was ignorantly and honourably done!"
Bertram was as pale as death, and looked from one of us to the other, and at last, he gasped out—
"And that—was what she meant?"
"There, sir," said Hester, turning to Torwood, "You see your brother cannot deny it! You will not refuse justice to me, and my son."
I fancy she expected that the house was to be given up to her, and that we were only to remain there on her sufferance, perhaps till after the funeral.
My brother spoke, "Justice will no doubt be done; but the question does not lie between you and me, but between me and Alured. It is, as I said, a peerage question—and will be decided by the peers. Incidentally, that enquiry will prove what is your position and rank, as well as what may or may not be ours. Any further points depend upon my father's will, and that will be in the hands of Mr. Eagles. I think you can see that it would be impossible, as well as unfeeling, to take any steps until after the funeral."
Whatever Hester Lea was, she was a high-spirited being, standing there, a solitary woman, a stranger, with all of us four, and one whole household, as it must have seemed, against her. I was outraged and shocked at her defiance at the time, but when, some time after, I re-read King John, I saw that there was something of Constance in her.
"That may be," she answered, "but when my child's interests are at stake, I cannot haggle over conventionalities and proprieties. I am the Earl of Trevorsham's only legitimate daughter, and I claim my right to remain in his house, and to take charge of my infant brother."
A sign from Fulk stopped me, as I was going to scream at this.
"Remember," he said, "your identity has yet to be proved."
"Your brother there must needs witness. He has done so."
"What do you witness to, Bertram?" asked Fulk.
"I do not know; I cannot understand," said Bertram. "I saw this person in a farm in Lower Canada, and there was an old lady who seemed to have known my father, and was very much amazed to find he was not killed in 1814. I did not hear her name, nor know whose mother she was, nor anything about her, nor what this dreadful business means."
"At any rate," said Fulk to her, "your claim to remain in the house must depend on the legal proof of the fact. My father's first marriage is undoubted, but absolute legal certainty that you are the child of that marriage alone can entitle you to take rank as his daughter; and, therefore, I am not compelled to admit your claim to remain here, though if you will refrain from renewing this discussion till after the funeral, I will not ask you to leave the house."
"I do not recognize your right to ask or not to ask," she said, undauntedly.
"I am either Lord Trevorsham's rightful heir—and it is not yet shown that I am not—or else I am the guardian he appointed for his son. I know this to be so, and Mr. Eagles, who will soon be here, will show it to you in the will if you wish it. Therefore, until the decision is made, when, if it goes against me, the child will no doubt be made a ward in Chancery, I am the person responsible for him and his property."
"I have no doubt you will take advantage of me and of every quibble against me;" and there at last she began to break down; "but if there is justice in heaven or earth my child shall have it, though you and all were leagued against him."
And there she began to sob. And those brothers of mine, they actually grew compassionate; they ran after wine; they called us to bring salts, and help her. Emily shuddered, and put her hands behind her; but Jaquetta actually ran up to the woman, and coaxed her and comforted her, when I had rather have coaxed a tigress.
But I had to go to the table and pour out tea and give it to her with all the rest. I don't know how we got through that breakfast. But we did, and then I made the housekeeper put her into the very best rooms. Anything if she would only stay there out of the way.
When I came back, I found Fulk explaining why he had spoken at once, and he said he felt that she would have no scruples about taking the initiative, and that everyone would be having surmises.
Poor Bertram was even more cut up than we were. It came more suddenly, and he felt as if it was all his doing. He had no hope, and he took all ours away. There had been something in the old woman that impressed him as genuine, and he had no doubt that she had known and loved our father. Nay, no one could suspect Hester of not believing in her own story; the only question was whether the links of evidence could be substantiated.
The next thing that happened—I can't tell which day it was—was Mrs. Deerhurst's coming, professing to be dreadfully shocked and overcome by my father's death, to take away Emily. She must be so much in our way. I, who saw her first, answered only by begging to keep her—our great comfort and the one thing that cheered and upheld my brother.
Mrs. Deerhurst looked keenly at me; and I began to wonder what she knew, but just then came Fulk into the room, with his calm, set, determined face. I knew he would rather speak without me, so I went away, and only knew what he could bear to tell me afterwards.
Mrs. Deerhurst had been a great deal kinder than he expected. No doubt she would not break the thing off while there was a shred of hope that he was an earl; but he could not drive her to allow, in so many words, that it must depend upon that.
He had quite made up his mind that it was not right to enjoy Emily's presence and the comfort it gave him, unless he was secure of Mrs. Deerhurst's permitting the engagement under his possible circumstances.
I believe he nattered himself she would, and let her deceive him with thinking so, instead of, as we all did, seeing that what she wanted was to secure the credit of being constant and disinterested in case he retained his position. So, although she took Emily home, she left him cheered and hopeful, admiring her, and believing that she so regarded her daughter's happiness that, if he had enough to support her, she would overlook the loss of rank and title. He went on half the evening talking about what a remarkable woman Mrs. Deerhurst was; and, at any rate, it cheered him up through those worst days.
Our Lupton uncles came, and were frightfully shocked and incredulous; at least, Uncle George was. Uncle Lupton himself remembered something of my father having told him of a former affair in America.
They would not let Jaquetta and me go to the funeral; and they were wise, for Hester thrust herself in—but it is of no use to think about that. Indeed, there is not much to tell about that time, and I need not go into the investigation. It was all taken out of our hands, as my brother had said. Perrault came over from Canada, and brought his witnesses, but not Joel Lea. He had nothing to prove, had conscientious scruples about appearing in an English court of justice, and still hoped it would all come to nothing.
We stayed on at the London house—the lawyers said we ought, and that possession was "nine-tenths," &c. Besides, we wanted advice for Baby, who had been worse of late.
The end of it was that it went against us. Faith's marriage, her identity, and Hester's, were proved beyond all doubt, and little Alured was served Earl of Trevorsham. Poor child, how ill he was just then! It was declared water on the brain! I could hardly think about anything else; but they all said it seemed like a mockery, and that he would not bear the title a week. And then Lady Hester would have been, not Countess of Trevorsham, but Viscountess Torwood, and at any rate she halved the personal property: all that had been meant for us.
For we already knew that there was nothing in the will that could do us any good. All depended on my mother's marriage settlements, and as the marriage was invalid they were so much waste paper.
My uncles, to whom my poor mother's fortune reverted, would not touch it, and gave every bit back to