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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter LII - Colin hears Startling News

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 dark."

"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 Warwickshire?"

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 future now."

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 mortgage!"

He could say no more at present, and went out for a walk in the fields.

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