to remain so
long over him. I could surely have cleared it off had I made the effort,
but all my efforts and enquiries seemed to result in nothing. Then, too,
the attack Edwin’s brother made upon the legality of the marriage seemed
so completely substantiated by evidence."
After some further conversation, Mr. Briggs suggested
that I should summon Colin. The young man, tall, erect, alert, and with
his characteristically firm step, entered the room. I could never help
being proud of him, and already found myself thinking that he looked
every inch a worthy representative of his line. The lawyer bowed when
the young man entered, but as neither Mr. Briggs nor I spoke, Colin
looked rather awkwardly and expectantly from one to the other.
"Colin," I said, "this gentleman, whose name is
Briggs, and who is a lawyer from England, has an important communication
to make to you."
Colin opened wide his eyes and looked from one to the
other of us in bewilderment.
"To me, Uncle Watty, did you say? Why, what possible
communication could an English lawyer have to make to me? Uncle, you are
having a joke with me!" and he gave a merry laugh.
"No, Colin," I replied; "there is no joke about it.
Mr. Briggs has come to announce to you that you have
fallen heir to one of the largest estates in Great Britain, and that you
are at the present moment the Earl of Beaumont."
If Colin was surprised and incredulous before, he was
an utter sceptic now. After looking us both in the face, he burst into a
ringing laugh, and exclaimed, "Oh, come now, Uncle Watty, this is not
the first of April!"
"But Colin, my boy, I assure you that it is no
practical joke, and that what we say is gospel truth."
"That it is, that it is, every word of it!" put in
Mr. Briggs, and he looked so very grave and so very much in earnest that
Colin’s countenance began to change. It grew more serious, although the
doubtful expression still lingered.
"You know, Colin," I said, "that your father died
before you were born. Well, your father was the eldest son of a
nobleman, and heir to the estates. You were his rightful successor, but
a wicked man criminally cheated you out of your birthright."
At this stage Mr. Briggs interposed, and as there
were facts connected with the story, and especially touching the
sufferings of the young man’s mother, that I could not trust myself to
relate, I allowed the lawyer to complete the story. This he did with
great tact, giving the substance of the earl’s confession, but sparing
Colin’s feelings at every point in the sad story. The lawyer, who was
armed with plenty of documents, produced them at appropriate stages to
clinch his representations.
Frequently, as the conversation progressed, Colin
would appeal to me for confirmation, and when, at the conclusion, he was
finally convinced that he was in reality the Earl of Beaumont, he
remained in deep thought for a time, and then turning to me said, with
some traces of emotion in his voice : —
"Uncle Watty, we shall not need to worry about my
Then after another pause: —
"I hope God will make me worthy of my new lot, Uncle
Watty," he added, putting his arm about my shoulders in the old,
familiar way; "you, and all the dear ones sheltered by this roof, must
share my good fortune. Only to think how easily I can now discharge the
He could say no more at present, and went out for a
walk in the fields.