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A Waif of the Plains by Bret Harte

Part 3 out of 3

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from his own son, whom she placed under the charge of her sister.
But the sister managed to secretly communicate with the outlawed
father, and, under a pretext, arranged between them, of sending the
boy to another relation, actually dispatched the innocent child to
his unworthy parent. Perhaps stirred by remorse, the infamous man--"

"Stop!" said Clarence suddenly.

He had thrown down his pen, and was standing erect and rigid before
the Father.

"You are trying to tell me something, Father Sobriente," he said,
with an effort. "Speak out, I implore you. I can stand anything
but this mystery. I am no longer a child. I have a right to know
all. This that you are telling me is no fable--I see it in your
face, Father Sobriente; it is the story of--of--"

"Your father, Clarence!" said the priest, in a trembling voice.

The boy drew back, with a white face. "My father!" he repeated.
"Living, or dead?"

"Living, when you first left your home," said the old man
hurriedly, seizing Clarence's hand, "for it was he who in the name
of your cousin sent for you. Living--yes, while you were here, for
it was he who for the past three years stood in the shadow of this
assumed cousin, Don Juan, and at last sent you to this school.
Living, Clarence, yes; but living under a name and reputation that
would have blasted you! And now DEAD--dead in Mexico, shot as an
insurgent and in a still desperate career! May God have mercy on
his soul!"

"Dead!" repeated Clarence, trembling, "only now?"

"The news of the insurrection and his fate came only an hour
since," continued the Padre quickly; "his complicity with it and
his identity were known only to Don Juan. He would have spared you
any knowledge of the truth, even as this dead man would; but I and
my brothers thought otherwise. I have broken it to you badly, my
son, but forgive me?"

An hysterical laugh broke from Clarence and the priest recoiled
before him. "Forgive YOU! What was this man to me?" he said, with
boyish vehemence. "He never LOVED me! He deserted me; he made my
life a lie. He never sought me, came near me, or stretched a hand
to me that I could take?"

"Hush! hush!" said the priest, with a horrified look, laying his
huge hand upon the boy's shoulder and bearing him down to his seat.
"You know not what you say. Think--think, Clarence! Was there
none of all those who have befriended you--who were kind to you in
your wanderings--to whom your heart turned unconsciously? Think,
Clarence! You yourself have spoken to me of such a one. Let your
heart speak again, for his sake--for the sake of the dead."

A gentler light suffused the boy's eyes, and he started. Catching
convulsively at his companion's sleeve, he said in an eager, boyish
whisper, "There was one, a wicked, desperate man, whom they all
feared--Flynn, who brought me from the mines. Yes, I thought that
he was my cousin's loyal friend--more than all the rest; and I told
him everything--all, that I never told the man I thought my cousin,
or anyone, or even you; and I think, I think, Father, I liked him
best of all. I thought since it was wrong," he continued, with a
trembling smile, "for I was foolishly fond even of the way the
others feared him, he that I feared not, and who was so kind to me.
Yet he, too, left me without a word, and when I would have followed
him--" But the boy broke down, and buried his face in his hands.

"No, no," said Father Sobriente, with eager persistence, "that was
his foolish pride to spare you the knowledge of your kinship with
one so feared, and part of the blind and mistaken penance he had
laid upon himself. For even at that moment of your boyish
indignation, he never was so fond of you as then. Yes, my poor
boy, this man, to whom God led your wandering feet at Deadman's
Gulch; the man who brought you here, and by some secret hold--I
know not what--on Don Juan's past, persuaded him to assume to be
your relation; this man Flynn, this Jackson Brant the gambler, this
Hamilton Brant the outlaw--WAS YOUR FATHER! Ah, yes! Weep on, my
son; each tear of love and forgiveness from thee hath vicarious
power to wash away his sin."

With a single sweep of his protecting hand he drew Clarence towards
his breast, until the boy slowly sank upon his knees at his feet.
Then, lifting his eyes towards the ceiling, he said softly in an
older tongue, "And THOU, too, unhappy and perturbed spirit, rest!"

. . . . . . .

It was nearly dawn when the good Padre wiped the last tears from
Clarence's clearer eyes. "And now, my son," he said, with a gentle
smile, as he rose to his feet, "let us not forget the living.
Although your step-mother has, through her own act, no legal claim
upon you, far be it from me to indicate your attitude towards her.
Enough that YOU are independent." He turned, and, opening a drawer
in his secretaire, took out a bank-book, and placed it in the hands
of the wondering boy.

"It was HIS wish, Clarence, that even after his death you should
never have to prove your kinship to claim your rights. Taking
advantage of the boyish deposit you had left with Mr. Carden at the
bank, with his connivance and in your name he added to it, month by
month and year by year; Mr. Carden cheerfully accepting the trust
and management of the fund. The seed thus sown has produced a
thousandfold, Clarence, beyond all expectations. You are not only
free, my son, but of yourself and in whatever name you choose--your
own master."

"I shall keep my father's name," said the boy simply.

"Amen!" said Father Sobriente.

Here closes the chronicle of Clarence Brant's boyhood. How he
sustained his name and independence in after years, and who, of
those already mentioned in these pages, helped him to make or mar it,
may be a matter for future record.

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