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قراءة كتاب One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

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‏اللغة: English
One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

thirteen years old, and half my property is left her. I have left the other half to your son. The whole subject to an annuity to yourself; which you will not, I trust, refuse to accept. I have never thought of any woman but you, and I hope that you will not allow your just resentment against me to deprive me of the poor satisfaction of making what atonement lies in my power for the cruel wrong I formerly did you.

"Were I strong and in health I can well imagine that you would indignantly refuse to receive any benefits from my hands, but knowing your kindness of heart, I feel sure that you will not sadden the last days of a doomed man by the knowledge that even after his death his hopes of insuring the comfort of the one woman on earth he cared for are to be disappointed.

"I should like to know your son. Would it be too much to ask you to spare him for a while from time to time so long as I live? I have a double motive, I say frankly, in thus asking him to come here. I wish him and my little pet, Mabel Withers, to come to like each other. I wish to divide my property between them, and yet I should be glad if the whole estate could remain intact.

"I should not be so foolish as to make a proviso that two persons who are as yet so young, and who may not in any way be suitable to each other, should marry, but nothing would please me so much as that they should take a fancy to each other; and thrown together as they would be here, for Mabel is constantly at the house, it is just possible that one of those boy and girl affections, which do sometimes, although perhaps rarely, culminate in marriage, might spring up between them. Whether that may be so in the present case I must leave to fate, but I should at any rate like to pave the way for such an arrangement by bringing the young people together. I need not say that it will be best that neither of them should have the slightest idea of what is in my mind, for this would be almost certain to defeat my object.

"If the proposal is agreeable to you, I hope that you will let Ralph come to me at the beginning of his holidays; which must, I fancy, be now near at hand. I think it will be as well that he should not know of my intention as to the disposal of my property, for it is better he should think that he will have to work for his living; but at the same time there would be no harm in his knowing that it is probable I shall help him on in life. This will make him bear better what would otherwise be a dull visit. But I leave this matter entirely in your hands. You know the boy and I do not, and you can therefore better judge what will be best for him to know. And now, dear Mary, if you will pardon my once again calling you so,

"I remain,

"Your affectionate friend,

"HERBERT PENFOLD."

It was characteristic of Mrs. Conway that at the first reading of this letter she thought rather of the writer than of the bright prospects which his offer opened to her son. She thought rather of Herbert Penfold, her first love, now ill, if not dying, of the days of their engagement and its rupture, than of the fact that her son was to inherit half the Penfold estates. She had been sorely hurt at the time; and even after all these years it was a pleasure to her to know that the quarrel was not as she had often thought at the time, a mere pretext for breaking off the engagement, but that Herbert had really loved her, had cared for her all these years, and had been the mysterious friend whose kindness had so lightened her cares.

"I did not throw away my love after all," she said to herself, as with her eyes full of tears she stood at the window and looked out towards the sea. "He cared for me enough to be faithful all this time and to think of me constantly, while I had almost forgotten the past. I ought to have known all the time that he was acting under the influence of others—those sisters of his, of course. I was always certain they hated me—hated the thought of my becoming mistress of Penfold Hall. I knew the influence they had over him. Herbert had no will of his own—it was the only fault I ever saw in him—and they could twist him round their little fingers. And now he is going to make Ralph his heir, or at least his heir with the girl he speaks of. It is a grand thing for Ralph; for the estates were worth, he told papa, eight thousand a year, and if Herbert's little romance comes off Ralph will have all."

Then she thought over the years he had been befriending her, and wondered what she should do about that. Finally, being a sensible woman, she decided to do nothing. Had she known it before, or learned the truth by other means, she would have refused absolutely to touch Herbert Penfold's money; but it would be indeed a poor return for his kindness were she now, when he was ill and feeble, and was about to bestow still further benefits upon her, to refuse to permit him any longer to aid her. She wished, as she read the letter over again, that he had expressed some desire to see her. She should have liked to have thanked him in person, to have told him how grateful she felt for his care and kindness, to have taken his hand again if but for a minute.

But he had expressed no wish for a meeting, had never all these years made an effort to see her. She could read in the wording of the letter that he had been principally deterred from making any attempt to see her by the feeling that he had entirely forfeited her regard, and had offended her beyond chance of forgiveness. And had she been asked the day before she would doubtless have replied that she had no wish whatever ever again to meet Herbert Penfold; whereas now she felt almost aggrieved that he should express no wish to meet her, should have stayed away so long without making one effort to bring about reconciliation.

"Of all faults that a man can have," she said pettishly, "I do not think there's one so detestable as that of self-distrust. Why could he not have said ten years ago, 'I behaved badly, Mary; I treated you abominably; but forgive me and forget. I was not wholly to blame, except that I allowed others to come between us?' If he had come and said that, we could at least have been good friends. I have no patience with men who cannot stand up for themselves. Now, how much shall I tell Ralph?" and she again read the letter through.

"Ralph," she said when he came in to dinner, "you remember that letter I had this morning?"

"Yes, I know, mother; the one that made you turn so white. You said it was from an old friend, though why a letter from an old friend should upset any one I can't make out. What was it about, mother?"

"Well, my boy, it contains a pleasant piece of news. Mr. Penfold, that is the name of the writer, was a friend of my family. He knew me long ago when we were young people, and at one time it seemed likely that we should be married. However, as you know, that never took place. However, it seems, as he says by his letter, that he has never altogether forgotten me, and he intends to help you on in life if you turn out as he would like to see you. He wishes you to go down to stay with him when your holidays begin."

"That sounds nice," Ralph said; "and if he has got any boys about my own age it will be pleasant."

"He has no children, Ralph. He is what you may call an old bachelor, and lives with his sisters—or, rather, they live with him."

"That does not sound very cheerful, mother. An old gentleman with two old ladies alone in the house can't make much fun."

"He is not an old gentleman, Ralph," Mrs. Conway said almost angrily. "I told you we were young people together. Still it may not be very lively for you, but you must put up with that. He evidently means to be very kind to you, and it will be of great advantage to you going down to stay with him."

"But what are you going to do with yourself, mother, all alone here? I think he might have asked you as well as me."

"I shall do very well, Ralph. I

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