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The King's Highway by G. P. R. James

Part 10 out of 10

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gazed upon him with a fierce and vindictive look, but without attempting
to rise.

"I will not deny, Lennard Sherbrooke," he replied, "that I know you; I
will not even deny that I know you to be Earl of Byerdale. But I know
you also to be a proclaimed traitor and outlaw, having borne arms
against the lawful sovereign of these realms, subjected by just decree
to forfeiture and attainder; and I call upon every one here present to
aid me in arresting you, and you to surrender yourself, to take your
trial according to law!" "Weak man, give over!" replied the Colonel.
"All your schemes are frustrated, all your base designs are vain. You
writhe under my heel, like a crushed adder, but, serpent, I tell you,
you bite upon a file. First, for myself, I am not a proclaimed traitor;
but, pleading the King's full pardon for everything in which I may have
offended, I claim all that is mine own, my rights, my privileges, my
long forgotten name, even to the small pittance of inheritance, which,
in your vast accessions of property, you did not even scruple to grasp
at, and which has certainly mightily recovered itself under your careful
and parsimonious hand. But, nevertheless, though I claim all that is my
own, I claim neither the title nor the estates of Byerdale. Wilton, my
boy, stand forward, and let any one who ever saw or knew your gallant
and noble father, and your mother, who is now a saint in heaven, say if
they do not see in you a blended image of the two."

"He was his natural child! he was his natural child!" cried Henry
Sherbrooke, starting up from his seat. "I ascertained it beyond a doubt!
I have proof! I have proof!"

"Again, false man?--Again?" said Lennard Sherbrooke.

"Cannot shame keep you silent? You have no proof! You can have no
proof!--You found no proof of the marriage--granted; because care was
taken that you should not. But I have proof sufficient, sir. This lady,
whom I must call in this land Mistress Helen Oswald, though the late
King bestowed upon her father and herself a rank higher than that to
which she now lays claim, was present at the private marriage of her
sister to my brother, by a Protestant clergyman, before Sir Harry Oswald
ever quitted England. There is also the woman servant, who was present
likewise, still living and ready to be produced; and if more be wanting,
here is the certificate of the clergyman himself, signed in due form,
together with my brother's solemn attestation of his marriage, given
before he went to the fatal battle in which he fell. To possess yourself
of these papers, of the existence of which you yourself must have
entertained some suspicions, you used unjustifiable arts towards this
noble Earl of Sunbury, which were specious enough even to deceive his
wisdom; but I obtained information of the facts, and frustrated your

"Ay," said Harry Sherbrooke, "through my worthy son, doubtless, through
my worthy son, who, beyond all question, used his leisure hours in
reading, privately, his father's letters and despatches, for the great
purpose of making that father a beggar!"

"I call Heaven to witness!" exclaimed the young gentleman, clasping his
hands together eagerly. But Lord Sunbury interposed.

"No, sir," he said, "your son needed no such arts to learn that fact, at
least; for even before I sent over the papers to you which you demanded,
I wrote to your son, telling him the facts, in order to guard against
their misapplication. Unfortunate circumstances prevented his receiving
my letter in time to answer me, which would have stopped me from sending
them. He communicated the fact, however, to Colonel Sherbrooke, and the
result has been their preservation."

The unfortunate man was about to speak again; but Lord Sunbury waved his
hand mildly, saying, "Indeed, my good sir, it would be better to utter
no more of such words as we have already heard from you. Should you be
inclined to contest rights and claims which do not admit of a doubt, it
must be in another place and not here. You will remember, however, that
were you even to succeed in shaking the legitimacy of my young friend,
the Earl of Byerdale here present, which cannot by any possibility be
done, you would but convey the title and estates to his uncle, Colonel
Sherbrooke, to whose consummate prudence, in favour of his nephew, it is
now owing that these estates, having been suffered to rest for so many
years in your hands, no forfeiture has taken place, which must have been
the case if he had claimed them for his nephew before this period.
Whatever be the result, you lose them altogether. But I am happy that it
is in my power," he added, advancing towards him whom we have hitherto
called Lord Sherbrooke, "to say that this reverse will not sink your
family in point of fortune so much as might, be imagined. That, sir, is
spared to you, by your son's marriage with this young lady."

Caroline started up eagerly from the table, gazing with wild and joyful
eyes in the face of Lord Sunbury, and exclaiming, "Have you, have you
accomplished it?"

"Yes, my dear young lady, I have," replied Lord Sunbury.

"The King, in consideration of the old friendship which subsisted
between your father and himself, in youthful days, before political
strifes divided them, has granted that the estate yet unappropriated
shall be restored to you, on two conditions, one of which is already
fulfilled--your marriage with an English Protestant gentleman, and the
other, which doubtless you will fulfil, residence in this country, and
obedience to the laws. He told me to inform you that he was not a man to
strip the orphan. You will thus have competence, happy, liberal

Her husband pressed Caroline to his bosom for a moment. But he then
walked round the table, approached his father, and kissed his hand,
saying, in a low voice, "My lord, let a repentant son be at least happy
in sharing all with his father."

For once in his life his father was overcome, and bending down his head
upon son's neck, he wept.

Lord Sunbury gazed around him for a moment; but then turning to Lady
Helen Oswald, he said, "I have much to say to you, but it must be in
private. Nevertheless, even now, let me say that your motives have been
explained to me; that I understand them; that she who could sacrifice
her heart's best affections to a parent in exile, in poverty, in
sickness, and in sorrow, has a greater claim than ever upon the heart of
every noble man. You have, of old, deeper claims on mine, and by the
ring upon this finger, by the state of solitude in which my life has
been passed, you may judge that those claims have not been
forgotten--Helen?" he added, taking her hand in his.

The Lady Helen turned her head away, with a cheek that was glowing
deeply; but her hand was not withdrawn, and the fingers clasped upon
those of Lord Sunbury.

The Earl smiled brightly. "And now, my lord duke," he said, "I besought
your lordship about an hour ago to suspend your decision upon a point of
great importance. Did I do right?"

"My lord," answered the Duke, gaily, "I hope I am not too quick this
time; but my decision is already made. Wilton, my dear boy, take
her--take her--I give her to you with my whole heart!"

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